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What Would You Do With the Ring of Gyges? 
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Post What Would You Do With the Ring of Gyges?
I didn't think to ask this when this part of the book came up, but I will now. The Ring of Gyges conferred the power of invisibility in a myth related by Herodotus. A character in Bk. II of The Republic, Glaucon, uses the story to illustrate that people who do just things do them because they fear censure, punishment, and loss of reputation, not because they care about justice. If both the just and unjust man were given rings of invisibility, the result would be the just man becoming like the unjust (who doesn't care about his reputation), because no man would be able to resist using this power for individual advantage. In his reply to Glaucon's challenge, Socrates contends that such a man could not find happiness in his actions, having given in to his baser passions in contradiction of his reason. So he would not have gained anything after all.

Glaucon has a much greater ability than Socrates to believe that men do not need the approval of their reason to feel happiness.

Throughout the book, Haidt refers to himself as a Glauconian, meaning that he believes that our concerns about the regard of others, combined with our fear of punishment for wrongdoing, is our primary guide to moral behavior. Our moral reasoning (i.e., what we say to others) around any issue would be post-hoc rationalization.

Would you use the power of invisibility and proof from detection to your advantage by committing acts you wouldn't have before? Do you agree with Glaucon and Haidt that our moral behavior declines precipitously whenever we succeed in not operating in the open, instead feeling we are shielded from others evaluating our actions?



Sun Jul 29, 2012 7:36 pm
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Post Re: What Would You Do With the Ring of Gyges?
DWill wrote:
Do you agree with Glaucon and Haidt that our moral behavior declines precipitously whenever we succeed in not operating in the open, instead feeling we are shielded from others evaluating our actions?
Yes, I think research bears out that our behavior declines to some degree when there are no witnesses. However, I'm not sure to what degree and what percent of people - every one, some percent of people?



Sun Jul 29, 2012 8:03 pm
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Post Re: What Would You Do With the Ring of Gyges?
Aw, you didn't tell us what you would do with your superpowers! ( :twisted: or :) ?) You hint at whether Haidt is oversimpifying here. Probably. He definitely is if he claiming that we never reach a stage at which we act morally independent of the consequences for not doing so. Young children are likely to see right and wrong as keyed to whether they will be punished for an act, but as we get older we tend to develop ideals. Haidt says that these ideals are post-hoc rationalizing; they're not what the elephant really thinks, just what we think people want to hear. This like the "veneer theory" that Frans de Waal talked about in Primates and Philosophers, under which we act morally toward others only because we've entered into a social contract that has practical benefits for us. If we could get away with selfish behavior without losing the benefits of society, we would.

It's certainly true that the rider has a tough job controlling the elephant. But what Haidt is not stressing is that the elephant isn't composed of only selfish desires, but also of those desires that make us act with love and kindness toward others (at least toward certain others). Therefore it isn't always as hard as Haidt thinks for us to use rational thought to guide the elephant, because the elephant is already there, in a sense. The two might even be acting in unison.

About the superpower of invisibility, it would be a constant, daily torture having such an ability, because anyone who's not a sociopath would struggle mightily with the temptation to use it. I think I would use it in certain situations for my benefit, and probably rationalize this. Most likely there would be a slow erosion in my standards, until, just as Glaucon says, there would be no difference between me and the unjust person. What happened to my ideals? I would probably limit the damage to my self-esteem by not doing things that were extremely bad, and give myself credit as quite a moral guy, compared to what I could do if I wanted.

I think Haidt is right that social controls are essential in order for an individual's morality to remain at the highest level. They keep us honest. We'd surely be less moral without them.



Last edited by DWill on Mon Jul 30, 2012 6:36 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Mon Jul 30, 2012 6:34 am
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Post Re: What Would You Do With the Ring of Gyges?
DWill wrote:
Aw, you didn't tell us what you would do with your superpowers! ( :twisted: or :) ?)

Not interested in invisibility; wouldn't help me get what I want from the world. Not to mention being invisible is the last think I want to be. :wink:


DWill wrote:
This like the "veneer theory" that Frans de Waal talked about in Primates and Philosophers, under which we act morally toward others only because we've entered into a social contract that has practical benefits for us. If we could get away with selfish behavior without losing the benefits of society, we would......I think Haidt is right that social controls are essential in order for an individual's morality to remain at the highest level. They keep us honest. We'd surely be less moral without them.


I always find it odd when someone proposes a "what if" or situation that involves humans outside or separate from society. We are what we are, and I even mean physically, because we are social creatures that live in groups. I think we are born wired to connect to others and I am pretty sure that means we are wired to want to please others and to give and get love and affection. I don't think we need any training or external controls to make sure that we do kind things for the people around us. For sure I think the environment reinforces this or in some cases corrupts these impulses. All this to say, I am sure people would continue to behave in non-selfish ways even without external controls - essentially, I think the controls for kindness are internal.



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Mon Jul 30, 2012 7:45 pm
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Post Re: What Would You Do With the Ring of Gyges?
How odd you guys are talking about this. I just read a chapter in "Thinking Through Philosophy" that addresses the same question, only in that book it's simply a ring of invisibility.

Anyway, trying to be honest, I would definitely use the ring to my own advantage. I'm not sure anyone could resist it. I think I would eavesdrop on conversations in order to get inside scoops, possibly try to get information on investment opportunities or just to be sneaky. I'm sure we would all find ways to rationalize using such a ring of such power. Use of such a ring would greatly affect our self image. Every accomplishment would be tainted. We would feel we couldn't do without it. Maybe we would eventually try to wean ourselves off of it, or use it to help others. But more likely we would become addicted to the power such a ring could bring us. Look what happened to Bilbo and Frodo.

I think the point of the mind experiment is to show that our tendency to do good is based largely on our desire to live with others. We are social animals, as Saffron says, and we're wired to cooperate and help each other. We all want other people to like and respect us. But such a ring would enable us to get away with a lot, and with virtually no risk of ever being found out. Having such a ring could take us to a very dark place indeed.


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Mon Jul 30, 2012 8:23 pm
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Post Re: What Would You Do With the Ring of Gyges?
geo wrote:
How odd you guys are talking about this. I just read a chapter in "Thinking Through Philosophy" that addresses the same question, only in that book it's simply a ring of invisibility.

Anyway, trying to be honest, I would definitely use the ring to my own advantage. I'm not sure anyone could resist it. I think I would eavesdrop on conversations in order to get inside scoops, possibly try to get information on investment opportunities or just to be sneaky. I'm sure we would all find ways to rationalize using such a ring of such power. Use of such a ring would greatly affect our self image. Every accomplishment would be tainted. We would feel we couldn't do without it. Maybe we would eventually try to wean ourselves off of it, or use it to help others. But more likely we would become addicted to the power such a ring could bring us. Look what happened to Bilbo and Frodo.

I think the point of the mind experiment is to show that our tendency to do good is based largely on our desire to live with others. We are social animals, as Saffron says, and we're wired to cooperate and help each other. We all want other people to like and respect us. But such a ring would enable us to get away with a lot, and with virtually no risk of ever being found out. Having such a ring could take us to a very dark place indeed.

I agree with you and saffron about kindness being innate, but I don't think acting kindly is the same thing as morality. There are those creepy reports about Hitler acting so kindly toward Eva Braun and being sentimental about animals. Also look at Don Corleone, what a nice man he was to his extended family. With the ring of Gyges, no doubt we would still care just as much about those we cared about before; maybe we'd even use our powers to help them out. The question important to morality is whether we'd see a loosening in our behavior toward society at large due to loss of restraints. I think maybe sometimes we don't realize that our moral capital (a term Haidt uses) consists of hundreds of social conventions and tacit agreements that really aren't that major individually, but once they begin to erode we're in more trouble than we might realize, headed to the dark place you warn of. This is partly why I want to object when I hear people emphasizing divisions they see between themselves and others based on religion, politics, or culture. We should want to protect what social comity we have, recognizing that it is precious, instead of making "others" out of people whose differences from us are after all superficial when we take the larger view. Sorry for preaching.



Last edited by DWill on Tue Jul 31, 2012 4:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.



Tue Jul 31, 2012 4:58 pm
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Post Re: What Would You Do With the Ring of Gyges?
DWill wrote:
I agree with you and saffron about kindness being innate, but I don't think acting kindly is the same thing as morality. There are those creepy reports about Hitler acting so kindly toward Eva Braun and being sentimental about animals. Also look at Don Corleone, what a nice man he was to his extended family. With the ring of Gyges, no doubt we would still care just as much about those we cared about before; maybe we'd even use our powers to help them out. The question important to morality is whether we'd see a loosening in our behavior toward society at large due to loss of restraints. I think maybe sometimes we don't realize that our moral capital (a term Haidt uses) consists of hundreds of social conventions and tacit agreements that really aren't that major individually, but once they begin to erode we're in more trouble than we might realize, headed to the dark place you warn of. This is partly why I want to object when I hear people emphasizing divisions they see between themselves and others based on religion, politics, or culture. We should want to protect what social comity we have, recognizing that it is precious, instead of making "others" out of people whose differences from us are after all superficial when we take the larger view. Sorry for preaching.

Yes, I see that kindness and morality are different and being kind to a person you know/like is different than behavior toward society or strangers. I guess I was thinking that those feelings of kindness and the acts/behaviors that result are one of the foundations of moral behavior. I like what you have to say at the bottom of your post about making "others" out of the people around us. This just might be the crux of moral behavior (thinking out loud - no not talking to myself - typing out thoughts as they come).



Tue Jul 31, 2012 5:07 pm
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