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Ethical quandary

It's interesting to consider what the role of ethical debate actually is. I mean, is it descriptive or prescriptive? Schopenhauer took the first view. And he said that what people are praised, respected or honoured for is more often than not for their compassion and kindness. At least, I think that's what he said. Oh yes, and he said that those who feel compassion are closer to the reality of things because people are, somehow, all connected. Or that all things, all life, is connected. Thus if you hurt another you are in some sense hurting yourself.


But others seek to make prescriptions - say, that what you ought to do is to maximise the good.


So how do you determine when something is a case of 'is' and when it's a case of 'ought'?


Is it even possible?


I mean, if there's a law, then there's kind of ought - assuming you're under that jurisdiction. But it's a kind of contract: you obey the laws to get the privileges of being in a state. In the case of ethics, who is the law maker?


If not God.


Kant says Reason. He tries to show that it's irrational not to be motivated by duty.


I guess Hume and Smith see sympathy (compassion) as the ruling principle - but they seem to say that is what motivates people, and that that's good thing, but not that this confers an ought, necessarily.


For contractualists, the contract between moral agents makes some acts permissible, some obligatory and some impermissible. Though this surely depends on what moral agents want or like or accept... there's no grounding for it...


Aristotle thinks people should perfect themselves according to their function - and ultimately that means a good 'gentleman' in a civic sense and a philosopher. Plato thinks there is an ideal form of the good... that I seem to think is related to harmony...


What I think is that people see a certain something as motivating a state of affairs that they prefer and thus think that that motivating force is what ought to be... and the only way of getting to what ought to be... and that there is only one single state of affairs of what ought to be, constituted by one or a few values... and it all has to be limited to make any possibility of a comprehensive theory tenable.... but that's as mythical, in my mind, as religion.

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