Ethics: The First Principle

Back in 2000 I went back to University to write a dissertation about Ethics. I had some ideas bumping around in my head from a couple of papers (Certificates of Proficiency) I had done in the Philosophy of Religion and Applied Ethics, and I thought I had the answer to the Consequentialist argument of what makes an action “good”. Analogous to people who do Psychology to work out what’s going on in their own heads, I wanted to do Ethics because I needed to know what made an action right or wrong. Dogma, religion, culture and appeals to being “nice” did not suffice for me: I’m too sceptical. How did I even know I was being “nice”, if I couldn’t judge my action by some objective criteria and account for all the affected parties, including myself? It’s easy for an intelligent person to justify their actions if they don’t have principles. I also don’t believe in a God that judges my actions and will hold me accountable after my demise. Anyway, that’s a lousy reason to behave well to others, the idea that one is only acting “good” to avoid punishment. Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development has that motivation on the bottom of the stack, and I agree with him (in that matter). I managed to convince the Department of Philosophy to take me on doing a Graduate Diploma of Arts, even though my first degree was a Bachelor of Science, based on my performance in the CoPs, and I got to work.

To cut a long story short, my initial argument had the right focus but the wrong target. This was pointed out to me by my supervisor about 2 months into the 8-9 months that I had, and after fighting it a bit I realised she was right. That’s when I hit on the argument that could withstand scrutiny, and made everything make sense. I got an A for that dissertation, and my supervisor said the only reason I didn’t get an A+ is because she wasn’t qualified to judge some of the supporting arguments, since I had pulled in content from Psychology, Political Science, Sociology, and anywhere else I could find a connection.

I determined that I had to turn the dissertation into a book, one that everybody could understand, so that everyone could know (if they cared) what the objective basis was for our intuited moral beliefs and judgements, so they could judge or at least argue the correctness of those beliefs and judgements. My working title is “The First Principle”, and past coming up with that, this has proven to be harder than it sounds.

  1. I had to concentrate a huge amount of my initial writing down into very dense philosophical language to keep within my word limit, even with significant appendices, and re-translating that back into readable, engaging and commonly understandable English is a mission
  2. I’m not convinced my initial dissertation structure is right for a book
  3. I have thought of more things I want to add, and I wonder if some things are just distractions. Specifically, do I research more and throw in citations for everything (it’s easy to see where I wrote something as an essay for a university paper), or is there a point where my own thoughts have stand-alone value, even if they are similar to someone else’s?
  4. Real life gets in the way: I don’t have a lot of time to redesign, translate and write when I have a full time job

So I have determined that I will take bits out of the book-to-be and publish them as blog articles because…

  1. I think a lot of my readers will find this stuff interesting, and enjoy the opportunity to discuss and debate the ideas
  2. Reformatting it for the blog will likely give me some insights into how I can make the rest of the translation easier for myself
  3. It gets at least some of it out there, in case I get hit by a bus
  4. Now I’m working again it give me easy content to keep the blog going
  5. Maybe someone will decide it’s worth helping me become an author

I’ll put such posts under the Ethics tag. I know there already are other (non-book) blogs tagged that way, too, but that’s OK – I’m sure I can count such posts as potential new material. I hope y’all find this motivating ☺

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