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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Much Simpler Ethics

Elsewhere I advanced a pretty exhaustive and exhausting Theory of Ethics, Idea of Justice, Model of the Good. Its a theory, model, idea that I think has consistency, explains diversity in human behavior, makes predictions, includes other grand ethical theories. It uses recent findings of science and builds on past philosophies.

But I think there is a much easier way to present the meaning of justice and of good and evil and I will try to show it in five steps.

1. Sense of justice. Some have argued that the sense of justice comes from an original sense of injustice. The child seems to know it as she forcefully asserts "it is not fair!" when brother gets something she doesn't. She also seems to know "mine!" and what sharing is all about.

But like matter and anti-matter, the sense of justice and injustice probably arise together. There doesn't seem to be need of a grand theory to explain our sense of justice denied when we listen to the stories of black Americans in Jim Crow South or segregated North, the stories of Jewish families in Nazi Germany, the stories of Indians bounty hunted or force-marched off ancestral lands, the stories of women in Arabic countries, the stories of children sold into sex slavery or forced to kill family and neighbors in war. We know what justice is unless we ourselves have become so dehumanized by our greed or ideology.

2. Names for justice. The sense of justice we see denied is captured in our vocabulary as dignity, freedom, creativity, meaning, power. Dignity means to be worthwhile. When we treat someone with dignity we treat them as at least as worthy as ourselves and maybe more. Freedom means the ability to be an agent as opposed to an object or tool of someone else's agency. It is closely aligned to creativity, the ability to initiate, to shape one's world. Power is also the ability to act, but it is a collective term. I achieve power with others acting in concert. And meaning is back to appraising oneself and others as having great worth because of our power to initiate, to create, to be agents, and conscious feeling subjects rather than brute objects.

3. Process for Justice. Dignity, freedom, creativity, power, and meaning are states of being. The corresponding processes for getting there are respect, liberation, self-expression, speech and action, and inquiry, including wonder and curiosity. Because of the dynamic nature of our existence and it's universe, we never fully achieve the state of justice; but we have it in the striving, the process of respect, liberation, expression, speech and action, and inquiry.

4. Institutions of Justice. An institution is a collective habit that in turn promotes certain behaviors and the values which justify them. There are three major types of institutions: 1) related to economy and the needs of life is the market (including businesses, trade groups, corporations); 2) related to culture and the meaning of life is religion (including denominational church or civil religion, education and arts); 3) related to politics and the power of human community is government (including parties, departments, courts). When and where an institution is furthering dignity, freedom, creativity, it is just and good. When and where it is furthering inferiority, oppression, and dulls creativity and curiosity, it is unjust and evil.

5. Ethics and action. Ethics is a reflection on moralities. As such it criticizes institutions in respect to justice and goodness. But while action without critical inquiry is blind, critical inquiry without action is useless. Action consists in confronting the injustice of institutions with counter-institutions; e.g. for the corporation it is the nonprofit community interest organization, for the church it is the free congregation movement, for government it is the nongovernmental public association. Identify the injustice, organize with those who suffer it and those who care about them, and change or replace the institutions.

More on this later.

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