Pronatal Meta-Level of Ethics

If one is to draw a distinction between ethics and morality, then one may say that ethics is a philosophical questioning of the presuppositions of morality with a view to grounding and justifying this latter; or, in other words, ethics is a theory of morality. For this reason, it is to be expected of an ethics that it take up a distanced and reflectively examined perspective upon those moral notions that count as “self-evident” for a society, or for an era, or for humanity as a whole. It is all the more astonishing, then, that, with the exception of Utilitarianism (more precisely: negative Utilitarianism) no system of ethics has ever thought even to address the question of whether there ought to exist at all those human beings the moral rightness of whose actions then go on to form the objects of ethical debate. Instead of beginning, in a distanced and reflective manner, with this most basic question of whether subjects susceptible of doing good and having good done to them, and of suffering evil, should exist in the world at all, traditional ethics concerns itself with how all the other ideas we have about morality – excepting this question about whether the subjects of ethics should exist at all – can be rationally justified. An example: When Peter Singer writes that there should be chosen “that course of action which, when the books are finally balanced, has the best consequences for all concerned” (Praktische Ethik, S. 24) there remains as a “blind spot” in the reasoning leading to this proposition the issue of whether there should exist people “concerned” by our deeds and misdeeds at all. But an ethics that fails in this way to reflect, besides upon the problems it is aware of, also upon its own “blind spots” is justifiably to be described as “unmindful”.  This, indeed, is what we may call “the unmindfulness of ethics”. Any ethics which fails to take up into its questioning the question of whether there ought to be a human race at all (and which therefore offers no anthropodicy, be it implicit or explicit) necessarily becomes objectively an accomplice in all those misdeeds that those freely-acting subjects, the existence of which such an ethics simply presupposes, are capable of committing. An “unmindful” ethics in the sense we have described implicitly surrenders human beings over to all these terrible misdeeds. All systems of ethics justify (albeit mostly merely implicitly) the facilitation of the contravention of their own norms in ways likely to occasion suffering inasmuch as they are obliged to posit as their highest value a freedom which is also a freedom to infringe values. They are subject, therefore, to the same accusation – in the form of the pointing out of their lack of an anthropodicy – as God is subject to in the form of the pointing out of a lacking theodicy, i.e. of the pointing out that God Himself must somehow be complicit in the existence of Evil.

Inasmuch as our ethical systems have proven so rarely capable of distancing themselves from, and of reflecting upon, our traditional notions of morality to a degree sufficient for the desirability or otherwise of the engendering of new human beings to enter into the field of their considerations (have proven, in other words, so rarely capable of rising into the sphere of meta-ethics) the suspicion must necessarily arise that a certain “biological radical” – namely, the life-instinct driving toward procreation – may have remained spared by all reflection and that there may have occurred, as yet, little or no pushback against its imperatives. In this case, then, we would have to reckon with a biologically-anchored pronatal fatalism in all systems of ethics. In contrast to this, anything deserving of the name of “human dignity” would consist precisely in a reflective self-distantiation from all biological imperatives.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.