WhyHumanLifeMakesSense.com - Chapter summaries - 5. How do we develop ethical principles?
Chapter summaries

5. How do we develop ethical principles?

An ethical theory is a theory for relating to other people in skillfully achieving the high-level goals of human nature. Accordingly, I refer to this theory as the maximal skill theory of ethics.

Human life is fundamentally about the relational duality: interdependence and intimacy — mutual need and mutual meaning. Hence, ethical principles serve to achieve the two facets of the relational duality.

Interdependence refers to our mutual need to work for our survival, while intimacy refers to the fact that we obtain meaning in life through our relations with other people. Our mutual need is obvious on realizing that our ability to survive is greatly enhanced through our relations with other people, most notably through commerce. Our mutual meaning is obvious on realizing that life would be meaningless in the absence of other people. Note that for a person who believes in God, the concept of other people includes God.

In this context, I introduce the most fundamental ethical principle, showing that it is implied by the theory of knowledge presented in chapter 1. Thus, the most fundamental ethical principle does not follow from the properties of human life and human relations but from the formal properties of the theory of knowledge. What is the most fundamental ethical principle? I don't want to spoil the plot by telling you, so I'll whet your interest by noting that two famous ethical principles follow from the most fundamental ethical principle: the golden rule of Jesus and the equality clause of the American Declaration of Independence.

If this whets your interest, then I encourage you to try to figure out what the most fundamental ethical principle is, keeping in mind that it is a formal property — a property involving relations characterized abstractly.

Reference citation.  Philip Bitar, adapted from Why Human Life Makes Sense, Editions 1/2/3, 2011/2012/2015, p. 41/48/244, posted at www.WhyHumanLifeMakesSense.com, 2011-08-26, updated 2015-03-18.