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Ethics and philosophy in the West

I recently read the famed book History of Western Philosophy by B. Russell.

From the XVII century on the world has changed its mindset and prepared to the wealth we enjoy right now, at least in a growing part of the world.

Then many, especially in England, recognized the enormous value the empirical evidence can contribute to understand the world and improve our lives.

The people representing such positions wrote in a terse way. I can read Hobbes’ Leviathan, after centuries, and still understand what he writes; as you are likely to read, English is not my mother tongue.

I challenge you to do the same with even more contemporary continental philosophers, which often enjoy much praise for reasons that defy me.

I use to think that the “empirical” way of thinking often has as a side effect a “democratization” of a society. Every man can think soundly, or at least each of us should expect it be so, and every thought can be scrutinized without (or with) prejudices; we see men as their actions and their thoughts.

Ethics (=judging the degree of goodness/badness of something) is backed by proof, in a given (semi- or not at all) formal system.

Something is bad if it can be shown to do harm to individual/society, in a given time frame.

We may say that ethics is a formal system: axioms, reasoning rules; plus a knowledge base, and a time frame in which it operates. The time frame could be of course part of both the formal system and the knowledge base, but since time is a concept so central in man’s endeavors I think it can be considered separately.

This is why many prejudices are losing supporters nowadays; I don’t think “political correctness” (PC) has anything to do with it. (Myself I am not sure about what PC is.)

Take homosexuality. More people are being open with it, so more people find it harder and harder to see some fault in somebody who is homosexual because of homosexuality, because it is hard to show that a CEO of a company or a garbage man do their job worse because they are homosexual, given the evidence they do it well; it is as well hard to show something analogous when they do it bad, since there are also non-homosexuals doing their job bad. There is possibly not even a correlation, and even if you would find it, that would not make the argument stronger.

On the other hand I observe that continental Europe is known for being very generous when it comes to welfare, etc.

Which is not the case (to my limited and indirect knowledge) in countries like US and UK, which are the homeland of empirical thinking.

My thoughts summarized:

  • Philosophy seems to be concerned with man’s well being, both in subjective (=uninformed prediction, hope) and objective (=informed prediction) ways.
  • Continental philosophy is a literary/entertainment genre
  • Where it interacts with how a state works, it is anyway inspired by empiricism (in the case of Europe, socialism — which is not strictly empiricism but strongly influenced by it and Christian/stoic ethics — which is in practice quite common in the western world)
  • Man’s woes come from the time frame I wrote about earlier. All human thinking is concerned with how to deal with uncertainty. Science is a tool for this, the most successful I would say, but not enough; the problem is that our wishes do not like to come to terms to predictions, certainties, and fallacies, even when they are “scientific”; especially the doubt that a “scientific” diagnosis might be wrong – and this can happen – unfolds a chain of painful doubts and uncertainties.
  • Ethics is something that we hope to be objective, but eventually is mostly subjective.
    • Political differences between groups have to do with different ethics.
    • Disagreement between men has to do with differences in their ethics.
    • Since every man cannot experience everything, political propaganda/religion/science proposes ethics, as described above. A man can adopt such ethics to relieve him from or as a starting point for devising its own.
    • Some people are more resilient and cheerful, some drop into despair very easily; their personal ethics are different; they draw different conclusions about the future.
  • It is, eventually, from uncertainty that conflict between human beings arise; uncertainty about the future (time frame), and about judgement (two ethical systems do not agree in their conclusions)
  • We like ethics because they make man’s behavior predictable. This is why society is concerned with it. Do not misunderstand me, I am not implying any “state conspiracy” here nor V for vendettas. Who would like to live in an unpredictable world?
  • Talking about PC: I use the word ‘men’ because it is shorter than “human being” and “men and women” and “women”, being already rather verbose by nature.