samedi, mars 19, 2005


There are many ways to characterise ethics. Some ways belong to a class one may call consuetudinal, while others take ethics as a discipline or science, a particular ethical system being the product of the mind of an author.

Nevertheless, what underlies every ethical system, whether costumary or the construct of one thinker, is a basic principle that seems to take precedence over all others, which is the right to survival and self-defence:

(P) Every human being has a right to life and consequently to self-defence.

In elaborating a normative theory or in analysing a culture, all the other ethical principles may either be derived from (P) above or must be subject to (P). And a whole ethical system may thus be evaluated in terms of fulfilling or guaranteeing (P): a system that violates (P) is not ethical or does not work.

Now, (P) is not unproblematic. Firstly, one of its interpretations might presuppose the belief in the physical immortality of humans, which, as I have explained before, is not explicitly acceptable in human cultures. Secondly, there is a problem of ensuring the survival of the members of a society (even within a limited term) and of balancing the rights to life and self-defence of individuals in (violent or bloody) confrontation.

From the point of view according to which ethics is a groupal construct, ethical principles are the means human societies have to solve or prevent conflicts of interest among their members, whereby ethical principles take scope over what belongs to the public domain. And in this regard, only legitimate interests may be taken into account. But (P) does more than that, for (P) precisely defines what are the most legitimate interests first of all. So, (P) directs what may be under discussion or not.

On the other hand, (P) defines cases in which no compromise is possible, such as when one individual desires or requests the killing of another. In such cases, virtue cannot be in the middle, and (P) automatically decides which side is right and which is wrong.