What do you base your philosophy on?

With regard to morality, ethics and life philosophy, what do you believe, and how do you justify your beliefs? Thank you.

Posted: May 24th 2008

John Sargeant www

For me that would be the social contract hypothesis and in terms of social justice using the veil of ignorance that John Rawls developed in his work “A Theory of Justice”.

This justifies principles of justice on the basis that you do not know your position in society – you agree the principles as free and equal persons. From this comes the idea of justice as fairness.

As for ethics and morality, that would be as far as possible to minimize harm and to do good to others because it makes the society I live a better place if this is carried out universally.

Posted: August 10th 2008

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Using philosophy as a tool to live one’s daily life eludes me. To make any sense to me the question would have to be edited to become: What do you base your daily living on? Simple, short, sweet answer? Reality.

In practice, that means the continuing gathering of evidence-based information by accessing that type of information via specialists, professionals, knowledgeable friends, acquaintances, textbooks, Web, etc., and then applying it and learning from my mistakes—structured learning, in other words.

The guiding principle in this life-long, intriguing endeavor is the realization that I, myself, am the biggest obstacle to identifying evidence-based knowledge because of the superb simulation software that is contained within my brain and the large emotional component of my nervous system.

Posted: May 27th 2008

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brian thomson www

You’re probably familiar with the Golden Rule as expressed in the Bible: “do unto others as you would that they should do unto you”. I prefer Confucius’ version from 500 years earlier:
bq. What you do not like when done to yourself, do not do to others. (Analects)

This corresponds with Hillel’s statement on Judaism:
bq. That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.

This probably wasn’t the first time such ideas were expressed e.g. the Wikipedia artcle makes a case for many other versions. The difference between these two versions can be illustrated by something George Bernard Shaw wrote, much later (1903):
bq. Do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may not be the same. (Maxims for Revolutionists)

The biblical version appears to justify interference in the lives of others, and assumes that everyone wants the same things from life. In my experience, that has not been true: meddling usually does more harm than good.

The Confucian version makes sense to me, firstly because I am all-too-aware that I don’t have to be here. (I should have an older brother, but he only lived for three weeks after birth; what makes me special?) There’s nothing essential about my presence on this planet, nothing that gives me any right to behave in a way that causes problems for other people. When you try and observe this interpretation of the Golden Rule, you avoid interfering in the lives of others, and are there for people if they need your help. With that settled, you have space to grow and enjoy the life you have.

I have also developed a sense of Ethics, which I define as a set of rules and guidelines developed by a particular community. They can be formal or informal; Doctors have the Hippocratic Oath, Chartered Engineers have to take Ethics courses. As a computer systems administrator, I did not sign any code of Ethics, but I still had one that included such concepts as preserving the confidentiality of users’ data. Had I breached that code – a code set by the members of the community for good reasons – I would have been out.

I extend the same principle to society in general: I didn’t make the rules, but if I want to participate and enjoy the benefits of membership in society, I should follow its ethical rules. This idea plays a role in deciding what communities I choose to join: for example, there are communities of environmental activists who deem it acceptable to damage property and injure people to make their point. I am not a member of such a community.

If you ask where an ethical community’s rules come from, the answer is that the rules evolved to serve the community’s needs, whatever those needs are, and they are not static – or should not be. However, we can see societies in the world today where this process has been stopped in its tracks, and people are forced to obey archaic sets of rules they do not understand, and had no part – however small – in formulating. That is beyond the scope of this question, which is about the choices I make. I would not choose to live in such an autocratic society, or impose morals on others.

If you take that to mean that I am a moral relativist, you’re on the right track: I draw a personal distinction between Morals and Ethics, where Morals are handed down to you, and you are supposed to obey them as given, without discussion or explanation. This is in opposition to Ethics, which are developed by your peers and accepted willingly. By those definitions, which are not an exact match for those in dictionaries, I have Ethics, but no Morals.

It should be noted that there is also a pragmatic side to my life: I don’t walk around with a head full of philosophy, getting hung up on little things, or annoying people with it. If there is ever any conflict, it usually involves someone else trying to force their ways on me. I can’t control everything, so I just try to minimize the impact I have on others. This leaves them space to do their thing, and I hope that they grant me the same consideration. “The spaces in-between leave room for you and I to grow.”

Posted: May 27th 2008

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SmartLX www

My view on these things is based on pretty much everything I’ve ever heard, read and felt. They’re justified through practical considerations and empathy.

The second part of that question always creeps in when it’s asked by religious people, because it’s something they’ve never had to consider. Not to say that they necessarily haven’t considered their own religious justifications, but they have the option to avoid thinking about it and simply assert that because a book says that a god says that something is right or wrong, it is so. They get plenty of support from others when they do this.

At a basic level I consider the people involved in any tough ethical decision. Each of them is just like me, a human being with a desire to live and be happy.

If serving their needs (and by needs I also mean wants) serves mine too, there’s no conflict.

If serving their needs has no effect on me, I tend to do it anyway because 1. it makes me happy to see them happy and 2. I would want them to do the same for me, and they might be more likely to do so if I set an example.

If serving someone affects someone else negatively, there’s a proper decision to make. I weigh up the options by simple criteria of who gets what out of it, and what is best for all (as far as I can tell).

If serving others’ needs has some negative effect on me, there is another proper choice. I weigh the benefit to others versus the hardship to me. Since as I said it makes me happy to see others happy, I can take a bit of hardship to make it happen. If it’s harder, I look at it from the perspective of the others involved and see what I would want me to do.

There is no hard and fast rule; I would give blood so that someone else can survive an injury, and I would not give my life so that someone can escape a traffic ticket, but somewhere in between is a cutoff line. I draw that line anew every time I get near it, based on who I am at the time. I use everything I have read and heard about people, not just ethics, to determine what they really need and make better decisions.

I know this all sounds very nebulous to someone who believes in absolute morals, but we all draw the line somewhere based on who we are and not based on our religious texts. How do I know? Because not all genuinely religious people, for example those trying to live by Jesus’ example, are out serving people full-time while depriving themselves of worldly goods.

Anyone who can afford a nice dinner and a movie could afford to give more to charities instead, but the box office still does well. What would you say if Jesus (existed, was really Christ, and) came along and asked you why you got yourself some luxury instead of donating to Oxfam?

Any of us would have a tough time in that situation. Likely we couldn’t say exactly why we made that particular decision, but the point is that we made it. We decided on which side of the line that act of charity is, perhaps unconsciously. It’s what we do.

So to wrap up, I base my ethics and morals on the fact that I am human, and surrounded by humans. It’s served me well, because as far as I can tell it’s a true fact.

Posted: May 26th 2008

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