An ethics revolving around virtues of character will always be at the center of our experience. While many will gravitate towards a system of rules and laws to dictate behavior and values, these ethical structures are simple. Rules are what we teach our children, when they are too young to understand. Rules are what we use on an agent that simply can’t manage themselves. I believe humanity is greater than this. I believe in the human condition, in the human will for good. I feel it in myself and I can see it in everyone around me. Such an experience opens the door for more advanced codes of ethics. Perhaps with proper reflection people can develop virtues in themselves and weaken their vices. This is what I believe. I believe with proper reflection we can even begin to understand these virtues and form that understanding into a practical code of ethics that this world so desperately needs.
Virtues and values are the core language we understand ethics through. At the core of our being, in our heart of hearts, we can feel a sense of right and wrong. This sense can be twisted and warped by our vices, but it’s always there. Refined rules and codes can be considered a reflection of these values. We shape the laws of our society to protect the virtues as we perceive them, but the laws themselves are imperfect representations. They can never be all inclusive, and they can never substitute for an actual ethical consciousness.
An easy criticism of my believe would be to consider if all humans are good at the core, why are there so many problems in the world? Why isn’t everyone just a model of virtue? It has to be conceded that we are perhaps not good to the core. There are vices as there are virtues; jealousy, rage, greed, lust, gluttony. These are all real in every one of us. A person must reflect and dissect these frames of mind and understand them for what they are. I myself am still at a stage of breaking this problem down. I believe Fear to be the most influential vice of all. I believe Fear to be at the core of, quite possibly, all vices. Fear lends itself to being the villain. It’s animalistic, primal. Our survival instinct itself is most likely just a complex nest of fears that drive us. Fear of starvation, fear of injury, fear of loss, fear of leaving nothing behind, fear of death. Many might argue without Fear there would be nothing left. No emotions or sentiments, no drive. Mankind would simply waste away in apathy. There’s no doubt Fear can motivate us and many forms of Fear seem perfectly natural to us. No one questions a mother’s fear for her child. We don’t question a Fear of death, it seems natural if life is to go on. Perhaps at the end of the day Fear itself isn’t even all that bad. Civilizations throughout history have survived and thrived in a state where mankind knows Fear and indeed accepts and embraces it. It’s driven us to the age we live in now and things aren’t so bad are they?
(Let’s not get into a dramatic debate about all the injustices of modern society now though. Anyone with the mental capacity to see the big picture and weigh injustices of the past 100,000 years to the current state of affairs can see things are not even comparable. There can be no debate that’s progress. Progress is good. We’ll leave it at that.)
As the world grows and expands though, as we see things clearer, I believe we will need something better than survival. We need something better than Fear to drive us. First I can’t accept that without Fear and survival instinct to drive us we would be left empty. To accept that would mean that everything we believe, everything we think and feel, can ultimately be reduced to mere survival and distilled into Fear. It’s a very common practice for people to reduce life to something along these lines. Evolution, genetics, survival instinct, might makes right, etc, etc. It’s a very interesting sleight of hand they play here though. I don’t find this reduction of human experience pragmatic. I want more out of my life. I want a deeper explanation. Many would say too bad, there’s nothing more. There’s nothing special out there, it’s just a bunch of complex animals trying to survive. However, the very fact that I can want more, that I can even perceive it, leads one to doubt that portrayed state of affairs.
I’m growing old. Writing like this the words used to leap from my mind. Now it almost feels like a chore… maybe I’m getting lazy, maybe it’s a lack of youthful angst and inspiration…. who knows…