CAN ETHICS RENEW ITSELF?

Theodosios Ν. Pelegrinis

Abstract


When someone merely likes something, he does not really need to produce a reason for justifying what he likes. But, when one has to act, he needs to produce a reason for acting in the way he does, a reason that needs to rest upon some principle. For example, if John says that he likes to drink orange juice, he does not need to explain why he likes it. Even if someone insists on asking John why he likes drinking orange juice, John can only reply that he does not really understand the question since he just likes it and there is no way of explaining why he does. And that’s the end of the matter. Consider though someone else, George, for example, who says: “I ought to give Adam 100 euros”. In this case, it makes sense to ask why, and George needs to produce a reason explaining why he should give Adam 100 euros; he might argue, for example, that he promised Adam to give him 100 euros. Still, one could further ask George why, merely because he has promised to give Adam 100 euros, he should actually give that sum to Adam. “Certainly”, George could reply, “since we should all keep our promises”. And, at this point, discussion comes to an end. Of course, someone else in John’s position, like Jim, for example, could have promised to give Adam 100 euros, but despite the promise made, he might finally decide not to give Adam the sum promised. In this case, the only way for Jim to justify his decision not to give Adam 100 euros, would be to adopt the principle that “nobody should keep his promises”. Anything, that is, that one might think that he should or should not do is dictated by some moral principle. Ethics −which, as Socrates has pointed out, deals with the question of “how should one live” and “why” − is a matter of principles.

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