Dan Kaufman (see his webzine, the Electric Agora) and I had another of our conversations over at MeaningofLife.tv, this time on ethics, from a non-meta perspective. That is, we didn’t talk about realism or antirealism about ethical truths, or other such matters, but focused instead on the kind of ethical discourse that might (ought?) to be of interest also to people outside of the small philosophical academic community.
We started with a discussion of the difference between ancient and modern approaches to ethics: virtue ethics a la Greco-Roman on the one hand, Kantian deontology or utilitarianism on the other . We readily agreed that the ancient, more inclusive, approach was actually more useful to people, so we focused on that one.
The next question, then, concerned what a person might need in order to live what the ancients called a “eudaimonic” life style, i.e., a life of flourishing. Which somehow led to a discussion of the differences between Stoicism and Cynicism (two of the contenders among virtue ethical schools), with Dan asking me why I personally find the first one to be a compelling philosophy of life.
A particularly interesting bit came when Dan and I explored what happens when our moral intuitions conflict with our chosen moral systems: do we reject our intuitions? Do we revise our choice of moral system? Do we go on happily living with the contradiction?
By the end of the video, again talking about what makes for a eudaimonic life, we talked about the idea that one should not focus on the outcomes of one’s actions, but rather on what is under one’s control: the efforts we make.