The seventh most certain ethical principle is the golden rule: Treat others as you would have them treat you. This universally expressed principle follows flawless logic and is rephrased by Immanuel Kant as “never treat a person as a means, only as an end.” The universalization of this law assures each person equal protection in a world of others.

Logic alone gives us the seventh most certain ethical principle: Inaction is a form of action. Therefore, duty to others and community requires deliberation even on the decision not to act. The eighth follows a  complicated analysis as outlined in the section on good and evil:1 The highest good is the combination of happiness and meaning.

When we apply reason to the third, fourth, and sixth tenets above, we arrive at a contingent certainty: When possible, maximize the good for self and others. This is the fundamental principle of the Utilitarians. Its greatest weakness is the difficulty of ascertaining action or actions that maximize the good for self and others, but the deontological validity is unquestionable in the face of the impeccable logic it reflects.

Again we can construct a chart of these top ten ethical ‘certainties.’ And again other propositions can be added such as Membership in society entails obligations or duties to that society, a highly justified belief as the benefits of social organization are based on universal compliance with accepted rules and one  may freely choose to withdraw from the society.

Kant may be correct that we can never know what will make us happy, but compliance with these carefully determined propositions seems likely to make us “worthy to be happy.”

1 I have free will. 99.5
2 Human conduct has effects. 98.8+
3 There is good and evil. 98.8
4 Good conduct is preferable to evil conduct. 98.7+
5 First do no harm. 98.7 To other people.
6 I should aim to make a good life for myself. 98.6+ Without doing harm to other people.
7 Treat others as you would have them treat you. 98.6
8 Inaction is a form of action. 98.5+
9 The highest good is the combination of happiness and meaning. 98.3
10 When possible, maximize the good for self and others. 98.2+ Utilitarianism
Membership in society entails obligations or duties to that society. 97.0
  In matters of importance, one ought to tell the truth. 96.0 One of Kant’s principles of universalization.


Next time we will investigate truths of the highest degree of certainty regarding ultimate reality.

1See post 1/23/2019 this site.

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“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?

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