ETHICS AND PHILOSOPHY
D. R. Khashaba
Can there be a philosophical ethics? To my mind the answer to this is: Only the ethics of the philosophical life is philosophically defensible. If, with Plato, you hold that a life of philosophizing is the best life for a human being, then and only then you can consistently uphold the priority and superiority of contemplation and meditation to a life of pleasure or adventure or power or personal glory. Any of these latter alternatives can serve as the rational basis of a coherent and consistent morality.
Before you can rationally defend any morality you have to determine the values you elect to maintain. Is there any rational ground for preferring, say, benevolence to malevolence? There may be utilitarian arguments for the long-term benefit of doing good to others. These do not constitute a moral stance any more than the belief that the gods commanded it and will reward those who comply and punish those who don’t.
Kant said that the only absolutely good thing is a good will. I see that as a version of Socrates’ belief that the whole worth and good of a human being resides in a healthy soul, For both Socrates and Kant that provides the rational ground for morality but neither of them grounds that first ground rationally.
Apart from the ideal of philosophical life, does philosophy give any reason for being good? Before it can do that it has to determine what it is to be good. No pure logic, no ‘pure reason’, can do that.
Metaphysics – and I may seem here to contradict what I have been saying above – can only support morality when it sees goodness and intelligence and freedom as aspects of ultimate reality as Plato and as Spinoza did and as I do in my philosophy of Creative Eternity. But such metaphysics itself cannot be rationally grounded. It is a vision that appeals to us aesthetically.
Ultimately the moral sense is of the nature of the aesthetic sense. To be morally good is to have the aptitude for the sense of the good life, the holy life. That sense is nurtured and developed by love, by beauty, by imaginative works of art, poetry, and literature.
Perhaps we are all born with the seed of that sense of goodness, for life itself is essentially a power of affirmation, of giving. But as we grow up innumerable negative influences tend to obliterate and smother that sense.
To go back to the question we began with: Can there be a philosophical ethics? A philosophy like Plato’s that is sheer poetry nourishes the moral sense (when it is not mutilated by erudite ignorance), but no theoretical reasoning can prove that to suffer injury is better than to commit injury, as Socrates maintained.
(In the above I have not been concerned with the problems of applied ethics which, it seems, have recently been the prime object of ethical discussion.)
D. R. Khashaba
January 16, 2017
Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com and http://khashaba.blogspot.com