The fundamental question of ethics

For millennia philosophers have taken the fundamental ethical question to be: How ought I to live? (Which becomes in a specific situation: What ought I to do?)

This question is framed in a way which presupposes that the choices we make determine the life we live, and those lives can be evaluated in terms of happiness/wellbeing/eudaimonia. Thus the fundamental evaluative framework, which undergirds all ethical norms and prescriptions, is one of positive outcomes. There is a conception of an attainable good life, or better life, and this shapes ethics.

Perhaps this was once the right approach,1 but it seems to me that with the planet burning and extreme concentration of wealth and power in an arrogant, mendacious and ruthless elite, the fundamental question of ethics should rather be:

How can I cope with this shit and not become a bad person?

  1. My guess is that the confidence in this positive outcome conception of ethics depends either on possessing wealth and privilege or a belief in divine providence. 

You'll only receive email when they publish something new.

More from Tom Stoneham
All posts