“The answer therefore to the first of the two questions of pure reason with reference to its practical interests* is this: Do that which will render thee worthy to be happy.” – Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason.
The last four blogs looked at subjective or internally derived metaphysical statements of the highest degree of certainty and empirical truths of lower, but still high certainty. We can now intersperse within these an analysis of ethical certainties, or propositions of human conduct.
The first of these is the fifth metaphysical proposition – I have free will. Any theory of human conduct must begin with the assertion or the assumption of free will. Ethics is premised on choice. There is no ethical question on the destruction caused by a tornado since the tornado is not thought to be a cognitive agent with free choice. Likewise there is no moral responsibility for my kicking the physician who taps my knee with his hammer while standing too close to my foot. Only voluntary actions are the subject of ethics.
The corollary of this first principle is: Human conduct matters. This is derived from pure reason based on the meaning of free will as free agency and the definition or assumption of conduct as a form of causality with resulting effects. If human action despite being free has no effects, conduct does not matter and ethics is undermined.
Next is the crucial point – There is good and evil. This we must assume for ethics to apply, but is also experienced phenomenologically via perceptions filtered through reason. While specific goods may be subjective, the concept of ‘good’ as opposed to ‘evil’ is intuitive and universal. Common sense and humanity lead all to assume a child accidently stepping off a cliff is evil while a body of fresh, clean water is good for a person alone dying of thirst in the desert. Obviously many goods and evils are less self-evident.
By logic we arrive at the next ethical certainty, Good conduct is preferable to evil conduct. Therefore any value system will support saving a healthy, innocent child from stepping off a cliff rather than pushing him or her to her death. The corollary to this proposition is the mandate of the physician: First do no harm. In all human conduct the avoidance of harm to others is the highest priority by intuition and experience. Similarly, needless blinding of innocent animals, even if pleasurable (presumably to a mentally ill person) is not justified in any system of ethics.
Within the limits above, the ethical principle of the next highest degree of certainty is I should aim to make a good life for myself. Logic and common sense inform this, even when making a good life for oneself is sacrificing for the good of others or self-denial. Choosing the saintly road is premised on the belief that a good life for myself is one of saintliness, not that concern for others makes a bad life for myself.
(continued next post http://philosophicalguidance.com/2020/07/31/certainty-synthesis-part-v-continued/)
* What ought I to do?