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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Models for a Public Ethic

We think through models--sometimes referred to as metaphors or images or symbols.

Science--which means "knowledge" but is the most formal and, most would say, highest form of knowledge--develops models to explain observation or experience and then sets up more observations to collect more data to either refine, reject, or prove its models for explanation. Science, the great scientists affirm, is a highly imaginative acivity. Its results are often fantastic. But what sets it apart from fantasy or fideism is its commitment to verification--making the model fit the facts or the data of observation.

In our history we humans have used many metaphors to answer the question into human values and behavior, the quest for a good or fulfilling life, the secret of human happiness. Among them are: 1) foundation like that of a building or even the universe, 2) balance like that of the scale which the goddess of justice holds, 3) tool like a knife that works to carve a beautiful figure, cut a path to the sea, or kill an animal for food, 4) pact like a marriage covenant, business contract, agreement among friends or treaty among foes, and perhaps the most recent 5) the metaphor of metaphor itself like a fractal or a complexity model of science itself. Each of these give rise to the various models of ethics: Revealed ethics, natural ehics, ethics of proportionality, utilitarian ethics, social contractualism, and postmodern ethics.

All these images are useful I think for getting a handle on our present unexamined ethics towards the creation of a new ethic, a Public Ethic, that can critique our present actions and their assumptions, that can evaluate our policies and their consequences, and that can reform the institutions through which we habituate our behaviors. I think the new Public Ethic will subsume and so include the other models, culminating in Progressive Pragmatics which shall indeed be the model that I shall propose. I also think that this is an ethic subject to refinement and development and verification by experience.

To be continued.

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