Is 'doing good' the best policy for life.

If we assume there is no 'Judgment of Sins" after the physical life ends, and so no effect of your actions during life on any possible after-life. And assume that everyone will live by the same assumption.

Would it still be valid to live your life according to the generally espoused moral codes of the current society?

Would we see society degenerate into a barbaric state, or would society remain pretty much as moral as it currently does?

I daresay as valid as it is now.

It would remain the same.

Right now, I don’t believe that my actions will come to haunt me in some sort of afterlife. Furthermore I’d tell everyone that doing good puts you at a disadvantage - after all, time spent helping others could be used to further your own interests instead. Still, I choose to “do good”, even with the knowledge that I’ll never get any returns from it. Then again, maybe I do, because I sure received kindness from people out of the blue when I was in need and perhaps I can see that as a “payment in advance”, if those things can be really broken down into monetary issues.

However, in response to the OP “Is ‘doing good’ the best policy for life.”, my answer must be: No, it’s not the best policy, if you mean by best policy, whichever gets you smoothly through life. Still, I think it’s a great policy, just not something for everyone.

Bippy, I think you’re giving too much credence to the importance of the afterlife concept in motivating behavior. In spite of the desire for religions to claim credit for “inventing” morality, it seems likely that morals were around before the various religions adopted them. I think it’s more likely that morality is instinctual - after all, a species that doesn’t kill or hurt each other is better geared toward survival, and all morality can be reduced to the concept of “don’t hurt each other”. Were belief in the afterlife the only thing keeping us from degenerating into barbarism, one would expect the non-religous among us to have a higher rate of immoral behavior; but that is not the case.

Is doing good the best policy? I agree with Optihut; it depends on what you mean. Doing good is eminently satisfying emotionally; It may be possible to obtain certain things through deceit or by harming others, but (assuming a non-psychopathic personality), you aren’t going to feel as good about yourself.

I am compelled to disagree on no uncertain terms. While I am an ardent proponent of enlightened self interest, there is an emerging body of work that shows and (to some extent) conclusively proves that (at least initially) helping others may have extremely beneficial side-effects.

Robert Axelrod’s continued work on a game strategy problem called The Prisoners Dilemma (originated in 1951 by Merrill Flood of the Rand Corporation) involved a competition between leading lights of the psychology, political science, mathematics and computing communities to evolve a consistently winning strategy for this particular conundrum.

For a more detailed analysis of the game itself, please refer to the link provided. For additional information about Axelrod’s work, I direct you to the book:

Paradigms Lost
John L. Casti
William Morrow and Company, Inc.
Copyright 1989

Large scale iterative analysis of various strategies including randomly based decision making processes were analyzed for their success rates. All of this was in an attempt to answer the following questions posed in the book:[ul]1) How can cooperation get started at all in a world of egoists?

  1. Can individuals employing cooperative strategies survive better than their uncooperative rivals?

  2. Which cooperative strategies will do best, and how will they come to dominate?[/ul]A preliminary round of competition determined that the winning strategy was one submitted by Anatol Rapoport. His elementary three line program called “TIT FOR TAT” consisted of the following steps:[ul]1) Cooperate on the first encounter.

  3. Thereafter, do whatever your opponent did on the previous round.[/ul]After detailed examination of the first tournament a second round was scheduled. The first group of contestants were invited to participate again. Axelrod also expanded the tourney’s field of entrants by placing ads in computer magazines to recruit players who might bring novel and ingenious strategies to the game. Sixty-two entries were received from around the world including one from renowned game theorist John Maynard Smith.

The winner?

Rapoport’s TIT FOR TAT prevailed once again. This simple Golden Rule won hands down. To quote the book:

“The general lesson that emerged from the second tournament was that not only is it important to be nice and forgiving, but it’s also important to be both provocable and recognizable; i.e., you should get mad at defectors and retaliate quickly but without being vindictive, and you should be straightforward, avoiding the impression of being too complex. After extensive study of the results, Axelrod summarized the success of TIT FOR TAT in the following way:[ul]TIT FOR TAT won the tournaments not by beating the other player but by eliciting behavior from the other player that allowed both to do well… So in a non-zero sum world, you do not have to do better than the other player to do well for yourself. This is especially true when you are interacting with many different players… The other’s success is virtually a prerequisite for doing well yourself.”[/ul]I refer you to this splendid book for more detailed assessment of this games implications and corollaries in daily life. However, the point is rather clear. Doing good for others vastly improves your own chances for success.

Personally, I try to manifest this by always giving a person the benefit of the doubt when first encountered. Thereafter, I judge them by previous performance and gauge my responses accordingly.

I cannot find any acceptable alternatives to doing good in this world. If there were, my own sense of logic would cause me to instantly abandon such a strategy. The sense of satisfaction and constant rich rewards that derive from doing good reinforce this behavior time and again. It is no small coincidence that the familiar Golden Rule, “Do unto others …” as it appears in the Bible, also manifests in every single other major culture on earth.

Until someone is able to conclusively otherwise, I am entirely unwilling to abandon this method of improving my own life and simultaneously performing acts of good will towards others.

Define “doing good.”

There’s a church in my neighborhood that displays frequently inane scriptural aphorisms on its reader board. Y’know, “The chocolate of Jesus is best with the peanut butter of life,” or however the hell those things go.

They’ve currently got one up that’s apparently a biblical quote. Paraphrased: We should always strive to do good whenever we have the opportunity.

But what is meant by “doing good”? If you believe you should bring comfort to people’s lives here in the physical world, you would volunteer for charity organizations, give away money, and so on. I don’t think anyone could argue with this definition.

However, if you believe that nothing is more important than saving people’s immortal souls, and the highest form of doing good is to bring people to Jesus, then you’re going to give out Chick-esque tracts on Halloween and in place of tips at restaurants, you’ll witness with your bumper stickers, and so on. Whether or not you do anything to ease people’s troubles here in their pre-Heaven lives is irrelevant; the soul is your primary concern.

So obviously, there’s an issue of definition. I may personally think the folks in the latter paragraph are loons, but I cannot deny that they believe they’re doing good in the world, even if, to my eyes, they’re actually making things worse. It’s a matter of perspective.

So again, define “doing good.”

Cervase the “doing good” is deliberately left ambiguous so that people contributing to this thread can use their own personal interpretation.
Zenster brought up one of my favourite examples (and better explains it than I ever could). The always give the benifit of the dubt to begin with, but follow up with ‘an eye for an eye’ in repaying good with good, and bad with bad. Has always seemed to have a certain inalienable logic to me.

Optihut another way to refute selfishness as an optimal strategy is this. Consider that everyone has a certain amount of capability to overcome problems. In the selfishness only situation, whenever someone encounters a problem greater than their capability, that person will fall and lose in some major way.
If instead, all those who have ‘problem overcoming capability’ (POC) left over after dealing with their own problems, make their own POC available to others. Then it becomes possible for individuals to draw POC from the pool (so to speak) and solve problems they could not defeat on their own. If making POC available to others is linked with a requirement that the person being helped is similarly generous when they have POC left over, you get a system that is much closer to optimal.
Whether POC is money given away charitably, or time or anything else transferable, a group pooling is of great survivability benifit.

An example of this sort of thing, is how people from the SDMB helped poly out recently, or how someone can come to the SDMB for advice.

Oh and Cervase the OP’s assumption of no Judgment in the afterlife would mean that there can be no such thing as ‘saving souls’ since souls if they do exist are automaticaly saved.

I’d add to Zenster’s post Axelrod’s book The Evolution of Cooperation. Great read.

This is the first thing that came to mind when I say the title to this thread.

Cervaise, some simple definitions of good would include:

That which promotes life.

That which sheds light.

That which is wholesome.

That which encourages love.

That which brings joy.

That which fights ingorance.

That which spreads knowledge.

That which acts consistently.

That which has integrity.

That which remains truthful.

That which is honorable.

That which shows courtesy.

That which exhibits decency.

That which enables fecundity.

That which possesses courage.

That which protects the helpless.

This list goes on for quite a while because of the myriad forms that good can take. I’m pretty sure you already get the idea. Feel free to argue or split hairs about my terms. To do so will typically require a degree of cynicism or pessimism. Neither of those terms are life giving or nurturing. Good is a direct force that does not reply upon evasion or duplicity and cannot be embodied by negativism.

I am dismayed that this thread has received all of 80 odd views. More than ever, it leads me to suspect that posters in Great Debates are more interested in quibbling than true debate. Bippy has introduced a concept that represents one of the fundamental questions of human behavior and nearly zero interest has been shown. This is a disgrace to these boards.


Could be that it’s just too big a question for lots of people to deal with. I stayed away for awhile because I wasn’t quite sure where I’d even start. And although I’ve posted a couple times now, I still haven’t added anything of real substance.

Still interested, but not exactly sure how to contribute yet. But, I’ll be bahck!:slight_smile:

time to make this more of a mess than it is, for i shall disagree with these definitions:

killing others so my family gets their resources promotes life (of my family)

too vague a definition, not sure what you mean

also vague, you can’t define something by using a different word for the same thing (what is brown? sepia! what is sepia? brown!)

i’d agree except you can use deception to encourage love as well.

for some killing jews brings joy.

fighting how? exposing it and letting people decide for themselves would be better than bluntly cramming knowledge into people who resist it. But this one is harder to disavow.

knowledge itself is neither good nor evil, it is what you do with that knowledge, so i’d argue this needs to be amended to "That which spreads knowledge to be used responsibly

If i consistently kill black people, does that make me good?

sounds good, but falls for the same definition trao IMO (less so but still)

i agree for the most part, but there are times lies must be told for the good of all invovled (“does this make me look fat?” comes to mind)

depends on your definition of honorable. for Klingons, nothing is more honorable than victory, even if you have to act dishonorably to do it.

i’m not sure how to respond to this one, just that it doesn’t feel right, even though i can’t think of a good reason why.

define decency

creativity fecundity or fruitful fecundity?

I will argue the lion was good before he realized he was brave.

no faults here

feel free to disagree with my disagreements. i shall offer a definition of my own so i am not just tearing down walls, good is what benefits the whole of mankind over the individuals in creating an increased quality of life.

proposed criticisms of my definition are “You ignore the rights of the individual, how is that good?” and “define quality of life”

Perhaps they have (correctly) judged that discussion of philosophical platitudes is the equivalent of mental masturbation. Or they may have gotten their fill of such things in Philosophy 101.

I, of course, enjoy mental masturbation.

Tars, did you read the fine print?

you’re saying it is evil to disagree with you? how evil!