The ethical corruption of (much) ethical conjecture

In my experience, discussions of ethics too often focus on questions like these:

• Is war always wrong?

• Is there such a thing as a just war?

• In what circumstances would it be acceptable to kill someone?

• Is it ethically acceptable to eat animals?

I think this approach to ethical thinking is somewhat corrupting in itself.

Assuming the general principle that we should aim to minimise suffering, we don’t spend nearly enough time asking questions like, “How can we ensure that the circumstances in which we ‘have’ to kill someone never arise in the first place?”

When we do, new questions arise:

• How do we stop wars and conflicts from arising in the first place?

• What circumstances minimise deaths and homicide, and how do we create those circumstances?

• How can we best nourish ourselves, with all due attention to enjoying our eating (vital to sustainability), without causing suffering?

These new questions do not have single, simple answers. They are divergent questions, admitting a multitude of possible answers, possibly competing answers. They admit complexity, and steer away from the dangerous tendency to abstraction that so often typifies Western thought.

About David

I am an environmental writer, journalist and speaker living in Cape Town, South Africa.
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