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.
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.
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.
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.