Fears & Objections
Some objections to what I call the Natural-Objective Ethical model has been that it rings of imperialism, eugenics, and even Nazism of all things. In other words, complaints concern what is thought to be a sort of “survival of the fittest” among humans in the model.
But there are important aspects of Natural-Objective Ethics than need to be emphasized again in response to this. When we say that the purpose of ethics is “survival and prosperity” we cannot ignore or leave out the part that says that ethics’ purpose is to provide a means of cooperation, through which human beings can enhance their survival and prosperity. This is not meant as a judgment of what ethics should be, but merely a detached observation as to why the concept of ethics seems to exist in humans.
Because ethics deals specifically with our treatment of one another, ethics is inherently social in nature. This means that all human beings, because of their capacity to reason, make agreements, and modify their behavior, are capable in participating in that web of interactions. Because this tendency exists throughout our species, it is Homo Sapiens as a whole to which ethics must apply. So, if one population of humans has an ethos that makes it aggressive to other humans, this might enhance survivability for local islands of humanity, but when looking at what is ethical, it is only applicable to look at how the species as a whole is affected by this population’s aggressiveness. When one sees a species expending exorbitant resources and time on killing others of its kind, or on protecting itself from others of its kind, it is difficult to argue such things are beneficial to that species’ survival and prosperity. The same applies whether we are talking about nation-to-nation hostility or hostility among individuals within a society.
While one may argue that infighting improves the overall caliber of the species because the “weakest are killed off” this seems to be misapplied Darwinism. In the case of human populations and their political activities, destruction comes at such a quick pace that evolutionary genetic improvements do not have time to manifest (even without nuclear technology). More importantly, in a modern society, the distinction of those who perish and those who live is rarely connected to genetic “fitness”. If any genetic evolution happens to allow humans to thrive better in a politically hostile world, it would be adaptation to environmental hardships of our own making, which need not occur in the first place.
Another fear of Natural-Objective Ethics is that it rings similar in sound to religious demagoguery and intolerant authoritarianism. However, this is only so when the reader glosses over the specifics and only pays attention to some of the vague concepts being discussed. There are very important distinctions, primary among them the concept that has already been mentioned: that claiming that ethics are objective, and claiming to know what those ethics are, are two entirely different things.
I have already explained the importance of recognizing that ethics are objective. But it is equally important that we recognize that we are all limited in our ability to know for certain what the best ethical model is, especially when it comes to highly complex issues. The best we can do is make social measure of the effects of current behaviors and policies, use that data to make estimates of the future effects of various behaviors, and then reason out the most likely ethical position based on that. Then we can present our ideas to those around us, perhaps even going further to take more broad cultural or political action to support those things we think best. All the while, we must be tolerant of the varying opinions of other well-meaning people, and be open to the possibility of being wrong. But it is precisely the realization of ethics’ objectivity that will give us the framework within which to form arguments during such deliberations.
I find it strange that many react to these concepts as though I were proposing something new, different, or radical. In fact, all of the above is not a plea for us to handle ethics differently. Rather, it is a description of how ethics is and always has been handled by human beings. We have always formed moral norms since we had the mental capacity to do so. With or without knowing it, we have always tended to support those norms we perceived best aided in our survival. Lastly, regardless of religious or political accoutrement, those norms have always changed over time due to general consensus and pressures from environmental factors. Over time, given the empirical evidence of historic experience, societies have improved in many areas of morality while declining in others, with an overall upward climb globally, which is obvious to any impartial assessment not burdened with ignorance of history, apocalyptic superstition, or pessimistic fantasy. But in the end, all of these ethical models either uplifted or damaged their creators to an objective degree.
When pressed for reasons why on positions and policies they dislike, even ethical subjectivists will tend toward arguments coming down one way or another to matters of survival and prosperity for the whole. Pragmatic clergy and pastors will begin sermons with religious notes about why x is wrong, and then go on to use real-world examples illustrating how x harms our survival or prosperity, and then wrap up with more extraneous religious references and a song. One will find that it is impossible to seriously argue for or against anything of ethical relevance without referring back in some way to the core purpose for which all ethics ultimately exists.
Even amidst claims of authoritarianism, imperialism, and intolerance concerning Natural-Objective Ethics, when asked why those things are bad or undesirable, the accuser will invariably end up pointing out how authoritarianism, imperialism, and intolerance are ultimately harmful to the survival and prosperity of humanity (while trying their best to avoid using these words per se). Thus their circular logical loop is completed.
If you would like to read further discussion on Natural-Objective Ethics, please see my blog entry titled "More on Natural-Objective Ethics" which you can read by clicking HERE.