Sunday, January 16, 2011

Ethics, Part Four: The Ethics of Freedom

     Author's Note: I only know of three people who actually read this blog on a regular basis, and they just so happen to be the three people I am closest to in my life. I also know that they are, at least to some degree, interested in my philosophical ramblings. If you are someone who is reading this but doesn't give a crap about what I have to say about ethics, etc., know that I am trying to grind through it and get back to other things, but at the same time, much of what I do have to say about the world can't be understood without understanding the underlying ideological basis.

     To return to the topic at hand, what are the greater implications of an ethics based on freedom? As we saw in the last post, the essential basis of making ethical decisions are two (I would argue) irrefutable facts:
1. We make better decisions when we have more accurate information.
2. No one has any legitimate claim to authority or superiority over anyone else.

Which led us to the ethical maxim: Allow the greatest amount of freedom to all.

     This implies that knowingly violating either of the first two principles essentially amounts to making an unethical decision. This includes making decisions based on a presumption of authority or superiority over others, as well as making decisions based on information that one knows is inaccurate, or pretends is accurate, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I will deal with political systems that use fictitious premises to justify their illegitimate authority in a later post, but here I want to focus on ethical questions that arise on the level of the individual or small group. On this level, religious faith is one of the greatest culprits used to justify illegitimate claims. Pretending that one has access to "truths" that one cannot possibly have access to, and holding on to these "truths" despite overwhelming, objective, rational and natural evidence that they are not in fact "truths" at all, but ancient superstitions and myths, and then using these truths to decide how to treat others is unethical. Faith, since it is by definition accepting something despite evidence to the contrary, and since evidence is the criteria we use to determine truths we can all agree upon, is always a matter of personal choice, and thus it can never be used to legitimately make decisions that affect other people. Outside of the realm of personal conviction, religion is itself unethical.

    So let's look at some examples of things which are inherently unethical, because they are based on the  false presumptions that either one has access to privileged information, or because one has authority over another's decisions. (We are only talking here about adults; children are a special case, and will be discussed in a later post.)

Things which are unethical:
1. Telling someone who they can have sex with, 
2. Making violations of this a capital crime, which they are working on in Uganda with the (quiet) financial support of American evangelical mega-churches.
3. Telling little girls they can't learn how to read and splashing acid on their faces when they do.
4. Forcing women to wear potato sacks and cover their entire bodies (against their will).
5. Telling people who they can marry.
6. Teaching children that "intelligent design" is as legitimate a theory as evolution.
7. Telling people that they can't draw cartoons depicting whatever the hell they want.
8. Killing people because someone else drew cartoons.
9. Killing people for "blasphemy" against an ancient tribal warlord.
10. Telling someone they can't live somewhere because they weren't born into the right tribe.
11. Pretending that a man who covered up the systemic rape of children deserves to be remembered as a saint.
12. Not allowing your child to go to high school or college because the bible is the only thing they need to learn.
13. Not allowing your sick or dying child with a curable disease to receive medical treatment because you'd rather pray instead.

     Let's face it, most of these are obvious to anyone with a brain. However, the world has dug itself into an ideological hole. The multiculturalism tolerance of the liberal academics has been preaching for decades that, "We shouldn't judge someone else's culture or religion." The religious fanatics of all faiths, in many countries, including ours, have cynically adopted this as a shield to protect their oppressions and tyrannies from outside scrutiny. It's time for this to stop. It's time for reasonable people to stop pretending that it is okay for the (ridiculous) personal convictions of individuals stuck in the Middle Ages to determine how the rest of us live our lives. We all have the freedom to believe whatever we want to believe, no matter how ridiculous. What we don't have the freedom to do is impose that belief on anyone else, in even the smallest way.


  1. Enjoying this set of posts and it's interesting to see where you are going with it. Despite approaching it from a different angle I find it interesting that we both arrived at freedom as a maxim worth maximizing as an ethical goal. The biggest differences is that you are approaching this in a view as to how society should approach ethics while what I'm doing is from a wholly personal individual approach.

    Thanks for these posts, I've enjoyed reading them.

  2. Well, ultimately, I view it has something that should guide an individual's behavior. Entering into a social-contract necessarily limits some of those freedoms, and I think I am actually slightly more comfortable with that than you are. The example I gave here are ones that just happened to be on my mind, and they all happened to be things that occur on a bigger scale, but they are all about an individual (or individuals) presuming that they have authority or knowledge that they don't.

    Having only read your work in bits and pieces, I wasn't 100% sure where your ethics was rooting itself, but knowing you, if I had to pick one word, 'freedom' would have been it.

  3. what is interesting to me is how little people see the 'big' picture. the person who might think #3 on your list is despicable might just as well find #6 perfectly acceptable. that is what 'faith' does in blinding people. faith does not require or teach you to think critically and therefore falls maddeningly short of useful or ethical.