On the ethical life

Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press (2009)
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Abstract

The question of the ethical life is arguably one of the most compelling, and urgent, questions of our time. As Peter Singer, among others, has pointed out, almost 10 million children die each year due to poverty, some of whom would not die if the amount of aid that we now offer increases significantly. As Singer has also pointed out, the exploitation of human beings and other animals is a major ethical and practical concern. There can be little reasonable doubt that pain and suffering abound, in the world today, due to many causes such as poverty, disease, environmental degradation and destruction and anthropocentrism among others, just as there can be little reasonable doubt that some of the pain and suffering is preventable. So, what does it mean to live ethically today? Does it mean taking the point of view of the universe, as Sidgwick put it, memorably, rather than a narrow anthropocentric or speciesist view? Does it mean living in accordance with duties or obligations, or in light of recognised virtues, or with the minimisation of pain and suffering primarily in mind? Does it entail a consideration of the interests of other species and a rejection of the principle of the sanctity of human life? Does it mean not eating animals when other healthy alternatives are available, especially when those animals have been treated in ways that are inconsistent with their interests, whatever they may be? Does it mean taking active steps to reduce poverty on our part on a day to day basis? Is ethics exhausted in some sense today? And if we could reach some consensus on these questions, what difference would the ethical life make? Some argue that speciesism and the exploitation of human beings and other animals might diminish; that pain and suffering, especially gratuitous pain and suffering, would decrease, or at the very least, not increase; or that we will become more aware of the limitations of things such as "the traditional ethic of the sanctity of life", as Singer calls it. Some argue that the ethical life is closely related to a life of relationships, reflection and deliberation, all of which deepen our understanding and enrich us personally. Others argue that the ethical life is closely related to our search for a meaningful life - that the ethical life can help us to find meaning in a world in which "meaning", defined broadly, can seem elusive, enigmatic or unsubstantial. These and related issues and questions are explored in this collection, which illustrates the relevance, vitality and dynamism of ethics today.

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Raymond Aaron Younis
Lincoln College Oxford

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