A good-natured person A makes an active and sincere effort to do actions that result in the pleasure of another person B. Person B is generally appreciative of such actions and accepts them graciously. Person A does not do these actions with any expectations of a reward or reciprocation. Person B tends not to reciprocate such actions, however.

Now, Person A is now becoming increasingly aware of the disparity in the give and take relationship with Person B to the point further acts of kindness by Person A results in pain for Person A. Should person A stop acts of kindness towards person B?

The problem with person A stopping the acts of kindness towards person B is that it goes against person A's nature, which also results in pain for person A. How should one resolve a problem that is simply stated as, "to do pleasure is to cause pain; to not do pleasure it to also cause pain?"

  • 3
    There is the same problem with this question as with your previous one. There are no such things as "moral" or "should" in a vacuum, without you specifying some moral view (utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, etc.) this thread will turn into users voicing their personal opinions, which we try to avoid here. There is not even enough context to see where the question is coming from, it reads like an essay writing assignment for a class.
    – Conifold
    Nov 23, 2017 at 1:02
  • The simple answer: do whatever causes less pain. I believe life isn't about experiencing pleasure, but rather about suffering the least amount of pain.
    – user935
    Nov 23, 2017 at 15:44
  • Interesting question. I am trying to work out on what moral view the question would arise and what varieties of answer might apply. Definitely a topic to mull over.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jan 8, 2018 at 22:11
  • @barrycarter, does it mean that it's ultimately moral for everyone to use anesthetics 24/7 during whole life time? Or would it be moral to just disable nervous system?
    – user28434
    Jan 9, 2018 at 14:16
  • @PhilosophyNewbie. You have a new answer to your question. 'Is it moral to act kindly ?'
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jan 9, 2018 at 15:10

4 Answers 4


Is it moral to act kindly?

  • It is always moral to be kind.
  • It is sometimes moral to act kindly.

~ Kindness is defined as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.

~ Aristotle said that friendliness is a virtue.

~ Virtue is defined as behavior showing high moral standards.

~ To be means to equal in meaning.

With the given facts, logically: "It is always moral to be kind." Because if you are kind, then you are moral. Now,

~To act has two different meanings, relevant to the question:

  1. Doing or deed; and 2. a display of affected behavior : pretense ; examples: put on an act that deceived nobody. His friendly concern was just an act.

The reason you are motivated to be kind is mostly determined by several factors. The very first one is your intention.

  • So if you intend to be kind, your acts or deeds are moral.
  • But if you are intentionally unkind; or, if your kind acts are unintended or unintentional, they are in reality only a pretense though they may appear moral to some people.

See also: Fiction

In conclusion, as most philosophers are aware of the fact that truthfulness is also considered a virtue (along with kindness), so it should be apparent to most of you that a pretense of kindness is not true kindness, and therefore is not moral.


In order to provide a complete answer to this question, we need to know what the morals of Person A are; in other words, what rules of conduct amount to 'right' behaviour and (perhaps even more importantly) what conduct constitutes 'wrong' behaviour. This has to be more than just 'make others feel good' because this can easily be put into a conflicting structure.

Is Person A moral (for example) if Person B requires him or her to kill Person C and (s)he does it to make Person B happy? This in part could be the source of pain you describe above. In any event, degree of wrongness has to play a part in the equation.

In this example, murder has to be considered immoral, and 'more' immoral than failing to make someone happy. Depending on the moral framework established, it may even be 'moral' to refuse Person B's request on ground that Person B has established himself (or herself) as an immoral person in making the request, meaning that Person B's happiness is no longer required to remain moral.

The other problem here is that we're assuming (a typical Judaeo-Christian bias) that Person A's own happiness doesn't count in moral assessments. A good moral structure will take into account one's own well-being and happiness so as to provide greater opportunity to be of service to the society.

Another point to consider is that there are going to be times when there is no perfectly 'right' choice. Is it not moral to choose the 'least immoral' option in such cases?

Large topic, but in my experience, morality is something that gets rationalised and 'bent' to fit around a person's choices. Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People) makes a very subtle and misunderstood statement in his book; people ultimately do what they do because they want to. In some cases (like handing your wallet to a mugger) the choice is the least worst option you're faced with, but it's still the choice you most want to do. The same is true morally; no-one really considers themselves immoral or bad; they believe they have no choice than the one they pick, or that it's the best option available to them for some specific reason. It's amazing how much effort people will put into aligning their moral framework to fit their actions, not the other way around.

Of course, this doesn't cover amoral people, but that's outside the scope of the question and a very scary discussion point.

  • 1
    You're conflating morals with values. Contrary to what you say, we all do things that are immoral or bad (whether we want to admit it or not) precisely because what we want to do is not what we should do. If you don't recognize this distinction, you're not talking about ethics at all.
    – user3017
    Nov 23, 2017 at 12:34
  • 1
    I agree that handing a wallet over to a mugger is often what people want to do in order to save their lives. However, the question as to whether they should hand it over is a totally different question. In most cases, they probably should, but not necessarily. The point is that they are questions that are logically distinct from one another. Wanting to do something does not imply that it should be done; nor does someone having a moral obligation imply the willingness to fulfill it: ~(V → M) & ~(M → V).
    – user3017
    Nov 23, 2017 at 13:13

The first and second paragraphs contradict one another.

If Person A did not expect fairness or balance, awareness of it not being present would not cause any pain. This person therefore harbors expectations which offend their own standards, and they are therefore a (mild) hypocrite.

Person A needs to be honest about this 'nature'. Adequate analysis of the existing hypocrisy would probably discern the right approach. But as stated, the premises are just internally inconsistent.


Conifold's point, his caution, about subjectivity is well taken. What might usefully be done, however, is to reconstruct the moral thinking that would make A's reaction intellectually coherent. What view of morality, regardless of whether I or anyone else accept it, makes sense of this reaction ? This can be done, I think but could be wrong, without undue or any subjectivity.

A is inclined to what Sir David Ross calls 'beneficence' - making the condition of others, in this case B, better in respect of pleasure (or some other metric). A also, however, appreciates gratitude (which also appears in Ross). B does not reciprocate A's beneficence with gratitude.

If A just practises benevolence because s/he feels like it, it is hard to see A as a moral agent as distinct from just a nice person to have around. If B's ingratitude merely pains or irks A, then it's just a psychological matter how A reacts.

If, however, A believes that s/he is acting morally in practising benevolence, then benevolence remains a moral requirement regardless of B's ingratitude. A did not act benevolently for any return, and receives none : morally B's ingratitude then is irrelevant to A's benevolence. The moral requirement of benevolence remains.

Suppose, too, that A believes gratitude to be a moral duty. A can perfectly well point out to B that B is failing in this duty.

None of this expresses my opinion about how A should conduct her- or himself. But it does outline a coherent scheme of moral thought in which the situation described in the question is intelligible.

The references to Ross are from 'The Right and the Good' (Oxford, 1930), 21. And I am not making a plug for Ross.

On a contractarian view of morality, which assumes and requires reciprocity and mutual benefit, benevolence and gratitude can be seen as paired requirements. If A is beneficent to B but B shows no gratitude, including no reciprocity, then A can claim that the contract has been broken and that B's ingratitude releases A from beneficence. David Gauthier's 'Morals By Agreement' (1986) explores the thinking that supports such a view of morality. Not a plug for Gauthier either.

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