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Should our Moral Determinations be for the Benefit of Society or the Self?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1976 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Should our Moral Determinations be for the Benefit of Society or the Self?


  Morality is defined as a “doctrine or system of moral conduct” (Merriam Webster 1).   To further expand for understanding, to refer to something as moral we establish that we are referring to something that is “of or relating to principles of right and wrong” (Merriam Webster 1).    Humans are faced with moral decisions on a regular basis.  Every day is a series of decision followed by a series of consequences and our individual moral code is the foundation for these series of events.  These decisions may be small and relatively insignificant, they may be large difficult moral dilemmas with immeasurable results or any varying degree in between.  The commonality is that ultimately someone or some ones will benefit from the decision while someone else may be at a deficit.  These benefits and deficits may be emotional, physical, mental or come combination thereof but whether tangible or abstract, there will be some level of loss and gain.   Knowing what morality is by definition and what its consequences entail in a general sense, the focus shifts to the current culture of morality. This culture absolutely varies from society to society. However, we will operate under the assumption that overall, morality and the laws and codes driven from it are geared toward the benefit of society as a whole rather than a heavy focus on the individual.  Tax systems, laws against violence and sexual misconduct, and welfare systems exist on some level globally.  The question that lies therein is whether it best to act morally with the benefit of society as endgame, or happiness and benefit of the individual self?  Should our moral compass guide us to make the best decision for everyone, or for ourselves? Is morality for the overall benefit of society’s sake the best set of principles and codes?   Based on the pros and cons of the society first trajectory, it appears that striking the right balance of the individual vs. the group is the best course of action.  Whether this delicate balance is possible is another debate and discussion entirely.

Benefits of the Society First Approach

  If the current climate is to be the foundation of humanity’s doctrine true happiness will be achieved when peace and amicability amongst all humans are achieved.  Chaos, inequality, and selfishness are the hurdles to this harmonious world.  The elite hold the majority of resources while the majority struggle to divide the rest.  The one percent profit at the expense of the ninety nine percent.  This massive asymmetry of the scales directly conflicts with the messages we hear spouted on social media and other engines of global communication.  Going back to Plato’s original idea of politics and law being  a manifest and doctrine of moral views would help swing the pendulum (Ristovski 85).  The moral code of today discusses equality and justice and helping our fellow man.  Bringing those value back into power can help tip the scales into a more equal distribution of wealth and resources for all. What does this achieve? Basing decisions off the good of your fellow men can help regain some order within global society. Ultimately helping one another can selfishly trickle back to the self, resulting in the superlative consequence of benefit for society AND the self.  

A harmonious, non chaotic world is a happy world.  A happy world is made of happy people.  How do we reduce or eliminate chaos?  We must reduce conflict.  Global conflict


is the result of disease, famine, lack of education and exposure and many other things in a similar vein.  Many of these issues can be mitigated if humanity was more giving in their spread of resources and made decisions that weren’t solely based on their benefit or the benefit of their nuclear circle of individuals. As Confucius believed ” The superior man comprehends righteousness, while the small man comprehends profit” (Analects of Confucius tr. R. Eno 2015).  If everyone had access to the shelter, food, healthcare, and some level of comfort and safety there would be much less reason for conflicts to arise.  Tensions would wane.  There is no need to fight over resources if everyone has their fair share.  Wealth that is poured into war could be put into education, infrastructure, medicine and other positive projects, essentially replacing major conflict with progress. A people that is not wondering where their next meal is coming from, a society living on the edge due to fear of come impending major violent fallout, or a people that doesn’t have to raise their children in a community where bombs could drop at any moment and where protocol for that situation is a necessity to learn from birth, would be a much happier society indeed.  If the one percent could trickle that wealth down maybe violent protests will be a thing of the past, teachers would stop striking because there is now budget for fair wages for their invaluable work.  A society where these fights do not have to be fought would be a more peaceful and therefore happier one indeed.

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 To appeal to the argument that this would trickle down to the individual here are a few examples. Proper budget in the schools and for teachers results in your children becoming more successful and productive later in life, which every parent hopes for.  Something like universal healthcare is a very controversial topic but when it is you that would have otherwise had hundreds of thousands in medical debt would you really not be grateful?  Expanding on the medical, the horrific diseases that developing nations are blighted with can absolutely find their way to our doorstep.  With the amount of air travel and population density it is not so difficult for a disease to spread rapidly. Would it not be better to have helped prevent the onset and spread of these diseases amongst those less fortunate rather than wish we had when Ebola lands in your backyard?  Besides the elite wealthy, we will all need something someday whether small or life changingly huge.  Wouldn’t you as an individual and society as whole live more peaceful and securely knowing there was resources and individuals at the ready for when that day comes? The elimination of the stressors of wondering alone would make for a happier world.  The wealthiest and most powerful platforms still reign supreme as money is still king no matter where you go. However, there are loud voices calling for change and the societal moral compass is no longer in hiding. 

Cons of the Society First Approach

  While putting others first for the benefit of society when it comes to our moral decision making may seem like the obviously correct and advantageous thing to do, there are possible negative consequences.  The colloquialism “too much of a good thing” appropriately applies to the faults in the argument. 

 In 2014,  a study was published in Volume 27 of Social Justice Research entitled that explored a more self serving morality verses a society serving doctrine of ethics across cultures, and the overall empathy and happiness of the individuals. They observed what they referred to as Observer Sympathy and Beneficiary Sympathy and the correlations with a more “collectivist society” as opposed to a more “individualist society” ( Wu, Schmitt et al…239).

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 Ultimately it was determined that societies that had a very heavy focus on the collective such as China, were more unhappy and actually less likely to empathize with other than those living in more individual driven moral codes such as Germany.  While this may be a surprise, it is not to dumbfounding that too much sacrifice can be just as detrimental as too little.  A culture that focuses on work above all else, with little gain or ability to enjoy any reward from it will breed malcontent.   All work no play in combination with sacrificing and focusing so much on others will result in an emotional drainage as well as physical.  In addition, a sense of guilt is instilled into these individuals from the onset of social development so that any decision made with the self as the first priority comes with a large emotional ball and chain attached.  When everyone is sacrificing their own happiness for someone else’s, then we reach a zero sum meaning no one is happy.  It is a cycle with no real end or purpose just breeding a zero sum after zero sum in regards to any positive societal progress.


  Ultimately, a the advantages of morality and moral decision being driven by the benefit of overall society has many obvious advantages but should be balanced with a reasonable focus on the self as self care is also essential to happiness. A fed, sheltered and healthy people with a financial safety net in times of need will lead to a less tension filled culture and a happier people overall, as both the collective and the individual.  A society with access to real education and ultimately tolerance will decrease conflict and a more secure people is a happier people.  The advantages are great and many.

 However, these advantages can not come with a price that completely emaciates the individual.  If everyone is solely focused on the well being of another, then no one can enjoy the benefits of a society first moral doctrine.  This results in an unhappy culture as quite obviously no one within said culture is content.  In conclusion it can be determined that society and the individuals within it will benefit from a moral doctrine that puts the overall well being of said society first, while allowing for the necessity of some self-prioritizing decision making without impunity.


  • Eno, R. (2015). The Analects of Confucius (Translation). Retrieved December 6, 2018, from http://www.indiana.edu/~p374/Analects_of_Confucius_(Eno-2015).pdf
  • Gabriel, I., & Caney, S. (2013). On affluence and poverty: Morality, motivation and practice in a global age(Unpublished master’s thesis, 2013). University of Oxford.
  • Moral. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2018, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/moral
  • Ristovski, L. (2017). Morality and Ethics in Politics in the Contemporary Societies. Journal of Liberty and International Affairs,2(3), 83-93. doi:316.323-027.18
  • Saucier, G. (2018). Culture, morality and individual differences: Comparability and incomparability across species. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences,373(1744), 20170170. doi:10.1098/rstb.2017.0170
  • Wu, M. S., Schmitt, M., Zhou, C., Nartova-Bochaver, S., Astanina, N., Khachatryan, N., & Han, B. (2014). Examining Self-Advantage in the Suffering of Others: Cross-Cultural Differences in Beneficiary and Observer Justice Sensitivity Among Chinese, Germans, and Russians. Social Justice Research,27(2), 231-242. doi:10.1007/s11211-014-0212-8


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