If you think human rationality, and efforts to ‘predict and control’ are, together, shaky ground for ethics, what’s left?
posted by nelljie to Religion & Philosophy (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Please forgive my naiveté here, the last time I thought about this with any sort of precision was too long ago. (I’ve forgotten the main arguments and their authors, and the terms I’m using are pretty basic, and I’m going to make some probably silly leaps unbecoming of a person my age.)
As a younger person, I had a lot of faith in the potential of the institutions of government, law, medicine, education, and psychology to improve the human condition. From what I can understand, many humanists/naturalists have settled on these as the tools and rationale for ethical action (re the big things), in a generally modernist program. (The proposed or implicit ethics seem to be normative, organized around a notion of universal rights, & informed by Western psychological conceptions around health and flourishing.)
Re just sort of living, there’s an emphasis on cultivating empathy, respecting life, do-unto-others, etc. Which is a bit perplexing, given that most atheists, I think, assume metaphysical determinism, if they don’t like randomness. (Sorry, yes I said I’d be crude, I know I'm collapsing a lot here.)
But none of those institutions can contain chaos and tragedy. I've lived long enough to see that people are irrational and self-interested and unlikely to change. Most organizations are inert (or corrupt). Expressions of vitality are fragile. Luck/happenstance matters more than anything, for individuals as much as policies, and those individuals or institutions able to overcome circumstance to embrace action are again a function of luck (of personality, situation, timing). We just suffer, and always will. Which is one thing, there are always little pleasures to soften things, worthy in themselves, but the science that humanists use to frame hope is always mitigated by politics, which is always mitigated by stupidity. Apart from that, there's simple error. Pretensions to morality/hope/action that don't account for all that are misguided.
Who in philosophy’s good, then, for that, from where I’m at? More clearly (I hope): if we're irrational, & constrained by the limitations alluded to above, and for practical purposes, unpredictable, in what do we ground ethics and sort of daily life, barring things supernatural?