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    The cake rules the world of ethics
    The cake rules the world of ethics

    Imagine that some interesting guy points a gun at you and shouts: “I’m very fond of ethics and the very next thing I’m going to do is to kill you.” Even before you have time to disbelieve him, he shoots at you. Lucky you, you are only wounded. But you see him preparing to shoot again. As always, you have your lasso with you and manage to tight this guy up, but you hear him very, very, very outraged: “Why are you depriving me from freedom? I am free to kill you and you don’t have any right whatsoever to put the slightest obstacle in my way.”
    You have to admit that he is indeed the most interesting guy you have ever met, or at least that he is peculiar. But what is so strange about him? Think before you answer. The strange thing about him is that he violates the most basic rule of the ethics that the rules should be blind.

    I named this “the cake rule” in honor to those wise mothers, who teach this basic moral rule to her two children, by tempting them with a very fancy cherry pie. Those mothers allow one of the children to decide the rules one has to use to share the pie: she just lets one of them cut the cake any way she might find fair. You’re gonna shout at me that the children will never cut the pie fairly, but don’t be so hurrysome. This mother announces that the first child may cut the cake but the other one is allowed to choose first the piece  she fancies the most. So no matter how the first child decides the rules, the rules will always be fair.

    It is essentially to see that this is the most fundamental principle of any ethics in the world. Even the real politiker or the Machiavellist will have to admit that the rules are the same for everyone and that she did not crafted the rules to serve only her interests by cheating the others. Even if one says that one is allowed to lie, for instance, one still affirms that this lying will not favor herself from the start.

    Let’s elaborate even further. Imagine that you play a totally new game of cards with Cindy and you have to invent the rules of the game. She might propose a rule that would make her arbitrarily win in more than 50% of the times. For instance she could introduce the rule that blue eyed people win the game any time a red card shows up, and it happens that she, but not you, has blue yes.

    You might be one of those altruistic people and it just makes you happy to make others happy. If you agree to the rules there is no problem. But what happens if you find the rules immoral? Can Cindy compel you to accept the rules? Would she be justified to force you to accept them? Can she possibly be genuinely offended or enraged that you did not accept those rules? Can she resent you? My answer is NO!

    You should really pay attention now because I will dictate the rule that any moral argument one uses, it is either in conformity with the cake rule, or it does not have any compelling power. Nobody rational can genuinely demand that I accept an argument that violates the cake rule.

    The cake rule applies to all ethical rules, argumentation, judicial rules, and most rules of conduct where interests might collide. I’m not saying that all those rules already conform with the cake rule, far from it. Just that when people oppose them with genuine indignation, they appeal to the cake rule as an invisible compass. The more the rules approach the cake rule, the more accepted those rules are. From now on I will not enumerate them again and just call them the Rules of Engagement (REG).

    It is important to have the cake rule at our disposition all the time, because we can test all the arguments against this rule. If one argues something and we find some elements in the argument that would arbitrarily give her an advantage, we can dismiss the arbitrary part of the argument at once.

    Basically what I’m saying is that I cannot be compelled to be cheated.

    The cake rule is not about fairness in dividing material things like cakes. It is about the fabric of the moral rules, the fabric of justice, the presumption of any judicial system. That’s why the lady Justice wears that scarf on the most unusual body part one can think of.

    It means that when you pretend that your argument should compel me, you assert that you yourself would also be forced to admit its soundness, if you were in my position. If we changed the roles you would be obliged to admit it as a good argument as well.

    What the cake rule does, it lets one of the player choose the rules, and the other player choose the position. If you say that blue eyed people should win every time a red card shows up, I will be allowed to change your eyes color in green and mine in blue. If you would still find the rules fair, than the rules are fair.

    It does not mean that you couldn’t just lie that you would find the rules fair from my position. It does not mean that you might be altruistic or have some other arbitrary preference to accept the argument if you were me. It only asks whether it should have any compelling force in the case that you personal interests were against it.

    Imagine it like a neutral, uninterested, rational judge that decides which of the parties should accept the other standpoint, depending on rational arguments, ignoring any personal preferences and arbitrary elements.

    The cake rule is most visible in the negative golden rule: "Do not do unto others as you would not have others do unto you." We read on Wikipedia the following: The "Declaration Toward a Global Ethic"from the Parliament of the World’s Religions (1993) proclaimed the Golden Rule (both in negative and positive form) as the common principle for many religions. The Initial Declaration was signed by 143 leaders from different faith traditions and spiritual communities.” We see that the cake rule is accepted by most of religious ethics. The negative golden rule is not denied by any ethics that I know of.

    The primacy of the cake rule explains why in practice we accept exceptions to other moral rules. For instance imagine that the Gestapo guy asks you whether you hide Anne Frank in your basement. Without blushing you’ll say ‘no’ and you’ll know you did the right thing from affront. Why? Because holding to the rule to always tell the truth, in this particular instance would give the Nazi’s an arbitrary advantage, that will also violate our purpose of all exercises: to survive. So in this case it is the Iron Cross wearing blue eyed blond who denies what your survival instinct tells you and introduces a rule that would give him an undeserved, arbitrary advantage. So when you lied to him you still kept your loyalty to the cake rule.

    In conclusion: Do you admit that arguments should not have elements that give one of the players an arbitrary advantage? No. If you don’t agree with that, than I just solemnly declare that I won the debate, because it I am free to introduce rules that give me arbitrary advantages. If you say that it is only you that should profit from arbitrary advantages, then you start to look like the interesting guy with a gun. Therefore, as soon as you stop wrestling for the truth, you should accept the cake rule.


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