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February 6, 2017 / Congau

If Everybody Did That

“What would happen if everybody did that?” We often hear this moral reproach. Your action is supposedly bad because if everybody did the same, the world would be a terrible place. Don’t board the bus without a ticket, because if everybody did, the bus company would go bankrupt and we would all lose. If everybody did…

But is that really a valid reason? How can my action in one sweep be extended to everyone else? There is no reason to think that my behavior would be imitated by any other person, let alone by the whole world. If my action is bad, it must be because it actually leads to something bad or because there is a significant risk that it will have bad consequences. There is no logical connection between what I do and what everybody else might do.

Some things may be good for one person even if it would be disastrous if many other people did it. If you and a few others like to go fishing in the local pond, it is fine, but if the whole world did, the pond would soon be empty. Yet, you don’t say that you shouldn’t fish because if everybody else did…

A few people, among them you, could very well evade paying the fare on the bus without dire consequences; actually without any consequences at all. In fact, if you are very poor, I hope you do try to be a free rider, for then you deserve it. If you are not, you should spend those few coins on a ticket. Making an effort to avoid paying what you can afford is an act of greed and for personal moral health reasons that should not be done. It is not because your action in any way extends to everyone else, but, on the contrary, because it stays with you.

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