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Our choices revolve around ethics


The basic task of ethics is to answer the question, “How should I act?”

What standards apply to me as I conduct my life?”

“What are the fundamental principles that I should follow?”

Those are pretty much equivalent questions, but the answers are extremely complicated and multifaceted. There are a lot of thinkers who have answered them in very different ways.

Almost every major philosopher has advanced an ethical theory or ideal about how human beings should conduct themselves

There are, however, philosophers and other thinkers who deny there is anything like ethics. In fact, for many philosophers, as well as many social scientists and natural scientists, the entire field of ethics is bogus.

It’s kind of like astrology — I don’t want to step on any toes here, but I regard it a bogus field — and a lot of social scientists and natural scientists feel the same way about ethics. There is no such thing as ought.

Ought is an incoherent concept. There is no such thing because most of the time those skeptics about ethics deny there is any choice we have about our lives that we can make decisions as to what we will do, and thus for them ethics is a non-starter (like astrology).

But the bulk of philosophers (and I would say the bulk of human beings) have a concern with ethics and they take it seriously. They tend to think there is some answer to the question, “How should I act?”

One of the reasons ethics arises for us is we don’t have instincts prompting us to behave as we need to in order to survive and flourish in our lives. Other animals have these instincts so that, say, in winter they fly south.

Human beings, on the other hand, have to figure out what they should do, how they should conduct themselves.

When you’re a parent you have to make a choice to be a good one. The issue of what are the right things to do and what are the wrong things to avoid doing always faces us. That is what editorials are about, that is what plays and novels are about. Almost anything interesting in life tends to revolve around ethics.


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