Some Reflections on Ethics
by Dr Ramendra. Published as a free e book by the Buddhiwadi Foundation, 2008
My original interest in philosophy was stimulated by ethics. I became interested in ethics through my interest in social and political problems. In fact, I came to philosophy in search of a rational morality, at least as rational as possible. I have been teaching ethics to undergraduate and postgraduate students for nearly twenty-five years. In short, I had ample opportunities to study, think and lecture on ethics. However, apart from my The Ethical Philosophy of Bertrand Russell
, which is my Ph.D. thesis, I had not written an exclusive book on ethics. My ethical ideas were scattered here and there in my other writings dealing mainly with philosophy of religion and social-political philosophy. I thought the time had come for me to bring these ideas together and to pen down my reflections on ethics.
I have not attempted in this book a survey of whole of ethics as, say, in a textbook. I have also not attempted a comprehensive critical analysis of some of the thinkers whom I have chosen to discuss. I have only commented on issues on which I have, I think, something worthwhile to say. In fact, I have tried to develop my own ethical ideas with reference to my distinguished predecessors.
In the introduction of the book, I have summarized my ethical ideas as found in my earlier writings. The introduction is largely based on what I had to say about ethics in the concluding chapter, “Some Critical Comments”, of my Rationalism, Humanism and Atheism in Twentieth Century Indian Thought
. The chapter “On Buddha”, too, is based on what I have said about Buddhism in the same chapter of the same book. The first chapter, “The Ethical Philosophy of Bertrand Russell” was written by me much earlier. All the other six chapters of this book – “On G. E. Moore”, “Normative Ethics and Meta-ethics”, “On Lokayat”, “On Epicurus”, “On John Stuart Mill” and “Some False Dichotomies” -- have been written in October month of 2007 exclusively for this book .
As a humanist, I reject the rigid and divisive morality based on blind faith in religious scriptures and on unreasonable and unscientific beliefs like God, heaven, hell and rebirth. I have advocated a new, secular morality based on logical thinking and on facts arrived at by using the scientific method. Ethics, according to me, is a human creation and a social need. Morality is inherent in the rational and social nature of human beings. Therefore, we can base human morality on such basic human needs and desires, which are shared by all or almost all human beings. Once we admit that the life, happiness and freedom of every human being is valuable in itself, we can judge the rightness or wrongness of human actions and moral rules on this basis.
In the context of ancient Indian philosophy, my ethical ideas are closest to Lokayat. However, I do not accept the Lokayat view in totality. Like Lokayat, I reject moksha
(liberation from the so-called cycle of birth and death)or attainment of heaven as ethical ideals. Again, like Lokayat, I support hedonism. However, I do not support egoistic hedonism totally. My ethics is a refined version of both “egoistic’ and “altruistic” hedonism or utilitarianism. “Refined”, not in the sense of making a distinction between “physical” and “mental” pleasures, and favoring “mental” pleasure; but “refined” in the logical sense, that is, suitably modified to meet valid objections.