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[Xmca-l] Re: Habits (Greek: ethos)

I apologise if I am stating the obvious here but I think it is important to acknowledge the socio-cultural nature of ethical decision making.

If our ethics are habits they are habits acquired in particular cultural communities. We could look at this from an individualist perspective and say that we come to know what is and is not OK in particular situations but it may make more sense to understand ethics in terms of knowledge about how other people are likely to be affected by our behaviour and our choices.

If we spend most of our lives 'within the pale' of a tight-knit and bounded group (we have been hearing soon much here in England about the 'need' to protect our boundaries) then it is easy to see the behaviours of those who have grown up 'beyond the pale' as exotic, odd, barbaric or downright evil. We can feel comfortable with 'people like us' because we know and share (enough of) their habits.

My own interest in the history of ways of thinking and feeling about childhood has shown me that some communities distrust or even fear children because they are 'savage', not yet 'civilised' by exposure to the habits of the 'civis'. People who do not (yet) know 'how we do things here' are disturbing BOTH because we don't know what they might do AND because we don't know how they may feel about what we do.

An education which equips us to move outside our home territory, to make cautious, sensitive contact with people who have different habits, is an education in ethical practice beyond the simple 'soaking up' of the proper way of doing things. Just as children actively MAKE sense of what goes on around them (sometimes noticing the non-sense of things their parents have done forever out of habit) so we can learn to MAKE connection with strangers.

It may seem naive and simplistic but on the Early Childhood Studies programme which I lead at Plymouth University (UK) we aim to help students to develop a 'core of care' which involves being CRITICAL (aware of how we know what we think we know) and ETHICAL (aware of how others may be affected by what we and others do).

If ethos is habit then it is vital that education should equip us to question our own habits and encourage us to try to understand how other people's habits affect what they do.

Leading 'a good life's in a cave or in a monastery may be hard but leading a good life out here in the world is a whole lot more difficult!

All the best,


On 9 Jul 2016 7:49 am, Annalisa Aguilar <annalisa@unm.edu> wrote:

In an apparently feeble attempt to keep the ethics discussion under this roof, I'm replying to Paul's post here (which is his reply to my last post [time stamp 7/8/2016 1:24pm] in the Appeal for Help thread).

Paul makes the post (from his Samsung no less) stating:

There is a generalization to be made about ethics, which you highlight clearly.  It is the conclusion of Bertrand russell in his talk, "why I am not a christian."  Russell concluded, "outside of human desires there are no moral standards!"

To which I'll reply:

That could be a generalization that you share with Russell, but what I was trying to point out, is that the POINT is NOT to make a decisive conclusion with an intent to create a standard, that conclusions can only pertain to a given situation at hand.

This is a different emphasis than to say "there are no moral standards." It depends if you emphasize "moral" or "standards." (duck-rabbit)

I'm saying that there can be moral conclusions to be made, but it is up to a free individual to discover what they are through lived experience (perezhivanie?).

I am emphasizing the freedom here, for the individual to decide freely, and for that to happen, that lived experience must be considered outside of human desires, but not in the way I think Russell means when he used those words.

In other words, how I mean it is that if we put human desires to the side, there can be a way to make a conclusion, just not a generalization. This conclusion, whatever it might be, is entirely dependent upon the situation at hand, and who is in the situation, and what the choices are.

If it is the case that no moral standards are conclusive, that does NOT mean there are no morals to be discovered and adopted. It just means there are none that can be generalized (made into a standard) because there are too many variables, and all of that exists outside (beyond) of human desire.

To say there is no duck there and no rabbit there - when there is something there that could be a duck or a rabbit - is not making a generalization.

"There is no there there," is not a generalization, but it is a conclusion, it's a duck-rabbit (or it's Oakland, which is very specific), which is conclusive in its own right, or rather, it's conclusive enough (for the time being).

Kind regards,



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