Friday, June 7, 2013

My Moral Theory: Ethics in the Imperative

Moral philosophers like to complain that you can't get an imperative demand out of only descriptive statements. That's true. So here's my solution: just like in the old days, stop pretending that it's an empirical question, and start with the imperative.


Don’t skin another human being.
Be as helpful as you can—to friends first, but also to strangers.
Don’t feel contempt for your family.
Don’t steal a subway ride.
Remember that doing the right thing has nothing to do with how you feel that day.

Don’t make people feel small, stupid, or left out. 
Don't uneasily tell someone you don't need any help if all you want to do is exclude them.
If you're standing and talking in a circle, step aside to make room for a newcomer.

Don't worship idols, whether money, beauty, or—most seductive of all—intelligence.

Be kind and not infantilizing to the old.
Praise other people behind their backs.
Prefer being kind to being right.
Support immigration reform. If you don't yet, then talk to an undocumented immigrant until you change your mind.

Visit sick people and mourners, even if you don't know what to say.
Give a tenth of your income to charity.
Don't slyly make an argument that is perfectly logical but which you know to be immoral.
Question your own motives, and trust other people's.
Cultivate earnestness over cynicism, and friendliness over eccentricity and prestige.

Does this bore you? Does this not have enough metaphysical support? Then I distrust you, and I hope you change your mind.

Is this too much to ask? Of course it is, for me as much as anyone else. That doesn't mean it can't be our ideal.

Does this seem too obvious to you? If only that were the problem!

Nathan didn't do any moral theorizing.
And David didn't need to be a philosopher to understand him perfectly


Gabe Shapiro said...

Why does "you" link to an article about Spam???

Jonathan S Nathan said...

Rats. I was hoping no one would notice.