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  • Writer's pictureLars Christensen

How To Make Good Decisions by Iain King



I finished this book in April 2024. I recommend this book 4/10.


Why you should read this book:

This is a book that tries to solve the meaning of life, what we are responsible for, and how we should help our neighbor vs. the starving people in Africa. It challenges the concept of giving a tenth of your earnings away and that stoicism was self-observed while their empire was falling apart.


Get your copy here.


🚀 The book in three sentences

  1. Lead with empathy, obligation, and help principles.

  2. It is not a straight path; you might have to break a few laws.

  3. You have to turn the other cheek to move forward at times, and donating 3/4 of 1% can solve world hunger.


🎨 Impressions

  • This book could lead to some good discussions in a philosophy class.


📝 My notes and thoughts

  • P23. The first objection is this: it's hard to compare how much different people value things. You can never know what it's like to be struggling in the water unless you are actually there. Similarly, if you are designing a road, you can never know how much other people really want or don't want that road. If you ask them, they are sure to exaggerate their wishes to get their way. Comparing what different people want and choosing between them is very difficult. Yes, it is difficult to make these sorts of comparisons between people, but that doesn't undermine the system. Comparing what different people want and choosing between them is a vital social skill developed in people from their earliest experiences in the playground. It is hard to get right and very hard to do perfectly, but that's not a fatal flaw. Also, practitioners of "do whatever has the best consequences" have evolved clever ways to cope with this problem. Doctors have used "do whatever has the best consequence" in military hospitals since the age of Napoleon. When not all casualties can be treated, they are separated into three groups. The first group is made up of the walking wounded whose lives don't depend on receiving treatment; the second group is the critical cases whose lives do depend on it, and the third group is those who will die whatever happens. Doctors then concentrate on the middle group to save as many lives as possible. This system of "triage" involves comparing varied injuries. But these comparisons are not too difficult: certain sorts of wounds put people in certain categories. There will always be borderline cases, but that doesn't invalidate the whole system. Other professions use different systems. Accountants try to make these comparisons between people by measuring the value of money. Architects try to compare the extra beauty of a design feature with the extra cost. Teachers try to make the best use of their time between the different students in their class. Making comparisons between people is not always easy, but lots of people do it. Hence, this objection is more of a practical problem than a real difficulty. It is something for people to tackle, not to make them change direction.

  • P25. The third objection made most recently by the Nobel Prize-winning Indian economist Amartya Sen, is that "do whatever has the best consequences" is unfair. It caters for the people who can be satisfied and ignores those who can't. Imagine you had a pair of top-of-the-range running shoes, and you had to decide whether to give them to an athlete or a person in a wheelchair. The person in the wheelchair won't be able to use them, but the athlete can, so the best consequence means giving the running shoes to the athlete. This does seem unfair—after all, the athlete is already lucky; they don't deserve something more. The misfortune of the person in the wheelchair is being compounded—they have already lost their mobility, now they are missing out on running shoes too. But Sen's objection is misleading. "Do whatever has the best consequences" is only unfair because life is unfair. If it's possible to trade the shoes for something worth more to the wheelchair user, then the shoes should be traded. If no such trade is possible, then why not give the shoes to the athlete? It's the same decision faced by the triage doctor who must choose between helping critically wounded casualty and a fatally wounded one. The misfortune of the fatally wounded casually will be compounded by the fact he will be treated second. It's unfair in the way, but it means the critically wounded casualty is saved, and saving one life is better than saving none. 

  • P41. We need to go back to fundamentals. We need to find the basic reason behind everything we do. Is there a fundamental reason for doing anything at all? This is much harder question than it may seem, finding a fundamental reason is never easy. You can look for the reason behind the reason, but somehow, you can never quite find the starting point. You get out of bed to go to work; you go to work to earn money; you earn money to buy things; you buy things to eat; you eat to stay alive; you stay alive because...you want to?

  • P43. If there is meaning in life, then seeking meaning might actually deliver it. You might actually find something really worth having or doing. Alternatively, if there isn't meaning in life, then it doesn't matter what you do. You could sit and watch television, or help other people, or just be nasty—it doesn't matter because there's nothing at stake. It just doesn't matter. There is nothing to be lost by pursuing the meaning of life, even though no meaning can be found. So, whether or not there really is meaning in life, it makes sense to pursue something really worth having or doing. We should pursue meaning in life, whether or not there is a true meaning to be had. Put simply, we should seek meaning, or seek value. People should try to find something really worth having in life, whatever that may be, whether it is there to be found or not. The meaning of life is this: to seek out something really worth having or doing.

  • P44. Instead of "What is the meaning of life?" consider, "Is there a fundamental reason to do anything?" With this question, the logic of the answer is much clearer. Whether or not there really is a fundamental reason to do anything, there is nothing to be lost and everything to be gained by seeking out something really worth having or doing. So, there is a fundamental reason to seek value in life. Whatever you do, seek value.

  • P49. There is another important conclusion: it means there is no necessary link between satisfying your wants and being happy. If you satisfy your wants, you will probably develop new ones, and with them will come new reasons to be unhappy. Most lottery winners soon want something other than money. Satisfying wants and being happy are not the same thing at all. So, from our fairly solid foundation of "seek value," we now have a much less certain set of instructions‚ it's something to do without wants. And even though wants are so central to our lives, they are actually very complicated. Wants can conflict with each other; they can be created in ways we might not welcome, for example, by advertisers; fulfilling them doesn't always make us happy; and we need to distinguish between trivial whims and more fundamental goals. No one can ever be absolutely sure what they really want because new wants emerge when you try to satisfy old ones. It is little wonder that people often discover they don't really know what they want.

  • P50. Imagine yourself stranded on a remote island again, a modern-day Robinson Crusoe. Suppose you have a few things left from the shipwreck, so you can survive for a few weeks at least. Now you have a plan! Living entirely alone, you should do the following things in order:

  • Seek value. You might as well look for something really worth having or doing in life, whether it is there to be found or not. So, whatever you do, seek value.

  • Identify the things you want. Something really worth having or doing will probably be connected with your wants in some way. So, draw up a list of things you want.

  • Group these wants according to the goals they serve. To choose between wants which cannot be fulfilled at the same time, try to cluster your wants together according to more fundamental aims. These clusters of wants are goals, or fundamental wants.

  • Guess your most preferred goals, aware that they may change. Choose which group of wants you think you probably like best. Try to put the different clusters of wants into order of preference. Just like wants, goals can clash with each other, and can change as people experience new things and grow older. But most people can make an educated guess at what their goals are now, and what they might be in the future.

  • Compare your preferred goals with other people's and with goals you may acquire in new situations. See if anybody else has already fulfilled your top choices of goals—would you like to be that person? Experiences from other people can be used to inform you of choice of goals. Having mapped out some preferred goals, both for now and in the future, these need to be checked, for example, by considering how new situations may change them.

  • Decide which goals or situations you can and want to pursue, and pursue them, Once you've ranked your goals and situations, a further reality check is needed: are the goals achievable? Sometimes, it's good to chase an impossible goal, but not if you expect to fulfill it. When you've chosen your goals, you should follow them.

  • Do what you want. Some wants will have no impact on other goals or wants—generally trivial things. There is a reason to do these things, and no reason not to, so do them.

  • P56. So, seeking value with others usually involves being good (whatever 'being good' involves—we will come to that later). There are strong reasons to follow the rules of good behavior: you may really enjoy being good and get a kick out of being nice to others. If you don't, then you risk being punished or being shamed as a hypocrite. But, although it may be difficult to cheat, there seems to be no inherent reason why breaking the rules won't work from time to time. Think of any rule: a national law, an etiquette, or a rule at school. Whatever the rule, there is usually someone who tries to break it every now and again. Rule-breakers don't have to be mad or ignorant of the rule they are breaking, indeed they can be very sane and sensible. They can be hypocritical and just not care. Usually, they just think they can break the rules and get away with them. They just follow their own rules instead. Criminals who have broken laws sometimes claim the law didn't apply to them somehow—either because they didn't agree with it, or because they thought it was acceptable to exploit flaws in the way it was enforced. Some criminals treat laws like a game: rewards if you get away with it, penalties if you get caught. Not just the habitual offender, like the career burglar who admits 'it's a fair cop' when he is finally caught by the police, but also more widespread crime. Many people disrespect minor traffic laws; for instance—we park in places we are not supposed to and know we are not supposed to. If we get a parking ticket or a fine, we grudgingly accept we ought to pay it. This is an example of people willingly and deliberately breaking codes for good behavior. It is as though we were following a slightly different code of conduct, one which sees no problem with minor traffic offenses as long as we don't hurt anyone and are not found out.

  • P59. If helping someone cross a road is good, then various caveats and conditions need to be added—' help someone across a road, but not if it enables them to rob a bank, and not if there's someone else who you need to save from drowning,' and so on. Deciding what actions are right and wrong can be as hard as distinguishing virtues from vices.

  • P59. There are always practical problems: what are the consequences of your behavior? Even deciding what an action is can be difficult: when Gavrilo Princip pulled a trigger in Sarajevo in 1914, was killing Archduke Ferdinand, starting the First World War, or ruining the twentieth century? It's hard to know everything that will happen.

  • P70. By applying the Sherlock Holmes method to right and wrong—looking for patterns and eliminating possibilities—there is much more we can deduce. Now, we know right and wrong, and our system for making decisions must provide a motive, be consistent with itself, and be broadly consistent with our instincts. It needs to be more than a matter of taste and connect our inner selves with the world around us. And we can be sure that a moral code which fits this description is better than a code which does not. Sherlock Holmes would be proud.

  • P73. Most selflessness is inspired by empathy. Empathy is the virtue of imagining the concerns of someone else as if they were your own. Whenever you think 'I wouldn't like to be in their situation', or 'I feel really happy for you', you are empathizing with that person. Empathy is a virtue, and it often motivates people to help others. The motivation to act on love, affection, and welfare in a one-to-one situation is often an empathetic motivation—they all involve imagining the concerns of the other as if they were your own. Obligation is a slightly different sort of motive, but it can also drive people to behave selflessly. Obligation to an imagined contract-like moral duty to other people is the force behind sentiments like 'that's something I really ought to do.' Loyalty can be the virtue of obligation by another name: people imagine a contract-like commitment to another person which motivates them rate the interest of the other person, as well as their own. Empathy and obligation do not guarantee someone is good. If you empathize with a bad person, or act on an obligation towards them, you might do something bad. Empathy and obligation are not enough on their own. But empathy and obligation are very special sorts of virtues. They are very special because they are the only virtues which match the description we have for 'good'. They have that 'partly self-standing' quality we were looking for. When you empathize with someone, you match up something internal (your motivations) with something external (their concerns). When you act on an obligation, you do the same: you match your concerns (internal) with no other person's (external) through a sort of contract, just as motivations link your brain with the world around you. Empathy and obligation have the same DNA as right and wrong. They are the same sort of stuff.

  • P80. First, a summary of our conclusion so far. We have deduced we should all seek value—we should look for something really worth having or doing. And because most really valuable things involve other people and it's easier to interact within a framework of accepted behavior, seeking value means we need a system of right and wrong. People have different opinions about what these rules for right and wrong should be, but that doesn't mean that no view is best—one view can be better than another as long as there is a good reason for it. To find this reason, we have looked into what 'right' and 'wrong' mean. Right and wrong motivate, and to motivate, they need three other characteristics: they must offer consistent advice for identical situations (you cannot follow contradictory advice); they must be broadly consistent with people's instincts to be moral (you cannot follow advice which steers away too radically from what you already believe); and, like all motivations, right and wrong must be partly self-standing, which requires being partly inside people, and partly outside, so they can connect your thoughts with the world around you. Since a moral code has to motivate, it needs to have all these characteristics. A moral code with all these characteristics helps us locate the DNA of right and wrong. To find a match to this DNA, we looked first at characteristics—virtues and vices. Here, we found that empathy and obligation provide a unique match; no other virtues or vices match up nearly so well. So empathy and obligation are the basic virtues. They are what being good is all about. When you act on empathy and obligation, you act on the Help principle—you help someone if your help is worth more to them than it is to you. If you act on the Help principle, then there is something essentially good in what you do. So here we have it: being good means action on empathy, obligation, and the Help Principle. That's what good is.

  • P90. You are a master locksmith. Walking home late at night, you come across four people looking very suspicious. They seem to be trying to unlock the door of a house, and you recognize one of their faces as a man wanted for a string of local burglaries. As a lock expert, you can help the burglars break into the house, or you can walk on pretending not to notice them and swiftly call the police when you get around the corner. What should you do? The answer seems obvious—the burglars should be reported to the police, not helped to commit another crime. But if you apply the basic Help principle, you will compare the cost of the help you can offer to them—a few seconds of delay and a little queasiness—with the value of your help to them—whatever they can steal from the house. If their plunder is worth more than your few seconds delay, then the basic of Help Principle seems to advise you to help the burglars!

  • P96. We need to make the Help Principle sensitive to time changes which affect the nature of an action, but insensitive to time changes which do not. There are a few ways in which time can affect the nature of an action, such as when it's bad to be late: time determines whether someone is late so time will determine whether or not they are bad, too. Time can affect attitudes, and attitudes can affect the nature of an action. It might be right to apologize immediately after you committed a faux pas, but an apology several weeks later would be out of place. Time also affects us. We can only remember things from the past, not the future; we can only change the future, not the past, and we can't understand action before living memory in the same way as contemporary ones. Consequences beyond human foresight are just too far away to think about. Time does matter. In all these cases, a time element changes the action, and this change can affect whether or not the action is right: time can indirectly affect what is right. But the link between time and what is right can only ever be indirect. It's not the time itself that is making something right or wrong, but the way time affects something else, and it's that something else that is influencing whether it is right or wrong.

  • P113. Empathy suggests people should intervene to stop a cycle of reciprocity between two or more other people whenever blame is unclear. When both people sincerely believe the other is at fault and their retaliation is justified, then others have an obligation to try to make them stop their quarrel. This adds to the duty to intervene; you should defend someone who was attacked without due reason as if you were attacked yourself, and intervene to stop a cycle of reciprocity if you can reduce the amount of underserved harm that is inflicted. But what if there was no one to intervene? Would we just keep trading blows over the spilled drink? This leads to the third problem with reciprocity: When exactly should you reciprocate? We showed earlier that when actions take place doesn't affect whether they are right or wrong: you could reciprocate before or after someone does something bad—it doesn't matter. But this answer is not really convincing. If you reciprocate before someone does something bad, then how do you know they're going to do it? And if you reciprocate afterward, then how can your reciprocity change anything? Reciprocity before an. Action is uncalled for, and reciprocity after an action can be little more than spitefulness. These thoughts and the fear of endless cycles of reciprocity have inspired some to abandon reciprocity altogether. Jesus is credited with the now prevalent idea of no retaliating. 'I tell you not to resist an evil person,' he said, 'But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.'

  • P124. The real measure of genuine kindness is how much you help people who cannot help you in return. How much you help people who cannot help you is the clearest measure of how much help you really deserve yourself.

  • P125. These are the first nine principles of right and wrong:

  • Seek value. Something worth having or doing may be there to be found, and if not, seeking it loses us nothing.

  • Empathize, and be true to your obligations. We have seen how any viable framework of right and wrong needs to be rooted in empathy and obligation. So, to seek value effectively, we need to empathize and be true to our obligations.

  • Help someone if your help is worth more to them than it is to you. In our fully refined Help Principle it is the all-time direct value of help that matters. The words 'all-time' are important: your actions can bring benefits before they happen because people can anticipate them, and these benefits need to be considered. Person-to-person wants are ignored; only value derived directly from how someone interacts with objects is counted.

  • Treat people according to their own wants and intentions, not by what others want of them. This means you should treat people directly, not by the wants of another, and shown in Chapter 18. It incorporates Kant's maxim that people must only ever be treated as ends, never as means to other people's pleasure.

  • Let people choose for themselves unless you know their interests better than they can. This is the Autonomy Principle from Chapter 17. It draws on John Stuart Mill's work about letting people make decisions for themselves.

  • Apply the Help Principle to others as much as they would apply it themselves. This is the reciprocity rule, explained in Chapter 19.

  • Defend someone who was attacked without due reason as if you were attacked yourself. This is the duty to intervenne, also from Chapter 19. It includes the duty to intervene to stop a cycle of reciprocity if you can reduce the amount of underserved harm people inflict. We should not stand by while bad things happen.

  • Try to enjoy providing and receiving help in line with the Help Principle. This is the bonus benefit rule derived from the Help Principle in Chapter 18.

  • Help others with humility and express gratitude for help you receive. This is the humility rule developed in Chapter 20. Providing help can only ever license a sense of display of superiority if the recipient of your help willfully chooses not to return the kindness. Linking in with writings by Maimonides, the Help Principle shows the clearest measure of how much help you really deserve yourself is how much you help people who cannot help you in return.

  • P174. So the full list of instructions is this:

  • Seek value.

  • Empathize and be true to your obligations.

  • Help someone if your help is worth more to them than it is to you.

  • Treat people according to their own wants and intentions, not by what others want of them.

  • Let people choose for themselves unless you know their interests better than they can.

  • Apply the Help Principle to others as much as they would apply it themselves.

  • Defend someone who was attacked without due reason as if you were attacked yourself.

  • Try to enjoy providing and receiving help in line with the Help Principle.

  • Help others with humility, and express gratitude for help you receive.

  • Ensure people who deliberately make bad things happen are punished as they should have been deterred, unless mercy is due.

  • Keep your promises unless changing to a new option is worth more than the trust and plan your waste.

  • Communicate so people can do what's best for the real circumstances.

  • In small groups, choose whichever option benefits any individual the most.

  • In large groups, choose whichever option has the best all-time outcome, by adding up the benefits and losses to people of each option.

  • P175. These are the Principles of right and wrong. These define right and wrong; these are what people should do. We could add to the list by dividing some of them into two principles, or by being more specific in certain areas. We could cover specific topics, such as the guidance 'have sex only with people you want to have sex with, be aware of the potential impact, and ensure it is an act of mutual respect.' But greater detail also means greater distraction. Rather than listing more and more rules, it is better for people to think through problems and work out the relevant aspects for themselves. Detail is available if people need it, but people should deduce what these are when possible, and only be given them when necessary.

  • P190. The best of these conventions help people to apply the Principles in the real world—they help to over come all the problems set out in the previous chapter. For example, given the risk that people spread disease when the cough, the Help Principle would advise people to cover their mouths in most cases. But applying the Help Principle every time you cough involves a complex calculation on the risk of infecting others—it is much easier to tell people to cover their mouths always than it is to work out the chances of spreading the illness every few minutes. 'Cover your mouths when you cough' is a convention that simplifies an information problem which would otherwise make it very hard to apply the Principles. Laws are conventions which can help overcome other obstacles to applying the Principles. Property laws can help ensure people get what they deserve. Tax laws can formalize people's obligation to help others; sentencing laws can set standards for the punishment of certain crimes, and so on. These convention are rarely perfect replicas of the Principles for right and wrong. Sometimes they approximate to the Principles applied to a specific situation, like the etiquette to cover your mouths when you cough. Sometimes they are instrumental in helping the perfectly good about either covering things more likely. So, we should adapt conventions which help the Principles be applied, or approximate usefully to them.

  • P193. Even trying to define the best conventions for a single culture is hard: it takes us away from the realm of right and wrong into psychology, organizational theory, economics, and so on. The Principles remain universal; their offspring are not universal at all. So:

  • When there are no problems applying the Principles, we should apply them.

  • When there are problems—problems of information, diffuse responsibility, and so on—we should use conventions: guidelines manufactured to help overcome these problems.

  • Conventions can clash, providing contradictory advice. When this happens, we should choose between them on the basis of the Principles—which means applying the 'convention about conventions': we should change conventions based on out-of-date patterns or situations, which can be refined easily, or which diverge substantially from the Principles.

  • The convention about conventions means some flawed conventions are worth keeping, and that it can be right for two incompatible contentions to coexist at the same time.

  • Nevertheless, as practical problems change, conventions need to evolve and adapt accordingly. We should challenge conventions which no longer help people apply the Principles for right and wrong in the situation they face. Conventions are rarely perfect, and we should be ready to disobey them from time to time.

  • P194. Sometimes, occasionally, the law is wrong and we should break it. Lawyers who refuse to accept this because they have come to believe their system of justice defines right and wrong deserve to be unpopular.

  • P195. This approach owes much to the Stoics of the Roman era who detached themselves from the chaos around them as their ancient empire collapsed. Inspired by the writings of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic became stedfast and self-reliant, locating virtue purely in their own actions. Some religions also teach right and wrong as purely a list of personal actions, and claim that taking responsibility for one's own actions is all morality is about. It is a controversial idea: critics say being good is a social concept, so trying to be 'good' without considering other people is nonsense.

  • P199. But before Stoics shriek in horror, they should realize that the integrity of what we cause to happen has good effects. We have not abandoned the Stoic concepts of personal responsibility; we have filled it out to include some important factors that the Stoics ignored. Indeed, perhaps we can see where the Stoics were coming from. When uncertainty increases, as it did in the dying days of the Roman Empire and perhaps now too, the action of other people can become harder to predict, meaning the direct effect of our own action become more important. The Stoics' position coincides with the best things to do when everything is crashing down around you. So, we should usually buy fair-trade coffee, refuse to work for nasty regimes and make sure we do the right thing. But whenever our actions alter what other people do, we may have to do things differently. To be specific, we should do bad things only when the behavior of others means better actions will have worse effects. Whenever these situations arise, we must never forget our other duty—to try to remove the causes of the problem. We should abandon personal integrity only when something greater is at stake; and when we do, we must try to do what's best is better than the twisted, complicated would of today, where doing something bad can sometimes be the best thing to do.

  • P203. This is where the most serious problems begin. If we say people should rate the concerns of strangers almost as highly as those of friends and family, then there are suddenly many more people to think about. You may have eight close family members, eighty good friends, and eight hundred acquaintances, all of whom you would help in varying degrees, but there are many millions of Kintus in the world and a billion people living on less than a dollar a day. Live Aid set an example of helping millions of people in desperate need of help—the ideal embodiment of the Help Principle in some ways. But now it seems we should spread our help to others so thinly the only obvious effect of giving will be to make each of us poorer. We have lost our limits and need to find them again. This is the greatest practical problem if right and wrong, and this is the problem we shall now tackle.

  • P205. Christianity and several early tax systems converged on a common answer: they all advised people to devote one-tenth of their income to other people. The one-tenth model has proven to be sustainable over long periods, and with good local organizations, it can ensure resources are channeled where they are most needed. But one-tenth seem arbitrary; the Gods who chose it could have decided one-twelfth or one-eight just as easily. Also, one-tenth seems awkward in a modern age when governments already take much more than one-tenth of income as tax and use some of it for charitable purposes. And, like all conventions, it only works while a certain pattern holds—in this case, a pattern of needs within the community. When the community changes or faces crisis, one-tenth may be too much or too little. We cannot have faith that one-tenth is the limit we need.

  • P214. So, to add the fourteen rules:

  • Give three-quarters of 1 percent of your income to tackle lethal poverty. Preventable deaths because people lack the basic resources needed to survive are our most desperate problem. We have a duty to prevent these deaths just as we have a duty to prevent murder, and our response should be shaped by what we can do. Three-quarters of 1 percent of the income from everybody above the poverty line in the developed world is enough to tackle lethal poverty and stop six thousand children dying every day from diarrhea.

  • Contribute your fair share to solve common problems and encourage others to contribute their fair share too. If someone is not contributing their share to tackle the world's most pressing problems then it undermines anything else they call for, and this should be explained to them. If they don't think they ought to help people like Kintu, then we can reciprocate their selfishness towards them. This piece of guidance means we should press institutions to straighten their priorities. Governments and businesses have a role in tackling lethal poverty. We should switch our votes and purchases towards institutions which act in line with the Principles and related conventions. Once lethal poverty has been tackled, these institutions should tackle other vital issues, especially those with the largest consequences where we can have the greatest impact.

  • Help people more if you know them or you owe them. There are good reasons to put friends and family first: we usually understand their needs well and we may have important commitments to them which we should honor. But there is a limit to this preferential treatment, and the serious needs of strangers should always come before the petty needs of people we know.

  • Respect good conventions and challenge bad ones. To overcome the problems with applying the Principles, we should adopt conventions which approximate to the Principles or help them to apply. Different societies have developed different sets of conventions, and it is possible for two different sets of conventions to be right at the same time—we should usually respect foreign cultures, tolerate different approaches and be aware that their answers may be better than ours because they have adapted to local circumstances. We should support conventions that help the Principles to be applied, even though this may mean adopting some conventions which seem to contradict each other.

  • Check your actions against your instincts; check your instincts are right for your situation. When information is unreliable, as so often in life, our instinct can prevent us going drastically off course. But our instincts tend to mislead us too. They tend to be short-sighted, exaggerating the immediate effects of what we do at the expense of more distant consequences. They can also fool us not thinking conventions are valuable in themselves, not for their power to promote good, meaning we often stick with conventions when the situation has changed and they are no longer appropriate. We need reasoning to correct our instinctive response and instinct to humanize our calculations.

  • Only do bad things to stop other people from doing worse. It is naive to think that keeping our own hands clean makes us good people—often it does, but it can also license other people to be bad. By doing something bad we can sometimes stop other people doing something worse—two wrongs cam make a right. When this happens, we should always seek a way of improving the whole system, so we don't have to be bad any more.

  • P216. Social problems require social solutions. What these social solutions should be is for another time, but we aren't powerless until then—there are appropriate responses for individuals, too. Acting together and alone, we can improve this rough world. We can make the world a better place, so we should do so.

  • P225. So this is what you should do:

  • Seek value

  • Empathize and be true to your obligations

  • Help someone if your help is worth more to them than it is to you

  • Treat people according to their own wants and intentions, not by what others want of them

  • Let people choose for themselves unless you know their interests better than they can

  • Apply the Help Principles to others as much as they would apply it themselves

  • Defend someone who was attacked without due reason as if you were attacked yourself

  • Try to enjoy providing and receiving help in line with the Help Principle

  • Help others with humility, and express gratitude for help you receive

  • Ensure people who deliberately make bad things happen are punished as they should have been deterred, unless mercy is due

  • Keep your promises unless changing to a new option is worth more than the trust and plan you waste

  • Communicate so people can do what's best for the real circumstances

  • In small groups, choose whichever option benefits any individual the most

  • In large groups, choose whichever option has the best all-time outcome, by adding up the benefits and losses to people of each option

  • Give three-quarters of 1 percent of your income to tackle lethal poverty

  • Contribute your fair share to solve common problems and encourage others to contribute their fair share too

  • Help people more if you know them or you owe them

  • Respect good conventions and challenge bad ones

  • Check your actions against your instincts; check your instincts are right for your situation

  • Only do bad things to stop other people doing worse.

  • P227. So, there is no excuse—you ought to do what is right! You will improve lives, eradicate many bad things, and make the world a much, much better place. This is right and wrong explained.

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