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"Don't bite the hand that feeds you" is a pretty good moral stance?

Since it culminates very good principles for a short and easily followable phrase. To bite the hand that feeds you would be excluding those that are actually doing something that benefits you. If it benefits you, then it possibly benefits others as well. Also, it would be irrational to bite the hand that feeds you, because the one providing that hand deserves moral praise.

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  • I am voting to close because I think there is not enough in the question to keep the answers from becoming primarily opinion based. To avoid this it might help to limit the question more. Associate it with a particular philosophy or text and ask a similar question. Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 11:36
  • From the position of rule utilitarianism, I think, this is not bad. From most other positions this is not a good foundation.
    – rus9384
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 13:17
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    What happens too if they are feeding you a crumb whilst eating all the rest? What happens if they are feeding you a crumb whilst taking away your home? Or pricing you out of it? And then pricing your children out of it? And your children's children? What happens if they are feeding you a crumb whilst taking away your employment so you can feed yourself? What happens then? Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 3:50
  • Define "bite". Telling the hand that feeds you "Ok, thanks for the food but can you please stop trying to shove it into my ear?!" is prudent... while attacking the hand unprovoked and clamping down on it with your teeth perhaps is not. So it all comes down to what you put into the figurative expression "bite" here.
    – MichaelK
    Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 16:45

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It's a terrible moral stance. It would support a society of patronage and inequality, scaled up. Whoever has, gets to make the rules, no one else can complain or reform or otherwise 'bite'. The phrase itself is invariably used by 'feeders' rather than 'biters', who might prefer sentiments about social contracts and the obligation to rebel against bad governance.

What obligation do you owe someone that gives ypu things? It obviously depends why they gave them, and what the choice of thing says about your relationship. Don't bite the hand that feeds gruel, like Oliver did by asking for more? The phrase implies the management of animals, or babies, who cannot feed themselves. It is not a maxim for society in general.

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  • I think it supports a society of being grateful for what one receives. Rather than diss those that give things.
    – mavavilj
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 12:14
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    @mavavilj: I just heard about a report by the UN on poverty in the US: 40 million in poverty and another 15 million in extreme poverty; in what sense should they be 'grateful' for what they recieve? Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 3:44
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This idiomatic usage implies that one should not show ingratitude.

But you can't take it as a dictum for all occasions in which you are to respond to/against a person who 'feeds' you.

The action of the person (who feeds you) may be for his selfishness or for others ... by exploiting you. In both these cases you should never follow this idea. That is not a pretty good moral stance. In other cases you'd better follow this.

All the men who 'feed' you may not be good personalities. Sometimes, in certain cases, you'll have to give a shock-treatment to the evil man who 'feeds' you to uplift/guide him to the right path and then that 'biting' would actually be an act done as gratitude (instead of ingratitude).

You might have read about the gratitude shown by the great warriors Bhishma, Drona, Karna etc to their 'feeding master', King Dhrutharashtra in the Mahabharata. They couldn't utter even a word against the Kauravas' adharma even at a crucial situation. The consequences are known to all. So, even when the floating idea is considered, it is not a pretty good moral stance. But we can say it is a pretty USEFUL moral stance.

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  • How is biting someone 'a gratitude'? Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 14:02
  • @Mozibur Ullah:Please don't take 'biting' in literary sense. Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 14:59
  • Actually, I tried reading it in a more literary manner and it made more sense ;). Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 15:56
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Since it culminates very good principles for a short and easily followable phrase.

What principles are those and what makes them good? If you can answer that question, doesn't that mean that you already have a "good moral stance" that justifies those good principles, what additional benefit do you get from the "Don't bite [...]" - principle?

Also, are you sure about the following?

If it benefits you, then it possibly benefits others as well. Also, it would be irrational to bite the hand that feeds you, because the one providing that hand deserves moral praise.

Yes, it could also benefit others as well, however, the opposite is also possible. What if the giving person is harming two others in the process of "feeding" (i.e. helping you) in some sort of way? In this case they would arguably be doing more harm than good.

So, without further information about the helping / feeding hand, I would say the only reason to not "bite" it can only be based on selfish considerations (since no information about the impact on others is contained).

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There's not enough background here to make a proper judgement; in other words, one maxim is not enough to make a while moral system by; in that case one can begin by contextualising it; let's take first the charitable view that the advice contained in the maxim is cautionary in saying if someone is genuinely helping you then it makes sense to accept the help, to thank him, and not then turn on him in some malicious or venal manner; and this is probably the sense in which it is most likely meant.

However, the world is much more complex than this maxim; consider the following possibilities:

  • He is feeding you only because he sees you as vulnerable or being in a vulnerable situation and therefore making you dependent on him.

  • He is feeding you but keeping the far larger share for himself.

  • He is feeding you but whilst you're being fed he's robbing you of your property.

Of course these are extreme situations and are probably not the kind of situations that the maxim is intended to cover; but recall the notion of 'trickle-down economics' of neo-liberal economics where as the phrase suggests you are being fed from the crumbs of a rich mans table and then the situation gets decidedly much more complex when one begins to think of this person not as a person but reified into a whole economic order because then you can ask questions like:

  • The economic order is feeding you but at the price of pricing you out of your home and your children of ever owning a home.

  • The economic order is feeding you but at the cost of pricing your friends out of their homes and then their children out of their homes.

  • The economic order is feeding you but at the price of polluting the planet in the long-term.

  • The economic order is feeding you but at the cost of taking away your employment so you can feed, clothe and shelter yourself.

The questions begin to multiply and multiply and things begin to not add up all so easily and then such a simple maxim doesn't really stack up against it; in fact, it can hide the larger view; it can take it's place within a larger view, but you need the larger view first.

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This phrase has nothing to do with morals. If you bite the hand it will stop feeding you, so this is purely selfish. The assumption is that if you cared about morals we wouldn’t have to tell you. But many people are stupid and have to be told that the hand might stop feeding.

There are cases where it is deeply immoral. Suppose you find out that your boss, who is "feeding" you by paying your salary every month, is defrauding his customers. Will you bite his hand by calling the police to stop the fraud?

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  • It might not have by default, but I was also suggesting that it could be interpreted to contain a moral philosophy.
    – mavavilj
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 7:04
  • I mean no disrespect. The topic is certainly not at the forefront of ethics, but ethics is a broad topic that can encompass virtually all aspects of life. Ethics largely deals with conduct, and the aformentioned topic discusses conduct. Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 7:53
  • @mavavilj There is an southern American phrase, "Dance with the one who brung [brought] you" that is perhaps more along the lines of a moral message. It means be loyal to those who have done good to you because it's the right thing to do. It's important to note in this case, you're already at the dance, so you could dance with anyone else, but the maxim tells you to loyally dance with your date. "Don't bite the hand..." is more of a self-protection tactic, since if you bite that hand, you will not be fed more and will starve.
    – Chelonian
    Commented Jun 18, 2018 at 12:13

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