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Why Do The Right Thing?


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Daniel Batson, in a recent book, says that there are four distinct sorts of motivation for (at least seemingly) moral behavior.
These are: egoism; altruism; collectivism; principle.

Suppose something simple – I’m nice to an intern who’s just come to work in my office. I don’t expect this person to do menial errands for me, although I could get away with that, and I give him/her challenging assignments that serve as an intro to a career like my own – which is presumably what interns want, and why they accept long hours for low pay.

So, I’m acting morally. But why? Any one of the items on Batson’s typology could apply. I might be egotistically motivated here. The intern may some day become a big success in the industry, and I may be glad at that time that he/she has fond memories of me.  Or maybe I have a beneficial relationship with the intern's uncle. Either way, I'm putting something in the favor bank.

Or, I might just want the intern to have a wonderful experience for its own sake (altruism).
Or, I might identify with my organization, the employer both of me and of the intern. I do what is right for and by him/her in order to do what is right for it. Collectivism, in Batson’s sense.

Or, I might treat the intern well as a matter of internalized principle, what (if I’m one of the Big Shots in the office) might even be called noblesse oblige.  

So: does the motivation matter? Do we think it is good that I did the right thing, for whatever reason? Or are we inclined to say, "it wasn't really the right thing, because he's really just trying to improve his account in his favor bank."

Is there any reason to favor some of these motives over the others? And is that reason itself moral or practical (assuming we acknowledge a difference)?

Batson's typology is simple, but marvelously thought provoking.






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