On the future of Ethics

Should you think about your duty, or about the consequences of your actions? Or should you concentrate on becoming a good person?

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prof
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On the future of Ethics

Post by prof » Tue Jul 19, 2016 9:43 pm

The classic philosophical question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, did it make a sound?” cannot sensibly be answered "yes" or "no" until a definition is given for the word "sound." For that is what the question is about: How are we to understand the word, "sound"?

Once a definition is offered, then one may respond in the affirmative, or in the negative, and actually be communicating.

That question, as I see it, is the prototype for all philosophical inquiry. We may generalize from that classic question and come to the awareness - and this is Meta-Philosophy now - that doing philosophy (in the modern sense) is taking a vague concept, such as in this case, "sound", and analyzing it and clarifying it, until it becomes more-exact.

If it ever gets to be precise, then it is ready for science ... for becoming a term in a network of interrelated terms which constitute the frame-of-reference known as 'a scientific theory.' Philosophy clarifies and analyzes vague (and ambiguous) concepts; science clarifies and analyzes precise concepts. They are both alike in that they deal with concepts. They differ as to the kinds of concepts with which they grapple.

A scientific theory has real explanatory power, or at least gets a little closer to being in touch with reality - as confirmed by the technologies that ensue when appliers (engineers and designers) are inspired by the theory to create something that enhances the quality of our lives.

Historically, philosophy has been "the mother of the sciences." Astrology led to Astronomy, Alchemy led to Chemistry, Philosophy of Mind led to Psychology, Natural Philosophy led to Physics and Climatology; and some fine day Moral Philosophy will result in a Science of Ethics, which will not be merely descriptive (as to what norms various cultures live by today and in the past) but will be also prescriptive (normative), for it will suggest guidelines for rational folks to live by that will maximize the quality and duration of life for normal people who take advantage of the new knowledge. In fact, it could be that already Moral Psychology is the experimental branch of Ethics, the science. It is sometimes known as the Science of Moral Sense. I like the name "Ethics" for it, as a partner to "Physics."

For further details on the latter theme, see: ETHICS; A College Course - http://wadeharvey.myqol.com/wadeharvey/ ... Course.pdf

Then see: BASIC ETHICS; a systematic approach - http://www.myqol.com/wadeharvey/PDFs/BASIC%20ETHICS.pdf

and after that, see the latest update, the magnum opus which may be read on a free Kindle downloaded program. The book has a rather-affordable price set on it; the publisher required that it have a price:
See How To Live Successfully - https://www.amazon.com/LIVING-SUCCESSFU ... B01NBKS42C

A critic who was wise enough to study a paper I once wrote entitled, Living Well, and who upon focusing on the analogy which spoke of the survival-value of cells of the human body being healthy, asked: "what if reason demands that in the interest of survival of the organism one body part, say a hopelessly damaged leg, must be amputated?" {Is it possible that one might be carrying an analogy too far?}

The point I was attempting to convey was that we all need each other as our support group, for each of us has unique talents and gifts that might serve to improve the quality of life for the human species, and thus perhaps for you or I as a member of this species.

Perhaps the questioner was implying that there is the 2% of the human race which constitutes the madmen, and the sociopaths (both men and women) who would hurt the rest of us, and was merely asking what should be done about them?

If that is what was meant by the question, I would reply: Lock them away! Get them out of circulation, away from civil society. {Although I want the personnel of the mental hospitals, the prisons, and the detention centers, to be screened before hiring to help insure that they are civil also.}

In a chapter entitled "Ethical Principles" in that third work cited above, the Kindle document, you can find a list of some actual guidelines for living a trouble-free and good life, one filled with harmonious interactions with those whom we encounter in daily life. The motivation for research into scientific Ethics is to make the world work for everyone while depriving no one.

Comments welcome....
Last edited by prof on Thu Jul 13, 2017 8:53 am, edited 1 time in total.

Dalek Prime
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Re: On the future of Ethics

Post by Dalek Prime » Tue Jul 19, 2016 10:14 pm

Until people follow ethics, it has no future, save as feel-good talk.

gurugeorge
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Re: On the future of Ethics

Post by gurugeorge » Thu Aug 11, 2016 3:53 pm

prof wrote:Comments welcome....
My feeling is that an advance of ethics towards a more scientific understanding, is in the direction of understanding that ethics is and must be fundamentally egoistic, eudaimonistic.

There are two huge mistakes that have run through and corrupted nearly all ethical discussion historically, and they're grounded in the influence religion has always (until recently) had on ethical discussion, and they're inter-related.

1) that ethics is some kind of "should" other than the instrumental;

2) that ethics is fundamentally about the question of who should sacrifice to whom (i.e. altruistic).

These are both requirements from religion, and can form no part of a philosophical ethics aspiring to some degree of scientific precision.

The first requirement is the echo or ghost of the idea that ethics are a divine command. A command is an "ought"; in the case of ethics, a divine command. God is famously dead, but we still have a sort of ghostly hole in our idea of ethics where God was, in the sense that we keep fruitlessly searching, in a naturalistic context, for a sense of "ought", that would replace, in a way perform the function of, the divine command that used to be there. It seems like the "ought" of morality is a command from no-one, nowhere, that we're supposed to obey for some reason, but we can't figure out the reason.

The second requirement is also an echo of religion, in the sense that morality initially was about group cohesion, i.e. essentially collectivist, with the religious myth being a bonding agent. So a divine being is imagined, who prescribes, commands altruistic behaviour, with appurtenant threats and punishments, for the sake of tribal cohesion (this arising, in reality, on a naturalistic basis of kin altruism). Furthermore, altruistic morality is deeply related to the concept of human sacrifice, and in the earliest times, to the strong sacrificing themselves for the weak (e.g. as can be found in archaeology, where we see high status individuals apparently gladly giving themselves up to the knife - i.e. without signs of struggle - in prehistoric tribal cultures, such as the ones that built Stonehenge). As time goes on, and society expands, and with the advent of agriculture-based societies, the natural local bonds that led the strong to sacrifice themselves for the group as an act of compassion fades, scapegoats are found as substitutes, scapegoats become out-groups, and in time the situation is reversed (the weak are sacrificed for the strong). Eventually, it all becomes a ghastly automatism in which everyone feels obliged to sacrifice to everyone, instead of minding their own business.

I think the truth is that:-

1) Ethics is an instrumental "should", but it's only on the basis of individually-chosen goals, with the ultimate goal being the active maintenance of a life proper to a rational human being. Promise, contract (even obeying commands ordinarily understood, i.e. if one has agreed to it), necessarily follow from this. Peacefulness also.

2) With this in mind, the question of who should sacrifice to whom doesn't enter into ethics at all, it's got nothing whatsoever to do with morality. But nor do kindness and compassion. This may sound strange, but it's actually obvious. Kindness and compassion are traits, they're something you either are or aren't, they're not something that you can "ought" to do if you can't (and no words would convince the "human shark" - i.e. the statistical outlier on the left hand trail of the bell-curve of the distribution of these traits - only reward and punishment). Kindness, compassion and charity are tremendously important facets of life, they enrich everyone, giver and receiver; but they're not the sort of thing that can coherently be morally mandated. So for an egoistic ethics, the place of regarding others as sources of need, is taken by regarding others as sources of potential value (as co-operators, traders, enhancing one's own life). That is the reason for treasuring, being solicitous, of others.

The upshot is that the proper business of ethics is the classical virtues (more or less), which are answers to the question, "(all things being equal) how should I live?", "what should be my broad, consistent pattern of action, either on my own, or in relation to other human beings?", etc.

In light of all this, the usual "test cases" for ethical discussion (trolley problem, etc.) are actually completely irrelevant to ethics and morality, because they pertain to ad hoc emergency situations for which no general rules can possibly be discovered; whereas ethics and morality pertain to the ordinary conduct of life day-to-day under normal circumstances, in a co-operative society, for which general rules can be discovered.

Eventually, this will all be settled and then ethics can become more of a science.

prof
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Re: On the future of Ethics

Post by prof » Fri Aug 12, 2016 11:24 pm

gurugeorge wrote:
prof wrote:Comments welcome....
My feeling is that an advance of ethics towards a more scientific understanding, is in the direction of understanding that ...
There are two huge mistakes that have run through and corrupted nearly all ethical discussion historically...

1) that ethics is some kind of "should" other than the instrumental;....
Yes, george, an instrumental ought works fine, as in: If we want to reach some goal then we ought to use the appropriate means to get to it. The ultimate goal for Ethics is to provide a quality life for one and all while doing no harm. To make things better, including a better world; to make the world work for everyone while depriving no one. This can be done by improving the design of existing institutions and practices, likely by going in the direction of decentralization and simplification.

The question has come up: How do we get from “is” statements to a moral imperative? Or conversely, can a moral imperative, containing an “ought”, be reduced to a series of “is” statements?

What follows is an an analysis, for which the polymath genius, R. S. Hartman, gets the credit. It will display the equivalence between a concept that is a moral imperative and a concept that is in the indicative mode:

"Jim, you ought to be considerate of others!”

The above moral imperative equals by definition: “Given who you are, Jim, and given what 'being considerate to others' is, it is better for you to be considerate of others than not to be, or to engage in some other behavior with regard to others.”

To phrase it another way [- and also to explain what the relation “better for” means - think of Venn Diagrams now -] it is the case that ‘being considerate to others’ overlaps more with the meaning of ‘Jim’ (viz., who he is, as those who know him would agree) than some other way of responding, such as, say, ‘to be mean to others’ or ‘to be indifferent to them’ would overlap.

Q.E.D.

So, you see, it can be done in a secular manner.

However, Jim is not a piece of clockwork with a defined fixed set of properties. He can choose who he is. He can define himself as a con artist, or as a person of good moral character, or in any other way!
So it may help to clear up any misunderstanding or confusion if I add a further explanation.

By the definition of "Ethics" in the new paradigm offered here, one is being ethical when one's perspective on an individual (or group of individuals) is to see that individual as of unaccountably-infinite value.

The valuer, in this process, forms a continuum with the one who is being valued. [The mathematical power of the continuum has the cardinality aleph-one.} which in practice amounts to giving full attention, or getting involved with the person valued that highly. .Technically, it is called Intrinsic valuation. When you Intrinsically value a person, you are being ethical.

Hence Jim does not have a definable nor fixed set of characteristics !!

Jim may behave idiosyncratically or spontaneously, as may you or I.

Jim has infinite meaning and infinite possibilities ...from this perspective.


Note, though, that I may utter "Gurugeorge ought to think deeply: - when, as a matter of fact, he already does. The same goes for Jim, who is ordinarily considerate of other. I could rationally assert that he ought to be what he already is.

Questions? Evaluations? Comments?

osgart
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Re: On the future of Ethics

Post by osgart » Sat Nov 19, 2016 9:07 pm

the quality of life enjoyed is dependant on the ethics of all others. If everyone chooses to be rotten bastards than life is a rotten bastard for everyone. Only people with fair and caring hearts make life and all the goodnesses people enjoy.

Londoner
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Re: On the future of Ethics

Post by Londoner » Sat Dec 03, 2016 12:35 pm

prof wrote: The ultimate goal for Ethics is to provide a quality life for one and all while doing no harm.
I do not think it is helpful to treat 'Ethics' as if it was itself an agent, such that it has goals. The argument seemed to be that ethics could be secular, yet we have already set up this god; Ethics, to which we humans must conform!

(Thereafter, the argument moves on to use terms like 'better', 'improving' i.e. qualitative judgments when we haven't yet said what they are qualitative judgments about. It isn't a matter of moving from an 'is' to an 'ought', because we haven't identified the 'is'.)

When somebody says:

"
Jim, you ought to be considerate of others!”
the suggested gloss is:
"Given who you are, Jim, and given what 'being considerate to others' is, it is better for you to be considerate of others than not to be, or to engage in some other behavior with regard to others.”
But as is later remarked, we do not agree what 'Jim' is. That Jim 'ought' to be something is to say that Jim is not any particular thing i.e. he could be other than he is now. So the subject is not 'Jim', but is rather the speaker's idea of what Jim might be - if he was other than his present self.

In other words, the Venn diagram we are invited to think of would not feature Jim (or any existent thing at all); it rather maps the ideas of the speaker.

So when we ask the speaker why we should agree with them, if they offer any reason at all it would not be related to facts about Jim, but only to their other ideas. We might agree that those ideas are 'rational' in the sense that they are not self-contradictory, but that's all. There are no end of systems that can meet that requirement.

So, if the speaker is going to insist that their own idea is more than just an idea, then they have to objectify it somehow, if not in a material sense then a spiritual one. And we are back to crediting 'Ethics' with a capital 'E', which is to suggest such a spiritual entity exists and has informed our ideas. How is that different from religion?

Interjectivist
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Re: On the future of Ethics

Post by Interjectivist » Sat Dec 03, 2016 5:29 pm

gurugeorge wrote:
prof wrote:Comments welcome....
My feeling is that an advance of ethics towards a more scientific understanding, is in the direction of understanding that ethics is and must be fundamentally egoistic, eudaimonistic.

There are two huge mistakes that have run through and corrupted nearly all ethical discussion historically, and they're grounded in the influence religion has always (until recently) had on ethical discussion, and they're inter-related.

1) that ethics is some kind of "should" other than the instrumental;

2) that ethics is fundamentally about the question of who should sacrifice to whom (i.e. altruistic).

These are both requirements from religion, and can form no part of a philosophical ethics aspiring to some degree of scientific precision.

The first requirement is the echo or ghost of the idea that ethics are a divine command. A command is an "ought"; in the case of ethics, a divine command. God is famously dead, but we still have a sort of ghostly hole in our idea of ethics where God was, in the sense that we keep fruitlessly searching, in a naturalistic context, for a sense of "ought", that would replace, in a way perform the function of, the divine command that used to be there. It seems like the "ought" of morality is a command from no-one, nowhere, that we're supposed to obey for some reason, but we can't figure out the reason.

The second requirement is also an echo of religion, in the sense that morality initially was about group cohesion, i.e. essentially collectivist, with the religious myth being a bonding agent. So a divine being is imagined, who prescribes, commands altruistic behaviour, with appurtenant threats and punishments, for the sake of tribal cohesion (this arising, in reality, on a naturalistic basis of kin altruism). Furthermore, altruistic morality is deeply related to the concept of human sacrifice, and in the earliest times, to the strong sacrificing themselves for the weak (e.g. as can be found in archaeology, where we see high status individuals apparently gladly giving themselves up to the knife - i.e. without signs of struggle - in prehistoric tribal cultures, such as the ones that built Stonehenge). As time goes on, and society expands, and with the advent of agriculture-based societies, the natural local bonds that led the strong to sacrifice themselves for the group as an act of compassion fades, scapegoats are found as substitutes, scapegoats become out-groups, and in time the situation is reversed (the weak are sacrificed for the strong). Eventually, it all becomes a ghastly automatism in which everyone feels obliged to sacrifice to everyone, instead of minding their own business.

I think the truth is that:-

1) Ethics is an instrumental "should", but it's only on the basis of individually-chosen goals, with the ultimate goal being the active maintenance of a life proper to a rational human being. Promise, contract (even obeying commands ordinarily understood, i.e. if one has agreed to it), necessarily follow from this. Peacefulness also.

2) With this in mind, the question of who should sacrifice to whom doesn't enter into ethics at all, it's got nothing whatsoever to do with morality. But nor do kindness and compassion. This may sound strange, but it's actually obvious. Kindness and compassion are traits, they're something you either are or aren't, they're not something that you can "ought" to do if you can't (and no words would convince the "human shark" - i.e. the statistical outlier on the left hand trail of the bell-curve of the distribution of these traits - only reward and punishment). Kindness, compassion and charity are tremendously important facets of life, they enrich everyone, giver and receiver; but they're not the sort of thing that can coherently be morally mandated. So for an egoistic ethics, the place of regarding others as sources of need, is taken by regarding others as sources of potential value (as co-operators, traders, enhancing one's own life). That is the reason for treasuring, being solicitous, of others.

The upshot is that the proper business of ethics is the classical virtues (more or less), which are answers to the question, "(all things being equal) how should I live?", "what should be my broad, consistent pattern of action, either on my own, or in relation to other human beings?", etc.

In light of all this, the usual "test cases" for ethical discussion (trolley problem, etc.) are actually completely irrelevant to ethics and morality, because they pertain to ad hoc emergency situations for which no general rules can possibly be discovered; whereas ethics and morality pertain to the ordinary conduct of life day-to-day under normal circumstances, in a co-operative society, for which general rules can be discovered.

Eventually, this will all be settled and then ethics can become more of a science.

Both this and the original post in this thread are particularly well thought out and written. I admit I read this one first as it immediately struck all the right chords for me. Yes ethics as moralizing is a religious artifact and simply the wrong conversation to be having. The search for the magical 'should' which theoretically will move all hearers is a waste of time. Personally I find any life which is primarily focused on rule-following to be something very far from the optimally lived life. It is an infantile and unworthy mindset for an adult human being.

Ethics should indeed be a conversation about how we should live optimally, and of course that must be answered eudaimonistically. What are the components of a good life, one that does not waste the opportunity which birth affords? That is the question we should be addressing. An obsession with what one should do from a sense of obligation addresses but one small part of the larger question. Standing ready to pay one's moral debts hardly tells anyone what to pursue, more importantly it does nothing to place those concerns into a holistic picture of the good life. Lacking any such perspective, a person will be unprepared to address moral obligations in a balanced way. The good life is multifaceted.

Ideally the conversation cannot turn too prescriptive for fear of losing the measure of self reliance necessary for a good life. But too little detail and we risk failing to offer anything useful to a new generation. Maybe the good life is like cooking. We all have enthusiasm for various ingredients but no dish will be best which has them all. Perhaps there are many ways to make a good life and some tailoring to individual taste is unavoidable.

acton bartley
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Re: On the future of Ethics

Post by acton bartley » Tue Dec 20, 2016 6:30 pm

I think Ethics should be restored to a position of considering morality. This is partly (but hugely) examing the history of Ethics. It would be found that there are disagreements of emphases on what morality applies to, often taken for granted assumptions which need bringing out and discussing - for instance, is a restriction of morality to what constitutes 'the good life' for an individual or tribe more than pragmatism and selfishness? I think justice is a key component of the concept of morality, and this itself needs more thinking about. Certainly if Ethics is to help frame the ways in which we think about the future, there needs to be a 'present history' of global injustice.

There is also, albeit of limited relevance here but an interesting example, strong empirical evidence that conscious development of altruistic attitudes and membership of communities which address injustice provides a bunus 'utility' of increasing personal satisfaction.

prof
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Re: On the future of Ethics

Post by prof » Fri Jan 27, 2017 9:41 am

Londoner wrote:
prof wrote: The ultimate goal for Ethics is to provide a quality life for one and all while doing no harm.
I do not think it is helpful to treat 'Ethics' as if it was itself an agent, such that it has goals. ...
the suggested gloss is:
"Given who you are, Jim, and given what 'being considerate to others' is, it is better for you to be considerate of others than not to be...

But we do not agree what 'Jim' is....
I was going to describe you, Londoner, as "a careful, deep thinker"; but then a critic might say, "O no! You don't know him....."

Anyway, I am surprised that an ordinarily-careful thinker like Londoner would not be able to immediately translate in his mind the phrase "The ultimate goal of Ethics is... etc.." into "The ultimate goal of those persons who want to apply the science of Ethics to life (and thus gain the ensuing benefits) is ..."etc..."

Londoner
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Re: On the future of Ethics

Post by Londoner » Fri Jan 27, 2017 12:07 pm

prof wrote: Anyway, I am surprised that an ordinarily-careful thinker like Londoner would not be able to immediately translate in his mind the phrase "The ultimate goal of Ethics is... etc.." into "The ultimate goal of those persons who want to apply the science of Ethics to life (and thus gain the ensuing benefits) is ..."etc..."
'Translate'? I think of a translation as something that retains meaning while using different symbols. You must admit that the second sentence brings in things quite different from the first. A 'goal' is something we have, we want something to be a particular way. But the second describes it as a science, but science is purely descriptive; we are supposed to leave what we might want to be the case out of it, nor does science see purpose in the material world - things are what they are, they have no will.

The same problem resurfaces within the second sentence where we have the pair of words 'ethics' and 'benefits', linked by 'thus gain'. Are those benefits gained because they are the same thing as the ethics? i.e. If you act ethically/beneficially - then you gain 'having acted ethically/beneficially'. (e.g. It is ethical to tell the truth, because this results in 'truth telling, which is a benefit, because it is ethical)

Or, are these 'benefits' something different to the 'ethics'. Such that acting ethically is a means to an end (a benefit) that is distinct from those ethics. In that case, if this end is distinct from those ethics, we would need a seperate ethic to show that this end was indeed beneficial. (e.g. It is ethical to tell the truth, because this prevents marital infidelity. But now you would need a separate ethic that tells you why 'marital infidelity' is unethical.)

In other words, I think explanations which attempt to justify ethics by outcome always turn out to be either circular or incomplete.

I do not think ethics is any different from science or maths or law or football, in that it cannot be self-supporting. Ultimately it has to rest on certain axioms that cannot be proven. You cannot do a scientific experiment to prove the axioms behind scientific experiments are valid, likewise I think we have to accept that any ethical system must be based on something that we cannot use that same system to verify. For example, I might base it on 'the moral law I sense within me', or 'the four stages of enlightenment', or 'greatest (material) benefit for the greatest number', but I cannot use the system I have selected to demonstrate that it is better than a different system. And I would have thought that it is important not to forget this, to not be mislead into falling in love with an ethical system we have created, such that we come to think of it as some sort of objective machine, that can stamp out 'ethical facts'.

I think this is in Hegel (writing about the French Revolution); when I come to believe that my ethical system is entirely rational, such that I can objectively identify elements like 'freedom' or 'liberty', that is the point where when I come to believe I am right to use the guillotine in defence of these 'facts'.

prof
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Re: On the future of Ethics

Post by prof » Thu Jul 13, 2017 9:06 am

Greetings, Londoner

You raise a number of interesting points. Many of the questions arise because of unfamiliarity with how terms are defined in the new paradigm for Ethics; as a result, communication likely may break down.

See the links offered earlier in the first post in this thread; and if you still have questions after studying carefully those documents, I'll be glad to attempt to rationally respond to each one. Most of your concerns, though, may have dissolved by then, or you will have answered the inquiries yourself due to the new knowledge acquired.

I write this in a spirit of good will, and look forward to a good dialog with you -- and with anyone else who has acquired the necessary background. Ethics is best taught by the power of example. This site is titled "Ethics Theory" so I hope and trust I have made a contribution to that theory, and that together we will extend the theory in a logical and relevant manner.

Yours for Ethics,
prof.

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