A New Ethical Theory

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A New Ethical Theory

I've been reading a book on ethics, and I found the following passage interesting:

"Teach Yourself Ethics" by Mel Thompson
"A philosophical movement called 'logical positivism,' which was influential in the early part of the twentieth century, took the view that statements had a valid meaning only if they were true by definition, or if they could be shown to be true by observation. 'Two plus two equals four' would make sense because it is a matter of mathematical definition. 'There is a tree in the garden' would also mean something; that, if you were to look out into the garden, you would see a tree. But the statement 'It is wrong to kill' is neither a definition, nor could you find anything in the world 'out there' corresponding to the word 'wrong'. On this test, morality is meaningless, because it deals with choices and values, rather than simple facts."

It is for this reason that I think morals are subjective; but I do not think morality or ethics are completely meaningless if they can be defined a different way.

I think the problem comes in defining what is "good" and what is "bad". Obviously, we don't know how to define such terms.

For this reason, I think the actual QUESTION that "ethics" is trying to answer is flawed.

The question is not, "Which action is good?" The question is, "If there are multiple possible actions, which action is better than another?"

This is the question that faces us everyday in multiple contexts. We don't have to have preconceived notions of "what is good" to act ethically.

We have to choose some actions that are "better" than others. It is a comparison between multiple options using REASON, not a single choice of one action because it is "GOOD" or prescribed by a deity.

Thus, my ethical theory is that ethics should be defined in this context:

"Ethical actions are those actions that have better reasons in comparison to the reasons of other actions."

Granted, this is subjective to a certain extent. But I think that every day, as I am making ethical considerations of certain actions, I am weighing the competing reasons for choosing one action over another, and I choose the one with the best and most compelling reasons.

Take the example of killing that the excerpt used.

Why is it better NOT to kill someone than to kill him or her?

1. Killing someone ends their existence.
2. Killing someone usually causes emotional strife in the victim's family and friends.
3. Killing someone may prevent the killed individual from doing good or being rehabilitated in the future (if they have done bad things).
4. Killing someone will land me in jail.
5. I would not like it if someone killed me or a family member.
6. All human life has intrinsic value.

Why would it be better TO KILL someone?
1. Perhaps it is a punishment for a heinous crime.
2. Perhaps killing them is necessary to prevent them from killing an innocent person or people.
3. Perhaps killing a person in war is a necessity for "the big picture."

In any event, I think that the basis for all ethics are REASONS. Even if you believe in evolutionary ethics, reasons are at the HEART of it. For instance, altruism is good BECAUSE it makes you trustworthy in your tribe, creates an expectation of reciprocation, and ultimately increases the survival chances of you and others in your tribe. Those are all reasons, even if they are not cognitively reasoned out and the animals are unaware of them. We are not automatons, and we are guided by reasons for doing the things that we do.

So when someone is saying "Action X is good," what they are really saying is, "Action X has better reasons than Action Y, Action Z, etc."

See, using a word like "good" presupposes that there is a standard by which to judge.

In my ethical theory, there are limited options and no standards, only a competing set of reasons for each action.

This is why social consensus and rationalism are important.

Perhaps the only standard for ethics is rationalism.