The full version of this sentence, by the philosopher Gregory Kavka, is as follows: “Decent treatment of all promotes social stability and cohesion and discourages revolution.” It was not written in response to a given social situation, in which the premises of a revolution would be perceptible. One might think so, however, because, immediately afterwards, Kavka adds that “this […] is especially important in contemporary times, when ideals of human dignity, equality, and justice are known and espoused virtually everywhere, and when revolution is frequently proposed as a legitimate means of attaining such ideals.” The sentence is part of an argument that Kavka calls “Reconciliation Project” (1). What is at stake is reconciliation, agreement or coherence between morality and selfishness (2), duty and interest. This, Kavka notes, is one of the “oldest problems of moral philosophy.” The question deserves our attention not only because of the relevance of the subject, but also because, in the presentation of his Project, Kavka uses concepts that he has outlined in one of the most interesting articles in academic Business Ethics (3). The purpose of this post is to summarise his argument in order to clarify the title sentence. In the Hobbes social, political and moral system, reconciliation between morality and selfishness can be achieved. It is based on the idea that a man, concerned about his own conservation (in this respect he respects a principle of human nature), will obey the rules of ordinary morality. These rules promote security and cooperation. They allow members of society to coexist peacefully, which is in everyone’s interest. In other words, morality and interest converge. Kavka thus points out that, for Hobbes, “morality is superior to immorality as a general policy, from the viewpoint of rational prudence.” He proposes a striking example: if, in the Hobbesian society, a wealthy person wastes his money on luxury goods while his fellow human beings need their money to survive, he would endanger his own safety. One could imagine that members of society might be tempted to seize opportunities to obtain benefits when they believe they can benefit with impunity, as if they were complying with the following maxim: “Follow the moral rules except when you believe (or confidently believe) you can get away with violating them.” But they would run the risk (even minimal) of being punished, because, since the Hobbesian society is based on external sanctions imposed by authorities responsible for ensuring compliance with the rules of community life, these authorities have extensive coercive and punitive means at their disposal. In this specific context (“a punitive social environment,” in Kavka’s words), individuals have no interest in breaking the rules. Morality and selfishness do coincide. But such a response to the “Reconciliation Project” is fragile because of the threat to freedoms and privacy, as well as the cost of coercive and punitive measures. The “punitive social environment” is not compatible with a democratic and liberal way of life. The call to the moral conscience of each member of society to govern his or her own conduct is one way of responding to this objection. The moral conscience acts as an internal judge replacing the external judge of the Hobbesian system. The result is a less coercive and punitive human society in which immorality resulting from selfish conduct should be significantly reduced. However, two objections still threaten Kavka’s Project. The first concerns moral duty, which is necessary in certain circumstances, to sacrifice oneself for others, it being understood that, at first sight, this sacrifice goes against the personal interest of the person who gives his/their life. The second objection concerns the duty of the rich and the powerful to treat the most disadvantaged groups in society with justice and decency, even if this is contrary to their interests – especially since disadvantaged groups may give them nothing in return. It is in the analysis of this objection that the sentence “decent treatment of all promotes social stability and cohesion and discourages revolution” takes place. However, preserving the social order, in particular by discouraging revolutionary initiatives, is not based on a moral reason, but on a selfish reason (4). Preserving the status quo is primarily in the interests of the rich and the powerful. The security to which they aspire is intended to enable them to enjoy their wealth and power. But Kavka does not stop at the idea that social peace is in everyone’s interest. He points out that, in fact, people can act for non-selfish reasons. These selfless actions can be related to the idea that the pursuit of an individual’s ends can have a moral purpose – for example achieving moral ideals. The concern for our children is an example of this. This concern is not only based on the idea that “morality pays” (as in Hobbesian society), because the effect of the concern we have for our children also affects those who are strangers to us. It is also disinterested. In order for us to pursue the moral purposes we have chosen, it is preferable that people do indeed enjoy a minimum level of security and material well-being. This is another, more positive and optimistic way of understanding the statement that “decent treatment of all promotes social stability and cohesion and discourages revolution.” Alain Anquetil (1) G. S. Kavka, “The reconciliation project,” in D. Copp and D. Zimmerman (eds.), Morality, reason and truth, Rowman & Allanheld, 1984. (2) Or “prudence,” which refers here to the calculation of the means of satisfying one’s personal interest. (3) G. S. Kavka, “When two ‘wrongs’ make a right: An essay on business ethics,” Journal of Business Ethics, 2, 1983, pp. 61-66. On Kavka’s argument, see my article “Les comportements dans l’entreprise : dilemmes sociaux et climats éthiques,” Archives de Philosophie du Droit, “Le droit et les sciences de l’esprit,” 55, pp. 89-107. (4) Two other reasons for the rich and the powerful to help disadvantaged groups are also of interest: on the one hand, their children may one day experience poverty; on the other hand, helping the poor can allow some of them to reveal their talents and share them with everyone, including the rich and the powerful. [cite]

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