Should we do a mitzvah out of fear of the consequences if we did not?

Real name
Gail A. Fisher

Most of this makes sense to me.  We are all aware that lying or cheating once is rather hard, but it becomes easier once it's been done and is now in our arsenal of actions.  Similarly, a mitzvah can lead to another mitzvah - either by yourself (because it's so rewarding to do something good that you may want to do it again and get that "rush") or by somebody else, along the lines of "pay it forward".

However, doing any mitzvah, a small one as well as a large one, just because you don't know the rewards or punishments associated with each one is quite problematic to me.  I believe that we're supposed to do mitzvot for their own sake - because it's what God wants from us - and not with an eye on some future reward.  Similarly, desisting from doing evil because of fear of the punishment is not why we are supposed to do the right thing.  This carrot/stick paradigm works with young children (mostly), but as we mature, this should not determine how we behave.  To take the usual and highly simplistic example, why do you stop at a stop sign at 3 AM?  You would see the lights of any other cars that were coming and so wouldn't go if you thought there was a risk of danger.  And there's essentially no risk of your getting a ticket at 3 AM.  But you stop at the stop sign because an orderly society that follows the rules of the road minimizes accidents (there won't be two people trying to occupy the same intersection at the same time), and we practice this orderliness for that very reason - because we are contributing to overall public safety, not for fear of the consequences.

Real name
William Berkson

William Berkson replied 10 months 1 week ago

You bring up a good point, which is essentially that the Sages are seemingly not consistent on this, but try to have it both ways. The most striking version of this contradiction is the early mishna of Antigonos of Sokho: "Be not as servants who serve the master on condition of receiving a reward; be rather as servants who serve the master without condition of receiving a reward; and let the fear of Heaven be upon you." (Avot 1:3) The first part seems to support the idea that "virtue is its own reward", an idea that was around in the Greek world from the Stoics—whom the Sages were well aware of after the conquest by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE. Antigonos would have been contemporary of the early Stoics, but his Greek name makes clear that in his time the Hellenistic influence was already great. 

But he also wants people to keep at the back of their minds the "fear of heaven", which seems to allude to reward and punishment. This conflict, as well as the varying conditions in which in the real world we are rewarded or punished for righteousness, is an indiction of unresolved problems in their system of ideas. Does anybody have wise ideas on how to resolve the contradiction?