Comments on “Ethics”


Such a cocktease

Joey's picture


I am absolutely loving your pragmatic analysis of how to respond to meaning; In much the same way, I feel, the Buddha presented not a philosophy, but a practice. The only thing I have to complain about is I wish there were more! Just when you get to the real meat of the matter, I come to a page like this that tantalizingly hints at what you want to express without laying it all out. Please, write more about what the complete stance entails!


Sasha's picture

Fascinating idea about ‘ethical fungibility’. I’m going to observe myself to see if I can catch myself in that rationalization!

Meanwhile, this one knocked me out of my dogmatic slumber:
” In fact, nearly everyone in modern societies agrees about nearly everything. “
Is that so?
What of issues of great and vehement disagreement, like:
- policies and role of government (socialism vs. hands-off, etc)
- abortion
- sexual ethics and morality
- animal rights (veganism, animal experimentation, hunting, etc)
- environmental issues
- the death penalty
- wars!!!!

Ethical agreement

What of issues of great and vehement disagreement

Well, I think you listed most of them. A dozen or so issues of disagreement vs. maybe thousands on which there is agreement?

And, of those you listed, I think many/most are not genuinely ethical issues, although they are pitched that way. The reasons people pretend they are ethical when they actually aren’t are interesting… My post “Ethics is advertising,” on another site, explains some reasons.

Why some of those issues are not genuinely ethical:

  • Policies and role of government: people’s opinions mainly follow self-interest, and then we justify them in terms of ethics after the fact
  • Abortion: almost entirely a symbolic, tribal-identity issue for opponents; I wrote about that here and elsewhere
  • Sexual ethics and morality: I think also almost entirely self-interest; see here

I think most or all the others you listed could also be analyzed as mainly self-interest and/or tribal signalling.

Spelling error or misunderstanding

Ethical nihilism recognizes (accurately) that ethics has none…

By “has none,” do you mean that ethical nihilism recognizes that ethics has no value? I was understanding “has none” initially by thinking ‘has no ethics,’ but that didn’t really make sense either, haha.

Either way, it will be a clarification (^_^)

has none

Dan's picture

Trevor, I read it as a continuation of a thought from a few paragraphs back:

The underlying mistaken metaphysical assumption is that, to be meaningful, ethics must have a definite, objective foundation…. Ethical nihilism recognizes (accurately) that ethics has [no definite, objective foundation], but concludes that ethics is merely subjective and/or meaningless. This is wrong….

Has none

Trevor — Thank you for alerting me to this error!

Dan — Yes, you guessed right. This text was condensed from a much longer, but incomplete version; and that left this confusion.

I’ve fixed it now.

Pragmatic ethics

James's picture

Have you run across Hugh LaFollette’s paper “Pragmatic Ethics”?

It seems very close to what you’re getting at. Instead of looking for an a priori set of rules to follow, his focus is on how we develop and evaluate moral habits in actual practice.

From the paper:

A pragmatic ethic employs criteria without being criterial. It is objective without being absolutist. It acknowledges that ethical judgements are relative, without being relativistic. And it tolerates - indeed, welcomes - some moral differences, without being irresolute.

Hugh LaFollette

Thank you, I hadn’t seen that, and it does look relevant! Queued to read when I get back to this part of the book.

Moral Ecology

James's picture

I know it’ll probably be a while before you get back to this section, but I wrote a blog post I thought you might be interested in, since your work here is one of the inspirations behind it.

In the post I outline a “myth of Moral Ecology” as an alternative to the Hegelian/Spencerian myth of Moral Progress. Like with Progress, I base my myth on an analogy with evolutionary biology, but without making the mistake that evolution is going someplace.

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