Why Ethics Should Centralise Around Nature

Call me a misanthrope, but there isn’t one ethics that is universally valid. The Golden Rule, in all its forms, has proven time and time again to be problematic. Even the principles laid down by Kant are tenuously justified, as he puts the cart before the horses at the earliest stages of his Groundworks in order to give personhood centre stage. A similar error is made by Mill when he prescribes welfare as the primary subject of any truly ethical endeavour. The problem is, in order to discover an ethics you need something to deduce it from. And that something is invariably described as intrinsically valuable, worthy of eternal pursuit. But, I dare to say, it’s never sufficiently justified as being so. Why? Well, precisely because nothing is, nor can anything be intrinsically valuable. Not personhood, not consciousness, not welfare, not happiness. So far as the universe is concerned, everything just is. Nothing is more significant than anything else. Value is allocated, not discovered. This is why no ethics is universally valid.

So, the story of ethics is different to how we’ve been led to believe. No subject of an ethics, nor any ethics itself is intrinsically valuable. They are, for all intents and purposes, valuable only instrumentally. They are valuable for the sake of a concept. In the case of knowledge, intellect, consciousness, that concept is personhood. In the case of happiness, that concept is well-being. This is why contending ethical principles are inherently contradictory. From differing ambitions arise conflict. So maybe we’re asking the wrong questions. Indeed, searching for a universal ethics seems entirely futile.

Maybe what we ought to ask is whether anything is fundamental to the essence of all conceivable ethical paradigms. Is it possible that we might discover something which is valuable for the sake of ethics itself? Well I believe some such thing exists. Where is it? What is it? It’s glaring us all in the face. Just how ethicists and philosophers over the past few millennia have managed to miss it bemuses me. Nature. It’s nature! Surely nature is the ground from which the groundworks of any ethics ought to start.What is essential to performing an ethics? What is essential to personhood, to well-being? Nature. The existence of ethical agents, subjects and concepts themselves require it. Well-being and happiness do too. Nature, in its fragile contingent state, provides the conditions necessary for them to subsist. So nature must be the fundamental foundation to all ethics.

It is plain to see, for me at least, that the existence of all ethical paradigms, however valid or invalid, are attributable only to nature. Nature allows them to exist. The principles and paradigms that have been discovered are attributable to the specific natural conditions of this world from which their manufacturers were born. To uphold the values of any ethics we must enable the continued existence of those specific natural conditions. Far from being a universal ethics itself, that is just a fact. The delicate equilibrium of nature’s properties preserve us; they’re integral to our being. As Derek Parfit and many other contemporaries would undoubtedly agree, any ethics which is self-defeating is repugnant. So, any ethics which contradicts this fact is repugnant also.

Whatever your perspective on life, however you see the world – left-wing, right-wing, theist, atheist, optimist, pessimist, whatever! – in order to realise an ethics,  in order to do ethics, you must first embrace nature. The catalogue of reasons to pay reverence to nature has a new member. Nature gave ethics. It’s time to give ethics nature.

A.C. Stark

 

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8 thoughts on “Why Ethics Should Centralise Around Nature

  1. A.C., I appreciate your first two paragraphs very much. I agree that nothing has intrinsic value – that is, nothing has intrinsic value inside an atheistic perspective. I have argued in my blog that ethics, when argued without regard to a deity (which is how you seem to argue ethics), simply boils down to preference, or as you put it, “Value is allocated, not discovered.”

    However, I have at least one disagreement with a later conclusion of yours.

    My disagreement is with your statement, “however you see the world – left-wing, right-wing, theist, atheist, optimist, pessimist, whatever! – in order to realise an ethics, in order to do ethics, you must first embrace nature.”

    From a theist perspective (especially a Christian perspective), ethics does not need nature. From a Christian perspective, ethics predate nature. Ethics originate from the character of God. Assuming God has created a realm of existence that does not include nature, i.e., a spiritual realm, and assuming that God would still have ethical standards in that non-natural realm, one can see that nature is not the center of ethics. Granted, nature plays a role in ethical standards, but it is not the center. In the Christian perspective, ethics has its center in the character of God.

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  2. Hi Adam, interesting blog and view points. Keep it up! And thank you for following my eco-consultancy website aimatsustainability.org

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  3. Thank you for following The Seeds, my latest novel. I hope you are enjoying it as much as I have in writing it. This particular blog is of interest to me for I do know that my Mother, who just passed away at 93 felt that the earth was so important to them as farmers. She never felt that tomatoes or strawberries had any flavor…so a question to ask is “When did the earth lose its flavor?” Continue your good writings. I also have another blog besides The Seeds that you may enjoy. http://www.boyerwrites.wordpress.com Nancy

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