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  1. #1
    Tenured roisterer SolitaryWalker's Avatar
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    Default On the nature of ethics

    Thesis: As an ethical principles, only the practice of critical analysis should be established as fundamental and all other ethical principles should be established only if they are approved of by such a practice.

    Question: What is ethics?

    The most straight-forward answer to this question is the discipline that is concerned with what is right and what is wrong. The question to follow is, what exactly is right, and what exactly is wrong?

    I propose that the ultimate goal of all human activity is acquisition of happiness. On a deeply unconscious level we are attracted to thoughts and actions that we feel will be beneficial to us.

    Therefore, right is what is good for us, wrong is what is not good for us. The question that one may ask as a result is, what if an action is good for me, but bad for others? Should I carry out such an action? A plausible response to such a question would be that one ought not to carry out such an action because it will make others indignant.

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    Why is it a problem that an action will make others indignant. There are two plausible answers to such a question. Others may exact revenge upon us and we may feel guilty for having upset them. Suppose we could carry out such a mischievous action in a way that others could not exact revenge upon us. Suppose, for example, that they may be unaware that we are the cause of their indignation, for this reason, their anger will not be directed at us. In that case we would feel guilty about having upset them. This may be enough for us to be deterred from carrying out such an act. The question that follows next is, why would we feel this way. Obviously because we value the happiness of others for a strange reason. Why do we value the happiness of others? The obvious reason is that we have an instinct to empathize with others. This is a result of individuals having been forced to cooperate with each other in order to survive. For example, our ancestors were forced to cooperate with one another in order to obtain means of survival. For example, our ancestors were forced to hunt in large groups and constructed their shelter also in large groups. Inevitably, when the group member of one of our ancestors was successful in one of such activities, the group member clearly saw that what has occured will benefit him. If he has observed that one of his group members is unsuccessful, conversely, he thought that he may incur harm as a result.

    Hence, he has developed an instinct to share the emotions of others, or to empathize. When he perceived displeasure in others, he himself felt displeasure and when he perceived pleasure in others, he experienced pleasure. This explains why one would feel guilty for having made others indignant, even if others did not exact revenge upon the culprit.
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    As a result of such empathy, people have become driven to please one another. Because people had an ambition to please one another, they have endorsed values and actions that others favored. The drive of empathy was stronger in some people than in others, therefore some people were driven to please, and others easily imposed their terms on such people.

    Hence, people who were driven to please others, embraced the ethic of others. Or they thought that what others think is good or bad, right or wrong, was actually what was morally justified.

    The idea that a certain ethical notion is desirable has been ingrained in the minds of others so deeply that they refused to question the desirability of such a maxim. That is the essence of value-centered thinking, or simply doing what we believe to be a good thing and refusing to question whether it truly is a good thing.

    Value-centered thinking is the reason why people feel guilty when they make others indignant even if this does not entail any explicit negative consequences.

    In summary, ethics is what conduces to our long term happiness.

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    The question that I ask is, what exactly is the problem I wish to solve. The problem that I have in mind is that people mistake what is unethical for what is ethical. They do so by embracing maxims that do not conduce to their long term happiness. They embrace such maxims because of value-centered thinking, which presupposes an uncritical acceptance of ethical principles.

    I propose, that for the sake of our happiness we do not endorse any values. Or accept no ethical dogma. Every maxim should be subjected to the exactest and most thorough scrutiny before it is to be accepted. Even after it has been accepted, it should continue to be critically re-evaluated.

    Let me provide some examples. Suppose you value honesty. Your child is deeply ill. You know a doctor who is a complete charlatan. He cheated his way through school, he manipulates people into electing the most expensive medical procedures for his own financial benefit, but he is a genius. Very easily he could cure nearly any patient he encounters.

    Or how about if a Nazi holds a gun to your face and insists that you tell him where the Jews are. You do know where the Jews are. Suppose you value human life as most of us do. The dilemma you shall be afflicted with is facing the choice between death and a lifetime of inner turmoil. In other words, you can choose to be killed, or you can choose to tell the Nazi where the Jews are, and as a result place yourself in a position where you will not be able to forgive yourself for the rest of your life.

    Most of us will obviously do what most directly conduces to our happiness, as our nature is to do exactly that, as aforementioned. (Take note of my claim earlier in this essay concerning our powerful unconscious tendency to do what we feel will benefit us). Hence, saving our child and saving our life will obviously benefit us more than the other options available to us, but because of our irrational, value-centered thinking, we will be incur some negative consequences as a result.

    We would not incur such consequences if we did not have irrational values such as honesty, or human life. The only value we ought to have is that in favor of critical analysis. This value is least harmful because having such value allows us to see the consequences to our actions. Because the end to all human activity is acquisition of happiness, all actions should be judged in accordance to the consequences they produce. An action should be taken if and only if it conduces to our long term happiness. The value of critical analysis, and no other value allows for us to see if any given action conduces to our long term happiness. All other values blind us from properly making such assessments. Therefore the value of critical analysis should be embraced and all other values should be rejected.
    "Do not argue with an idiot. They drag you down to their level and beat you with experience." -- Mark Twain

    “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”---Samuel Johnson

    My blog: www.randommeanderings123.blogspot.com/

  2. #2
    `~~Philosoflying~~` SillySapienne's Avatar
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    One must engage their thoughts and emotions and life, critically, I agree.

    Things should be analyzed as well as be felt and experienced.

    I agree that true happiness is an emotional state we seek to gain and sustain in our lives.

    But what makes people truly happy differs amongst each of us.

    For one it may be painting, for another it may be loving one's family, another philosophizing, and yet another spending a life tending a garden and meditating.

    Are any of these individuals wrong in their life pursuits?

    I think not, and I do think that those who actually end up achieving some form of true happiness in their lifetimes have spent a long and a hard time analyzing life, and themselves in order to find and devote their lives to the cause(s) in which bring them that which is the most important, long-term happiness and contentment.

    Achieving the "good life" is something we all seek to do, but it evades most of us, therefore only a select few of us are willing to analyze and implement those things which bring us the most happiness.
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  3. #3
    Tenured roisterer SolitaryWalker's Avatar
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    Indeed. You need to know whatever it is that makes you happy, and act accordingly to acquire whatever it is that you need in order to be happy.

    Rational thinking conduces to getting what you need in order to be happy as this kind of a value simply allows you to do whatever is necessary in order to get where you need to be. Other values lead us to be tied down to a certain way of thinking, which often is not conducive to our happiness. Not having those values is desirable because without them nothing is stopping you from doing simply whatever conduces to your happiness.
    "Do not argue with an idiot. They drag you down to their level and beat you with experience." -- Mark Twain

    “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”---Samuel Johnson

    My blog: www.randommeanderings123.blogspot.com/

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    Your ideas sound very much like Aristotelian 'virtue' ethics. Aristotle hypothesized that happiness is achieved by developing qualities of character (virtues) through deductive reasoning. These virtues would be the Golden Mean between two excesses. For example courage is a balance of cowardice and foolhardiness.

    Quote Originally Posted by SolitaryWalker View Post
    Indeed. You need to know whatever it is that makes you happy, and act accordingly to acquire whatever it is that you need in order to be happy.

    Rational thinking conduces to getting what you need in order to be happy as this kind of a value simply allows you to do whatever is necessary in order to get where you need to be. Other values lead us to be tied down to a certain way of thinking, which often is not conducive to our happiness. Not having those values is desirable because without them nothing is stopping you from doing simply whatever conduces to your happiness.
    Sometimes these dogmatic values (perhaps best exemplified by Imanuel Kant's "Formalism") are desirable because they keep certain people from doing 'bad' things for the sake of making themselves happy.

    This is a cheesy example, but think about Hitler. Systematically executing millions of people made him happy. Was it worth having value systems which stifled his happiness? Of course it was. Of course we would rationalize his way of thinking, his underlying logic, as fundamentally flawed. But he didn't think so. He quite happily came to his conclusions using his own logic.

    You also seem to have failed to consider that some people feel happy by virtue of following dogmatic value systems. Following the ethical rules makes them happy.

  5. #5
    Arcesso pulli gingerios! Eldanen's Avatar
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    Might makes right, yes?

  6. #6
    Senior Member reason's Avatar
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    Peaceable discussion and mutual criticism are at the core of rational philosophy.

    The basic problem of ethics (i.e. the rational study of morality) is to discover a system of principles by which we can coexist peaceably despite our disagreements and conflicts of interest, or in other words, to enable a situation in which it is possible to engage in peaceable discussion and mutual criticism. Without this there is no ethics.
    A criticism that can be brought against everything ought not to be brought against anything.

  7. #7
    Tenured roisterer SolitaryWalker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 93JC View Post
    Sometimes these dogmatic values (perhaps best exemplified by Imanuel Kant's "Formalism") are desirable because they keep certain people from doing 'bad' things for the sake of making themselves happy. ].
    Yes, it may be useful to instill dogmatic values within the public in order to establish order in society. This is not relevant to my essay. My work was concerned with what ethics are desirable for the individual and not for the society.

    Quote Originally Posted by 93JC View Post
    This is a cheesy example, but think about Hitler. Systematically executing millions of people made him happy. Was it worth having value systems which stifled his happiness? Of course it was. Of course we would rationalize his way of thinking, his underlying logic, as fundamentally flawed. But he didn't think so. He quite happily came to his conclusions using his own logic.].
    I do not understand the remark. I also do not see the relevance to the main topic. Did Hitler adhere to a set of values dogmatically? Or did he seek out what conduces to his happiness? If he did the former, the error of his ways was pointed out in my essay, namely he did not critically analyze his situation and that is why he failed to find a way that leads to happiness. If he did the latter, or he did not adhere to values dogmatically but sought to discover the path to happiness on his own endeavor, he also has failed. Avoidance of dogmatic adherence to values is means to the end of giving oneself an opportunity to critically analyze one's choice of lifestyle. If Hitler did not adhere to values dogmatically, he merely had an opportunity to critically analyze the problem concerning what lifestyle he should elect. But he has either failed to do so, or his analysis contained errors. For this reason he has failed to elect a lifestyle that conduced to his happiness.

    Quote Originally Posted by 93JC View Post
    You also seem to have failed to consider that some people feel happy by virtue of following dogmatic value systems. Following the ethical rules makes them happy.
    My point is that those people are using a strategic that is likely to let them down in the future. That is the case because the most reliable way to arrive at happiness is by considering all possible options with regard to how happiness could be arrived at. People who merely adhere to values dogmatically are following but one path, which does not always work.

    In short, their happiness will be short-lived in most cases.
    "Do not argue with an idiot. They drag you down to their level and beat you with experience." -- Mark Twain

    “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”---Samuel Johnson

    My blog: www.randommeanderings123.blogspot.com/

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    Quote Originally Posted by SolitaryWalker View Post
    I do not understand the remark. I also do not see the relevance to the main topic. Did Hitler adhere to a set of values dogmatically? Or did he seek out what conduces to his happiness?
    The latter, for the sake of discussion.

    But he has either failed to [critically analyze the problem concerning what lifestyle he should elect], or his analysis contained errors. For this reason he has failed to elect a lifestyle that conduced to his happiness.
    I argue he did follow a lifestyle that was conducive to his happiness. If it made him happy, how did his analysis contain errors? You postulated earlier that:

    An action should be taken if and only if it conduces to our long term happiness.
    Being a despot made him happy, therefore by your logic it was ethical. See where I'm going with this?

    My point is that those people are using a strategic that is likely to let them down in the future. That is the case because the most reliable way to arrive at happiness is by considering all possible options with regard to how happiness could be arrived at. People who merely adhere to values dogmatically are following but one path, which does not always work.

    In short, their happiness will be short-lived in most cases.
    I don't think you understood what I meant. Some people derive happiness from following dogma. Not from the dogma, but from following it. Tying themselves down to a certain way of thinking intrinsically makes them feel happy. You argued:

    Not having those values is desirable because without them nothing is stopping you from doing simply whatever conduces to your happiness.
    I'm asking "what if having these values is conducive to one's happiness"?

  9. #9
    Tenured roisterer SolitaryWalker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 93JC View Post
    The latter, for the sake of discussion.



    I argue he did follow a lifestyle that was conducive to his happiness. If it made him happy, how did his analysis contain errors? You postulated earlier that:



    Being a despot made him happy, therefore by your logic it was ethical. See where I'm going with this?



    I don't think you understood what I meant. Some people derive happiness from following dogma. Not from the dogma, but from following it. Tying themselves down to a certain way of thinking intrinsically makes them feel happy. You argued:



    I'm asking "what if having these values is conducive to one's happiness"?
    1)Some people do derive happiness from following dogma, but the consequences of following the dogma may lead to unhappiness. For example, a religious believer may derive genuine satisfaction from observing his religion, yet engaging in practices that he engages in often lead to negative consequences. For instance, religion may rob such a person of the freedom to be true to himself, or may put him by way of humiliation.

    2)Hitler's acitons did not conduce to his long term happiness because in the end he was so unhappy that he has elected suicide.
    "Do not argue with an idiot. They drag you down to their level and beat you with experience." -- Mark Twain

    “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.”---Samuel Johnson

    My blog: www.randommeanderings123.blogspot.com/

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by SolitaryWalker View Post
    1)Some people do derive happiness from following dogma, but the consequences of following the dogma may lead to unhappiness. For example, a religious believer may derive genuine satisfaction from observing his religion, yet engaging in practices that he engages in often lead to negative consequences. For instance, religion may rob such a person of the freedom to be true to himself, or may put him by way of humiliation.
    ...

    I'll buy that.


    2)Hitler's acitons did not conduce to his long term happiness because in the end he was so unhappy that he has elected suicide.
    He killed himself rather than face punishment at the hands of the Allies. Couldn't I assume that was the 'happier' choice given the circumstances?

    I think your hypothesis is too broad. You can justify any action.

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