Peter Jones writes:

> Perhaps none of the participants in this thread really disagree. Let me see 
if I
> can summarise:
> Individuals and societies have arrived at ethical beliefs for a reason, 
whether that be
> evolution, what their parents taught them, or what it says in a book believed 
to be divinely
> inspired. Perhaps all of these reasons can be subsumed under "evolution" if 
that term can
> be extended beyond genetics to include all the ideas, beliefs, customs etc. 
that help a
> society to survive and propagate itself. Now, we can take this and formalise 
it in some way
> so that we can discuss ethical questions rationally:
> Murder is bad because it reduces the net happiness in society - Utilitarianism
> Murder is bed because it breaks the sixth commandment - Judaism and 
> (interesting that this only no. 6 on a list of 10: God knows his priorities)
> Ethics then becomes objective, given the rules. The meta-ethical explanation 
of evolution,
> broadly understood, as generating the various ethical systems is also 
objective. However,
> it is possible for someone at the bottom of the heap to go over the head of 
> evolution, even God and say:
> "Why should murder be bad? I don't care about the greatest good for the 
greatest number,
> I don't care if the species dies out, and I think God is a bastard and will 
shout it from hell if
> sends me there for killing people for fun and profit. This is my own personal 
ethical belief,
> and you can't tell me I'm wrong!
> And the psychopath is right: no-one can actually fault him on a point of fact 
or a point of
> logic.

The psychopath is wrong. He doesn't want to be murdered, but
he wants to murder. His "ethical rule" is therefore inconsistent and
really ethical at all.

Who says his ethical rule is inconsistent? If he made the claim "do unto others as you would have others do unto you" he would be inconsistent, but he makes no such claim. Billions of people have lived and died in societies where it is perfectly ethical and acceptable to kill inferior races or inferior species. If they accept some version of the edict you have just elevated to a self-evident truth it would be "do unto others as you would have them do unto you, unless they are foreigners, or taste good to eat, or worship different gods". Perfectly consistent, even if horrible.

>  In the *final* analysis, ethical beliefs are not a matter of fact or logic, 
and if it seems
> that they are then there is a hidden assumption somewhere.

Everything starts with assumptions. The questions is whether they
are correct.  A lunatic could try defining 2+2=5 as valid, but
he will soon run into inconsistencies. That is why we reject
2+2=5. Ethical rules must apply to everybody as a matter of
definition. Definitions supply correct assumptions.

So you think arguments about such matters as abortion, capital punishment and what sort of social welfare system we should have are just like arguments about mathematics or geology, and with enough research there should be universal agreement?

Stathis Papaioannou
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