the problem of value has been satisfactorily addressed by Darwin. it may sound controversial, with all the “science is value free” thing going around, but there is simply no value that is not reducible to survival, or endurance. if things cannot keep being, their value is limited. if they can’t be at all, their value is similarly non-extant.
any ethics that is realist – and here we strive to return to this, to ignore the spooks – will be an ethics of survival: what can we do to last longer? it understands path dependency, and thus is geared to operating with human intelligence (but only until a transition can be envisioned).
the darned thing about ethics in general is that it usually cannot be accelerated. a set of “do’s” and “don’ts” doesn’t flow from the future. or does it?
a central element of survival is being able to look ahead, and thus suck future into the present. without predictive capability (science), survival is impossible. turn this around and it’s obvious expanding predictive capability is necessary to expanding survival.
a survivalist ethics then turns into long-term strategics: what rules should we follow if we are to last (and last longer)? a society with a justice system but without a law against murder that is sufficiently strict and well applied, so as to dissuade and repay it’s violation, is a suicidal society.
this empirical model of ethics make it open to revision – it has to observe changing conditions and learn – what is specifically right or wrong changes over time. the good in itself, however, remains fixed.
the standard of value in survival makes the knowledge of what’s good available at all levels to all entities: adapt or perish. and it’s self-reinforcing: the good always wins because prevailing is itself the good. redemption is assured, but fleeting.
virtue ethics, as a summary of good strategic behaviors, is the closest we have gotten so far to an ethics of survival. virtues are recipes of how to survive, individually and socially, the longest, and how to leave good copies of oneself, so as to sustain its living. it removes the insane puritanism of deontology – no one can be virtuous by exhibiting only one virtue, all of them have to be measured – and the sheer blindness of consequentialism (seriously, where are the utilitarians going anyway?)
Adam Smith’s stance on the Theory of Moral Sentiments, that “sympathy” (empathy) is the drive for moral behavior, is respectable in many senses, and also correct, but is limited: empathy itself arises in response to environmental needs of moral behavior, and is thus subjected to (social) survival. it is because we need to live together to survive that we are empathetic – not the other way around. empathy is contingent, survival is absolute.
does the social trumps the individual survival? only if it does. to a large extent, more individualist societies have thrived more, showing that there is not, at the moment, a conflict between individual interests and social survival, much to the contrary. but it may well be that this, too, changes at some point, and that individuals are better off killing their societies and becoming lone wolves. if they can, they must. but there are moves and counter moves, and maybe societies can trump individuals at times, and be trumped by them at others. what does ethics have to say to each of them? adapt, or perish.
this shows ethics is not universal. survival is being-specific. the rules of survival for the lion are different than the rules of survival for the zebra, the bacteria in his bowels, and for the hunters with them on sight. survival is only a goal, not a specific instrument. those have to be built. and here intelligence comes in (but I’ll let you do that plugging for now).
ethics then can be anything, but is not anything at any one moment. it is some specific rules that lead to the survival of a certain specific entity. it changes, but not according to the mere will of any entity. from many points of view, the ethics proper to a certain entity may seems harsh, oppressive, cruel and unjust. from the point of view of their ethics, it probably is. but it doesn’t matter. only survival matters.
so stop whining.
different ethics can dialog, cohere and make deals. mutual survival is possible. alliances are oftentimes demanded. but that has to be produced, it is not given. effective defense is necessary, even among friends. borders are always a good idea. good fences make good friends. there’s an ethics to war, just as there is a strategics to anything.
only through reality can messages be transmitted. realism is not optional, it is selected for. survival is inherently allied to keeping it real. to the point that any reality can only be devised in the horizon because it lasts longer.
in reality, truth:=survival.
and survival is the only good.