One of the things I've been pondering (mostly due to my research on Heidegger) is primal ethics. What this means is that I’m considering the sort of ethics that emerge without education, power, or critical thinking. Heidegger was concerned with the state of being that Dasein inhabits- one that is universal to all people whether they are scholars of world renown or mere peasants living in the rural areas of Germany, post World War 1. So along the same line of thinking, I'm wondering about the sort of ethics that transcend to all people, whether they are giving a lot of thought to ethics and philosophy or not. This is one of the problems that I have with both Consequentialists like Mills and Deontological philosophers like Kant.
Utilitarian ethics (Consequentialist or Outcome-based ethics) require actions to be magnified under the lens of universal good. This requires a certain critical thinking ability to consider ALL people, not just yourself or those close by. I don't know that all people in all cultures truly have the ability to consider "everyone" and whether their actions will truly cause the "greatest good." This seems to me to be the “thinking man’s” ethics. Each decision must be carefully thought over to make sure that the eventual outcome achieves the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. Most of us don’t have the time or ability to think that much about our actions and so I can’t fully buy into the notion that this is rudimentary enough to use as a standard we should apply to everyone.
Likewise, the problem with Kant and other Deontological ethicists is that merely obeying the "rules" means that we have to be aware of what the "rules" are. Since there isn't universal agreement on what's right and wrong, it's really hard to apply a rule-following ethic to all people. I suppose that at the base of this theory lies a disinterest in self, and so one could argue that disinterested obedience (obedience that springs from following the rules because they are right rather than because it profits me, personally, to do so) is something that we could apply to all people, even if they aren’t disinterestedly following the same rules- except for the fact that this particular notion seems to be a reaction from Kant and other Western philosophers against the innate selfishness of man. If selfishness is truly innate, it’s hard for me to rationalize that we’d be able to come up with a Universal ethic that rebels against human nature. So, I can’t apply this to everyone, either.
That said, I'm wondering what the universal ethics are?
What are the things that are innate to all people whether they be poor or rich, strong or weak, native or alien, smart or ignorant, and whether they live under a dictatorship or democracy?
If it doesn't truly express the human experience, is it truly an ethical philosophy that will transcend cultures and time, or is it specific to a particular people?
Nathan Key likes to think about faith and philosophy and talk about it with others. He lives with his family in New Hampshire. He doesn't always refer to himself in the third person.