Last revised: Sunday, 15 January 17 23:54:14 Europe/London
<LINK: Discussion of these pages>
Ethics are not simple stand-alone rules, of an 'if this, then that' kind. So any system of Ethics is a framework - issues are interconnected.
These interconnections are not themselves rule-bound, or simplistic - a network, rather than a tree-like structure.
However, there are hierarchies of scale of application - of fundamentality.
Thus, to adequately address the complex issues which present, the information structure we choose with which to capture, communicate and apply our ethics must be chosen carefully - so that it can be 'mapped' as closely as possible to the problem 'territory' - without becoming so complex that it is hard to navigate or apply [cf: Borges: On Exactitude in Science].
The structure I know which most directly supports this model is the approach known as a 'Pattern Language'. Pattern language approaches were developed to model the range of issues encountered in architectural design - from the global to the most detailed. A fuller discussion starts here, but the key points are that;
This diagram above attempts to characterise some aspects of the character of the structure of a pattern language.
A key approach to the Pattern Language method is the identification of 'patterns' - recurring issues which are recognisable each time as instances of the pattern - even if they are always different in specific form or presentation. This understanding obviously maps well onto chaos theory and fractal mathematics, implying a richness of capacity to accommodate recursion and inherent complexity, while at the same time offering us the option to describe the class of phenomena simply by its name when appropriate.
Each pattern includes specific references to patterns at larger scales of which it is often an important constituent, and to patterns at smaller scales which help it to find its form.
The structure enables us to discuss the issues pertaining to a particular instance in terms appropriate to it - a range of concepts limited enough to permit viable human consideration. However, it also reminds us that the outcome of such consideration has impacts on other systems, and that we are not finished until we have examined these.
I hope that I have managed to communicate here what I consider to be the key adavantages of a Pattern Language approach to the question of how to structure an ethical framework. In fact, the implementation of Pattern Languages affords more subtle and sophisticated advantages beyond those discussed here.