This chapter is concerned with how the theory of ethics explicated in the first six chapters could be implemented. The chapter consists of two sections. The first of these describes how a shared consciousness of abilities and efforts to expand them could be brought about. The second section describes the roles that the arts, religion, the humanities and social sciences, and government can play toward creating the well-ordered society envisioned by our theory of ethics.
Shared Consciousness of the Development of Abilities
The discussion thus far has tried to point out the potential value of various kinds of information related to abilities and the effects brought about by exercising abilities. It has tried to show the importance such information could have for enabling individuals and groups to live a good life and to create a well-ordered society. The benefits to be derived from making a conscious and deliberate effort to recognize abilities and the effects of their use and then to share such information have not been given explicit attention. In this section these matters will be brought into a more coherent whole, and then the question of how a shared consciousness could be brought about will be investigated.
In the “Overview” chapter (pages 22 ff) it was stated that abilities can be recognized and that the strength and success of relationships is highly dependent on the reasonably accurate recognition by each person or group of the abilities of the other. One of the great things that friends normally do is to help each other recognize some of their personal traits including abilities. Friends discover how they affect each other. It would add a new dimension to friendship if people would make a more conscious effort to help each other in these ways. It would help to initiate friendships as well as cement them.
At the same time there is a need to recognize inabilities and inadequacies. Injustices, frustrations and suffering need attention. Where no way is known for treating a particular ill, efforts to find a way need to be made.
In the introduction to the general concept of apprenticeship (Cf page 24) it was mentioned that part of learning to do anything well is learning to distinguish good workmanship from poor. Establishing any measurement of excellence requires a feedback system. People need to find out how their creations, actions, activities and manner of doing things affect others.
A discussion of ecological, economic and social niches was contained in an earlier section by that title (pages 53 ff). It described how persons and groups within each niche could examine their effects on the acquisition and use of abilities by others. It suggested that by analyzing these effects the persons and groups within each niche could arrive at a shared understanding of the principles involved. It urged that redefinitions of social responsibilities be undertaken, aimed at fostering maximal contributions from each for the well-being of all.
One of the first comments that was made explicitly about sharing information relating to abilities came in the discussion of “The Quality of Life” (Cf pages 57 ff). In connection with the Aristotelian principle describing the satisfactions people get from the exercise of their abilities it was said that people want their own abilities to function within and be a contributing part of some higher level collective abilities. It was said that people also want there to be a shared understanding of the relation between their abilities and those higher collective abilities. It was pointed out that the abilities of any group are determined in part by the abilities of the group’s members and in part by how well the patterns of communication within the group enable the members to coordinate their efforts. Thus, a shared understanding of how the abilities of each of the members contribute to the group’s collective capacities adds to the group’s effectiveness and to the satisfaction the members receive from their participation.
On page 25 of the “Overview” chapter the need was mentioned for groups generally to seek to improve the quality of work life within the group. As ways of doing this, page 32 of the section, “Dependency on Resources, Assistance, and Positions” suggested: (1) awarding of offices on the basis of the abilities already possessed by the candidates, (2) rotating persons through offices, and (3) ensuring that each office carries with it only the minimal powers required for the effectiveness of the organization as a whole. Implementing these suggestions would evidently require explicit identification of the qualifications for each position and an analysis of the decision-making activities associated with each.
A life of “doing the most good” could be described as a life of trying to do as much good as possible in each situation without unduly compromising one’s chances for doing a greater amount of good afterwards. It involves learning to contribute effectively to the well-being of others. One’s effectiveness depends on being perceptive in recognizing the ways that the well-being of each of the participants in any given situation could be affected by whatever one might do. Chapter 4 (pages 53 ff) set forth criteria for evaluating well-being. It suggested that learning to contribute effectively to the well-being of others could be greatly facilitated if people who were trying to gain this capacity could share their successes and failures with one another. The would-be learners would learn to see everyone’s life history as a history of acquiring and exercising abilities and they would learn to recognize the ways in which such life histories can intertwine.
The section “Policies Consistent with the Aim of Doing the Most Good” (pages 97 ff) contained many recommendations for public policy but also emphasized the need to review and evaluate public policy decisions. This evaluation would employ the same criteria of well-being that are proposed for other areas.
All of this can be summarized by saying that living a good life, a life of doing the most good, needs to be a cooperative enterprize and this enterprize needs to have a life of its own. This enterprise needs to involve a deliberate effort to promote humanity’s common life of intellect, emotion, spirituality, and moral consciousness.
Now let us look at how a shared consciousness of abilities and their development could be brought about. It seems to involve activities on four levels: (1) internal analysis and reflection within each person and group, (2) informal sharing, (3) the creation of new practices and institutions, and (4) governmental regulation.
On the level of internal analysis and reflection a possible breakdown of useful activities for each person and group would be:
a. An effort to recognize one’s own abilities and those of others
b. Keeping records of one’s career and the history of other aspects of one’s life and taking note of the events, persons, and groups that have had significant effects on one’s life and the course of development of one’s abilities
c. Evaluating how fully one’s abilities are being utilized and how effective one is being in contributing to the well-being of others
d. Formulating and carrying out short-term and long-term plans for expanding one’s abilities and for utilizing one’s abilities for promoting the sustained expansion of human capacities
On the level of informal sharing what is envisioned is a sharing of the results of one’s recognitions of abilities, one’s reflections on one’s life history, and one’s
short-term and long-term plans. This sharing would typically take place a little at a time as mutual interest became identified and as mutual trust developed. As such sharing continued perhaps individuals and groups would learn to feel freer about self-disclosure and would at the same time better learn to respect each other’s confidence and become more sensitive to the proper boundaries of confidentiality. Hopefully, also, people would develop a greater willingness to help one another and to make the sharing more mutually beneficial. Sharing between groups could often take place under the general cognizance and expressed willingness of the leadership of the respective groups without necessitating formal arrangements.
On the third level, pertaining to the creation of new practices and institutions, several efforts seem worthwhile:
a. Peer counseling. In addition to the informal sharing described for level two there could be groups of usually four or five persons who would exchange information and act as a “support group” for one another. The content of the sharing could be much the same as in the more informal and less organized sharing of level two but perhaps a greater emphasis could be placed on evaluating the validity of the information exchanged. Meetings might occur quarterly.
Peer counseling between groups could occur by having four or five groups each appoint a representative. The representatives would exchange views and funnel information between their respective groups.
It is envisioned that this kind of peer counseling could become something of an enterprise in itself with membership organizations promoting it and articles and books being published on the subject.
b. Mentoring and advising. Some persons who have had a considerable amount of experience in some field of work or other area of life would be quite willing to act as mentors to others. The mentors would meet with their pupils singly from time to time for as long as they both wished to continue the relationship. Often the goal would be to help the pupil find his or her proper economic or social niche.
There could also be new kinds of paid advisors who would have appropriate credentials in some area. It is already true that business firms and governmental agencies often provide career counselors to their employees, and this practice could be expanded to include the kinds of considerations contained in the idea of “doing the most good.”
c. Consultants. As a body of knowledge and research and analysis techniques are developed in these areas there is a possibilities for there to be professional consultants with backgrounds in the social and behavioral sciences.
d. Databases. It is envisioned that
profit-making and not-for-profit organizations could be created for collecting and providing carefully controlled access to many kinds of information. In particular independently operated not-for-profit corporations could be created and regulated by governments. The databases would provide, first of all, a clearinghouse for information about workers, organizations, public agencies and business firms and their abilities. The databases would allow workers to update their resumés and advertise their services without jeopardizing their current employment. Potential employers of full-time and part-time employees could identify themselves to workers. The data would also allow statistical studies to be made to determine the typical rates of advancement of different classes of workers. Similar studies could be made for workers trained by particular methods or particular types of educational institutions. The databases could also serve as a personal resource to each worker allowing him or her to keep track of life history information and short-term and long-term plans.
Databases could serve a similar function for business firms. They could advertise the goods and services they provide and could locate the suppliers of the goods and services they need. By keeping historical information reflecting changes in the goods and services offered by different business firms information would be created which would allow economists to determine the health of different industries and the ways those industries are changing.
Governmental and other public agencies could be required to provide information about the services they provide. Publicly funded programs could be required to furnish information about the abilities they are intended to create.
It is envisioned that databases could provide a repository for short-term and long-term plans of individuals, civic groups, governmental agencies, private organizations, and business firms. The originators of the plans would control access to the information, although some plans of government agencies would be required to be available to anyone. This would facilitate the coordination of plans between participants and would also facilitate the launching of new projects of all kinds.
Databases could also provide the foundation for a quality assessment system giving incentives to users of all goods and services to give feedback to the purveyors of those good and services. They could likewise be used to aid the assessment of the effectiveness of public agencies and publicly funded programs.
As will be outlined in the next section there is a need to keep track of abilities within the arts, religions, the humanities and social sciences, and government. Databases could serve this need also.
On the level of governmental regulation, as just mentioned in connection with databases, public agencies and programs could be required to put certain information in the databases, and regulations to protect the information from unauthorized use could be established. It might be advantageous to require businesses to register their goods and services in databases, and census data might also be kept there.