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Notes on Ethics

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 35yrs • M •
A CTL of 1 means that wittgensteins is a contributing member of Captain Cynic.
Notes on Ethics
I bought and read a book on moral relativism. The protagonists of the debate resemble two people who, though travelling in opposite directions, have fallen into the same pit. Both views are expressed in extremis. The first asserts that ethics, in order to have cash value, must penetrate the fog of circumstance. If man admits of no judge but himself; if, seeing nothing in the universe but motion and blackness, he considers nothing amiss in conceiving himself at its centre; if from that centre, he considers the source of all meaning and value to both reside and extend; if, in the warm aspect of eternity, he devolves all power unto himself, and accounts the universe blank and abject; if all this is admitted, does not a conclusion rush, with compelling force, upon us: to wit, that morality, if it has any basis at all, must have its seat in the nature of man? That only man qua man, woman qua woman, rational being qua rational being, can justify any given ethical code?
Where there is no gravity, only those in chains are free!
The second perspective contends that any theory which scotches the contingency which makes up the attendant moral code will be defective on two counts. First, it cannot take the measure of the disagreement which bedevils much moral debate. There appear to be equally valid but opposed arguments about which one must take a stand or stay silent. Take the vexed and vexing issue of abortion. How to reconcile the views of someone who claims that to actively cause the death of any living thing is just wrong with someone who claims that the mother takes precedence, being more fully human, over the foetus? I could go on ad nauseam. The point is this: any attempt to found morality on purely abstract principles would be, to all intents, like building a castle in the sky. Secondly, and more importantly, a moral scheme only acquires meaning vis a vis the ensemble of relationships, made up of equal parts social, cultural and political, into which it is instantiated. I want to be quite precise about this. The problem of limning an ethical system in the chill and confounding solitude of metaphysical abstraction is roughly equivalent to trying to convey a three dimensional image on paper. In precisely this way: it is a representation. Elements will be, you must understand, missing.
But wait. It is sometimes asserted that some truths are of eternal provenance. It is true, come what may, that 1+1=2, and no amount of slant-eyed equivocation can disabuse us of this notion. The foregoing has suggested that moral truths, if that is the right expression, are local: that they borrow their meaning from the climate they inhabit. But what does this claim really amount to? Isn't it buttressed by, parasitic on, a sort of Kantian empiricism? The empiricism of Hartley and Locke and Hume, indeed of Ayer and Russell, proceeded by positing discrete categories that were and this is crucial given in nature. For Kant, the sensory world was manifold a melange in flux, into which and out of which there could be no 'objects', where nothing made sense except in terms of the great unitary whole. Everything is interdependent. All is one. All defers.
The implication of this thesis, made strong by being unarticulated, is that if you want to understand the meaning of a moral statement you must factor in the contingencies which to use a buzz word constitute it. But is this really right? Isn't it possible to make empirical claims which take no cognizance of circumstance? Something is either dead or not dead. And this is because the universe which lodges us is recursive. To put it rather mystically: the set of all sets is not the sum-total of all spatial objects and their relations. Or more precisely: sets overlap. Kantian empiricism claims that all sets, except the set of all sets, are proper subsets, because the truth of a claim is to be measured precisely by the amount of information is contains. But doesn't it make more sense to say, as did Wittgenstein, that facts can share a logical form?

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