Is there anything in philosophy (presumably ethics) that specifically explores what I’ve called the “cad problem”.

Simply put, how should an individual (or a distinct group) that focuses on self betterment and virtuous behaviour, deal with other individuals who do not share those same values, and whose behaviour is a potential threat to one's ability to act in an ideal manner.

For example: A pacifist’s interpretation of Christ’s “turn the other cheek” would imply that, when confronted with a mugger, one should act by cooperating with their demands, and even exceeding those demands (give the mugger your wallet then offer them your watch too).

The supposed benefits of this are both spiritual for the individual (the saint) and social (sets an example for the cad and bystanders to follow).

History would show that this is not necessarily an optimal strategy for dealing with opposition, and would tend to benefit the cad, while harming the “saint”.

I don’t imagine the Mongols would have been swayed by a warm and open response of kindness.

So, I’m wondering how other thinkers have explored this problem of the individual interested in following a “noble path” in an imperfect world full of ignoble belligerents.

  • 1
    Either the name or the description is off. Can you clarify what the cad problem is? – virmaior Mar 22 '18 at 12:22
  • One doesn't see/hear "cad" (to mean unprincipled person) in use much at all these days, at least not in my experience in the U.S. – Chelonian Mar 22 '18 at 14:28
  • @virmaior thank you, you’re right. I need to clarify my thoughts. – bodacious Mar 22 '18 at 21:15
  • @Chelonian that’s why I chose that word. Less room for misinterpretation. Open to suggestions for improvement. – bodacious Mar 22 '18 at 21:16

In general, what you're talking about probably falls best under Game Theory Ethics. This is the application of game theory to morality. (Game theory is the attempt to bring systematic analysis to bear on choice-making situations where the impact of the choices of one decision-maker or "agent" is affected or altered by the choices of the other agent or agents within the "game," which may or may not be an actual game as we typically understand the word). In particular, the specific question you're talking about seems closely related to the Tragedy of the Commons, a name for the tendency of selfish individuals to act against the best interests of the group, even to their own eventual detriment.

With all that said, neither Christ nor Buddha preached in a world where everyone --or anyone really --could be reasonably expected to "play by the rules." If they had, their messages would have been superfluous. Also, and in point of fact, non-violent activism (for example) has proven quite effective in the face of superior force and conditions of hostility, such as under the leadership of Gandhi in the Indian independence movement, or under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the American civil rights movement. It certainly hasn't relied on presuppositions of a shared commitment to nonviolence by the other side.

In summary, the circumstance of trying to follow a moral rule under hostile conditions, and in the presence of those who do not share that rule is NOT a special case, but rather the standard general circumstances of anyone who ever commits to follow moral rules. That being the case, the majority of anything ever written on the subject of morality is relevant to your question.

  • Thanks for the answer. I realised earlier that it’s essentially a “bad actor” problem that I’m thinking of, but in the context of ethics rather than logic. Until I read your answer I didn’t realise there was a field of Game Theory Ethics. – bodacious Mar 22 '18 at 21:30
  • Libertarians like Hoppes discuss the bad neighbour problem (see here at ~22:44 youtu.be/hojvT_BDlxQ) but that doesn’t really cover exactly what I have in mind. What I’ve been thinking of are more along the lines of things like “is preemptive military action ever morally justifiable”. – bodacious Mar 22 '18 at 21:32
  • On a personal note, in recent discussions with friends—all of whom good, well meaning people—they are strictly anti-war, anti-violence. They support policies like unilateral nuclear disarmament. I believe they often under appreciate the presence of true wickedness in the world. – bodacious Mar 22 '18 at 21:35
  • @bodacious I'm with your friends on this one. Whether it's guns or whether it's nukes, better armed does not equate to safer. // I've written a lot on this topic, but I'm not sure any of it is currently published. I'll do a little looking through my back files and let you know. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Mar 23 '18 at 12:22
  • If you want to share I’d be happy to read your arguments. – bodacious Mar 23 '18 at 13:56

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