Last revised: Saturday, 28 January 17 20:04:49 Europe/London

<LINK: Discussion of these pages>

A fundamental aim of the project is to produce an ethical framework which is applicable to real-world issues. 

When should we have recourse to an Ethical Framework?

As ethics are constraints upon freedom of action, it seems that the first issue that needs to be addressed (at least in any ethics where freedom is considered as highly valuable), is the question as to when and under what circumstances anyone need consider ethics at all. An ethical framework which aims for a high degree of consciousness in its application must have a clear answer to this question.

There is a strong case for this answer to be a fundamental one - if it is unconvincing, or poorly formulated, then conscious recourse to the framework to address actions under consideration will not happen when or as it should. 

And of course, as this is in itself a case of restraint on freedom of action ('Should I just go ahead and do it, or should I think about the ethical implications first?'), then the issue is itself part of the ethical framework.

PROPOSITION 1: The circumstances under which it is appropriate to consciously consider the ethical implications of an intended action will be a low-level/wide-in-scope ethical consideration.

PROPOSITION 2: A 'starter for ten' version of this ethic (that emphasises freedom) might go something like this; 

"Do what you want. Only if you experience feelings of concern that an intended action might go against the outcomes of your ethical framework should you make a conscious effort to consider the ethical implications."

A concomitant of this is that the individual or group already has an understanding of what their ethical framework is, and that this is well integrated into their personality / group consciousness - otherwise no 'feelings' concerning ethical qualms could arise. Thus, a further proposition:

PROPOSITION 3:  A commitment to spend time considering the propositions and arguments around the elements of the adopted ethical framework will be a low-level/wide-in-scope ethical consideration.

PROPOSITION 4: A 'starter for ten' version of this ethic might go something like this;

"A self-consistent decision to adopt an ethical framework of this type implies spending time in thoughtful consideration of the meaning for you/your group of the propositions of which it is made up. Time spent in this way will enhance freedom and confidence of action and minimise the need for day-to-day recourse to specific ethical consideration."

Considerations of the necessary characteristics of an Ethical Framework that can be applied to real situations

Two clear cases in which we can consider the applicability of an ethical framework are;

  1. For an individual or group in a typical situation - 'Should I hand this phone I've found to Lost Property, or keep it?'
  2. For an individual or group addressing a novel situation - ' Should we use the untested process to clone this billionaire in return for lavish funding?'

In the first case, it seems fairly straightforward to imagine a framework which relates (say) utility, natural justice, property rights, the benefits to social cohesion of altruism toward strangers, the finder's level of need, and so on, and which further provides commentaries that assist in ascribing weightings to the relationships, on the basis of which a judgement could be made. No doubt the detailed workings of such a framework would need considerable thought, testing and debate. No doubt many alternate versions are conceivable of such a framework which could nevertheless produce relatively stable outcomes that might support viable societies. But the fact that such frameworks are already implicit in stable societies the world over (for all their variety and incoherence) suggests that this is not an impossible task.

It is the second case that is really challenging. 

Further Ambition

An ambition beyond this is to consider the development of Articicial General Intelligence. If such systems are to be imbued with ethics that are 'friendly' to humans, it will be important to have ethical frameworks to hand which:

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