Our ethical responsibility is to do our best to enrich the lives of others and to give others the opportunity to enrich us.
Everyone understands what it is to have an enriched life: everyone has had a friend, learned something of worth, or made the world a better place at some point (even by accident). Moreover, once you understand how your life has been enriched, then you understand how you could act in a similar manner for someone who is now in the position that you were in.
Since I doubt anyone will read the few sentences above and simply agree that I have a good theory, I suppose some benefits of this theory should be mentioned*:
- Like deontology and unlike consequentialism, mutual enrichment only governs a limited number of actions: when you have an opportunity to enrich a life then you should, but if not, no big deal. Consequentialism can be a bit overbearing in the sense that it can place ethical value on every single act as part of some great equation to increase happiness; deontology and mutual enrichment can find some acts meritorious/immoral and others as ethically neutral, which is less stressful.
- Like deontology and consequentialism, but unlike virtue ethics, mutual enrichment gives you a better strategy for making decisions: you consider what has enriched your life or you believe will enrich someone’s life, and then attempt to act in such a way to provide enrichment. By appealing to experience and knowledge that a person already has, there is no need to worry about what a virtuous person would do, or what exactly counts as virtuous.
- Like virtue ethics and unlike deontology or consequentialism, mutual enrichment focuses on moral development, friendship, culture and moral wisdom. I believe this to be a benefit because it is a more personal relationship to ethics than the ‘formulaic’ theories, which I find a bit detached. Even more than virtue ethics, mutual enrichment focuses on personal relationships and may then have more resources to give guidance in such situations, and also on culture as a major factor in enrichment. Insofar as culture and tradition are enriching, these things may be appealed to in decision making.
- Unlike all the other theories handling of contrary intuitions, i.e. conflicting deontological commitments, deciding which consequences are the best consequences or deciding which virtue takes priority in a particular situation, mutual enrichment uses personal experience as a guide so there is less conflict. You do what you know. In the instance of no personal experience, then the person’s best judgment based upon his or her knowledge and tradition may be appealed to. However, if the person has no experience in a particular situation, then he or she cannot be blamed for inaction, but should be praised for rising to such an occasion if he or she were to do so.
A few important distinctions: Mutual enrichment is not simply nourishment or pleasure. We are not enriched by merely eating; having a good meal with family can be enriching, but it is not the consumption of food alone that does this. Nor is mutual enrichment simply pleasure. Getting stoned may be fun, but everyone recognizes that, fun as it may be, it is not considered enriching.
* Much thanks to Dr. Richard Brown for inspiring me to write anything. You can have my steak when you pry it from my cold dead hands.