Ethics and values

I have taken to writing a few answers on Quora, a website I like for its good manners and serious interest in disseminating information and understanding. I have had a few upvotes for some of my answers and am trying to do better. Today I answered a question about ethics and values and managed to keep it briefer than usual. This is more or less what I wrote.

Kant had four great questions, although the fourth is sometimes forgotten. 1. What can I know? 2. What ought I to do? 3. What may I hope for? 4. What is man?

It seems to me that the greatest philosophers, Plato, Kant, Wittgenstein for example, are concerned above all with what it is to lead the life of a decent human being. And because it is clear that their thought and conduct were of a piece, in a word, that they had integrity, their lives and writings had an impact on those who knew them. Socrates provided an inspiring example to Plato which informed his whole life, even if his philosophy went far beyond that of Socrates in breadth and complexity; and Wittgenstein gathered round him a small group of sympathetic friends, many of whom, although not all, were professional philosophers. They are often referred to as disciples, and this seems the obvious and natural word to describe them, since his influence on them was so profound. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to receive the love of an involved and generous parent or to encounter a great teacher, will know that the meeting with a wonderful human being leaves a lasting memory. But what one also learns from such formative relationships is that the most powerful teaching of ethics comes through the example of good people, although reflecting on the nature of good behaviour is an important activity as well.

What is man? My non-answer is: a spiritual being.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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