Modern Ethics

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Assuming we can adequately define reason, did rational thinking make human beings more ethical in the past, perhaps in Plato's era, and is this still the case? Do questions of ethics even apply to modern civilization, or are we living in a post-ethics world? What kind of paradigm for defining human behavior philosophically would be relevant in a modern discourse? What are the currently prevailing theories in this area?
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Assuming we can adequately define reason, did rational thinking make human beings more ethical in the past, perhaps in Plato's era, and is this still the case?

Rationality is a tool, one that can be used toward many ends. Those who are trying to be ethical will be more successful if they use that tool well, but just having that tool doesn't mean that people are going to use it toward that end.

Do questions of ethics even apply to modern civilization, or are we living in a post-ethics world?

What would a post-ethics world even be like? Ethical questions are continuously applicable to everyone everywhere all the time. Every time anybody wonders what to do, that is an ethical question. The closest thing to a post-ethics world I can conceive of would be a world wherein nobody's actions ever had any consequences whatsoever, so it didn't matter what anybody did; but even in such a world, there is still room for ethical judgement of the things that are happening, even if nobody can do anything about them.

What kind of paradigm for defining human behavior philosophically would be relevant in a modern discourse? What are the currently prevailing theories in this area?

Aside from brute legalism ("do what the law says because the law says so and besides we'll shoot you if you don't" -- including Divine Command Theory in that category), which seems to still be the first thing that most unthinking people turn to, the prevailing approach among thinking people today appears to be utilitarianism, with Kantian deontology constantly trying to give it a run for its money. There are veins of virtue ethics still around today too but they don't seem nearly as popular as the other two.

My own view takes a kind of in-between approach between utilitarianism and deontology, and that seems to be a popular thing to attempt (see for example rule utilitarianism, or rights as deontological side-constraints on otherwise utilitarian ethics) since there are well-known problems with both ordinary views of utilitarianism and deonology.

The version of that approach I advance is basically the ethical equivalent of falsificationism. Just as falsificationism says that of course evidence is important, but evidence cannot ever confirm a theory (anti-confirmationism), it can only falsify it, so too I say that of course maximizing pleasure and flourishing and minimizing pain and suffering is important, like utilitarianism says, but those consequences cannot ever justify an action (anti-consequentialism), they can only rule it out. And then on top of that, a libertarian theory of rights grounded in the definition of property serves a role in normative decisions similar to that which logical considerations, grounded in the definitions of words, serves in factual investigation.
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This is an extremely multilayered question. In short I believe this is exactly the kind of thing Nietzsche was focused on.

From my personal perspective I’ve talked about this at length especially in regards to the term ‘ethical’. I prefer to delineate between ‘moral’ and ‘ethical’ where the ethical is more about communal interactions and acting upon what society at large deems ‘appropriate’. Again, in Nietzsche’s work On the Genaeology of Morals he goes quite in depth about this subject matter and brings into focus the question of how social status dictates our perspectives of ‘Good and Evil’ - if you’ve not read it I’d highly recommend it even though it’s quite bombastic, dense and often misleading due to the overt use of analogies and metaphors.

If you find his style too irksome then I’m not sure who else to suggest? Maybe someone else could offer an alternative?

Anyway, by my reckoning we’re living in an ‘ethically infused’ world today and that this is problematic. By this I mean the focus seems to be more about people saying and acting out of character in order to fall in line with what they believe to be the ‘correct’ and ‘ethical’ patterns they see espoused. By this I mean to distinguish the ‘ethical’ as something instilled to steer individual choices, yet today I think people are perhaps less ready to question the underlying ethical layout of society and follow it blindly rather than primarily use what I distinguish as ‘moral’ intention.

By this I mean to make clear I take those leaning toward the ‘ethical’ to be following norms and those taking account of the ethical yet acting primarily based ‘moral’ convictions to be leading the way.

I could off here and it may simply be the case that extended ‘moral’ convictions necessarily lead to a short term turbulence due to sections of society making ‘ethical’ shifts based on the heresay of prominent individual s with stronger moral convictions (be they for the ‘betterment’ of society at large or to the ‘detriment’).

Note: I’m not trying to mislead with the use of these terms, and I do believe such a distinction was more popular several decades ago. I’m more than willing to alter my terminology to suit I just haven’t come across a better way of stating this yet.
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What kind of paradigm for defining human behavior philosophically would be relevant in a modern discourse? What are the currently prevailing theories in this area?

Unlike religious morality, atheist "ethics" revolve around a haphazard and ever-changing collection of single-issue concerns such as "climate change", workers' rights, women's rights, animal rights, and so on. It is not a cohesive system where they carefully consider tradeoffs that automatically occur in a complete system.

Either you reason within a system, or else you reason about a system, because in all other cases, you are just doing system-less bullshit.
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Getting kind of tired of hearing this baseless claim that "atheists have no systems" over and over again.
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Entirely agree.
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What your post shows is that you have little to no idea of what ethics is, nor of how it works.
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Unlike religious morality, atheist "ethics" ...

Such as? :chin:
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Either you reason within a system, or else you reason about a system, because in all other cases, you are just doing system-less bullshit.

I love that we have ethical standards for applying surgical procedures to children's genitals within some ethical systems, and deciding whether people can drive or not on whether they have boobs, or stoning someone to death because they've been raped, or castrating them because they're gay, or selling your mother, or keeping slaves... Truly a high point of a rational approach to ethics, and not an ossification of historical codes with the normative weight of tradition at all.

What's really important in these cases is that we can weigh the impact of modifying any of these traditions to the tradition rather than to the people they concern.

No, no, if we looked at any of these things in terms of merely systemless principles of "equal rights" and "minimise harm, maximise good" or "act to maximise human agency within our capabilities" and "personal autonomy" we'd really be doing nothing at all for anyone!
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Unlike religious morality, atheist "ethics" revolve around a haphazard and ever-changing collection of single-issue concerns such as "climate change", workers' rights, women's rights, animal rights, and so on. It is not a cohesive system where they carefully consider tradeoffs that automatically occur in a complete system.

Either you reason within a system, or else you reason about a system, because in all other cases, you are just doing system-less bullshit.

Still much better than a morality revolving around omniscient ghosts and untenable metaphysics. Religious moralities, probably plagiarized, are as pagan and heretical as their forebears. It makes little sense to reason within those systems. It’s why one must take a leap of faith.

Assuming we can adequately define reason, did rational thinking make human beings more ethical in the past, perhaps in Plato's era, and is this still the case? Do questions of ethics even apply to modern civilization, or are we living in a post-ethics world? What kind of paradigm for defining human behavior philosophically would be relevant in a modern discourse? What are the currently prevailing theories in this area?

I suspect then as it now, our customs, rituals and traditions do most of the heavy lifting.
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Truly a high point of a rational approach to ethics, and not an ossification of historical codes with the normative weight of tradition at all.

We cannot be far away from witnessing with our own eyes how the $22 trillion of debt and$46 trillion of unfunded liabilities are going to pan out, in a system where the "normative weight of tradition" has been replaced by a ridiculous collection of haphazard, system-less, single-issue concerns.

Even the most stubborn atheist will soon discover that all of it still is a system, and that an exponentially growing burden of accumulated deficits cannot possibly remain workable. Just wait until the next economic-financial crisis which is clearly just around the corner. The bullshit is about to implode any time now. Watch that space!
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Atheism precludes any good approach to ethics because of an imminent, but unspecified in timing and nature, debt based economic crisis. And the only way to solve this is with a nebulous appeal to religious tradition.

Right.
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:up:
:up:

"I mistrust all systematizers and avoid them. The will to a system is a lack of integrity." ~F.N.

:yawn:

Either you reason within a system, or else you reason about a system, because in all other cases, you are just doing system-less bullshit.
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So it seems as though ethics are in a degenerate or inadequate state. Then how can we make it better?
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It appears the thread has been derailed. Shame.
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Atheism precludes any good approach to ethics because of an imminent, but unspecified in timing and nature, debt based economic crisis.

What does system-less so-called "ethics" translate into? Well, obviously into: The Special-Interest effect: Increasing The Size, Scope, and Cost Of Government

But then again, on the long run it does not matter, because the next financial crisis will indeed take care of that any time soon.
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So it seems as though ethics are in a degenerate or inadequate state.

Why does it seem so to you? And by ethics do you mean people's actual moral/ethical outlooks, or the study of ethics, or what?
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Ignore the troll. Why is it so hard?
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Assuming we can adequately define reason, did rational thinking make human beings more ethical in the past, perhaps in Plato's era, and is this still the case?

That's an interesting question, but I suppose that the answer will depend on one's thinking about ethics. A lot, probably most people, think of ethics as a system with a more-or-less objective existence, not unlike the laws of nature. It is then up to us to discover and work out that system and its implications, similar to the way we conduct scientific research and work out logical and mathematical problems. If so, then it is reasonable to think that rationality is a sine qua non for coming to the right ethical conclusions, at least if you work them out on your own, rather than just following someone's lead or complying with established norms.

Personally, I am skeptical about ethical systems. I don't see how it would even be reasonable to suppose that ethics is anything like science or logic. I lean more towards emotivist and related views. So I would think that while rationality is important for decision-making, ethical motivations themselves do not owe much to reason.
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I would think that while rationality is important for decision-making, ethical motivations themselves do not owe much to reason. — SophistiCat

Consider this (brief) attempt at reasoning towards ethical motivations (i.e. evaluative judgments). I submit that, whether discovered or inferred, non-subjective values (e.g. hypothetical imperatives) can, and do, function as criteria for rational decision-making, such as biological/psychological Health or ecological Sustainability, for instance. Insofar as such values, or criteria, posit intrinsic, non-instrumental, even altruistic, goals, they are "moral", no? Your thoughts?
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“Degenerate” suggests we’ve gone backward somehow, when if anything we’ve haphazardly come forward slowly over time. There is still room for improvement though, such as I suggested in my first post in this thread.
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If value is understood to be a noun:

.....under what conditions would values be non-subjective, and,

.....under what conditions would a hypothetical imperative be a value, non-subjective or otherwise?

Quick synopsis is good enough, if you’re so inclined.
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I'm still trying to work out a cogent view, which is why I posed the question (for what purpose who knows, but its entertaining me), so these are my initial thoughts based on the not too bad parameterizing of the issue you guys put together.

In ancient Athens, a society with only a few thousand politically active citizens, the individual was viewed by Plato and Aristotle as a microcosm of the state. The individual's obligation was to be virtuous in personal relationships, basically simple manners capable of being explained as a set of guidelines a la Nicomachean Ethics, and to use politics as a means of securing an environment where virtue is possible, by education, enforcement, structural organization, and in the leadership classes, deep reflection upon one's own values, motivations and purposes, like in The Republic. If all individuals were virtuous by training and also by ethical reasoning as a kind of practical problem-solving about the consequences of actions, in essence intellectually deferential to the attitudes and experiences of fellow citizens, then the collective would be virtuous as well, upholding virtue as culture. This is probably very similar to Kant's categorical imperative: if an individual can will an action of ethical import to be a universal law, then it is moral by way of the fact that what works for the whole will work for each individual as well, and we have a duty to conform to these minimum principles, standards adequate in the vast majority of cases. This is all also similar to Christianity's golden rule, love your neighbor as yourself, the idea that everyone is obligated to act in ways of benefit to the whole community.

As far as I understand it, utilitarianism claims that what is best for the majority should be the standard, and "best" means what brings pleasure, not only to oneself but also the collective. The tacit idea I suppose is that human beings are very similar in their basic experience of pleasure as satisfied by material and social needs, and so in many domains a majority is a nearly absolute majority: food, shelter, clothing, health, security, friendship, community, etc. In this case, the individual is a microcosm of the collective to a more limited degree.

Then we've got Nietzsche, who claims that morality is a product of authority, in the form of prehistoric social mores and then a revolving door of oppressively self-serving upper-classes, forging populations by comparable methods of pain-infliction into having similar experiences and behavioral tendencies, with moral standards basically being criteria for submission, which over the course of millennia narrowed the human trait profile in an evolutionary process until some cultures with universal values were possible.

In the first case, the individual is a microcosm of the collective as a consequence of absolute human nature, in the second case, the individual should consent to the collective as a generally practical expedient, and in the third case the individual is coerced by social power into submitting to the collective.

It is interesting to note that this trajectory into relativism parallels the progression of Western civilization towards greater multiculturalism via colonization and conquest. Ancient Athenian citizenship was uniform culturally, John Stuart Mill's England was ethnically homogenous with some class differentiation, and Nietzsche's imperial West was extremely diverse culturally. Ethics become more complex with increases in sub-cultural heterogeneity.

The initial European solution, as was alluded to by someone in an earlier post, was the formulation of universal laws pertaining to ownership, based on the concept that the standardized economic value of material goods is under the protection of the government as personal possessions, the sum of which are an individual's property. This bypassed the thorny, still highly speculative psychological issues, defining ethics solely in terms of universally recognizable inanimate objects, but it also subjected human behavior to a poorly understood dynamic of international commerce.

This property concept, the idea that material objects are a symbolic representation of one's self, seems to be extremely appealing to the psyche. Most human beings love flashy materialism and a culture based on commercial fads. But the process by which economic conditions change is accelerating in thus far unpredictable ways, meaning that massive amounts of new material goods are constantly being innovated and mass-produced, so that human concepts of self are in perpetual upheaval and the property paradigm is growing more difficult to manage. Most financial actors and sub-cultures try to manipulate this disorganization for their exclusive, usually short-term advantage, making technological and institutional development minimally ethical and efficient. Can an attempt to induce even further conformity by force remedy this situation? I doubt it. Educated citizens only conform while they're at war, war sucks though the occupation of soldier has so far probably been the most important job in world history, and an uneducated population has become an economic and thus a political disadvantage.

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To revive a defunct thread for the noble purpose of relieving an idle moment, what role does concept of self play in ethics? Seems that every ethical decision depends on the nature, status, psychology of affected agents, whether pain is experienced, the long-term benefits of temporary pain or inconvenience, the relative value placed on individuals and possessions, concerns like this. In some contexts humans place a significant premium on sanctity and quality of life as well as the collective future, and in some situations, not so much. Anyone aware of literature on the topic, theories, or arguments that have been made?
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I tried to outline in my initial post that the ‘self’ (moral) is essentially acting ‘morally’ in opposition to what is called ‘ethical’ when the need surfaces - and it will. It is a matter of personal ‘character’ (acting as one believes one should act) as to whether or not the ‘moral’ attitude resists the ‘ethical’ attitude.

I think I am roughly in line with one of Nietzsche's points where ‘character’ isn’t necessarily ‘Good or Evil’, but ‘character’ can be ‘good or bad’: meaning someone with murderous intent acting out in a murderous manner is ‘good character’ as they are ‘true’ (they act as they think not in opposition to how they think due to what ‘others’ - the ‘ethical’ - deem as ‘Good or Evil’). If anyone thinks that’s wholly opposed to Nietzsche’s words I’m happy to claim it for my own and defend it. ;)
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Apparently you missed the link in my previous post. Here it is again - hope that answers your questions.

Maybe Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons will interest you. As the wiki summary indicates, Parts 3 & 4 concern postive & negative effects different conceptions of 'personal identity' (i.e. self) have on making moral judgments as Parfit sees it.
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Its somewhat confusing, but I don't think Nietzsche's views on morality are prescriptive at all. If they were, they'd be totally irrational. I think he's saying after his speculations about morality's development that most people assert their own personal or sub-cultural "good and bad", and the concept of "evil" tends to be used as a means to coerce conformity, stifling growth of the individual via guilt and shame. Free-thinker Nietzsche of course dislikes this. Whether Nietzsche's assessment of evil applies in modern society is disputable.
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Please start tagged the person you’re responding to.
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I never said they were prescriptive. I noted that ‘good’ character has nothing to do with societal views of ‘good and evil’ as an ‘evil’ person true to themselves is still ‘good’ in terms of ‘character’.
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Enrique contra I like sushi :razz:
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