31 July 2019

Heroes, Good Conduct And Duty

Imagine that people take actions that help others for three different kinds of reasons that are qualitatively different, or at least, differ in degree.

A hero is someone who takes action that no reasonable person would be expected or obligated to under the circumstances for the benefit of another.

A person engaged in "good conduct" when they act in a certain way because it is the normal and right thing to do that anyone in the circumstances would do, rather than out of fear of punishment or because it is a minimum moral or legal mandatory obligation.

A person who acts out of a duty towards another does so because they are obligated to do so as a minimum acceptable standard of conduct, and conceivably could be punished for not doing so.

The debate between Confucianists arguing for the "rule of wise men" and their legal theory/political theory adversaries who argued for the "rule of law", in historical China (which the Confucianists largely won), is to a great extent a way to leverage the delta between people engaging in good conduct and people acting out of duty. Leaders motivated to act out of good conduct should act better on average towards others than leaders motivated solely by duty.

Does "heroism" really exist as something distinct from "good conduct" empirically at all? Or is it just an example of someone acting out of a sense of what constitutes "good conduct" that is particularly pro-social? I ask because so many people who are recognized as heroes deny that this is what they were and instead claim that they were only engaged in "good conduct".

UPDATE August 2, 2019:

Adding this meme.

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