Re: Ethics

Daniel Fabulich (
Tue, 7 Jul 1998 20:26:35 -0400 (EDT)

On Tue, 7 Jul 1998, Bradley Felton wrote:

> Essentially then, your rational ethics doesn't tell us what we ought to do,
> but rather how we should go about doing whatever it is that we think we
> ought to do.

Actually, most of these ethical systems presume that you already know what your interests are, or can figure them out with trivial effort. Therefore, using what you know and the ethical formula, you can figure out what you ought to do.

> Which leaves open a niche for a new ethic, one which tells us
> what we ought to do.... Perhaps you can see what I meant by calling this a
> problem shift--it's a bit like the ancients inventing a new and prior god
> to explain where god came from.

This is wrong on its face. Rational ethics says "given what you already know, act according to this formula." This equation has two variables, but one of them is already given, so we can solve for the other.

> What is needed is a rational metric to judge our goals.

You're talking about an ethic which tells us what we should and shouldn't WANT, not what we should and shouldn't do. We need no such thing, because we already have goals and desires, none of which IMO are better than others in the relevent ethical sense, nor should they be.

Suppose we argued that we only ought to set goals which are morally praiseworthy (where "praiseworthy" is used in its technical sense.) This presents us with the obvious problem: If I want X, and I have concluded that I ought to want Y, how do I make the transition? If I can't, as I suspect is the case, then this leaves me with an ethic which states that I ought to do something I can't do.

> It's a pity that
> some of the ancient gods aren't around anymore to serve in this capacity;
> they seemingly offered the prospect of an objective judgement.

What is it with you and the ancient gods? Is this some form of irony? Overdetermination? Or a genuine yearing for the lusty days of yore?

> Actually, there is one objective metric available, one which we are
> currently being judged against, and which our ancestors have all been held
> accountable to: reproductive success. This is the only bedrock that I know
> of upon which to build a rational ethics. It doesn't meet your
> generalization principle, which is to say that the generalization principle
> doesn't deal well with reality....

Don't be absurd. You use your goals, however derived, within the generalization principle, because the generalization principle has nothing to do with deriving goals, nor does it claim to.