Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Dec/08

8

The Ancients

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When a secularist attempts to create a distinction between “ethics” and “morality” in order to argue that the public sphere should focus on the former, religious people often become sneaky and try to point out that ethics are informed by or derived from morality. A usual form of their intellectual appropriation is to say something like: “Your ethical values are a by-product of a Judeo-Christian heritage.”

There are numerous effective responses to this and mine generally focus on the role of ancient, pre-Christian, philosophy in the development of ethics. Some sneakier religious people will acknowledge the role of the ancients but then try and suggest that the ancients were influenced by Judaism, and since this is a “Judeo-Christian” country, even the ancients were really informed by religion! (It is usually a Christian who has never read the Old Testament that tries this).

What other viable responses can you think of?

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25 comments

  • Author comment by mrsdutoit · December 8, 2008 at 6:52 am

    Agree that there is some merit to the argument that ethical values are a by-product of our heritage, but continue that those ideas didn’t spring up out of whole cloth (unless you are religious and believe that, and then it’s best to leave it alone). You have to believe that the Judeo/Christian texts were authored by God (or communicated to man by God) in order to believe that they were invented by Judeo/Christian tenets. If not by God, then man did it, and where’d they come by some of that great wisdom?

    IMHO, ethics is the arena where we behave in accordance with society’s wishes (or within the law) and do what is right/proper based on the rules of our profession, such as legal or medical ethics. In religious-speak, this is the realm of Caesar.

    Morality is totally different from that and is how we behave when no one is looking, and where only our own head (our conscience) would judge us. The difference between the theist and the atheist is the theist believes that God is watching, but even that is a very different set of responses to one of other people judging us.

    Since this is a near and dear subject to me, I hope you’ll forgive my linking to something I wrote on this topic specifically (although directed to morals education generically).

  • Robert · December 8, 2008 at 7:04 am

    Surely, there were many developments in ethical thought (and even morality) long before Judaism and Christianity came onto the scene.

    Equally surely, Judaism and Christianity were not somehow parallel and separate from those ancient roots, so that you can make a plausible claim to be informed by Aristotle but not by Aquinas. The Judeo-Christian ethic rose out of those ancient roots; it did not subsume them or make them irrelevant, but it took them as a partial foundation and erected a new ethical structure.

    That ethical structure is the one we inhabit, like it or not. Can you go back and derive a decent ethical system from Plato and the rest, without having to borrow from Jesus and Moses and Maimonides? Sure. Is that what you did when you were a kid, and your ethical preferences were established? No. Unless your parents were serious outliers, you believe murder is wrong and all the rest of it, more or less, because that’s what the primary religious and philosophical current of your culture have taught, and that teaching comes out of the religious inheritance.

  • A-Bax · December 8, 2008 at 7:07 am

    “ethics” as grounded in the evo-psych account of our cognition?

    This may require (our) Hume’s takedown of the naturalistic fallacy (as not really being a fallacy) in order to get an ethics of this nature to some kind of “normative” status.

    Or, let the goal of “normativity” in a non-naturalistic sense fall by the wayside, and simply note that these evo. psych-driven “ethics” (reciprocity, golden-rule, cheater detection/avoidance) has lead to our flourishing in the past, and it would be *conservative* of us to act as if they will continue to so contribute to our flourishing going forward. (With a caveat, of course, that the future may not resemble the past and that the content of a naturalistic-based ethics may slowly change, etc.)

    Would that work?

  • Author comment by mrsdutoit · December 8, 2008 at 7:39 am

    The 10 Commandments were based on the Code of Hammurabi. Now one could argue that they only found a piece of the tablet that contained 10, or some wise soul had to wherewithal to reduce and summarize the number to 10, so folks could remember them (or perhaps it was a lazy scribe who wanted to reduce his workload that left the tablet around for Moses to find). Hammerabi Code was a combination of moral and ethical edicts, reduced to 10 that are mostly in the morals realm.

  • Tim of Angle · December 8, 2008 at 8:15 am

    I dislike the entire premise of the argument.

    Ethics properly refers to standards for individual behavior, and morals properly refers to standards for group behavior. The etymology of the terms makes this quite clear.

    Certainly Judeo-Christian culture deals with both, but religion isn’t necessary for either; simple evolutionary pressure, for example, will impel any long-surviving society to have “moral” strictures against e.g. murder.

  • Thras · December 8, 2008 at 8:17 am

    Thras’ short guide to the difference between “morals” and “ethics”:

    Morals: Rules set by hypocritical moralists (cf. Baptist preachers, Catholic Bishops).

    Ethics: Rules set by thoughtful ethicists (cf. lefty professors, law school lawyerly types).

  • Joanna · December 8, 2008 at 8:20 am

    Dawkins and Hitchens like to talk about the basic uselessness of the 10 commandments for any moral guidance and the universality of the “golden rule” across cultures and religions that point to moral norms outside of any particular religion. That’s usually what I respond with.

  • Daniel Dare · December 8, 2008 at 8:21 am

    I would argue that all social mammals have an innate social code of behaviour, including dolphins, elephants, wolves, chimpanzees, gorillas.

    I have yet to be convinced that they derive their codes from their religious beliefs.

  • Tulse · December 8, 2008 at 8:36 am

    A-Bax :
    “ethics” as grounded in the evo-psych account of our cognition?

    Much of evo-psych is dedicated to explaining the bad behaviour of humans (e.g., infidelity, racism, slavery, rape). I for one don’t think that such a “naturalized” ethics is very appealing.

  • Stone Mao · December 8, 2008 at 8:51 am

    The real crux of the issue is the lack of philosophical ground work done in order to properly refute the appeal to the “Judeo-Christian” foundation. Do your home work and properly ground your Ethical/Moral system and this attack becomes less than silly. Don’t do your home work and and put up with being preached to. The choice is yours.

  • Polichinello · December 8, 2008 at 9:03 am

    Nietzsche,

    I confess that I’m a bit confused. Forgive my ignorance, but are you saying ethics are not derived from morality? How so?

    As to the role of religion, specifically Christianity, borrowing from Burke, I would still say it plays a role in ethics because of its cultural role in forming our society. An apt quote from the Bible has a force that even the most rigorous spinozan proof ever will. This is often true of both believers and non-believers.

    Now, if you want to remake society, I suppose this argument won’t do, but at that point, you’re no longer really a conservative–a rightist perhaps, but no conservative. I suppose that’s fitting for someone writing under your handle. :)

  • Gotchaye · December 8, 2008 at 9:06 am

    Sure, our ethical values are shaped in large part by our upbringing/culture, and Christianity plays an enormous role in our culture. I think it’s a bit of a cop-out to say that no, really, we’re just drawing our values from ancient Greeks; our values are only broadly Aristotelian because the values of our (very Christian) culture are broadly Aristotelian.

    I think I agree with Nietzsche that the best response is to point out that Judaism/Christianity didn’t uniquely originate these values. That you share the values of a religious person does not mean that you have religious values.

    I also find that it’s useful to throw some Enlightenment philosophy at people who make claims like this. Many religious people are operating under some misconceptions about how atheism/agnosticism ‘works'; much of the reason for their insistence that your values are religious is that they don’t think that one can possibly have non-religious values. It’s always helpful to point to obviously Christian thinkers who weren’t divine command theorists, and who thought that values came straight from man’s reason.

  • Author comment by David Hume · December 8, 2008 at 9:16 am

    I don’t really buy the ethics & morality distinction. It can add value, but I don’t see it as necessary. Secondly, I also don’t think the “Judeo-Christian” term has heuristic value. Reform Juadaism is arguably more like Christianity than it is like Orthodox Judaism, but for most of the past 2,000 Reform did not exist. It its basic orthopraxic outlook I would argue that Judaism over the past 2,000 years, the Pharisaeic Judaism of the Rabbis, the Judaism of the Talmud, has resembled Islam more than Christianity. The term is popular because of the need to include Jews in the religiously plural republic after World War II. Finally, read Confucius, Xun zi, Mencius and more obscure thinkers such as Mozi. There is virtue outside of Jerusalem.

  • Namloc · December 8, 2008 at 9:22 am

    A scholarly fellow long, long ago convinced me ethics and morality are one and the same concept: behaviour habits that produce satisfactory results. No distinction between them. Prima facie, they would appear to be of pre-human, biological origin. This conjecture is so obvious I suppose it deserves some sort of experimental test.

  • Author comment by David Hume · December 8, 2008 at 9:27 am

    they would appear to be of pre-human, biological origin.

    No. Human sociality is special and rare, we’re not a generic animal.

  • Greg · December 8, 2008 at 10:42 am

    There isn’t a society on Earth that sprang up that didn’t have laws of one sort or another against theft, murder, and other such nasties. And similarly there isn’t a society on earth that did not feel justified in breaking those rules when they felt they had a good excuse.

    Many of these societies sprang up all over the world, completely insulated from western philosophy. Since the majority of the 10 commandments is very specific to 1 type of god and the monotheistic jealousy of that god, you can basically throw out most of them when it comes to their establishment as a system of ethics. What you are left with is hardly different than what any society would naturally tend to enforce simply as a method of maintaining societal cohesion.

  • Caledonian · December 8, 2008 at 11:16 am

    Victor Hugo had a great response in Les Miserables, which paraphrased goes something like this:

    If the corpse of your loved one disinterred itself and came to you, saying that here is the body you once embraced and the lips you once kissed, you’d reject it. That was long ago – things are different now, and what was once your lover is now a hunk of rotting meat. The Church was once the only thing preserving knowledge through the Dark Ages – but that was long ago. Now it’s an impediment to society.

    There’s also the famous saying about how when it is night it is best to use the blind as guides, since they know the roads in darkness. But when day comes, it is better to use your eyes, not the guidance of the blind.

  • Asher · December 8, 2008 at 11:54 am

    I find it very odd that the Moralistic Fallacy receives so little attention in comparison to it’s mirror image, the Naturalistic Fallacy. Consider the following statement:

    It is a fact that John has two legs
    therefore
    I ought to believe that John has two legs

    That statement sure looks like it violates the Naturalistic Fallacy and, yet, most appeals to evidence follow that general structure. So, does the “is” of a piece of evidence compel an “ought” in the structure of our understanding of reality. The real question is how we, if we have normally functioning faculties, can possess an understanding of the world where John does not have two legs. Which brings me to the Moralistic Fallacy:

    One cannot derive “can”, or “is”, from “ought”.

    And this logical limitation seems, to me, at least, as every bit as compelling as the Naturalistic Fallacy. So, how is this relevant? I’d like to direct my attentions to the comment above by Tulse:

    Much of evo-psych is dedicated to explaining the bad behaviour of humans (e.g., infidelity, racism, slavery, rape). I for one don’t think that such a “naturalized” ethics is very appealing.

    Basically, he’s saying that a naturalistic ethics is invalid because it attempts to explain the facts of human functioning, however cruel, rooted in evolutionary development. This is the single most common rejoinder I encounter when discussing naturalistic ethics, and, as far as I can see, it directly implements a violation of the Moralistic Fallacy. Here’s what he’s saying:

    Ethical systems ought to consider slavery as unqualified evil
    therefore
    Any investigation that presents an explanation of slavery, outside of unqualified evil, is not an ethical discussion

    And that’s the moralistic fallacy. One problem that I see is that if you want to say that all instances of slavery are unqualified evil then you’re going to have to explain how it’s possible that people 20,000 BP ought to have comprehended the unqualifed evil of slavery. From what I’ve read, it seems like slavery arises when people begin domesticating animals, and since we are an animal it seems a logical extension to see slavery as simply domesticating others in our species. However, this does not oblgate us to say that:

    Slavery is a natural expression of an array of various social factors
    therefore
    We ought to be just fine with slavery, and even own slaves ourselves

    That would invoke the naturalistic fallacy. So, the goal, as I perceive it, is to present arguments that tread the line between the equally compelling moralistic and naturalistic fallacies. I would encourage everyone to keep in mind Hume’s (this Hume) admonition to avoid system building, which in this case is attempting to derive an enitre moral system predicated on a few indisputable moral principles, such as “slavery is an unqualified evil”.

  • A-Bax · December 8, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Asher: Thanks for explaining that.

    I was suggesting that the account of ethics might be grounded in an (evo.-psych.) account of our cognition since I was more or less presuming that an ethics derived from 1st principles (roughly both deontology and the various strips of utilitarianism) was prima facie DOA.

    So as not to get caught up in the “incommensurability” issues associated with Virtue Theory (which seem have problems kindred to “relativism” problems), I was suggesting the evo. psych approach. As all healthy humans have roughly the same sorts of tools and functions in our cognitive machinery (much the same way all healthy humans have the same physical organs, circulatory system, etc.), the “universality” of this kind of ethics would be predicated upon our shared biology.

    But “where’s the normativity?” someone might reasonably ask. Here, I admit, it gets tricky. But my instinct is to kind of bite the bullet on this, and concede that an evo. psych. account of ethics would NOT be normative in the way a deontological or utilitarian approach purported to be. The beginnings of getting to something like “normativity” (some watered-down, naturalistic version of it) would be the conservative insight that an highly successful, long-standing *institution* (within out cognitive machinery, in this case) is itself it’s own sort of justification. (With the same caveat I described above – roughly, things can change.)

    This may seem to be giving up a whole lot….it might seem like it’s open to all sorts of attacks of the kind that Tulse leveled and Asher parried. But…., one HUGE advantage to this sort of approach, I think, is that it grounds ethics in the natural world, and reduces the need to appeal to any kind of transcendent order (be it religious, or just a sort of “normative”-ness that itself often seems just as nebulous. I mean, Rights and Obligations clearly don’t *exist* in the world the way oak trees and carbon atoms do…they’re sort of “made up” in a way. Even if we all agree to treat them as real.)

    Just thinking out loud here…not presenting a super-polished idea. (I spent alot more time studying epistemology and logic than I did ethics!)

  • Tulse · December 8, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Asher :
    Basically, he’s saying that a naturalistic ethics is invalid because it attempts to explain the facts of human functioning, however cruel, rooted in evolutionary development. This is the single most common rejoinder I encounter when discussing naturalistic ethics, and, as far as I can see, it directly implements a violation of the Moralistic Fallacy. Here’s what he’s saying:
    Ethical systems ought to consider slavery as unqualified evil
    therefore
    Any investigation that presents an explanation of slavery, outside of unqualified evil, is not an ethical discussion

    Asher, you’ve over-interpreted my remarks. I certainly was not, at least at that point, asserting the above claim, but merely pointing out that using evolutionary psychology as one’s sole guide to ethics is likely to produce outcomes that many people find repugnant. A corollary to that is that evo-psych can’t do the ethical heavy lifting needed, since the repugnance clearly comes from somewhere other than our evolved history.

    I would encourage everyone to keep in mind Hume’s (this Hume) admonition to avoid system building, which in this case is attempting to derive an enitre moral system predicated on a few indisputable moral principles, such as “slavery is an unqualified evil”.

    I can’t agree with (this) Hume, unless one finds purely relativist ethics acceptable (and even then, without some moral principles, how would one make that determination?). It is precisely because we have some ethical principles that we universalize (e.g., people should be treated fairly, cruelty should be avoided when possible) that we can overcome our evolutionary history that often inclines us to behave otherwise.

  • Raymund · December 8, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    using evolutionary psychology as one’s sole guide to ethics is likely to produce outcomes that many people find repugnant.

    In one of the later chapters of the 2nd edition of The Selfish Gene, Dawkins discusses work by Axelrod and others that suggests that “Do unto others as you would have them do onto you” can, in many circumstances, be evolutionarily successful for selfish replicators such as you and me. (Google “tit for tat” or “iterated prisoner’s dilemma” for more detail). In other words, much of the time, what’s good for our genes is cooperation, nonviolent competition, and cultivating reciprocity and alliances with others of our species. Even if the only “universal” ethical principles are those coded in our DNA, isn’t that sufficient?

  • Tulse · December 8, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    Raymund :
    In other words, much of the time, what’s good for our genes is cooperation, nonviolent competition, and cultivating reciprocity and alliances with others of our species. Even if the only “universal” ethical principles are those coded in our DNA, isn’t that sufficient?

    The problem is that other research suggests that various less savoury behaviours also may have a genetic basis. Heck, some researchers have argued that psychopathy is an evolutionarily stable strategy (given a population that is mostly composed of non-cheaters).

    But more to the point, without some sort of notion of what ethics is a priori, we can’t even identify which genetically determined characteristics and/or behaviours involve ethical issues and which don’t. As an illustration, while reciprocity may have a genetic basis, so does the ability to detect the characteristic odour of asparagus in urine. I don’t think any of us would say that the latter fact involves any ethical issues, but that is precisely because we know in advance what kind of behaviours are in the realm of ethics. And more generally, because we have to know ahead of time what behaviours (genetically determined or not) might involve ethics, evo-psych cannot be the source of this determination.

    Perhaps a more relevant example would be that the level of skin melanin is definitely genetically determined, but society has generally changed its view on whether this is a morally-relevant fact or not. That change was not brought about by any biological information, any data about evolutionary history, but by factors that were independent of such facts.

  • Asher · December 8, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    @Tulse

    I was … pointing out that using evolutionary psychology as one’s sole guide to ethics is likely to produce outcomes that many people find repugnant. .

    What people consider repugnant varies wildly by time and place, but human beings perceive their particular “moral moment” as the standard by which to judge all other moments in the entire array of human experience. Okay, let’s start with the assertion that “slavery is an unqualified evil in any time and place”, which is pretty much a fundamental tenent of any non-naturalistic ethic system in the western world. The standard case against slavery involves an ad hoc barrage of cruelty, suffering and how slavery impedes economic development, invoking the sort of appeals found in Marx’s Das Kapital. So, for argument’s sake, let’s concede the point, and let’s grant that slavery is an example of extreme, unqualified evil.

    It it is the case that slavery is such an absolute evil then it seems to me as if a logical corrollary is that any society countenancing slavery is one that is absolutely morally bankrupt. Are the advocates of this principle really prepared to go down that road? In fact, many left/multiculturalists today do go down that road and draw the conclusion that, since America had slavery in its history, our country up until 1864 was irredeemably evil. Most go on to posit that the residue of slavery also irredeemably taints American society far past 1864, some going through 1964 Civil Rights Act and others condemning the US up through the present.

    And I agree with them. If slavery is, in fact, an absolute, unqualified evil, then America today is irredeemably corrupt, and the only way out of that trap is to examine slavery in naturalistic terms.

    A corollary to that is that evo-psych can’t do the ethical heavy lifting needed, since the repugnance clearly comes from somewhere other than our evolved history … I can’t agree with (this) Hume, unless one finds purely relativist ethics acceptable (and even then, without some moral principles, how would one make that determination?). It is precisely because we have some ethical principles that we universalize (e.g., people should be treated fairly, cruelty should be avoided when possible) that we can overcome our evolutionary history that often inclines us to behave otherwise.

    This reminds me of Karl Popper’s remark about all human cognition being about problem-solving. If ethics is just another form of problem-solving then that allows us to step back from a condemnation of historical slavery without requiring us to consider slavery today as having potential merit, because the conditions in which slavery coincided with a moral order simply do not exist today. Yes, this does imply that someone can both be ethical and cruel, but to argue otherwise is to imply that human ethics is very new, as a social history of our species is a history of cruelty.

    One crucial point is to separate out different modes of human experience and to not privilege ethics over other modes of experience, as almost everyone does when discussing ethics. In any universalist notion of ethics, any posited ethical principle is something that ultimately trumps all other considerations, but that is only a problem is one is looking for a universalist notion of ethics. If we simply look at ethics as a category of cognitive problem-solving tools, then we no longer need to look at ethics as something that dictates to and trumps all other considerations. This allows us to view ethics in the light of other demands made upon us as we live our lives, struggling to survive and thrive.

    Ethics evolved to serve life, life did not evolve to serve ethics.

  • Asher · December 8, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    Tulse :
    some researchers have argued that psychopathy is an evolutionarily stable strategy (given a population that is mostly composed of non-cheaters).
    But more to the point, without some sort of notion of what ethics is a priori, we can’t even identify which genetically determined characteristics and/or behaviours involve ethical issues and which don’t.
    we have to know ahead of time what behaviours (genetically determined or not) might involve ethics, evo-psych cannot be the source of this determination.
    Perhaps a more relevant example would be that the level of skin melanin is definitely genetically determined, but society has generally changed its view on whether this is a morally-relevant fact or not. That change was not brought about by any biological information, any data about evolutionary history, but by factors that were independent of such facts.

    Okay, so let’s assume that psychopathy is genetic. Why does that matter? We still would try to eliminate that psychopathic behavior from the general social environment by removing psychopathic individuals from ciruculation, i.e. imprisonment/execution. Eliminating threats is a normal animal function, and we don’t need “moral reasoning” to execute those functions, although I would say that identifying exactly what constitutes social threats is a product of moral reasoning. The thing is that all behaviors potentially involve “ethical issues” given that we’re a social species and that the origins of the Greek term “ethos” simply means “shared understanding”. The thing is that a psychopath is someone who is not capable of having a shared understanding with out human beings;i.e. that faculty seems to be broken in those individuals.

    Agreed that evo-psych cannot tell us what ethics “should be” but it certainly can give us insight into the sorts of ethical considerations that are available to us in our quest to solve the practical problems of living as a social species. Let’s say that the following, crudly put, maxim is true: racism is an innate instinct in human beings. This would entail that any ethos we try to develop involving a multi-ethnic society would need to account for the fact that the rules of that society would need to be crafted so as to counter the tendency for people to cluster into interest groups involving their own ethny. We would need to devote large amounts of social resources to suppressing that instinct.

    As for your last assertion that melanin is no longer a relevant moral concern, I would simply point out to you programs like affirmative action and minority set-asides.

  • JM Hanes · December 8, 2008 at 4:45 pm

    What’s “sneakiest” (i.e. most effective!) about the religious approach Nietzsche describes is that seculars always end up engaging in the argument which the religious want to have and which they feel most comfortable making. Atheists, with their weakness for intellectualizing belief vs science, will take that bait almost every time — and generally miss the underlying dynamic altogether.

    One of the most basic, and ancient, forms of poetry is the “Catalogue Verse” or the “List Poem” which includes everything from Biblical genealogies and Greek theogonies to “I Hear America Singing” and “Howl.” It is sometimes called a “Naming Poem” which seems appropriate here. The invocative (not a typo) power of litany rests on a simple base: to name a thing is to own it. In “The season needs no reason” David Hume recognizes that dynamic in the distant past with regard to holidays, but the strategy is more properly viewed as “clear and present.”

    Is there anyone here who doesn’t instinctively understand that to assert (vs. describe) a Judeo-Christion culture, is to assert ownership? You can establish the universality of natural origins for anything which exerts a powerful influence on the human psyche. But while we may celebrate the mid-winter return of light, in this culture, we call it Christmas. Even to be anti-Christmas is to start out ceding the name.

    Christianity has a long history of rendering potential competition nameless. While classical influence on Christian thinking can be easily traced, the 13th century Catholic suppression of Aristotle, in response to the growing sway of Aristotelians in Paris (and a certain long lingering antipathy to anything explicitly Greek) is emblematic. Even now, the Catholic Encyclopedia frames Aristotle as a “heathen philosopher.” When a “Christian Nation” argument centers on the Declaration of Independence, it relies on what the founders could be called or called themselves, and almost entirely ignores their schooling in the classics. It’s not surprising that the idea of happiness which might derive from civic virtue never crosses the public radar.

    The secularization of Philosophy (with the capital P of a proper noun) as an academic pursuit, in contradistinction to a competing ideology, actually serves religious purposes quite well. Philosophy has been successfully detached from the received wisdom of Religion for centuries. The religious position with with regard to morals and ethics is the ultimate appeal to authority (which the Declaration of Independence resembles in that respect, as do frequently erroneous appeals to the Constitution). Logical operators and fallacies are the province of (mere) Philosophy, and serve but an ancillary function in Religious domains. Until science comes up with a Unified Field, the authority of God has no serious competition. The fact that Intelligent Design has made such inroads into science education, is itself a testament to the power of effective naming. We resent being “labeled” for good reason.

    You will find no real antidote to Religion in Philosophy or Science. I would suggest you don’t really need one and that fighting on the battlefield of “truth” is a seductive conceit which serves to fortify secular warriors with an intellectual basis for evangelical zeal. Because atheists are nothing if not intellectual. Ubiquitous disdain for the ignorant (primitive!) is nothing if not hierarchical. Please welcome your new intelligent overlords.

    I personally, think framing the battle as a conflict between the public and the private holds considerably more promise both intellectually (ethics vs morals) and politically (collective vs individual). It is telling that we speak about a “breach” of ethics and a moral “sin.” In what seems to me a related, (though perhaps more properly idiosyncratic) fashion, I see the genius of the Bill of Rights as a set of easily internalized principles which then find expression in law and regulation. The weakness of the EU Constitution is its failure to make such a distinction between principle (eternal) and codification (temporal). Ditto Hammurabi and the Ten Commandments. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been arguing the wisdom of a Constitutional amendment officially acknowledging a right to privacy — and, alas, eliciting next to no interest in either philosophical or legal circles, despite the rickety penumbra upon which poor Roe v Wade now rests and despite our increasingly obvious vulnerabilities in this interconnected computerized world.

    I now return you to your regular programing.

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