Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Moral versus the Practical

A comment on Sean Carroll's blog reminds me that many people believe there is a distinction between the moral and the practical. Perhaps this distinction is viable when the belief in some idea confers morality even when that idea leads to no action, and no action may even be possible (because the moral idea conflicts with reality).

Thus, perhaps, possession of the idea that "no one in the world should go hungry" makes its possessor a moral person, even if it leads to no actions to that end. I see the attraction of valuing the sentiment "no one should go hungry" over "I don't care", a society full of "I don't care" people is perhaps less likely to do something about hunger than a people with the other sentiment. But then, the "I don't care" people may have decent economic policies in place which, in practice, mean fewer people go hungry, than, say, a overly-regulated economy of the "no-hunger" folks.

India is a case in point. It started making dramatic progress in lifting its people out of poverty only after it abandoned its several decades of socialist economic policies. Of course, we do not know the final answer yet; the widening gap between the urban rich and the rural poor may politically destabilize India to an extent that will wipe out all the economic gains.

Morality thus perhaps expresses itself in a harmony between means and ends, intentions and actions.