Ten Things I Think Are Probably True Concerning Ethics
A friend of mine shared a version of Bertrand Russell’s ten commandments
on a social networking site. Inspired by that, and thinking that it could make
for a useful exercise, I thought I’d try to come up with ten of my own.
Instead, I came up with…
Ten things I think are probably true concerning ethics:
- Being good involves a number of interrelated skills (“virtues”) that are
learnable and that most everyone can get better at with deliberate
- Rules and maxims are poor substitutes for practice and habit when push
comes to shove.
- Efforts to reduce ethics to one or a small handful of rules are
perennially tempting and always wrong. Avoid the temptation to make ethics
- That said, the intellectual exercise of elucidating the heuristics that
roughly map to your ethical intuitions can be a helpful ethical yoga.
- Many people do not value their characters nearly enough. You’d be wise not
to make that mistake. Aside from being a good idea in its own right, when
you value your character you also find being virtuous inherently pleasant
- You ought to beware when you step into a role (particularly a role in a
hierarchy) that you believe permits or requires you to operate under a
different ethical standard than normal or to suspend your judgement.
- It is okay to tell people when they do things that you think are
dishonorable. It is okay to be intolerant of intolerable things. It is a
good idea to be judgemental. It is also wise to be humbly aware of your
- If you can learn to catch yourself lying to yourself you will have
discovered a life-long and very rewarding hobby. Happy hunting!
- You are not a by-stander. You are involved. Doing nothing or sticking with
the status quo is just as much of a moral choice as any other and you are
just as responsible for having made it.
- You yourself have to be the one to care about it, value it, put it right,
or make it matter — the universe isn’t going to do any of that for you and
there never has been a God.
These are largely stolen from other people who said things that struck me as
being true to my experience of the problem of figuring out how best to do this
living thing. (For instance, Aristotle gets credit for #s 1, 2, and 5; Kwame
Anthony Appiah, I think, convinced me of #3; Adam Smith and later experimental
ethicists brought me around to #4; Hannah Arendt can have credit for #6,
though she’s not alone, and some of #7 and #5 as well; the existentialists won
me over to #s 9 & 10. I’ll claim #8 as my sole original contribution,
though I’d be surprised if a bunch of people I haven’t come across yet didn’t
really beat me to it.)
Some bits and pieces from here and there:
- Here’s some more good stuff about the guerrilla electricians in the
Greek Δεν Πληρώνω (“Won’t Pay”) movement who
the power to people who have had their electricity cut off for failure to
pay the new taxes. The article claims that the movement has
successfully, and quite illegally, relit a thousand Greek homes in
- A Huffington Post columnist covers
Americans who are renouncing their citizenships to get out from under the IRS.
- Francisco José Sarrión Torres reports on the activities of the Tax Resistance Group of Ciudad Real [Spain]:
“This year we wrapped up the war tax resistance campaign with no refunds
redirected to two-thirds of the tax resisters in Ciudad Real. It has been
reclaimed as though it were an error, but we have already stated publicly
and in writing that it was not, but was an exercise of conscientious
objection in the face of the misuse of our taxes by the government. We
have redirected €870 to organizations like Ecologists in Action of Ciudad
Real, the 0.7% Project of the Rural Christian Movement, the Anselmo
Lorenzo Foundation, or Doctors Without Borders, from believing that these
are some that actually contribute to progressing toward a peaceful
- Carlos Lopez has an article on tax resistance up at the Euribor blog. Some excerpts, translated from Spanish:
Lopez has decided to become a “social rat” — reducing his consumption as
much as possible so as to avoid paying the value-added tax:
…there are reasons to protest, most of us understand that the national
books have been cooked and since we are shackled with deep debt, the
most workable, quick, and “EU-recommended”
solution is budget cuts, to be prioritized in terms of their
expendability — and it is here that most of us feel betrayed, by seeing
how expendable the citizens are and how comparatively vital are the
political class, who have barely changed their privileges.
He also recommends a few other methods of tax resistance. There were over
a hundred comments on the article last I looked, many of them off-topic
in the classic internet fashion, but giving some clue as to the reach of
…I declare a consumer strike, and I will get the most out of every cent
I earn; I subscribe to “lonchafinismo”
(responsible consumption). I’ll stretch out the time on my monthly
contact lenses, I’ll cut my hair less, I’ll give up on going to the
movies and watch films at home, I’ll stretch expiration dates, will
drive more economically. Certainly the shops are not to blame, and I’m
sorry for them, but if the government comes to realize that it [the
is a useless measure, perhaps they will rethink it.