Are duties rational? Ruthless Criticism

Are duties rational?

[Translated from Contradictio]

Ethics teachers indignantly reject this question. They do not ask whether there are rational grounds for morals and ethics, but what these reasons could be. Many representatives of this field even say that rationality and morality are the same anyhow. On the other hand, it is no secret that duties – what one should or must do – are obviously not the same as what one wills for oneself. Only because of this is there the problem of having to rationalize duties from the start, precisely because they do not always work out.

Duties towards oneself

are the most pleasant. They are nevertheless justified because the beneficiary of the mandatory action is at the same time its author: the so-called duty is at the same time his interest.

But: what meaning does the word “duty” still have if what one should do is anyway the same as what one purposely wants. The whole problem is constructed: the ethicist wants to know strange creatures who sacrifice “long-term advantage” for “short-term benefit.” He wants to prove to them that it is now and then better to renounce. However, someone who gives up a current, smaller advantage for a later, larger one does not renounce anything at all. He invests, in a way! One can confidently leave such a consideration to each particular individual: one definitely does not help with deontological ethics, anyhow, but rather with considerations of fitness to purpose.

Duties towards fellow men

If the perpetrator himself does not profit from an obligatory act, surely someone else will. One should take care of the fellow citizen – Christlike: the Neighbor. He has something from my abnegation. But what, a you’re welcome? An advantage, of course! Why, however, should his advantage be more important than mine?

And if it were so, would not the same also have to apply to him? Might the dear Neighbor pocket my good deed without even earning the reproach of egoism? Would it not be his duty to me – his Neighbor – to render the same good deed? And if he did? Then it would have been just as well to remain uninvolved and for both parties to have taken care of their own business. Who then gets something from the fact that everyone exists against everyone with the benefit of a polite “after you” – and in this way nobody goes through the door. This is a rational principle of interpersonal interaction?

There are hostile interests — no problem for the moralist

Also, the answer given unanimously from Jesus to Immanuel Kant does not help: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” says the old one, “What you do not want done to you, also do not do to others” is the negatively formulated, newer version of the answer, and both intend to say that your advantage should not be more or less important than another’s, but equal.

If my interest does not contradict that of my respected neighbor, I do not need to especially concern myself with the coexistence of both; the other interest is not at all important. If, however, my interest denies the other, I cannot also take care of this other interest; since its defeat is my interest. How should I also allow the other interest to count, when both cannot simultaneously be successful? To review: If both interests can be satisfied, then the problem does not exist; if they cannot, then the “Categorical Imperative,” the basic concept of morality, also does not help – one cannot obey it. One of the two interested parties must be defeated, because/if the other prevails.

Peace through compromise

The proposal which ethics has to make to the opposing interests is very peculiar: If they both renounce what they had originally wanted (e.g. the landlord’s rent increase, the tenant’s old low rent) and somehow come to an agreement (no matter how they find this middle-ground and where it lies!), then they both get something: of course, not what they wanted, but peace with one another, avoidance of dispute.

This proposal is absurd: the only reason the two have argued is because they insisted on their hostile interests. They could avoid their dispute if they give up their interests; certainly. Only: if they had this concern, it would never have become a dispute. It is an optimistic half-truth that in compromising both interests at least partially come to bear. With the same justice one could maintain the opposite: the renter will have affordable rent, the landlord the yield of his asset.

Human, all too human – capitalism

The ethical question refers all the time to the fact that the interests of people in our money economy are hostilely opposed to each other. At the same time, precisely this fact is not a problem for them: The fact that one can only become rich if he makes another (or many) poor, keeps them poor and exploits them, appears to the fans of ethics not as an indication of a senseless and for many harmful social order, but as a challenge to their bargaining character. The call to compromise presumes the conflict of interests and explains it as a question of personal attitude to one’s own socially determined interests, whether they come into conflict and antagonism. Profit, rent, grades “must be”; economics, educational theory and other sciences are responsible for them, not ethics. Ethics only takes care of the lie that the responsibility for the hostile positions of people against each other falls purely on contrasts in their personal decency.

Therefore, the morality teachers know a new, wrong reason for the hostilities: about profit, rent, etc. they have no notion, but profit-greed, rack-rent, exorbitant claims, they castigate with pleasure. It is mysterious how all the good things, only because a person wants them particularly badly, change into bad things. But this much is clear: the blame for all the bad is the person, whose interests are not criticized for their particular substance, but completely and fundamentally demonized as egoism.


It is irrational to see duties and obey them, because ethics are nothing more than:

– a wrong explanation of the hostilities in the modern world;

– it replaces the specific criticism of economic interests with the appeal to an all-inclusive self-criticism of the interested parties;

– it propagates a good opinion of the competition society through a bad opinion of egoistic humans.