The Concepts of Ethics

The Concepts of Ethics

The Concepts of Ethics

The Concepts of Ethics

Excerpt

The ethical theorist tries to understand the concepts we use in our everyday ethical decisions and judgments. Some of these concepts are perfectly fundamental: such are value, obligation and responsibility. It is the explicit or implicit presence of one of these concepts in a judgment which enables us to identify the judgment as ethical. These concepts involve others. In understanding value we are driven to determine its relations to desire and to pleasure; and in understanding responsibility we must analyze will, choice and intention. I propose, then, to investigate these concepts and their interrelations.

In my view ethics concerns events or objects which can be known. But the problem of knowing these things is not, like the problem of knowing other events and objects of an empirical science such as chemistry or zoology, one of obtaining experience of new phenomena. We are well acquainted with the phenomena; the problem is to understand their relations. Whether this understanding involves new 'observations' it is not now necessary to decide. What is involved is, at any rate, very different from what we usually think of as 'observation'. It is like what is done by the theoretical rather than the experimental physicist. The method is not to gather anything new but to re-examine what we have.

What we have are thoughts about these things -- value, obligation, responsibility. And the conspicuous and viable form in which we have these thoughts are as modes of verbal expression. In elucidating these concepts and their relations I shall continually refer to the way we talk about them. However, my objective is to elucidate not just the way we talk about these things, but the way we think about them. There is a distinction; still, to do one is to do the other. One cannot talk clearly on an extended scale while not thinking clearly. One can, in a confused state of mind, utter a clear sentence, but, as Plato showed, one cannot write . . .

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