Ethics – for what kind of human beings?

Ethics seems to be about universal, abstract values – like “killing is wrong”. On first glance, prior to much reflection, one might want to adopt things like that as universal principles, and then “what ought you do” becomes the question, “what ought an abstract ideal chooser do in this situation given that set of universal principles”.

Of course, we all know this is bunk, because the principles come out of nowhere. So we look to the guy who came up with them, and he’s just some bloke standing in a field. And the only universal principle you can deduce empirically from him is he hates pain and likes pleasure. So, you figure that’s the real universal principle. But, as philosophers it would be a bit embarrassing to tell people they should just do what gives them pleasure and avoid pain, so we universalize that, make it sound right proper abstract and philosophically sounding, and we get – “act as if you were an ideal chooser with the principle of minimizing pain”, or something to the like.

But this ethics is bunk too, because it asks us when we make choices to imagine we’re something we’re not and act as if. Not even Kant, the guy whose bad charicature we were making fun of in the first place, asks us to do that. No, for Kant you literally are meant to become that actor that makes the moral principle the ground of its will, not “act as if”. See, for Kant, the idea is we’re initially and for the most part evil (especially pain and pleasure types like Bentham), but we make ourselves moral by becoming the kind of people who make moral principles the ground of our will.
So the key to doing decent ethics is to recognize that ethical decisions are relavent to concrete individuals, not abstract “as if” choosers, and any possible ethics is one which commands you to become something that you are not. It’s not a question of acknoledging you are some way or another and skipping out on it to act a different way, but literally to change yourself to act according to the right reasons, according to duty.

But, where do those duties come from? They simply from the situation we find ourselves in, there are already duties present in any given social situation and position. If you want to deny this, but you still want to say there are duties, pray tell where they come from? How do you know you have them if they are present, even privitavly, in your situation?


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