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The Dallas Examined Life Philosophy Group Message Board › My Own Brand of Ethics

My Own Brand of Ethics

Jim B.
user 4260314
Arlington, TX
Post #: 418
The way I see it, every piece of knowledge relies on other pieces of knowledge for support. That is, every field of study must eventually make an appeal to a field of study other than itself or else it is circular. On top of that, our entire body of knowledge might be considered circular due to this structure, with all the whole springing from and resting upon our instincts.
I think it depends on how you understand the particular kind of dependence. There are many kinds of dependence. That's why I think it's crucial to try to clarify what one's presuppositions are, or else people may tend to talk past each other.

Being a biology nerd, I tend to think in terms of reproductive utility. Our instincts exist because they got our ancestors laid. They got us this far, so they're probably at least useful even if they're not accurate. That is part of the reason why I demand of an ethical framework to satisfy our moral intuitions. The other part of that demand is that without satisfying moral intuitions an ethic is useless because nobody will practice it. Even if it were correct, it would be irrelevant.
Our beliefs rest, in some sense, on an instinctual basis, but if those instincts are useful because they got our ancestors laid, does that mean that this belief just referred to is nothing more than a useful reproductive strategy? If so, then how are beliefs any different from the release of pheromones? And then how could we know that that belief is or isn't the case? Human capacity to engage in physics rests on and depends on an instinctual foundation, but how could physics be understood only within that context?

I tend to think that there's a rational/justificatory aspect to ethics and morality, that these things cannot be understood outside of that aspect. Instincts, intuitions, and desires are necessary conditions to ethics, but they can't be sufficient, imo; otherwise, everything capable of instinct, intuition, and desire would be capable of moral agency. Something else has to account for the distinction.

I agree that we can't get rid of all moral intuitions, just like we probably can't chuck all of our beliefs since we'd have to rely on some of our old beliefs to justify getting rid of the rest. I doubt that every moral intuition is unimpeachable, though. There have been some pretty unjustifiable moral intuitions throughout history. We may not be able to justify all of them as a block, but single intuitions or groups may stand in need of jusitification at times. That's why I think that ethics is a realm of rational discovery in light of and impossible without our instincts and intuitions: those are the necessary starting points, but they cannot account for all of ethics. Moral intuitions can improve, but they must improve in regards to something other than themselves.

Furthermore, this biological utilitarianism of mine has also led me to believe that the root of ethics is prudence. A lot of other ethicist have come to a similar conclusion. It is intuitively satisfying to suggest "we are all better off when we act in an ethical way".
It depends on what you mean by 'root.' Physics is 'rooted' in instincts and in subjectivity but I don't think it's about those things.

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