Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Philosophy 101 - Week 6 - Ethics and Moral Philosophy

While listening to the audio book version of The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, one phrase caught my attention and has remained with me ever since.  The phrase was, "Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child" (Lukianoff).  Implied in this bit of advice is an ethical framework for navigating the world and preparing oneself for the multifaceted experiences and interactions.  This ethical mindset places the locus of control in the individual, rather the environment.

Our situation in this existence is not singular; meaning, as individuals, we are not the only person on a planet with unlimited resources.  Rather, existence is such, that we live on a planet with billions of other people and therefore, our actions can and often do impact others.  We cannot demand the world conform to our desires and aversions in order to achieve the summum bonum or the ultimate good.

Regarding the definition of the ultimate good, one author wrote, "Aristotle claims that all the things that are ends in themselves also contribute to a wider end, an end that is the greatest good of all" (Athanassoulis).

Furthermore, the ethical framework ought to provide a lifetime motivation for the individual, so he has a reason to want to continue to adhere to the framework for the duration of his life - it must have a catalyst and a sustaining force.

The virtue ethics of ancient Greek schools sought to marry the multi-fold aspects of living, while attempting to persuade the individual to live a certain way, which would not only promote the common welfare of the social structure, but also that of the individual.  One author observes this connection.  The Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic and Epicurean "Schools of philosophy associated happiness not so much with feeling a certain way about how one’s life was going, but rather with the behaviour resulting from one’s cultivation of an excellent or virtuous character. This crucial linkage by these Schools of happiness with virtue is called eudaimonism, and is based on the principal Greek word for happiness, eudaimonia. Binding the pursuit of happiness with the cultivation of an excellent or virtuous character framed within an overarching philosophical view of reality was central to the development of the Graeco-Christian apophatic tradition" (Cook).

By cultivating one's character to be virtuous, one can achieve happiness and flourishing for himself, while also being a benefit to those around him.  The person would not only be concerned about how to live well as an individual, but also how to live well as a father, employee, neighbor, or citizen.

One failing of this ethical framework is the requisite education and rigor needed to learn and pursue a virtuous life.  Because of humanity's primal urges for survival, many of our motivations and desires stem from our non-rational human instincts, and less educated people, who come from less 'lucky' circumstances are never afforded the opportunity to learn how to flourish.  To put it differently, we could ask "is it fair to praise the virtuous (and blame the vicious) for something that was outside of their control? (Athanassoulis).  This leaves open the possibility that virtue ethics is subject to moral luck.

If, however, humanity is able to devise a large-scale method for promoting the framework of virtue ethics, then perhaps moral luck is minimized, and as it flourishes, the framework and way of living becomes self-sustaining on the grand social scale.


Athanassoulis, Nafsika. “Virtue Ethics | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, iep.utm.edu/virtue/#SH3a.

Cook, Brendan. Pursuing Eudaimonia : Re-appropriating the Greek Philosophical Foundations of the Christian Apophatic Tradition, Cambridge Scholars Publisher, 2012.

Lukianoff, Greg. CODDLING of the AMERICAN MIND : How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation For... Failure. S.L., Penguin Books, 2019.

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