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Loosely quoted from Star Talk Radio:
“It seems to me that science is the only human collaboration that transcends human boundaries. The results you find are independent of what country you come from, what religion you believe in, what government you have. So when you think of what is the future that could possibly unfold in a world that is divided by politics, by religion and by any other reason people give to kill another person for crossing a line in the sand, it tells me that the only hope we have is to search for the truth that we find through the research conducted by science.”
It’s been a while since I’ve made a new post, mainly because I’ve been busy with my last semester of university starting. That may just be an excuse for laziness on my part though, but we’ll go with the former. Anyway, the blog’s gone over 1,000 views now so I thought I’d do a good article with knowledge that will really benefit people’s thinking and their overall prospects for being an academic mind. Surely, knowing about this topic is considered “classier” than knowing the names of some celebrities, and since celebrities get so many readers I hope that this will get at least a few.
It also occurs to me that I may be losing some readers with the complexity of my diction, for which I apologise. This is simply how I write when talking about academic matters. It requires some paying attention to understand, but believe me, it’s an acquired taste.
Anyway, I was actually continuing a discussion of the nature of “evil”, following on from my blog post about villains, and was requested to make a post about ethics (specifically, Aristotle’s ethics). So here we go. Just a foreword, don’t go ratting on me about how these categories are not all-encompassing. I did not invent these, I’m merely redelivering information that I learned at university by consolidating all my knowledge and focusing it towards one particular topic. Unlike my three categories for villains, what I’m posting here are internationally accepted standards. Whilst I am sure that, for the purposes of psychoanalytical profiling, there exist many more categories, I assure you that the information I am about to divulge is correct to a university level academic standard.
The two types of ethics:
I’m not going to tell you who Aristotle is (because you should have an idea and can find this out for yourself), but Aristotle’s ethics fall into the category of teleological ethics. There are two broad groups of ethics: teleological and deontological. Teleological theories stipulate that behaviours/actions are considered ethical if the result is desirable, whereas deontological theories stipulate that a behaviour/action is only ethical if it is following some kind of paradigm such as duty or the law.
Examples of teleological theories include ethical egoism, utilitarianism, ethical elitism and ethical parochialism. Of these, I’ll explain the two most interesting (in my opinion), those being utilitarianism, which is the concept of “the greater good” in which sacrifices can be made to accomplish a larger aggregate gain in utility and ethical parochialism, which maximises the utility of your group (be that sports team, fans, company, family or any other discernible group). A good example of utilitarianism can be demonstrated through the hypothetical of a sinking ship. Your lifeboat can only support the weight of five people whereas you have six people trying to occupy the lifeboat. Either one person sacrifices himself to die (or is forced to by the group) or all of them die. If nobody volunteers, a utilitarian view would justify you forcibly removing a member of the boat to their death because you are saving five other lives by doing so (whereas it would be concerned unethical to kill somebody else using a deontological viewpoint). As for ethical parochialism, that should be axiomatic – you support your own “team” more than others.
A good example for a deontological theory would be Kant’s system, which we will get into later.Basically, deontological theories are heavily rule and duty based but they produced skewed results. For example, donating out of an act of compassion is not considered ethically valid as you have no duty or rule compelling you to donate. As such, teleological theories are generally considered superior.
Aristotle’s ethics were intended to apply to everyone, regardless of cultural background or belief. He believed that ethics should be axiomatic – that is self-evident once explained – and believed the purpose of all ethics should be towards the final goal, that being the achievement of “good”. The ultimate “good” that he suggested humans should all strive for was the flourishing of human life. Aristotle categorised his ethics into two groups of virtues: moral and intellectual. Now, there are 13 moral virtues and 5 major intellectual and 3 minor intellectual virtues so you can probably guess that I’m not going to list them all for you. You can probably just Google the list if you want. I will, however, explain how his virtues worked.
Moral virtues are obtained through good habit formation and practice. Moral virtues have two extremes (known as vices), those being excess and deficiency. Every person is naturally closer to one extreme than the other (that is to say, nobody stands at the arithmetic mean between these two vices). For example for the moral virtue of courage, the unethical practice of cowardice would be courage by deficiency, whereas excess courage would be considered something akin to recklessness.
Intellectual virtues are obtained through education and training. These have only one extreme, deficiency, except for prudence which has two extremes. Excess prudence would be fraud and opportunism whereas a deficiency in prudence constitutes negligence.
Justice is a little special as it is divided into three different types.
Distributive justice ensures that common goods are distributed maintaining proper proportionality. This means that if you have two kids and one is larger, and thus has a bigger appetite, if you give them both the same amount of food you are actually violating distributive justice. The key word here is proportionality.
Remedial justice is in the realm of law; it ensures the remedy of a wrong (i.e. compensation equal to damages).
Commercial justice ensures that the value of something given should equal the value of what is given in return (where this value is determined by market forces; i.e. ripping someone off violates this).
Thomas Aquinas refined Aristotle’s virtues with a Christian influence, but I’m not going to talk about that.
Evolution of ethics and morality:
The evolution of ethics is axiomatic. Quite simply, ethics and morality evolved as a point of necessity. If they had not, we would not exist in our current state – we would probably still be hunter-gatherers or would have died out as a species. This is a fact. There is no way we would be living in civilisations if it were customary for us to kill and rob our neighbours, thus, to survive, we evolved certain ethics and morals. I reject the Christian belief that god gave us morals, because that is both a horribly pessimistic view (that humans are incapable of being good without someone giving it to us; also it doesn’t explain why evil exists), and because it is arrogant to assume that before Christianity came along a few thousand years ago, every life form on the planet was evil (remembering that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old).
To articulate this point further, let me put it this way. The very fact that you are even here to ponder how ethics came to be means that ethics were a necessary part of evolution. Without it being a part of evolution, we would only have rudimentary semblances of society. These are all facts. Now on to my own personal hypothesis.
I believe that there are two primal instincts at play here. First and foremost, the strongest human instinct is survival. For that purpose a human will do anything within their power. An extension of survival is selfishness. A human will always, within the boundaries of what is allowed, seek to gain as much for themselves as possible. Now, this begs the question why we don’t loot and pillage and rape all the time. Well, short answer is we used to. However, as social order developed into a more complex system of social paradigm and law, humans were faced with a choice between getting whatever you wanted at the cost of community (and thus the inherent benefits of community such as economies of scale and safety), or giving up certain things to establish a community.
Now, as I said, survival is the strongest instinct and that is closely followed by selfishness (as the two are strongly correlated – to have more is to survive better). In a primal state, it would not be considered wrong to kill or pillage. There would be no concept of right and wrong (as these are human fabrications). Why is it that we chose society over personal gain? Because the prospect of a large community (which would eventually become cities and countries) offered more than the prospect of fending for one’s self. First, there are the intrinsic benefits a community brings. These should be obvious. There are many things that you can accomplish as a team rather than alone. Communities also tend to prosper more and offer more chance to profit (thus appealing to the selfish side). At the same time, humans are social animals. We cannot reproduce asexually and inter-mixing genes within a family is bad. Diverse genetic breeding produces stronger children. So in a toss up between “I can take my neighbour’s stuff if I’m stronger than him” and “I can have good children, more potential mates, more potential material gain and more safety” (among other things of course), humans naturally went for the one with the highest chance of survival – community. This is axiomatic too. If any creature did not naturally choose their best option for survival, they would not exist anymore.
So there you go, the evolution of ethics and my take on why it occurred this way.