Last revised: Sunday, 15 January 17 23:50:26 Europe/London
<LINK: Discussion of these pages>
Ethics are not the only means whereby behaviour can be regulated, or the only basis on which one can attempt to make optimal decisions.
Before committing to ethics as the approach, we should consider the alternatives - and we can only make such considerations on the basis of understanding what it is we hope to achieve.
An intial answer (much in need of deeper consideration and investigation) might go along these lines :
- Ethics, unlike other systems of moderating behaviour and decision making, are inherently internalised; more-or-less knitted into an individual's self-image. This makes ethics the most reliable guide to individual behaviour (in comparison to externalised codes like religious and/or social morality, laws, codes-of-conduct and the like). On the other hand, the connection between what is optimal for a society and how an individual chooses to behave carries real uncertainty - there is no guaranteee of a 1:1 congruency.
- Humanism has tended to empasise this internalised, personal-first aspect of ethics - understandable as a reaction against the externally enforced moral codes of religious and legal codes, but with the negative consequence that shared ethical frameworks seem an impossible dream.
- However, as has been pointed out, these personal, internalised ethical codes in fact exhibit strong similarities between individuals and across populations. It's easy to see why. Our individualist ethics are largely our own rules about how to get along in the society in which we find ourselves - in other words, largely about how to get along with other humans. We have formed these ethical frameworks largely unconsciously, and unsurprisingly we have arrived at similar conclusions to those of our neighbours.
It is when we come to formalised statements of ethics that we run into trouble. As our own internal ethical frameworks are largely feelings-based, we do not easily recognise them when stated in formal terms by others - all the traps of language and culture arise - and in a context where we are being invite to limit our personal choices about behaviour on all levels. The history of imposed moral codes haunts attempts at building broad-based ethical frameworks.
If this project is to progress it will need to understand this territory and develop strategies that address the problems. Issues to be addressed will include:
- clarification of the nature of the project as a support to the development of personal ethics that are
- carefully presented so as to encourage rational engagement,
- how to build the case for an ethics that purposefully looks to support deeper social engagement with broadly accepted ethics on a strictly 'opt-in' basis