Monday, October 28, 2013

On the Basis of Morality

On the Basis of Morality is the title of  a work by Arthur Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer viewed compassion as, virtually, the singular factor that determines ethical reasoning. If you are guided by compassion then, you are most likely on solid ethical ground. While I certainly acknowledge the enormous importance of compassion and the critical role it plays in morality and in the living of an ethical life, I argue in Ethical Empowerment that it is only one component of morality and cannot by itself comprise a coherent ethics. From this perspective, I see much to admire in both socialism and libertarianism. Self-interest and altruism are both highly charged ingredients of ethical life. Selfishness, however--Ayn Rand aside--is intrinsically amoral and a precursor of unethical reasoning. And pure altruism also, I believe, can at times produce unethical results. I welcome your participation in this discussion!

While there is more to morality than the ethical expressions of compassion, it seems impossible that morality could exist without any emotion. That's what the Stoics tried to do but, in the end, they were victims of a grand self-deception. Morality without emotion would be like life absent any sensation. Without motive force there can be only pure chaos or pure inaction. The great problem of ethics is not, as the Stoics believed, the extirpation of emotion but, rather, the quest of its fine tuning and harmony in concert with the rational mind. (I refer to my book, Ethical Empowerment: Virtue Beyond the Paradigms.)                                                                                  

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