Rambling thoughts on rambling topics

West Lake, Hangzhou

The space of ethics

Rather than allowing our view on reality (on physical reality, on ourselves, on our fellow human beings, on living beings in general) determine the space of ethics, one might also take the opposite stance: it is ethics that determines the space of possible theories and explanations of reality, or some particular aspect of it, that we can (should?) consider.

That seems utterly implausible, but once we realise that at least on certain points we actually have a choice between various theories that present different possibilities, it seems more likely that ethical considerations have a positive role to play. One such aspect is intentionality. Once we rid ourselves of a strictly physicalistic perspective, which simply ignores intentionality as an empirical issue, and we accept that one way or other we need to account for it, we are faced with a choice between approaches, or perspectives, that is not exclusively determined by empirical observations, and in which normative considerations may very well enter as an independent source of arguments. Thus, for example, the choice between  Dennett’s intentional stance and Wittgenstein’s idea of the attitude of treating the other (and oneself) as having a soul presents itself fundamentally, I would argue, as an ethical choice. 

Martin Stokhof
from: Aantekeningen/Notes
date: 01/04/2007