ETHICS - Ethics Introduction
(PD) Vermeer The Geographer
Copyright ©2009-2020 - updated August 23, 2020
"...he frightens the ordinary man. If he is more than a popular story-teller it may take humanity a generation to absorb and grow accustomed to the new geography with which the scientist or artist presents us. ...Subconsciously [he] is feared as an image breaker; frequently he does not accept the opinions of the mass, or man's opinion of himself." - Loren Eiseley "The Mind as Nature"
It is a good thing to question ethics, to question what might be right or wrong, and the reward is not merely knowledge - although the knowledge is indeed treasured - but rather the reward is the satisfaction of knowing why a thing is correct.
"There are few circumstances among those which make up the present condition of human knowledge, more unlike what might have been expected, or more significant of the backward state in which speculation on the most important subjects still lingers, than the little progress which has been made in the decision of the controversy respecting the criterion of right and wrong. From the dawn of philosophy, the question concerning the summum bonum, or, what is the same thing, concerning the foundation of morality, has been accounted the main problem in speculative thought, has occupied the most gifted intellects, and divided them into sects and schools, carrying on a vigorous warfare against one another. And after more than two thousand years the same discussions continue, philosophers are still ranged under the same contending banners, and neither thinkers nor mankind at large seem nearer to being unanimous on the subject..." (From the first paragraph of Utilitarianism (1879) by former child prodigy John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)).
As John Mill pointed to, the thing called "ethics" has always been an uncertainty to the greater portion of the population. One of my purposes for creating this website is to give the public a few basics that each individual can use to determine for themselves whether or not their concept of ethics might be valid. My hope is that perhaps a sizable portion of the public will grow to realize that the concept of ethics is quite simple even though the concept may appear dauntingly complex at first.
The Logical Starting Point is Nature Itself
At some point in man's history he became aware that his body is composed of numerous different organs. The knowledge forever removed the possibility for a belief that the body is one solid - but flexible - mass. Man's interpretation of himself changed again when it was discovered that the numerous organs were themselves composed of smaller components: cells. In recent years research has discovered that the cells themselves are composed of smaller components, and that the components themselves are of a complexity even greater than the number of cells in each organ. Modern science can now explain with a degree of accuracy how each cell is the product of trillions of atomic and sub-atomic components that interact within the laws of Nature (physics).
Each time that a new discovery is made that helps to explain the how and why a thing exists, the old beliefs are seen to have been generally correct on the surface, but incorrect when inspected for the reasons why the beliefs were created. A sequence of facts and questions are needed to arrive at a useful beginning where - it is hoped - sufficient knowledge will exist to form a rational explanation of the how and why a thing exists. (1) Yes, cells are the components of organs, but the mere existence of cells is not the whole story nor the reason why organs exist. (2) Yes, cells are composed of molecules, but the mere existence of molecules is not the whole story nor the reason why cells exist. (3) Yes, molecules are composed of atoms, but the mere existence of atoms is not the whole story nor the reason why molecules exist. (4) Yes, atoms are composed of wave-based particles and quarks, but the mere existence of wave-based particles and quarks is not the whole story nor the reason why atoms exist. Currently, modern science has not progressed beyond step 4, and thus all accepted modern theories are limited to conclusions based on the belief that step 4 is sufficient enough to know the how and why everything exists, but someday physics will discover the components that it currently does not recognize, and when that day comes, humans will once again realize that their previous beliefs were about as silly as having believed that organs were mere masses of solid matter.
It is a common behavior amongst most humans to accept a belief about a thing without the individual asking questions. If a knowledge appears to agree with what is sensorially perceived, then most people will conclude that the knowledge is sufficient and that no further knowledge is needed. The behavior of not asking further questions is usually a useful behavior because it allows a person to mentally accept what appears reasonable, and the person is then free to pursue other activities that may be more important (eating, working, etc.). While the behavior of not asking questions may be useful for socializing and the basic survival needs of the body, the behavior is not useful for the gaining of knowledge nor for the understanding of why a current belief may be correct or incorrect even though the belief may appear - on the surface - to agree with what is sensorially observed.
The lack of questions has permitted a strange variety of different beliefs about ethics to be born. Similarly as to how human bodies are composed of organs, that the organs are composed of cells, and so on, so likewise is everything in the Universe composed of components, and nothing that exists can exist without it being composed of components. With the knowledge that everything is composed of components, plus the knowledge that there exists no popular philosophy that speaks of an ethic being composed of components, it is then recognized that popular modern beliefs about ethics are of no greater validity than was the belief that cells are mere blobs of protoplasm.
It is useful for the reader to answer within him/herself two questions: (1) Is the Universe structured upon components? (2) Does the reader's definition of ethics include a knowledge of the components that combine to create the thing called ethics? More useful is for the individual to pause for one minute and to mentally focus on determining that everything in the Universe is composed of components. Think about it, recognize the reality, and have the realization settle deeply into the mind. Once the realization is made firm within the mind that the Universe is composed of components, then it becomes useful to question one's self: "Are ethics composed of components?"
Once the realization has been firmly planted - that everything in the Universe is composed of components - the knowledge then becomes as a triangulation point, a mental point of reference that all other information must agree with or else the mind will reject the information as invalid. Triangulation points are similar to beliefs, where all new information is judged correct or incorrect depending on whether the information is compatible with the belief. With the triangulation point well rooted in the mind, the mind is then able to quickly and effortlessly challenge theories of all topics that do not have within them information about the components that combined to create the things discussed.
Perhaps in another hundred years - surely not in our lifetime - perhaps a physics-based investigation into the concept of ethics will have begun by organized science, and perhaps for the very first time the public will learn in the schools that it is an acceptable thing for an individual to demand that his/her philosophy be grounded on what is real within Reality.
With your being armed with the simple knowledge that all things are composed of components, it is useful to go and critique all systems of ethics, especially one's own, and demand for yourself that you will only accept knowledge that verifiably agrees with the laws of Nature. The next step, of course, it to discover what the components of ethics might be.
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Copyright©2020 by Larry Neal Gowdy. All rights reserved.
Updated August 23, 2020