Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891

Lettres

Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

Ethics & Reminiscences

Penned upon the 17th of February, 2009

I’ll happily tell you, even at risk of sounding hackneyed, that I was always somewhat wary of deontological ethics. Morality achieved through following abstract logical imperatives rather than attending the visible needs of others? It seemed so cool, so dispersonal. I reacted by pushing in the opposite direction. I went through a real wild period for a while there – yes, I was a Humean sceptic.

It was all a misunderstanding on my part, of course. The trick to deontology isn’t the specific rules you derive from it; it’s the essential notion that others, by virtue of their very existence, must be treated morally – that our duty to others predates their present, specific needs. Their circumstances may change; the nature of life itself will not. Morality thus transcends the temporary, malleable – almost undefinable, really -concept of the greatest happiness to the greatest number.

This does rather put us on the spot, of course. Society is a sort of collective effort to have everyone’s innate rights be met. When resources are limited, is it just to forgo our duty to others in the present in order to achieve it in the future? Life gets in the way of progress, as the Dolls put it, and it’s all too easy to lose track of where means end and ends begin.

Perhaps that’s just a grim reality of being – compromise is a constant in life. Or perhaps there’s a yet more sophisticated way of seeing things – after all, I’ve only been talking about individuals here; perhaps the systems that bring them into being add a moral dimension of their own. If value extends beyond the individual, then a sort of progress can be an active force in life, rather than a yearning to escape life’s limitations. I think there’s cause for optimism, in fact, I really do. Punk’s not dead, Kant’s not cant, and there’s cause for optimism! There’s your lapel-badge message for the day.


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