a few reasons to not look for a grand unified theory of ethics (à la Kant)

Here are a few reasons why i think it is a mistake to insist on looking for one single Grand Unified Theory of ethics, and in particular why Kant’s Categorical Imperative (approx. “act according to a maxim that you can will to be a universal law”) is no longer a very useful theory:

  1. Even if the CI is the true and best rule for a perfect world, that does not imply that it is the best rule for an imperfect one: that which will maintain us in a state of universal perfection might not be the best means of attaining such a state.
  2. There is no reason why a world that follows one single rule of ethics is necessarily better than one that breaks the rule every now and then, or one that has multiple, at times incompatible, rules.
  3. A Grand Unified Theory at one level of understanding might need to be abandoned and replaced by multiple irreconcilable theories that, however, each explain their domain much better than the original GUT could. Of course, we can then begin looking for a GUT2… This is, i believe, what we could say happened in physics when Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, two yet irreconcilable theories, replaced the then dominant GUT, Newtonian Physics.

One Comment to “a few reasons to not look for a grand unified theory of ethics (à la Kant)”

  1. Isn’t this “situational ethics”? Trying to be as fair and just as possible given the subtle particulars, causing the least harm in any given situation?
    Ethics without dogma. It depends on the benevolent and wise functioning of the individual in the moment.

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