Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ethics in the Second Person

Still in China, so just a brief recollection.

When my son Davy was about six or seven, I asked him what the point is in thinking about right and wrong, good and bad, fair and unfair. He said that most of the kids who talked a lot about things like sharing and fairness seemed to want you to share with them.

We might think of this as "ethics in the second person" -- ethics that focuses on telling the people around you what they are morally required do, with no particular concern about applying the same norms to one's own actions. Of course, ethics in the second person needn't always arise from the motives that drive it in envious six-year-olds! And yet I'm inclined to think that one advantage of hanging around with children is that they reveal to us our vices purer, simpler, and less well disguised.

7 comments:

Michel Clasquin-Johnson said...

Trust you're having a good trip, Eric, but come back quickly. They are stealing your ideas!
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Juan said...

Maybe this a feature, not a bug, of some people's ethical outlook. For example, you could imagine someone with reactionary views thinking that it's the job of those "people", not him or her, to do such and such tasks; there is a hierarchical division of labor where this kind of hypocrisy makes perfect sense.

Callan S. said...

Eric,

Our vices? What we shouldn't do - wait - what the people with those vices shouldn't do? >:)


Juan, how so? Without caveats your heirachcy still sounds like the childrens version. Never mind how intimately 'heir' is tied to it all. As an appeal to history to make it all seem to make perfect sense.

Therapist Los Angeles said...

I love that, Michel: "Philosophers are no longer allowed at summer camp."

G. Randolph Mayes said...

Alternatively,ressentiment.

GNZ said...

Just discovered my 7 year old has Deontological ethics, disappointing for a utilitarian!!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

A consequentialist might see evidence here that deontological ethics is a sign of a not-yet-fully-mature mind!