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Ancient vs modern ethics: a comparison

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Ethics As The Enlightenment Of The Dark Side

Morality is about the behaviors (“mores”; from “mos” genitive, “moris”; one’s disposition, manners, customs) which have long been viewed as best to the group. Thus morality is the software which (is viewed as) enabling group survival best. The word “morality” was coined by Cicero, and duplicated the etymology of the term used by the Greeks for the same purpose: “ethics”.

Ethics is the most important field for our times, as the power (kratos) of Sapiens is reaching some sort of singularity, from creating transgender people to wrecking the climate, let alone soon making quantum computers (and thus Artificial Consciousness).

All humans come equipped with an intrinsic, default ethics: human ethology, selected by millions, tenths of millions of years, of biological evolution. It’s the divinity inside. Still, culture enables it.

Our lives are influenced by, and, to a large extent made of, how we act. However, “life” is more general than just “acts”. It’s also all what was, and is experienced, felt, all what is imagined, dreamed for, and desired. Thus, our actions are often predicted by our inclinations. Indeed, one should go back to the Ancient Greek notion that philosophy and ethics are all about how we live. More than simply how we act.

Socrates is widely viewed as the father of, all too much of philosophy. All too much, indeed, because Socrates made a huge mistake. Socrates believed that lack of goodness was just about ignorance. Well, true, ignorance can cause a lot of evil. But was Stalin just ignorant? Ignorance is not what defined Stalin. Malevolence is more like it. Malevolent enough to crush Hitler, among other feats.

Hence malevolence does not need ignorance. It often does better without it. Had he been smarter, Hitler could have killed much more people: ignorance curtailed his achievements.

Evil is its own divinity, its own fundamental cause. Socrates, who valued knowledge so much, completely ignored the Dark Side. And that ignorance was, indeed, evil.

Ignoring the Dark Side is a mistake that neither Christianism nor Islamism committed… Perhaps to excess (as they both seem to laud it: both the Bible and the Qur’an have “verses of the Sword”, which, in both religions, required to kill “unbelievers”; see Luke 19; 27, and Sura 5 verse 9).

In any case, the Dark Side is real, and not very surprising in a species which reach supremacy by eating other animals. Ethics always ignored it at its own risk. As Socrates found out when he had to die, for his naivety in ignoring the Dark Side. Of his own students!

There are more comments to be made about the essay below:

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  1.  Kant’s silly metaphysics of the “moral imperative“, up in the air, yet brought to ground as obscene submission to authority, helped to bring Nazism… In view of not just the blatant evidence, but according to what the Nazis themselves pretended (Nietzsche seemed to have guessed Kantian “morality” would lead to this unfathomable disasters, hence his wild attacks against what he condemned as German herd mentality).
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  3. Not only did Nazism sink nearly all pretense to ethical authority that most of German inspired philosophy could have, but it revealed ethical problems similar to the famous Melian Dialogue, but writ much larger, and even more ominous.
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  5. The discovery of ethology, and in particular human ethology, (ought to have) changed the entire field of ethics. No serious philosopher can pretend otherwise. And this brings us right back to the contemplation of the Dark Side, one of the two pillars human supremacy rests on, as if Atlas on two legs.
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Patrice Ayme’

How to Be a Stoic

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Ethics — as a branch of philosophy — means a very different thing today than it did once. And that, perhaps, is a mistake. There is an excellent article over at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, by John-Stewart Gordon, discussing the topic, that is very much worth checking out. Here are the highlights.

The first, and arguably most important, thing to understand about how the Greco-Romans conceived of ethics is that they regarded it as the study of how to live a happy life, not (as in the modern sense) the study of which actions are right or wrong. Gordon mentions the example of “justice,” which the ancients saw as a character trait (a virtue), not as the idea of people having rights.

Accordingly, it is interesting to note that the words “ethics” and “morality” have revealing roots: the first one comes from the Greek êthos, a word related to our idea of character…

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