Two online courses 9 WEEKS OF WORK

All work must be done to get the total payment I will pay each week or a down payment and the final payment after 9 weeks. I have an ethics course and a business course that need to be completed online.  I am in the hospital and cannot keep up. I am looking for someone with online course experience that can take over and do it with little help from me with the exception of paying you for the good grade  the syllabi are attached.

Course Requirements

There will be four criteria for evaluating your grade in the course:

Reading Journal:

25%

Essay:

20%

Quizzes:

30% (3 @ 10% each)

Blog entries and comments:
25%

Reading Journal:

You will be required to keep a journal each week and submit it to the instructor for grading and feedback. The journal will consist of reflections and interactions with the texts that were assigned for reading during that week, and will be due before 11:59pm on Monday of each week.

Unless otherwise specified, the texts for the reading journals will be the reading on the syllabus for the upcoming week. This means that you will generally write on texts which we have not yet discussed in our weekly forums. This work serves two purposes: (1) An evaluative tool for Prof. Moyer to track the progress of reading in conjunction with the other work reliant on that reading; and (2) to challenge the student to critically, thoughtfully, and dialogically engage with the readings in written form.

Each reading journal will be 600 words in length, unless amended downward by Prof. Moyer.

Format and style: While the reading journals should be written informally, they should demonstrate good grammar and style, which means that they should be edited, proofread, and minimally revised. The relevant texts should be cited appropriately according to either APA or MLA format (the student’s choice), but no bibliography is needed.

The content of the reading journals is largely left to the judgment of the student and her creative, thoughtful, dialogical interaction with the text. That said, each journal must demonstrate a familiarity with the text and an honest and thoughtful attempt to think through the ideas of the text.
Each journal must engage with specific parts of the text, and include short quotations to support and exemplify the student’s reading of the text. Each journal must attempt to make connections with previous conversations and texts, in the service of allowing the student to critically develop her voice in a free but rigorous writing context.

Except in extraordinary circumstances, reading journals may not be submitted after their due date.

Discussion/blog entries and comments:

Once per week students will contribute entries to the ‘Discussion Board’ available on Blackboard 9.1 for that week. Each week, I will develop prompts for the blog entries, based on our readings, earlier discussions, and other activities for that week. Entries will vary in length (usually between 450 and 750 words), and will ask students to engage specific questions and activities for that week.

In addition to students’ own blog entries, each student will be required to substantively comment on the entries of two other students (in comments of no less than 200 words). Finally, each student will be required to comment on at least one other student’s comment on another student’s entry. (in a comment of no less than 200 words).

To summarize, each week students will contribute the following to our blog:

1. A primary entry of the student’s own creation (usually between 450 and 750 words).

2. Two comments on other students’ primary entries (no less than 200 words).

3. At least one comment on the comment of another student (no less than 200 words).

Except in extraordinary circumstances, discussion/blog entries may not be submitted after their due date.

Essay:

Students will write a five-page essay, due no later than 4:59pm on Wednesday of finals week. Details of the essay will be discussed in class, and a rubric and instructions distributed. The goal of the essay will be to synthesize concepts and work of the class in a critical application to students’ personal and social contexts.

Quizzes:

There will be three quizzes throughout the term. They will consist of short answer questions and one or two essay questions. The quizzes will be made available on the Tuesday of weeks 4, 7, and 10, and must be completed no later than 11:59pm on the Friday of each of those weeks. Each quiz will be worth 10% of the course grade.

BA20

6

Principles of Management

Course Syllabus

COURSE DESCRIPTION:

The scope of this course will be to introduce you to the concepts, terminology, principles, and theories which are the substance of management.

 

This course will analyze and synthesize historical and current theories in leadership, group processes, organizational structures, personnel policies, motivation and training that allow an individual to plan, organize, staff, direct and control resources in an organization.

REQUIRED TEXT:

MGMT5, Chuck Williams,

Articles and readings as assigned.

In addition to the class website
all students must have

FULL

internet access.

A copy of the textbook is on reserve in the library.

Performance Based Learner Outcomes:

Upon successful completion of the course, the student should be able to:

 

1. List the general duties and responsibilities of a manager. 

2. List and describe the characteristics of group behavior such as formal and informal groups, group pressure, and intergroup conflict.

3. Describe in your own words, a systematic approach to planning and decision making.

4. Describe and evaluate different organizational structures.

5. List the functions of, and current problems in, personnel.

6. List and describe the current theories of leadership style, training and motivating subordinates.

7. Explain creativity and how the manager might create an environment conducive to creativity.

8. List and describe why people are resistant to change and the ways that a manager can deal with change.

GRADING:

Syllabus Review
15

Video Case Studies (2 @ 50 points

100**

Discussion Questions (3 @ 25 points)

75**

*Exam #1
Chapters 1-5

100**

*Exam #2
Chapters 6-10

100**

*Exam #3
Chapters 11-15

100**

*Exam #4
Chapters 16-18

100**

*Exam#5
Chapters 1-18

100**

Total Possible Points:

590

* If a student chooses to do all five exams, the highest four scores will be used.

**This class adheres to the Student Rights and Responsibilities document, found in the Chemeketa’s catalog. Academic honesty is an indispensable value as students acquire knowledge and develop skills in college. Students are expected to practice academic honesty by not cheating, plagiarizing, or misrepresenting their coursework in any way. Students are ultimately responsible for understanding and avoiding academic dishonesty whether such incidences are intentional or unintentional. Violations will result in failure of an assignment and/or failure of the course. Plagiarism, collusion, and other forms of misrepresentation hurt the student and run counter to the goals of education.

 

Grading for this course is weighted as follows:

90% or higher = A
89.9% to 80% = B
59.9% to 50 % = F

79.9% to 70% = C              69.9% to 60% = D

No incomplete or ‘I’ grade will be received unless there are extraordinary circumstances discussed with the instructor by Monday of the fourth week of the term and 90% of the coursework completed.

COURSE REQUIREMENTS

Assigned Work: All work/exams that are submitted for grading are listed under each Weeks’ “Assigned Work” heading. To access this, go to each week and scroll down until you see the Assigned Work heading. Click on that and you will see listed what is due for that week. The due dates/times are also contained in the Coursework Calendar. If the activity/exam/quiz/etc. is not listed under Assigned Work heading it is OPTIONAL.

Syllabus Review: For success in this course, it is important to read the syllabus and understand course expectations. After reading the syllabus, you will receive 15 points by posting the statement you understand course requirements. This can be found under the Week One area under the “Assigned Work” heading. To receive credit, this must be submitted by Saturday, April 6.

Reading:  The textbook is a required component of this course and is needed beginning the first day of the term.  Delay in acquiring the text will impact success in the course. Students are responsible for the content and cannot participate in this course without the text or access code.  The reading, understanding the learning objectives, terminology, summaries along with the questions at the end of each chapter should be completed by Saturday of the assigned week. These items (end of chapter questions and quizzes)
will not
be submitted to the instructor but will help your understanding of the course materials and to be successful on the midterm and final exams. 

Extra Credit: Extra credit is not given in this course. The key to success is to carefully follow all directions given and observe the due dates.

Participation/Expectations: For an engaging classroom experience, everyone must participate as a productive team member. This includes contributing to an effective learning environment as well as demonstrating self-awareness and practicing effective interpersonal skills. This also means making yourself available and accessible to participate in online discussions and activities. Moreover, this is a safe environment in which to discuss topics and other related issues. Everyone is expected to respect the opinions and comments of others.

In addition, this course relies on the ability to read and effectively articulate responses to both discussion questions and assigned work. If writing is not your strength, I strongly encourage you to contact Chemeketa’s online writing center. The writing center link is located in the
Web Links (eLearn)
tab. Keep in mind this is a business course. Writing is an important component to business communication. Submitting work in a professional manner is both required and expected. Casual writing, as if you are text messaging a friend or family member, is unacceptable. I encourage you to use the spell and grammar check feature, found in your word processing program, to review work prior to posting.

Further, I reserve the right to refuse grading illegible and incomplete assignments. I reserve the right to request proof substantiating any unexpected situations which may arise. If an issue arises with points on assignments, you have one week after points are posted to ask for clarification.

Discussion Questions: During the term, three discussion questions will be posted. Each post responding to the question must be no less than 250 words. Questions and sources are not included in the word count. For your response to the question include at least one source, using Modern Language Association (MLA) or American Psychological Association (APA) format, to support discussion question responses. Responses to your peer posts should be no less than 100 words. Also you will be graded on responding to the question by Wednesday of the discussion week period and actively participating in the discussion with your classmates
throughout
the discussion week (M-F). To receive credit on discussion question assignments, use the following criteria:

· Submit discussion question response on or before due date (Wednesday of discussion week).

· Provide at least one source using Modern Language Association (MLA) or American Psychological Association (APA) format, to support and defend discussion question response. Information on MLA and APA format can be found on the Chemeketa Writing Center website.

· Cite source(s) both in-text and list source(s), full-text, at end of post.

· Providing sources to support peers’ responses is optional. However, if you include sources properly cite them.

· Post discussion question responses in message box,
not
as attachments. I will not read posts submitted as attachments.

· Check spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Discussion Question Rubric

Reminder: Please log in and participate on at least three different days, starting no later than Wednesday initially responding to the discussion question.

(0 points)
Did not participate or participated unsatisfactorily

Objective/Criteria

Performance Indicators

No participation/ Unsatisfactory Participation

Needs Improvement

Satisfactory

Proficient

Frequency of Participation

(0 points)
Did not participate or participated unsatisfactorily

(1 points)
Participated on only one day instead of the required three and/or did not post response to discussion question by Wednesday

(3 points)
Participated on only two days instead of the required three and/or did not post response to discussion question by Wednesday

(5 points)
Participated on three days or more and posted initial response to discussion question by Wednesday

Quality of Contribution

(5 points)
Initial response to discussion question was not posted by assigned date, posts are present, but lack substantial content; less than 250 words for response to question, less than 100 words for responses to classmates posts; no outside research or sources used and/or cited incorrectly or participated unsatisfactorily

(8 points)
Initial response to the discussion question completed by Wednesday is a minimum of 250 words; posts are present and contribute to the class discussion; however, one or more posts may be somewhat lean in content; more than one post less than required 100 words for responses to classmates posts; no outside research or sources used and/or cited incorrectly

(10 points)
All posts offer substantial contributions; posts are well-developed paragraphs; outside sources used and cited correctly

Grammar/Spelling/Etc.

(0 points)
Several spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors found in paragraphs or participated unsatisfactorily

(5 points)
Some spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors found in paragraphs

(8 points)
Few spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors found in paragraphs

(10 points)
Minimal spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors found in paragraphs

 

out of 25  

 

Video Case Studies: Two online video cases will be assigned during the term. The video case studies and questions will be viewed in the respective week under the “Assigned Work” heading. To receive credit for case studies, use the following criteria:

· Review Video Case Study Rubric

· Provide name and assignment question(s).

· Answers should total no less than 600 words excluding citations.

· Provide, at minimum, two different sources, using MLA or APA format, to support answer(s).

· Cite sources in-text and list sources, full-text, at end of paper.

· Information on MLA or APA format can be found on the Chemeketa Online Writing Center website.

· Submit paper in either Word (doc/docx) or rich text file (RTF) format.

· Check spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Post your responses, as attachments, in the designated area found in the respective week
Assigned Work
heading. Each written assignment is worth 50 points. Allow up to one week for points to post. If you have a dispute or question with regard to points received, you have one week, after points are posted to discuss. The following scoring guide will be used to determine points:

Video Case Study Rubric

Objective/Criteria

Performance Indicators

No participation/ Unsatisfactory Participation

Needs Improvement

Satisfactory

Proficient

Quality of Contribution

Grammar/Spelling/Etc.

 

(0 points)
Did not submit assignment

(10 points)
Assignment submitted, but lacks substantial content; less than 600 words and/or no outside research or sources used and/or cited incorrectly

(20 points)
Assignment submitted; demonstrated partial understanding of content; less than 600 words; no outside research or sources used and/or cited incorrectly

(30 points)
Assignment demonstrated thorough understanding of the case study and questions; outside sources used and cited correctly

(0 points)
Several spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors found in paragraphs or did not participate

(10 points)
Some spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors found in paragraphs

(16 points)
Few spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors found in paragraphs

(20 points)
Minimal spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors found in paragraphs

out of 50  


Due Dates/Times:  All due dates/times for assignments, tests, readings, etc. are contained on the Coursework page and are Pacific Standard Time (PST)

Use of Sources: It is important to cite work used in short essay assignments and in discussion questions. If I can’t find where sources are used and/or credit is not given to sources, you will receive a zero for the assignment and possibly an F in the course (see Academic Honesty policy). An opportunity will not be given to redo work.

Exams: You will have randomly selected multiple choice question exams to reinforce your knowledge of chapter concepts and terms. Exams are located on the course homepage under the Assessments
tab. One hour and 45 minutes is allotted for exams. With the exception of the fifth exam, exams are available for one week. It is recommended you take exams as early as possible. 

Four of the five exams are required in the course. If all five exams are completed, the four highest scores will be used to calculate the final grade. It is your responsibility to observe the due dates and times for the exams, as late exams will not be evaluated, therefore no credit earned.  The exams are due 11:59 p.m. (PST) of the due date assigned. Extensions are already built into this timeframe and will not be given. 

6

Afather’s greatest pleasure:

Pride in his children’s character
Joy in their company

To my darlings

Max and Sophie

CONTENTS
. . . . . . . . . ……. . . . . . . . . .

Acknowledgments

xii

A Note on the Companion Volume

xiii

A Note to Readers x

iv

INTRODUCTION 1

The Lay of the Land

Ethical Starting Points 3

Moral Reasoning 5

The Role of Moral Theory 12

LookingAhead 14

PART ONE

The Good Life 17

L Hedonism: Its Powerful Appeal

18

Happiness and Intrinsic Value 18

The Attractions of Hedonism 21

There Are Many Models of a Good Life 21

Personal Authority and Well-Being 22
Misery Clearly Hampers a Good Life; Happiness Clearly

Improves It 22

The Limits of Explanation 23

iv

V CONTENTS Contents v

Rules of the Good Life-and Their Exceptions 24

Happiness Is W hat We Want for Our Loved Ones 25

2. Is Happiness All That Matters?

27

The Paradox of Hedonism 27

Evil Pleasures 28

1he Two Worlds 29

False Happiness 31

The Importance of Autonomy 32

Life’s Trajectory 34

Unhappiness as a Symptom of Harm 35
Conclusion 36

3. Getting What You Want

38

A Variety of Good Lives 39
Personal Authority 39
Avoiding Objective Values 40
Motivation 41

Justifying the Pursuit of Self-Interest 42

Knowledge of the Good 43

4. Problems for the Desire Theory

45

Getting W hat You Want May Not Be Necessary for Promoting

Your Good 45
Getting W hat You Want May Not Be Sufficient for Promoting
Your Good 46

Desires Based on False Beliefs 46

Disinterested and Other-Regarding Desires 47

Passing Fancies 48

Disappointment 49

Ignorance of Desire Satisfaction 50

Impoverished Desires 50

The Paradox of Self-Harm and Self-Sacrifice 51

The Fallibility of Our Deepest Desires 52

Conclusion 53

PART TWO

Doing the Right Thing 57

5. Morality and Religion

58

vi CONTENTS

Three Assumptions About Religion and Morality 58
First Assumption: Religious Belief Is Needed for Moral

Motivation 58

Second Assumption: God Is the Creator of Morality
Third Assumption: Religion Is an Essential Source of Moral

60

Guidance 65

Conclusion 69

6. Natural Law 71
The Theory and Its Attractions 71

Two Conceptions of Human Nature 75

Human Nature Is What Is Innately Human 75

Human Nature Is What All Humans Have in Common 77

Natural Purposes 78

The Argument from Humanity 82

Conclusion 85

7. Psychological Egoism 86
Egoism and Altruism 86

The Argument from Our Strongest Desires 89

The Argument from Expected Benefit 92

The Argument from Avoiding Misery 94

Two Egoistic Strategies 95

Appealing to the Guilty Conscience 95

Expanding the Realm afSelf-Interest 96

Letting the Evidence Decide 97

Conclusion 98

8. Ethical Egoism 100
Why Be Moral? 101

Two Popular Arguments for Ethical Egoism 104

The Self-Reliance Argument 104

The Libertarian Argument 105

The Best Argument for Ethical Egoism 106

Three Problems for Ethical Egoism 108

Egoism Violates Core Moral Beliefs 109

Egoism Cannot Allow for the Existence of Moral Rights 109

Egoism Arbitrarily Assigns Priority to Self-Interest 110

Conclusion 111

Contents vii

9. Consequentialism: Its Nature and Attractions 112
The Nature of Consequentialism 114

Its Structure 114

Maximizing Goodness 115
Moral Knowledge 116

Actual versus Expected Results 117
Assessing Actions and Intentions 118

The Attractions of Utilitarianism 119

Impartiality 119

The Ability to Justify Conventional Moral Wisdom 120

Conflict Resolution 121

Moral Flexibility 122

The Scope of the Moral Community 123

10. Consequentialism: Its Difficulties 125
Measuring Well-Being 125

Utilitarianism Is Very Demanding 129

Deliberation 129

Motivation 129

Action 131

Impartiality 133

No Intrinsic Wrongness (or Rightness) 134

The Problem ofInjustice 136

Potential Solutions to the Problem ofInjustice 137

Justice Is Also Intrinsically Valuable 137
Injustice Is Never Optimific 138
Justice Must Sometimes Be Sacrificed 139

Rule Consequentialism 140

Conclusion 143

1 L The Kantian Perspective: Fairness
and Justice 144
Consistency and Fairness

Morality and Rationality lSI

145

The Principle of Universalizability 147

Assessing the Principle of Universalizability 154

Integrity 155

Kant on Absolute Moral Duties 156

viii CONTENTS

12. The Kantian Perspective: Autonomy
and Respect 158
The Principle of Humanity 159

The Importance of Rationality and Autonomy 161

The Good Will and Moral Worth 163

Five Problems with the Principle of Humanity 165

Vagueness 166

Determining Just Deserts 166

Are We Autonomous? 169

MoralLuck 171

The Scope of the Moral Community 172

Conclusion 174

13. The Social Contract Tradition: The Theory
and Its Attractions 176
The Lure of Proceduralism 176

The Background of the Social Contract Theory 177

The Prisoner’s Dilemma 178

Cooperation and the State of Nature 181

The Advantages of Contractarianism 183

Morality Is Essentially a Social Phenomenon 183

It Explains and Justifies the Content of the Basic Moral Rules 183

It Offers a Method for Justifying Every Moral Rule 184

It Explains the Objectivity of Morality 185
It Explains W hy It Is Sometimes Acceptable to Break the Moral

Rules 185

More Advantages: Morality and

the Law 186

Contractarianism Justifies a Basic Moral Duty to Obey

the Law 186

The Contractarian Justification of Legal Punishment 186

Contractarianism Justifies the States Role in Criminal Law 187

Contractarianism and Civil Disobedience 188

14. The Social Contract Tradition: Problems
and Prospects 190
Why Be Moral? 190

The Role of Consent 194

Disagreement Among the Contractors 197

Contents ix

The Scope of the Moral Community 198

Conclusion 201

15. Ethical Pluralism and Absolute Moral Rules 202
The Structure of Moral Theories 202

Is Torture Always Immoral? 203
Preventing Catastrophes 205

The Doctrine of Double Effect 206

A Reply to the Argument from Disaster Prevention 208

How the DDE Threatens Act Consequentialism 208

Distinguishing Intention from Foresight 209

Moral Conflict and Contradiction 211

Is Moral Absolutism Irrational? 212

The Doctrine of Doing and Allowing 214

Conclusion 218

16. Ethical Pluralism: Prima Facie Duties
and Ethical Particularism 220
Ross’s Ethic of Prima Facie Duties 220
The Advantages of Ross’s View 222

Pluralism 222

We Are Sometimes Permitted to Break the Moral Rules 222

Moral Conflict 223

Moral Regret 224

Addressing the Anti-Absolutist Arguments 224

A Problem for Ross’s View 225
Knowing the Fundamental Moral Rules 226

Skepticism 227

Coherentism 227

Self-Evidence 229

Self-Evidence and the Testing of Moral Theories 230

Knowing the Right Thing to Do 231
Ethical Particularism 233

Three Problems for Ethical Particularism 235

Its Lack of Unity 235

Accounting for Moral Knowledge 236

Some Things Possess Permanent Moral Importance 237

Conclusion 238

X CONTENTS

17. Virtue Ethics 240
The Standard of Right Action 241

Moral Complexity 242

Moral Understanding 243

Moral Education 245

The Nature of Virtue 246

Virtue and the Good Life 248

Objections 249

Tragic Dilemmas 250

Does Virtue Ethics Offer Adequate Moral Guidance? 251

Is Virtue Ethics Too Demanding? 253

Who Are the Moral Role Models? 254

Conflict and Contradiction 254

The Priority Problem 256

Conclusion 258

18. Feminist Ethics 259
The Elements of Feminist Ethics 259

Moral Development 261

Women’s Experience 262

The Ethics of Care 265

The Importance of Emotions 266

Against Unification 267

Against Impartiality and Abstraction 268

Against Competition 268
Downplaying Rights 269

Challenges for Feminist Ethics 270

Conclusion 272

PART THREE

The Status of Morality 275

19. Ethical Relativism 276
Moral Skepticism 276

Two Kinds of Ethical Relativism 278
Some Implications of Ethical Subjectivism and Cultural

Relativism 279

Contents xi

Moral Infallibility 279

Moral Equivalence 280

No Intrinsic Value 280

Questioning Our Own Commitments 281

Moral Progress 281

Contradiction and Disagreement 283
Ideal Observers 288

Conclusion 291

20. Moral Nihilism 292
Error Theory 292

Expressivism 297

How Is It Possible to Argue Logically About Morality? 300

Expressivism and Amoralists 301

The Nature of Moral Judgment 301

Conclusion 303

21. Ten Arguments Against Moral Objectivity 305
1. Objectivity Requires Absolutism 306

2. All Truth Is Subjective 307

3. Equal Rights Imply Equal Plausibility 308

4. Moral Objectivity Supports Dogmatism 309

5. Moral Objectivity Supports Intolerance 310

6. Moral Disagreement Undermines Moral Objectivity 312

7. Atheism Undermines Moral Objectivity 313
8. The Absence of Categorical Reasons Undermines Moral

Objectivity 315

9. Moral Motivation Undermines Moral Objectivity 316

10. Values Have No Place in a Scientific World 318

Conclusion 321

References R-I

Suggestions for Further Reading FR-l

Glossary G-l

Index I-I

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

………. ,… …… . .

T
hiS book took me an unusually long time to write. Then, when it
was written, my wonderful editor Robert Miller (and his terrific
assistants, Yelena Bromberg and Christina Mancuso) commis­

sioned a number of fine philosophers to tell me what was wrong with it.
And they did. If you know philosophers, you know that they are experts at
finding the weak spots, the vulnerable points in a presentation or discus­
sion. There were plenty of these in earlier drafts, as well as missed oppor­
tunities to expand or clarify things. (I am sure that many remain, but to
take all of the good advice I received would have meant a book twice as
long as the one you are about to begin.) The initial drafts were pure plea­
sure. The revisions were not. But pain can lead to better things; it certainly
did in this case. In the pages to come you’ll be spared a number of errors,
and led to points of greater interest, thanks to the sharp inSights of Ralph
Baergen. Stacy Bautista, Tom Carson, Michael Cholbi, David Detmer,
Matthew Eshelman, Steve Finlay, Dan Hausman, Richard Haynes, Ryan
Hickerson, and Keith Allen Korcz. I am very grateful for the dozens of
constructive suggestions they sent my way.

Special thanks go to Tyler Doggett, Christian Miller, and David Sobel.
Each of these terrific philosophers devoted an extraordinary amount of seri­
ous attention to my manuscript. Their detailed advice nudged me in the direc­
tion of many improvements; I’m slightly terrified to think of the scope of my
indebtedness, and hope to flee the country before being called to repay it.

When my children were small, I would sometimes take a moment
to remind myself of how lucky I was. My kids were healthy. And they
were adorable. But I was sure that our joys together would be short-lived.
I expected my sweet little children to turn into sullen and alienated teens,
moping around the house and maintaining complete radio silence. That’s a
good description of me, some thirty years ago, and I just assumed that my
son and daughter would follow suit. They didn’t. I’ve never been happier to
have been proven wrong.

This book is dedicated to my beautiful children, Max and Sophie.

R.S.L.

Madison, Wisconsin
Autumn 2009

xii

A NOTE ON THE COMPANION VOLUME

. . . . . . . . . . ……. . . . . . . … .

T
here are two kinds of introductory books. One is the sort that you
have in your hand right now. It’s one person’s take on the subject,
and your fate, dear reader, depends on how reliable and engaging

that author happens to be. I have tried to be both, but you will have to be
the judge of that. There are benefits to a single-authored book. At its best,
you’ll get a coherent narrative that draws connections between various
discussions. You’ll be handed the important highlights, be introduced to
the really big ideas, and get an accurate take on the lay of the land.

But there is another approach, equally valid. And that is to hear what
the major figures in the area have to say, to familiarize yourself with the
original voices in the field. For those with an interest in going this route,
I have put together a companion volume, The Ethical Life: Fundamental
Readings in Ethics and Moral Problems, which allows you to do just that.

The Ethical Life gathers together readings from nearly forty authors on
the main subjects that are covered here. There are many entries on the good
life, on the central ethical theories, and on the status of morality. There are
also twenty additional readings on pressing moral problems, such as the
death penalty, terrorism, abortion, torture, animal rights, etc. The Ethi­
cal Life can be read with profit on its own, as a way of introducing you to
the major issues, questions, and views within moral philosophy. There are
many resources that can help readers through that book-introductions
to each reading, study questions, sample quiz and essay questions, sugges­
tions for further reading, and a website with lots of extra materials.

The fullest introduction to ethics would include both of these
approaches. The Ethical Life will give you lots of primary sources, and Fun­
damentals can help you to place them in context, clearly setting out their
ideas and providing some critical evaluation of their strengths and weak­
nesses. For those who are content to take my word for it, Fundamentals
will be enough. For those who want to see what other philosophers have to
say about these important matters, The Ethical Life might be a good place
to start. And for those of you attracted by both approaches, a dip into each
might be worth your while. Each book was composed with the other in
mind; each is designed to work nicely in tandem with the other, and to
offer a different perspective that can round out our understanding of how
we should live.

xiii

A NOTE TO READERS

….. ….. ,….. …… … .

T
hiS book is divided into three parts-one on the good life, another
on the major approaches to our moral duties, and the last on the
status of morality. You can read them in any order. Many will want

to begin at the end, for instance, with a discussion of whether morality is a
human invention, or is in some way objective. Some will prefer to start in
the middle, asking about the supreme principle of morality (and whether
there is any such thing). Each part can be understood independently of
the others, though there are naturally many points of connection across
the three main branches of moral philosophy. No matter where you begin,
there are footnotes in almost every chapter that provide cross-references
to relevant discussions elsewhere in the book.

When beginning a new area of study, you’re bound to encounter some
unfamiliar jargon. I’ve tried to keep this to a minimum, and I suppose that
you can be thankful that we’re doing ethics here, rather than physics or
anatomy. I define each technical term when I first use it, and have also put
together a glossary, which is placed at the end of the book. Each special­
ized term that appears in boldface has an entry there.

You may be interested enough in what you read here that you’ll want to
continue your studies in moral philosophy. There is a natural place to begin­
the companion volume to this book, The Ethical Life, described on the previ­
ous page. I have also compiled a list of suggestions for further reading for each
chapter or pair of chapters. These appear at the end of the book, just before
the glossary. I have selected the readings with an eye to what might be acces­
sible and interesting to those just beginning their study of moral philosophy.

The last bit of advice I have is this: please don’t skip the introduction.
It explains the nature of ethics and its various subfields. It discusses some
important starting points of moral thinking. It also takes you through the
elements of moral reasoning, which will come in handy as you make your
way through this book.

There is so much that is fascinating about ethics. This tempts a textbook
author to go on and on. And yet there are page limits that must be respected.
Deciding what to keep and what to leave on the editing floor has been a real
challenge. Perhaps you think that the balance hasn’t always been well struck.
Perhaps you find certain discussions unclear or boring. I’d like to know about
this. The best way to get in touch is by e-mail: shaferlandau@wisc.edu.

xiv

mailto:shaferlandau@wisc.edu

INTRODUCTION
. …. …. ,…… …….. .

The Lay of the Land
There is so much to know about our world. And for those who are the least bit
curious, we have more resources than ever to give us the insights we seek. We
can turn to a variety of scientists, doctors, economists, historians, and journal­
ists to help us better understand ourselves, our world, and our place within it.

But there is a set of vital questions that such experts will never answer.
These are questions about how we ought to live. Sure, financial advisors can
tell us how we ought to invest our money. Personal trainers can advise us on
getting in shape. Career counselors can steer us in one direction or another.
But if we are interested instead in what our guiding ideals should be, in
what sort of life is worth living, in how we should treat one another, then we
must turn to philosophy. Ethics-also known as moral philosophy-is the
branch of knowledge concerned with answering such questions.

The field of ethics is vast, and-bad news first-there is no chance of
covering all of its interesting and important issues within these pages. In
selecting the topics for treatment, I have chosen those that seem to me
most central. These can be grouped under three headings, each represent­
ing a core area of moral philosophy:

1. Value theoryl; What is the good life? What is worth pursuing for its
own sake? How do we improve our lot in life?

l All technical terms and phrases that appear in boldface are defined in the glossary at
the end of the book.

2 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

2. Normative ethics: What are our fundamental moral duties? What
kinds of actions are required if we hope to behave ethically? How
should we relate to one another? Which character traits count as
virtues, which as vices, and why? Who should our role models be?
Do the ends always justify the means, or are there certain types of
action that should never be done under any circumstances?

3. Metaethics: What is the status of moral claims and advice? Can
ethical theories, moral principles, or specific moral verdicts be
true? If so, what makes them true? Can we gain moral wisdom? If
so, how? Do we always have good reason to do our moral duty?

The structure of this book mirrors this three-fold division. The first
part is focused on value theory, which is that area of ethics concerned with
identifying what is valuable in its own right, and explaining the nature
of well-being. We ask, for instance, about whether happiness is the be-all
and end-all of a good life, the only thing desirable for its own sake. And,
naturally, we’ll consider views that deny this, including, most importantly,
the theory that tells us that getting what we want-whatever we want-is
the key to the good life.

Then it’s off to normative ethics, which is devoted to explaining the
essence of our moral relations with one another (and with ourselves, on
some theories). Who counts-are animals, ecosystems, or fetuses morally
important in their own right? Is there a fundamental moral rule, such as
the golden rule, that can account for all of our specific moral duties? What
role do virtue, self-interest, and justice play in the moral standards that
govern our behavior? Are we ever allowed to break the moral rules? If so,
when and why? These are among the most important questions taken up
in normative ethics.

Finally, to metaethics. This part of moral philosophy asks questions
about the other two. Specifically, it asks about the status of ethical claims,
rather than about their content. We all have views about what is right and
good. Are these merely personal expressions of taste? Is moral authority
based on personal approval? Social customs? God’s commands? Or none
of the above? Is morality in more or less good working order, or is it just a
convenient fiction that keeps us in our place? These are the questions that
we will take up in the last section of the book.

There is no shortage of folks offering advice about these matters. The
self-help industry has its gurus, motivational speakers, and bests ellers, each
aimed at guiding us on the path to a good life. Political pundits, religious

3 Introduction

leaders, and editorial writers are more than happy to offer us their blue­
prints for righteous living. They don’t always agree, of course. It would be
nice to have a way to sort out the decent advice from the rest.

Those of you turning to philosophical ethics for the first time are likely
to be hoping for something that I can’t provide, namely, a simple recipe for
doing the sorting. It is perfectly natural to want a clear method for distin­
gUishing correct from incorrect answers about the good life and our moral
duty. Indeed, when I first went to college, I enrolled in a philosophy course
hoping for just such a thing. My failure to find it led to acute disappoint­
ment. I left philosophy for a few years, and even dropped out of college
for a while. After I returned, I went looking for it again. It has taken a long
time to come to terms with the following thought: in this area of life, while
there is plenty of good advice, it can’t be summed up in one snappy for­
mula, captured in a neat slogan that can be lightly dispensed at a cocktail
party or a family dinner table.

Ethics is hard. It needn’t be weakness or fuzzy thinking that stands
in the way of knowing the right thing to do, or the proper goals to strive
for. We are right to be puzzled by the moral complexity we find in our
lives, and while we might yearn for clarity and simplicity, this wish for easy
answers is bound to be repeatedly frustrated.

When people learn of the difficulties that face each important attempt
to solve ethical puzzles, they often give in to skepticism. The major temp­
tation is to regard the entire enterprise as bankrupt, or to think that all
ethical views are equally plausible.

But I encourage you to resist the diagnosis that, in ethics, anything
goes. Moral thinking is disciplined thinking. There are many ways that we
can go wrong in our moral reflections, and failure here can have the most
disastrous consequences. Though it is sometimes hard to know when we
have got it right in ethics, it is often very easy to know when we (or oth­
ers) have made a mistake. There are clear cases of people ruining their
lives, or doing morally horrific things. What is extremely hard is devising a
problem- free theory that can account for all of the easy cases, and so offer
accurate guidance in the difficult ones.

Ethical Starting Points
One of the puzzles about moral thinking is knowing where to begin. Some
skeptics about morality deny that there are any proper starting points for
ethical reflection. They believe that moral reasoning is simply a way of

4 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

rationalizing our biases and gut feelings. This outlook encourages us to
be lax in moral argument and, worse, supports an attitude that no moral
views are any better than others. While this sort of skepticism might be
true, we shouldn’t regard it as the default view of ethics. We should accept
it only as a last resort.

In the meantime, let’s consider some fairly plausible moral assump­
tions, claims that can get us started in our moral thinking. The point of the

exercise is to soften you up to the idea that we are not just spinning our
wheels when thinking morally. There are reasonable constraints that can
guide us when thinking about how to live. Here are some of them:

• Neither the law nor tradition is immune from moral criticism.
The law does not have the final word on what is right and wrong.

Neither does tradition. Actions that are legal, or customary, are
sometimes morally mistaken.

• Everyone is morally fallible. Everyone has some mistaken moral
views, and no human being is wholly wise when it comes to ethical

matters.

• Friendship is valuable. Having friends is a good thing. Friendships
add value to your life. You are better off when there are people you
deeply care about, and who care deeply about you.

• We are not obligated to do the impossible. Morality can only
demand so much of us. Moral standards that are impossible to meet
are illegitimate. Morality must respect our limitations.

• Children bear less moral responsibility than adults. Moral
responsibility assumes an ability on our part to understand options,
to make decisions in an informed way, and to let our decisions
guide our behavior. The fewer of these abilities people have, the less
blameworthy they are for any harm they might cause.

• Justice is a very important moral good. Any moral theory that
treats justice as irrelevant is deeply suspect. It is important that we
get what we deserve, and that we are treated fairly.

• Deliberately hurting other people requires justification. The
default position in ethics is: do no harm. It is sometimes morally
acceptable to harm others, but there must be an excellent reason for
doing so.

• Equals ought to be treated equally. People who are alike in all
relevant respects should get similar treatment. When this fails to
happen-when racist or sexist policies are enacted, for instance­
then something has gone wrong.

5 Introduction

• Self-interest isn’t the only ethical consideration. How well-off we
are is important. But it isn’t the only thing of moral importance.
Morality sometimes calls on us to set aside our own interests for the
sake of others.

• Agony is bad. Excruciating physical or emotional pain is bad. It
may sometimes be appropriate to cause such extreme suffering, but
doing so requires a very powerful justification.

• Might doesn’t make right. People in power can get away with lots
of things that the rest of us can’t. That doesn’t justify what they do.
That a person can escape punishment is one thing-whether his
actions are morally acceptable is another.

• Free and informed requests prevent rights violations. If, with eyes
wide open and no one twisting your arm, you ask someone to do
something for you, and she does it, then your rights have not been
violated-even if you end up hurt as a result.

There are a number of points to make about these claims. First, this
short list isn’t meant to be exhaustive. It could be made much longer. Sec­
ond, I am not claiming that the items on this list are beyond criticism. I am
only saying that each one is very plausible. Substantial moral investiga­
tion might undermine our confidence in some cases. The point, though,
is that without such detailed argument, it is perfectly reasonable to begin
our moral thinking with the items on this list. Third, many of these claims
require interpretation in order to apply them in a satisfying way. When
we say, for instance, that equals ought to be treated equally, we leave all of
the interesting questions open. (What makes people equals? Can we treat
people equally without treating them in precisely the same way? If so, how
do we determine whether we are treating people equally?)

Not only do we have a variety of plausible starting points for our ethi­
cal investigations; we also have a number of obviously poor beginnings
for moral thinking. A morality that celebrates genocide, torture, treachery,
sadism, hostility, and slavery is, depending on how you look at it, either
no morality at all or a deeply failed one. Any morality worth the name
will place some importance on justice, fairness, kindness, and reasonable­
ness. Just how much importance, and how to balance things in cases of
conflict-that is where the real philosophy gets done.

Moral Reasoning
In addition to these remarks about appropriate (and inappropriate) start­
ing points for ethical thinking, we should also note that some common

6 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

errors can undermine moral reasoning. These errors serve as further evi­
dence that not everything is up for grabs when it comes to ethics.

Moral reasoning, like all reasoning, involves at least two things: a set of
reasons, and a conclusion that these reasons are meant to support. When
you put these two things together, you have what philosophers call an
argument. This isn’t a matter of bickering or angrily exchanging words. An
argument is simply any chain of thought in which reasons (philosophers
call these premises) are offered in support of a particular conclusion.

Not all arguments are equally good. This is as true in ethics as it is sci­
ence, mathematics, or politics. It is easy to mistake one’s way when it comes
to ethical thinking. We can land at the wrong conclusion (by endorsing
child abuse, for instance). We can also arrive at the right one by means of
terrible reasoning. We must do our best to avoid both of these mistakes.

In other words, our moral thinking should have two complementary
goals-getting it right, and being able to back up our views with flawless
reasoning. We want the truth, both in the starting assumptions we bring to
an issue and in the conclusions we eventually arrive at. But we also want to
make sure that our views are supported by excellent reasons. And this pro­
vides two tests for good moral reasoning: (1) We must avoid false beliefs,

and (2) the logic of our moral thinking must be rigorous and error-free.
The first test is pretty easy to understand. Consider the following

quote from the pro-slavery author Richard Colfax. Writing in 1833, he
tells us that:

[Tlhe mind will be great in proportion to the size and figure of the

brain: it is equally reasonable to suppose, that the acknowledged mean­
ness of the negroe’s intellect, only coincides with the shape of his head;

or in other words, that his want of capability to receive a complicated

education renders it improper and impolitic, that he should be allowed

the privileges of citizenship in an enlightened country.2

And here is William John Grayson, antebellum congressman and sen­
ator from South Carolina, on the same subject:

Slavery is the negro system of labor. He is lazy and improvident ….

What more can be required of Slavery, in reference to the negro, than
has been done? It has made him, from a savage, an orderly and efficient

2 Richard H. Colfax, Evidence Against the Views of the Abolitionists, Consisting of Physi­
cal and Moral Proofs, of the Natural Inferiority of the Negroes (New York: James T. M. Bleakley
Publishers, 1833), p. 25.

drugs such as

Introduction 7

labourer. It supports him in comfort and peace. It restrains his vices. It

improves his mind, morals and manners …. There is a poor and suffer­

ing class in all countries-the richest and most civilized not excepted­
labourers who get their daily bread by daily work, and the slave is as
well provided for as any other.’

There are false beliefs galore in these (and other) defenses of American
chattel slavery. Africans, and those of African descent, are not inherently
lazy. or unfit for a complicated education; they do not have heads with dif­
ferent shapes than whites; head shape is not correlated with intelligence;
slaves were not as well provided for as paid laborers. When one starts with

false assumptions, the entire chain of reasoning becomes suspect. Good
reasoning. in ethics as elsewhere. must avoid false beliefs if we are to have
any confidence in its conclusions.

But it is possible to develop moral arguments that rely just on true
premises, and yet for such arguments to fail. The failure is of the second
sort just mentioned: a failure of logic.

Consider this argument:

1. Heroin is a drug.
2. Selling heroin is illegal.
3. Therefore. heroin use is immoral.

This is a moral argument. It is a set of reasons deSigned to support
a moral conclusion. Both of the premises are true. But they do not ade­
quately support the conclusion, since one can accept them while consis­
tently rejecting this conclusion. Perhaps the use of illegal
heroin really is immoral. But we need a further reason to think so-we
would need. for instance. the additional claim that all drug use is immoral.
or the separate claim that any illegal activity is also morally wrong.

The argument in its present form is a poor one. But not because it
relies on false claims. Rather. the argument’s logical structure is to blame.
The logic of an argument is a matter of how its premises are related to
its conclusion. In the best arguments, the truth of the premises guaran­
tees the truth of the conclusion. When an argument has this feature. it is
logically valid.

The heroin argument is invalid. The truth of its premises does not guar­
antee the truth of its conclusion-indeed, the conclusion may be false.

3 William John Grayson, The Hireling and the Slave (Charleston, S.c.: John Russell, 1855),
pp. vii, xiv,

8 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

Since the best arguments are logically valid, we will want to make sure
that our own arguments meet this condition. But how can we do that?
How can we tell a valid from an invalid argument, one that is logically
perfect from one that is logically shaky?

There is a simple, three-part test:

1. Identify all of the premises.
2. Imagine that aU of the premises are true (even if you know that

some are false). Then ask yourself this question:
3. Supposing that all of the premises were true, could the conclusion

be false? If yes: the argument is invalid. The premises do not guar­
antee the conclusion. If no: the argument is valid. The premises offer
perfect logical support for the conclusion.

Validity is a matter of how well the premises support the conclusion.
To test for this, we must assume that aU of an argument’s premises are true.
We then ask whether the conclusion must therefore be true. If so, the argu­
ment is valid. If not, not.

Note that an argument’s validity is a matter of the argument’s struc­
ture. It has nothing to do with the actual truth or falsity of an argument’s
premises or conclusion. Indeed, valid arguments may contain false prem­
ises and false conclusions.

To help clarify the idea, consider the following argument. Suppose
you are a bit shaky on your U.S. history, and I am trying to convince you
that John Quincy Adams was the ninth president of the United States.
I offer you the following line of reasoning:

1. John Quincy Adams was either the eighth or the ninth U.S. president.
2. John Quincy Adams was not the eighth U.S. president.
3. Therefore, John Quincy Adams was the ninth u.s. president.

In one way, this reasoning is impeccable. It is logically flawless. This
is a valid argument. If all premises of this argument were true, then
the conclusion would have to be true. It is impossible for 1 and 2 to be
true and 3 to be false. It passes our test for logical validity with flying
colors.

But the argument is still a bad one-not because of any logical error,
but because it has a false premise (number 1; Quincy Adams was the sixth
u.s. president.) And a false conclusion. The truth of an argument’s prem­
ises is one thing; its logical status is another.

9 Introduction

The lesson here is that truth isn’t everything; neither is logic. We need
them both. What we want in philosophy, as in all other areas of inquiry, are
arguments that have two features: (I) they are logically watertight (valid),
and (2) all of their premises are true. These arguments are known as sound
arguments.

Sound arguments are the gold standard of good reasoning. And it’s
easy to see why. They are logically valid. So if all of their premises are true,
their conclusion must be true as well. And by definition, sound arguments
contain only true premises. So their conclusions are true. If you can tell
that an argument is valid, and also know that each premise is correct, then
you can also know that the conclusion is true. That is what we are after.

I started this section by claiming that not all moral arguments are
equally good. Were now in a position to see why. Some arguments rely on
false premises. Others rely on invalid reasoning. Still others-the worst of
the lot-commit both kinds of error.

To reinforce these points, consider one more moral argument. Some
people say that killing animals and eating meat is morally okay, because
animals kill other animals, and there is nothing immoral about that. Is this
a plausible line of reasoning?

Not as it stands. To see this, let’s reconstruct the argument by stating
it in premise-conclusion form. This is something that I’m going to do for
dozens of arguments over the coming pages. For those of you who want to
improve your philosophy skills, theres no better way to do so than to take a
line of reasoning in ordinary English and try to set it out step by step. That
makes it easier to tell just what is being claimed, and so easier to determine
the truth of the premises and the logical structure of the argument.

Here is my take on this popular Argument for Meat Eating:

1. It is morally acceptable for nonhuman animals to kill and eat other
animals.

2. Therefore, it is morally acceptable for human beings to kill and eat
nonhuman animals.

As stated, there is only one premise to this argument. And it is true. So
if the argument is problematic, it has to be because of its logic.

And that is indeed its flaw. The argument is invalid; the premise does
not adequately support the conclusion. We can assume that the prem­
ise is true (indeed, we should accept it), but the conclusion might still be
false. The truth of the premise is not enough to guarantee the truth of

10 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

the conclusion, since what is morally acceptable for animals may not be
morally acceptable for us. We would need a further premise, to the effect
that we are allowed to do anything that animals do, in order to make this
argument valid.

So as it stands, the Argument for Meat Eating is invalid. Therefore it is
unsound. Does that mean that its conclusion is false?

No. And here is another important lesson about reasoning: bad argu­
ments may contain true conclusions. After all, even true claims can be
supported by poor reasoning. The fact that the Argument for Meat Eating
is invalid does not show that its conclusion is false. It only shows that this
particular way of defending that conclusion is no good. For all we know,
there might be other, better arguments that can do the trick.

The Argument for Meat Eating, like many other invalid arguments,
can be modified so that it takes on a logically perfect form. Indeed, a char­
itable reading of the argument would show that there is an underlying
assumption that, if brought out into the open, would allow us to transform
it into a valid argument. W ith a little tweaking, for instance, we get:

1. If it is morally acceptable for nonhuman animals to kill and eat one
another, then it is morally acceptable for humans to kill and eat
nonhuman animals. (This is the underlying assumption.)

2. It is morally acceptable for nonhuman animals to kill and eat one
another.

3. Therefore, it is morally acceptable for humans to kill and eat nonhu­
man animals.

And this argument is logically perfect. If premises 1 and 2 are true,
then the conclusion, 3, has to be true.

But even this version is unsound. Not because it is invalid, but because
it now contains a false premise. Premise 2 is true. But premise 1 is not.
Four reasons explain this.

First, animals that eat other animals have no choice in the matter. We do.
Second, a carnivore’s survival depends on its eating other animals.

Ours does not. W ith rare exceptions, human beings can survive perfectly
well without eating animal flesh. There are hundreds of millions of veg­
etarians leading healthy lives.

Third, none of the animals we routinely eat (chickens, cows, pigs,
sheep, ducks, rabbits) are carnivores. They don’t eat other animals, so if
their behavior is supposed to guide our own, then we should follow their
lead and eat only plants.

Introduction 11

Fourth, it is implausible to look to animals for moral guidance. Ani­
mals are not moral agents-they can t guide their behavior by means of ‘
moral reasoning. That explains why they have no moral duties, and why
they are immune from moral criticism. But we, obviously, are moral agents,
and we can guide our behavior by the moral decisions we make.

Again, this analysis does not prove that the argument’s conclusion is
false. It just shows that this version of the argument, like the original, is
unsound. Meat eating may be perfectly morally acceptable. But this argu­
ment fails to show it so.

I have spent a lot of time on this argument, not because I want to
defend a view about whether vegetarianism is morally required, but
because I want to illustrate the possibility of real moral argumentation. We
started with a version of the argument that has convinced a lot of people.
But when we laid it out clearly, we could see that it was invalid. So we
modified it, making an underlying assumption explicit, and doing so in a
way that gave us a logically perfect argument. But even this improved ver­
sion is unsound, because its first premise is false.

Can we be absolutely sure that the premise is false? No. I will be the
first to admit that further argument might reveal the error of my think­
ing. W hat’s more, there is no foolproof method that can perfectly sort true
claims from false ones. We may offer excellent reasons and arguments on
behalf of our moral views, but at the end of the day, it’s possible that not
everyone will be convinced.

But this is no different from any other area of inquiry. There is no
litmus test that can distinguish all true biological claims from false ones,
accurate economic forecasts from the inaccurate, correct chemistry
hypotheses from incorrect ones. There is potential for disagreement in all
areas of thinking.

The absence of a perfectly reliable test for truth does not mean that
all claims are equally true, or that truth is in the eye of the beholder. The
earth is not a cube. Six is less than ten. Queen Victoria is dead. Cats are
animals. These claims are each true. Their opposites are false. And our say­
so has nothing to do with it. These claims would be true even if we were
not around to make them. They aren t true because we think they are; we ‘
think they are true because they are.

Perhaps things are this way in ethics, too. We will spend a lot of time
considering whether that is so, when we discuss metaethics in the last part of
the book. For right now, the important thing to note is that we must rely on
our good sense and good judgment in all areas of investigation, not just in

12 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

ethics. The lack of a precision test for truth does not spell the defeat of moral
inquiry, since other areas of investigation get along just fine without one.

Moral reasoning is just what its name implies-offering and evaluat­
ing reasons designed to support moral conclusions. It is not merely a mat­
ter of doing a gut check and venting one’s feelings. Not every reason is a
good one. Some reasons fail to support their conclusions. Others represent
false beliefs. And while it is sometimes hard to separate fact from fiction,
this needn’t hobble us. Many claims are clearly true, many clearly false.
For the others, there is evidence and argument that we can bring in to try
to settle the matter. This won’t always yield decisive results. But that’s the
nature of our situation. We can’t always be sure of things, in ethics or else­
where. That shouldn’t prevent us from trying to get it right, and backing up
our moral views with the best possible reasons.

The Role of Moral Theory
A great deal of philosophy is done at a pretty high level of abstraction.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, even though reading and thinking at
that level is typically more challenging and less fun than getting engrossed
in the details of a well-written novel or historical narrative. Of course we’ll
need to get back down to earth and familiarize ourselves with the specific
facts of a case before knowing what to do in a given situation. But accord­
ing to most philosophers, knowing what to do here and now also requires
that we have a sure grasp of very general moral principles. Knowing which
principles are plausible, and how they relate to one another, is a large part
of what moral philosophy is all about.

Moral philosophy is primarily a matter of thinking about the attrac­
tions of various ethical theories. When we develop and test these theories,
we are bound to look beyond the details of specific cases. We are trying to
find the deepest truths about our subject matter-how to live. Such truths
are wide-ranging and apply to countless cases. That’s why moral philoso­
phers so often look beyond the details of specific cases and focus instead
on very general principles.

Moral theorizing is the result of a perfectly natural process of think­
ing. We are questioning beings, interested in seeking out ever deeper
explanations of things. And we are uneasy if there is no chance of a uni­
fying explanation, an account that can coherently organize the various
aspects of our thinking and experience. This is clear in psychology, for
instance, where researchers have always been drawn to unifying views

Introduction 13

of human motivation. For many psychologists, it all comes down to self­
interest (egoists), or to how we have been conditioned (behaviorists), or
our sexual impulses (Freudians), etc. This process is evident in physics,
too, where the dream is one day to discover the unified theory-a single
master principle that will explain all of the workings of the physical world,
from the movements of subatomic particles to the behavior of the largest
stars and galaxies.

The same desire for unification and simplicity is also present in eth­
ics. We might begin a conversation by insisting on the immorality of some
specific action-say, revealing a patient’s confidential information. But
someone might challenge our view, and in reply, we would cite a moral
rule to back it up: Revealing such information is wrong because it betrays
a trust. But why is it wrong to betray a trust? Because (we might say) such
actions fail to show respect for the person who has been betrayed. But why
is it wrong to fail to show respect? And is it always wrong to do such a
thing, or are there exceptions? If there are exceptions, what explains them?
This is a perfectly natural way of going on. We are searching for increas­
ingly general moral principles with the power to explain more and more
cases, and also to explain why more specific moral principles are justified.
The hope is eventually to land on just a single principle, one that will do all
of the explaining we need in the moral realm.

Suppose that we think really carefully about our moral beliefs, and
find that we ultimately justify them by means of four principles:

• Don’t impose unnecessary harm.
• Be nice to others.
• Don’t break your word.
• Tell the truth.

Is there a next step? Of course! Aren’t you curious to know whether
there is a yet more general rule, one that can unify these four principles
and explain why they, too, are justified? Like researchers in most areas,
moral philosophers remain dissatisfied unless they can offer a truly com­
prehensive theory that will unify and impose order on our thoughts. Phys­
icists want this. Psychologists want this. So do philosophers.

That’s why our focus will mostly be on these very general ethical theo­
ries. They represent the natural outgrowth of some extremely compelling
ethical ideas-ones that you surely have relied on in trying to justify your
own moral views. There is something important in taking our core ethi­
cal beliefs and seeing where they lead. They lead to ethical theories; doing

14 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

moral philosophy is the process of tracing the lines that connect our basic
moral views to these more deVeloped theories, and then testing them to see
how well they can hold up against our curiosity and critical intelligence.

Looking Ahead
In the pages to come, I present and evaluate a lot of arguments. These are
the ones at the very heart of morality, the ones that try to offer answers to
the deepest questions of ethics. As we will see, no fundamental theory­
about the good life, our moral duties, or the status of morality-has earned
anything like unanimous support among philosophers.

I say this not to dash your hopes, but to give you a realistic take on
what to expect. There is a very broad consensus on a number of points in

ethics. Consider, for instance, the twelve claims mentioned earlier in this
introduction, a sampling that could easily have been expanded. The moral
issues that tend to capture our attention are those that are hotly disputed.
W hat often goes unnoticed is the substantial amount of moral agreement,
even across societies and eras.

Still, when it comes to devising a theory that can offer a comprehen­
sive account of morality, things become much trickier. And then a natural,
despairing thought: Greater minds than ours have spent lifetimes trying
to solve the core questions of ethics, and none of their theories has gained
universal support. So what’s the use?

It’s a fair question. But there is a good answer. We are thinking about
how to live; what could be more important than that? We can make a lot

of progress in our own thinking by studying the thoughts and arguments
of those who have devoted so much effort to this vital task. We may realize
that our own “philosophy of life” is marred in ways that we hadn’t foreseen.
Or we might come to appreciate certain benefits of our views that had
escaped our notice. Those of you who work your way through this book
will certainly be in a much better position to critically assess your own
moral views, and to improve your thinking about how to live your life.

What ethicists across the ages have done is to take a fundamental
insight, one that is usually very widely shared-say, that happiness is the
key to a good life, that we must treat everyone fairly, that we must prevent
harm-and see how far we can get by consistently applying this insight.
Consistency is not to be sneezed at. It’s not the hobgoblin of little minds, but
a minimum test of a theory’s plausibility. Inconsistent, contradictory views
cannot be true, which is why philosophers try so hard to avoid them.

Introduction 15

Suppose that you are involved in a moral debate, or are thinking about
how to improve your own life. If you go deep enough, you’ll probably land
on a view that you can no longer defend. Perhaps it’s one of the twelve
mentioned earlier. Perhaps it’s something else. W hatever it is, the truth of
that view is important. And unsurprisingly, philosophers across the ages
will have examined that view very carefully. We can learn from their work.
We can find out what is attractive about these starting points. And we can
also discover how they might be vulnerable.

That’s not everything. Agreed. You won’t find, by the end of the book,
a recipe for the best life, or a simple step-by-step guide for doing your duty.
This book does not belong on the self-help shelves. You probably already
figured that out, since such manuals are a lot chattier and far easier to read
than this one. But those books never get to the deepest issues-most of
them assume, for instance, that happiness is what we should be trying for,
or that getting what you want is what life is all about. Philosophers subject
such thoughts to intense scrutiny. And it isn’t clear whether they survive.

Let’s start our work together by having a look at these views, ones
that focus on the good life for human beings. There are a lot of surprises
in store.

other words,- _need a s1i!ndanI11ntt-wilttdl-us when our
will help us determine our level

CHAPTER 1

………. ,….. ………

Hedonism: Its Powerful Appeal

Happiness and Intrinsic Value
If you are like me, and like everyone else I know, you’ve spent a fair bit of
time thinking about how your life can go better. You may be doing pretty
well already, or may be very badly off, or somewhere in between. But there
is always room for improvement.

To know h j.tr lives can be better, we first need to know how they
can be good:ln
lives are going well for us. That stan’dard
of well-being, or welfare.

Many things c rilmprove our well-being: clean water, regular medical
attention, safe neighborhoods, a reasonable amount of money. But having
these things isn’t what a good life consists of. Rather, these things pave
the way to a better life-they help to make it possible, and may, in some
cases, even be indispensable to it. Philosophers call such things instru­
mental goods,” things that are valuable because of the good things they
bring about.

Vaccinations, sturdy shoes, and dental cleanings all fall into this cat­
egory. They aren’t worth having for their own sake. A vaccine that fails
to prevent disease is worthless. This is because the value it has-like that
of sturdy shoes and clean teeth-comes only from its role in helping us
achieve something else. Something truly important.

* All terms and phrases that appear in boldface are defined in a glossary at the end of
the book.

18

PART ONE

The Good Life

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
r-.. ………………… .

Hedonism: Its Powerful Appeal 19

If there are instrumental goods, then there must also be something
worth pursuing for its own sake, whose goodness is self-contained, some­
thing valuable in its own right, even if it brings nothing else in its wake.
Such things are intrinsically valuable.

A good life is going to contain a lot of what is intrinsically valuable. So
what we really need to know is this: What is intrinsically valuable?

We are looking for something whose presence, all by itself, makes us
better off. A natural way to start thinking about this is to consider some
clearly good lives, ones that definitely qualify as being good for the people
who live them. My top ten wouldn’t include those of anyone youa ever
heard of. Instead, I’d pick the lives of certain of my friends and acquain­
tances, people who are deeply invested in their exciting work, lucky enough
to have some strong and loving relationships, physically healthy and active,
and possessed of modest but real self-esteem and self-respect. But there is
no need to b e limited by my choices. Think about your own top candi­
dates, and then ask yourself this question: What makes each of those lives
so good? Is there a single feature that each of them shares, something that
explains why they are as good as they are? If so, what is it?

The most popular answer is just what youa expect: happiness. In this
view, a good life is a happy life. This means something pretty specific. It
means that happiness is necessary for a good life; a life without happiness
cannot be a good life. It also means that happiness is sufficient for a good
life: When you are happy, your life is going well. The happier you are, the
better your life is going for you. And the unhappier you are, the worse off
you are.

In this view, there is only a single thing that is intrinsically valuable:
happiness. Everything else is valuable only to the extent that it makes us
happy. Likewise, there is just one thing that is intrinsically bad: unhappi­
ness. Unhappiness is the only thing that directly reduces our quality of life.

There is a name for this kind of view: hedonism. The term comes from
the Greek word hedone, which means pleasure. According to hedonists, a
life is good to the extent that it is filled with pleasure and is free of pain.

Before we can assess hedonism, we have to recognize that there are
two fundamental kinds of pleasure: physical pleasure and attitudinal plea­
sure (enjoyment). The first kind is the sort we experience when we taste
the tang of a delicious fall apple, or when we let the jets from a hot tub
dissolve the tension in our backs. These very different kinds of pleasurable
feelings usually make us happy, at least for the moment. But such feelings
are not the same thing as happiness.

20 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

As the hedonist understands it, happiness is attitudinal pleasure: the
positive attitude of enjoyment. It can range in intensity from mild content­
ment to elation. Being happy does not necessarily feel like anything; there
is no special sensation or physical quality associated with happiness. I can
enjoy a home-team victory or a beautiful painting without experiencing
any physical pleasure.

In order to be at all plausible, hedonism must be understood as the
view that enjoyment, rather than physical pleasure, is the key to the good
life. This may come as a surprise, since we nowadays think of hedonists as
those who are always in pursuit of sensual pleasures. But we must abandon
that contemporary association, and fix our sights instead on the view that
identifies the good life as one that is full of sustained enjoyment, contain­
ing only minimal sadness and misery. That is the hedonist’s model of the
best life for human beings.

Happiness, understood from now on as enjoyment, is indeed a good

candidate for an intrinsic value. I It’s not like an amputation, or a patrol
walk through a minefield. If such things generate no benefits-if, say, the
amputation was performed on the wrong limb, or the patrol yields no

military advantage-then there is nothing valuable about them. They are
good, when they are, only because of the benefits they bring about. Thus
they are only instrumentally good. Happiness isn’t like that. It is worth
pursuing for its own sake. It is valuable in its own right.

Some people deny this. Those who do often ask us to imagine the
happiness enjoyed by a sadist when he is torturing his victims. Can this
be a good thing? Philosophers are divided. Hedonists claim that the
sadist’s enjoyment is a good thing, though outweighed by the suffering
of his victim. Others refuse to accept this. Happiness, they say, is usually
a good thing, but in some cases, like that of the sadist, it can be positively
bad. And if it can sometimes be bad, then happiness is not an intrinsic
value.

The case of the sadist raises some very deep and difficult issues. Rather
than try to solve them here (we discuss this case in the next chapter), con­
sider a strategy that gives a little to either side. We might say that happiness,
when it is acceptably enjoyed, is valuable for its own sake. But it needn’t be
unconditionally valuable. that is, valuable in every possible circumstance.
It might be. But even if it isn’t-even if there are cases where happiness
lacks value-we can say that when it is valuable, it is valuable in its own
right. It is intrinsically valuable, even if the jury is still out as to whether it
is unconditionally valuable.

Hedonism: Its Powerful Appeal 21

The Attractions of Hedotlism

Hedonism can trace its origins in the West to the ancient Greeks. Epicurus
(341-270 BeE), the first great hedonist, argued that pleasure was the only
thing worth pursuing. Yet he was not calling on us to pursue carnal plea­
sures. Epicurus argued that the most pleasant condition is one of inner
peace. The ideal state of enduring tranquility comes largely from two
sources: moderation in all physical matters, and intellectual clarity about
what is truly important.

Philosophy is the path to such clarity. Philosophy can reveal the false
beliefs that cause so much unhappiness-specifically, as Epicurus saw it,
our beliefs that death is bad for us, that the gods are mean-spirited and
easily angered, and that financial wealth and lots of sex are key ingredients
to the good life. With the aid of keen philosophical inSight, we can under­
stand the error of such popular ways of thinking, and thereby ease our way
on the path to happiness.

Skip ahead a couple thousand years and consider the view of Eng­
lish philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), perhaps the most famous
hedonist since Epicurus. Mill hoped to rebut the widespread charge that
hedonism advises us to live like animals , gaining as much brute pleasure
as possible. Mill argued that the pleasures fit for human beings were of a
more elevated sort, those to do with intellectual and artistic development.
Mill thought that men and women of true refinement, with experience
of both physical and intellectual pleasures, always prefer the intellectual
pleasures. That was good enough for him, since he also thought that the
true test of something’S value was the approval of those with knowledge
and experience.

As you might expect from a view whose popularity spans thousands
of years, there is a great deal to be said on behalf of hedonism. Here are the
most important reasons that have earned it such broad support.

There Are Many Models of a Good Life
There are a variety of ways to live a good life, and hedonism explains why
this is so: There are many paths to happiness. Can woodcutters, profes­
sional athletes, or musicians live very good lives? Not according to Plato
(427 -347 BeE) and courseworkhero.co.uk (384-322 BeE), who thought that philosophi­
cal contemplation held the key to a truly good life. Nowadays we are likely
to reject such views as narrow-minded and elitist. We think, instead, that
people from all walks of life, with varying degrees of education, have the

22 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

potential to be well-off. This democratic view about the prospects for the
good life fits comfortably with the hedonistic outlook. Because the sources
of happiness vary quite widely, and happiness is the key to a good life,
there is a broad range of options for living a good life.

Hedonism offers us a kind of flexibility that some of its competitors
lack. Many of these competitors identify a kind of activity, such as doing
philosophy, as the summum bonum (the greatest good). They then say that
those who don’t pursue it, or who pursue it badly, are unable to lead a good
life. Hedonism rejects all such “top-down” approaches. The best activity
for human beings is the one that brings us the greatest happiness. But what
makes me happy needn’t make you happy, and so the activities that con­
tribute to my good life may bear little resemblance to yours.

Personal Authority and Well-Being
This diversity of good lives has an interesting implication: Hedonists pro­
vide each of us with a substantial say in what the good life looks like. And
that seems a plus. What makes us happy is largely, if not entirely, a matter
of personal choice. As a result, each of us gets a great deal of input into
what makes our lives go well.

So long as we really do know what will make us happy, hedonism sup­
ports the resistance we feel when others try to tell us how to live our lives.
And when others counsel us, for our own good, to give up happiness and
to pursue a less enjoyable way ofHfe, hedonism assures us that such advice
is deeply mistaken.

In one sense, however, hedonism does not allow us to have the final
say about what is good for us. If hedonism is true, then happiness improves
our lives, whether we think so or not. According to hedonists, those who
deny that happiness is the ultimate good are wrong, no matter how sin­
cere their denial. In this way, hedonism follows a middle path between
approaches to the good life that dictate a one-size-fits-all model and those
that allow each person to decide for herself exactly what is valuable.

Misery Clearly Hampers a Good Life; Happiness
Clearly Improves It
Hedonism claims that misery takes away from a good life, and this is
hard to deny. To test this claim, imagine a life full of sadness, with no
compensating enjoyments. Surely this life is bad for the person who
leads it. It may be good in other respects-the very sad person might,
for instance, be morally admirable or artistically brilliant. But we are not
asking whether the life is good in any respect at all. Rather, we are asking

Hedonism: Its Powerful Appeal 23

about whether the life is going well for the person living it. Specifically, we
are asking whether a really miserable person can have a high level of well­
being. This is hard to accept, and hedonism explains why that is.

Hedonism also claims that happiness improves one’s welfare. To test
this, again imagine two people leading identical lives, with only one excep­
tion. The first person enjoys the various aspects of his life, whereas the
second person is completely indifferent to them. Surely the first person is
better off. If we were to choose between these lives solely on the basis of
what would be best for us, wecr have no difficulty opting for the first. That
is precisely what hedonism would recommend.

The Limits of Explanation
The intrinsic value of happiness seems about as self-evident as anything in
ethics. And the value of everything else seems easily explained by showing
how it leads to happiness.

If hedonism is true, then happiness directly improves one’s welfare,
and sadness directly undermines it. Just about everyone believes that.
Indeed, how could we even argue for a claim as basic as this? This is where
thinking in this area starts. Perhaps no claim about well-being is more
fundamental than the one that declares the importance of experiencing
happiness and avoiding misery.

When we undertake something that is painful or difficult, it makes
sense to ask why weCl do such a thing. Suppose, for instance, that you spot
me red-faced, huffing and puffing, as I make my way around a track. Why
am I willing to suffer so? To get in shape. Why is that important? To be
healthy. Why is that important? Because it makes me happy. That’s where
all such lines of questioning seem naturally to end. If being healthy only
made me miserable-not easy to conceive, but possible-then what good
would it do me? It might make me more attractive, or allow me to live lon­
ger, or make me a better athlete, but if those things didn’t make me happy,
it is hard to see how I am better off for being healthy.

It is perfectly sensible for us to ask about how wecr be better off by
studying hard, playing by the rules, dieting, or telling the truth. We can
defend the value of such things if we can show that they make us happier.
But that only shows that they are instrumental goods. By contrast, we don’t
need to show that happiness leads to anything else in order to show that it is
valuable. We recognize that to be happy is already to be in a desirable state.
This supports the hedonist’s claim that happiness is intrinsically valuable.

Hedonists need to show not only that happiness is intrinsically valu­
able, but that happiness is the only thing that possesses such importance.

24 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

This is harder to justify. If they are to succeed, hedonists must show that
anything else makes us better off only by making us happy.

Rules of the Good Life-and Their Exceptions
Hedonism can justify the many rules for living a good life, while at the
same time explaining why there are exceptions to these rules.

For almost every adult, improving one’s lot in life will require freedom
from negative things such as manipulation, debilitating illness, enslavement,
deep indebtedness, constant worry, relentless ridicule, unwanted attention,
treachery, and physical brutality. Those who are suffering from any one of
these afflictions will see an immediate improvement in their lives if something
on that list goes away. The hedonist’s explanation is as simple as it is plausible:
in almost every case, removal of these obstacles reduces our misery.

On the positive side, we can improve our lives by making sure that they
contain interesting work and hobbies, trustworthy friends, a giving and
understanding sexual partner, and a commitment to causes we strongly
believe i n . Why? Because such things usually add enjoyment to our lives.

These lists are not complete, and I’m not concerned to argue for any
specific element on either one. The lists are meant to reflect common sense.
And the point is that hedonism can explain why common sense says what
it does. Certain things reliably damage our welfare, because they almost
always bring misery in their wake; other things just as reliably improve our
quality of life, because they are a source of enjoyment.

Hedonism can also explain why there are exceptions to these rules.
Some people enjoy being humiliated or manipulated. For them, we must
put these experiences on the positive side of the ledger. Others, such as
certain masochists, delight in experiencing various kinds of physical pain.
So pain adds to their quality of life, while diminishing it for the rest of us.

Recall that hedonism, as I understand it here, does not say that all
pleasure enhances our quality of life-only enjoyment does that. Likewise
for physical pain: usually, it diminishes our well-being, but in unusual
cases, when a person enjoys such pain, it can actually improve that per­
son’s welfare.

Hedonism thus explains why it is so hard to come up with universal,
iron-clad rules for improving our lives. Such rules hold only for the most part,
because increasing our welfare is a matter of becoming happier, and some
people find happiness in extremely unusual ways. Hedonism honors both the
standard and the uncommon sources of happiness; no matter how you come
by it, happiness (and only happiness) directly makes you better off.

Hedonism: Its Powerful Appeal 25

Happiness Is What We Want for Our Loved Ones
I have two children, Max and Sophie. I love them very much. I have a
very strong desire that they be happy, and an even stronger desire that
their lives contain as little misery as possible. This makes perfect sense if
hedonism is true.

That’s because parents who deeply care for their children want what
is best for them. I, like so many other parents, am deeply concerned that
my children be happy. That shows that happiness is what is best for them.
Right?

Not necessarily. Consider the words of Philippa Foot, a contemporary
philosopher who rejects hedonism:

I recall a talk by a doctor who described a patient of his (who had
perhaps had a prefrontal lobotomy) as “perfectly happy all day long

picking up leaves.” This impressed me because I thought, “Well, most

of us are not happy all day long doing the things we do:’ and realized
how strange it would be to think that the very kindest of fathers would
arrange such an operation for his (perfectly normal) child.2

What Foot is suggesting here is that parents who really care about
their children would want things for them other than their happiness. If
happiness were of paramount importance, and if a lobotomized person
experiences more happiness than the rest of us, what would possibly stop
a loving parent from signing her child up for such an operation? But the
thought is absurd. And the reason, apparently, is that happiness is not
the only thing that improves the quality of life. In Foot’s example, parents
quite reasonably give greater priority to their children’s ability to develop
their talents, and to pursue worthwhile activities-even those that bring
them less happiness.

I think that there is definitely something to Foot’s observation. But it is
possible to make a common mistake when thinking about it. The error lies
in assuming that the following is a surefire test for becoming better off:

(T) If someone knows you very well, loves you, and for your own sake
wants you to have X, then X makes you

better off.

Most parents know their children very well, love them, and, for their
sake, want them to be happy. If T is correct, this shows that happiness
makes them better off.

But T is not correct, because even the dearest friend or parent may
hold mistaken beliefs about what will increase another person’s welfare.

26 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

Consider a parent who really cares about his daughter and wants what is
best for her, but who truly believes that a woman’s welfare is a matter of
how well she serves her husband. Such a father might advise his daughter
to remain with her abuser, for her own good. Or consider parents whose
son has told them that he is gay. They are appalled. They may really love
him, and want him, for his own sake, to marry a nice young woman. But
marrying a woman is not going to make this man better off. The cares of
those who love you are not always a reliable indicator of where your self­
interest lies.

Hedonism can explain why this test, T, fails. If hedonism is true,
then there is a different, and perfectly reliable, test of when well-being is
improved:

(H) If something makes you happier, then it promotes your well­
being; if something fails to make you happier, then it fails to promote
your well-being.

The hedonist’s test will sometimes conflict with (T). Staying with an
abusive husband will not promote a daughter’S happiness; marrying a
woman will not promote a gay son’s happiness. Therefore (H) tells us that
such actions will not improve their well-being. And that is correct. (T)
gives us the wrong results in these cases. (H) gives us the right ones.

But there is a nagging suspicion that more needs to be said. For
although (H) provides the right answers in these cases, it does seem to
get things wrong in the specific case that Foot described. After all, we
don’t want our children lobotomized, even if they’ ll be happier as a result!
That seems to show that happiness is not the be-all and end-all of a good
life. Let’s now see whether that’s so.

Notes

L Many who reject hedonism still believe that happiness is the key to a good life.
The disagreement is about what happiness really is. Hedonists insist that it is

a kind of experience we have-the experience of enjoyment. Others, such as
courseworkhero.co.uk, claim that happiness i s much more than this; it is, in particular, a

combination of enjoyment, intelligence. virtue, and activity. The sort of hap­

piness that we discuss in this chapter and the next is the one hedonists have in

mind-namely, enjoyment.
2. Philippa Foot. Natural Goodness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 85.

CHAPTER 2

…….. ” ” ……..

Is Happiness All That Matters?

OUprobably already knew this, but just in case you didn’t: no philo­

Y

sophical theory worth its salt is free of difficulties. As a result, you
aren’t going to get, in this chapter or any of the others, a decisive,

knock-down argument for one theory or another. Brilliant minds have
developed the theories we consider in this book And equally brilliant
minds have failed to climb on board.

So it should come as no surprise that hedonism, a perennial contender
for “Best Theory of Human Welfare,” should also have its critics. They have
been busy. Here are the major concerns that they have identified.

The Paradox of Hedonism

If something always makes us better off, then it seems reasonable to try
very hard to acquire it. With happiness, however, this completely back­
fires-those who try really hard to make themselves happier almost never
succeed. Philosophers call this the paradox of hedonism.

The paradox reminds me of an embarrassing poster I had hanging on
my bedroom wall as a child. It showed a butterfly and, not far away, a man
sitting in a wooded glade. The caption: “Happiness is like a butterfly­
the more you pursue it, the more it eludes you. Be still and let it come
to you:’

We can turn this distressing vignette, and its lesson, into an argu­
ment designed to refute hedonism. Let’s call it the Paradox of Hedonism
Argument:

27

28 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

1. If happiness is the only thing that directly makes us better off, then
it is rational to single-mindedly pursue it.

2. It isn’t rational to do that.
3. Therefore, happiness isn’t the only thing that directly makes us

better off.

This argument is valid.l Its logic is perfect: ifboth premises are true,
then the conclusion must be true. But we also need to know whether both
premises really are true. If they are, then hedonism is sunk.

I think the second premise is pretty plausible. The icky sentiment
on my childhood poster is correct. Those who seek only happiness, and
fixate on acquiring it, are bound to be disappointed. Aiming directly for
happiness is not the best way to get it. You’d do far better to seek a spouse
you love and respect, to develop an exciting hobby, or to find a career
you can be proud of. Doing any of these things is a much surer route to
happiness.

So the second premise looks good. And the first premise also seems
plausible. If happiness is really what makes your life go best, then you
should go for it.

But this premise is suspect, precisely because the direct pursuit of
good things will sometimes stand in the way of getting them. Think of the
professional golfer in the midst of a slump. She desperately wants to regain
her swing. But the more she focuses on this, the harder it becomes. Or
consider the immature student who wants more than anything to be well
liked, and so tries, very annoyingly, to be pals with his classmates. Such
behavior is self-defeating. He’d be much better off trying less hard.

The bottom line is that even if happiness is our greatest good, it may
be irrational to aim for it directly. And if that is so, then premise 1 is false.
As a result, the paradox we’ve just considered, while surprising, does not
pose a serious threat to hedonism. It doesn’t challenge the idea that happi­
ness is the only thing of intrinsic value. It just tells us that aiming directly
for happiness is not a smart way to get it.

Evil Pleasures

Some people take great delight in doing the most awful things. Think of
supposed friends who tempt others into addiction, or a powerful boss who
betrays a vulnerable employee. These tawdry people may really be enjoying
themselves. But when such enjoyment comes at someone else’s expense, it
hardly seems a good thing, much less the best thing.

Is Happiness AIl1hat Matters? 29

We can build another anti-hedonist argument around this point. Call
it the Argument from Evil Pleasures:

1. If hedonism is true, then happiness that comes from evil deeds is as
good as happiness that comes from kind and decent actions.

2. Happiness that comes from evil deeds is not as good as happiness
that comes from kind and decent actions.

3. Therefore hedonism is false.

This argument fails, and it’s instructive to see why. There is a confu­
sion contained within it, and it’s one that is easy to make.

When we say that happiness that comes from one source is as good
as happiness from any other source, we might mean that each is mor­
ally equivalent to the other. When we read premise 2 and nod our heads
approvingly, this is probably what we have in mind.

But this is not what hedonists have in mind. They don’t think that
each episode of happiness is as morally good as every other. Rather, they
think that the same amount of happiness, no matter its source, is equally
beneficial. According to hedonism, happiness gained from evil deeds can
improve our lives just as much as happiness that comes from virtue. In
this sense, happiness derived from evil deeds is as good as happiness that
comes from virtue-each can contribute to our well-being just as much as
the other. Hedonists therefore reject premise 2.

And aren’t they right to do so? Think about why the happiness of the
wicked is so upsetting. Isn’t it precisely because happiness benefits them,
and we hate to see the wicked prosper? If happiness doesn’t make us bet­
ter off, why is it so awful when the wicked enjoy the harms they cause?
And for those who share my vengeful streak: Why is it gratifying to see
the wicked suffer? Because misery always cuts into our well-being, and
we think it right that the wicked pay for their crimes. Hedonism makes
perfect sense of these feelings.

The Two Worlds

Within philosophical circles, one of the most famous objections to hedo­
nism originated with W. D. Ross (1877-1967), a British philosopher whose
ethical theory is discussed in chapter 16. Ross invited us to consider two
worlds that contain identical amounts of happiness and misery. In one of
these, the people are all virtuous; in the other, they are all vidous.2 Hedo­
nism tells us that these worlds are equally good. No one believes this.

30 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

Ross anticipates the hedonist’s response: Virtuous people are those
who reliably make others happy, while vicious people undermine the hap­

piness of others. So the situation we are being asked to imagine is impos­
sible. The virtuous world would contain a lot more happiness than the
vicious one.

Ross will have none of this. There are nonhuman sources of happiness
and misery, such as disease. So imagine, in the virtuous world, that its
extra happiness is offset by greater misery resulting from disease. Still, the
virtuous world is better than the vicious one.

Ross thinks that this thought experiment allows us to appreciate that
virtue is good in its own right, wholly apart from any happiness it brings
about. Since hedonism rejects this, hedonism is mistaken.

We can turn Ross’s objection into an argument. Call it the Two Worlds
Argument:

1. If hedonism is true, then any two situations containing identical
amounts of happiness and unhappiness are equally good.

2. Some such situations are not equally good; some are better than
others.

3. Therefore, hedonism is false.

I think that Ross is right about premise 2. It is better that virtue, and
not vice, be rewarded by happiness. Even if virtue is its own reward, it is
better that it be rewarded by happiness as well. And if we have to choose,
it is far better that good people be happy than that bad people enjoy them­
selves. So even if good and bad people are equally enjoying themselves, the
situations may not be equally good.

The second premise, then, is actually pretty plausible. But hedonists
can reject the first. Their view is not about what makes a situation or a
world good, but rather about what makes a life good for the person who
lives it. Hedonism, as it stands, doesn’t tell us how to determine the value
of a world. And so it is not committed to the view that two worlds contain­
ing equal amounts of happiness must be equally good.

Hedonism does not try to tell us about every way in which things
can be good or bad, but only about what directly contributes to personal
welfare. So long as hedonists do not say that the only value is individ­
ual welfare, they can easily allow that such things as biodiversity, beautiful
objects, and morally admirable actions add to the overall value of a world.
Thus hedonists can (and should) reject the first premise of the Two Worlds
Argument.

Is Happiness AI/That Matters? 31

False Happiness
Imagine a woman who is pretty happy in her marriage, partly because she
trusts her husband and believes in his complete fidelity. And suppose she
is right to do that; her husband has, in fact, been wholly faithful. Now
imagine another woman who is as happy as the first, and for the same
reasons, but in her case, her belief is false-her husband has been cheating
on her without her knowledge. It seems that the first woman’s life is going
better for her. And this despite the fact that the two women are, in this
example, equally happy.

This story provides us with the basis of an Argument from False
Happiness:

1. If hedonism is true, then happiness makes the same contribution to
welfare whether it is based on true or false beliefs.

2. Happiness based on false beliefs contributes less to welfare than
happiness based on true beliefs.

3. Therefore, hedonism is false.

This is in one way like the Argument from Evil Pleasures, since both
claim that the source of happiness determines how beneficial it is. Critics
say that if happiness comes from immoral action, or false belief, then it
makes us less well-off than otherwise.

Hedonists deny this. Happiness is happiness, regardless of its source.
So hedonists must reject the second premise.

But it is harder to do so here, when it comes to false beliefs. The
late Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick tried to show this, in a thought
experiment involving an “experience machine:’3 Imagine that there is a
very sophisticated machine that lets you simulate any experience you like.
Suppose you program it for a lifetime of the very best experiences. Once
you plug in, you have no memory of life outside the machine. Your entire
life from then on is lived in the machine, though you are as happy as can
be, believing yourself to be doing all of the things you truly enjoy. Com­
pare this with its real-life counterpart, in which a person actually does
the things and enjoys the experiences that the person plugged in to the
machine only dreams of. It seems clear that the second life-the real one­
is better for the person living it than the first. Yet both lives contain the
same amount of happiness.

This is meant to show that happiness is not the sole element of well­
being. A good life is one that is happy, yes, but not only that. Our happiness

32 THE FUNDAMENTALS OP ETHICS

must be based in reality. A pleasant life of illusion is less good for you than
one based on real achievement and true beliefs about your life.

The Importance of Autonomy
One of the other things we want from life is to make our own choices in
it, free of manipulation and outside pressures. We want to forge a life for
ourselves, rather than be puppets on a string. We are sometimes willing to
risk unhappiness, and sometimes we even prefer the definite prospect of
sadness to a more pleasant life that is forced upon us without our consent .
In short, we want autonomy-the power to guide our life through our
own free choices-even if it sometimes costs us our happiness.

Not only do we want autonomy, but we also think that a life with­
out it cannot be fully good. Consider the inhabitants of Aldous Huxley’s
Brave New World. Huxley created a fictional society in which war, pov­
erty, and emotional distress have all disappeared. How have such things
been achieved? The rulers have introduced a pacifying drug, called soma,
taken by all citizens. Books and shows that may upset people have been
banned. Close relationships are forbidden, so as to prevent the heartache
that comes from the rupture of a friendship or the loss of a loved one.
Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? Not in this
SOciety. These citizens have become complacent animals, obedient to the
political masters who are intent on manipulating them. Though this brave
new world might well be a happier one than ours, it seems clear that some­
thing valuable is missing. That something is autonomy.

We don’t need to seek out imaginary tales to appreciate the impor­
tance of autonomy to a good life. When we go to the doctor’s office, we
don’t want to be lied to-even if we would be happier were we deceived.
Many dying patients turn down the offer of pain medication, because it
can interfere with their ability to make rational decisions. Such patients
prefer to face their end in a dear-eyed way, even if it means that they are
more miserable as a result.

Autonomous choices don’t always lead to happiness. Things go wrong.
We make free choices that lead to damaged relationships, financial disaster,
missed opportunities. Still, we need only imagine a life without autonomy
to see what a tragedy it would be. Read the reports of Soviet psychiatrists
who systematically drugged and tortured critics of the regime.4 Many of
these critics went insane; others were reduced to bowing and scraping
before their white-coated masters.

Is Happiness AIl1hat Matters? 33

These doctors caused appalling unhappiness. But that is not the only
harm they did to their victims, and in some cases it is not the worst of
the damage done. Even if the drugs had kept the dissidents happy, the
actions of these doctors would still have been a horrendous crime, because
of the way in which they so thoroughly tried to undermine the autonomy
of their victims, seeking deliberately to enfeeble their minds and crush
their independence.

A searing picture of how the loss of autonomy undermines well-being
can be found at the conclusion of Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s
Nest. Its hero, R. P. McMurphy, is a free spirit with contempt for rules and
for the authorities who enforce them. McMurphy is committed to a mental
institution and slowly broken, eventually being forced to submit to a lobot­
omy that leaves him an empty shell. (Recall Foot’s anecdote of the previous
chapter.) That this is all supposedly done for his own good only makes the
tragedy greater. At the end, he may be happier, having at this point only a
childlike capacity to understand the world. But it hardly seems that he is
better off as a result. And the explanation is simple: the preservation of our
autonomy is vitally important, even if it doesn’t always make us happier.

It’s a good thing to be able to exercise autonomous choice, and this
explains what is objectionable about paternalism-someone’s limiting
your liberty against your will, but for your own good. A society of arranged
marriages, forced career choices, anti-gambling legislation, and motor­
cycle helmet laws might lead to greater happiness. They might, in some
cases, really be justified. And yet even so, there is something to regret.
We lose the opportunity to take chances, to risk our happiness, to exercise
real freedom. Manipulation and paternalism, even when done in a way
that gains us happiness, are still objectionable to some extent. And that is
because they sacrifice something of intrinsic value: autonomy. Happiness
is not the only thing that is important in its own right. Autonomy is, too.

Here we have the makings of another argument against hedonism.
Call this the Argumentfrom Autonomy:

1. If hedonism is true, then autonomy contributes to a good life only
insofar as it makes us happy.

2. Autonomy sometimes directly contributes to a good life, even when
it fails to make us happy.

3. Therefore, hedonism is false.

The first premise is clearly true. The central claim of hedonism is that
happiness is the only thing, in itself, that makes us better off. All other

34 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

things (e.g., autonomy, virtue, true beliefs) improve our lives only to the
extent that they make us happier.

So everything hinges on the second premise. It seems plausible.
W hen we consider the lives of those who have been deprived of their
autonomy, we see the absence of something very valuable, something
that, by itself, appears to make a life a better one. Given a choice between
drug-induced contentment and plotting our own risky course through
life, we prefer the latter path. We want our lives to be authentic, to reflect
our own values, rather than those imposed on us from the outside­
even if we are not always happier as a result. Hedonism cannot account
for that.

Life’s Trajectory
If hedonism is true, then those whose lives contain the same amount of
happiness and unhappiness must be equally well-off. But this seems false.

Consider the sad case of Delmore Schwartz, a brilliant writer and con­
versationalist, who served as the basis of the title character in Saul Bellow’s
novel Humboldt’s Gift. Schwartz earned many awards early in his career,
and taught at Princeton and Harvard for several years, despite lacking an
advanced degree. But his last decade was spent in increasing frustration
and isolation. Addicted to alcohol and drugs, and experiencing increas­
ingly severe paranoia and mental illness, he died alone in a seedy hotel in
Times Square, the promise of his early years left unfulfilled.

It is impossible to say just how much happiness and sadness filled
Schwartz’s life. But imagine a person whose early life was all heartache
and hardship-Jane Eyre or Oliver Twist, for instance, or, from real life,
perhaps someone like Mary Karr, whose terrific memoir, The Liars’ Club,
portrays a childhood about as miserable as can be. In such lives, the suf­
fering eventually yields to happiness, and many years of satisfaction and
pleasure.

W hen we compare lives with such different trajectories, it is hard to
resist the thought that a life that begins badly, but continually improves,
is better than a life that starts out with a bang and goes slowly, steadily
downhill-even if there is no difference in the total amounts of happi­
ness contained in each life. We can fashion this thought into the Trajectory
Argument:

1. If hedonism is true, then the overall quality of a life depends entirely
on the amount of happiness and unhappiness it contains.

Is Happiness All1hat Matters? 35

2. The overall quality of life depends on at least one other factor:
whether one’s life reflects an “upward” or “downward” trajectory.

3. Therefore, hedonism is false.

To make this criticism stick, we need to be sure that we are not sneak­
ing in extra happiness on the part of the fortunate person whose life ends
better than it began. The total happiness and unhappiness v.rithin the lives
being compared must be the same. The only difference must be in the tim­
ing of the happiness and misery. If we take care to respect this require­
ment, I think we still feel that equal amounts of happiness and misery may
not yield lives of equal well-being. If that is so, then something other than
happiness and misery determines how good a life is. In this case, it is not
autonomy, but rather the “shape” of a life. Continual improvement makes
for a better life than one that has long been on the wane, even if both lives
contain the same amounts of happiness and misery.

Unhappiness as a Symptom of Harm

Consider an Olympic marathon runner who is poised to bring home gold.
She has trained for years for this event. Suppose that she pulls a hamstring
the day before the race, and is unable to compete. All that work, to no end.
She’s devastated.

Why does this reaction make sense? It seems well explained if we
assume that the development of our talents is important in its own right.
This athlete sees that something terrible has happened, and that is why she
is unhappy. What’s regrettable in her case isn’t, primarily, her unhappiness.
It’s the destruction of her talents. (After all, would everything be fine if
someone slipped her a soma pill?)

When is it rational to feel miserable at how your life is going? Simple:
when something really bad happens to you. On the face of it, this can
include a huge number of things-losing a leg in a car accident, being
jilted by someone you love, missing the opportunity of a lifetime, etc. Each
of these rightly causes great sadness. If hedonism is correct, however, this
short list, and the much longer one we could undoubtedly put together, are
basically mistaken. For there is only one truly bad thing that can happen
to you, and that is to experience sadness. Things can harm you only if they
cause you to be unhappy.

If hedonism is true, then as long as we remain alive and greet each
day happily, our lives cannot go badly. A stiff upper lip-or a soma pill, or
genuine indifference-is enough to protect against harm.

36 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

So, for those who want to be immune from harm, here is the recipe.
They must become either emotionally blank or permanently upbeat. Those
who are never sad are never harmed. Their talents might go to waste; their
limbs might atrophy; their senses deaden, friendships break, curiosity
dim-if hedonism is correct, none of this will undermine their well-being,
so long as they are not saddened by it.

Perhaps unhappiness always makes us worse off. But other things
might do so as well. Consider how reasonable it is to be saddened, say, at
a failed chance at love, or at the loss of a dear friend. Such things diminish
our happiness. But they do so only because our happiness, in these and so
many other cases, depends on our appreciating what has value in its own
right. If loving relationships didn’t by themselves contribute to our welfare,
it wouldn’t be so clear that their loss is our loss. We mourn because we
have been deprived of someone whose presence, in its own right, makes
our lives richer.

Hedonism runs into trouble when trying to account for this. Here is
an argument that shows how. Call it the Argument from Multiple Harms:

1. If hedonism is true, then you can be harmed by something only
because it saddens you.

2. You can be harmed in other ways.
3. Therefore, hedonism is false.

The first premise is clearly true. And the second also seems plausible.
Tragedies don’t disappear just because their victims are reconciled to them.
The unhappiness we experience is bad for us. But it can also be a symptom
of the loss of something that, all by itself, matters to our well-being. Our

misery in such situations is evidence that things other than happiness can
directly make a difference to our well-being. If that is so, then hedonism
is mistaken.

Conclusion

Hedonism has always had its fans. And, as we have seen, there are many
good reasons for its popularity. It explains why there are many paths to a
good life. It strikes a balance between a view that imposes just one blue­
print of a good life, and a view that allows anything to be valuable so long
as you think it is. It provides a ready explanation for why misery so clearly
damages a life, and why happiness so dearly improves it. Hedonism offers
a natural stopping point for explaining what is intrinsically valuable. It

Is Happiness All That Matters? 37

accounts for why the rules of a good life allow for exceptions. And happi­
ness is what we want for our loved ones-what better evidence that happi­
ness truly contributes to a good life?

And yet hedonism is not problem-free. I think that hedonists have
good replies to the paradox of hedonism, the worry about evil pleasures,
and Ross’s Two Worlds objections. But things become trickier when we
consider the value of a happiness that is based on false beliefs. Hedonists
cannot allow for the intrinsic value of autonomy. They can’t make sense of
the idea that, of two lives containing the same amount of happiness, the
one that continually shows improvement is better than the one that shows
a steady downhill slide. Hedonists also fail to appreciate that unhappi­
ness is often a symptom that something intrinsically valuable-something
other than happiness-has been lost.

Perhaps happiness is not, after all, the key to our well-being. Let’s now
consider an alternative approach-one that tells us that getting what you
want is the measure of a good life.

Notes

1. See the discussion of validity and logical reasoning in the introduction, pp. 7-12.
2. When philosophers talk like this, they don’t mean that a person is cutthroat

and bloodthirsty, but only that he has many vices. In this sense-the one used

throughout this book-being vicious is the opposite of being virtuous.
3. The example, and Nozick’s discussion of it, can be found in his book Anarchy,

State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974), pp. 42-45.
4. A couple of accessible places to start are Harvey Fireside, Soviet Psychoprisons

(New York: w.w. Norton, 1982), and Peter Reddaway and Sidney Bloch, Soviet

Psychiatric Abuse: The Shadow over World Psychiatry (Boulder, Colo.: Westview

Press, 1984).

CHAPTER 3
.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
.–.

Getting What You Want

uppose that you’re unsure about what it takes to live a good life. So

Syou visit your nearest philosophy department, plunk yourself down in the ethicist’s office, and ask her directly. And suppose she gives
you the following advice:

1. Love the one you’re with
2. Get in shape
3. Dance
4. Study philosophy
5. Build things

Now, that strikes me as a pretty good list. It’s not the whole of a good
life, surely, but it’s not a bad start.

But what if you disagree? What if you’re a terrible dancer? What if
you don’t care about your figure, or about the benefits of getting in shape?
Maybe you’re a klutz, like me, and can’t build anything more complicated
than a paper football.

Come to think of it, what could possibly qualify this professor to give
advice about the good life? Surely, you might think , you get to decide for
yourself what’s going to make your life better off. Dancing and building
things may work wonders for her, but that doesn’t mean that her recipe for
success has any universal authority. No recipe does. It all depends on what
you care about.

The desire satisfaction theory of human welfare takes this sort of
criticism very seriously. The theory tells us that your life goes well for you

38

Getting VVhat You Want 39

to the extent that you get what you want. Something is good for you if, and
only if, it satisfies your desires. And, at the other end of the spectrum, your
life goes badly just when your desires are frustrated.

On this view, nothing can make your life better unless it gets you what
you want. Such things as wealth, health, and a loving family improve our
lot in life only if we want them, or the things they can provide. If we are
indifferent to them, then they can’t make us better off.

Given that people care about very different things, it follows that there
is no single model of a good life. What makes my life good may be very

different from what does the trick for you, because you and I may not
want the same things. Our deepest desires determine what counts as life’s
improvements or failures. On this line of thinking, nothing-not fitness,
love, knowledge, or virtue-is an essential ingredient in making everyone’s
life better off. Whether our lives have been improved depends entirely on
whether our desires have been fulfilled.

There is a lot to like about this theory. Here are some of its main
attractions.

A Variety of Good Lives
The desire satisfaction theory explains why there are many models of a good
life, rather than just a single one. It seems possible to have a good life that
consists in wholehearted devotion to religious causes, to philosophy, music,
travel, social justice, Star Trek conventions, or a favorite sports team. A good
life focused on none of these, or a combination of these, also seems possible.

This makes perfect sense if we assume that our individual desires
hold the key to a good life. I prefer chocolate to vanilla, and you don’t?
Then chocolate makes me better off, and vanilla does the same for you.
You really, really want to collect igneous rocks? Splendid. Then youa bet­
ter get your hands on some. But my life will go perfectly well without any.
The desire satisfaction theory easily accounts for this: your life goes well to

the extent that your desires are satisfied. Since people desire very different
things, there is a wide variety of good lives.

Personal Authority
Against the previous point, many people would argue that the good life
must be focused on a single kind of pursuit-religious devotion, inner
harmony, creativity, philosophy, to name just a few prominent candidates.
But there is something worrying about such single-mindedness. For each

40 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

of these candidates, there are many who feel excluded and even angered at
the suggestion that their life doesn’t fit the favored model. After all, if you
love excitement and hate tranquility, can it really be that inner harmony is
the key to your well-being?

Have you ever had this experience? Some well-dressed folks come
knocking at your door and end up telling you that you are wasting your
life. You’ve strayed too far from their model of ideal living. It’s easy to feel
that their confidence is presumptuous. They have a one-size-fits-all frame­
work of the good life, and you don’t get any input in forming the plans.

Desire theorists reject all such views. If they are right, then each of us
has the final say on what makes our life go well, because it’s our own desires
that determine how well we are faring. Further, no one gets to dictate which
fundamental desires we should have. That is a personal matter. There is no
universal standard for appropriate desires. To each his own. This view gives
us a huge amount of freedom to choose our own vision of the good life. The
only limitation here is that the good life must consist of satisfied desires.
But what these deSires are for-that is entirely up to you.

Avoiding Objective Values
A popular approach says that the good life consists of a handful of activi­
ties and experiences: gaining knowledge, experiencing love, appreciating
art and music, being virtuous, and taking enjoyment in all of these things.
This is an example of an objective theory of human welfare. It is objective
in the sense that what contributes to a good life is fixed independently of
your desires and your opinions about what is important.

There are lots of objective theories of welfare. Some theories, for
instance, insist that the more knowledge you have, the better your life is
going for you-even if you don’t care very much about obtaining knowl­
edge. Others disagree, and claim that many instances of knowledge have
no bearing at all on how well-off you are. (Some ammunition: Is your life
really better now that you know I have a cat named Oscar?) Other theories
insist that virtue is required for a good life, no matter how you feel about
virtue’s importance. Critics claim that immoral people can be as well off as
the rest of us. And so on.

Desire theorists reject all objective theories of welfare. I n doing so,
they spare themselves the huge controversies that surround the defense
of objective values. It is notoriously difficult to argue for such values.
because, for any contender, we can always ask a variation of a question
posed earlier: How can something make my life better if I don’t want it,
and don’t want what it can get me? Sure, if you want to be a star athlete or

of ing
peing

Getting What You Want 41

a world-class musician, then daily practice will improve your life. But if
you have no such dreams, and don’t care about anything that such practice
can get you, then how could it be good for you? That’s a very hard question.
Desire theorists never have to answer it.

Motivation

Many people think that something can be good for us only if we can be
motivated to pursue it. This thought is what underlies many of the suspi­
cions about objective theories. Some people are left completely cold by the
prospect, say, of being rich or of gaining political power, and we suspect
that if this is true, then such things really do not improve their welfare.
These doubts can be expressed in the First Motivation Argument:

1. If something is truly good for you, then you will be motivated to get
it-so long as you are thinking dearly and know what you want.

2. Many who are self-aware and thinking clearly remain unmoved by
the prospect rich.

3. Therefore, rich will not improve the lives of such people.

We can repeat this argument for anything that is said to be an objec­
tive good-philosophy, religious observance, fame, health, etc. Regardless
of which good you put forward (i.e., no matter how you fill in the blank
in the argument above), there will always be some smart, self-aware peo­
ple who don’t care about it. The upshot is that this argument threatens all
objective theories of well-being.

The desire theory does not fall prey to this argument. And the reason
for this is simple. If the desire theory is true, then something is good for
us only if it serves our desires. And desires are motivations. To say that we
want something is another way of saying that we are motivated to get it.
Consider, then, the Second Motivational Argument:

1. If something is truly good for you, then it will satisfy your desires.
2. If something will satisfy your desires, then you will be motivated to

get it-so long as you are thinking dearly and know what you want.
3. Therefore, if something is truly good for you, then you will be moti­

vated to get it-so long as you are thinking dearly and know what
you want.

The first premise states a central claim of the desire theory. The second
premise seems clearly true, once we understand that desires motivate us to
do things. And the argument is valid, so if both premises are true, then the
conclusion must be true. Indeed, desire theorists regard this conclusion

42 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

as an important truth. and think that it is a major strike against objective
theories that they cannot accommodate it.

One caution about understanding this second argument: it does not
say that we will always do what is good for us. Rather. it says that we will
always find something appealing about doing the things that make us bet­
ter off. That appeal can sometimes be outweighed-say, by considerations
of duty, or by laziness. or fuzzy thinking. But as long as we know what we
want. and know how to get it, we will be moved to some extent to follow
through. And the desire theory tells us that following through will always
improve our welfare. So, if the desire theory is true, there is an attractively
dose connection between what is good for us and our motivations. No
objective theory can forge such a dose connection between personal wel­
fare and motivation, since, for any alleged objective good, it is possible that
some people will be completely uninterested in obtaining it.

Justifying the Pursuit of Self Interest
What is the point of trying to improve your life? Many regard this as a
rhetorical question. Desire theorists don’t. They have an answer.

I think that there is always some reason to look after yourself, to do what
is best for yourself. Almost everyone thinks so. My well-being is important.
But so is yours. And this leads to one of the great ethical questions: What
should we do in cases where self-interest and the interests of others contlict?

Much of part 2 of this book is devoted to exploring such conflicts. For
right now, let’s focus just on the thought that we have some reason to tend
to our own needs. This may strike you as self-evident. And perhaps it is.
But what if someone challenged this claim? Is there anything that we can
say on its behalf?

Desire theorists have something to say. And this is a big plus, since it
is always best to be able to justify a claim, rather than have to insist on its
truth without being able to back it up. The desire theorist can offer the fol­
lowing argument to support the view that there is always good reason to
look out for ourselves. Let’s call this the Argument for Self-Interest:

1. If something makes us better off, then it satisfies our desires.
2. If something satisfies our desires. then we have reason to

obtain it.

3. Therefore, if something makes us better off, then we have reason to

obtain it.

Premise 1 states an essential claim of the desire theory. And premise 2
seems pretty plausible. Our wanting something gives us a reason to get

Getting What You Want 43

it. If you want to lose weight, then you have reason to exercise and watch
your calories. If you want to ace that exam, you have reason to study hard.
If you want to complete your collection of Romanian postage stamps, then
it’s a good idea to track down the missing ones and buy them.

In short, there is always something to be said in favor of getting what
we want. Not necessarily the best reason, but still, a good reason. If that
is so, and if the desire theory is true, then your self-interest is always an
important consideration. Even if it isn’t always the most important reason
you have, there is always a good reason to look out for yourself.

Contrast this with an objectivist theor y of well-being. Suppose,
for instance, that an objectivist claims that inner peace is good for you,
whether you know it or not. But suppose that inner peace is not your
cup of tea. You embrace risk, you hate to be bored, and you enjoy a life
of turmoil and excitement. If inner tranquility led to something that you
really cared about, then it would be easy to see why it made sense for you
to pursue it. But that would make it only instrumentally, not intrinsically,
valuable.

If you don’ t care about inner peace, and it gets you nothing you do
care about, then it is hard to see why there is any reason for you to seek it.
And the same goes for any other supposed objective good. Desire theorists
easily handle this problem. You have reason to promote your self-interest
because you have reason to get what you want, and getting what you want
is the key to self-interest.

Knowledge of the Good
If the desire theory is correct, then we have a straightforward answer to a
perennial question: How can I know what is good for me? The answer is
simple: Be clear about what you want. Then make sure you know how to
get it.

This isn’t always easy in practice. I may really want to get someone to
fall in love with me, but finding the best method to do this could be, to put
it mildly, quite tricky.

Difficulties can also arise if! want conflicting things-and don’t we all?
In such cases, you should fulfill the desire that you care about more. Again,
it isn’t always easy in practice to tell which one this is. Sometimes we real­
ize only too late that we made a mistake and pursued a goal that mattered
less to us than the one we passed up. In that case, we chose badly-we
may have gained some good, but we would have gained even more had we
satisfied our deeper desire.

44 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

These are not difficulties with the desire theory. After all, at times it
really is very hard to know how to make our lives better. A plausible theory
of well-being should explain why we are puzzled, when we are. It should
also give us clear advice in many cases. The desire theory does both. It tells
us why it is sometimes so difficult to know what is best for us-because we
don’t know how to get what we want, or we aren’t sure about what we want
most. And it also explains the easy cases-these are precisely those where
we do know what we want, and know how to get it.

Compare this picture to the one offered by objectivists. If personal

opinion or preference does not determine what is best for us, then how

can we know what to aim for? Objectivists insist that (say) knowledge,
virtue, and inner peace are directly good for us. But how can they defend
such claims, if we consistently deny them? What if (as is really the case)
different objectivists disagree among themselves about what has intrinsic
value? Are we just supposed to “intuit” the truth of one competing claim
over another? What happens if I intuit the importance of virtue and you
don’t? How do we resolve the dispute between those who are sure that
virtue is the key to a good life and those who insist that fame and fortune
is what it’s all about?

Desire theorists avoid all such difficult questions. They deny that there
are any objective goods. Thus they are spared the task of explaining how
we could have knowledge of such things. You want to know how to make
yourself better off? Get clear about what you really care about. Then find
out how to get it. It isn’t always easy. But it isn’t a fundamental mystery,
either.

CHAPTER 4

……… , r-.,.. …….. . .

Problems for the Desire Theory

T
he previous chapter offers a very nice laundry list of attractions of
the desire satisfaction theory, which help to explain why it is so
popular. But (you guessed it) there are also a number of difficulties

that this theory faces, and some of them are serious enough to force us to
revise the view, and possibly even to reject it.

To appreciate these worries, let’s remind ourselves of the two central
claims of the desire theory:

A.If something is good for us, then it fulfills our desires.
B. If something fulfills our desires, then it is good for us.

A tells us that something must satisfy our desires in order to be good
for us; desire satisfaction is necessary for becoming better off. B tells us
that satisfying our desires is enough to make us better off; desire satisfac­
tion is sufficient for becoming better off. Let’s begin by considering A, and
then move to a discussion of B.

Getting What You Want May Not Be Necessary
for Promoting Your Good
We can test A by seeing whether we can come up with an example in which
something benefits us, even though it doesn’t satisfy any of our desires. If
there are any such examples, then A is false.

There do seem to be such examples. Three spring to mind.
The first is that of pleasant surprises. These are cases in which you are

getting a benefit that you didn’t want or hope for, something that never

45

46 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

appeared on your radar screen-say, a windfall tax rebate, an unexpectedly
kind remark from a typically hostile co-worker, or the flattering interest of
a charming stranger. It makes sense to say that you’re a bit better off as a
result of such things, even though they didn’t satisfy any of your desires. Of
course, now that you’ve experienced such things, you may well want more
of them. But that’s because they have made your life better off already. And
they did that without answering to any of your preexisting desires.

The second case is that of small children and the severely mentally
handicapped. We can benefit such people in a number of ways, even
though we don’t give them what they want. I benefit my three year-old by
getting her vaccinated against various diseases, even though she doesn’t
want the shots, and doesn’t know enough to want to be free of the diseases
that she is being immunized for. I can benefit a mentally unstable patient
with a regimen of therapy that may be the last thing she wants. We think,
rightly, that we are sometimes in a better position to know what’s best for
these people, even though this means forcing them to do things that fail to
get them anything they want.

The third case is suicide prevention. Those who are deeply sad or
depressed may decide that they would be better off dead. They are often
wrong about that. Suppose we prevent them from doing away with them­
selves. This may only frustrate their deepest wishes. And yet they may be
better off as a result. (We will return to this example later.)

In each of these cases, we can improve the lives of people without get­
ting them what they want. They may, later on, approve of our actions, and be
pleased that we acted as we did. But this after-the-fact approval is something
very different from desire satisfaction. Indeed, it seems that the later pleasure
or approval is evidence that we benefited them, even though we did not do
anything that served their desires. And that is evidence that A is mistaken.

Getting What You Want May Not Be Sufficient
for Promoting Your Good
If B is true, then we are better off whenever our desires are satisfied. There
are many reasons to doubt this.

Desires Based on False Beliefs

Suppose that I am at an auction and really want the painting that’s now for
sale. I like the way the painting looks, but the real reason I want it is because

Problems for the Desire Theory 47

I think my grandfather once owned it, and this has great sentimental value
for me. I bid up the price and land the artwork. Desire satisfied.

But suppose my grandfather never did own this artwork. In that case,
it’s hard to see that I am any better off than I used to be-even though
I badly wanted this painting and got my wish.

There are some cases in which very ill patients want, quite desperately,
to acquire a certain medicine that is hard to get. This is easily explained:
they think that the medicine will cure them. Sadly, it often won’t. Sup­
pose they manage to obtain the pills they want, but the pills are ineffective.
These patients are no better off as a result.

You might think that these examples, and others like them, show
that claim B is false, and so show that getting what we want isn’t all it’s

cracked up to be. But desire theorists have a reply to such cases. They can
say that these people did not really get what they wanted. I wanted my

grandfather’s painting; the patients wanted a cure. We didn’t get what we
bargained for.

Still, it really is possible to base your desires on false beliefs. And when
that happens, it is hard to see why satisfying such a desire makes us any
better off. For instance, you may want to hurt someone for having insulted
you, when he did no such thing. You aren’t any better off if you mistreat
the poor guy.

From now on, then, we should understand the desire theory to insist
that it is only informed desires whose satisfaction will improve our lives.
Fulfilling those desires based on false beliefs need not improve our welfare.
So the real thesis under consideration will be

(C) If something fulfills our informed desires (i.e., those not based on
false beliefs), then that thing is good for us.

Disinterested and Other-Regarding Desires
All of us want some things that seem entirely unrelated to us. Our desires
are directed, say, at the interests of strangers, or at no interests at all. (Per­
haps I want there to be an even number of planets, and now that Pluto
has been banned from the club, I’ve finally gotten my wish.) In such cases,
we can get what we want, even though it is hard to see how our lives are
improved as a result.

In the fall of 2004, I watched in disbelief as the Boston Red Sox
defeated the New York Yankees to clinch the pennant. The Red Sox then

48 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

defeated the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series champion­
ship in eighty-six years. I didn’t grow up in Boston, and hadn’t cared about
baseball since I was a kid. But I became hooked by this classic underdog
story, and found myself wanting the Red Sox to win. They did. But I can’t
see that my life was any better for it.

Last year I read about a whale that had beached itself on a New England
coast. I remember wanting that whale to survive, to be eased back into the
ocean without being harmed. And it was. It’s easy to see that the whale was
better off as a result of the rescue operation. But it’s not so easy to see that
my life got any better.

There is a natural reply to such examples. My life was indeed mildly
improved, because I was pleased to get what I wanted. And that may be
true. The problem with this reply, however, is that it is not available to
desire theorists. The desire theory does not assign any intrinsic value to
pleasure. If desire theorists are correct, then your life goes better just so
long as more of your desires are satisfied-regardless of how much plea­
sure this yields. A more pleasant life is not necessarily better for those who
live it.

There is a quite different reply we might make on behalf of the theory.
We might amend C to read:

(D) If something has fulfilled our informed, self-regarding desires,
then that thing is good for us.

Self-regarding desires are those that concern only yourself. Since my
desire for an even number of planets, a Red Sox victory, and the whale’s
rescue were not self-regarding, then they cannot serve as counterexam­
ples to D.

Passing Fancies

But even D encounters difficulties, in the form of brief and mild desires.
These are passing fancies, momentary desires of little intensity. I skip down
the sidewalk, trying to avoid its cracks. Nothing is really at stake here, and
I know that. Still, I want this very little thing, even though it’s true that if
I were to step on a crack, I wouldn’t be at all upset. I’d just smile at my sil­
liness and forget about it.

Suppose I avoid those cracks. Am I better off as a result? It doesn’t
seem so. Perhaps I’d gain a slight bit of pleasure. That would make a dif­
ference if hedonism were true. But on the desire view, we are supposed to
think that my life is better off just for having satisfied a desire-any desire,

Problems for the Desire Theory 49

no matter how minor-even if this brings me no pleasure as a result. The
case of passing fancies casts some doubt on that view.

Disappointment

But perhaps that doesn’t strike you as odd. You think that the satisfaction
of even the most minor desires will yield at least trace improvements in a
life. Still, there is a lingering worry about D.

Suppose that you form a steady, serious desire-no passing fancy.
Suppose your desire is self-regarding, and isn’t based on any false beliefs.
And you get what you want. If D is true, this guarantees some improve­
ment in your life.

But consider a young musician who has staked his hopes on becom­
ing famous some day. And that day comes-but all he feels is disappoint­
ment. He got what he wanted. He knows it. And he hates how it feels.

Getting what you really want can sometimes be a huge letdown. All
the build-up, the expectation and anticipation, and then, rather than any
feeling of joy, just a blank sort of sadness-or worse. You’ve seriously
invested yourself in some project, have brought it to a successful end, and
then find yourself filled with emptiness, boredom, or depression.

I was recently reminded of these points when reading the following
passage in John McEnroe’s autobiography:

I was playing great tennis, and I destroyed Lendl to win the ’84 Mas­
ters . . . m finally taken my game to what felt like a notch above all my
opponents: It should have been great. I wish it had been. But it wasn’t.

It still felt hollow-I’d thought it would help straighten me
out … but it wasn’t doing a thing for me inside. It reminded me of the

story of King Midas: My success wasn’t translating into happiness.!

If seeing your desires come true only makes you miserable, then how
could this mark an improvement in your life? D commits us to saying that
you are better off in such a case. This is very difficult to accept.

We could, of course, modify the desire theory once again:

(E) If something has fulfilled our informed, self-regarding desires,
and we are pleased as a result of this, then that thing is good for us.

E might be true. But that should be small comfort to the desire theorist. For
it now seems that it is pleasure that is making our lives better off, rather than
desire satisfaction per se. If desire satisfaction is met only with disappoint­
ment and unhappiness, it is hard to see how you are any better off as a result.

50 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

Ignorance of Desire Satisfaction
Consider a case in which my informed desires are satisfied. I get what 10
hoped for. But I don’t realize this. I never know that my goal has been met.
It doesn’t seem that I am any better off in such a situation.

Suppose, for instance, that I really want to be the tallest person in
my town. Not because I expect a prize, or even any special recognition.
I just want to be the tallest guy around. And suppose that the one man
taller than me has just moved to a different city. My desire is fulfilled. But
I never know this. By the time I find out that he’s left, someone taller than
me has moved to town. It’s hard to see that my life was any better in the
intervaL

Or, to take a less bizarre case, think of a person deeply committed to
finding a cure for a terrible disease. After years of hard work, she succeeds.
But she goes to her grave never realizing this. She thinks her efforts have
been wasted. Her success does not, by itself, mark any improvement in her
life.

Imagine a man who very much wants to be a father. He has a series of
relationships, one of which leads to a pregnancy and then to a child. But
the mother never informs him of this, and he never finds out through other
channels. His desire is satisfied, but his quality of life has not improved.

As in the cases of disappointment, what we have here are examples in
which our informed, self-regarding desires are satisfied, but we don’t seem
to be any better off as a result If that is so, then the desire theor y is mis­
taken in thinking that the satisfaction of even an informed, self-regarding
desire is enough to improve our level of well-being.

Impoverished Desires
According to the desire theory, in any of its versions, having a good life
is essentially a matter of fulfilling your desires. Our desires, however, are
often shaped by the way we have been raised. The expectations that we
have been taught to have are especially important influences. And this cre­
ates a problem.

Some parents have raised their children to believe themselves unwor­
thy of love, or incapable of real accomplishment. Some societies continue
to treat the women among them as second-class citizens (if citizens at all).
Women in such societies are told from the earliest age that their sphere is
limited, that any political or professional hopes are unnatural and highly
inappropriate.

Problems for the Desire Theory 51

It’s easy to take such messages to heart. If you are told from the cradle
that your greatest ambition should be to serve your master, then you may
well end up with no desire any stronger than that. If desire fulfillment is
the measure of a good life, then such lives can be very good indeed.

That doesn’t seem right. For instance, it is tempting to think that a
slave cannot live a very good life, regardless of whether her desires are
fulfilled. And that is because she is unfree. But desire theorists reject the
idea that there is anything intrinsically valuable about freedom. Nothing
is important-not intellectual or artistic achievement, not freedom, not
pleasure-unless one desires it. lf it has been drilled into your head that it is
presumptuous of you to want a happy life, that it is foolish to seek freedom,
that education is irrelevant for “your kind;’ then a reasonable response
may well be to abandon hope for any such things. Better to have goals you
can achieve than to set yourself up for constant disappointment.

And yet what kind of life is that? The desire theorist seems forced to
say that it may be among the best. The lower your expectations, the easier
they are to satisfy. As a result, those who set their sights very low may
have a greater number of satisfied desires than those with more challeng­
ing goals. But this hardly seems to make for a better life.

The Paradox of Self-Harm and Self-Sacrifice

If the desire theory is correct, then getting what you want makes you better
off. But what if people want to harm themselves? This needn’t be irratio­
nal. For instance, people may feel remorse for wrongs they have done, and
want to do penance. Others may despise themselves, full of self-loathing,
convinced that they deserve only harm, rather than good. No matter their
ultimate motive, they deeply want to harm themselves.

In other cases, people want to sacrifice their self-interest in order to
promote the good of someone they care about, or some cause that is more
important to them than their own welfare.

It seems possible for such people to succeed. People can willingly harm
themselves, and they can sacrifice their well-being to causes that matter to
them. And yet the desire theory denies this. For if such people satisfy their
self-destructive or self-sacrificing desires, then the theory says that they
are better off! So long as they get what they really want, then they must be
benefited as a result. And yet their fondest wish is to harm or to sacrifice
themselves. So the desire theory generates a paradox: Wanting to harm or
sacrifice yourself makes it impossible to do so. Since it does seem possible
both to want such things and to succeed, the desire theory is suspect.

52 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

The Fallibility of Our Deepest Desires
Most of us don’t intentionally set out to harm ourselves. But there are
other cases in the neighborhood that pose problems for the desire theo­
rist. I am thinking here of suicide, where the would-be suicide is regarding
her death not as a harm, but rather as a benefit. She is not trying to make
herself worse off. Rather, she is trying to improve her life-by ending it.
True, this also has an air of paradox about it. Let’s see what a desire theorist
can say about such cases.

There are many different kinds of suicides. The one that poses the
sharpest problem for the desire theory is that of a person whose life, by
our lights, has terrific promise and is definitely worth living. Yet the sui­
cidal person does not share our view. Suppose, in a common example, that
his lover has broken up with him and left, never to return. He is stricken
with grief and resolves to kill himself. This becomes his obsession; he most
wants to die. If the desire theory is true, then the deeper the desire, the
better off its fulfillment will make you. Thus in his case, dying is his best
option. Nothing else will make him as well off.

It is hard to accept that. And desire theorists may have an out. After
all, their best view is that the satisfaction of informed desires is what con­
tributes to your well-being. And the suicide’s desire to end his life might
be based on a false belief. But which belief would this be? He may be well
aware of all of the facts of his life, and look at them with only pain and
anxiety. In that case, it is tempting to think that his false belief is this: My
life is going very badly, and isn’t likely to get any better.

The problem is that desire theorists may have to regard this belief as
true. In their view, your desires determine how well your life is going. If
this person is clear-eyed, and sees that he is getting very little of what he
wants, then his life really is going poorly. Further, he may be quite self­
aware about what he is likely to want in the future-a relationship with his
former lover-and realize that this desire is bound to be frustrated. If so,
then his life is not going to improve.

What we want to tell such a person is this: Change your desires! Stop
wanting her so much. (Not that this is easy. Not that it can happen over­
night.) But suppose that he won’t, and that he knows this. Or suppose that
he doesn’t want to change his desires. We tell him to shift his attachments,
because his current obsession is only causing him misery and preventing
him from taking an interest in what really matters. Yet from the desire
theorist’s perspective, such advice is fundamentally mistaken. Things mat­
ter only to the extent that you care about them. So happiness is important

Problems jor the Desire Theory 53

only so long as we want it. What really matters depends entirely on our
desires. If, at bottom, you really want to die, then you are better off dead.

This is one of many possible examples of basic desires that can appear
to be fundamentally off-base. Consider people whose main aim is to clean
latrines, or to cut sheets of paper into sixty-four squares, or to anger as
many people as they can. Strange people, indeed. Such cases allow us to
see how one of the main attractions of the desire theory-its reluctance to
criticize our desires, to hold them up to any objective standard of value-is
also a weakness. It isn’t that hard to satisfy these unusual desires. So the
good life is easily within the grasp of such people. But the thought that any
of these people is living a good life is very hard to take.

And it gets worse: if the desire theory is correct, then such people
may be much better off than those whose lives strike us as much more
desirable. Consider a professio,nal musician who takes great enjoyment in
seeing new cities, making new friends, engaging in stimulating conversa­
tion, cooking gourmet meals for her beloved family, taking fine nature
photos, and perfecting her jiujitsu skills. Hers is a life of abundant plea­
sure, taken in worthwhile activities. And yet, let us imagine, she has also
suffered her share of disappointments-no more than usual, perhaps even
a bit less, but certainly more than the latrine cleaner. In such a case, the
desire theory forces us to say that the enthusiastic latrine cleaner is better
off than the musician.

Of course, if our latrine cleaner is very seriously mentally disabled,
then we might well consider him fortunate to have found something
that he deeply wants, and is easily able to do. Still, we regard his dis­
ability as a misfortune, despite the fact that his life may contain a much
greater number of satisfied desires than ours. And that shows that we
consider things other than satisfied desires to be essential elements of a
good life.

Conclusion

There are a number of reasons to think that the good life consists in our
getting what we want. But there are some serious problems with this sug­
gestion, and with each of its variants. Most of the problems boil down to
this: the desire theorist cannot recognize that any desires are intrinSically
better than any others. If your heart is set on repeatedly counting to nine,
or on saying the word putty until you die, then (in this view) succeeding in
such tasks yields a life as good as can be for you.

54 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

But a promising youth may have a death wish; an oppressed slave may
want only to serve her master; a decent but self-loathing man may most
want to be publicly humiliated. We can imagine these desires fulfilled,

and yet the resulting lives appear to be impoverished, rather than envi­
able. Indeed, we regard such people as unfortunate precisely because of
what they want-their desires are not fit to be satisfied, because they fail to
reflect an investment in what is worthwhile.

To say such a thing, however, is to side with the objectivist, and to
reject an essential element of the desire theory. For the desire theorist,
nothing but satisfied desires makes a direct contribution to our well-being,
and there are no objective standards that mark off some basic desires as
more deserving of our attention than others. On this view, value is in the
eye of the beholder, and so those who prefer a day of cutting paper into
pieces may really be living the best life a human being can live.

Compare two lives. The first is that of our musician. It is a rich life, filled
with varied pleasures, though also containing by some frustrated desires.
The second is that of a partially lobotomized adult who has enough cogni­
tive powers to have informed desires, though not very many, and none of
great complexity. If you were deciding between them, solely on the basis of
self-interest, wouldn’t you choose to have the musician’s life-even if you
knew that it contained fewer satisfied desires?

Some adults have the mental powers of an infant or a very small child.
I am not claiming that such people have nothing to live for, or that their
lives cannot be good ones. I am assuming, however, that such lives are not
the very best ones that human beings can lead. And yet they may contain
the greatest number of satisfied desires, especially if the relevant desires
are very easy to fulfill. If the desire theory is true, the quality of life in such
a case is unsurpassed. That, too, is very difficult to accept.

Further, suppose that all of your deepest desires have been satisfied,
but that this leaves you only completely miserable. The desire theorist is
forced to regard this as the best sort of life, whereas most of us would think
it a horrible life, and certainly very far from the pinnacle of well-being.

I think that the challenges recorded here are serious enough to cast
doubt on the desire theory, in any of its versions. Getting what we want is
not, it seems, an essential part of the good life. It is neither a guarantee of
it, nor a requirement.

W hat, then, holds the key to the good life? Happiness is surely a part
of it; a life of misery, or at least without enjoyment of any kind, is not an

enviable existence. But as earlier discussions have shown, there is more to

Problems for the Desire Theory 55

the good life than happiness. The conclusion we are forced to is that the
good life depends on objective values, things that are valuable even if we
fail to value them. Happiness is one objective value. Autonomy is another.
There are doubtless others. These are things worth wanting, things that we
ought to obtain or achieve if we seek the best life for ourselves. Want the
complete list? The only way to get it is by doing (a lot) more philosophy.

Notes

1. John McEnroe with James Kaplan, You Cannot Be Serious (New York: Berkeley
Books, 2002), p. 172.

PART TWO

Doing the Right Thing
. . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
,…… . . …. . . . . . . . . . .. …. .

CHAPTER 5

……… …….. .

Morality and Religion

Three Assumptions About Morality and Religion
Religion has always been the most popular source of morality. In times
of need and moral perplexity, religious believers consult priests, rabbis,
imams; they avidly read their sacred texts; they look for guidance to long­
standing religious traditions. All of this is perfectly natural.

Since hundreds of millions of people view morality through the lens
of one religion or another, it is important that we examine this relationship
carefully. We aren’t going to try to determine here whether God exists; nor
are we going to explore specific doctrines that separate one religion from
another. Instead, I want to take a step back and examine the central claims
that underlie the widespread view that morality depends on religion. Three
assumptions seem especially important to forging a connection between
religion and morality:

1. Religious belief is needed to get us to do our duty.
2. Morality must be created by someone, and God is by far the best

candidate for the job.

3. Religious wisdom is the key to providing us with moral guidance.

Let’s examine these assumptions in order.

First Assumption: Religious Belief Is Needed
for Moral Motivation
A popular argument in favor of the religious life states that atheismI (the
view that God2 does not exist) prevents us from seeing why we should

58

Morality and Religion 59

be moral. And if we are blinded to our reasons to be good, then we will

likely be bad. Without belief in God, people are more likely to stray from

the path of virtue and give in to the wrong kinds of temptation. It will be
harder for them to sacrifice self-interest when duty calls. But once God
is in the picture, our will is strengthened. Religious people are going to
be more conscientious than atheists or agnostics (those who are unsure
whether God exists or not).

This may be true. If it is, what would explain it?
The most popular answer cites our fear of God and our desire for a

happy afterlife. The thought of spending eternity in flames, or divorced
from God’s love, is a pretty powerful check on our immoral impulses. If God
exists, justice will eventually be done-and woe, then, to the sinner. Good
deeds will be rewarded, if not here on earth, then in an otherworldly para­
dise. So believers have very strong reasons to be moral. Nonbelievers don’t
have such incentives. They will therefore fall more easily into temptation.

Suppose this is correct. Still, this wouldn’t show that religious people
are more likely to do good. It would only show that they are more likely
to be conscientious. But being conscientious doesn’t always translate into
doing good. Some of the leaders of the Inquisition were very conscien­
tious. Their conscience led them to torture their victims in an intensely
cruel way. Religious conviction may strengthen our commitments. But
religion has sometimes asked its followers to wage war, not peace; to kill;
to take the land and wealth of others; and to destroy the cultures of non­
believers. Religion doesn’ t always help us to become better people. It all
depends on whether the religious principles we subscribe to are morally
good in the first place.

But let’s imagine a best -case scenario, one in which our religious views
are morally attractive. And suppose that religious believers really are more
likely than nonbelievers to be conscientious. What would this show? It
would not show that God exists. Nor would it show that morality depends
in any way upon God. Rather, it is an argument for the practical benefits of
certain religious beliefs. It says that believers with morally good views are
more likely than nonbelievers to do the right thing.

Yet the benefits of holding a belief are one thing, its truth another. For
all that this reasoning shows, religious beliefs may simply be useful fic­
tions, false beliefs that do a lot of good.

I am not saying that this is so. In fact, let us grant, for argument’s
sake, that some set of religious beliefs is correct. Still, this account of how
religious belief strengthens our moral motivations is problematic. The

60 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

reason is simple. If hope for heavenly reward or fear of God’s anger is what

prompts us to do good, then we may well do the right thing-but for the
wrong reasons.

To see this, imagine a person who acts morally, but only because she
thinks that God punishes those who don’t and rewards those who do. Such
a person is not well motivated. She is bowing to a stern taskmaster, and
doing her duty not because she loves God, but rather because she sees God
as threatening the worst punishments or offering the best bribes. Such a
person is unreliably moral, for if she came to believe that God really didn’t
offer the expected rewards and punishments, then she would see no rea­
son to be moral.

Fear of God has been a traditional way to get people to do their duty.
But when it is effective, it undermines moral character, rather than sup­
ports it. People who deserve our praise and admiration are those who
do their duty for its own sake. They do what is right because it is right,
rather than from ulterior, self-interested motives. This is an attitude of direct
respect for morality. Agnostics and atheists have just as much reason to
adopt this attitude as theists do.

Even if fear of God is the most effective way to get people to do what
they should, this would not show that God exists. It would not show that
religious beliefs are correct. And, crucially, it would not show that atheists
or agnostics are unable or unlikely to behave in morally admirable ways.
Being well motivated requires a love and respect for the morally impor­
tant things in life. Religion has often fostered such an outlook. But it isn’t
required to do the job.

Second Assumption: God Is the Creator of Morality
“If God is dead, then everything is permitted.”

Many people feel the force of this thought, recorded by one of Dosto­
evsky’s characters in The Brothers Karamazov. On this view, atheism spells
the doom of morality.

The underlying idea seems to be this: Because morality represents a
set of norms (i.e., standards that we ought to live up to), there must be
someone with the authority to create them. Without God, there is no one
but we human beings to make up the moral law. And we lack the needed
authority to do the work. Our say-so doesn’t make things right; our disap­
proval cannot make things wrong. We are limited in understanding and
bound to make mistakes. A morality built upon our imperfections would
lack credibility.

Morality and Religion 61

But a morality created by God-that is a different story entirely. After
all, God is wholly perfect. What better credentials are there for drafting a
moral code?

Add to these credentials the following vision. Imagine a godless uni­
verse, lacking any divine purpose. Where would moral norms come from?
If we are wholly J,naterial beings, governed by physical laws, then there
are many ways that we will behave. But there seems to be no way that we
ought to behave. If we are just very complex bundles of matter, without any
externally imposed aims or purposes to live up to, then it is difficult to see
how there can be moral duties at all. To get moral requirements into the
picture, we must have someone with the authority to impose those duties
on us. Only God could possibly qualify.

This vision of God’s role in morality-as its ultimate author, the
one who makes up the moral code-rests on a crucial assumption. The
assumption is that morality must be created by someone. The moral law,
like any law, needs a legislator. No legislator, no law. And so: no God, no
morality.3

This line of thinking leads directly to the following view, known to
philosophers as the Divine Command Theory:

An act is morally required just because it is commanded by God, and
immoral just because God forbids it.

I think that this is the natural, default view for a religious believer when
thinking of God’s relation to morality. But it is not without its problems.

There are two of them. One is obvious. The Divine Command The­
ory makes morality depend on God’s commands. But God may not exist.
Or, as deists believe, God may exist, but may not command us to do
any thing. Deists claim that God set creation in motion, and then retired
to survey His universe, refusing to involve Himself in human affairs. If
the Divine Command Theory is true, and if either atheism or deism is
correct, then nothing is right or wrong. Morality would be a complete
sham.

But let’s proceed on the assumption that God does exist, and does care
enough about us to give us direction. Still, there is a significant problem
with the theory, a problem that was first recognized by Plato about a two
and a half millennia ago.

In the Euthyphro, a short dialogue concerning the nature of piety,
Plato has the title character pompously prattling on about what is and
isn’t pious. In response to Socrates’s asking for its essence, Euthyphro

62 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

declares that piety is whatever is loved by the gods. Socrates then poses the
following question: “Do the gods love actions because they are pious, or are
actions pious because the gods love them?”

Euthyphro immediately starts to get nervous. A very reasonable
response. Socratic interrogation rarely leaves your pride intact.

Euthyphro thinks that the first option is the better one. He is right (but
for the wrong reasons, as it happens). By the end of the dialogue, Euthy­
phro is humbled. And we are enlightened.

With a few substitutions, we can get a newer version of Socrates’s
question that is more relevant to our topic: “Does God command us to do
actions because they are morally right, or are actions morally right because
God commands them?”

The Divine Command Theory answers our new question by affirming
the second option. Actions are morally right just because God insists that
we perform them. Prior to God’s commands, nothing was right or wrong.
Morality simply did not exist.

The first option says that God commands actions because they are
right. This implies that God did not invent morality, but rather recognized
an existing moral law and then commanded us to obey it. But God created
everything. Therefore, He also created morality. Therefore, the first option
is impossible.

But it is not impossible. In fact, it is the option that theists (those who
believe in God) ought to prefer. Indeed, most religious philosophers reject
the Divine Command Theory.

To see why, let us suppose that the theory is correct. Now imagine
the point at which God is choosing a morality for us. God contemplates
the nature of rape, torture, and treachery. What does He see? Being omni­
scient, God sees such actions for what they are. Crucially, He sees nothing
wrong with them. They are, at this point, morally neutral. Nothing, as yet,
is right or wrong.

But God did, at some point, make a decision. He forbade rape, theft,
and most kinds of killing. If the Divine Command Theory is correct, then
He didn’t forbid them because they were immoral. There is nothing about
the actions themselves that invites condemnation. They are wrong only
because God commanded us to refrain from them.

But why would God issue such commands? It may be presumptuous
of us to try to answer that question. But we can ask a slightly different
question: Did God have reasons for His decisions, or not?

Morality and eligion 63

If the Divine Command Theory is true, then there is trouble either
way. If God lacks reasons for His commands-if there is no solid basis sup­
porting His decisions to prohibit certain things, and require others-then
God’s decisions are arbitrary. It would be as if God were creating morality
by a coin toss. But that is surely implausible. A capricious, arbitrary God is
imperfect and unworthy of worship.

So a perfect God must have had excellent reasons for laying down the
moral law as He did. But then these reasons, and not God’s commands, are
what makes actions right or wrong. Actions are not right because God com­
mands them. Whatever reasons support God’s choices also explain why
actions have the moral status they do.

Suppose, for instance, that God really did forbid us from torturing oth­
ers. God must have had very good reasons for doing so. While we can’t pre­
sume to know God’s thoughts, let’s assume, just for purposes of illustration,
that God based His decision on the fact that torture is extremely painful, is
humiliating, is an attack on a defenseless person, and exhibits an extreme
imbalance of power between torturer and victim. Assuming that these are
the relevant reasons, then they, and not God’s say-so, are what makes tor­
ture immoral. These reasons can fully explain why torture is wrong. Torture
is wrong because it is extremely painful, is humiliating, and so on.

God’s condemnation does not turn a morally neutral action into an
immoral one. Rather, God recognizes what is already bad about torture.
There is something in the very nature of torture that makes it morally sus­
pect. Since God kn ows everything, God knows what is detestable about
torture and, in His love for us, orders us not to attempt such actions. God
commands us to refrain from torture because torture is immoral.

The Euthyphro Argument summarizes this line of thinking:

1. Either God has reasons that support His commands, or God lacks
reasons for His commands.

2. If God lacks reasons for His commands, then God’s commands
are arbitrary-and that renders God imperfect, undermining His
moral authority.

3. If God has reasons that support His commands, then these reasons,
rather than the divine commands, are what make actions right or
wrong-thereby refuting the Divine Command Theory.

4. Therefore, either God is imperfect, or the Divine Command Theory
is false.

64 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

5. God is not imperfect.
6. Therefore, the Divine Command Theory is false.

To avoid portraying God as arbitrary, we must assume that He issues
commands based on the best possible reasons. And here are the best pos­
sible reasons: God sees that an action such as torture is immoral, sees,
with perfect understanding, that such things as kindness and compassion
are good, and then issues the divine commands on the basis of this flaw­
less insight. This picture preserves God’s omniscience and integrity. But it
comes at the expense of the Divine Command Theory, and God’s author­
ship of the moral law.

And after all, what is the alternative? If there is nothing intrinsi­
cally wrong with rape or theft, then God could just as well have required
that we do such things. He could have forbidden that we be generous or
thoughtful. But this makes a mockery of morality, and of our view of God
as morally perfect.

The Divine Perfection Argument expresses this point:

1. If the Divine Command Theory is true, then a morally perfect God
could have created a flawless morality that required us to rape, steal
and kill, and forbade us from any acts of kindness or generosity.

2. A morally perfect God could not have issued such commands­
any one who did so would be morally imperfect.

3. Therefore, the Divine Command Theory is false.

The first premise is certainly true. The Divine Command Theory say s
that God’s choices wholly determine morality, and that nothing determines
God’s choices. For if God’s choices were fixed in advance, the only plau­
sible explanation would be that certain kinds of actions were already right
and others already wrong, and that God, in His infinite wisdom, knew this
and issued His commands accordingly. But that is to deny the central idea
of the Divine Command Theory.

The second premise is highly plausible. A moral code that required
such horrific acts, and forbade such good ones, could not be authored by
someone worthy of love and worship, someone fit to serve as a model of
moral perfection.

In my experience, many religious people still feel suspicious about this
rejection of the Divine Command Theory. They worry that the’theory is
needed to preserve God’s perfection. If God doesn’t create the moral law,
then how can He be perfect?

Morality and Religion 65

True, abandoning the Divine Command Theory does mean giving up
the view that God is the author of morality. But this is actually needed in
order to preserve God’s perfection. It allows us to say that God is perfectly
wise, perfectly moral, and perfect in His love for us. Being infinitely wise,
He knows all that is good and evil. Being morally perfect, he flawlessly
measures up to the highest moral ideals. Caring for His human creatures,
He passes along some of that wisdom to us, to better guide our lives. Free
of caprice, He issues His commands on the basis of the very best possible
reasons. There is no room in this picture for the sort of arbitrariness that
would undermine divine perfection.

If this is all on the right track, then we can see that the pessimism of
Dostoevsky’s thought is misguided. The absence of God does not mean the
absence of morality. God is not needed to create the moral law; indeed,
a perfect God is one who fully understands, embraces, and adheres to a
moral law not of His own making.

A perfect God cannot create morality through His whims. If God can­
not be morally mistaken, it is because His understanding is perfect. But
when it comes to morality, it is the understanding of one who does not
author the moral law, but rather completely knows its content, and the
reasons that underlie it. At best, God’s love of certain actions is perfect
evidence of what has value anyway.

Third Assumption: Religion Is an Essential Source
of Moral Guidance
Theists are often reluctant to reject the Divine Command Theory because
they think that doing so leaves God entirely out of the moral picture. But
it doesn’t.

Suppose that God exists, but is not the author of the moral law.
God could still play an indispensable role in morality-not by being
its inventor, but by being its infallible reporter, and our expert guide. If
God exists, and is the sort of God whom traditional monotheism envi­
sions, then God knows everything-including every single nuance of the
moral law. And if God is all-loving, then God will want to share some of
that wisdom with us. How will He do it? By means of revelation, either
personal and direct (say, by talking to you or giving you signs of certain
kinds), or by indirect means (say, by inspiring the authors of a bible to
record His intentions).

Importantly, religious believers who reject the Divine Command The­
ory could easily endorse the following claim:

66 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

An act is morally required if God commands it, and is immoral if God
forbids it.

This looks like the Divine Command Theory, but it is crucially differ­
ent. This view does not claim that acts are right and wrong because of God’s
commands. If we reject the Divine Command Theory, then we must say that
God is not the author of the moral law. But if God exists, then His verdict is
nonetheless morally decisive. God will never make a mistake. If God com­
mands you to do something, then, morally speaking, the matter is settled.

God doesn’t have to be the author of morality in order to play a vital
role in teaching us how to live. We can see this by considering an analogy.
Imagine a perfectly accurate thermometer. If we wanted excellent guid­
ance on the temperature, wea look to this device. But the thermometer
is not creating the temperature. It is recording it in an error-free way. If
we reject the Divine Command Theory, then God is playing a similar role
regarding morality. He is not creating the moral law. He is telling us what
it is, in a way that is never mistaken. His decrees, which come from perfect
knowledge and a deep love for His creatures, can be extremely helpful in
guiding us to an understanding of right and wrong.

There are some worries, of course. Here are some worth mentioning.

• Those who are not religious will need to look elsewhere for moral
guidance. And they may be right to do so, since

• God may not exist.
• God may exist-and yet not offer any advice to us.

This is the God of the deists. To rightly trust religious texts or religious
authority, you must first have more reason to believe that God exists and
relays moral wisdom to us than the reverse.

Even if God exists, and offers us moral advice, there are still two seri­
ous problems for those who seek divine guidance:

• We must select a source of religiOUS wisdom from among many
choices.

• We must know how to interpret that source.

These two problems can be illustrated by working through a popular
Argument from Religious Authority:

1. If the Bible prohibits abortion, then abortion is immoral.
2. The Bible prohibits abortion.
3. Therefore, abortion is immoral.

Morality and Religion 67

The first premise asserts the moral authority of the Bible. But which
bible? Different religions offer us different sacred texts, whose details
sometimes contradict one another. So we must choose. There is presum­
ably one right choice and a great many wrong ones. The odds are stacked
against us.

Premise 1 is plausible only if God has authored the Bible, or dictated
its terms. Religious believers therefore have to make a case that this is so.
They must justify the claims that God exists, that God has communicated
with humanity, and that their favorite bible is the one that contains God’s
wisdom. It won’t be easy to do this.

If God is omnipotent, then He could provide some extremely clear,
undeniable e vidence to settle these matters, evidence that would convince
agnostics, atheists, and members of competing religions. But God has
thus far chosen not to do this. That makes defense of premise 1 especially
tricky.

But the challenges don’t end there. For even if theists can adequately
defend the first premise, and so justify the selection of their preferred
bible, there is the further matter of how to interpret the sacred text. Nei­
ther the Hebrew nor the Christian scriptures, for instance, ever explicitly
mentions abortion, much less prohibits it. So if the second premise can be
defended, it must be in virtue of a non-literal reading of the text. And yet,
as we all know, there are very learned people, deeply familiar with these
religious texts (and traditions), who will in good faith argue for premise 2,
and others, equally well equipped, who will oppose it.

In this regard, debates about how best to interpret a bible are very
much like those that surround Supreme Court jurisprudence. Consider,
for instance, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It tells us
that: ‘}.1 well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,
the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Does this amendment allow states to ban the private purchase of hand­
guns or semiautomatic weapons? Is a mandatory waiting period or a back­
ground security check compatible with this passage? A literal reading of
the text cannot settle the issue. The Constitution and its amendments also
never explicitly mention school desegregation, contraception, privacy, or
inter-racial marriage. And yet brilliant lawyers have produced thoroughly
documented arguments that support many different (and incompatible)
views of our legal rights on these matters.

No text is self-interpreting. When we come across any document that
claims to be authoritative, there are bound to be huge disagreements about

68 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

how best to understand it. The Constitution does not itself contain any
advice on how to interpret its passages. Neither do the sacred texts of the
major world religions.

Those who argue for a literal reading are bound to meet with difficulty.
There will be many important topics that are never mentioned in the cru­
cial text. Those that are may receive contradictory treatments (consider,
as an early example, the literally incompatible creation stories of Genesis
chapters 2 and 3). There may also be morally troubling advice on offer
(think of the passages in Leviticus that permit slavery and the subordina­
tion of women, or those that require killing adulterers and disrespectful
children).

Yet if we move away from a literal reading, we are faced with
countless possibilities for interpreting the biblical texts. Believers must
choose among them, and justify their choice in the face of a wide num­
ber of conflicting approaches. A defense o f premise 2 is, therefore, no
easy matter.

A final difficulty comes when having to balance the demands of a
sacred text with the layers of tradition that form a crucial part of any liv­
ing religion.

When your interpretation of a religious document conflicts with
long-standing religious practice, or the advice of generations of religious
authorities, which should win out? Consider as an example the famous
eye-for-an-eye principle, which seems to be clearly mandated by God
in the Hebrew scriptures (Exodus 21 :23; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy
20:21). Yet Jewish communities and their religiOUS leaders have, for at least
two millennia, read the decree in an imaginative, non-literal way, soften­
ing its implications for wrongdoers and extending the principle to apply
to cases where it cannot be taken literally. Does the text take priority over
traditional practice and religious authority? Or is it the other way around?
Believers must have a plausible view about how to settle such conflicts.
Without one, their take on what God really wants for us may be very wide
of the mark.

To summarize: Those who seek divine guidance in trying to lead a
moral life may succeed. But several conditions must be met. It must be the
case that (1) God exists, and that we can be justified in believing this. (2)
God must offer us moral advice, and we must be able to defend the claim
that He does so. Further, (3) theists must be justified in selecting a particu­
lar source of religious and moral wisdom, such as the Koran, the Book of
Mormon, or the Christian scriptures. Theists must also (4) defend specific

Morality and Religion 69

interpretations of those sources. Finally, when an interpretation conflicts
with tradition, religious believers must (5) successfully argue for the prior­
ity of one over the other.

This is a daunting list. Yet philosophy is full of such lists, and the
difficulty of a project is not, by itself, proof of its failure. Religious believ­
ers have their work cut out for them, no doubt of it. But then so does
everyone else.

Conclusion

There is a great deal to think about when discussing the relation between
morality and religion. I have narrowed the focus to three major assump­
tions, because these seem to lie at the heart of most debates about God’s
role in morality.

Is God needed to ensure that we are morally motivated? No. Morally
admirable behavior comes when we do our duty for its own sake, rather
than from self-interest. Fear of God, or desire for heavenly reward, do not
necessarily tarnish our character. But they are no substitute for a direct
love of morality, which can be displayed as much by atheists as by religious
believers.

Does God create morality? No. Rather, God (if He exists) understands
everything, and so knows precisely what is wrong with such things as rape
and torture, and right about such things as compassion and kindness. He
issues commands on the basis of this perfect understanding, out of love for
His creatures. A God who issues commands for good reasons will rely on
the very best reasons-and those can explain, all by themselves, what is
right and wrong.

Does religion offer reliable moral guidance? Possibly. That depends
on many things-whether God exists and speaks to us, whether we can
know which texts are divinely written or inspired, whether we can defend
our favored interpretations against the competition, and whether we can
balance these interpretations against the importance of religious tradition
and authority in cases of conflict.

In the rest of the book, we do not make use of specifically religious
claims. There are two reasons for this. First, we have seen the many chal­
lenges to the assumption that morality is based on religion, and it is worth­
while seeing how far we can get without having to rely on that assumption.
Second, there is important precedent among religious philosophers for
thinking that God gave us reason and understanding in order to make the

70 THE FUNDAMENTALS OF ETHICS

fundamental truths of morality available to everyone. After all, a caring
God would want even nonbelievers to understand the immorality of rape
and genocide, and to appreciate the goodness of generosity and loving
kindness.

Let us proceed, then, to consider the views of those who, in most
cases, were religious themselves, but who sought secular foundations for
the moral theories they developed.

Notes

1. All terms and phrases that appear in boldface are defined in the glossary at the
end of the book.

2. The God discussed in this chapter is the one endorsed by traditional monotheis­
tic religions: a perfect being who is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all­
powerful), and morally flawless. For simplicity’s sake, I also rely on traditional
usage and refer to God as a male, though nothing that follows hangs on this
usage. I recognize that there are important religious views that reject monothe­
ism, as well as this specific conception of God. Most of the subsequent discus­
sion applies even to these views, but in some cases the focus must be narrower.
At those points, I thought it made sense to address the views likeliest to be
shared by my readers.

3. A variation on this argument, which seeks to show that moral rules are objective
only if God exists, is considered in the final chapter, pp. 313-314.

Ethics in Context

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Ethics in Context

The Art of Dealing with Serious Questions

Gernot Bohme

Translated by Edmund Jephcott

Polity

Copyright © this translation Polity Press 2001
First published in Germany as Gernot Biihme, Ethik im Kontext: iiber den Umgang
mit ernsten Fragen, © Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main 1997

First published in 2001 by Polity Press in association with Blackwell Publishers
Ltd.

Published with the assistance of the Max-Himmelheber Stiftung and the Professor
Dr Alfred Schmid Stiftung.

Editorial office:
Polity Press
65 Bridge Street
Cambridge CB2 1 UR, UK

Published in the USA by
Blackwell Publishers Inc.
350 Main Street
Malden, MA 02148, USA

Marketing and production:
Blackwell Publishers Ltd
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Oxford OX4 1JF, UK

All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purposes of
criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission
of the publisher.

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition
that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or
otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding
or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition
including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
B6hme, Gernot.

[Ethick im Kontext. English]

Ethics in context: the art of dealing with serious questions / Gernot B6hme ; translated
by Edmund Jephcott.

p.cm.

Includes index.
ISBN 0-7456-2638-6-ISBN 0-7456-2639-4 (pbk.)
1. Applied ethics. I. Title.

BJ1l25 .B6413 2001
170-dc21

Typeset in 10.5 on 12 pt Palatino
by SetSystems Ltd, Saffron Walden, Essex
Printed in Great Britain by MPG Books Ltd, Bodmin, Cornwall

This book is printed on acid-free paper.

2001021634

Contents

Acknowledgements vii

Introduction

From a Critique to a New Approach: Serious Questions

Themes of Ethics II

2 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 23

The State of Civilization 23

Our Historical Background 34

Basic Moral Ideas 48

Human Rights, Fundamental Rights 59

3 The Moral Life 74

Skills for Moral Living 74

Being-human-well 88

Play and Seriousness 101

4 Moral Argumentation 115

Moral Questions Concerning External Nature 115

Moral Questions Concerning the Nature We Ourselves Are 131

Moral Problems in Dealing with Foreigners 148

5 Summary 163

Notes 167

Index 177

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cknowledgements

This book evolved from a series of lectures on ethics I gave at the
Technische Universitat Darmstadt in the Winter Semester 1995/96.
My thanks are due to my audience and students for the extensive
discussions I had with them. I would also like to thank Professor
Heidrun Abromeit, Darmstadt, Professor Adalbert Podlech, Darm­
stadt, Professor T. Maruyama, Kyoto, and Dr Christoph Rehmann,
Basel, for their criticism and helpful comments on individual
chapters.

We are not concerned to know what goodness is but
how to become good men, since otherwise our enquiry
would be useless.

courseworkhero.co.uk, Nicomachean Ethics, II, 1 103b 27-9

I

Introduction

From a Critique to a New Approach:
Serious Questions

Interest in a book on ethics can be taken for granted today. That
makes it all the more important to be clear from the outset about
the nature of this interest. Normally, what is expected from a book
is information. But is that still the case when the book is about
ethics?

In posing this question one realizes that the word interest, which
in any other subject is used without a second thought, takes on a
special meaning in the case of ethics. Whereas one’s interest in
other subjects can be satisfied by information, so that interest means
the same as curiosity, the situation is quite different with ethics.
Ethics does not inform us about anything; it does not enlarge
knowledge; it does not respond to curiosity but to a very different
kind of unease. What one expects from ethics is not information
but guidance. To be interested in ethics therefore means to be
‘interested’ in the sense of being involved, being affected. Ethics in
the form of a written text occupies a peculiar position. It presup­
poses in the reader a personal commitment, a disquiet, a willing­
ness to pose questions, a desire to change.

To elucidate this special position of texts on ethics, and at the
same time to clarify the sense in which the term ‘ethics’ is used in
what follows, I think it would be useful to call to mind the
threefold division of philosophy which I adopted in my introduc­
tion to philosophy.l In my view, there are three different ways of
approaching philosophy: it can be seen as a way of life, as practical

2 Introduction

wisdom and as a science. The third of these, philosophy as a
science or a body of knowledge, is the one ordinarily practised at
academic institutions. Philosophy is understood as an area of
knowledge of a specific kind, with its own methods and schools,
with a research frontier which is constantly moving forward and
with special problems generated by the advance of this frontier.
The manner in which this academic philosophy is presented con­
sists essentially in argument and refutation. It shares with science
the ideal of objectivity, which implies a strict division between
knowledge and the person holding that knowledge: the argument
is supposed to be independent of the person who puts it forward
and, conversely, the person can be entirely unaffected by the
knowledge he or she possesses and pursues.

I shall not approach moral philosophy in this way. That does
not mean, however, that such an approach is not possible. On the’
contrary, one cannot help observing that the major part of what is
taught at universities under the heading of ethics, moral philoso­
phy or practical philosophy does, indeed, fall into the category of
philosophy-as-science. In it the structure of deontic statements is
examined, the speech-act of imperatives is defined, the possibility
of moral arguments is studied and the legitimacy of moral judge­
ments analysed. None of this need have anything to do with
personal involvement or commitment; indeed, it does not have to
affect the philosopher, or his or her listeners and readers, at the
personal level at all. Quite the contrary: the less it has to do with
such things, the better – that is, the more scientific. In what follows,
therefore, I shall not expound academic philosophy, or what might
be called the discourse of practical philosophy; nor shall I discuss
its historical development, that is, the history of ethics. Indeed, I
do not know what benefit readers, who, in most cases, will not be
professional philosophers, might derive from such an exercise. I
am aware, or course, that the broad interest in ethics today, which
stems from a profound sense of unease, is fed to a large extent by
the debate being conducted among academic philosophers. Later
in this book, therefore, I shall touch on the history of ethics and
the current academic discourse, but only when something worth­
while can be learned from it. In this introduction, though only
here, I should like to comment on academic discourse and practical
philosophy from a critical standpoint, in order to make clear how
my approach differs from it.

Ethics, as it will be presented here, has less to do with philoso­
phy qua science than with philosophy as a mode of living or a way
of life, and as a body of wisdom for living. Philosophy as a mode

Introduction 3

of living is, in a certain sense, quite the opposite of philosophy as
science. It is concerned with knowledge in so far as it engages with
the person, with a conduct of life which is fundamentally guided
by knowledge, or, more precisely, which is determined by the state
of knowledge of the person concerned. The idea of a special,
philosophical way of life has its prototype in the figure of Socrates.2
Socrates demonstrated in his own person – and tried to bring
about in others – a state of consciousness which provided a basis
for authentic actions, and for giving an account both of one’s
actions and of one’s existence. To lead a philosophical life is not
everyone’s affair; it even implies an aspiration not to be like
everyone else. Nevertheless, the philosophical way of life has acted
as a model for many; it has been disseminated through various
media, such as education, by which it has also been trivialized. In
my introduction to philosophy I showed that the modern way of
living is in many respects a trivialization of the classical ideal of a
philosophical conduct of life.3 This fact alone is enough to indicate
that a philosophical mode of life must be defined differently today
from the one which evolved in the great line of development from
Socrates to Stoicism. This, however, confronts us once more with
the need to distinguish the philosophical life from the average one.
Today, too, it is the case that not everyone is interested in leading
a philosophical life.

If, in what follows, ethics is placed in the context of philosophy
as a mode of living, that means that ethics is an enquiry into a
special mode of life with special claims. And here, too, it is the
case that leading a moral life is not for everyone.

The third approach to philosophy I have called, with Kant,
‘practical wisdom’ (Weltweisheit). Kant distinguishes practical wis­
dom from the philosophy of the schools, that is, from what I have
called scientific philosophy, by saying that it is concerned with
‘what interests everyone’. Consequently, philosophy as practical
wisdom is, to my mind, the philosophy which engages with the
problems confronting us today. Ethics in the framework of practi­
cal wisdom is therefore clearly distinguished from ethics as a
philosophical mode of living. For it is concerned, precisely, with
what interests and involves everyone, that is, with public ques­
tions. Accordingly, moral problems are not regarded in this case
as problems of one’s mode of living, but as problems of public
opinion-forming and social regulation.

This way of understanding philosophy means that an account
of ethics will need to be divided into two distinct parts. The first
part will deal with problems of living, the question as to what a

4 Introduction

moral life consists of and how one must form oneself as a person
in order to be a human being not just somehow, but well. The
second part will be concerned with how, against what background
and with what arguments one can take part in concrete discourse
in order to contribute to a public process of forming opinion on
moral questions, and thereby of establishing social norms. To begin
with, these two parts, these different conceptions of ethics, will be
starkly confronted with each other, without any attempt to soften
the harshness of their juxtaposition. On one hand, philosophical
living, which is not for everyone; on the other, involvement in
problems which interest everyone; on one side, existence and the
formation of personality; on the other, speech and argumentation.
This contrast will not be glossed over, although, later, clear connec­
tions and mediations between the two sides will emerge, and will
make the opposition between them more understandable and
plausible.

First of all, however, I should like to set out my critique of
practical philosophy as it is carried on in academic discourse, and
thereby justify my decision not to base the present book concerning
ethics on that discourse. This critique will take the form of four
theses, each one referring to a particular tendency of academic
ethics or schools of ethics:

1 Academic ethics fails to reach the level of concrete problems. This
criticism applies above all to the so-called ethics of discourse, but
also to other varieties, which see themselves as reconstructions of
Kantian ethics and the ‘categorical imperative’. If one takes the
justification of moral judgements to be the central problem of
ethics, once either confines oneself, like Kant, to purely formal
statements, or, at most, one can, like Apel, extract the implicit
norms from the discursive situation.4 It is, of course, the case that
by entering into a discourse one accepts certain rules and also
subscribes to a mutual recognition between the partners. But it
would be quite impossible to derive any guidelines for concrete
living from that situation. Apel had an inkling of this, and there­
fore suggested what he called bridging principles, or principles of
application (Anwendungsprinzipien),5 the aim of which was to
ensure that such a thing as practical discourse could take place at
all. Nevertheless, this whole undertaking remains an ivory-tower
philosophy, an ethics which fails to recognize moral problems
existing outside in the world as relevant to its work, but is driven
along instead by the increasingly sophisticated arguments of its
academic practitioners. If the ethics of discourse is to have any

Introduction 5

relevance at all, it is to the second part of ethics that I mentioned
just now, the formation of a public consciousness as a background
for necessary social regulations. This is how it was finally under­
stood by Habermas, when he sought to translate the ethics of
discourse into a discourse about the policy of legislation.6

2 Academic ethics fails to address the difference between moral
judgements and moral actions. The academic debate on ethics is
dominated, in almost all philosophical schools, by certain empirical
investigations into the development of moral judgement, as carried
out by Lawrence Kohlberg on the basis of Piaget’s work? In these
investigations the authors constructed a developmental logic of
moral consciousness leading from simple guidance by reward and
punishment through several clearly definable stages to actions
governed by principles. But – and this is the crucial point – these
actions are not really actions at all, but moral judgements. Whether
people who judge a given moral dilemma in such and such a way
according to such and such principles would then act in accor­
dance with their judgement in a concrete situation is a completely
open question. Not only that: it is a question which is not even
asked. These investigations, therefore, are not concerned with the
moral development of the child or adolescent, as they claim, but,
like Piaget’s, with cognitive development. Large sections of moral
philosophy which are strongly influenced by these analyses are
also concerned solely with moral judgements. For example, Tug­
endhat’s Vorlesungen iiber Ethik revolves around the grounds and
backgrounds of moral evaluations.s Although he does seek to
break out of the closed intellectual circle by including motives for
moral judgements as well as grounds or reasons, he cannot leap
the chasm between judgement and action, nor is he even interested
in doing so. One might say that, since Socrates, this chasm has
been the central problem of ethics. ‘Do you hold knowledge to be
something which rules us?’ Socrates asked the Sophist Protagoras.9
The latter believed, like most people, that while one often knows
full well what the good action is, one still does not perform it,
being ‘overcome by desires’. Jesus Christ, in the Gospel of St
Matthew, also says famously: ‘The spirit is willing but the flesh is
weak.’ In Kant’s work it was still clear that moral existence
involved a struggle with one’s own structure of impulses. In
academic philosophy since Freud, and perhaps precisely because
of Freud, there is no longer any discussion of this issue.

3 Academic philosophy continues to propagate illusions about the
relationship between virtue and happiness. That the wicked prosper
and the good do not has been a challenge to ethics from the first.

6 Introduction

Faced by this manifest scandal, ethical reflection has striven in
every conceivable way to demonstrate that it is also advantageous
to strive for the good. Most ethical systems were unable to do
without a long-term perspective, frequently extending into the
after-life, in which being good finally came to the same thing as
being happy. The chasm between the two is usually bridged by
ambiguous talk of the good life or the successful life. One can either
interpret that concept in the manner of Socrates, who maintained
that tyrants were not really happy because they had a tyrannical
inner constitution,lO or one could understand it to mean that the
good person who is in a bad situation can still derive enough
satisfaction from his good deeds to be content. It is incomprehen­
sible to me how anyone, after the horrors and barbarism of the
twentieth century, could still cling to such threadbare consolations.
It is certainly better to emphasize, with Hans Kramer,ll that
morality can prejudice the subjective striving for happiness. Kra­
mer gives the name of striving ethics (Strebensethik) to an area of
ethics explicitly directed towards self-realization and earthly
goods, in which what is held to be good is defined subjectively.
He, at any rate, does not give the impression, under the flimsy
heading of an ethics of the good life, that a moral existence leads at
the same time to a hedonistically fulfilled lifeP

4 Academic ethics fails to locate itself in the context of history and
civilization within which it seeks to be effective. I have already men­
tioned that academic ethics has its starting-point in academic
discourses and not in current moral questions. Indeed, for the most
part it should not be referred to as ethics but as meta-ethics, in that
it does not discuss moral questions but is concerned with the
conditions determining the possibility of such discussion, that is,
with moral argumentation and reasoning. Still worse than this
absence of context is its lack of any historical and social reference.
The discourse of practical philosophy takes no account of the fact
that it is being conducted in the twentieth century, or, more
specifically, in twentieth-century Germany. When, for example,
Wolfgang Kuhlmann, in his introduction to the volume Zerstorung
des moralischen Selbstbewusstseins, claims that ethical discourse in
the German Federal Republic since 1945 has been dominated by
horror at the new barbarism of the twentieth century, that is pure
wishful thinking. He himself admits that explicit concern over the
destruction of the constitutional state and the organized mass
murder in the Third Reich has not found its way into ethical
theories (p. 16),13 It is equally grotesque when, in the same volume,
Apel explains the failure of intellectuals in the Third Reich as an

Introduction 7

error occurring ‘at the CrISIS stage in the transition from the
morality of conventional to that of post-conventional principles’.14
He believes, for example, that ‘a universally valid normative principle
could have preserved Heidegger from total surrender to the kai­
ros’.lS Here the horrors and wretchedness of the twentieth century
are used quite extraneously to recommend one’s own philosophy.
There can be no question of a shattering of previously self-evident
moral truths. Tugendhat thus derives the legitimacy of the state
from his reformulation of the categorical imperative.16 It passes
understanding how a philosopher can be so little a contemporary
of the twentieth century that in such a connection he fails to
mention state terror, the experience of which has shaped our
historical and political consciousness. In the collection mentioned,
only Hans Ebeling even attempts such a thing. In his contribution,
‘V om Schrecken des Staats zum Umbau der Philosophie’ [From
state terror to the reconstruction of philosophy], he states that
philosophical support for the state has become impossible today,
and that ‘refusal of assent [to the state] is not only legitimate but
morally imperative’,17

If we look back on this fourfold critique of academic ethics, it
emerges that my own enterprise in this book must meet four
principal demands: ethics must

• set out from an identification of current moral problems;
• confront the difference between moral judgement and the

possibility and capacity for action.

In addition, it must

• acknowledge the divergence between virtue and happiness;
and, finally,

• make explicit the basic historical conditions under which moral
action and argumentation take place today.

Accordingly, we must first assure ourselves that moral problems
do in fact exist. That this is necessary may seem a little strange,
since I began by noting that a widespread uncertainty over guide­
lines for living was a precondition of the present intensive discus­
sion of ethics, and therefore of this book. Does that not mean that
we all feel ourselves beset by moral problems? Clearly, these two
things are not the same: the general uncertainty over guidelines
can go hand in hand with an average, morally untroubled con-

8 Introduction

sciousness with regard to everyday matters. The reason is that
everyday life and behaviour are, in general, adequately regulated
by considerations of expediency and of what is customary. The
questions as to whether one rides on a bus without paying, tells
lies to one’s partner or evades taxes are not, in my opinion, moral
questions. They are sufficiently regulated or decidable by custom­
ary behaviour and worldly wisdom, which can sometimes simply
be called shrewdness. Admittedly, there are authors who regard
such questions as moral questions as well. I should therefore state
that here and in what follows I use the term moral questions in a
specific sense, to refer to questions which concern serious matters.
This view will be explained and justified in the course of the book.
For now I will say only that when I assert that there are moral
questions, I mean that there are questions which arise at certain
times when matters become serious for each of us. How we decide
those questions determines who we are and what kind of people
we are.

However, in terms of the division of this book set out above, I
have so far stated what a moral question is for only one part of the
book – the part concerned with the moral existence of the individ­
ual and the development of the individual’s mode of life. The
other aspect of ethics relates to the formation of public opinion as
a background for necessary social regulations. Here, too, I would
maintain that moral questions exist today. What does that mean in
this context? By analogy with the first definition, one might say
that these questions are those which arise when matters become
serious for society, which decide the kind of society we live in.
Certainly, that is not a bad answer. But here, too, one must first
satisfy oneself that moral questions do actually exist in the sphere
of social arrangements and regulations. For it could equally be the
case that everything in that sphere is done according to expedi­
ency, or according to the knowledge provided by science – or
simply by convention. It is not difficult to give examples of such
morality-free social regulations. Road traffic arrangements, for
example, are a matter partly of expediency and partly of con­
vention. Accordingly, legislators attempt to base regulations
concerning matters such as emissions control on purely scientific
facts – for example, facts about toxicity. Of course, such attempts
frequently conceal an element of convention, and some critics
would contend that even definitions of emissions threshold values
are moral questions, i.e. value judgements. The term ‘value’ is not,
perhaps, a happy choice, since it can too easily carry economic
connotations. But it does point in the direction from which one

Introduction 9

might expect an answer to the question as to what a moral question
is in the context of public opinion formation. It is a question of
social regulation which cannot arise solely through expedience or
through mere convention, but requires a more general guideline.
This general guideline can be one which a society, our society, has
always possessed, i.e. one which society has adopted historically
or implicitly through the form of its communal life; or it can be
one which it has to arrive at by a majority decision and which
becomes the basis of communal life from then on. Such basic
guidelines are, in fact, often called values, or basic values – as in
the debates between political parties on fundamental values, or
when one speaks of the basic values oj our democracy – or they may
be referred to as fundamental rights, such as (to mention the most
important example) human rights.

All this merely indicates formally what moral questions are. It
has, however, already had one interesting result: it has brought to
light the analogy between the two otherwise quite heterogeneous
areas of ethics. A moral question in the area of ethics concerned
with the formation of an individual mode of living is a question
by which it is decided how a person regards himself or herself,
and who that person is; a moral question in the field of the public
discourse devoted to establishing social norms is a question by
which it is decided how a society regards itself and what it
becomes. In each case these are questions in which matters become
serious for the individual person or for the society.

To support the contention that moral questions really do exist
today in both areas it will be enough to give one example for each
area. For the first area, a difficulty might arise from the fact that
the point at which matters become serious for a particular person
is highly individual and is different for each person. That is correct.
It is, however, characteristic of the shared nature of our life
situation that one can specify at least the dimensions within which
matters become serious at some point for everyone. One such
dimension is defined by the possibilities of technical-scientific
medicine. The possibilities of manipulation made available by
technical-scientific medicine are such that it is no longer clear
today what the individual must accept as simply a given feature
of one’s corporeal existence. The need for sleep can be regulated
by sedatives and stimulants, mood by other stimulants and psy­
cho-pharmaceuticals, fitness and physique can be enhanced, apti­
tudes can be modified (or will be in the near future) by gene
manipulation, organs can be exchanged in case of sickness and,
finally, life itself can be prolonged far beyond the patient’s active

10 Introduction

ability to determine its content. The range of these possibilities for
manipulation is in principle unlimited; that is, there is no pre­
existing definition of what must be accepted as unalterably ‘ given’
and therefore as nature. Two moral problems are connected with
this. One is that by granting unlimited scope to scientific-technical
manipulation, one forfeits the possibility of self-determination.
Experts decide what is to be done, within the range of what is
technically feasible. It follows from this, however, that the preser­
vation of the person as a self-determining agency requires that, at
some point, one should say ‘No’ to this unlimited manipulation.
The second problem presents itself in a similar way, although
against a different background. Traditionally, humanity’s way of
understanding itself has been determined by the difference
between nature and self-consciousness, between ‘facticity’ and
‘project’. The moral worth of people was decided in terms of the
way in which they dealt with their given physical circumstances,
their dispositions, illnesses, blows of fate, and so on. But if nature
itself is now at our disposal, that is, if it is no longer clear what
must actually be accepted as given, the stage on which a person
can prove his or her moral worth has been, in a sense, removed.
As the possibilities of technical manipulation are now a part of our
world as a matter of fact, one cannot deny that the boundary
between nature and consciousness, facticity and project, has
become movable. Yet who one is, that is to say the integrity of the
person, is decided by whether and where this boundary is located.
Here, again, it cannot be said in general terms that one’s moral
existence is decided through a struggle with one’s own nature, but
it can be said that it is decided by the fact that one does recognize
at least something in oneself as ‘nature’. This makes it clear that,
for all people at some time, their moral existence is decided within
this dimension, although it is an entirely individual matter at which
point within this dimension the decision occurs.

The second example is taken from the field of social regulations.
Here I shall choose the debate on euthanasia. This example has
nothing to do with individual morality, but is concerned with
social regulation. This regulation is necessary, on one hand,
because in our society there is a general prohibition on killing, and
because, more particularly, doctors are obliged by the Hippocratic
oath to exercise their profession with the objective of preserving
life. On the other hand, there is a need for social regulation
because, in view of the possibilities of modern medicine, and
especially that of intensive care, it has become possible to preserve
life to an extent which, in individual cases, can lead to a humanly

Introduction I I

degrading form of existence. Another legitimation for considering
a relaxation of the prohibition on killing in this case is the right of
self-determination, also universally recognized. The need for social
regulation has arisen, therefore, partly as a result of technical­
medical developments, and thus historically, and partly as a result
of a tension between two different basic values, one calling for the
preservation of life and the other for self-determination. That this
is a moral question is obvious: certain basic values or guidelines
upheld by society as a whole are at issue. But this example also
makes it clear that such moral questions can only be decided by
taking account of the historical context of the debate. In this case,
of course, the practice in the Third Reich of eliminating those
‘unworthy of life’ plays a part. It is quite impossible to decide on
this question today without seeing it against the background of a
misuse of the idea of euthanasia – if the practice of the Third Reich
can be described even as that. What is at issue here, therefore, is
not only basic values but our society’s historical understanding of
itself.

Looking back at these examples, I should like to note one other
formal difference between them, which throws light on what can
be achieved by this book on ethics, understood as a contribution
to general discourse, not a personal conversation. In considering
questions which effectively decide what an individual is, we can
say nothing at all about the individuat but only something general
about the dimension within which it is decided at some time what
each person is. In considering the moral questions which relate to
society at large, and which for that reason must be treated in the
form of argument and general discourse, it has emerged that,
ultimately, these questions can only be decided if one refers
radically to the social individual, that is to say, if one refers not to
society in general but to our German society.

Themes of Ethics

The field of ethics is divided up in various ways. Such classifica­
tions have to do with degrees of universality, for example. Thus,
one speaks of general and specific ethics. But distinctions are also
made, according to the addressee, between individual ethics and
social ethics, or, according to the type of behaviour, between the
ethics of striving or the ethics of virtue, and regulatory ethics or

1 2 Introduction

moral philosophy. Hegel’s distinction between ethical life (Sitt­
lichkeit), i.e. the norms which are implicitly followed in everyday
behaviour, and morality (Moralitiit), i.e. behaviour based on prin­
ciples, has been very influential. No less so was Kant’s distinction
between the critique of practical reason and the metaphysics of morals,
the former corresponding to meta-ethics, that is, the clarification
and justification of moral propositions, while the metaphysics of
morals contains the elaboration of duties, up to and including legal
regulations. The various classifications of ethics have also often
been associated with terminological definitions of the terms
‘ethics’, ‘morality’, ‘morals’ (Ethik, Moral, Sittlichkeit). The attempts
to give these terms, some of which have their origin in Latin, some
in Greek and some in the Germanic languages, an unambiguous
and restricted meaning have not succeeded in their aim, and I shall
use them here in varying ways, as best suits the particular context.
Meta-ethics will not be dealt with in this book. On the contrary, its
declared aim is to get as close to the real moral questions as
possible. Meta-ethical considerations will therefore only be intro­
duced ad hoc, where they are needed. With regard to the practical
relevance of ethics, its function as a guideline for behaviour, I
would like to propose a three-part division. The first part deals
with the theme of ‘being-human-well’, the second with the theme
of customary behaviour and the third with the theme of establish­
ing social conventions. Of these three parts only the first and third
fall within the field of philosophy in the strict sense. To determine
what is customary is the business of social psychology and cultural
studies; to reinforce and propagate customary behaviour as a
guideline for living is the affair of education in the widest sense.
Here, in the framework of philosophical ethics, the primary focus
will be on virtue and on the discursive guidelines which are
intended to lead to norms of behaviour. Customary behaviour will
therefore be given somewhat more extensive treatment than the
other themes in this introductory presentation of the three parts.
Customary behaviour stands midway between virtue and behav­
ioural norms, and also has a certain function of mediating between
them.

Being-human-well

What I refer to here as ‘being-human-well’ bore the title in classical
ethics, depending on the language, of arete, virtus, or virtue. I do not

Introduction 13

use these terms, because it is no longer possible to work directly
within the tradition they represent. Although there has recently
been a renascence or rehabilitation of ‘virtues’ in English-language
philosophy,I8 it will not be possible to revive the equivalent term
Tugend in German. It has been too seriously devalued by the
eighteenth-century catalogues of virtues and vices, and the prudery
of the Victorian age. The word ‘virtuous’ (tugendhaft) calls to mind
a bashful young girl rather than a virile young man.

For my purposes, the same still applies to ‘virtue’ in English.
When I speak, instead, of ‘being-human-well’, I seek to invoke the
original meaning and scope of the Greek word arete. The Greeks
spoke not just of the arete of a man or a woman, but of a horse or
even a knife. This meaning actually emerges most clearly in
connection with the arete – the ‘goodness’ – of the knife. For the
goodness of the knife is not something added to its being, but is,
precisely, the fact that it is ‘good at being a knife’. This assumes
that a knife can be what it is, a knife, more or less well. It emerges
from this locution that in calling a knife good one is also calling it
better than others. The same meaning is contained in the general
use of the Greek term arete. This term is connected to the concept
good, agathos, via the superlative form aristos, best,19 The arestoi are
the best people, the aristocrats, the rulers. It follows that whenever
goodness is at issue, being better is also at issue, and that by
asking about goodness one has already raised the question of
comparison, of distinction from what is worse.

It can be seen at this point that the theme of ‘goodness’ must be
distinguished from the question of customary behaviour. To be
guided by customary behaviour and to conduct oneself as people
usually do is the exact opposite of engaging with the dimension of
comparison. Someone who conforms to customary behaviour is a
good person in the sense that they are polite, reliable, inoffensive.
To call someone a good person in the context of the customary has
an almost pejorative connotation: he or she is innocuous, incapable
of causing a stir but, at any rate, amenable enough.

In the everyday locution about good people the idea ‘good’ has
not yet become part of ‘being human’. It is a kind of additional
predicate, a quality. But when I refer to ‘goodness’ as the first
theme of ethics, I do not mean that a person is designated as good
according to this or that criterion, but that he or she is a person well.
Goodness refers here, therefore, to an inner possibility of compari­
son, or heightening, or development, towards a perfectibility
within the person, towards the humanity of the person which is to
be developed.

14 Introduction

The term ‘goodness’ in the sense of being-human-well thus
presupposes a quite specific way of looking at the human being, a
specific type of self-understanding, a philosophical anthropology.
Of course, everyone whom one encounters empirically is a human
being, and it is extremely important to keep this in mind; it is also
possible to content oneself with empirical existence and to confine
oneself in general to customary behaviour. But discourse about
being-human-well presupposes within our understanding of the
human being, or introduces into it, a difference between what the
human being is empirically and what he or she really ought to or
could be. In his lectures on anthropology Kant characterized this
difference by saying that he was speaking of anthropology both in
the physical and in the pragmatic sense. Anthropology in the
physical sense deals with human beings as they exist, as one
actually finds them and as they find themselves, whereas anthro­
pology in the pragmatic sense refers to human beings with regard
to that which they can make of themselves. It can be seen that in
speaking about a person’s goodness in the sense of being a human
well, and thus about a crucial portion of ethics, one is concerned
with a rift or fissure running through human existence, an inner
danger, a risky undertaking which will not necessarily meet with
success. It may be, also, that one has to take account of evil as a
specific power – I shall come back to that. But what emerges here
is that in setting out towards being-human-well one encounters
dangers along the way. Sophocles’s statement that ‘of all things
man is the most terrible’20 already suggests something of this
ambivalence. The term he uses, deinoteros, means more capable,
more powerfuC as well as more terrible. A being who is not
content with the way he finds himself is a being at risk.

The striving to be good always presupposes an idea of what a
human being ‘properly’ is, an idea of the ideal human being. To
achieve goodness means to heighten one’s being, to raise oneself
out of empirical indeterminacy. The heightening of human exist­
ence towards an ideal has always entailed an increase in one­
sidedness, a certain narrowing. The so-called virtues – bravery,
self-mastery, chastity, etc. – were dimensions of this narrowing.
Certainly, humanism, with its idea of all-round education, did
something to counteract this tendency, though it did so at the price
of failing to recognize that heightening always also involves loss.
Nevertheless, it did perceive correctly that the striving for height­
ened humanity always contains a tendency towards hubris.
Nietzsche gave expression to this tendency in his concept of the
Ubermensch. In the Third Reich this concept, in combination with

Introduction 15

racist ideas, brought forth its corollary, the concept of the subhu­
man being, and a praxis based on contempt for humanity. We
have every reason today to include in the idea of human goodness
a recognition of the dependencies and fragility of human beings.

To be a human being well means consciously to appropriate,
explicate and intensify what it is to be human. For this reason, this
aspect of ethics always has a relationship to anthropology,
although to a philosophical anthropology, i.e. to the elaboration of
a human self-understanding. We shall have to concern ourselves
with the question whether that means tying ethics back into
metaphysics, into concepts of being, or tying it to nature, as in
speaking of natural rights as rights ‘which are born with us’. I
believe that a pragmatic conception of anthropology enables us to
avoid these implications. What is ordinarily called the essence of
man consists only of historically conditioned self-images or ideals
of the human being, which one uses to set oneself apart from one’s
given empirical existence. We shall not be concerned with such
ideals of human existence in ethics, but with the difference which
underlies their emergence – the difference between facticity and
project, or, in more traditional terms, between nature and freedom.
To be a human being well means to expose oneself fully to this
difference, and not just to be guided one-sidedly and therefore
blindly by a human ideal, whether it be reason, ‘being-a-person’
or freedom; but it also means to be able to accept and live out
facticity, one’s given existence, the fact that one is not the ground
of one’s own self. To be human well means also to be nature, to be
aware of one’s dependence on history and other human beings, to
be aware that one does not represent humanity on one’s own, but
that, through the very striving for intensification, one becomes
one-sided and therefore in need of completion by others. It is
precisely this which distinguishes being-human-well from the tra­
ditional ideal of ‘the good person’, and from the traditional ideals
of an ethics of striving. The body as the nature which we ourselves
are, feelings which come over us and take possession of us and
thereby cause us to be engaged in the world, our dependence on a
livelihood and on recognition by others – all these are essential
parts of the human condition, and to be able to live out these
conditions is just as much a part of being-human-well as the
formation of will and responsibility for our actions.

16 Introduction

Customary behaviour

Customary behaviour refers to those things one does, which are
required by custom, which are expected of us. Traditionally, the
sphere of customary behaviour was called ethos or mores. But it
would be quite mistaken to describe this sphere as that of morality
in the proper sense. Morality only arises when, for good reasons,
one deviates from customary behaviour, or prepares for new
common practices by challenging the existing ones. The sphere of
customary behaviour is therefore one in which neither moral
decisions nor moral argumentation is required. It thus has no need
of philosophy, though it does need the sphere of education in
order to propagate itself.

If this characterization might appear to confer second-rank
status on the sphere of customary behaviour, since it contains no
moral challenges, that impression should be revised at once. For it
is customary behaviour which regulates our ordinary conduct and
relieves us of the need for decisions and justifications in our
everyday lives. And it is also customary behaviour which affects
the greater mass of people. While it is not everyone’s affair to lead
a moral life or to participate in practical discourse, everyone is
nevertheless guided generally by customary behaviour. For this
reason, the functional expectations placed on ethics can best be
achieved through customary behaviour. And the hopes placed on
ethics are, indeed, high. Environmental ethics is expected to put a
stop to ecological destruction, peace ethics is expected to prevent
wars, scientific and technical ethics is expected to direct these
potentialities for the benefit of humanity. Too much, in fact, is
expected of ethics, especially if the expectations are directed at the
sense of responsibility or at actions guided by principle. The world
is not changed by morality, and, moreover, it would be a degra­
dation of morality to place on it demands for functional benefits.
Changes to customary behaviour, on the other hand, can be
effective. And it in no way detracts from customary behaviour to
justify it by its usefulness. For example, it does actually make a
difference whether or not it is customary in a culture to wrap each
gift in paper. It will make a difference if it is frowned upon to get
in a car each time one goes to post a letter. And it will make a
difference for the entire system of water distribution whether or
not it is customary within a national society to take a shower in
the morning. Precisely because customary behaviour is effective

Introduction 17

on a mass scale, i t can perform certain functions through its effects
and side-effects. It is important to note, however, that behaviour
in accordance with custom, or against it, in no way depends on
the moral justification of customary behaviour. It is sufficient that
the behaviour is, or is not, required by custom.

One does not conform to customary practices in one’s behaviour
because they are moral, but because infringement of them is
penalized. Someone who does not respect customary practices is
noticed, viewed with suspicion, ‘does not fit in’ and, in some cases,
especially if the person concerned is a child, is admonished or
punished. Customary practices must, however, be distinguished
from laws. They are much like unwritten laws; they have unofficial
validity and are not enforced by public authorities. A person’s
moral existence does not depend on them, but his or her social
status and reputation certainly do. For this reason the most general
heading under which customary behaviour can be placed is that
of respectability.

This term, too, has slightly pejorative connotations. Respect­
ability is not morality; it can be upheld merely for the sake of
appearance, or for opportunistic reasons. To give substance to this
formulation, a number of customary practices, or species of such
practices, will be listed.

First of all, there is politeness:21 it is customary to be polite
towards other people, especially strangers. The rules of politeness
preserve a certain distance and ensure that one’s interlocutors are
acknowledged and treated with respect. They also imply that one
is attentive, obliging and considerate towards their personhood,
especially their sense of honour.

The example of politeness allows us to study two characteristics
which reappear in analogous form in other forms of customary
behaviour. First, the restricted, perspectival application of polite­
ness. Politeness first came into being as a form of conduct among
equals, the nobility, the court society – hence the term ‘courtesy’.
That is typical of customary behaviour. What is customary is
customary here for us, or among us, in this region or in this firm.
Although politeness has been disseminated by the social mechan­
ism of imitation through all strata of society,22 it is characteristic
that as late as Kant’s time the German bourgeoisie expressed
opposition to ‘courtesy’ (Hoflichkeit) and attempted to replace it
with ‘urbanity’ (Urbanitiit). Even though courtesy is no longer
dass-specific today, it is perspectival: one relates politely to others
in particular respects. Polite behaviour is not a direct or intimate
form of behaviour. This means that in personal relationships in

18 Introduction

which politeness is suspended through lack of distance, behaviour
may be much more authentic than in relation to strangers, but it
may also be much more brutal. In saying this we have touched on
the other characteristic of customary behaviour – what can be
referred to critically as its inauthenticity. If I am guided by custom­
ary behaviour, I do what people do. That can mean that I am not
authentic in my behaviour, and therefore not moral; moreover, it
may be that what people do is to be regarded as immoral from the
standpoint of general principles.

That would not be assumed in the case of ordinary politeness.
But it becomes more problematic in the case of loyalty. It is
customary to be loyal, i.e. loyal towards the state in which one
lives, the institution one serves, and towards the partners with
whom one collaborates. Loyalty is one of the forms of customary
behaviour which best enable us to see that such behaviour is basic
to the functioning of society. To be loyal means that one does what
is expected by the community of one’s own accord, i.e. without
compulsion. Loyalty is therefore, in principle, particularistic. It
does not depend on a test to establish whether the community’s
expectations are legitimate.

Commitment should be seen as closely related to loyalty. One is
expected to be committed to the institution by which one is
employed, to champion its cause, to pursue its objectives. There
are cases in which one is required to confirm this commitment by
a promise or an oath. But as a rule it is simply customary, and if
one does not conform to this customary behaviour one is dis­
missed. The efficiency of a firm depends on the commitment of its
employees.

I come now to a number of forms of customary behaviour which
have a far more moral appearance: responsibility, fidelity and
solidarity. These could, it is true, be referred to as virtues in the
traditional sense, or they could be lived out in our sense as forms
of being-human-well. Normally, however, they are no more than
customary behaviour. Responsibility in politics does not refer to
far-sighted or even caring behaviour, but simply means that one
must answer for what happens in one’s department. And answer­
ing for it does not imply that one is bound to make good any
damage, but merely that one leaves one’s post: to take political
responsibility means vacating one’s seat for someone else and
drawing one’s pension in peace.

Active fidelity can be a great deal more than mere customary
behaviour. But as it is normally lived, fidelity has little to do with
one’s actual feelings: one simply does not have ‘affairs’. The status

Introduction 19

of fidelity as customary behaviour can be seen particularly clearly
from the fact that its infringement, an affair, does not put an end
to it; on the contrary, no effort is spared to preserve fidelity as the
semblance which it is.

Lastly, solidarity. Solidarity can, it is true, be a dimension of
being-human-well. But the average form of solidarity, and thus the
form which has an essentially broad and collective effect, is no
more than customary behaviour. Everyone is willing to be affected
by what affects the others – I mean the relevant others, such as
family members. No special moral effort is normally required for
this. Especially in its customary form, solidarity enables us to see
that customary behaviour is by no means contemptible, and can
even move individuals to make significant sacrifices – if such a
term may be used in this case. But solidarity as customary behav­
iour has limited influence, and usually does not go beyond
allegiance to small groups, a family, a neighbourhood, an associa­
tion.23 Customary solidarity should therefore be distinguished
radically from the demands of charity. For the latter requires us to
be affected by what befalls anyone.

As a last example of customary behaviour I should like to
mention honesty. It is customary to tell the truth because com­
munication as information or, more correctly, as a system for
exchanging statements, would otherwise not function. It is aston­
ishing that Kant sought to use this functional argument to justify
the prohibition on lying as a moral prohibition. But, as we have
already said, expediency disregards morality. To tell the truth is
merely customary. This can be seen from the difference between
cultures on this point, a difference which, at the least, is one of
degree. Even in our culture politeness is a form of customary
behaviour which can have a strained relationship with honesty.
Honesty is expected so that statements can normally be relied on.
For this reason, honesty is enforced by admonition and sanctions.

I shall not say anything further about the area of customary
behaviour. It is not of central interest to a philosophy of ethics.
Indirectly, however, it will always be relevant. In a sense, what is
customary is the preliminary stage of morality proper. Anyone
who does not know what people do, and who has not mastered the
area of customary behaviour, will hardly be able to go legitimately
beyond it. And in the absence of deeper insight, or a commitment
to something more far-reaching, it is always best to abide by what
is customary. Politeness is paradigmatic of this. A polite relation­
ship to another person is certainly not in itself an authentic relation­
ship, and falls far short of personal engagement and encounter.

20 Introduction

But, given the high level of risk which is entailed in any personal
encounter, it is always advisable to remain at least polite, or to
keep open the way for a return to the level of polite intercourse.
Moreover, as I have already emphasized, the mass-efficacy of
ethics is only possible through customary behaviour. On the other
hand, there is always a danger that customary behaviour will
become a vehicle for inhumanity. This danger results from the
generally restricted nature of the group upholding customary
behaviour – a social stratum or class, an ethnic group – and from
its historically and politically conditioned character. I need only
recall that at certain times it was not customary in Germany ‘to
patronize Jewish shops’ or to marry one’s daughter to ‘a member
of a different religion’. In my youth it was still customary to beat
children at school; in South America and Africa it is customary to
circumcise women. And in Germany it is customary to regard
contraception as the woman’s concern.24 It can be seen from these
examples that morality only really begins where one breaches
customary behaviour, or works to change it.

Moral judgement and moral argument

It is generally believed that ethics has to do with action. Yet the
subject matter of ethical theory and of practical ethical discourse is
judgement of good and bad, right and wrong. The fact that ethics
as theory and discourse is concerned with moral judgement, with
moral argumentation, could easily lead to the view that it is
actually irrelevant to action. For nothing guarantees that someone
will act as they think, or that their capacity for judgement is in
harmony with their ability to act. This confusion can be removed
by making some basic distinctions. Moral discourse has, indeed,
nothing to do with the individual’s capacity for moral actions. The
ability to act depends on very different capabilities than does the
ability to judge. And moral judgement and moral argumentation
take place in a very different sphere, and have a quite different
goal, to that of moral action.

Moral judgement and moral argument form part of the field of
public opinion-formation. Sanctions, and therefore pressure to
respect customary behaviour, can be applied through public opin­
ion. But customary behaviour can also be altered by public opin­
ion. That is even the most important function of moral
argumentation. It serves to problematize customary behaviour, or

Introduction 2 1

in some cases to legitimize it, or to prepare new forms of custom­
ary behaviour and build a consensus for them. This consensus can
give rise to legal regulations. Conversely, the process of legislation
which is carried on through parliament and public opinion fre­
quently requires moral justifications. Legislation is by no means
just a matter of convention. If it merely called for agreement, it
could be arbitrary or simply an affair of the majority. In fact,
however, what can be agreed upon is embedded in a context of
moral conceptions, and, prior to agreement, arguments for this or
that possibility are conducted on the basis of those conceptions.
What the moral conceptions are, and which background contexts
are being referred to in moral argumentation, generally becomes
clear in the course of the discussion. They may be very deep­
seated taboos, or basic values of the society in which one lives, or
they may be human rights, or traditional, customary practices. In
all cases, therefore, it must be said that moral arguments link
conventions to a background of moral conceptions. These concep­
tions are never ‘ultimate justifications’ derived from some supreme
or final principle, but are only the justifications which are neces­
sary and called for during the argument. In the context of an
argument in which certain questions are in contention, the argu­
ment will be carried on until a background on which the partici­
pants are agreed has been found, and on the basis of which the
conventions under discussion can be debated. As a rule this
background is rich and diffuse, not poor and specific. In this
respect ApeI’s strategy of final justifications does not seem to meet
the needs of real practical discourses. Moral competence as a
capacity for judgement and argumentation consists, above all, in
being able to relate existing problems to such backgrounds in
regulating social praxis.

Of course, there are moral arguments which relate to particular
actions. They arise when an actor or wrongdoer is called upon to
justify an action, for example in court. Admittedly, the nature of
trials is normally such that they are primarily concerned with
ascertaining facts, which are then assessed in relation to laws,
while moral arguments are used rather as qualifications to
heighten or moderate the incrimination of the culprit. They are
therefore usually put forward not by the defendant but by their
counsel or the counsel for the prosecution. Corresponding more
closely to the situation of moral justification is the everyday
making of excuses. Here, one is concerned, for example, to justify
one’s failure to meet the expectations of others. In doing so, one
will have to appeal to shared basic moral ideas. Structurally,

22 Introduction

therefore, the case is not different to that of the argumentation for
certain regulatory standards, but it has an interest of its own in
that the moral justification one gives for an action can be funda­
mentally different to the reasons for which the action has been
carried out. Incidentally, the central objective of Kant’s categorical
imperative is to equate these two things – the moral arguments for
an action and the reasons for carrying it out. This takes us back to
the first part, to the question whether moral existence can actually
be determined in that way.

The moral evaluation of particular actions and their moral
justification do, in fact, play a major part in everyday life. The
background of ideas to which reference is made in such justifica­
tions is not, however, very far removed from the actions. As a rule,
the ideas relate to customary behaviour. At the moment when one
goes beyond this background, the argument about particular
actions turns into one about the legitimacy of customary behaviour
itself. That is to say, the argument reverts to the one referred to as
the first case – that moral arguments are those which lead to new
social conventions relating to behavioural norms.

If I said earlier that moral arguments link behavioural norms to
a background of basic moral ideas, that might be misunderstood
to mean that I was simply talking about a transition to a higher
level of generality, a transition, one might say, from laws to
principles. That is indeed the case, but I also meant more than that.
For the background one refers to is not only a background of
principles but of concrete historical conditions. Both in the forma­
tion of social conventions and in the justification of particular
actions, both of these, principles and situational background con­
ditions, play a part. There can be a certain tension between them.
At any rate, modes of argumentation can differ, depending on
whether they give greater weight to principles or to situational
conditions. In the debate about Kohlberg’s stages in the formation
of moral judgement these two alternatives were divided – not very
felicitously – between male and female moral judgement,25 That
might give rise to hopes that, in considering social conventions as
well as in judging individual actions, the best results would be
achieved through a co-operation between men and women. Inde­
pendently of any such considerations of differing competences in
moral judgement, it can be said, at any rate, that a purely univer­
salist morality cannot represent the truth. Rather, it is always
necessary to take account of the historical and social context in
which moral questions are posed and moral conventions are
negotiated.

2

The ontext of Moral
Living and

Argumentation

The State of Civilization

Statements about the project of being-human-well, and about the
possibility and necessity of moral argumentation, must begin by
taking account of the state of being human which forms the context
of those statements. The historical background against which they
are made must also be considered. Since the eighteenth century
the section of humanity to which we belong has referred to its
present state as ‘civilization’. Underlying this self-evaluation was
an assumption about the broad trend of human development
which we can no longer accept. Europeans regarded themselves as
civilized in contrast to savages and primitive peoples who lived
close to nature. They believed they could define themselves in
terms of their distance from nature. This meant, in the first place,
their distance from their own nature, but it also implied emanci­
pation from external nature, through controlling it.

The state of being ‘civilized’ was therefore distinguished from
nature as a whole, and referred to a condition of human beings in
which their humanity was thought to be enhanced, or even only
achieved in the first place, through self-control and distancing. On
the other hand, being civilized was also understood as just one step
towards a humanity which was yet to be produced. Kant divided
the development of humanity – a development through which
human beings were to become truly human for the first time – into
three stages: civilization, culture and morality. We no longer share
the optimism of the Enlightenment, which enabled Kant to pose
the question ‘whether the human race is engaged in a constant

24 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

progression towards a better state’.! The shock of the last century,
caused by the outbreak of a new barbarism in Europe, the horror
that such a thing was possible among ‘civilized peoples’, has been
too profound. Nevertheless, the state of humanity which we must
take as our starting-point from an ethical standpoint must be
referred to as a civilized state. But this state can no longer be
described in terms of progress; it must be defined quite simply as
a structure both of the internal organization of human beings and
of their external circumstances. If this is done, it might also become
clear that the danger of the new barbarism was inherent in this
very organization of human existence.

Civilization has always been characterized by its analysts as a
process, not a state – as when Max Weber speaks of a process of
rationalization and Norbert Elias of the ‘civilizing process’. This
description is not inadmissible, provided it is understood, not as
an account of human history in general, but as the line of devel­
opment followed by European people. It also has the advantage
that a number of recent developments can be described, under the
heading of technical civilization, as a continuation, a modification or
a reversal of the civilizing process.

This book is concerned with an ethics of technical civilization.
That implies that the meaning of the concept of being-human­
well must be elaborated against the background of the state of
technical civilization, and that the necessary regulating mecha­
nisms which must be justified morally by ethical discourse arise
from this state. An ethics in which a moral question is defined
as one by which it is decided, for the individual, what kind of
a human being he or she is, and for society, what kind of a society
it is, posits the human being in a radical sense as an histori­
cal being. It is embedded in an historical anthropology. It is not
an ethics in the universal sense, but an ethics of technical
civilization.

When we speak today, in an ethical context, of entities such as
body and soul, conscience, drives or, with Freud, of Ego, Id and
Super-Ego, these are not historically invariable structures, but arise
from a specific, historically conditioned attitude of the human
being towards him- or herself. These organizational forms and
structures of the human being could, in principle, differ between
individuals and even be situation-dependent. But as they are
mediated by processes of socialization and are constantly
reinforced by interpersonal expectations and sanctions, they can
be posited as the average constitution of the modern human being,
and therefore of ourselves. Under the heading of the civilizing

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 25

process Norbert Elias has described the historical genesis of such
structures.

The most important dimension of the civilizing process for us is
the transfer of the mechanism of behaviour-regulation from with­
out to within. Norbert Elias shows that the repression of spon­
taneous behaviour, of passions and desires which originally – that
is, prior to the modern age – was applied by external obstacles,
authorities and force, is effected in modern people by an internal
agency. The habituation to self-control was originally an attribute
of people of higher social strata, especially the courtier. Today it is
the factor which makes the modern human being calculable and
unobtrusive. The repression of drives is so deep-seated that they
are no longer able to develop into passions and become conscious.
This affect-control, which is almost automatic and thus is not a
moral attainment, operates in two directions. On the one hand it
prevents strong desires and wishes from arising, and on the other
it impedes receptivity to strong stimuli, and susceptibility to
powerful feelings and impressions. This blocking of affects and
stimuli has been inculcated since the eighteenth century, when it
was directed primarily – in a way which is hardly comprehensible
today – against imagination. Even at the beginning of that century
imagination had been regarded as a receptivity to images, a
capacity for picturing something, and thus as the faculty of sym­
pathy, or of compassion and empathy for others. The product of
this twofold, habitual affect-control is what we encounter as bour­
geois emotional coolness, but also the objectivity which is charac­
teristic of modern people. To refer to such people as bourgeois or
citizens is, however, anachronistic, as we are concerned, rather,
with the modern transport user and professional person. This type
of person – that is, ourselves – is distinguished by a very high
degree of functional usefulness; mobility and flexibility, in addition
to the traditional values of punctuality, discretion, reliability and
willingness to perform, are further intensifications of this type. To
the independence from drives and stimuli they add a severance
from regional and family ties.

Now, one might think that this highly disciplined human being
– which we are – would be entirely satisfactory from the ethical
point of view, and indeed, such an individual seems hardly in
need of ethics at all. For ethics earlier served primarily to disci­
pline the appetites, and to be moral meant to renounce their
satisfaction in favour of higher principles. Reading old novels,
dramas or educational books, one is surprised to see what moral
exertion it cost to overcome the vices of unpunctuality and lazi-

26 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

ness. That is truly remarkable, in view of the ease with which the
everyday demands of travel and work are met today. Neverthe­
less, this result of the human process of self-production – which
has produced us – is not satisfactory. That has been shown by the
outbreak of barbarism in the last century, both in the form of a
chaotic eruption of instinctual energies and in the unresisting
availability of this modern professional, transport-using human
type for state-organized crime. We shall have to come back to this
later.

The second dimension of the civilizing process which is relevant
to our discussion is called by Norbert Elias the advance of the
shame-frontier. In the centuries since the early modern period Elias
has noted a progressive distancing from nature, a lengthening of
the chains of mediation between nature and bodily experience, a
suppression and concealment of one’s own naturalness, which is
relegated to an invisible, private sphere. This civilizing strategy of
distancing from nature and one’s natural being includes the differ­
entiation between private and public in general, and, in particular,
the internal subdividing of living spaces, the establishment of
public lavatories, the use of the handkerchief, cutlery and servi­
ettes, and table manners generally. These civilizing ‘attainments’
are now taken for granted, and in the age of technical civilization
have been heightened still further – for example, by the shower,
the electric razor and the deodorant. However – as Norbert Elias
was clearly not yet able to perceive – the transition to technical
civilization has caused a weakening, if not a reversal, of the main
trend of the civilizing process. The objections to Elias are obvious:
the emergence of nudism, the relaxation of morals in the sexual
sphere, the liberalization of table manners. Even the level of
domestic hygiene has long since passed its peak. Alerted by such
phenomena, one discovers a downturn or a reversal in other
dimensions of the civilizing process. Compared to its level in the
Victorian age or the time of Freud, internal repression, too, is much
reduced, since it has been taken over again by external agencies.
Admittedly, repression now emanates less than earlier from direct
authority or the police truncheon; rather, it is imposed by the
technicization of life itself, by the general rhythm of traffic and the
objective compulsions of the world of work. This does not lead,
however, to a liberation of the drive-structure or the development
of new passions, but to a split: whereas the life of work and travel
runs its course in the cool, disciplined way called for by the
modern age, and social reality is frictionless and safe, the liberal­
ized inner world unfolds in a fictitious space: the drive-structure,

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 27

freed from sanctions, no longer seeks its fulfilment in reality but in
the imaginary world of the media. This equilibrium of disciplined
reality-behaviour and aesthetic gratification could be regarded,
from the ethical standpoint, as a satisfactory way of managing the
human condition – if it were not highly unstable. In reality, the
smooth organization of the public person can be seen frequently to
be accompanied by a barbarization of the private sphere, and also
by a devastating interaction between imaginary drive-satisfaction
and the outbreak of real drive-energies in private. A characteristic
example is the link between the production of pornographic films
and child abuse.

A third dimension of our state of civilization can no longer be
described in Elias’s terms, but is determined explicitly by tech­
nology, through the existence of material systems of means. If
‘technology’ is understood to mean knowledge which serves pro­
duction, or a regulatory system intended to enhance behavioural
efficiency, then technology is a part of modernity or of the civiliz­
ing process as a whole. But for centuries technology in this sense
was dependent on the disciplining and systematic training of
human faculties – both physical and mental – and on the organ­
ization of communal life. In our century, technology has existed
increasingly as a material system of means to which production
and efficiency-enhancement could be delegated for any desired
purpose. Technology in this sense takes on the character of an
infrastructure for human and social behaviour. Thus, the nature
and performance of this behaviour are co-determined by the
technology existing at a given time. This process of the technical
modification of human behaviour and social relationships can be
referred to as technicization. It defines the current state of the
civilizing process.

The relevance to ethics of this structure, which I have formu­
lated to begin with in abstract terms, will be made clear at once
by an example from sexual morality. For centuries in Europe birth
control, to the extent that it was not taken care of by natural
factors in any case, i.e. infant mortality, epidemics and wars, was,
from the sociological standpoint, a matter of morality. The value
placed on virginity, i.e. the prohibition on premarital sexual inter­
course, the Christian recommendation of abstinence, the insti­
tution of celibacy and the restriction of the right to marry to those
of a certain social status, had the effect of keeping the birth-rate
relatively low. The population theorist Malthus, who in the early
nineteenth century was the first to recognize the danger of expo­
nential population growth and a divergence between the graphs

28 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

of food production and population increase, still recommended a
moral solution to the problem: abstinence. Today the situation is
determined by the existence of material systems of means, that is,
by technical means of contraception. As the goal of birth-limi­
tation can be achieved directly by technical means, it no longer
needs to result indirectly as a by-product of moral behaviour.
This has made sexual morality largely superfluous. And its insti­
tutions, from virginity through marriage to celibacy, are becoming
dispensable. This certainly does not turn sexuality into a morality­
free zone. But, as compared to the nineteenth century, for
example, an extensive liberalization can clearly be observed, going
hand in hand with the technicizing of this sphere. And the moral
questions no longer relate to distance and inner disciplining, but
to which contraceptives should be used when and by which sex­
ual partner.

So much for the description of the make-up of the modern
human being as a product of technical civilization. It is probably
clear from this that the question as to what it means to be human
well cannot be answered universally and in an historically invariant
form, but must be related to this make-up of ours. We have to start
from ourselves as modern professional men and women and
highly controlled traffic participants, with an ego-structure devel­
oped to the point of self-forgetfulness, with a highly effective
mechanism for the repression or splitting-off of drive energies –
people capable in principle of a high degree of objectivity, cool to
the point of being inaccessible to emotion and accustomed to
achieving our performances and goals not by moral exertion but
by the application of technical means.

To say this, however, is to mention only the general conditions
of present-day ethics, as far as they can be defined by anthropology
or, better, historical anthropology. The social conditions, which
have no less impact on what ethics can be today, must also be
identified. I shall give an example straight away. The intense
public attention now paid to ethics, the demand which writers on
ethics can count on for their products, results from the expectation
that many of the social problems which afflict us today – environ­
mental destruction, contamination of foodstuffs, poverty, war,
migration, population growth – can be solved by ethical behaviour.
That such an expectation might be an anachronism is suggested,
perhaps, by the reference to Malthus. If the aim is to protect
consumers from genetically manipulated foods treated with dubi­
ous preservatives, a commercial ethics based on the idea of the
honest merchant will have little success. The system-goal of a

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 29

foodstuffs dealer is neither the nourishment nor the health of his
customers, but the maximization of his profit. Why is that so, and
why do these two objectives fail to coincide?

The answer is given by the general conditions of our society, the
emergence of which Max Weber characterized by the concept of
rationalization. This development correlates in many respects with
the one described by Elias under the heading of civilization, except
that it relates more to the organization of the general life of a
society and its institutions, and less, as in Elias, to the inner
organization of the human being. A link between the two is formed
by the emergence of the modern state, which also plays a major
part in Elias. The development of the modern state is determined
on the one hand by the monopolization of power and on the other
by the depersonalization or objectification of rule. The monopoli­
zation of power by the organs of state leads to an internal pacifi­
cation of social life and to the establishment of non-violent forms
of conflict-regulation between states. The neutralization or objecti­
fication of rule is attained by the establishment of the modern
professional bureaucracy and the tendency of the state to be
transformed into an administrative machine. This leads to a de­
moralization both of the relationship of the citizen to the state and
of state actions. The relationships between citizen and state are no
longer determined by moral categories such as welfare or loyalty,
but by formally regulated rights and duties.

Max Weber characterizes the main line of development of
modernity by the concept of rationalization. This term means that
each area of life is permeated by analysis, organized according to
efficiency-enhancing rules and finally monitored for success. Max
Weber’s model here is the rational business based on double-entry
book-keeping. This kind of business is no longer concerned, like
any form of economic activity, with profit, but with profitability,
i.e. the intensified exploitation of capital. In the modern age,
however, rationalization has changed not only businesses but
practically every area of human activity – science, art, the armed
forces, administration. According to Weber’s cultural and socio­
historical investigations, rationalization has its origin in forms of
living, and influences them retroactively. In his book The Protestant
Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism2 he shows that what he calls
intramundane asceticism has, on one hand, generated the capacity
to work – work becomes a value in itself and is not directly linked
to needs and their satisfaction – and, on the other, has led to a
separation of consumption from the maximization of profit. Only
the latter has made possible the accumulation of capital necessary

30 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

to the existence of capitalism: profits are not, as a rule, used to
increase consumption, but are invested.

Max Weber thus identifies the foundations of the processes of
rationalization which lead to the social conditions we call modern.
They are related to those characterized by Elias: self-control, the
formation of objectivity and far-sightedness, i.e. a capacity to plan
and work enabling the appropriate performance of objective tasks
within prescribed times, and the separation of the private and
public spheres, household and business, work and leisure. How­
ever, the rationalization of all areas of society has a retroactive
influence on modes of living. The first mechanism through which
this takes place is the spread of expertise. Because every sphere of
life, and the actions relevant to it, requires a degree of specialized
knowledge so that the actions can be carried out rationally and
appropriately, experts responsible for each sphere come into being,
and the actions are delegated to them. This is true of spiritual and
psychological care, of education, of the treatment of bodily con­
ditions and disorders; it is true of welfare, of care in old age, of
one’s relationship to the state and of public relationships to other
people. The development of various forms of dietetics, i.e. methods
of rational living, makes the individual dependent on a host of
life-advisers. As a result of the rationalization processes which
constitute modernity, therefore, the situation of the individual is
characterized by an almost complete incapacitation. As most
actions in life require professional knowledge, the individual has
to delegate them to experts. Lacking this knowledge, he or she
cannot really judge and share in the experts’ decisions, and,
through fear of unknown risks, is only too willing to hand over
his or her decisions in personal conflicts, in educational tasks, in
matters of therapy, in the prosecution of rights and the meeting of
demands, to specialists. It is revealing that Kant, at the end of the
Enlightenment – at the end, be it noted – attributed the failure of
human beings to attain intellectual majority to their dependence
on experts. In his treatise ‘An Answer to the Question: What Is
Enlightenment?’ of 1783 he writes: ‘It is so easy to be immature. If
I have a book that has understanding for me, a pastor who has a
conscience for me, a doctor who judges my diet for me, and so
forth, surely I do not need to trouble myself. I have no need to
think, if only I can pay; others will take over the tedious business
for me.’3 This situation has not changed since, and has even been
consolidated.

The second mechanism through which the rationalization of
social life retroactively influences modes of living is the increasing

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 3 I

differentiation of the individual spheres of life. A number of
examples of this have already been mentioned – such as the
separation of household and business, that is, of the reproduction
sector from the production sector, and the corresponding severance
of the increase in consumption from the increase in profitability.
More generally, it can be said that rationalization enforces a
separation of the different spheres of life and of social activity,
since only in this way can they be rationally organized to meet
their specific objectives. Thus, scientific activity is separated from
the rest of society in that it is concerned solely with the production
of truths and the reciprocal acknowledgement of their producers.
Business and industry make themselves autonomous vis-a-vis the
rest of society in that they are no longer defined from outside as a
system for the satisfaction of needs, but by their internal system­
objective of increased profitability. Habermas, influenced by socio­
logical system-theorists, has described this process as the
differentiation of subsystems of instrumental action.4 This means that
partial systems organized in terms of a particular system-goal, and
in which people’s behaviour is organized rationally to attain that
goal, detach themselves from the – diffuse – totality of society. The
resulting situation is highly significant in guiding the actions of
the modern human being. What it amounts to, to state it briefly, is
that the behaviour of the individual who is active within such
subsystems of instrumental action is morality-free.

This must be clarified by an illustration. I shall take the example
of the transition of agriculture to its industrialized form. Let us
picture one of the old manorial estates before the industrialization
of agriculture. The lord of the manor stood in a patriarchal relation­
ship to the families of his labourers, who belonged to the estate
even if they did not belong to him. Their payment did not take a
wholly monetary form and did not depend strictly on the time
spent labouring, but consisted partly in produce sufficient for
subsistence, and in the provision of parcels of land for their own
production. It was not the labourer or his wife as individuals who
were in service, but the whole family, who joined in the work when
needed. Conversely, the patriarch also felt responsible for his
labourers’ families, supported them in times of need, made
arrangements for marriages and funerals. The relationship of the
lord of the manor to nature, to his land, was a relationship to an
ancestral seat. The working and exploitation of the land, of the
fields and forests, served at the same time to reproduce them, and
therefore followed well-tried rules of crop rotation, allowing fields
to lie fallow, reforestation, etc. After the industrialization of agri-

32 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

culture the landowner’s relationship to his land and workers
became completely different. Let us suppose that, through impov­
erishment, the lord of the manor has to sell his estate to an
industrialist, or that he or his family introduce industrialization
themselves. In either case, after this moment the land becomes a
capital which must yield a profit. It is cultivated according to
market laws and profitability is pushed as high as possible by the
use of machines and chemical fertilizers. If the estate proves no
longer profitable the capital will be withdrawn and will seek other
possibilities of its reproduction. In this process the labourers
become for the first time free wage-labourers who are paid by the
hour and are employed in greater or smaller numbers depending
on the productivity of labour.

From an ethical standpoint the difference between these two
economic forms is as follows: the lord of the manor and his actions
are encompassed within a diffuse situation governed by ethics. His
activity itself is not external to him; rather, what he is as a human
being is decided by his conduct as lord of the manor. Accordingly,
his people are not treated in a merely functional way as providers
of labour power, but are also recognized in their dependent
position as humans, albeit on a lower level. Even the landlord’s
relationship to the land and soil is a quasi-ethical one, in that it is
a tradition imposing duties on him and also includes a responsi­
bility towards the reproduction of nature. The capitalist, by con­
trast, is, as such, a participant in a highly differentiated system of
instrumental action. His economic management is not concerned
at all with moral questions, but with questions of efficiency and
profitability. These factors govern his actions. And in his actions
he does not stand or fall as a person, any more than his workers
are integrated as persons in this instrumental context. They, like
him, are mere functions, and they can – provided they have
enough strength left – be completely different people outside the
system.

This example illustrates the extraordinary significance which the
process of the differentiation of social subsystems organized on
instrumental principles has for ethics. It teaches us that it is
pointless to try to solve the problems created by these systems
with moral exhortations. The most important historical example of
this is the insensitivity of the world-wide system of arms research
to appeals to the responsibility of the scientist. One might have hoped
that, in this case, the basic guidelines of the scientific system would
have generated some receptivity to such appeals. The sociologist
of science Robert K. Merton has named some of these basic

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 33

guidelines: universalism, communalism, disinterestedness and
organized scepticism.5 Such values have indeed largely regulated
the dealings of scientists with each other since the beginnings of
modern science. But in practice the objectives which the scientists
share with their occupational systems, i.e. the national research
laboratory, the large research establishment, the firm, have proved
dominant in relation to the universalistic standards of science.
Studies by Stephen Box and Stephen Cotgrove6 have shown that
the behaviour of modern scientists is simply the behaviour of
modern professional people, that is, it is finally directed not
morally but instrumentally towards the system goal defined by
their organizations. This situation is not refuted but is even under­
lined by the existence of movements such as Pugwash or the
scientists’ ‘Responsibility for Peace’ movement.

The situation of the modern human being is determined by the
rationalization and differentiation of society. People participate in
society primarily as professional persons. This participation con­
sists in making their professional competence, or for a certain time
their labour power, or their mere presence, available for payment.
This participation has nothing to do with what they may otherwise
be as human beings, or what they do in their remaining time, their
so-called leisure. Their professional activity is morally irrelevant
for them, in that while their income and their social status depend
on it, their worth as persons, and what they amount to as human
beings, do not. Conversely, their professional work serves merely
as a basis for the subsistence of what they are in the rest of their
lives. It affects them in no way as persons. For their family and
friends their work can be entirely unknown, and as a rule it
remains shadowy. They do not appear in their families in terms of
their professional role – as the traditional farmer was ‘the farmer’
in his family as well. As a result, there is no need for present-day
people to be integral personalities. It is sufficient if they can switch
between their various social roles, as working people, road-users,
taxpayers, family and leisure persons. In this situation the devel­
opment of a personal style of life, or, indeed, self-realization, has
the character of a merely private affair. It is a matter for leisure
time and the private sphere. In sum: this situation is removed from
the sphere of morality. The behaviour of the modern person is
determined by the relevant system imperatives and by what is
customary in the subsystem concerned, and through its lack of
public relevance the project of a personal style of life is reduced to
a hobby.

An ethics which is written and read in one of the developed

34 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

industrial nations of our century must take account of this situ­
ation. It is not addressed to the human being in general, but to the
human being within technical civilization. This person brings with
him or her a specific form of organization, has a high degree of
self-control and work-capability, and separates body and soul, or,
better, body and consciousness. He is not the master of his conduct
of life, but is dependent on experts; he is integrated in social life as
a professional and transport-using person. Social life, for its part,
takes the form of a bundle of subsystems of instrumental action,
which do not call on the individual as a whole person but integrate
him or her only partially, i.e. functionally, and which, as a conse­
quence, make the formation of a personal identity impossible or
superfluous.

Technical civilization today largely determines what moral
questions actually are; at the same time it sets the boundaries
within which the individual is accessible to moral discourse, just
as it also sets the boundaries within which society can be modified
by moral argumentation. But it is precisely these boundaries which
give moral discourse its cutting edge.

Our Historical Background

To reflect on where and when this ethics is written and read is to
characterize it as an ethics after Auschwitz. An attempt to recon­
struct, or rather to construct, Adorno’s moral philosophy appeared
under this title? For the crucial fact is that Adorno did not write
an ethics, and probably did not believe such a thing possible.
Adorno’s dictum that it is impossible to write poetry after Ausch­
witz is well known.8 But, in fact, poetry has been written after
Auschwitz, and not only after it, but in and about Auschwitz. The
real meaning of Adorno’s formulation is probably that poetry or
an ethics after Auschwitz seemed impossible to him, because he
felt too much solidarity with ‘metaphysics at the moment of its
downfall? and therefore with traditional bourgeois morality. The
question can only be what an ethics could look like after and
under the auspices of Auschwitz. In keeping with the two main
lines of ethics which were distinguished earlier, the question must
be: How must I develop in order to survive morally in a world in
which Auschwitz is possible? And: How must I argue morally in
a country in which Auschwitz really existed? How must I be, what

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 35

alertness must I practise, what powers and abilities and possi­
bilities of reflection – perhaps, indeed, what principles – must I
have at my disposal in order to survive morally in a situation in
which a whole category of people, a population group, a race, is
progressively deprived of its rights? In a situation in which I am
suddenly forbidden to go to my trusted doctor, to buy at my
traditional shop? What must I be able to do, in order to survive
morally in a situation in which my neighbours are taken away
nightly, colleagues are dismissed from their posts, writers and
artists are forbidden to practise their professions? What possi­
bilities must I have at my disposal if people are insulted and
beaten up in my presence, if shops whose owners belong to a
certain category of people are looted? What will I do if I myself
am given the task or the order to remove, to deport, to shoot
people of a particular category? These are questions which are
difficult to answer in a civilized world and from the experience of a
civilized life. But they must be answered, and I would maintain
that our civilized life is worthless if it is not permeated by a
rehearsal of the necessary answers to such questions. That could
mean that this civilized life, which by its nature is set up to relieve
us of the burden of moral questions and claims of legitimacy,
should, case by case, be taken seriously.

Furthermore, how should a state and a society be structured in
a country, in a people, in which Auschwitz was a reality? How
must public institutions be judged, and how must one argue for
social regulations in a country in which, in the recent past, rights
were a racial privilege, in which, with the toleration of the whole
population and with the collaboration of a gigantic apparatus of
civil servants, employees and other participants, whole categories
of people were expelled, condemned to forced labour and mur­
dered? How must the legal system be constituted in a country in
which the right to suppress and liquidate political opponents was
exercised? How must the treatment of life, sickness and disability
be managed, when we can recall that human life was classified as
worthy and unworthy in this country, that it was degraded by
medicine into experimental material and that euthanasia was
practised to remove the burden of caring for gravely ill and
disabled people? It is these historical facts which make moral
discourse into a real discourse. They determine what can and
cannot be said, and whether this society will gain historical self­
awareness.

Social life after 1945 was not set up explicitly in terms of the
question as to how one must live in a country in which Auschwitz

36 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

had been a reality. It was set up with the desire to turn away from
all that and to make a new start, although re-education and the
introduction of parliamentary democracy were imposed by the
western allies. The existing laws were taken over, but without the
fascist additions, and especially the race laws. Their reform in line
with the norms of the Basic Law proceeded slowly. Even today
some laws from the pre-fascist era survive, such as the right of
citizenship, which ties citizenship to descent, and therefore to blood.
The Basic Law was created by old-style liberals and scholars, and
its fundamental concepts are derived less from the experience of
German history than from that of western democracies. Only from
a few statutes, such as the abolition of the death penalty or the
introduction of the right of resistance, and finally the original
version of the right of asylum, can one gather when and for which
people this Basic Law was elaborated. All the same, the fathers of
the Basic Law10 succeeded in drawing up a constitution which up
to now has made possible a high degree of stability and peaceful
resolution of conflicts. But the experience of German history has
not been incorporated in the Basic Law sufficiently for it to be
made the sole standard for further social development. Explicit
remembrance of our past is necessary when we are concerned with
the further development of social life and its explicit and implicit
norms. This is even more the case when provisions of the Basic
Law are themselves called into question, as has been the case with
the right of asylum.

In the political sphere, therefore, the task of creating an ethics
after Auschwitz has yet to be performed. It is no different in the
individual sphere, that is, with regard to the projecting of modes
of living. People from the generation of those directly involved
and affected have not, as a rule, been able to synthesize their lives
into a biography. We can only be lenient towards their repression,
their forgetting and their silence today if we acknowledge that to
assimilate and master something as terrible as what happened
around them, through them and to them, was impossible. The
most active of them have at least worked, through their commit­
ment to the constitutional state and democracy, to remove the
traces of the past. Nevertheless, as a result of their silence, the
National-Socialist past was repressed in the public sphere in post­
war Germany, and the attitude to life of the succeeding generation
was not shaped by the legacy of Auschwitz. This was not changed
when the public began to concern itself with the National-Socialist
past in the 1960s, because the following generation, invoking the
‘blessing of later birth’, believed it could manage its relationship

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 37

to the German past by distancing itself and by moral condem­
nation. However, the lifting of the taboo on the past, brought about
primarily by the students’ movement, and the ability to talk about
and investigate all the horrors of the past, concealed a much deeper
taboo – the taboo on empathizing with those involved and affected,
that is, the perpetrators as well as the victims. How profound this
taboo is was made plain when a President of the Bundestag
was forced to resign from one day to the next, and was consigned
to political oblivion, because of a speech.ll This abrupt event
cannot be adequately explained by an inept or offensive use of
words. Rather, Philipp Jenninger had expressed empathy with the
Germans who had stood passively by during the pogroms of the
so-called Reichskristallnacht or had applauded them, and he had
lent his voice to Heinrich Himmler.

To do justice to the seriousness conferred on one’s own life by
Auschwitz it is not enough to be indignant about the fact and to
distance oneself from it with a declamatory ‘Never again’. What is
at issue is not only the fact of Auschwitz, but the ability to look its
possibility in the face. To do this one must be able to imagine what
it meant to be a participant or a victim. Only by opening oneself
to the possibility of Auschwitz does one become able to shape one’s
life so that one- is forearmed against its becoming a reality. For this
to be possible, the frozen block which is Auschwitz must be
thawed. And for that, the people who lived at that time must be
released from their state as an undifferentiated mass solidified by
rigor mortis, and made, in a certain sense, comprehensible. This
work has been done in part today by the ‘children of the perpetra­
tors’,12 and by survivors of the Holocaust.

Let us first picture the situation in which one might have been
one of the victims. As a German one usually resists this idea. Does
this resistance still contain a residue of the notion of the master
race? Perhaps one need only recall that, not too long ago, many
people in former Yugoslavia who are now victims would have
been unable to imagine such a situation. Whether one is a perpe­
trator or a victim does not depend on oneself, but on the external
constellations of power. But we are not concerned only with
genocide and the question whether one belongs to a category of
people who traditionally were among the powerful. We are also
concerned, for example, with torture, which in certain power
formations can be inflicted on anyone.

The first thing to be borne in mind is the possibility that death
can be unwitnessed. Probably still more terrible than the death
and suffering itself is the fact that under the conditions of modern

38 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

mass extermination and torture no one bears witness to that death
and suffering. The exemplary nature of the death of Socrates, for
example, who bravely took on himself an unjust verdict, is effaced
under the conditions of the twentieth century, for he died his death
on the stage, as it were, and was able by the manner of it to earn
immortal fame. That is not the case with the dead of the twentieth
century, who did not die individually but in a mass, or if individ­
ually, then unseen and with no one to witness how they bore it.
Even though the equation of virtue and happiness is fallacious,
nevertheless, it will always make a difference for the person who
died well – a difference, indeed, of everlasting meaning – if someone
has been looking on. For only thereby does virtue become real, and
is not swallowed up in the vortex of nothingness. This is the
‘loneliness of the dying’ which threatens us in our period of
history, not the average loneliness of the modern person, as
understood by Norbert Elias,13 The question is whether one will be
able to maintain one’s moral existence when there are no wit­
nesses. The Sophist Antiphon formulated the matter as early as the
fifth century Be: ‘A man therefore can best conduct himself in
harmony with justice, if when in the company of witnesses he
uphold the laws, and when alone without witnesses he uphold the
edicts of nature.’14 One of those affected by the Holocaust, Ruth
Khiger, whose father died in the gas chambers, expresses the
disquiet associated with this situation:

In their death agony the strong trod on the weak, so that the corpses
of the men were always on top, those of the children right at the
bottom. Did my father trample on children, on children like me,
when he breathed his last? But, after all, he was not someone who
used his elbows, and on his first day at school he stood right at the
back, leaning against the railing. Does someone who is suffocating
reach the limit of freedom and trample on others? Or are there, even
then, differences, exceptions?15

How did my father conduct himself? asks Ruth Kluger. How
would we conduct ourselves? we must ask. The quotation also
confronts us with the second question which we must come to
terms with in case we become victims. If we hold firmly in mind
the terror into which the word Auschwitz sucks us as if into a
black hole, and consider it in detail as an everyday reality, as it
was experienced by the victims, it emerges that, strictly, there are
not only perpetrators and victims but a hierarchy of very fine
gradations between them. Perpetrators and victims are terms for

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 39

poles. But the terrible thing about the National-Socialist extermi­
nation system was that these poles were intertwined. That is not
meant as an excuse for the perpetrators, but the voices of the
victims who tell us that they, too, were perpetrators should be
taken seriously. The formula of the identification with the aggres­
sor is known from psychology. There is clear evidence of this in
the reports of the persecuted Jews. For example, in his book
Shivitti, Ka-Tzetnik [concentration camp inmate] 135633 describes
a vision in which he saw himself wearing an SS cap.16 In his book
Wartime Lies, Louis Begley makes Maciek, the Polish Jewish boy,
kill lice ‘as the SS kill Jews’,17 And although Maciek is constantly
driven from one hiding place to another by the SS and the
Wehrmacht, he plays a game with his tin soldiers in which the
brave and orderly SS chase the Russians. Identification with the
aggressor is one danger for the victim; the other is collaboration.
A problem which has not been fully worked through by the Jewish
people is the co-operation of the Jewish councils with the Nazis.
The book by Begley just mentioned describes how the Jewish
councils lent the Nazis a helping hand in ‘selecting’ Jews according
to categories – anyone who could not prove their identity, who
had no work, was below or above a certain age – and arranged for
their orderly transportation to the camps.18 One of the mechanisms
of the National-Socialist extermination machinery which ensured
that the genocide went so smoothly consisted in constantly making
distinctions between the victims. This means that there were
always minimally better chances of coming out alive, of distancing
oneself from others even in the deepest wretchedness, and sharing
in the power of the oppressors even while one was a victim. That
is one answer, even if a far from adequate one, to the question
why the Jews offered so little resistance to their annihilation. This
makes the signal given by the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto all
the more significant. More important still are the reports of indi­
viduals who were capable of saying ‘No’ even when it was almost
meaningless – even more so if one exposes oneself to the situation
of the victim by asking: What would I have done, what would I
do? This is the testimony of Ka-Tzetnik 135633:

Because the crematorium was overstretched and the barracks were
full to bursting point, the lorries dumped their loads into this ditch,
and the 55 man turned to the first man he came to in our row and
ordered him to take a petrol canister and empty it over the women
and children.

‘No! No!’ he said in Dutch.

40 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

I shall never forget the tormented look of rebellion in his face,
and his Dutch ‘No!’ will always ring in my ears. Never had such a
‘No!’ been said to a German in Auschwitz.

And while women and children burned, the 55 man stamped
round behind our row and gave the Dutchman a kick in the
backside. Like a piece of dry driftwood his skeleton tumbled into
the flames.19

Such testimonies may be as remote and untouchable as the fact
of the million-fold murder itself. But they do restore their dignity
to the victims, by making us realize, in the light of individual
events, that the extermination really did take place: on this earth,
on particular days, at certain hours and through the actions of
individual people, even if there were very many of them. Ethics
after Auschwitz poses the question of being-human-well in the
light of such testimonies. It will always be the question whether
one failed to say ‘No’ to collaboration with evil – even in situations
where it would have cost much less – and still fails to say it.

Now let us consider the situation of the perpetrators. I said that
it is difficult for us as Germans to identify ourselves with the
victims. But can we really imagine having been the perpetrators,
or rather: Are we prepared to face the idea that we could find
ourselves in the role of perpetrators? We are prevented from
picturing this to ourselves by our pacified, civilized daily life and
the belief that it must take terrible criminals to commit such terrible
crimes. This casual assumption of the stability of our civilized state
might have been shaken in anyone who experienced the innocuous
life in former Yugoslavia as a tourist. But Hannah Arendt’s book
Eichmann in Jerusalem20 has deprived us of the – protective – belief
that the dreadful crimes committed at the time of the so-called
Third Reich were the deeds of dreadful people. This belief has
long prevented us from thinking that these deeds actually concern
us. ‘I myself ‘ – everyone could say in good faith – ‘am not such a
dreadful person that I would ever participate in such murders. So
what have they to do with me?’ Hannah Arendt’s book shows that
Eichmann was a very simple, somewhat proper, conscientious and
far from evil man. If only he had been a diabolical demon! The
dreadful thing is that Eichmann was like everyone and that every­
one could be Eichmann. Hannah Arendt came to her conclusion
on the basis of her observations during the Eichmann trial in
Jerusalem, and on the basis of the interrogation reports and a
partial knowledge of his autobiography. I do not want to give
details of his life here; instead, I will quote Hannah Arendt’s

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 4 1

concluding summary. She speaks of the difficulty the judges had
in understanding the accused. Then she goes on:

Clearly, it was not enough that they [the judges at the Jerusalem
trial] did not follow the prosecution in its obviously mistaken
description of the accused as a ‘perverted sadist’, nor would it have
been enough if they had gone one step further and shown the
inconsistency of the case for the prosecution, in which Mr Hausner
wanted to try the most abnormal monster the world had ever
seen . . . . The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many
were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor
sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly
normal,21

In another place she stresses the opinion of a psychiatrist who had
examined Eichmann, that ‘his whole psychological outlook, his
attitude toward his wife and children, mother and father, brothers,
sisters, and friends, was “not only normal but most desirable” ‘.22

As the head of Section 4B in Office IV at the headquarters of the
Reich security service, Eichmann, this ‘normal person’, had organ­
ized the deportation of the European Jews, that is, ultimately, their
transportation to the extermination camps. He claims that he had
never hated Jews and had never killed any Jew or non-Jew. He
carried out the task assigned to him within the plan for the so­
called final solution of the Jewish question with circumspection,
energy and bureaucratic punctiliousness. He was thus, operating
in a central position, one of those primarily responsible for the
annihilation of European Jewry, and was therefore condemned to
death by the court in Jerusalem.

Hannah Arendt rightly says that this judgement, and the trial
itself, did not solve ‘the most serious moral problem presented by
the case’ or even make it a subject of debate. This problem is that
an Everyman took part in and, through his office, actually commit­
ted a monstrous crime without even being aware that it was a
monstrous crime. That could lead one to conclude that the criminal
factor was not the individual at all, but the system. Although there
is some truth in this view, and although the monstrousness of the
National-Socialist crimes certainly cannot be explained by the
actions of individual people alone, this view should not be taken
as grounds for excusing the individual. Not even Eichmann used
this argument to justify himself, although he did point out that in
his place eighty million Germans would have acted in exactly the
same way. But all he meant by this was that he had done his duty.

42 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

The moral point is, of course, that neither Eichmann nor anyone
else ought to have acted as he did. And the question is: What must
one be like as a person, which aptitudes must one acquire in order
not to act like Eichmann, however overwhelming the system of
evil may be?

The monstrousness of the Eichmann case and the impression,
which is hard to resist, that evil itself had taken on an autonomous
existence different to the evil actions of human beings, might still
prevent us from feeling directly affected by this case. I should
therefore like to say something about a psychological investigation
which, in a relatively innocuous context, shows the same thing as
the Eichmann case: that everyone, in certain constellations, is
capable of crimes against humanity. I am referring to what is
known as the Milgram experiment,23

In the early 1960s the American psychologist Stanley Milgram
carried out a series of tests to investigate the phenomenon of
obedience to authority. He summarizes the results as follows:

This is, perhaps, the most fundamental lesson of our study: ordinary
people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility
on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.
Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become
patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible
with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have
the resources needed to resist authority. A variety of inhibitions
against disobeying authority come into play and successfully keep
the person in his place.24

The experiment was set up, briefly, as follows: the test subjects
– quite ordinary people from the street – were placed in the role of
teachers who were to train ‘learners’ to make certain word associ­
ations. They were to bring about this ‘learning process’ with the
aid of a shock generator with which they could subject the ‘learn­
ers’ to electric shocks of 15 to 450 volts. Clearly legible on the
shock generator was a scale with the readings: Slight Shock,
Moderate Shock, Medium Shock, Powerful Shock, Very Powerful
Shock, Danger – Severe Shock.

The subject was told to administer a shock to the learner each time
he gave a wrong response. Moreover – and this is the key command
– the subject was instructed to ‘move one level higher on the shock
generator each time the learner gives a wrong answer.’ He was also
instructed to announce the voltage level before administering the
shock. This served to continually remind the subjects of the increas-

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 43

ing intensity of shocks administered to the learner. If the subject
reached the 30th shock level (4S0 volts), he was instructed to
continue the procedure using this maximum voltage. After two
further trials, the experimenter called a halt to the experiment.25

The ‘learner’, however, was a person initiated into the scientists’
intentions, and did not receive real shocks but merely mimed their
effects. The screams and convulsions of the ‘learner’ could be
heard and seen by the test subject who had taken over the role of
teacher. However, a test subject who hesitated was instructed to
continue.

The result varied, depending on the nearness to the victim of
the test subject. If the victim was sitting behind a pane of glass
covered with a sheet of foil, 65 per cent of test subjects obeyed
their orders right up to the most powerful shock of 450 volts. But
even when there was acoustic feedback the figure was still 62.5
per cent. To give an impression of the kind of reactions of the
victim which were accepted by the test subject, I quote a schematic
overview:

In general, however, the victim indicated no discomfort until the 7S­
volt shock was administered, at which time there was a little grunt.
Similar reactions followed the 90- and lOS-volt shocks, and at 120
volts the victim shouted to the experimenter that the shocks were
becoming painful. Painful groans were heard on administration of
the 13S-volt shock, and at lS0 volts the victim cried out, ‘Experi­
menter, get me out of here! I won’t be in the experiment any more!
I refuse to go on!’ Cries of this type continued with generally rising
intensity, so that at 180 volts his response to the shock was definitely
an agonised scream. Throughout, from lS0 volts on, he insisted that
he be let out of the experiment. At 300 volts the victim shouted in
desperation that he would no longer provide answers to the mem­
ory test,26

Milgram carried out his experiments expressly in relation to the
Nazi crimes, and also in the context of the crimes against humanity
then being committed by US troops in Vietnam. The matter-of-fact
nature of his setting and the arbitrary selection of test subjects
prevent us from evading the moral question, by taking flight either
into a demonology of evil or into hypotheses about selective
careers in the SS. Each of us could have been one of Milgram’s test
subjects. The question poses itself again: What must one be like,
what abilities must one have at one’s disposal, to be morally equal
to such situations? It clearly is not sufficient to be a decent person

44 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

with passable moral views – when matters become serious that is
not enough.

Hannah Arendt’s account and Stanley Milgram’s experiments
are in the tradition of the Enlightenment: they attempt to acknowl­
edge the reality of evil without at the same time assuming a power
of evil or a wickedness rooted in the human being. Evil happens.
The ethical question consists in what a person must do in order
not to be drawn into its vortex.

Although this way of acknowledging evil does result directly
from taking seriously the horrors of the twentieth century, the
question remains whether it is not, all the same, a naive way.
Naivety is something one cannot afford in this context – not when
one is concerned with ethics. It must unfortunately be said that an
ethics without a concept of evil is worthless in our time. Admit­
tedly, in concerning oneself with this concept one must take
account of the fact that to take seriously the horror of evil might
well mean to acknowledge its incomprehensibility. Nevertheless,
two questions must at least be asked. Firstly, is there something in
human beings which meets evil halfway, a tendency towards a joy
in evil, which causes them to join in ‘the evil which happens’? And
secondly, is it adequate to the experience of individuals as a
phenomenon to personify the overwhelming power of ‘the evil
which happens’ as a demon or a devil?

Let us begin with the first question. Hannah Arendt’s descrip­
tion and Milgram’s analysis make it seem plausible that evil could
be carried out simply in a technical-bureaucratic way – coolly –
without the need for any pleasure, evil intention or sadism on the
part of the perpetrator. All we appear to be dealing with here is
the highly ‘functionizable’ nature of the modem transport user
and professional person. But even in Eichmann there was also a
certain affective involvement, which Hannah Arendt refers to as
his unfortunate tendency to show off. For example, he said he was
proud to have five million Jews on his conscience. Seen from that
standpoint, the image of Eichmann as the conscientious petty
bourgeois might appear somewhat different. But we do not have
to rely on this example. There are sufficient testimonies to the fact
that, within the Nazis’ bureaucratic-technical annihilation machin­
ery, participating individuals displayed ‘unnecessary’ cruelty – if
one is allowed to express it thus – and sadistic pleasure. More
generally, it can be said that the denigration of Jews as ‘sub­
humans’ or non-humans not only made the actions of the perpetra­
tors easier for them, but that the perpetrators – like a large part of
the population of the third Reich at the time, incidentally – clearly

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 45

had an interest in this denigration. This interest emerges especially
clearly in cases of rape – rape in war and also in quite ordinary,
peaceful contexts. The degradation of the rape victim, the violation
of their humanity, is an important dimension of this type of
sexuality – and is, unfortunately, a principal tendency of European
sexuality in generaJ.27 Must one assume that a joy in destroying,
tormenting, killing is an elementary attribute of the human being?
In face of such a question, which cannot be avoided in view of
what human beings have inflicted on each other in the twentieth
century, even the biblical doctrine of original sin and the Kantian
teaching of a radical evil in human beings fall short of the mark.
For, according to the Bible story, original sin is partly rebellion
against domination, partly curiosity and partly simple violation of
a rule – all tendencies which one can readily attribute to human
beings without accusing them of fundamental wickedness. And
the Kantian concept of radical evil really expresses only the ambiv­
alence of freedom: freedom is always also the freedom to commit
evil. Freud, it is true, does speak of a destructive drive. However,
the human being postulated by psychoanalysis is always the
cultured person, or, let us say rather, the formed person, so that
something like a destructive drive can only manifest itself within
a certain dynamic constellation of drives, which also depends on
external circumstances. The characteristic example, and the most
important one in our context, is the unleashing of destructive
drive-energies which Freud noted during the First World War.
One should think of his writings Thoughts for the Times on War and
Death and Civilisation and Its Discontents.28 According to these
studies the evil in human beings appears as a correlative or,
perhaps rather, an outbreak or a reaction against the processes of
civilization and culture. In coming to this conclusion Freud clearly
struck a balance between his deeply sceptical view of man and his,
in principle, enlightened attitude. For the purposes of this ethics,
that view of man teaches us that we must all reckon with the fact
that under certain conditions something truly evil and malignant
can break out in us, a desire for and a joy in degrading, tormenting
and destroying others.

I now come to the second question: whether it does justice to the
phenomena concerned to refer to ‘the evil which happens’ as an
autonomous power, or as a devil. Here, we must take seriously the
fact that the victims, who really had reason to regard the Germans
or the 55 or the individual 55 officer or concentration camp guard
as responsible, sometimes did not do so, but spoke explicitly of the
evil, the devil. I quote from Ka-Tzetnik’s book Shivitti: ‘It is not

46 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

Vevke [the cobbler, G.B.] who is rising in the smoke from the
crematorium, no – it is he himself, no other than Aschmodai, the
King of the Underworld’ [trans. E.J. from pp. 60-1].

Philosophy has always made heavy work of acknowledging
evil. The reason lies in the basic decision to identify being with
virtue, first taken by Plato. After that the bad could never really be
conceived as evil, as something in its own right, but only as an
absence of the good. Even within Christianity it was not very easy
to conceive of evil. Nevertheless, as we know, the personified
Devil has existed since the story of the Fall, and remained solidly
rooted in cultural history until the eighteenth century. But to
conceive of evil was difficult for Christianity, too, especially if one
took God seriously as the creator of the universe. Thus, evil was
usually regarded as a divine power which had been split off and
cast down, as Lucifer. The eighteenth century, whose children we
still are, undertook, in the form of the Enlightenment, a grandiose
attempt to do away with evil. It turned out, however, to be a
largely ideological attempt, in which evil was conjured away in
thought rather than in reality. The Devil, experiences of whom
were widely reported in the eighteenth century, was unmasked as
a mere figment of the imagination. The liberation achieved in this
way was, however, always illusory, since that which had pre­
viously been understood as an imposition, a temptation or an
overwhelming power from outside now had to be ascribed to the
subject himself. The source of evil was transposed to within,
especially to the imagination. The Enlightenment proceeded in a
similar way with the evil in the world. The optimism of the century,
which found expression especially in Leibniz’s theodicy, disposed
of evil by seeing its effects as absorbed into the good in a grand
earthly reckoning, or even by regarding it as a mechanism and
catalyst of the good. Mandeville’s fable of the bees, which teaches
that ‘private vices’ become, or foster, ‘public virtues’, is a well­
known example of this thinking.

In the twentieth century we have lost this trust in the goodness
of the whole. Today the certainty of evil is more obvious than that
of good. And if we remain true to the Enlightenment at least in
not assuming a personalized evil, we still have to come to terms
with the experience that evil can be supra-individual, that is, it can
take on an autonomous existence vis-a-vis the actions of individu­
als. This possibility that the whole can be the false, as Adorno put
it, whether it be the ‘system’, the state or the social and economic
order, must be kept in mind as a basic ethical experience of the
twentieth century.

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 47

This may indeed be the formula summing up the profound
shock to moral confidence which every ethics must now take as its
starting-point: the whole can be the false – the state can be criminal,
the economy exploitative, the conditions of life inhuman. The
shattering of moral confidence has made clear the degree to which
individual goodness is dependent on the general social and histor­
ical conditions in which it seeks to realize itself. I would remind
you only of the well-known speech by Heinrich Himmler at the
congress of 55 group leaders in Poznan on 4 October 1943, in
which he praised the morality of the 55 men, who had ‘endured’
the concrete reality of the extirpation of the Jewish people and in
so doing, ‘aside from exceptional instances of human weakness –
had remained decent’.29 What Himmler was here attempting to
associate, as a ‘withstanding’ of the temptations of human weak­
ness, with the classical virtues of steadfastness, self-mastery and
even bravery, is utterly nullified by the context. We can and must
say today that to be human well in this situation would have
meant precisely not enduring what went on around one, and
bravery would have been to say ‘No’ to participation in mass
murder. (There are examples of this, too.) One should not conclude
from this, however, that virtues such as bravery or a sense of duty
were devalued as such through the context of the Third Reich. If
one refers to them as mere ‘secondary virtues’ one needs to state
what the primary virtues are. It is true that it depends on the
context whether virtues are actually good, that is, form part of
being-human-well. But that does not mean that they could be
replaced simply by principles as guidance for action.

For even actions guided by principles can be morally nullified
by the historical-political context. The use Eichmann made of the
categorical imperative may be an example of this.3o But one would
prefer to speak of a misuse, as also in the case of Himmler’s use of
the vocabulary of bravery and the ability of his people to suppress
their feelings. But the book by Begley, Wartime Lies, already
referred to, refutes beyond any doubt the Kantian, i.e. categorical,
derivation of the demand for truth. It can be seen that Kant’s
abstraction from the political-historical context of action was only
possible on the basis of confidence in a moral world order. For us
today, precisely the shattering of this confidence must be the
starting-point of ethical reflections.

48 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

Basic Moral I d eas

In this section a further attempt will be made to mark out the
horizon within which a project for a moral existence can unfold,
or against the background of which moral argumentation to estab­
lish social regulations can take place. Apart from the civilized state
of European man and his historical experience in the last century,
certain more or less explicitly basic moral ideas must be con­
sidered. By explicit basic moral ideas I refer to ideas anchored in
the conventions of human rights and in the German Basic Law.
The next section will be devoted to them. Here I am concerned
rather with basic moral knowledge, in so far as it is ‘tacit know­
ledge’, that is, is passed on mainly implicitly and is manifested
only in cases where it is problematized or violated. If this moral
background knowledge becomes explicit, it is in the form of
concrete notions which imply a command or a prohibition or
something worth striving for. Such notions can also be referred to
as values. This brings us close to a material ethics of value, as
developed by Max Scheler or Nicolai Hartmann.31 But for us,
neither the founding of these values on feeling, as in Scheler, nor
their in-itself existence as in Hartmann, can be the guideline.
Rather, the basic moral ideas will be taken straightforwardly as a
culture which forms the horizon within which moral orientation
takes place. Moreover, moral orientation itself, that is, the devel­
opment of a moral self-awareness or the discourse for establishing
social norms, can very well call these basic moral ideas into
question. Incidentally, their status as basic moral ideas is in no
way affected by the fact that in individual cases they may be
violated by concrete actions.

In what follows I shall begin with the basic moral ideas which
are so deep-seated that one has reason to suppose that they
originate in natural history. They are generally referred to as
taboos. Then I shall turn to the basic ideas which stem from the
three main sources of our culture, Graeco-Roman antiquity, the
Judaeo-Christian religion and, finally, man’s great quest for self­
determination in the modern period. These latter ideas then lead
on naturally to an explication of the basic moral ideas enshrined
in the conventions of human rights and in constitutions.

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 49

Taboos

Taboos are specific prohibitions which must be strictly observed in
a society, on pain of exclusion from that society. They can be so
far internalized that their infringement leads to self-punishment,
i.e. voluntary exclusion or suicide. This definition is probably too
strong to apply to a post-Enlightenment society, especially as
violations of taboos in this society have become criminal offences.
The result is that, on one hand, rules for atonement within the
society have been introduced, and on the other, the individual is
no longer permitted to deal with the infringement himself. What
is important, however, is that taboos are basic moral ideas which
are prior to all social norms. It is therefore, strictly speaking,
impossible to formulate what a taboo is, since unconsciousness is
an important feature of its status. However, in our culture, they
include, at any rate, the taboo on incest and the prohibition on
killing other people.

The special status of taboos among the basic moral ideas consists
in the immediacy of their effectiveness and the supposition that
they may have a pre-cultural origin. The term taboo comes origi­
nally from the Polynesian religion, and has been generalized by
ethnologists to refer to very strict avoidance-commands or prohi­
bitions on touching which are usually followed unconsciously.
Their incomprehensibility, and ethnology’s original orientation
towards primitive cultures, have fostered the view that taboos
might be pre-cultural. On the other hand, it has also emerged that
taboos are constitutive of culture and society, or, more precisely,
that they even define group identities. But this function, too, places
them, in a sense, between nature and culture: they may have a
basis in nature, but mark precisely the transition to cultural for­
mations. This view is partially supported today by ethology, i.e.
the theory on the behaviour of animals. Both aspects, nature and
culture, will be elucidated with reference to the examples men­
tioned, the prohibitions on killing and incest.

Killing a person is not forbidden because it would be a criminal
offence. Rather, the killing of a person has been included in the
regulations of the penal code so that it can be dealt with within
society and does not lead to exclusion from society, blood feuds,
etc. One does not abstain from killing because it is a punishable
act; clearly, a more deep-seated inhibition is involved. Since, as
Konrad Lorenz32 has shown, species-specific inhibitions on killing

50 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

exist in the animal kingdom, one might suppose that man, too, is
equipped with such inhibitions by his pre-cultural origin. How­
ever, the comparison with animals shows that this inhibition on
killing can be not only species-specific but group-specific. This is
the case with rats, for example. Since, among humans, instances of
untrammelled aggression between groups – today we call them
‘wars’ – can be observed as far back as we can look, only a group­
specific inhibition on killing, if any at all, must be assumed among
humans. That would mean that the inhibition on killing also marks
the start of cultural conditioning, in that it forms group identity by
demarcation from what is outside. Konrad Lorenz, who deals with
such questions in his book On Aggression, inclines to the view that
the origin of the prohibition on killing lies in a species-specific
inhibition, which later, under cultural conditions, and especially
after the invention of weapons, became insufficient.33

Whereas no species can survive without a certain form of
inhibition on killing its own members, the question of sexual
intercourse between close relatives is regulated very differently in
different animal species. However, what we call the incest taboo
does exist among animals. In the case of man, however, it must be
said that a society-constituting prohibition is involved. Applied
positively, it is the dictate of exogamy, that is, the command that
one should seek one’s sexual partner in a human group other than
one’s own. This makes it clear, however, that the incest taboo, or
the exogamy command, itself requires cultural elaboration. For it
depends on, and helps to define, what is regarded as one’s own
human group. This implies, moreover, that in some groups or
societies an endogamy command can exist, for example, in the
caste system, and that, in the Egyptian royal houses, for example,
marriage between siblings was quite customary, if not actually
demanded. In our society the incest taboo is applied, on a rising
and falling scale, between siblings. That, at any rate, is how it has
been formulated in law; its extent qua taboo cannot be precisely
determined.

The non-conventional nature of taboos challenges us to ask
about their functions. We have already begun to answer this in
speaking of their function in constituting culture or society. Taboos
clearly have a function of defining human groups against each
other, but also of regulating the relations between these groups.
The latter function has been demonstrated especially by Claude
Levi-Strauss in his works on this subject. The most interesting
result to emerge from them is the structural similarity between
totem clans and the caste system. Totem clans define themselves

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 5 I

in terms of a totem, for example, an animal, and observe strict
exogamy; that is, their relationships with each other are regulated
by an exchange of women. In the caste system this is reversed. In
the castes strict endogamy is observed; they therefore see them­
selves as a natural unit, while they regulate their external relations
by exchange of the particular services and products for which they
are responsible as a caste.34

However, apart from or instead of their social function, a
biological or psychological function can be attributed to taboos. As
the biological function of the incest taboo, it has long been assumed
that incest can lead to hereditary defects. According to modem
biology, however, that is not a tenable position, except that existing
hereditary defects have a greater probability of manifesting them­
selves from a conjunction of the same genetic material. On the
other hand, one can say, of course, that endogamy in a wider or
narrower sense could lead to the formation of races and, as a
tendency, to a splitting-up of the human species, so that, con­
versely, all anti-racist arguments and behaviour promote the bio­
logical unity of mankind. An evolutionary function of the incest
taboo could also lie in the enhancement of variability.

Psychological functions have been attributed to taboos primarily
by Sigmund Freud.35 He believes that they subserve the repression
of very fundamental drives. However, this argument has become
questionable in view of Bataille’s contention that drives grow more
violent precisely when they encounter prohibitions.36

From an ethical standpoint, all these reflections on the possible
functions of taboos are irrelevant, or even dangerous. For example,
when Hans Kramer locates the justification for the prohibition on
incest ‘especially between father and daughter’, as he writes,37 in
gene theory, this amounts practically to an ethical suspension of
the taboo. Even if hereditary defects, in which Kramer evidently
still believes, could appear, they could easily be averted by contra­
ceptives, and nothing would then stand in the way of incest
between father and daughter. The ethical significance of taboos
lies precisely in the fact that they are basic moral ideas, that is, they
apply unconditionally. The inhibition stemming from them is pre­
rational. Naturally, as an enlightened person one can strengthen
oneself or them by clarifying their functional plausibility from case
to case. But they would not be what they are if they were really
experienced in terms of their possibly specifiable biological, social
or psychological functions.

A characteristic feature of the basic moral ideas which we
subsume under the heading of taboos is that they are normally

52 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

obeyed out of intuitive aversion. Every legal elaboration, every
cultural restriction or extension of their range of application pre­
supposes their validity in principle. On the basis of the fundamen­
tal ban on killing, for example, it is quite possible to suspend this
prohibition in typical individual cases. But for this a special
legitimation is always needed.

Graeco-Roman basic ideas

So much for taboos. In what follows it will become more difficult
to identify basic ideas. In what order should they be presented,
and what should be referred to as a basic idea? Let us therefore
reflect once more on what such basic ideas are and what they are
supposed to achieve: they form a collection of topoi in the Aristo­
telian sense. Topoi could best be translated as ‘commonplaces’, if
that were not a pejorative term. Topoi are, as it were, stopping­
points for rhetoric, common references, ideas which the orator can
assume to be shared by his listeners. Moral discourses move within
the framework of such topoi, using them as reference points. That
does not mean, of course, that the basic moral ideas, the topoi, are
unchanging – but, at any rate, they form the initial starting-point.
But these topoi also play a part for the individual in projecting his
or her moral life. In this case, however, they tend to be the
remnants of past forms of living or ideals of humanity, from which
one must start out – especially as a young person – if one wants to
find out what a moral life can be under the given conditions of
life. Here, of course, the decisive thing will be how one comes to
terms with the present situation.

I shall take as an example the classical virtue of bravery. This
virtue undoubtedly once formed part of being-human-well. But it
is easy to see today that it was originally a component of a warlike
self-stylization by men. In addition, it was integrated into a moral
world order, in the sense that bravery was sure of finding recog­
nition and fame on all sides, among both friend and foe. Even
though these marginal conditions have crumbled away today, one
will have to deal initially with topoi like bravery in one’s quest for
being-human-well. This is not quite the same as the requirement
that one should first abide by what is customary, or the assertion
that the moral life only begins beyond customary behaviour. For
today the classical virtues, because of their antiquated character,
diverge sharply from customary behaviour and are therefore topoi

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 53

which can form the starting-point for a moral life. Imagine, for
example, an official in a public authority suddenly getting the idea
of being brave.

Let us begin, therefore, with the basic moral ideas of Graeco­
Roman origin which can still exert an influence as topoi. I should
reiterate first of all what I have already said in general terms about
the concept of arete. Against this background of our moral culture,
virtue means to be better, to distinguish oneself from the many,
from the common people, from the unfree. These are lordly virtues
in the double sense that they are primarily forms of masculine self­
stylization, in particular the self-stylization of the man as warrior,
and additionally they are virtues of the rulers. However, the lordly
self-confidence expressed in Graeco-Roman virtues has its precondi­
tion and root in self-mastery. Bravery, magnanimity, level-head­
edness, justice require that one is master of oneself, can set aside
one’s own wishes, can resist both temptations and demands.
Bravery means steadfastness in face of the onset of fear. Magna­
nimity means being able to disregard one’s own interests and
allowing others to gain recognition, as well as money. Level­
headedness means generally remaining calm and serene in precari­
ous situations and in face of temptations and demands. And,
finally, justice is the ability to allow each to receive what is due to
him without regard for one’s own interests. As a topos of moral
discourse, justice is the notion of a balance between the divergent
interests of the many. For this reason the emblem of justice is the
scales. It makes clear that to demand justice does not mean simply
to claim one’s rights but to see one’s rights in relation to those of
others.

However, these Graeco-Roman virtues characterize not only the
warrior but the independent man within the community, the
citizen. The fact that being-hum an-well was understood to imply
independence within the community gave rise to two further
moral topoi: on one hand respect, especially the mutual respect of
citizens for each other’s independence, and, on the other, an
obligatory bond to the community. At this point we would be
inclined to speak of loyalty – but that presupposes a difference
between citizen and state. In classical times – in ancient Greece, for
example – there was no state as a separate authority; the citizens
together formed the state. For this reason the basic value at issue
here is referred to in Greek as politeia, meaning both the state and
the public conduct of the citizens within the state. One could, of
course, convey the meaning of this topos by the term ‘citizen’, but
that would only make sense if one had in mind a situation in

54 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

which not everyone was a citizen, so that being a citizen could be
regarded as a part of being-human-well. At any rate, in addition
to the classical virtues of bravery, magnanimity, level-headedness
and justice, we should keep in mind respect, citizenship and
community or common welfare as moral reference points or
guidelines.

Before attempting to ascertain which topoi of our moral culture
have come down to us from the Judaeo-Christiim religion, I shall
briefly consider the question whether there are special basic moral
ideas stemming from the Germanic origins of our culture. Because
of recent German history, and especially the entanglement of ideas
of Germanic origin with National Socialism, this question is diffi­
cult to answer today. A value like ‘homeland’ or ‘fatherland’ is
hardly something one can appeal to nowadays, although this value
can be traced back equally well to the Graeco-Roman tradition, to
the concept of patria. The case may be somewhat different with
fidelity. Fidelity is firmness in adhering to a voluntary relationship
of allegiance, of the kind which was important in a community
dependent on personal bonds, like the system of feudal lords and
vassals. It may be that the tapas of honour also has its origin in this
context.

Finally, there is the question whether beauty has a place in this
context of basic moral ideas. With regard to the Greek relationship
or, better, unity between beauty and virtue one would unquestion­
ably have to answer in the affirmative. There are numerous exam­
ples from Greek antiquity demonstrating that mere beauty, that is,
beauty of appearance, was regarded as a personal value. Today,
beauty certainly could not be invoked as a moral tapas, any more ­
incidentally – than obedience.

Basic moral ideas from the Judaeo-Christian religion

If one were asked to list the basic moral ideas originating in the
Judaeo-Christian religion, one would think first of the Ten Com­
mandments. But we are now far from invoking the Ten Command­
ments either in projecting a moral life or in moral argumentation.
In a community which has long been structured on secular lines,
the Judaeo-Christian religion is no longer a power which can order
or organize moral life or moral argumentation. Nevertheless, there
are individual topoi stemming from the Judaeo-Christian religion
which have been assimilated into our secular culture as a kind of

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 55

common property. This is especially clear if our culture is com­
pared to those with different religious backgrounds. I would
mention charity and forgiveness as two such topoi. The command­
ment to ‘love thy neighbour’ is something one can appeal to in its
substance, if not in these exact terms, at any time in our culture.
The demand to help those in need is accepted in principle by
everyone, even if it is not acted upon. The recognition of this
obligation, together with the desire to be relieved of it individually,
has given rise to the large charitable organizations, insurance
systems, the social security net, and so on. It can be seen from this
development that the secularized term for charity is something like
solidarity. The term solidarity, which was the successor to charity
in the workers’ movement, freed the preceding term from a defect,
its asymmetry. Solidarity is a reciprocal willingness to help. On
the other hand, it must be said that the Christian commandment
of charity also requires that solidarity be exercised towards
strangers. That is the moral of the parable of the Good Samaritan
(Luke 10: 25-37). Solidarity as a reciprocal relationship is always
in danger of being restricted to a circle of friends. 38

Charity as cultural praxis has given rise in our culture to a
respect in principle for the poor, the weak, the disadvantaged. The
lifting of the slur of inferiority which once attached to sickness and
poverty is no doubt a late consequence of this. Another, earlier
consequence is the virtue of chivalry, which calls for helpful,
magnanimous conduct towards those weaker than oneself,
especially women and children. The general privileging of women
and children in emergencies and situations of violence is derived
from this. Chivalry can be seen as a combination of Graeco-Roman
warrior ideals with Christian charity.

A further important moral topos from the Judaeo-Christian
religion is forgiveness, with the associated idea of reconciliation.
That forgiveness and reconciliation are special moral ideas which
have shaped our culture can be seen from the fact that relation­
ships of conflict and guilt can also be resolved by vengeance,
punishment and justice. The Christian idea of reconciliation, ori­
ginally the reconciliation between God and man, really brought
something new to interpersonal relationships – the possibility of a
new beginning, without a settling of accounts. In Christianity this
idea is emphasized by the notion of the new Adam. Today,
reconciliation and forgiveness are conceptions which influence not
only interpersonal relationships but also criminal law and inter­
national relations. These conceptions may, of course, be criticized
on the grounds that the idea of reconciliation is frequently invoked

56 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

by the guilty, whereas it is the victims who have to make the effort
not to be resentful, to draw a line and to forgo retribution. They
do prove, however, that forgiveness and reconciliation are basic
conceptions which can be invoked in our culture.

Finally, as a last example of a basic moral idea, I should like to
mention the family. The family as a basic value may have origi­
nated in ancient Rome, but was raised to an entirely new level by
the elevation of marriage to a sacrament within the Christian
religion. Despite all the upheavals and disintegrative tendencies
besetting the institution, the family has remained a basic idea by
which politics and legislation are guided, and which can be made
a moral tapas in projecting a moral life – all the more so the less it
forms part of customary behaviour.

Basic moral ideas of the modern age

Finally, let us turn to the basic moral ideas peculiar to the modern
age. These basic ideas are closest to us – that is, to our awareness
of life and to our real situation as human beings in technical
civilization. But in terms of their status they are, in a certain sense,
the weakest. The modern basic values spring entirely from the
undertaking of European people to construct their own condition
and their social circumstances on their own initiative. This is
referred to, not incorrectly, as the project of modernity.39 The basic
moral ideas of the modern period correspond to fundamental topoi
of this project of modernity, and thus have, as a rule, the quality
of something explicit and deliberate. These basic values are not,
therefore, located diffusely and half-unconsciously somewhere
behind us, but are formulated explicitly and are therefore at the
boundary of what is canonized as law by the process of social
consensus-forming. For this reason, following a discussion of these
values, the next section will be concerned with the Declaration of
Human Rights and the German Basic Law.

Since the objective of the project of modernity is the self­
formation of the human being and his society, self-determination is
one of the basic values, and perhaps the basic value, of the modern
period. For the individual, self-determination means, or requires,
independence from tutelage, privacy and, in particular, freedom in
the choice of religion and way of life. This tapas is seen as a
defensive value acting against influences and external domination
and, more generally, as freedom; more strictly, with regard both to

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 57

morality and to legal and political arrangements, it is referred to
as autonomy. The principle of self-determination, as the self-deter­
mination of peoples, naturally contradicts any form of domination
and, depending on the group, nation, ethnic grouping or region
which espouses it, is of immense explosive power. When formu­
lated as freedom, this basic value is more diffuse, but of wider
ideological scope. We shall see, however, that in legal norms
freedom explicitly takes on a far clearer meaning.

Connected to the basic value of self-determination is the basic
value of the individual. The individual is conceived as the sub­
ject of self-determination. That the individual asserts his validity
as an individual and claims rights on grounds of his particular­
ity and for his particularity, is a typically modern value. Of
course, one may surmise that this value is prefigured in the words
of the Christian God, ‘I have called thee by thy name’. But that
each individual human being as such represents and claims
an absolute value must be regarded as a specifically modern
development.

The progressive realization, or consolidation, of the individual,
has given rise in the modern age to two further fundamental
values, those of private property and work. The value of private
property doubtless has its precursor, too, in the Christian com­
mandment: ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, child,
servant, maid, cattle or whatever is his’.40 But it must be added
that the privatization of the commodity sphere is an achievement
– if it may be called that – of the modern age. Especially in Europe,
feudality and the institution of common land or property, which
restricted private property essentially to the house and the repro­
duction sector, were initially far more powerful institutions for the
allocation of goods. Admittedly, the generalization of private prop­
erty as a principle of goods allocation was prepared for by the
development of towns and the rise of the bourgeoisie, that is, of
crafts and trade. With the modern age, however, a close relation­
ship between private property and the individual came into being;
that is to say, the property sphere was regarded as the objective
realization of the person, and therefore was accorded the same
dignity as the individual himself.

However, because this form of social realization could not be
generalized – it did not enable the workers and the poor to secure
social status as persons – the social value attached to work was
progressively heightened. Since antiquity, work had not repre­
sented a value in European culture, but had been seen as something
which, while necessary, did not form part of being-human-well. As

58 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

far as possible, it was delegated to others, i.e. slaves and depen­
dants. By contrast, the valorization of work since the early modern
period, and its function in securing social status for evenjone, is one
of the most important developments of moral culture. This can be
seen indirectly today in the threat posed in principle to our social
identity and the moral-political order by the fact that society is
running out of work.

Tolerance is a further basic value of the modern period. It, too,
is related to the basic value of self-determination. Tolerance is the
requirement that one concede to others the same self-determination
which one claims for oneself. In that one’s own self-determination
is linked to claims to the truth and validity of, for example, one’s
own moral guidelines or one’s own views, tolerance towards
others retroactively influences one’s own person. For if one regards
as possible and approves in others different value guidelines and
different truths to one’s own, that means, in principle, that one is
calling one’s own into question. There is a very fine depiction of
this reciprocal effect in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s drama Nathan
the Wise (1779), where the relationship of tolerance between the
religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam is interpreted in such
a way that none of the religions can know whether it is the true
one. The true ring has been lost. This already indicates that
tolerance is a value which regulates the relations not only between
persons but also between social groups, especially groups defined
by their world views and groups from different cultures. How
difficult it is in practice to accept the impact of tolerance on one’s
own person or group, and therefore to question the validity of
one’s own claims, must be clear.

In conclusion, I would like to discuss two further basic values
of the modern period, which are also correlatives of each other:
rationality and nature. Rationality is very closely bound up with
the project of modernity, in that this principle demands the recon­
struction of the given reality according to freely chosen principles.
It calls for rationality of government, rationalization of the econ­
omy, rational religion or, as Kant put it, ‘religion within the limits
of reason alone’. All these are projects of the Enlightenment,
projects which entail consciously appropriating, reconstructing and
subjecting to criteria of legitimacy everything which was originally
given and handed down by tradition and revelation, or by the
facts of history. Accordingly, to be rational, to conduct one’s life
rationally, are the basic values of modern self-awareness. In the
context of Enlightenment philosophy, rationality is nothing less
than the basic tapas of being-human-well. We have seen that Max

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 59

Weber was able to regard the principle of rationalization as the
prime characteristic of modern developments.

The value attached in the modern period to nature exists in a
certain contraposition to this basic value of rationality. Previously,
especially in the Christian-dominated West, nature as such had not
been a value. It only became one in the eighteenth century, when
the first doubts about the project of modernity were beginning to
arise. Nature was now understood as the given, the original,
something not made by men, which was good for precisely that
reason. In evaluating nature in this way, critics of modernity were
able to hark back to certain notions of the ancient world, by which,
since the Greek school of Sophists, nature had been contrasted to
culture, human law and convention. Nature could thus act as a
counter-authority and a critical principle vis-a-vis the human
project. A natural mode of life, natural law, primitive peoples
close to nature, natural healing methods – all these are criteria
against which modernity’s basic values of self-determination and
self-formation have been problematized. As Habermas has argued
in his book The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity,41 this self­
problematization has accompanied the project of modernity since
its early stage. As this project of modernity has now, under the
conditions of technical civilization, entered a crisis, it is under­
standable that special importance is currently attached to the value
of nature. But as nature is very closely bound up with other
modern values, it, too, as we shall see, is itself caught up in this
crisis.

Human Rights, Fundamental Rights

Human rights and fundamental rights as themes of moral discourses

The discussion of human rights, as set down in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights42 and the European Convention of
Human Rights,43 and of the fundamental rights formulated in the
Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany,44 has its place in
ethics as the horizon of moral discourses. In these discourses a
considerable number of further themes which can serve as starting­
points for moral argumentation are identified, and these themes
have a special character. Moral discourses, as we know, are con­
cerned with establishing conventions for regulating social actions,

60 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

whether these conventions are customs or positive laws. Now,
human rights and fundamental rights are themselves such conven­
tions, which are enshrined as positive law. If further conventions
are then agreed for purposes of legislation, issues concerning their
relationship to human rights or fundamental rights might be
concerned merely with conformity – for example, whether a new
law conforms to the constitution. Verification of this would not be
described as moral discourse. All the same, such verification is not
a purely juristic discourse. It must be noted, to begin with, that
while the Basic Law and the European Convention of Human
Rights have the status of law in the Federal Republic, universal
human rights do not, since the Basic Law merely declares its
recognition of the latter.45 But even this difference is not decisive,
especially as much of the content of the universal human rights is
contained in the European Convention of Human Rights.46 Rather,
it must be said that general moral themes are addressed in the
formulations of human rights and fundamental rights, and that
while these are essentially enclosed within a formal legal frame­
work for our society, their substance is by no means exhausted by
this form of expression. This applies to concepts such as dignity,
life, education, work, freedom. When used as terms in formula­
tions of fundamental rights, these concepts also contain an element
of surplus meaning, namely a moral potential. In any new social
convention which makes reference to these themes, this moral
potential is invoked, interpreted and given content. The indeter­
minacy and undefined nature of these themes as they appear in
human and fundamental rights is crucial for their hybrid status
between morality and law. But it is reference to them which really
makes discourses into moral ones, since matters within these
discourses then become serious – serious for the society in which
we live. Whether or not they are respected, and the content they
are given, continuously define the kind of society in which we live.

Human rights and fundamental rights play only a minor role in
projecting a moral existence. However, there are people who
commit themselves to human rights and fundamental rights to an
exceptional degree, and realize their moral existence in so doing.
This applies, for example, to workers for Amnesty International.
In themselves, human and fundamental rights tend, by and large,
to be neutral with regard to a moral life. That is a fact, which is to
say that it could also be otherwise. The reason is that human rights
and fundamental rights are liberal rights, which, consequently, do
not demand anything of the individual, but secure his autonomy
and self-determination. Historically, human rights have come into

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 6 1

being essentially as defensive rights against an over-mighty state –
for example, the Declaration of Human Rights (1789) against the
absolutist state, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of
1948 against totalitarian states. This was different in countries
which had set up a certain form of living as the state goal, as in
the case of socialism in the former German Democratic Republic.
Its constitution47 contained the principle: ‘Work with us, plan with
us, govern with us!’ (Art. 21, §1). At any rate, human rights and
fundamental rights provide a very wide framework for the project­
ing of a moral life, within which – or possibly against which – one
can define one’s moral existence. In the Federal Republic of
Germany this framework is referred to as the ‘free, democratic,
basic order’. Still more generally, it can be characterized as that of
a constitutional community; that is to say that a moral life is
conceived against the background of a convention by which the
people with whom one lives have decided from the first to live in
a constitutional community.

The Constitutional community

The term ‘constitutional community’ is not an expression of the
Convention of Human Rights or the Basic Law. But it refers to the
basic structure of the society which is defined by the existence of
these conventions. Such societies are communities which regulate
their communal life solely through conventions and, in particular,
through those which can be made permanent as laws and are thus
independent of support by individual members of the society. That
this is a special social situation can be seen, for example, from the
fact that in a feudal system there can be laws which are privileges
conferred individually by the king. Laws, therefore, are perma­
nently established conventions which are neutral towards persons.
A further characteristic is that they can be sanctioned, that is, their
infringement can be punished and their observance enforced by
law. It is clear that this implicitly presupposes an agency to which
appeals can be addressed and which is responsible for sanctioning,
that is, a judicial and executive agency – meaning a state. In
practice human rights and basic law presuppose this state, or
themselves define the conventions on which it is based, and the
legitimacy with which it is endowed. Both the Universal Declar­
ation of Human Rights and the European Convention of Human
Rights, as well, of course, as the Basic Law of the Federal Republic

62 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

of Germany, define this state as a democracy. One might see a
problem in this, and regard it historically as an effect of the
dominance of western democracies in the formulation of human
rights at the United Nations. But this problem impinges, rather, on
the universal validity of human rights. To the extent that we
regard human rights as reference points for moral argumentation
with the aim of establishing regulations in our society, we are
unaffected by these problems. For within our society moral argu­
mentation takes place against the horizon of a fundamental
decision in favour of democracy.

Democracy

The basic decision to live together in a constitutional community,
i.e. a society the life of which is regulated by permanent conven­
tions, implies a number of moral values which are made explicit
in human or fundamental rights. This is the point at which the
outcome of discursive ethics can be incorporated in the reality of
moral discourses. Discursive ethics, as developed, in particular, by
Karl-Otto Apel, has demonstrated that to enter into moral dis­
course implies certain values, such as the reciprocal recognition of
the persons participating in the discourse, and their equality, in
that the relevance of their contributions to the discourse depends
only on their argumentative content, and not on the social position
of the person expounding them.48 The transition from such a
counter-factual discursive ethics, applicable to an ideal discourse
free of domination, to real social discourses which contribute to
the formation of social conventions, has been attempted by Haber­
mas.49 Without an element of positive law, that is, without the
conventional rights of participation and equality, of the kind which
operate in democracy, this transition cannot be made.

The principle of democracy is defined, on one hand, by estab­
lishing the origin of state authority and, on the other, by the rights
of participation of the individual member of society. Since the
Basic Law is a constitution, the origin of state authority can be
directly formulated. In the human rights which, in the version of
the Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, are always introduced
by the formula: ‘Everyone . . . ‘, the question of the origin of state
authority is even subordinated to the rights of participation. I
quote Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of
1948:

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 63

1 Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his
country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

2 Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his
country.

3 The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of
government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine
elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and
shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting
procedures.

In these terms the rights of participation and the equality of each
individual are formulated. The principle of the division of powers,
which is equally essential to our conception of democracy, is not
contained in the formulation of human rights, so that they do not
express so clearly that the rights of participation relate in particular
to what we call moral discourse on conventions for regulating social
behaviour. This is contained, however, in the formulation of Article
20, Paragraph 2 of the Basic Law: ‘All state authority emanates
from the people. It is exercised by the people by means of elections
and voting and by separate legislative, executive and judicial
organs’ [trans. E,J.]. Moreover, in the Basic Law the principle of
democracy is combined with the right of resistance. Paragraph 4
of Article 20 states: ‘All Germans shall have the right to resist any
person seeking to abolish this constitutional order, should no other
remedy be possible’ [trans. E.J.].

Although this right of resistance has a long history, it was
adopted in the German Basic Law, as already mentioned, in the
light of the experiences of the so-called Third Reich. Legal scholars
claim that in practical terms it is rather ineffective or even superflu­
ous, because the details of the Basic Democratic Order contain
sufficient internal possibilities of revision regarding the formation
of resistance, complaints about the constitution, or even the possi­
bility of modifying the Basic Law, in any case.50 For the conscious­
ness of the individual, however, the right of resistance is of
extraordinary significance. It implies that everyone has the right
critically to monitor the observance of the fundamental rights, and
that, in principle, the political sovereignty of the individual
remains revocable. For in the concrete political context the formu­
lation that all power emanates from the people is somewhat
illusory, since in practice it is always delegated to the organs of
state. But the right of resistance implies that this delegated sover­
eignty is in principle revocable by the individual. The right of
resistance is therefore the right of the individual to check the

64 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

conduct of the organs of state in terms of general principles, in
particular human rights, and to engage in civil disobedience in
particular cases.

Human dignity

The concept of human dignity is the central and undefined basic
concept both of the Basic Law and of the 1948 Declaration of
Human Rights. Article 1, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law is as
follows: ‘The dignity of man is inviolable. To respect and protect it
is the duty of all state authority’ [trans. E.J.]. Here, then, the first
function of the state is stated to be the protection of human dignity.
Only after this, in Paragraph 2 of Article 1, is there mention of
human rights. This structure is found in exactly the same form in
the Declaration of Human Rights, in its preamble, which begins:
‘Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and
inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the
foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.’ Here, too,
the dignity of the human being is placed ahead of his or her rights
and referred to as the foundation of the latter. But what actually is
dignity?

It can be said, of course, that the basic or human rights which
are then listed constitute the dignity of man. This view is not
entirely wrong. But if the basic or human rights are understood to
be the explication of what is contained in the concept of human
dignity, that assumes that this concept or, perhaps one should
rather say, this idea is itself richer and capable of further explica­
tion. Strictly speaking, the basic and human rights are put in place
to protect human dignity. They are not that dignity itself.

The term dignity [German: Warde] means worth or value, but a
value which is socially recognized. If one tried to make this
formulation into a definition it would certainly be inadequate, as
it would not contain the force of the idea of dignity. Dignity calls
for respect and distance. The connotations of the term, and many
of its usages, imply someone in an elevated position who acts with
dignity, is of high rank [Wiirde]; indeed, the expression conjures
up a numinous quality, an aura of holiness floating around the
bearer of dignity. The wording of Article 1 of the Basic Law is
actually very peculiar, in saying that the dignity of man is ‘invio­
lable’. This expression brings dignity into the proximity of a taboo.
The impression is further reinforced by the assertory diction. The

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 65

Article does not state that the dignity of the human being should
not be violated – although that is certainly also meant; it confers
on it the status of something untouchable. Such diction is fully
appropriate to a text which, as we have maintained, represents a
transition from morality to law. The dignity of man is a moral tapas
which acts as a guideline for the formulation of basic human
rights.

The connotations of the elevated and holy which we associate
with the concept of dignity also give the first clause of the Basic
Law a rather radically democratic and secular meaning. The lofty
and sacred status which worshippers earlier were prepared to
confer on particular people or beings is now accorded to every
human being as a human being. One should treat every human
being with respect, and feel some ultimate awe in one’s dealings
with him or her. In· this we undoubtedly find once more the
mutual respect of citizens which we encountered earlier as a
classical tapas, together with the absolute value which the modern
age assigns to the individual. It is important to note, however, that
human beings are referred to here simply as human beings, and
not as citizens or in terms of some other relationship, and that the
respect to be paid them is not directed at anything definite in or
about them, such as their reason (as in the Kantian realm of
rational beings); nor is it required that their special quality should
manifest itself in any way. The dignity of human beings forms part
of their humanity as such.

‘The human being’ is thus the second undefined and indetermi­
nate concept in the German Basic Law. The recipient or bearer of
the fundamental rights continues to be general and indeterminate
– in expressions such as ‘everyone has the right’ or ‘all persons
are’ – until Article 8 (freedom of assembly), which refers to ‘all
Germans’. By contrast, it is characteristic of the Declaration of
Human Rights that each article begins either with ‘everyone’ or
‘no one’ or ‘all human beings’. What constitutes being human is
thus left just as open as what constitutes dignity. All the same, the
formulation of the Declaration of Human Rights does make a
fundamental statement when, in the Preamble, it speaks of ‘all
members of the human family’. Of course, the term ‘family’ is used
here in an extended and metaphorical sense, but it does refer to
‘all human beings’ as a group defined extensively by relationships
of kinship: one is a human being in that one belongs through
relationships of kinship to the ‘family of man’. This form of words,
which, of course, is also crucial to the recognition of human rights
in the Basic Law, contains important implications – important,

66 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

precisely, for moral discourses. For, according to it, to be a human
being is not defined by the possession of certain powers or
endowments, such as language or reflection or consciousness or
the like; rather, one is a human being by virtue of birth: one is
born a human being. This conception is further reinforced in
Article 1 of the Declaration of Human Rights, at least in its first
sentence, which is as follows: ‘All people are born free and equal
in dignity and rights.’ Admittedly, this morally far-reaching for­
mulation is straight away withdrawn, not to say ruined, in the
second sentence of the Article, which states: ‘They are endowed
with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in
a spirit of brotherhood.’ Reading this, one will prefer the wording
of the Basic Law, which leaves the term ‘human being’ entirely
undefined and indeterminate. With regard to the question of the
disabled, and the debate on abortion, the formulation in the
Declaration of Human Rights deprives these rights of their moral
basis. For neither can it be said of all people that they are endowed
with reason and conscience, nor is it advisable to make the state of
being human start at birth. Altogether, the formulation of Article 1
seems to conflict with the intuition of the Preamble. For people yet
unborn could, of course, be seen as part of the ‘family of man’.
Equally, through ideas of science fiction, which are probably only
anticipations of the future, one is now sufficiently familiar with the
idea that beings might exist who are endowed with reason and
conscience, and perhaps even with a sentient heart, but are not
members of the ‘family of man’. And these beings – as was the
case with Frankenstein’s monster – also lay claim to dignity.

What can we learn from this minimal engagement with argu­
ments concerning human rights? This much, at any rate: that it is
important that their basic concepts be indeterminate, and any
attempt to give them positive content as individual rights can,
when measured against the original intention, prove inadequate.
That does not mean, however, that in moral argumentation one
should not start out from positively formulated human rights. For
the recognition and assertion of these is already difficult enough.
But it can be seen that the conventions enshrined in them do need
to be developed further through moral discourse, and must be
constantly reformulated in the light of new problems which arise
historically. Since the Basic Law sketches the basic outlines of our
social conception of ourselves, and human rights the basic outlines
of our human conception of ourselves, precisely the questions
which take issue with these basic outlines prove to be moral
questions. Through them the questions as to how we conceive of

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 67

ourselves as human beings, and of our society as a society, become
a serious matter.

Rights of freedom

Let us turn now to the actual basic or human rights. Here, again,
it should be noted that what is of interest from the moral stand­
point is always the undefined content of these rights, whereas their
establishment as law represents the permanent form given to the
consensus regarding the moral topos in question. Moreover, their
formulation as law is, as such, a specification of the consensus, in
that a law articulates a claim which is in principle enforceable. The
concept of law presupposes an authority before which these claims
can be asserted – a judge. But a judge alone would be of no use if
nothing resulted from his verdict – that is to say that an executive
power is also needed. Thus, in embryo, we already have the state.
Now, with regard to the Basic Law it is not surprising that the
state is an integrating partner of the fundamental rights, since the
Basic Law is, after all, a constitution. As far as human rights are
concerned, they simply presuppose the factual existence of states
throughout the world and formulate, in particular, which rights
human beings should have vis-a-vis these states. It follows from
this that one has already decided in favour of or presupposed the
state in participating in the formulation of basic moral consensuses
as laws. All the same, the state remains a fact and cannot be
morally legitimized.51

That the state is a correlative both of fundamental rights and of
human rights can also be derived from its historical origin in the
course of the French Revolution. Human rights were formUlated as
rights of emancipation from the state.52 In general, fundamental
rights or human rights are divided into rights of freedom and social
rights, to which I would add ‘safeguarded goods’ as a third area.
Rights of freedom are essentially defensive rights vis-a-vis the state,
social rights are demands on the state to establish certain conditions
of life, and safeguarded goods are demands that the state preserve
certain given circumstances and possibilities of human beings.

First of all, the rights of freedom. Of them it is true to an
exceptional degree that they are defined in relation to the state or,
more generally, the community; they are defensive rights against
interventions from outside. The fundamental rights of the Basic
Law are largely rights of freedom. Social rights, which take up a

68 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

large amount of space in the Declaration of Human Rights, are not
so firmly anchored in the Basic Law. I shall list a number of rights
of freedom. The Basic Law guarantees:

• the free development of personality (Art. 2);
• freedom of religion (Art. 4);
• of occupation (Art. 12);
• of movement (Art. 11);
• of expression (Art. 5, §1);
• of science and art, research and teaching (Art. 5, §3);
• of assembly and association (Arts 8, 9).

In these rights of freedom a large number of possible activities
of the individual are protected from state intervention. Whether
the individual wants to be active in these ways is left open, or it is
assumed that the individual is such that these fields and the scope
of freedom they call for are important. With regard to moral
discourse it can be said that the headings of the various dimensions
of freedom are moral topoi. They designate fields or possible
activities which are essential to the individual’s – or, better, the
citizen’s – conception of himself. For each of them is a field of
activity in which individuals create for themselves a public reality.
That is especially clear in the case of freedom of expression. Article
5 does not state that everyone can have an opinion, but that they
have the right to express it: ‘Everyone has the right freely to
express and to disseminate his opinion by speech, writing and
pictures and freely to inform himself from generally accessible
sources’ [trans. RJ.]. It might be different in the case of freedom of
religion. Article 4, Paragraph 1 states: ‘Freedom of faith and of
conscience, and freedom of creed, religious or ideological, are
inviolable’ [trans. E.J.]. Freedom here is indeed the freedom to
have a faith of one’s own. This becomes especially clear in the case
of conscience. For conscience, or freedom of conscience, means that
the individual is granted an ultimate preserve in which he or she
remains outside state instruction and obligations. That this is not
intended merely in the sense that ‘thoughts are free’ is demon­
strated by Paragraph 3 of Article 4: ‘No one may be compelled
against his conscience to render war service as an armed combat­
ant’ [trans. E.J.]. It should be noted, however, that Article 4, i.e. the
freedom of belief and religion, defines not merely a right of
freedom but a good to be safeguarded as well. Hence, the term
‘inviolable’ appears again here.

Taken together, the rights of freedom define the dimensions in

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 69

which the civic individual seeks to express and develop himself
publicly, but without the state. In this regard Article 2 is both a
summary and a general heading for these rights of freedom:
‘Everyone has the right to the free development of his personality
in so far as he does not violate the rights of others or offend
against the constitutional order or the moral code’ [trans. E.J.]. It
should be noted that this first paragraph of Article 2 does not
define a right to education, which would not be a right of freedom
but a social right. It appears under human rights, but not under
fundamental rights. Rather, the right of free development of the
personality is the liberal principle by which the citizens secured a
statejree public sphere, that is, society as distinct from the state.
This can be seen particularly vividly in Article 12 (free choice of
occupation). Here, the freedom in the choice of occupation of
Paragraph 1 is combined with protection from obligatory and
compulsory work in Paragraphs 2 and 3. In this way the whole
sphere of work is made dependent on relationships of social
contract. In this, incidentally, one can also discern the historical
origin of the basic and human rights, in the struggle for liberation
from socage, feudality and serfdom.

It remains to be noted that the rights of freedom contain moral
topoi which delineate our conception of the social existence of an
individual. Any modification of these rights would be a moral
question, since it would require a redefinition of this conception of
ourselves; any need to refer to one of these dimensions or topoi
shows that one has touched on a question through which matters
become serious, in that this conception of ourselves has been
affected.

Social rights

As mentioned earlier, social rights are less prominent in the Basic
Law than in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The
reason, undoubtedly, is that the Declaration of Human Rights costs
nothing; while it formulates goals and desirable ends, it provides
no means of enforcing them before an authority. That would be
different if they were adopted in the catalogue of fundamental
rights. According to the Declaration of Human Rights, there exists
a right to work (Art. 23), a right to social security (Art. 22), a right
to education (Art. 26) and even a right to a certain standard of
living. Article 25 states:

70 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the
health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food,
clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services,
and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness,
disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circum­
stances beyond his control.

(This right to an appropriate standard of living was again under­
lined in Article 11 of the 1966 Convention of Human Rights of the
United Nations.) Of these social rights only the right to education
has legal validity, as mediated through the European Convention
of Human Rights.53 Most of the others are contained in the Euro­
pean Social Charter, which, however, is only a political declaration
of intent, and is not legally binding on the contracting parties.

It is not at all surprising that states, especially those which
regard themselves as liberal, do not include social right


s in their

fundamental rights. For in so doing they would impose on them­
selves material obligations in favour of the individual. But from a
moral standpoint, social rights, for which the Basic Law at least
declares its support, carry the same weight as the rights of freedom.
For they, too, embody contents on the value of which a social
consensus can be assumed to exist. Even though they cannot be
regarded as fundamental rights in the German Federal Republic,
but merely as human rights, they are nevertheless topoi which can
be used as starting-points, or reference points, in argumentation
about specific social regulations, and particularly laws. Although
violation of them – as when our state does not have employment
available for everyone – does not call our social conception of
ourselves into question (since the Federal Republic regards itself
as a liberal society), nevertheless, moral indignation is certainly
legitimate, and an appeal to the human right to work politically
effective. The case was, or is, different in socialist states, which
guaranteed, or guarantee, a legal right to work. Thus, Article 24 of
the constitution of the GDR stated: ‘Every citizen of the German
Democratic Republic has the right to work. He has the right to
employment and free choice of employment in keeping with social
requirements and his personal qualifications’ [trans. E.J.]. But, of
course, the GDR did not regard itself as a liberal society, but as a
socialist one.

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 7 1

Safeguarded goods

I come, finally, to what I have referred to as ‘safeguarded goods’.
These are values, possibilities or qualities with which human
beings are assumed to be endowed by nature, so that their formu­
lation as rights by the state requires that the state provide arrange­
ments for safeguarding them. A considerable number of such
safeguarded goods are contained in the Basic Law. Foremost
among them is the right to life. Article 1, Paragraph 2 reads:
‘Everyone has the right to life and to inviolability of his person.
The freedom of the individual is inviolable’ [trans. E.J.]. Every
possible recipient or holder of fundamental rights does, of course,
live, so that no special quality can be ascribed to him by these
words. The aim of the article is to formulate life itself as a good
worthy to be preserved and protected. This formulation might be
regarded as the liberal version of social rights, for a number of
measures to safeguard the individual’s right to life could, indeed,
be expected of the state. In the second part of the paragraph
freedom appears as a substantial good. Here, too, a great deal
could be demanded of the state if one expects it not only to respect
the rights of freedom but to protect the individual from curtailment
of his freedom. The qualifying statement in Paragraph 2 shows
that, here too, freedom is understood in the liberal sense. For it
states: ‘These rights may only be encroached upon pursuant to a
law’ [trans. E.J.]. By comparing this, in particular, with Article 2 of
the European Convention of Human Rights, it becomes clear that
both life and freedom are understood here as substantial goods in
that they can only be withdrawn on grounds of legitimized execu­
tive measures by the state.

The other safeguarded goods are secrecy of postal and tele­
phonic communications, inviolability of dwellings, security, the
family, property and recently, according to Article 20a of the Basic
Law, the natural foundations of life. We recognize here a number of
modern basic values such as privacy, property and nature. The
right to security means, of course, outward security, but also,
above all, legal security. On this point both the Declaration of
Human Rights and the European Convention contain a good
number of basic provisions which are intended to ensure security
for the individual in legal proceedings, and to protect him against
degrading punishments. According to Article 6 the family, through
its origin a Roman and Christian basic value, is placed under the

72 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

special protection of the state order. The Declaration of Human
Rights describes the family as ‘the natural and fundamental group
unit of society’ (Art. 16, §3). With regard, above all, to the topoi of
the family and nature it becomes clear that these basic values are
regarded in the Declaration as responsibilities of the state. It is the
function of the state to protect the natural foundations of life and
property, to safeguard legal and outward security and to guarantee
the inviolability of dwellings and of postal and telephonic secrecy.

Here too, in the safeguarded goods, we are dealing with topoi
which specify goods which are essential to people’s conception of
themselves. However, they are not actually topoi of one’s moral
conception of oneself, but rather, in a sense, the preconditions of
that conception. ‘Grub first, then morals’, says Bertolt Brecht. But
they are inalienable prerequisites of a life fit for human beings.
Moral theoreticians who do not elaborate the morality of the
individual in terms of being-human-well, as I have done here, but
interpret it rather in the Aristotelian sense of the ‘good life’, have
accordingly paid most attention to this area of what I have called
safeguarded goods. In particular, Martha Nussbaum54 has
attempted to draw up a catalogue of basic goods. This is, of course,
of the highest importance because, from the standpoint of humane
politics, a primary concern must be to create the preconditions of
a life fit for human beings in the first place. It is therefore right
that they, together with social rights, should take up a large
amount of space in the Declaration of Human Rights. But, to stress
the point once more, their realization is not a moral question, but
a political and, in some cases, an economic one.

I now arrive at my conclusion. Fundamental rights and human
rights mark out the near horizon for moral discourses. Basic and
human rights are the most important of the topoi which can serve
as guidelines for conventions for the regulation of social conduct,
but are often also the most fragile. Just because they have already
been formulated as rights, they can easily be called into question,
and can be changed by explicit conventions. On the other hand,
although their content is in most cases vague, so that they contain
a moral potential going beyond their wording, their wording itself
makes them something which can be readily grasped. More long­
standing and fundamental moral conceptions than the fundamen­
tal rights may exist in our society, but it is difficult to appeal to
them since they are not explicitly formulated. By contrast, it can be
assumed that fundamental rights and human rights are acknowl­
edged by everyone in our society. That they, too, are alterable and
in need of revision will emerge, precisely, from moral discourses.

The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation 73

Newly arising historical problems which bring with them a need
for regulation, or a widening of the horizon through contact and
coexistence with other cultures, enforce revisions which also affect
human rights. For, as we have seen again and again, these human
rights, despite their universal claims, are very strongly influenced
by European culture and history.

3

The oral Life

Skills fo r Mo ral Living

Having sketched the horizon within’which, today, a moral existence
must be defined, and moral argumentation conducted, we shall
now turn to the question as to what constitutes the moral life itself.
What expectations are aroused by this question, and what guidance
on moral living can be expected from a written text? In a previous
chapter I wrote that, for the individual, a question should be
regarded as moral if it decides what kind of a person he or she is.
Moral questions are those through which matters become serious
for the individual. Now, one will not expect to come upon this
seriousness while reading a text, and still less will a text decide
what kind of person the reader is. The most that can be indicated in
a book is the dimensions by which a moral existence can be defined
for the individual today, against the background of our history and
the current situation of human beings. The medium of written
communication cannot enable us to anticipate when matters will
become serious for an individual, and, in particular, they cannot
equip the individual human being with the aptitudes needed to
confront that seriousness. If such aptitudes for moral living are to
be acquired, a text can, at most, indicate types of practices through
which one can hope to acquire them. In my attempt to meet these
expectations, this section of the chapter will sketch only the initial
leap which must be taken when embarking on a moral life, while
the next will deal with the question of what it means, under given
conditions, to be human well; the third, finally, will set out in more
detail what is involved when matters become serious for someone.

The Moral Life 75

First of all, however, I shall sum up what has already been said,
to make clear the basis from which the initial leap must be made,
and the obstacles a moral existence must overcome.

The description of the situation of the modern human being,
our own situation, turned out to be somewhat sceptical from the
moral point of view. More precisely, it emerged that morality is
superfluous in the average life situation. Everyday behaviour is
sufficiently regulated by customary practices, and as these prac­
tices are group- and system-specific, they extend into every corner
of existence. The fields of public action are differentiated into
instrumental subsystems, so that the system-imperatives of these
subsystems are sufficient as guidelines for actions, right down to
the actions of individual firms and authorities. Actions are organ­
ized instrumentally in terms of system goals, and the means
adopted to attain them require, above all, behaviour conforming
to the system. What is left over – the sphere of personal biography
and private existence – is largely taken over from individuals by
experts. The individuals’ relationship to them, whether it is one of
trust or of dependence, relieves them of the necessity of construct­
ing a way of life of their own. And as for the other pole, the great
whole, society and the state, it is shaped by liberal principles and
does not call for any commitment from the individual. The inter­
play of the interests pursued by individuals and groups – so the
basic liberal assumption runs – will doubtless work out for the
common good (with a little guidance if necessary). Morality is not
required.

And yet, as we have seen, moral questions do exist. There are
biographical constellations, there are developments and situations,
which decide what kind of people we are. How are we to recognize
them, and how must we be prepared to meet them? In addition,
historical experience teaches us that one can find oneself in situ­
ations in which, by following customary practices, by remaining
discreet and performing the required services on the basis of one’s
functional competence, one can incur guilt. How must we forearm
ourselves to be able to break out of such situations, should it be
necessary? In these questions there is no help from outside. Look­
ing ahead, we can assume neither that the whole will be good, nor
that virtue will be successful. Our moral confidence in the world
has been profoundly shaken by the experiences of the last century.

All this means that morality today begins with scepticism. In a
state of civilization in which both the individual and society are
largely relieved of the burden of moral questions, but in which the
questions as to what the individual is as a human being, and what

76 The Moral Life

the society is as a society, are nevertheless posed, moral existence
must see itself as a springing away from what already exists, a
new departure. The desire for a moral life is linked, strange as that
may sound, with the Greek idea of arete, according to which virtue
means: to be better. Today, too, a moral life requires that one be
different, better than the many, that one break away from what
merely happens. Morality begins with resistance.1

Selfhood

The break-out into a moral life is, first of all, a journey into selfhood.
Ernst Tugendhat, who rightly observes that there are not only
reasons but also motives for a moral life, sums up these motives
as an initial decision to be a good human being. But that says both
too much and too little. It says too much because the only certain
thing in a break-out is what one is leaving behind, not any possible
goal of virtue. And it says too little in that Tugendhat defines the
good human being as a co-operative partner.2 But one is already a
co-operative partner by virtue of adhering to customary practices,
and conforming functionally to systems. All that is not the goal of
morality but its precondition, and it can also be assumed to apply
to any average modern person. Undoubtedly, these premises are
not innate but are acquired, both by the individual and by the
European human being in general, through hard training and
profound socialization. But morality only begins when one is able
to break through customary behaviour, and that requires practice.

To illustrate this I shall give two surprising and, from the point
of view of cultural history, revealing examples. One comes from
the book by Ruth Kluger already mentioned, Weiter leben. Eine
Jugend. As a twelve-year-old girl Ruth Kluger was imprisoned in a
concentration camp. When a selection was made in the women’s
camp to segregate women between the ages of fifteen and forty­
five for a labour camp – and labour meant, at least, continuing to
live – the girl had difficulty in giving an age other than her true
one. When she had already been rejected, which would have meant
her certain death, her mother begged her to try again with another
SS selection officer, giving an incorrect age. She then resolved to
claim that she was already thirteen! Only when a female guard
assisting the SS man whispered to her that she should say she was
fifteen did she actually do SO.3

The second example is from Mark Twain’s famous novel Huckle-

The Moral Life 77

berry Finn. Huck, the son of an asocial drinker, teams up with the
escaped Negro slave Jim, and they both want to reach a state in
which slavery has already been abolished. However, Huck, who
by now has formed a deep friendship with Jim, has extreme pangs
of conscience because he is about to help a slave gain freedom.
Although he is himself anything but a respectable citizen, he still
regards it as nothing less than a sin to do such a thing.4

In both these episodes, truly serious situations are involved, and
moral questions are at stake. From them it can be seen that the
ability to transgress prohibitions is one of the aptitudes constitut­
ing a moral life. As we know, Georges Bataille declared the
transgression of prohibitions to be a sign of the sovereignty of a
human being.s But that is not what is meant here – or at least, not
quite what is meant. For what matters in a moral life is not the
pleasure in freedom which Bataille associates with the transgres­
sion of prohibitions. In a moral life such transgressions can only
occur in isolated cases, whereas the ability to transgress prohibi­
tions is essential to a moral existence. To illustrate this by a
relatively innocuous example: it is not especially moral to abstain
from stealing if one does not dare to do so. And what is commonly
meant by not daring does not need to be a fear of sanctions, but
can simply be an inability to deviate from average social expecta­
tions, that is, from customary behaviour. The customary practice
of not stealing can very well be adopted as part of a moral life – I
am someone who does not steal – but to do so one must first have
acquired the certainty that one could steal. It can be seen that to
enter on a moral life does not everywhere and universally mean to
violate customary behaviour, but that the transgression of certain
prohibitions is necessary – for practice, as it were, or as a kind of
paradigm – in order to embark on a moral life. On one hand, such
paradigmatic transgressions enable one to adopt the prohibitions
positively, and, on the other, they generate the confidence that,
when matters become serious, one will be able to deviate from
customary practice.

This act of ‘making up leeway’, as Heidegger called it,6 cannot
be achieved in a purely intellectual way. It is a practical act, and
through it selfhood is founded. However, the moral life does not
refer merely to aptitudes and single acts, but to a whole way of
life. The retrospective appropriation will be more serious, and may
not be achievable at all without some major biographical change
of direction. Anyone who becomes aware of the possibility of a
moral existence, whose eyes are opened, so to speak, finds them­
selves to be someone who, in a fundamental sense, has not

78 The Moral Life

previously been themselves at all. It seems to them that, biograph­
ically, everything just happened that way. They were born in a certain
parental home, attended a certain school, showed themselves to
have certain gifts, and it then was customary for them to embark
on this or that professional career; finally, they happened to meet
and live with this or that person – everything just turned out that
way. Now one cannot, of course, be ‘the basis for oneself’, as
Heidegger puts it? and, biographically, one appears to oneself as
having in some way emerged from a mist. But, to achieve selfhood,
it clearly is not enough simply to decide to be what one is, or has
become, in any case; without a No, without a major turning-point
in one’s biography, selfhood cannot be attained.

Such biographical breaks are also associated with losses, and it
is by no means guaranteed that after them one’s life will be better.
But, with regard to a moral life, it is in any case preferable to lead
a life for which one is oneself to blame, than to spend it claiming
that ‘things just turned out like that’. There is, admittedly, a danger
that – just because of the losses, and especially the loss of esteem
in the eyes of others whom one has disappointed – one may
experience the biographical break as itself something which just
happened. It is all too easy to give up one’s selfhood after a break
or decision which has not turned out well; all too easily a bad
conscience can lead one to be reclaimed by ‘the others’. It can be
seen that to lead a moral life and to be happy are not the same
thing. More precisely, selfhood begins at the point where one can
integrate negativity.

Negativity can even play an important part in a moral life, at
least at the time of the turning-point. Simply by rejecting possi­
bilities of happiness, whether they concern success, money or
certain forms of recognition, one gains a consciousness of being
oneself. For in a straightforwardly ‘successful life’S one will never
know whether one has not been merely pushed along, or has been
favoured by fortune. One would not know whether this life was
actually one’s own. Now, I certainly do not wish to offer a primer
in the ‘pursuit of unhappiness? but I do wish to help one to gain
the courage to cope with unhappiness. A moral life does not need
to be unhappy, but negativity is a part of it and gives it a certain
contour. It is by the ability to integrate negativity into one’s life
that selfhood is decided.

As life in its positivity is always already in progress, the
beginning of selfhood is a No, a resistance to the customary and a
departure from what happens of its own accord. The ability to say
‘No’ is thus a basic virtue, or the initial skill called for by a moral

The Moral Life 79

life. But to say ‘No’ is not a single act performed once and for all;
it can only be a paradigmatic act which sparks the awareness of
being able to be oneself. The ability to say ‘No’ will be needed
again and again in subsequent life, and each time it will bring with
it special risks. I shall take as an example the possibility of saying
‘No’ to offers of therapy. The exposure to dependence on experts,
precisely when matters become serious, is especially great in the
medical field. The knowledge of the average citizen in matters of
sickness and health today is minimal, or is made diffuse and
confused by the reading of newspapers. The more one knows in
this area ‘as a lay person’, the more unsure one feels. For this
knowledge is alien to us, and merely refers us to the one who
really knows, the doctor. The authority assumed by the latter is
exerted systematically by the medical profession. It forms part of
their professional expertise. But the lay person cannot see, and
does not want to see, how flawed this knowledge is; they cannot
assess the uncertainties of medical knowledge or the risks of
treatment, nor do they want to. They are therefore handed over
unconditionally to the treatments proposed by doctors. To say ‘No’
here, or even to resist by asking questions, by demanding expla­
nations, costs a great deal. Above all, it means taking upon oneself
the risk associated with the further course of the illness. The
paradox is that one has to bear this risk in any case, but would
rather pass on the responsibility to others, at the price of one’s
selfhood. For the ability to say ‘No’ is precisely what is at stake
here, and with it the appropriation of one’s own life. Moreover, it
will be hard to stand by the choice if the decision turns out to be
wrong.

We touch here on the problem of remorse. Just as one does not
wish to take failure of the treatment upon oneself, one is also
inclined to detach oneself from those decisions and acts which
have been proved wrong by their consequences, or have met with
opposition from others. This causes a split within selfhood. One
cannot stand by one’s own deeds, and becomes divided from
oneself. There are people who think they recognize the morality of
a person precisely in their remorse and bad conscience. But these
are merely signs that the others have caught up with the one who
has broken away, and have made him once more compliant to the
customary and the expected. Remorse is not a sign of a moral life,
but a symptom of its collapse. Anyone who is a self does not know
remorse, since nothing happens to him which he has not wanted;
he is the author of his acts. Of course, he can make mistakes, and
actions can entail consequences which he has not foreseen. But

80 The Moral Life

that is not a reason to distance oneself from one’s actions; rather,
selfhood requires that one endure even guilt, and bear even the
unintended consequences of one’s actions. And anyone who acts
must reckon with the fact that he will do wrong to others. They
will call upon him to repent his actions. But, in the end, what use
is that to them, or, conversely: what does one gain by forcing
another to apologize? A small triumph, a humiliation, a denial of
that person’s self. Why not maintain respect and acknowledge that
he had reasons for his actions?

Unhappiness and remorse are the snares which constantly
threaten to drag one away from the path of selfhood. But if we
have said that it is precisely the ability to integrate unhappiness
into one’s own life which constitutes a moral existence, then that
also applies to mistakes. It is by the faults in the coat we wear that
we recognize it as our own.

The ability to act

It is said that action is the true domain of ethics. Ethics is concerned
with acting well. But what actually is action? And does everyone
act? To act is distinguished from to let things happen, or to get
something over and done with. If someone says he or she is acting,
it has a strong sense, something is emphasized. Kant associated
the concept of action with freedom. To act was to be the initiator
of a causal chain; it connoted spontaneity. But does any such thing
really exist? Normally, at any rate, we do not act. Life happens,
and we get this or that done, meet expectations, fulfil requirements
to perform. We are driven by our fears and hopes – perhaps, too,
by our ambition and desire to count for something. But none of
that can be called action.

Plato admirably clarified the relevant difference in his dialogue
Hippias Minor. He states it in terms of voluntariness and involuntari­
ness. Socrates’s argument with the Sophist Hippias turns on the
question as to who was the better man, Achilles or Odysseus.
When Hippias tries to assert that Achilles was better because he
was more truthful – whereas Odysseus was scheming and duplic­
itous – Socrates points out that on occasion Achilles, too, told lies.
Hippias defends him by showing that the alleged lies were only
utterances made under the influence of affect. But in saying this he
fell into Socrates’s trap. For Socrates now proves that the better
man is the one who lies intentionally, since only he sees clearly the

The Moral Life 8 1

difference between truth and falsehood, and thereby controls it.
Thus, in mathematics, the better calculator is the one who can
deliberately make mistakes, whereas mistakes merely happen to the
weaker one. In arguing this Socrates also expresses the ambiva­
lence of voluntariness, and no doubt many of his listeners at that
time, and many readers of Plato now, will side with Achilles and
prefer the naive, well-intentioned man to the shrewd intriguer.lO
But one thing is clear: action implies voluntariness, and voluntari­
ness is a state in which one is not just carried along, or in which
something merely happens to one; it implies that one is at a certain
distance to all that. This is not to say that the state of voluntariness
actually defines the moral life; but it does make a start to that life,
provides a precondition for it. And here, too, it must be said that
this state does not come upon one willy-nilly; it needs to be tried
out and practised.

What does it mean to be able to act without being pushed along?
Does it mean, for example, to act without a motive – that is, from
mere caprice? But what does caprice mean? It is clear that we are
touching here on the problem of freedom, as it has been discussed
again and again in ethics. In Kant, freedom is a kind of primordial
causality, a non-empirical origin of action. That is only conceivable
if, like Kant, one distinguishes between a mundus intelligibilis and
a mundus sensibilis, and assumes that the subject of action belongs
to the non-empirical world. But even Kant, who had this schema
at his disposal, had to specify a motive for moral action, a ‘main­
spring’ (Triebfeder) as he revealingly called it. He found it in respect
for the law. But this takes him outside his transcendental theory of
freedom and back into psychology. We, too, want to place the
question about the ability to act on the empirical plane, though not
in the sense that it implies observable behaviour – such proof
would, strictly speaking, be morally irrelevant. The ability to act is
empirical in the sense that it is a skill which can be practised.

The ability to act authentically should be understood as the
possibility of doing something purely on the basis of reflection.
This is the type of action which Socrates distinguished by the
criterion of voluntariness. The question he put to the Sophist
Protagoras in the dialogue of that name is characteristic in this
respect: ‘Do you hold knowledge to be a ruling element?’ His
question aims to establish whether reflection can become an
agency guiding and initiating action. Protagoras counters this by
citing the opinion of the many, based on their experience that they
are overcome by their desires, or, expressed more generally, that their
actions are motivated by something which drives or draws them

82 The Moral Life

on, by affects.u Accordingly, authentic action is said to be some­
thing initiated and guided in an affect-free, or at any rate an affect­
independent, manner.

Now, I maintained in a previous chapter that the average
working, transport-using member of technical civilization today is
capable of precisely that type of action, that is to say, of cool,
objectively appropriate behaviour. Admittedly, in this formulation
the point at issue is somewhat weakened, since I refer to it as
behaviour, not action. In the end, it is for self-examination to decide
whether the kind of skill one has acquired in being able to control
a technical device properly even when under affective stress, or in
treating oneself as a thing when giving oneself an injection –
whether this skill is sufficient to be regarded as a basic aptitude of
moral life. I have already pointed out that the achievements of
objectivity and affect-independent behaviour are not as a rule the
outcome of self-mastery and moral decision, but of a kind of split.
If that is indeed the case, then, for the sake of practice, one ought
to seek out certain situations in which action based on reflection is
sure to meet with affective resistance. I shall mention a few
situations of this kind which are trivial in nature, but which by
degrees become serious. To take one example, one should try
walking calmly into a cold lake, without hesitating at any point.
Of course, one can do it! One simply has to do it. The crucial point
is that one does not have the self-awareness which is a prerequisite
for moral action if one has not, at some point in one’s life, had the
experience that one simply had to do something, and then actually did
it.

I shall mention another typical situation, which may be charac­
teristic of the context in which these reflections on ethics first came
into being and were presented in the form of lectures: the fear of
examinations. Fear of examinations is a state of unfreedom in
which one does not even have access to one’s normal stock of
knowledge. What is the nature of this fear, and how is it to be
combated? It results partly from a feeling of dependence, of
exposure, and partly from the pressure to produce a maximum of
performance at a single given moment. It is entirely possible to
master this situation if one has once deliberately removed oneself
from it. My recommendation is that, for once, one should deliber­
ately make mistakes. In this way one overcomes both the feeling
of not being in control of the situation and the usual inner urge to
achieve one’s maximum performance. One recaptures the situation
as one’s own; from being driven by events one again becomes the
author of one’s actions. The paradox is that by once having decided

The Moral Life 8 3

to be worse than one could be, in the long run one is likely to be
better than one would otherwise have been.

I shall mention a third situation. It has to do with overcoming
embarrassment. The feeling of embarrassment is, of course, a
feeling of dependence on the opinions of others . One fails to do a
great many things in life, and, in particular, one fails to re-examine
a great many things in life, because it would be embarrassing – for
example, admitting a mistake, or phoning someone back, or going
back because one has forgotten something. By this example of
overcoming embarrassment one can see perhaps most clearly that the
coolness which everyone is able to show today is not quite the
same thing as moral aptitude. We have to do here with a kind of
intra-ethical debate or struggle. Embarrassment is a form of shame,
and shame – if I may put it thus – is an elementary ethical feeling.
Practice in dealing with embarrassing situations is therefore, to an
especially high degree, a preliminary exercise for a moral life. For
what is at stake is the ability to break through customary behav­
iour when matters become serious.

Moral existence begins with the ability to act independently of
demands (Zumutungen) and temptations (Anmutungen). In the tra­
ditional debate on freedom more attention has been given to
temptations, in the form of drives and affects. Today, when the
drives are muted in any case, it is demands which are more
relevant. These are the average expectations which control behav­
iour. A basic principle of these expectations is that one should be
like everyone else, that is, one should not be conspicuous. Against
this background, one of the basic qualifications for moral behav­
iour is rightly referred to as ‘civil courage’. This term denotes
courage in civilian life as against courage in war. The remarkable
thing is that this peacetime courage is often more difficult than
courage in war. For in war – as traditionally understood – every­
one charges together, whereas civil courage generally calls for
behaviour which is difficult just because it deviates from that of
everyone else. In former times civil courage had something of
angry defiance about it, since it usually had to be shown not
towards the majority but towards a superior, as courage before
princely thrones. Today, the dominant authority one has to deal
with is not, as a rule, an individual, but simply the majority. To
assert oneself against it is especially difficult because one has
oneself internalized that authority. One has rehearsed majority
behaviour as one’s own average behaviour.

In the history of the German Federal Republic there have been
ample opportunities to practise civil courage. These were good

84 The Moral Life

occasions for practice because one was not on one’s own, but could
act jointly with others of like mind – even if against the majority
and the organs of state. I am thinking of the anti-nuclear power
movement, the opposition to the Frankfurt west runway, move­
ments against the prohibition to practise one’s profession, against
the census, against rearmament, against nuclear waste transporta­
tion, and so on. These were undoubtedly acts of civil courage,
since they often involved the overcoming of inner inhibitions, and
because each individual had to decide for himself whether to take
part, and, finally, had to take responsibility on his own. This
resistance movement, which has been on the alert throughout
almost the whole history of the Federal Republic, and is constantly
revitalized by new controversies, has enabled millions of people in
our country to practise civil courage and civil disobedience, and
thereby to gain an awareness of the moral life. Just as at one time,
when the nation was authoritarian and militaristic, it was possible
to regard the army as the school of the nation, in the history of the
Federal Republic it is the resistance movement which is to be
considered as the school of the nation, since the Federal Republic
is a democratic form of state. By occasionally and conditionally
calling back sovereignty from the state, young people, in particu­
lar, have developed into conscious citizens. Through its wide
repercussions, this form of rehearsing a moral life also became a
contribution to the self-understanding of the society in which we
live.

To mention one last example of the rehearsal of the ability to
act, I would recall an idea I introduced as a joke in an earlier
section – the idea that an official in a bureaucratic agency might
get the idea of being brave. Against the background of the discus­
sion of civil courage, this somewhat absurd example becomes
more plausible. For civil courage involves the application in the
civil sphere of a virtue which was actually developed in the
military sphere, namely courage or bravery. In general, what is at
stake in these examples is the possibility that moral ideas can be
applied at all in the average civilized life – the life smoothed out
by the imperative to perform, by conformity to the system, by
security. The outcome of our presentation of technical civilization
has been that, in the normal life of work and travel, morality is
superfluous. That does not mean, however, that one should let
matters rest there, that one should put up with this situation.
Rather, it is worthwhile – just for the sake of practice – to take
these everyday situations seriously. That is achieved, as a rule, by
using the lever of traditional moral ideas, especially the classical

The Moral Life 85

virtues of bravery, magnanimity and honesty, or by seeing such
everyday situations in terms of more universal principles, such as
fundamental rights or human rights. By taking matters seriously
on occasions, for example by demanding rights of participation or
insisting on equality, by rejecting lies or deceptions imposed by
expediency or by introducing a perspective of public welfare or
the reproduction of nature into economic life, one will trigger the
most amazing responses. The least vehement reaction of one’s
environment will be the accusation of naivety. This implies that
anyone who adopts a moral standpoint is behaving in an ingenu­
ous, childish manner and is still ignorant of the ways of the world.
In particular, it will be pointed out that his ideas are unrealizable
and without practical consequences. Further accusations in this
connection are of utopianism and idealism. Both of these imply,
again, that a moral life entails an unrealistic attitude to the world.
Furthermore, the introduction of a moral standpoint is felt to be
embarrassing, a faux pas. It can be seen here that the world of
customary behaviour protects itself even on the meta-ethical level:
it is customary to adhere to customary behaviour. But one will
also have a quite different experience – earning applause, finding
coalition partners and even, sporadically, realizing that things can
actually be changed. The decisive thing, however, is that by
occasionally taking everyday situations seriously one gains experi­
ence of what can happen when matters really do become serious.
And in any case, our normal everyday life is itself a serious matter,
in that it decides, in the long term, what kind of people we are
and in what kind of society we live. And so it is worthwhile to
take this life seriously from time to time.

Participation

With this idea of periodically taking seriously the kind of society
we live in we have reached – perhaps too early – a central and, for
the ethics being presented here, crucial point, namely the connec­
tion between moral existence and moral argumentation. By
occasionally taking seriously, in our lived situation, the question
of the kind of society we live in, we commit ourselves to that
question in a way which is no longer purely argumentative. I have
pointed out that the basic outlook of our society is a liberal one.
This implies, in particular, the belief that the pursuit of individual
interests has a beneficial effect on public welfare. It also means

86 The Moral Life

that while everyone has rights of participation, not everyone needs
to exercise them, and that an individual’s choice of a mode of life,
including the nature of his private existence, his thoughts, feelings
and religious conviction, is irrelevant to the structure of the whole.
But it also means, conversely, that the social regulations which one
considers necessary and which, on occasion, one may support by
moral argumentation, need not have anything to do with one’s
own moral life.

I should like now to state as a core element of a moral life that
one does not accept this dichotomy. It is practically a defining
characteristic of living within the customanj to make generous use of
one’s liberal rights without concerning oneself about protecting
them or developing them further. It is a characteristic possibility
of our form of society that the project of one’s own life can be
confined to the shaping of the private sphere, and that one’s
relationship to public life and politics can be restricted to paying
taxes and occasionally voting. It is characteristic of our constitution
that it defines the state in contradistinction to social life, and that
the social existence of the individual is therefore possible without
any political commitment. That this has not always been so, and
must not necessarily be so, can be seen, for example, from the
primal text on the theme of caring for oneself – Plato’s dialogue
Alcibiades 1. In it the concern for oneself, the rehearsing of selfhood,
the formation and development of the soul, which Socrates pro­
poses to the young Alcibiades, is equated with his development as
a politician, a polites, that is, a publicly effective citizen. For us, that
equation is by no means self-evident; rather, becoming politicized,
or politically committed, is a special sign of a moral existence. That
is also seen, conversely, in the fact that, for us, being a politician can
be a normal, modern professional activity – that is, it can be
conformist, performance-oriented and respectable within the
framework of the customary, and without any special political
commitment.

In order to fill the moral life with content, it is necessary to
establish a relationship between one’s own project of a moral life
and what is held to be right in argumentation and discourses
aimed at establishing a social consensus. For the structure of a
moral life which has been developed in this chapter up to now –
under the headings of selfhood and the ability to act – has
remained a formal possibility which has been characterized, in
particular, by negative capabilities: distance, resistance, voluntari­
ness. The problem contained in this was already formulated clearly
by Socrates. To return once more to his thesis in the Hippias Minor:

The Moral Life 87

if the better mathematician is the one who can deliberately make
mistakes, and the better man is the one who does not say untruths
by accident or under the influence of affect, but lies because he
knows the truth and the difference between true and false – if that
is so, why then does this better man do the good and not the bad?
Socrates’s lapidary answer to this problem is the thesis that ‘No
one voluntarily does the bad’, because he naturally does not want
to harm himself. This Socratic solution to the problem clearly rests
on a basic trust in the moral world order – a trust we no longer
share. We therefore have to look for another solution. This other
solution consists in taking seriously our rights of participation, that
is, understanding the possibilities of political commitment as those
which also decide what kind of a human being one is. For by
taking rights of participation seriously one relates oneself to con­
crete moral ideas, those which we have referred to generally as
themes or topoi of moral discourse. This relationship can consist in
attempting to realize these basic moral ideas in one’s own life
project. But – and this must be stressed – it can also be a negative
relationship; that is, it can consist in a commitment to change these
basic moral ideas themselves. Moral discourses, as we have noted,
are not concerned merely with defining new social regulations on
the basis of fixed themes, but also with problematizing these basic
moral ideas in the light of new problems and new political and
cultural developments, and with working towards the establish­
ment of new basic ideas and customary practices. Here, the practis­
ing of alternative modes of life can go hand in hand with a political
commitment which aims at changing what is socially customary,
even to the point of changing fundamental rights or individual
laws. In the history of the Federal Republic up to now this
connection between moral and political commitment and alterna­
tive modes of life can actually be observed in many instances. It
can therefore be said that the alternative solution – alternative in
relation to a state of civilization in which one believed one could
rely on the moral world order – consists in exerting oneself,
through the project of one’s own mode of life, on behalf of the
moral world order. By world order, however, I refer only to the
limited horizon of the basic moral consensus which constitutes our
social conception of ourselves.

This politicization of one’s own life-project is also necessary for
another reason. I have emphasized at various points that the
project of a moral life – in deviating from customary behaviour,
for example, or in the idea of the patient who has ‘ come of age’ –
carries heavy risks. As a rule, one will be unable to bear these risks

88 The Moral Life

in isolation. That is to say that even if one wanted to bear them
alone, one would nevertheless, through the consequences of one’s
actions, implicate the people close to one, family, friends and
sometimes society in a wider sense. A characteristic example of
this is a mode of life in which one does not seek by every means,
i.e. from prenatal gene analysis to preventive abortion, to avoid
disability. One can really only sustain such a life-project if one is
supported in some way by one’s immediate environment. It fol­
lows from this in principle that one cannot restrict the project of
one’s own moral existence to one’s own person, but must extend
it, through establishing a moral consensus with others – that is,
through the formation of social groups – to encompass society as a
whole.

By taking rights of participation seriously, however, one will
relate concretely not only to the basic moral ideas of the society in
which we live, but also to the state of civilization which constitutes
the present conditions of being human, and to the historical
background of the society in which we live. The project of being­
human-well is accomplished against the foil of the universal con­
ditions of life – that will be the subject of the next section. And
when matters become serious our own conception of ourselves
will not be a conception of human existence in general, but of a
particular historical situation. Our own historical location is
defined by our participation in a community of contemporaries.
To take our own existence seriously, that is, to live it as a moral
existence, means to relate oneself to the concrete here-and-now.
Which problems one has to reckon with in one’s own life, which
possibilities one must prepare oneself for and in which political­
historical context one must see present-day events – all this de­
cisively influences the development of one’s own moral skills. In
this way one is necessarily related to the historical background
which one shares with one’s contemporaries.

Being-human-well

Ethics is concerned with the good. But what is the good? Plato and
courseworkhero.co.uk defined it more precisely as the human good, to anthropi­
non agathon. We say that ethics is concerned with being-human-well.
The use of the adverb implies that this formulation does not refer
to an attribute of the human being, but to a quality of being human.

The Moral Life 89

What is at issue, therefore, is not certain attributes which qualify
one as good, attributes which were traditionally called virtues, but
an accomplishment, the accomplishment of being human. This
implies that one can be what one is in any case, namely a human
being, in different ways, and in particular, more or less well. Here,
too, the Greek conception that to be good means to be better can
be discerned. Being-human-well sets one off from the mode of life
of the many. It will emerge, however, that the attempt to be human
well is not really a striving to achieve a goal, but rather an
endeavour to engage fully in being human and to disown nothing
which forms part of it. It has to do with the moderation which at
the same time is a proud renunciation of anything over-exalted,
which Camus advocates at the end of The Rebel: a moderation
which has learned how to live and die and, in order to be human,
refuses to be God.12

To engage fully with being human, to disown nothing which
forms part of it, seems to be in contradiction to what we have
sketched under the heading of the moral life. Were not precisely the
ability to act and to resist characteristic of the moral life, and did
we not thus follow the traditional concept of ethics, according to
which will and freedom are the chief attributes of a moral life? To
be sure – but the rehearsing of selfhood and the ability to act
related only to the formal preconditions of a moral life, the content
of which remains to be decided. A first step in this was taken in
the section on participation. Here, too, we were concerned with
commitment, that is, with taking seriously in one’s own life the
specific ideas one upholds as a participant in moral discourse. To
be human well is not the antithesis of the project of a moral life;
this project is its actual content. The reason why selfhood, detach­
ment, resistance and the ability to act are prerequisites for being­
human-well lies in the peculiarities of our state of civilization, in
which we are continually denied the ability to be human, which
is overlaid and concealed by technology and administration and
repudiated by hybrid projects. Conversely, however, the possibility
of saying ‘No’, of not putting up with what is given, of resistance,
is an essential part of being human. It is just that, in our historical
situation, this refusal to resign oneself is directed less against
nature than against the second nature or, as Gottfried Benn for­
mulated it, against the ‘state-controlled extermination of all
essence’.13

For this reason this section, unlike the previous one in which
the moments of action and decision were predominant, will be
concerned rather with nature – the nature we ourselves are – and

90 The Moral Life

with what it means to engage ourselves with the given, and to let
something happen to us.

A human essence?

It might seem that, in order to discuss being-human-well, we need
to know what it means to be human. Is there an essence of the
human being, that can be fulfilled more or less well? If being­
human-well were determined by such a human essence, then it
would again become a project. One would have in view an ideal
state of human being towards which one had to strive. It is true
that, historically, humanity’s conception of itself has almost always
been formulated in terms of such ideals. Ideal human being was
posited as reason, for example, or freedom, as a state to be reached,
or realized through emancipation. Such definitions of essence as
types of ideal human being are of great importance and have had
a significant and dynamic influence on history through education
and politics. And the desire for resistance and intensification
inherent in them is undoubtedly an integral part of human exist­
ence. But in gazing towards those goals, humanity has overlooked
and denied the human situation, which consists in seeking to
transcend oneself towards ideals to which, for that very reason,
one does not correspond. This starting-point from which one
breaks away, the given being one finds oneself to be, nature – this,
too, is a part of the human situation.

I shall elucidate this in relation to the traditional understanding
of man as animal rationale, as a rational creature. According to the
classical rules of definition which go back to courseworkhero.co.uk, a definition
is formed by stating the genus proximum, the closest species to the
one to which the entity to be defined belongs, and then the
differentia specifica, by which it differs from the other species within
that genus. In this case the closest species would be the living
organism or animal, and the differentia specifica, the way in which
man differs from all other organisms or animals, is identified as
rationality. The actual essence, or proprium, of man thus lies in the
differentia specifica. Man is man essentially through his rationality.
It follows – and this is how the formula has been actually under­
stood, and has been implemented through education in a compre­
hensive strategy – that man is the more human the more he
develops his rationality and overcomes the animality within him.
That is only one example. There are other formulae for ideal

The Moral Life 91

humanity through which humanity has historically evolved its
conception of itself by projecting itself in terms of a certain ideal
form, a whatness. Accordingly, to be a good human being means
to correspond as far as possible to the determinants of this ideal.
In contrast to that, we are concerned, in our attempt at being­
human-well, to engage with the intermediate situation, the situation
between nature and ideal, b etween facticity and project, and to
subject ourselves in earnest to the implications of this situation.
That does not mean denying the ideals, but it does generate an
awareness of the losses and one-sidedness which are bound up
with their pursuit, and of the price to be paid for its realization.
And, in the late phase of modernity which we have characterized
as technical civilization, it also compels us to come to terms with
the given, to refuse to disown nature, and to be able to live with
what we do not control. An average human existence in technical
civilization is dominated by the ideal of security – an ideal which
generates the illusion that illness has been abolished, which denies
death, which estranges one from one’s body and devalues corpo­
real existence. Since b eing-hum an-well is defined on the basis of
the general conditions of the given historical situation – this is, in
our case, of the state of civilization which has been described –
being-human-well is concerned primarily today with the pathic,
with letting something happen to us, with engaging with the
given; it is concerned with integrating the nature which we our­
selves are into our practical conception of ourselves.

Being nature

That we live within nature, that we are living creatures, organisms,
has been made emphatically clear by the problems which, in the
widest sense, are called environmental problems. The fact that we
cannot not be of this world, that we are in the world, that we must
live within the circulation of elements, has been made directly
perceptible to us . That does not mean, however, that we have
already overcome the conception of ourselves which is articulated,
for example, by the formula of the animal rationale, or that we have
integrated our natural being explicitly into this conception of
ourselves. On the contrary, nature, which we ourselves really are,
remains external to us, an object of natural science, an organism
subject to certain reciprocal influences and which we manipulate
by means of technology and scientific medicine. Under these

92 The Moral Life

conditions, it becomes a specific ability, a skill, not just to have
nature in some way, but to be nature. ‘Bodily existence as a task’14
calls for a special kind of attentiveness, and has to be practised.

It must be stressed here once more that the decisive constituents
of a moral life cannot be simply communicated in words, but have
to be acquired through accomplishment and practice. A text can
only point in certain directions and indicate a number of issues,
fields or central agencies in relation to which the ability to ‘be
nature’ can be developed. That we are nature is a fact. But the
question is whether this fact remains external to us and merely
happens to us. And bemg the nature we actually are will not be
primarily a matter of intensifying our physical activities – in sport,
for example – for by doing that we might simply make nature still
more an object. Rather, it will be a matter of recognizing what
happens to us as belonging to us. The first step, therefore, is to
relativize our understanding of ourselves as ‘! ‘, or, as is sometimes
said, to expand our consciousness. If, instead of this, I cling to the
‘I’ to which something happens, what happens to me remains
external to me. Now, it would be absurd to say ‘! ‘ to this external
thing, for, as long as I hold fast to my ‘! ‘, I could at most address
this thing which happens to me as ‘you’. Our relationship to our
own bodies is an example of this. How difficult it is not merely to
have this body but to be it, if one holds fast to the ‘I’. There is no
other way than, from time to time, to let go of this ‘I’ to some
extent, or to engage in modes of being in which the ‘I’ disappears.
The insights of psychoanalysis are undoubtedly helpful here, since
they teach that the Ego is only an epiphenomenon, an agency
mediating between the Id and reality, an agency acquired through
painful socialization, and which can be put out of action in
regressive states by fear, pain or sexual ecstasy, for example.
Normally, however, the Ego is not merely a theoretical hypostati­
zation but a fixed agency determining our everyday behaviour: I
sit, I telephone, I make an appointment, I write a text. But – as
reflection can still tell me – I cannot think if no thoughts come into
my mind, I cannot act if the nature we ourselves are, the body,
does not play its part, and I shall not wish for anything if nothing
affects my emotions or no desire arises within me. Practising begins
when one consciously accepts this dependence on our own nature.
However, this will certainly involve a relinquishing of our own
self, or a weakening of ego-consciousness, or an expansion of
awareness.

Characteristic of such practising is the exercise of letting ideas
come into one’s head. This means letting go of the linguistic and

The Moral Life 93

logical controls which the ‘1’ normally exerts and which actually
constitute the ‘! ‘, in favour of free association, openness, intuitive
apprehension. The same applies to other areas, such as actions
involving the body. It is well known that the ‘! ‘ is actually a
hindrance to higher degrees of bodily performance. While alertness
and consciousness are certainly highly important in gymnastics or
dancing, they must not be ego-centred; what is required is a diffuse
consciousness, an alertness of the body, and a very great confi­
dence that what one wants to happen will happen by itself. It is
the same in the realm of wishing and desiring. Strictly speaking,
one cannot want to desire. This explains the great difficulty many
people have in knowing what they actually want, or more pre­
cisely, what they wish or desire; it explains the practical dilemma
in which we want something and yet that thing means nothing to
us, is without any attraction. In order to wish for something,
therefore, it is necessary to relinquish the ‘I’ to some extent and to
give ourselves up to uncertainty with regard to what can appeal
to us and can cause desire to rise up in us.

I have indicated some ways in which our dependence on our
own nature, and therefore our concomitant dependence on what is
not ‘! ‘, can be integrated into the performance of life. When one
refers, in other contexts, to the fact that man is nature like any
other organism, one has in mind the fact that human life takes
place between birth and death, that humans must eat and drink,
and are exposed to illnesses. Philosophical anthropology, precisely
to the extent that it is ethically relevant, has always sought to
integrate death into self-consciousness. The reason, no doubt, is
that death has been seen as the greatest moral challenge. However,
attitudes towards death have been highly contradictory. For some,
a moral attitude to death lay in the attempt to overcome it, so that
mortal life was seen as a means of working towards immortality,
as in Greek thinkers, for example. For others, it was more import­
ant to live one’s own mortality as such – as Christian thinkers have
done, up to the philosopher Martin Heidegger. Admittedly, this
thinking was often bound up with the Christian hope for redemp­
tion from death. It is noteworthy that the same attention has not
been paid to the fact of man’s being born – probably because being
born is regarded, as a rule, as an act completed with birth. In fact,
however, the state of having been born has at least as much
importance for human beings as death. And from an ethical
standpoint the state of having been born is not exhausted by the
fact that at a certain time one has seen the light of day. Rather, it
has to do with the fact that one has received oneself, as it were, as

94 The Moral Life

emerging from mist or darkness, and that this being-given-to­
oneself can potentially extend throughout the whole of life. That
this is so is shown, for example, by dreams, which constantly
present us with new aspects of ourselves, and in which we can
again and again appear as strange to ourselves. If, therefore, some
philosophers, especially Kierkegaard and Heidegger, have called’
for life to be lived as ‘life-unto-death’, one might reply that it is
just as important to conceive of one’s life as an everlasting birth. I
could imagine that some artists live in this way. What is generally
at issue here is to attach less importance to the ‘e which is
essentially an identity achieved through biography, in order to be
able to surprise oneself, and, though seeing oneself as unfinished,
to keep oneself open to possibilities of development.

The relationship to illness is of great importance for the moral
life. Our technical civilization, especially in the context of technical­
scientific medicine, inclines us to see illness as a disorder in
relation to normality, and to suppose that such disorders can in
principle be remedied. A glance at the statistics, or at our circle of
closest acquaintances, is enough to convince us that this conception
of illness is an illusion. Only a small minority of illnesses are cured;
most illnesses are of the kind one has to live with, and, once out
of childhood and early youth, there is practically no one who does
not have to live with some illness or other. If one has once come
to terms with this fact, it emerges as a basic ethical problem how
one is to live with illnesses. This does not mean that one should
define oneself, or even develop an awareness of oneself, as a sick
person. Protesting against the illness, and sometimes rising above
it by ignoring it, can be adequate responses. It would not be
adequate, however, to deny the illness or to define oneself out of
it, for being-human-well also means living one’s own fragility and
weakness, as well as one’s having been born and having to die.
Here, nature means what in the Christian tradition was called the
creatureliness of the human being.

Being-a-part

It is ethical reflection on the human situation of being-nature that
first gives rise to doubts as to whether being-human-well is poss­
ible on one’s own. If being-human-well means really engaging with
the human situation, and fully living what it is to be a human
being, it soon becomes clear that the humanity of the human being

The Moral Life 95

cannot b e fulfilled in isolation. The most striking example is
sexuality. Because the human being, as an individual, only exists
within the gender difference, whether this is understood as pri­
marily a natural or a social difference, he or she can only fulfil the
task of being-human-well by understanding himself or herself as a
related entity within a relation, or a pole within a polarity, or,
more generally, as a part of a larger whole. That does not need to
mean that the true human life must be conceived as a process of
fusion or identification with another person. That could amount to
appropriation, and violate the respect one owes to others in their
otherness, and the need to preserve their individuality. But one
certainly can live in such a way that one produces a larger whole
jointly with the other, and is engaged affectively by this greater
whole. At any rate, practising the ability to be a part is essential to
being-human-well. It implies openness and attentiveness towards
that which one is or can be with another, and it also means
exposing oneself to the other and being affected by what affects
him or her. Practising such an understanding of oneself, and the
corresponding behaviour, is not easy. But there are opportunities
for it in playful situations in which team-behaviour is called for.
Such abilities are required, above all, when a human group without
hierarchization is to be created, as in modern partnerships and
families. For whenever a group is organized hierarchically, the
whole is represented by one individual, the head of the family, at
the expense of degrading the other members.

The ability to be a part is especially crucial in one’s relationship
to one’s children. Here, it is all too easy to regard one’s child as a
part of oneself. This means, implicitly, that one is oneself the whole.
In this way, the child’s rights are not acknowledged, justice is not
done to his or her autonomy or to the fascinating emergence of a
new spontaneity in the child. It is noteworthy, and also in some
way frightening, that Emmanuel Levinas – precisely the philoso­
pher of otherness – fails to understand the relationship to the child.
He writes:

Filiality is still more mysterious: it is a relationship with the Other
where the Other is radically other, and where nevertheless it is in
some way me.1S

Similarly, he states earlier in the same interview (p. 66) that ‘the
subject’S ego is posited in its virility’ and hence that ‘the feminine
is described as the of itself other’. It can be seen here how the
metaphysical approach, with its insistence on the ego and identity,

96 The Moral Life

is unable to encompass being towards the other. The child does
not experience itself as a part of its father or mother, but as a part
of a ‘We’, and, in face of this, must laboriously bring into being its
own ‘I’ by an effort of distancing. The parents, however, must, to
an extent, abandon their fixation on their own ‘I’ in order to
participate intuitively in the whole which they form with their
child.

In sexuality, and in the parent-child relationship, one takes
one’s place in a complex which represents another important
aspect of the being-nature of human beings, that is, the complex of
generations. We have seen that even the Declaration of Human
Rights postulates being born within and belonging to the ‘family
of man’ as essential to being human. These two facts are not a
programme for the individual human being, but are constitutive
and given. By seeing oneself as a link in the chain of generations,
and by consciously, through sexuality and the engendering of
children, placing oneself within the sequence of generations, one
accomplishes one’s own being-human as a part of a larger whole.
Karl Marx spoke in this context of the realization of our human
‘species being’,16

Finally, I would mention solidarity once more as a possible
mode of being-a-part. I defined solidarity, incidentally, when I
spoke of ‘letting oneself be affected by what affects the other’. If
one is a part of a larger whole, such as a family or a relationship
between two partners, and in a wider sense if one is a member of
an association, this solidarity comes into being practically by itself.
All the same, tendencies of distancing will always manifest them­
selves: What has that to do with me? Here, the important thing is
to practise equanimity, and to live the reality of being-a-part which
is inherent in the cases mentioned – the family or partner relation­
ship . It is clear that this ‘being affected by what affects the other’
can have very far-reaching consequences. The illness of a child,
completely changing one’s daily routine or even calling for an
entirely new life-plan, or a misfortune befalling an individual
member of a small group, or, perhaps still worse, the guilt and
failure of an individual member, can entail a major curtailment of
life-prospects for an individual. It would be quite mistaken to
define being-human-well at this point in terms of concepts such as
responsibility, self-sacrifice or any such performance-related
expressions. What is called for is nothing more than refusing to
evade the issue, and being affected by what affects the other.

To the extent, however, that solidarity is defined as a form of
the ability to be a part, this concept has not yet been revealed in

The Moral Life 97

its full scope. For we are still dealing here with the solidarity
between people who b elong together. In the case of solidarity as
love of one’s neighbour, that cannot, in general, be presupposed.
We shall have to come back to this.

Temptations and demands

It is also a part of being-human-well to put oneself in the way of
temptations and demands. This observation may be somewhat
surprising, since in the last section selfhood and the capacity to act
were characterized precisely in terms of independence from temp­
tations and demands. The fact that human beings are exposed to
these pressures makes up their natural and social being to an
exceptional degree. They are, in this respect, vulnerable creatures,
beings open to allurement and deception. To be sure, human
beings are only themselves if they are able to assert themselves
and to keep temptations and demands at a distance. But that is
only a part of the truth. For anyone who is not touched by such
pressures and does not have to meet social expectations has no
cause to act. And anyone who developed selfhood and the ability
to act solely on their own account would turn themselves into a
kind of free-floating, extra-mundane being and in that way would
forfeit their humanity.

I shall clarify this dialectic by an example. It is natural for a
mother to be affected by compassion if her child falls ill. This is
not just a case of caring for the child, but of being genuinely
affected by what affects the other, of compassion. In going through
what is happening to the child she is, in a sense, the best diagnos­
tician – because she does not merely register the child’s suffering
from outside – and she is, in principle, best able to say what would
benefit the child. Her being affected by the child’s suffering also
makes her highly motivated to act, and this energy undoubtedly
surpasses anything that would be mustered by an impartial
observer. However, if her concern and fellow feeling grow too
strong, she is, in a sense, herself ill, and can at most b e a
communication partner and resonance-box for the child. To really
help the child a certain distance and overview, and at least a
degree of objectivity, are needed. That would save the mother
from excessive haste and panic, and, above all, would enable her
to consider alternative therapeutic measures.

We can see from this example that while b eing emotionally

98 The Moral Life

affected is certainly a prerequisite for action, action also requires
us to free ourselves from this emotion in a certain way. True
humanity, or, better, the accomplishment of being-human-well,
lies midway between, or rather in a constant transition between,
the two possibilities. The two conceivable poles of behaviour, on
one side over-identification and on the other cool detachment, are
both thoroughly human possibilities. But being-human-well consists
in the movement between them. I say movement advisedly because
there is, strictly, no intermediate state, no midway position
between emotional involvement and detachment, but only a move­
ment between the two, a repeated crossing over by which one
constantly engages emotionally with an event and then, in order
to be able to act, detaches oneself from it.

Under the conditions of our advanced technical civilization it
can no longer be taken for granted that one is emotionally affected
by temptations and demands. There are various reasons for this.
One has already been mentioned – the habituated coolness of
behaviour and the displacement of emotional involvement to the
realm of the fictive. Added to this is what – unhappily – is called
the stimulus-overload coming from the media; in our context it
would be better to speak of the over-supply and the contextless
presentation of information and images which in other circum­
stances would be capable of claiming our human involvement. It
is no wonder that a habitual blockade is set up against these
solicitations. Finally, one should mention the rational organization
of life itself, which seeks, in the name of the central value of safety,
to make the individual wary of any excitement. Insurance policies
are the best-known mechanisms of this biographical levelling. In
most cases, of course, insurance is merely the stage-prop of an
illusion. Health insurance, for example, plays on the illusion that
one can insure oneself against illness. In fact, of course, it is the
case that health insurance increases the risk of illness, in that it
contributes to thoughtless living and a reduced sense of responsi­
bility towards one’s health. In reality, therefore, health insurance
does not insure one against sickness, but acts as a buffer against
the event of illness; that is, by spreading the cost evenly over life it
makes the event less striking and ensures that care is provided. Its
effect, therefore, is that while illness is not prevented its biograph­
ical importance is reduced. As a further example I would mention
legal protection insurance. It has in many respects a similar effect
on biography to that of health insurance. But in this case the
increase in risk and the reduction of personal responsibility take
on proportions that must be described as immoral. Legal protec-

The Moral Life 99

tion insurance positively invites the holder to act irresponsibly –
the experts will take care of the consequences – and, in particular,
such a policy, by its nature, renders superfluous any attempt to
resolve the case in question by human communication: the most
trivial dispute between neighbours is passed to a lawyer.

To sum up: the conditions of technical civilization – that is, the
normal behaviour of the transport-using, working person, the role
of the media in our access to the world, the rational strategies and
the preponderance of experts – buffer the susceptibility of the
present-day human being, or even put him out of reach of temp­
tations and societal demands. The tedium and monotony of the
average life are then compensated for affectively by living in fictive
worlds.

Under these conditions, to be human well calls for an explicit
art of exposing oneself to and engaging with temptations and
demands. Here, more than at almost any other point, it becomes
clear that the central theme of ethics today is not, or not only,
action, but the development of pathic capabilities, of an art of
becoming involved. To be affected, to be exposed to experience, no
longer happens by itself. Here, too, practice is needed.

If I speak of practice, it is not only because certain skills are
required simply in order to be emotionally affected today, to be
carried along, to open oneself, to empathize, but also because any
involvement must be selective. Strictly speaking, in this area practice
can no longer be clearly distinguished from the situation when
matters become serious. If one allows oneself to be affected by
something, even if just for the sake of practice, that is already a
serious matter. It raises the question of how one is to behave. And
it is clear that one cannot allow oneself to be affected by everything,
and that to open oneself totally would not be to be human well.
No more, however, could one describe the present-day ataraxy,
the imperviousness to affect and the state of being ‘gloriously
aloof’, as being-hum an-well. One can only humanly survive the
‘overload’ of news and images on the wretchedness of the world if
one allows oneself to be affected by at least something, and involves
oneself at least somewhere. It cannot be denied that a part of
being-human-well is to allow oneself to be affected by emotional
temptations and demands.

1 00 The Moral Life

True (human) being. Dignity

The declarations of human rights and the German Basic Law
attribute dignity to human beings as a part of their substance. But
the safeguarded goods and the demand for social human rights
show that there are preconditions for human dignity, and that it
can be threatened. Moreover, as a theme of moral life, dignity is
something which must have its reality, for each individual, in the
way in which life is lived. One speaks, for example, of the importance
of ‘growing old with dignity’. Similarly, there are even institution­
alized efforts to make it possible to ‘die with dignity’. Eye-witness
accounts of resistance in the concentrations camps indicate that,
for those involved, what mattered above all was to preserve the
human face – even if that meant committing suicideP

These brief examples show very clearly the sense in which
dignity is a characteristic of being-human-well. Human dignity
consists, precisely, in enduring the relationship between involve­
ment and detachment, facticity and project, in refusing to deny the
tension between them but, on the contrary, explicitly living that
tension. Thus, to grow old with dignity means to accept ageing and
one’s own nature, and the facts bound up with the frailty of the
body. On the other hand, however, it does not mean simply aban­
doning oneself to this process, ‘letting oneself go’, as it is called.
Preserving the human face means not denying one’s frailty and
dependence, but it also means not shamelessly capitulating to them.

One might also call this self-respect, although it might be better
to speak of a willingness to have a biography. For that, no doubt, is
what was traditionally meant by a biography: the collecting of the
events and experiences of life to form a history of the self, one’s
own history. The conditions of technical civilization no longer
permit a biography in the average case.18 The reason is not only
the flattening-out of biographical events already discussed, but
also the fact that the average transport-using, working life is
divided into sectors and no longer seeks to attain unity. To be
human well means not accepting this situation, taking on oneself
the effort of biography. To do this it is necessary to expose oneself
to events but, on the other hand, not to lose oneself in them; it
means preserving or, better, creating the unity of the person,
through detachment and resistance, throughout the various cir­
cumstances of life, the different historical periods, and the func­
tional and utilitarian relationships in which one is involved.

The Moral Life I 0 I

Through the ‘will to biography’ one does justice to the tempo­
rality of human existence. That which makes up the human is ‘by
itself dispersed’.19 One can never at any single moment be wholly
a human being; what makes up being human is possible only in
succession, in life. But just because of this diffuseness we are
constantly in danger of forfeiting our humanity. The will to biog­
raphy is therefore the will to preserve, or to create, the wholeness
of the human being. But the temporality of human existence is not
only of importance when life as a whole is at stake, but equally in
the small events of life. Human beings are creatures of a single day,
said the Greeks, ephemeroi, that is, they are at the mercy of the day
or, as Bertolt Brecht expresses it: ‘we are only tenants, provisional
ones’. This trickling-away of time happens in fact, but we usually
notice it only in retrospect. In face of this, to be human well would
mean to enter into ephemeral existence itself, to lead one’s life in
the act of living, and to feel its transience. Under the given con­
ditions, that is possible, as a rule, only as an exercise, or, better, as
a feast. For normally, i.e. as working, transport-using people, we
are orientated towards goals, and what we do is unimportant as an
act, compared to its result in terms of performance or value; or, in
the case of transport, the journey and the time it lasts are of no
consequence; what matters is the goaL and reaching it quickly. This
destruction of life by function and result can only be countered by,
occasionally, living ritually – that is, restoring the attentiveness,
articulation and, above all, the time which are appropriate to the
act of living itself. This will succeed best in festive contexts, or,
conversely, if it succeeds, life will become a festival . In this way
playfulness becomes a theme of ethics. But, at the same time,
matters become serious. For on the question of whether one can
lead this transient life serenely, or even, on occasion, festively, also
depends what kind of human being one is.

Play and Seriousness

Play as an anthropological category

Play is an anthropological category – but to point that out is not
enough. I would like to show that a closer consideration, in which
play is set in relation to its counter-concept, seriousness, leads us
into the field of morality.

I 02 The Moral Life

It was the cultural historian J ohan Huizinga who identified play
as a central human attribute in his book Homo Ludens. A Study of
the Play Element in Culture.20 He does not deny that animals also
play; on the contrary, he regards this fact as important. But the
human being goes on playing, prolongs the game, puts it on a
permanent basis, and from this arises what distinguishes human
beings as human: culture. That is Huizinga’s version of the thesis
that the humanity of human beings consists in turning a weakness
of their nature into a strength – the theory of humans as defective
creatures (Protagoras), of the human being as the animal whose
nature has not yet been fixed (Nietzsche), of the human being, as
a physiologically premature birth (Gehlen) . Animals, too, play,
while they are growing up: they rehearse, imitate, try out experi­
mental actions. In man, this adolescent behaviour becomes an
institution of social life as a whole. Let us call to mind the three
main characteristics of play according to Huizinga. The first is
freedom: by freedom as the freedom of play Huizinga does not
mean freedom in the strong sense which is usually reserved for
human beings, but freedom from function and purpose: if someone
plays, they do not do it for a particular reason – they just play.
‘Child and animal play because they enj oy playing, and therein
precisely lies their freedom.’21 The second characteristic Huizinga
refers to is predicated on the difference between play and serious­
ness: ‘play is not “ordinary” or “real” life’.22 Play is a piece of life
which is placed, as it were, in brackets, takes place within a
hypothetical, fictive space, is ‘relieved of the burden of action’, as
one might say today. The third characteristic mentioned by Hui­
zinga is the ‘ closed and circumscribed’ nature of play. ‘It is “played
out” within certain limits of time and place. It contains its own
course and meaning. ’23

These characteristics have been selected, of course, to encompass
both animal play and play within culture. If one were to adopt
them as such, one might doubt whether culture as a whole could
be seen as play, or a derivative of play. For is not human cultural
behaviour purpose-directed, is it not thoroughly serious and, as
culture, all-embracing? But that is not what is meant by Huizinga.
By approaching culture through play, he throws light on the
former. As freely structured, conventional behaviour, culture is a
means by which humanity rises above the necessities of life and,
within a circumscribed space of ritual enactment, discovers the
meaning of life in life itself. In taking this view Huizinga harks
back to earlier theories of culture, especially of the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, according to which life, and particularly

The Moral Life 1 03

social life, is a game, a play on the great stage of the world, and
the world is an imaginary space in which everyone acts their part,
in which nothing is ever serious and no one is ever really themself.

Among these theoreticians of culture, Huizinga is especially
close to the viewpoint of Schiller. In his letters On the Aesthetic
Education of Man,24 Schiller elevated play to a central anthropo­
logical category; for him, the metaphor of life as play was not a
critique of vanitas, a comment on the illusoriness and irrelevance
of social life, but a formula for an ideal, or, better, for a future,
reconciled state of human existence. Against Kant, who located
human freedom in reason and understood it as freedom from the
senses, he posited it as freedom from the purposes of reason, and
found the reconciled middle between these two concepts in play.

The sense impulse excludes from its subject all spontaneity and
freedom, the form impulse excludes all dependence, all passivity.
But exclusion of freedom is physical, whilst exclusion of passivity is
moral, necessity. Both impulses therefore compel the mind, the
former through laws of nature, the latter through laws of Reason.
So the play impulse, in which both combine to function, will compel
the mind at once morally and physically: it will therefore, since it
annuls all mere chance, annul all compulsion also, and set man free
both physically and morally. (Letter 14)

No doubt, the dialectic in this quotation is somewhat too com­
pressed. Schiller’s idea becomes transparent through its relation­
ship to Kant’s Critique of Judgement. In it Kant had identified the
free play of the mental powers, that is, of the senses and reason, as
the basis of aesthetic pleasure. An object is described as beautiful
by Kant if it gives rise to this free play of the mental powers. With
Kant, but going beyond Kantian thought, Schiller saw in this free
play true humanity, that is, freedom both from physical coercion
and from the compulsions of morality. The idea of the sovereign
human being makes its appearance here, a human being who can
playfully engage in sensuality but also preserves autonomy in his
or her moral life in face of the universal law. Even Kant had
recognized, in the empirical interest in beauty (Critique of Judgement,
§41), a need to share one’s feelings with others, and therefore a
force conducive to sociability.

Schiller hoped that through play human beings might escape
the state of being torn between sensuality and reason, and might
be liberated to enjoy the unity of their being. To the objection that
this would ‘strip reality of its seriousness

,
/5 he replies: ‘But why

1 0 4 The Moral Life

call it a mere game, when we consider that in every condition it is
precisely play, and play alone, that makes man complete and
displays at once his twofold nature?’ (Letter 15). True humanity
only begins beyond necessity and beyond reality, and thus beyond
seriousness: ‘Man plays only when he is in the full sense of the
word a man, and he is only wholly man when he is playing’
(Letter 15).

The transition to ethics

Through the special status granted to it in both cultural philosophy
and anthropology, play has a tendency to pass over into ethics.
For if, like Huizinga, one sees in the continuation of play as culture
that which distinguishes man from animals, or, like Schiller, ele­
vates play into the mode of living of true humanity, in both cases
a principle of difference is introduced, on one side of which is the
good – that is, the good life as play. But the transition to ethics
opened up by this introduction of difference also brings the
opposite of play into view. Play is seen in contradistinction to
ordinary life, to real life, to necessity, to seriousness. At the
moment when one seeks to give play an ethical status by contrast­
ing it to what is other, it suddenly appears in a different light.
Elevated to a mode of life, it becomes the illusory utopia of an
exceptional state made permanent, an unrealistic, fictitious attitude
to life, an evasion of life’s seriousness. It thus becomes merely an
aesthetic mode of living, which is opposed to the ethical. That is
how it was seen by S0ren Kierkegaard. In his book Either/Or26 he
opposes the ethical mode of living, as that of seriousness and
resolution, to the aesthetic mode, which is characterized by indif­
ference and a refusal of choice. Precisely in face of the playful, free­
floating, indifferent mode of life, seriousness becomes the decisive
ethical category.

What is seriousness? In his book The Concept of Dread Kierke­
gaard tries to answer this question, in a section where he discusses
‘certitude and inwardness’.27 The answer is difficult to articulate
since seriousness, as Kierkegaard observes, cannot be defined. But
this observation is, in a way, the answer, since it leads to the
discovery of a new type of concept, which Kierkegaard calls the
existential concept. What Kierkegaard is concerned with is not
‘serious’ as an adjective, as the term is used when one says: ‘he
has a serious expression’. Rather, he is concerned with uses of the

The Moral Life 1 05

word ‘serious’ which occur in statements like: ‘I am speaking
seriously’, or ‘I take philosophy seriously’, or ‘Now it’s becoming
serious’. In these usages the word ‘serious’ does not refer to a
property of something, but to the ‘How’ of an act of living or a
mode of being or, to speak with Kierkegaard, the ‘How’ of exist­
ence. I can do philosophy just to pass time, for fun, or I can take it
seriously. One can argue and fight with someone – playfully – and
suddenly the situation can turn serious. I can say something just
to contribute to the conversation, out of pure politeness, or I can
speak seriously. Each time matters become serious what is at stake
is involvement, when suddenly I myself am at stake and the affair
in question is no longer just an affair but my affair. It is I who am
affected by the particular content. For this reason Kierkegaard
frequently speaks of subjectivity. The philosopher Hermann
Schmitz refers today to the subjective situation: the unity of an
issue and the feeling that it is my issue; in this self-consciousness
lies the seriousness of the matter.28

The definition of a moral question

My thesis, now, is that what constitutes a moral question is
determined essentially by reference to the concept of seriousness.
A moral question is one through which matters become serious.
Accordingly, there are two main types of moral question, depend­
ing on whether matters become serious for the individual or for
society. For this reason there are two parts of ethics which are
structurally different, although connected. Questions which are
serious for me are those which decide what kind of a human being
I am. They are answered by the projecting of a mode of life in
practice. Questions which are serious for society are those which
decide in what kind of society we live. They are answered by
discourses concerned with conventions for regulating social life.

It is now time to justify this conception of ethics. It is usual to
regard moral questions as those which are concerned with good
and evil, or – to put it more professionally – those in which claims
about the validity or correctness of maxims, decisions or actions
are at issue. The term ‘moral questions’ is also used to refer to
questions of evaluation or questions relating to views of the world. In all
these uses of the formulation ‘moral questions’ it is assumed that
the matter in question should be judged on the basis of other
propositions. It is of little account that, as a rule, these other

1 06 The Moral Life

propositions have the character of values, norms or imperatives .
What matters is that, according to this ordinary conception, moral
questions are those which can be decided hypothetically. To give
one example: in the well-known dilemmas used by Kohlberg and
Piaget in investigating the development of moral judgement, it is
regarded as a moral question whether someone who has no money
is entitled to break into a pharmacy in order to save a dangerously
sick relative. The moral aspect of such a question lies in the fact
that it is to be decided on the basis of certain presupposed values
or moral principles. That means, however, that the question is
decided without anyone being affected by it, and, in particular,
without the person judging the question being affected by it.

This ought to make clear why I propose a different conception
of what constitutes a moral question, and have linked the meaning
of moral questions to the existential concept of seriousness. The
aim is to drag ethics out of the ivory tower of ontological, analyti­
cal and meta-ethical discourse and place it radically within reality.
A moral question is someone’s question in the radical sense that
someone not only poses and weighs the question, but, through it,
calls himself into question. And a moral question is one which a
society poses to itself, not in the sense that it is debated in public
or philosophical discourses, but in that it decides the kind of
society in which we live. Admittedly, moral questions are indeed
decided within the horizon of general value-conceptions, whether
of a material or formal kind – such as the value of life, the value
of property or the principle of democracy and living together
under the law. However, it is not that which makes them moral
questions, but the fact that, through them, matters become serious,
whether for me or for the society in which we live.

The first justification of this conception of what constitutes a
moral question, and consequently of ethics itself, is derived from
Kierkegaard’s analysis of seriousness. The fact that a question is
serious for me means that at the same time this question concerns
me. The matter or circumstance addressed in the question is one
which affects me, is one in which I am involved in such a way that
the decision of the question regarding this circumstance also
decides how and what I am. What is at issue, therefore, is a
subjective situation the problems of which can never be solved
hypothetically but only by existence.

This justification of the conception of a moral question as one
through which matters become serious applies first of all, of
course, only to the part of ethics concerned with the moral exist­
ence of the individual. Its application to the social sphere and to

The Moral Life 1 07

the moral meaning of questions debated in public discourse is only
an analogy. For, strictly speaking, a subjectivity cannot be ascribed
to society as a whole, since we who describe it can never be society
itself. Moreover, we do not consider our society from outside, but
only as participants in public discourse . If, in public discourse, one
defines moral questions as those through which matters become
serious, that means that our common understanding of the kind of
a society we live in – for example, whether it is a liberal society, a
democracy, a peace-loving society, a society with solidarity, etc. –
depends on these questions.

To sum up, therefore, we can say with Kierkegaard that moral
questions are those through which matters become serious because
they are existential questions.

A re moral questions uncommon?

Moral questions are uncommon. With this thesis we come back to
the relationship of seriousness to play. For just as play is defined
on the basis of seriousness, so is seriousness on the basis of play.
That moral questions are rare means that ordinary life is not, as a
rule, serious: that is, it is a game, or practically a game. That does
not prevent people from ordinarily taking it dreadfully seriously,
and carrying on as if it were serious. But before expressing such
criticism it is necessary to state why, in what sense, ordinary life is
not serious. What does that mean, and why is it the case? The first
and most important reason is the conventional way in which daily
life runs its course. One follows the conventions because they are
conventions – but they might also be different. One stays within
the bounds of the customary, and as a result the question as to
who one is oneself does not arise. The second reason is the general
replaceability of everyone. Ordinary life is so organized that,
wherever it is possible at all, I could be replaced by someone else
with similar competence. The average life of work and mobility
neither requires me as myself, nor does its functioning depend
specially on me. On the contrary, it functions all the better the less
of my subjectivity I bring into it, that is, the less it has to do with
me and the more I myself merely correspond to general functions
in which I am in principle replaceable. In sociology that is called
role-based behaviour. The human being is integrated socially by
means of specific roles he plays. In the end, what matters to society
as a whole remains, as a rule, external to the individual. There are

I 08 The Moral Life

fashions and trends, political tendencies, rivalries and ideologies.
All of this could be different, and the individual simply plays the
game. That even applies to questions which have serious implica­
tions for society. The structural difference between the moral
questions which affect the individual and the moral questions
which affect the conventions for regulating social behaviour is
precisely what makes it possible for the individual to participate
fully in public and moral discourses without it thereby being
decided what kind of a human being he is. A German doctor, for
example, can reject euthanasia on the basis of general consider­
ations, such as the lessons of historical experience, and yet facilitate
death in an individual case in which he is personally challenged.
It can be seen here, from the perspective of seriousness, how the
Kantian categorical imperative is seeking to yoke together by force
two parts of ethics which do not necessarily belong together. The
reasons why one can want something to become a general law
have to do with our social conception of ourselves, but not
necessarily with how well one is human or with what kind of a
human being one is.29 I said ‘not necessarily’ – in an individual
case, of course, it may happen that someone makes a public
concern their own. But in general, politics and public discourse are
not a serious matter for the individual.

To recognize this and, more generally, to recognize that ordinary
life is not serious is, paradoxically, the beginning of morality. I said
just now that people frequently take ordinary life dreadfully
seriously and behave as if it were serious. That does not mean,
however, that they are not aware of the conventionality of their
behaviour. They take conformity to customary behaviour to be
morality, they nourish their self-confidence on the illusion that
they are irreplaceable, and they believe that they are realizing
themselves when they are merely following fashions and trends.
To see through life as a game and to take part in it as a player,
competently but calmly, actually places one in a position where
matters can suddenly become serious. On this point Schiller was
right: life as play is indeed the state of freedom – that is, the state
in which one can distance oneself from what goes on, what is
customary, and confront life with serenity. But this state is, after
all, only the beginning and the precondition of morality. Thus,
Kierkegaard defines the aesthetic mode of life, the mode in which
one stands playfully outside life and enacts one’s life as a game, as
a preliminary stage on the path of life, on the way to the ethical
mode. This transition takes place at the point where matters
become serious.

The Moral Life 1 09

From this we derive the second reason for defining what a
moral question is through its relation to seriousness. Seriousness is
that which breaks through the arbitrariness of life. Matters become
serious when customary practices no longer count, when we
become irreplaceable and when the goals we pursue in ordinary
life are no longer merely external to us.

Moral questions are those through which matters become
serious because they present themselves bindingly.

When do matters become serious?

It is this binding nature of seriousness, we can say now, which
breaks through ordinary life – the life in which one is always
replaceable and everything could always be different. When mat­
ters become serious we are challenged as ourselves; we cannot
evade the challenge, and must respond existentially. These, then,
are the two characterizations of seriousness. A question, a situation
is serious when it challenges us bindingly and when we must
respond by the way we live our life. But when do questions and
situations become serious?

In the analogous case, when a question or a problem is serious
for society’s conception of itself, it is easy to give an answer: when
the basic moral ideas which determine society’s conception of itself
are touched upon or challenged.

The question as to when matters become serious for someone
cannot be answered in general terms because what is at stake
at that moment is, precisely, the kind of person he will become.
But what one can say is that seriousness breaks in at times of
decisive or critical biographical constellations. That is, as such, a
tautology, since such constellations are the very ones in which it is
decided what kind of a human being the person in question is. But
it does lead on to the ethical doctrine of the kairos, of the right and
decisive moment. Since antiquity this doctrine has raised the
question of the temporal nature of moral action. For it states that,
from a moral standpoint, there are differences between times. For
most of the time life runs its course as if by itself, or is carried
along by customary behaviour. But there are constellations which
interrupt this continuity, and on them depends what kind of a
human being one is and how one is to continue in normal,
customary life. The doctrine of the kairos also contains two further
moments: on the one hand, it states that the kairos is a constellation,

I 1 0 The Moral Life

that is, a situation which does not depend solely on the person
concerned, or on that person’s immanent development: the kairos
is something which befalls the individual concerned. On the other
hand, the doctrine of the kairos points to the importance of alertness
or, better, readiness. The doctrine states that one can miss one’s
kairos. Consequently, the project of a moral life calls for attentive­
ness, a flair for the decisive situation, and a readiness to be resolute
when the situation arrives – that is, not to ponder endlessly and
postpone decisions.

However, that does not say enough on the question as to when
matters become serious. For the kairos could also be a favourable
opportunity for something one always intended to do in any case.
We do not wish to understand it in that way here, but as the
situation in which matters become serious. What makes them
become serious?

This question, too, cannot be answered in general terms since it
always poses itself for the individual in a particular situation. One
can, however, identify what makes a certain situation or constel­
lation serious for an individual: namely, the fact that they are
challenged as the human being they are. Something of this kind
must be contained in the situation which hurls in the individual’s
face the message: tua res agitur – now it is for you to act. For only
in this sense are they struck, affected. There must be in the
situation, accordingly, something which addresses or appeals to
the individual concerned, and makes them aware both that the
situation is inescapable and that they are an irreplaceable part of it
– Hie Rhodus, hie salta! Now it’s serious, you can’t make any more
excuses: now show who you are!

Naturally, this should not be understood to mean that the
individual concerned could not find excuses or evade the issue.
For the fact that one can miss the kairos is one of its characteristics.
Thus, while it can be said that the seriousness stems from the
constellation, one must, as the person concerned, engage with it.
But that there is a certain preponderance of the constellation over
the individual, that the seriousness really comes upon them, can
be seen from the fact that even evading the issue has consequences
for the kind of human being they are.

That the seriousness which makes a situation into a moral
challenge stems from the constellation has been described in
different ways in the recent debate on ethics. I should like to
mention two instances, Emmanuel U�vinas’s conversation of the
‘face’ and Hans Jonas’s discourse on responsibility.

In his reflections on the human face Levinas attempts to show

The Moral Life I I I

that the other human being, purely through his or her manner
of appearance, contains an appeal that we be affected morally.
By the term ‘face’ he refers primarily to the human face, from
which, no doubt, this appeal does emanate. But, on the one hand,
he does not want necessarily to restrict himself to the face, but
refers to the whole appearance of the human being, and, on the
other, by the term ‘countenance’ he would like to articulate the
vivid or holy quality of this appearance, in other words, its moral
appeal. This appeal, for Levinas, has primarily the character of a
prohibition. The face says: Thou shalt not kill. By interpreting it
in this way he derives from the appeal, or attributes to it, an
ambivalent character. For where there is a prohibition there is
also a challenge to transgress it. In the manner of experiencing
the countenance Levinas also sees an invitation to murder. Under­
stood more generally, though in a weaker sense, the ‘manner of
encountering the face’ is an experience of the other who appeals to
me, or, to put it more aptly, of my other. We can then say retro­
spectively with Schmitz that the other is part of my subjective
situation, or that the other demands that I respond with serious­
ness. The primary response to this demand, according to Levinas,
is language.

This brings us very close to what Jonas understands by responsi­
bility. For Jonas, responsibility is the response to a moral demand
emanating from a situation, whether it arises from a person or a
thing. In his discussion of this demand Jonas does not remain on
the phenomenological level but attempts to justify its possibility
ontologically. He finds this possibility in the observation that there
are entities which have their ends within themselves. This has
been defined most clearly by Heidegger in his analysis of Dasein,
that is, of the human being as an entity. Human beings are entities
in whose existence their being is at stake. To perceive such being
as endowed with an inner purpose means, according to Jonas, to
be conscious of an appeal to serve this inner purpose. Of course,
one must be receptive to such an appeal, or open oneself to it. One
can also, however, close oneself and make the being with which
one is concerned into a pure thing or fact. The prototype of a
situation in which responsibility for a certain entity is called for is
the parent-child situation. ‘This is obvious for parental responsi­
bility, which really, in time and in essence, is the archetype of all
responsibility (and also, genetically, I believe, the origin of every
disposition for it, certainly its elementary school) . The child as a
whole and in all its possibilities, not only in its immediate needs,
is its object.’3D To be together with a helpless child is, Jonas says,

1 1 2 The Moral Life

to experience the demand to help this being. He even believes that
an origin of morality in natural history can be identified in this
demand. Responsibility in Jonas’s sense is the existential manner
in which I react to such a demand. Its structure is therefore
asymmetrical. I have a responsibility for someone, but that person
has not necessarily a responsibility for me.

In the passage mentioned, Jonas discusses the parent-child
relationship. Undoubtedly, however, he does not want what he
says about the moral demand which emanates from an existent
being, and the responsibility corresponding to it, to be limited to
the preconditions of this situation. For in a parent-child relation­
ship we must assume that the partners already belong together
from the start, so that the care for the child might in some cases
also be care for oneself in the narrower sense. The solidarity in
which one allows oneself to be affected by what affects the child
could also be founded in a prior ‘We’. To make this point still
clearer, I should like to recall the parable of the Good Samaritan
from Luke 10: 25-37.

Jesus relates this parable in response to the question: ‘Who is
my neighbour?’ This question arises compellingly from Christian
ethics, the fundamental commandment of which is charity or love
of one’s neighbour. Does charity require, for example, that one
should love family members, neighbours, members of one’s club,
fellow citizens? The answer Jesus gives through this parable is: my
neighbour is the human being who needs me in a chance constel­
lation – whoever he or she may be.

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among
thieves, who stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and
departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a
certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the
other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came
and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain
Samaritan, as he j ourneyed, came where he was: and when he saw
him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up
his wounds, pouring in oil and wine. (Luke 10: 30ff)31

By making the priest and the Levite fail to meet the moral demand
represented by the injured man, Jesus undoubtedly is directing his
barbs against the professional good people of his society. What is
more important, however, is that he refers to the man who helps
as a foreigner, who therefore has no original relationship of soli­
darity with the injured man. In his action the Samaritan merely

The Moral Life I I 3

responds to the moral appeal which is presented by the wounded
man’s need for help.

With regard to our question as to when matters become serious,
what we can learn from the parable is that the situations in which
matters become serious certainly do not need to be prepared for in
our own biography, but can be constellations in which we find
ourselves unawares. And the obligation they entail – this is the
other point – certainly does not need to be determined by a pre­
existing bond to the persons or things forming the constellation.
On the other hand, one should not interpret the examples men­
tioned – the parent-child relationship, the Good Samaritan – in a
restrictive sense in which the seriousness which makes the situ­
ation a moral one always emanates from persons, or even from
persons who suffer. These examples have only been chosen
because they are the most immediately plausible. But, naturally,
situations of political struggle or of co-operation in work, or
perhaps even relationships within or to nature, can also be of such
a kind that one feels: now you are being challenged, now it is up
to you. But equally, the examples should not be understood to
mean that the seriousness of a situation can only come from
outside. If one has chosen a moral life or wants to practise a moral
mode of life to any degree, it is entirely possible to take a situation
seriously which, in the daily life of work and travel, is not serious
at all, that is, which could be dealt with within the framework of
customary behaviour. That would mean not letting things just
happen, but making them one’s own concern. Even if it should be
noted that seriousness is something which is primarily experienced
passively, nevertheless this transition to an active mode of behav­
iour by which, through commitment to a cause (or to persons), one
makes it or them one’s own concern – this transition is crucial in
giving lasting content to a moral life. That would probably also be
an appropriate interpretation of the current discourse about self­
realization. For self-realization cannot, as is popularly supposed,
be founded on something pre-existing within the self, but consists
in giving content to selfhood by taking seriously something outside
oneself, that is, by making a situation determined by persons or
things one’s own concern.

This manner of taking seriously should not, however, be con­
fused with the everyday way in which business, chatter or custom­
ary behaviour is taken seriously. It remains the case that
seriousness only receives its determination in contradistinction to
play. Seriousness characterizes the moral life precisely because it
does not encompass the whole of life. The conception of life as

1 1 4 The Moral Life

play, and the distancing implied by it, remain preconditions of a
moral life. Only someone who knows ordinary life to be a game
and can play it will occasionally, and at the decisive moment, take
situations seriously.

4

Moral Argumentation

Moral Questions Concerning External Nature

With this chapter we are entering the second part of ethics.
Whereas the theme of the first part was the project of a moral life,
the discussion will now turn to the moral arguments involved in
establishing social conventions. Such conventions are either laws –
in which case they are explicitly binding on every member of
society and are sanctionable – or they involve customary behav­
iour. As in the case of laws, we have not included customary
behaviour itself in philosophical ethics; but we have included the
arguments in which it is problematized, or in which new custom­
ary practices are established. Practical debates are initiated if
customary practices have been called into question, or if they
prove no longer adequate to new developments, in which case
there is a need for regulation . However, not every debate which is
supposed to lead to the establishment of new laws or customary
practices requires moral arguments. A question or a problem
which is in need of regulation should only be considered a moral
one if it touches either on our conception of ourselves as human
beings or on our society’s conception of itself. Many questions can
be regulated in a purely pragmatic way. The standard example of
such morality-free arrangements are road traffic regulations.

In what follows I shall discuss three examples – one in each
section – of moral discourses which have led to new social regula­
tions, or are pushing society towards them. The choice of such
examples is somewhat difficult. An ethics is not itself a contribu­
tion to ongoing discourses, but nor should it merely report on

1 16 Moral Argumentation

them. In principle, it should make clear what such discourses
involve, and prepare the reader to take part in them, or to take
part more effectively. This means that one should be as concrete
as possible, but this concreteness can have the result that what is
said quite quickly goes out of date. I shall therefore choose
problems on which the debate has been continuing for some time
and has already found partial solutions by establishing new con­
ventions, but which deal with matters of such intrinsic importance
that further discussion can be expected. These questions concern,
firstly, external nature, secondly, the nature that we ourselves are,
and thirdly, problems concerning the way in which society deals
with foreigners.

The need for regulation regarding external nature

Let us begin with terminology: in using the term external nature I
am following customary linguistic usage, although it can be
expected that impending new social conventions concerning
nature will change this form of conceptualization. For it will
emerge that what is to be progressively overcome is the idea that
the nature which we ourselves are not is external to us. In the case of
what earlier was called internal nature the terminology has already
been changed, so that I speak of ‘the nature which we ourselves
are’. For in this case it is clear that one is not talking about
something internal, but about the body.

That there is a need for regulation concerning external nature is
so self-evident that it requires no further demonstration. The
problems which give rise to this need for regulation are generally
called environmental problems. They concern the destruction of
the environment in the sense of the disturbance or abolition of
natural cycles, and the dissipation of substances and energy,
especially poisonous substances such as heavy metals, or those
which make the soil infertile, such as salts. They also concern the
use and scarcity of resources and, finally, the fact that, in industrial
society, external nature, in its parts and in its essence, is being
turned into components of industrial machinery, and that, in
scientific society, there is an increasing use of nature, and above
all of test animals, in the acquisition of knowledge. These facts call
for new social conventions for various reasons. The main reason is
that through environmental destruction man is endangering the
foundations of his own life, is poisoning the media and means of

Moral Argumentation I I 7

life and is generally increasing the risk of illness. In addition,
however, the increasingly comprehensive nature of industrial pro­
duction and the more and more radical and extensive encroach­
ment of science on nature have made it clear that violence is being
done to basic values of a kind which did not require explication,
or even explicit formulation as fundamental values, earlier, i.e. a
hundred or even fifty years ago.

The need for regulation which arises from these problems is
already being met in numerous ways. Indeed, it can even be said
that there is a surfeit of regulations – that is, of laws, decrees,
resolutions, directives, standards, and so on. This is explained by
the fact that up to now the necessary fundamental rethinking,
especially with regard to the relation of man or society to nature,
has not properly begun, so that attempts are made to find an
individual solution for each individual problem. Moreover, the
existing regulations have not been systematized. For example,
given the plethora of laws relating to nature, it is necessary as a
general principle to create a separate environmental statute book,
comparable to the civil code or the penal code.

To illustrate the point, I shall list some of the problems. Nature
protection probably has the longest tradition. In this context one
should mention the preservation of the diversity of species and
valuable ecotopes, and the protection of landscape. Many problems
result from industrial production methods, and particularly from
by-products and production residues, that is, industrial waste and
emissions, and from the products themselves, such as CFC gases,
which can have a nature-destroying effect. On the other hand, one
must also consider consumer habits, or the economic organization
of consumption, that is, methods of distribution and transporta­
tion, and above all packaging and waste. A particularly grave
problem of industrial residues concerns radioactive waste from the
so-called peaceful use of atomic energy. Finally, the problems
concern resources, and their economical and rational use.

Another complex of problems is the relationship of people to
animals. This relationship calls for regulations in the mass farming
of animals, in the use of animals in science and, finally, with
regard to the impending design of genetically modified animal
and plant species.

As a last general problem, I should like to mention the treatment
of nature as property. This problem has been discussed for a long
time under the heading of common land or private property,l but is
now gaining new topicality in connection with animal protection
and the threatened patenting of genetically manipulated species.

I 18 Moral Argumentation

This very unsystematic listing of the problems we have with
nature, with its life forms and its parts – problems which call for
social regulation – inclines one to ask whether all these regulatory
questions are really moral problems. Are not many of them capable
of being solved technically or purely pragmatically or, in a nar­
rower sense, conventionally?

Why are these questions moral questions?

The ban on CFCs, for example, is not a moral question. Once it is
known that CFCs act as a catalyst in a process which destroys the
ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, it is clear that the production
and use of these substances must be limited and, if necessary,
prohibited. For the ozone layer acts as an absorber of dangerous
ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun, which can cause cancer in
humans and animals and has a number of other harmful effects.
This situation simply requires a practical solution. Given sufficient
knowledge of the processes concerned, there are compelling rea­
sons not to emit any further CFCs into the atmosphere. It is more
of a moral question that agencies have kept quiet about this factual
knowledge, which has existed for a long time, or have not paid
attention to it. But on this issue neither our conception of what
society is to be nor our self-understanding as human beings is at
stake. What is fundamentally involved is the political question of
enforceability in face of certain lobbies. Nor are most regulations
concerning emissions levels – for example, in the context of emis­
sions-control legislation – moral questions. Of course, morally
dubious behaviour can be involved in disputes about threshold
values for emissions, but in principle we are concerned here only
with scientific knowledge and a process of political negotiation
and enforcement.

The situation is different whenever nature is invoked in dis­
courses on the introduction of new conventions. As we have seen,
nature is a fundamental ethical value, or a tapas in moral discourse.
Nature is a value of the modern age, and one through which the
self-criticism of modernity has been articulated. This is why it has
taken on such importance at the present time, when the project of
modernity is in crisis. Whenever one appeals to nature or natural­
ness in discourse, one is arguing morally, simply because nature is
a moral value, and especially because our social understanding of
ourselves and our conception of ourselves as human beings, in so

Moral Argumentation 1 19

far as both our society and we ourselves are modern, are called into
question by the appeal to this tapas.

I have already mentioned that it cannot be predicted in advance
precisely what will form part of our fundamental moral concep­
tions. That they include nature is, of course, well known, but it is
only the inclusion of this tapas in discourses that will make fully
clear what the moral evaluation of nature really entails. Initially –
in the eighteenth century – the homage paid to nature was essen­
tially aesthetic. Nature was recognized as beautiful and sublime,
and was experienced as such through an entirely different mode
of apprehension to that which had become dominant through
natural science – that is, through a sensuous mode of experience.
From this aesthetic admiration of nature there was – explicitly in
Kant2 – a transition to a moral evaluation. Nature was esteemed
for generating order from within itself – something that human
beings had to achieve by a moral effort. This role of nature as a
moral example is to be found in Rousseau, in the concept of the
natural state, and Rousseau’s concept was itself derived from a
tradition going back to ancient Greek Sophism. However, this
moral valuation of nature was by no means a consensus; on the
contrary, nature could be seen – as in Hobbes – as harsh and
violent, so that the transition to civilization was justified as an
overcoming of nature. The admiration of nature for its technoiogtj,
that is, for the artistry it displayed, above all, in the inner function­
ing of organisms, was, however, universal in the eighteenth cen­
tury. Against the background of this tradition, nature became a
moral authority. But it had not yet become an object of moral
behaviour or of moral demands. That only happened with Scho­
penhauer in the nineteenth century and with Albert Schweitzer in
the twentieth. In his concept of reverence for life Schweitzer
summarized, or heightened still further, the existing aesthetic
valuation, moral respect and technical admiration for nature.3 With
his principle ‘I am life that wants to live amid life that wants to
live’ he introduces a development in which nature is no longer
only a moral tapas, but in which the question of nature itself
becomes a moral question. In what follows, this will be clarified in
relation to two examples from recent history and the present. In
the first example I shall discuss the new German animal protection
law and, more generally, the question of our relationship to
animals, as far as it calls for social regulation. It will prove to be
an example of a moral question in that it impinges on our under­
standing of ourselves as human beings. The second example will
concern a problem which is moral in that it affects our society’s

120 Moral Argumentation

understanding of itself. This has become manifest in the adoption
of nature as a good to be safeguarded in Article 20a of the German
Basic Law. More generally, it will concern the question of a
revision of our conception of production as appropriation of
nature.

Questions affecting our conception of the human being

How can a need for regulation of the relationship between man
and animal actually come into being? For we are not concerned
here with a threatening situation caused by the specific behaviour
of human beings, which can therefore be curtailed or ended – as
in the case of the hole in the ozone layer. With regard to the
tormenting of animals, it is not we humans who are damaged, but
animals. The need for regulation through social debate does not
arise directly from the damage, therefore, but from the anger it
causes. This situation is somewhat paradoxical, in that something
which primarily concerns non-human nature, that is, animals,
becomes relevant to practical discourse through a human phenom­
enon, the indignation to which it gives rise. This situation suggests
that animal protection is a genuinely moral question. In fact, it can
be observed that in their indignation human beings take on a
certain function of advocates for animals, of stewardship. The
fundamental principle of the animal protection law will turn out
to be a comprehensive formulation of this stewardship.

Indignation is only expressed, of course, when something in the
relationship of human to animal has become intrusive, that is, has
deviated from what was previously customary. And this indig­
nation will only give rise to politically effective lobbies such as
animal protection societies or associations for the prevention of
animal experiments, etc., if the intrusive behaviour in relation to
animals has fractured society, has split it into those who act and
those who observe. For those who act it is, of course, their activity
itself which is customary, as the customary practice of their indus­
try, for example. It is of interest here to note what first triggered
the formation of a public animal protection movement. It was the
treatment of cab horses. The treatment of horses in agricultural
service and in the military sphere was generally known and
accepted. In addition, the horse had long enjoyed an especially
respected position in Germany, probably connected to the comra­
dely relationship which had existed between the knight and his

Moral Argumentation 12 1

horse. Because of the general respect for horses the eating of horse
meat was frowned upon. Now, in the postal service there had
undoubtedly been a ruthless exploitation of horses over a long
period. But the people who observed it were travellers, so that
they could always register it as an occasional case that had
happened in a place they had already left. That changed when the
horse-drawn cab became a ubiquitous means of transport in cities.
Now the exploitation of horses was carried on before a public
audience which, in addition, was actually in the role of observer –
that is, it had nothing to do either with agriculture or with military
service. It was this special constellation which first drew attention
to the exploitation of horses and led to a split in society. This
background was reflected in the first Animal Protection Law, §360,
item 13 of the Penal Code of 1871, in which the tormenting and
brutal mistreatment of animals were made a punishable offence if
they were causing public outrage.4

Further causes of indignation resulted from the extensive use of
animals as experimental objects in science, and from the advancing
industrialization of agriculture. These two causes were primarily
responsible for the German animal protection movement and
animal protection legislation, up to and including the last amend­
ment of 1998. The extensive use of animals in science – or perhaps
one ought to say the misuse of animals in science – resulted, on
the one hand, from the ‘scientification’ of medicine since the
nineteenth century, and especially from the emergence of modern
physiology, and, on the other, through progress in pharmacology.
With regard to pharmacology it must be added that what is at
stake is not just the development of effective chemo-pharmaceuti­
cals, but, above all, their testing. The increasing stringency of
approval regulations for new drugs necessitates more and more
extensive tests for toxicity, side-effects, long-term consequences,
and so on. The progress of experimental physiology and pharma­
cology contains the paradox that while these sciences are really
concerned with knowledge of the human organism and the devel­
opment and testing of drugs for the human body, animals are used
in order to preserve this body. The attrition suffered by animals
for the sake of research seems to cause less concern the more
distantly the animals are related to man, but it can only yield
relevant knowledge if the animals used are closely related to man.S
Here, the moral problem can be seen to be breaking through again.
What happens to these animals will not leave the average human
being cold.

The other problem was the industrialization of the landscape. I

1 22 Moral Argumentation

said that the keeping and using of animals in agriculture was
recognized as customary. However, industrialization has breached
customary practice so severely that it is difficult to talk of agricul­
ture here at all. In the case of modern battery chicken farms and
veal fattening stalls one really ought to speak of factories for egg
and veal production, the means of production simply being
animals.

These two more recent causes of outrage over the behaviour of
humans towards animals should be judged somewhat differently
to the case of the cab horse. For in the case of cab horses the
behaviour concerned was customary for the industry concerned,
that of cab drivers. Socially, this occupation is on the threshold of
modernity. But biomedical and pharmacological research and the
mass farming of animals are entirely modern phenomena. That is
to say that we are dealing here with systems of actions which
operate independently of the personal attitudes of the people
involved, and are dependent on certain professional capabilities
which the people working within these systems exercise at certain
times. For example, the training of a scientific doctor or a biomed­
ical experimenter contains an explicit training in desensitization.6
This, however, does not need to embrace the whole person, but
can be effective sector ally, that is, within the relevant professional
setting.

The social factions we are dealing with in these cases are, on the
one hand, groups of people who become angry and commit
themselves through personal concern, and, on the other, insti­
tutions such as the pharmaceuticals industry or science, which
defend their interests and independence. Nevertheless, it can be
assumed that, by and large, the representatives of these lobbies or
institutions are capable of acknowledging general principles and
of reacting with human concern. The main objective of the animal
protection law is to regulate the professional manner of dealing
with animals and bind it to the social consensus concerning the
relationship of man to animals. The discourse which led to the
formulation and finally the passing of the law was, essentially, an
explication and rational justification of the indignation which had
been provoked by the modern manner of dealing with animals.

In describing the moral background of this discourse, it is best
to start from the result, the principle of the Animal Protection
Law7 as it is formulated in §1:

The objective of this law is to protect the life and well-being of
animals on the basis of man’s responsibility to animals as fellow-

Moral Argumentation 1 23

creatures. No one may cause pain, suffering or damage to an animal
without reasonable grounds. [trans. E.J.]

That no one should cause pain, suffering or damage to an
animal without reasonable grounds was also contained in the
version of 1933. What is new is the reference to the moral back­
ground, in the formulation: ‘on the basis of man’s responsibility to
animals as fellow-creatures’. This formulation has very wide impli­
cations, and indicates that the relationship to animals has indeed
now been understood as a serious question, that is, one which
affects our human conception of ourselves. The formulation also
contains a statement of a sameness and a difference which exist
between man and animal. First, the sameness. Humans and ani­
mals are fellow creatures. At first sight, one might take this to
express a special regard for animals, in that the formulation
equates them with humans. But that is not the decisive point, and,
in a certain sense, it is not even the case. At any rate, the law does
not state that the animal is something resembling humans; rather,
man is referred to as a creature. This might well be the first time
that this has happened in the whole of German legislation, includ­
ing the Basic Law. It is true that the Basic Law speaks of the life of
man and of freedom from bodily injury, and the Declaration of
Human Rights speaks of birth and the ‘family of man’; neverthe­
less, up to now the human being’s natural being has not been a
theme of law. To the extent that a self-conception of the human
being is expressed in laws and fundamental rights, it is articulated
essentially through terms such as ‘person’, ‘reason’, ‘freedom’ and
‘conscience’. On the basis of this conception of the human being,
nature – even the nature that humans themselves are – is for
human beings essentially a tool, an organon, a means, a resource­
that is, it is understood instrumentally. The challenge faced in
arriving at a new consensus regarding the relationship of humans
to animals therefore necessarily called into question the humans’
conception of themselves, and was thus a genuinely moral ques­
tion. The result is that, in the animal protection law, a self­
conception of humans is inscribed for the first time within the
terms of our legal community, according to which the natural
being of human beings is a part of their essence, and according to
which they are essentially creatures. For this reason they form,
together with animals, the community of creatures.

The term fellow creature binds this new self-conception of man to
the Christian tradition. This tradition, unlike the Greek, has actu­
ally always recognized a sameness of man and animal in their

1 24 Moral Argumentation

creatureliness. The Christian concept of nature, Creation, was not
understood, like the Greek term physis or the Latin natura, in
opposition to that which was made by humans, i.e. culture, society,
technology, and so on. It was, therefore, not unperceptive to invoke
this tradition in the formulation ‘fellow creature’ in the fundamen­
tal clause of the animal protection law; and in the context of a
society which, through its history, forms part of the so-called
Christian West, it is probably understandable. Nevertheless, this
use of the phrase does give rise to a problem. In the context of a
state which conceives itself in non-religious terms and in a society
which, in principle, is secularized, the reference to a particular
religious image of the world is not very useful, since laws are
supposed to be neutral in terms of the world-view they reflect, and
are binding on members of other religions or on unbelievers. It
may be supposed that Jews and Moslems will not have difficulty
with the formulation, since they share with Christianity the con­
ception of the world as creation. It is likely to be different for
Buddhists. Although they will undoubtedly agree with the content
of the provisions of the animal protection law, they will do so for
entirely different reasons. Animals are not to be protected because
they are the creatures of a god, like ourselves. It is significant that
one of the intellectual fathers of the reformulation of the animal
protection law plays down the religious content of the wording,
noting that creation and creature could also be understood in the
sense that we, like animals, are products of creative nature.S On
the other hand, the religious terminology9 was not inserted in the
wording of the law without a definite intention, since it postulated
the sacredness or inviolability of living creatures. If people and
animals are creatures of God, then they should not be queried or
tampered with, which for our time means that they should not be
modified genetically. As we have seen, such an appeal to inviola­
bility and holiness is not too remote from the Basic Law. But
whether the meaning of creature just mentioned has consequences
will only be seen from the application of the law, and from new
laws and decrees relating to genetic engineering.

The likeness between human beings and animals is a fundamen­
tal tapas of animal protection ethics and, more generally, of bioeth­
ical discourse. Usually, however, it is formulated more abstractly
and without reference to a religious world-view. Albert Schweit­
zer’s principle, quoted earlier, that ‘I am life that wants to live,
amid life that wants to live’, is likely to form the background of
most formulations. The link between the bioethical or animal­
ethical standpoint and the new self-conception of humans is found

Moral Argumentation 1 25

here, too. The likeness which Schweitzer stresses lies in the fact
that humans, too, are living organisms. It is true that this was
recognized in the traditional definition of the animal rationale, but
there animality was understood as something which, precisely,
was not essential to humans. This shift in humans’ conception of
themselves is seen very clearly by Paul W. Taylor in his important
book Respect for Nature. A Theon) of Environmental Ethics.10 He
argues that we humans are members of the terrestrial community
of life, and goes on: ‘This does not entail a denial of one’s
personhood. Rather, it is a way of understanding one’s true self to
include one’s biological nature as well as one’s personhood’ (p. 44).
The conclusion to be drawn from what he calls his biocentric
world-view is that there is no demonstrable superiority of man
over the animal. In this respect, too, the traditional concept of the
human being is called into question: ‘It is this belief, so deeply and
pervasively ingrained in our cultural traditions, that is brought
into question and finally denied’ (p. 129). The consequence of this
for Taylor is that the basic moral attitude towards animals is not
responsibility but respect, seen as analogous to the respect which
persons pay to each other.

Meyer-Abich tries to derive the principle of likeness or equality
from the theory of origin. Like animals, we are an outcome of
evolution and are therefore related to them in principle.ll This
approach enables him to link equality to inequality, or with .
degrees of equality. This may be regarded as an advantage, as
compared to the rigidity of the equality in Schweitzer and Taylor,
which is not dependent on any specific attributes. Meyer-Abich is
able to base his account on a ranking of creatures in terms of their
proximity to humans, which is well established both scientifically
and in everyday experience. This modified concept of equality is
pragmatically useful, in addition, because, despite its basically
moral attitude towards animals, it allows a good deal of latitude,
depending on the rank of the animal concerned. The only trouble­
some thing is that this concept seeks to make what is morally
permitted towards an animal dependent on intricate anatomical
and physiological knowledge based on evolutionary theoryP It
would be better, as happens in the principal clause of the Animal
Protection Law, to postulate a fundamental inequality between
human and animal in addition to the equality, but an inequality
on a quite different plane.

To formulate this inequality between human being and animal,
the Animal Protection Law uses the concept of responsibility. This
term is, admittedly, an everyday expression and is undoubtedly

1 26 Moral Argumentation

often misused. But as it appears in the Animal Protection Law it is
surely permissible to give it a specific meaning – the one going
back to Hans Jonas’s analysis of the concept of responsibility.13
Jonas is a leading exponent of bioethics, and his theories are also a
background influence on the re-formulation of the Animal Protec­
tion Law. According to Jonas’s analysis, the concept of responsi­
bility contains a fundamental asymmetry. Responsibility is not
exercised between equals; one is responsible for someone who is
dependent, who is in need of help. Jonas’s basic model for the
concept of responsibility is the parent-child relationship. The
parents are responsible for the child because it is helpless without
them and depends on their care. The parents’ responsibility for the
child consists in the fact that they are challenged in a certain way
by the neediness of the child. The parents are responsible for the
child, but the child is not responsible for the parents – at least, not
as long as it is a child.

It is important that this concept of responsibility is based on a
relationship of dependence, and not on a specific difference of
qualities, skills, resources, etc. In individual cases such a difference
will in fact exist, but the concept of responsibility does not relate
to it. That is important for the human-animal relationship as well.
For it is extremely unfortunate, and counterproductive for the
Animal Protection Law, to try to found responsibility on some­
thing of which humans have more than animals, such as reason or
consciousness. Apart from the fact that there is no scientific basis
for denying animals consciousness, such a conception of the ine­
quality between human being and animal would cause one to fall
back on the old conception of humanity according to which
humans are human to the extent that they differ from animals, by
the possession of culture, consciousness and reason. In that case,
moreover, the concept of responsibility for animals would take on
an almost timeless, cosmological meaning. Some authors do in fact
attempt to endow the concept with such a meaning, by interpreting
the commandment in Genesis, ‘Bring forth abundantly in the
earth’, to mean that humans have received from God a fundamen­
tal responsibility for creation as a whole. It is true that, through
genetic engineering, humanity has, or has assumed, a responsi­
bility for the future evolution of the earth. But this example makes
it clear that humanity’S responsibility for animals, or perhaps for
evolution as a whole, is in no way ahistorical, but is a consequence
of the actual position of power attained by humanity in our
century.

Recognition of this actual inequality between human being and

Moral Argumentation 1 27

animal also underlies the Animal Protection Law. At the present
state of technical civilization there are no longer any animals that
man cannot control or that could pose a serious threat to him. That
was not always the case historically, so that over long periods even
of civilized history there was reason for humans to regard animals
as enemies or competitors. Just because they had themselves
evolved from the animal kingdom it was necessary at that time to
conceive of themselves in opposition to animals and to see their
essence to lie in not being animals. This conception of the human
being has become historically obsolete precisely because humans
have become in principle master of all animals.14 In our century,
therefore, humans’ conception of themselves is, as a rule, no longer
articulated in terms of their difference from animals. It is essential
to note this fundamental power of humans over animals because
the struggle with nature, and human self-assertion against nature,
still continues to govern their existence. Humanity has not mas­
tered the classical natural forces of the four elements – storms,
earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and floods – nor has it gained
control of micro-organisms. Such organisms are not called animals
in the sense used in the Animal Protection Law. Of the organisms
which are generally called animals, the rat, at most, is still a
genuine enemy to man. It can compete with him in numbers and
in the ability to adapt and resist. In the concept of the responsibility
of humanity for animals, the Animal Protection Law recognizes
the real power relationships and would like to tie human behav­
iour to these relationships – i.e. to make them patriarchal.
Responsibility, therefore, means a duty of care for dependants.

This concept of responsibility is also distinguished by its binding
character. If, for example, one wanted to base the inequality
between man and animal on the fact that man possesses conscious­
ness while the animal does not, it woulq. not necessarily follow
that man needed to take care of animals. But as he has power over
animals, he is implicated in their existence from the outset. Finally,
this view has the advantage of honesty. The concept of responsi­
bility for animals implicitly acknowledges that man uses them for
his purposes. It is therefore unnecessary to posit the relationship
of man and animal in principle as one between equals, as is done
in utopian ethics – and then to be obliged laboriously to legitimize
– by establishing rules of conflict and defining exception – the fact
that in individual cases man actually does use animals for his
purposes and even kills them. The Animal Protection Law regu­
lates the relations of man to animals as those towards dependants.

This takes us to a further point in the moral debate on animal

1 28 Moral Argumentation

protection, the question whether it is possible to grant animals
explicit rights. Various authors have pointed out that it is entirely
feasible to allocate rights to beings who cannot themselves perceive
those rights. They argue that this is the case with children and the
mentally handicapped, for example.15 Meyer-Abich has put for­
ward the thesis that it is time to make peace with nature and form
a legal community with it. Michel Serres has followed this up with
his idea of the natural contract.16 Now, one must certainly agree
with Meyer-Abich that the war with animals is over. But just
because animals are in principle subject to humans, we are by no
means absolved from the struggle with nature. As far as the
animals are concerned, Meyer-Abich would like to see the alloca­
tion of rights to animals as part of the Enlightenment programme
of emancipation: after the emancipation of slaves, Jews, children
and women comes the emancipation of animals,17 The analogy is
flawed, since the power relationships from which the slaves, Jews,
children and women were released were laid down by society. The
legal equality given to them was, at the same time, the abolition of
these power relationships. If one wanted to extend the analogy to
animals in this respect, then equality would have to mean that
human physical power over them has to be abolished and they
have to be given a status like that of cattle in India, which can
roam freely. But if the real power relationships are maintained, the
granting of rights really amounts to the demand for care, which is
already recognized in principle in the Animal Protection Law.
Admittedly, the Law is capable of extension in this respect, in that
up to now the concept of protection has been understood essen­
tially negatively, i.e. it has the objective of limiting the violence of
human beings while imposing hardly any duties of care on them.

If one wanted to install animals themselves as bearers of rights,
or establish the legal community advocated by Meyer-Abich, that
would nullify what at present can be counted as progress in man’s
understanding of himself: the fact that his being nature has been
incorporated in this understanding. For if one turns animals into
legal subjects, they will become socialized, which is to say that
they will be assimilated into precisely the form of life which
humanity has developed in contradistinction to nature, and against
his own natural state.

Moral Argumentation 1 2 9

SOciety’s understanding of itself

With this last formulation I have invoked, admittedly, a conception
of society which, especially in view of the problems we have with
nature, needs to be revised. This takes us to the other example by
which I should like to show that the conventions that now need to
be negotiated in order to regulate our relationship to nature give
rise to genuinely moral problems: these problems are of a kind
which causes us to call our current understanding of society into
question. As an example, I would mention the new Article 20a of
the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The state also has a responsibility to protect the natural foundations
of life for future generations, within the framework of the constitu­
tional order, through legislation and the executive power and the
jurisdiction, according to law and justice. [trans. B.J.]

By this article the protection of nature is elevated to a fundamen­
tal law, and nature is included among the safeguarded goods
enshrined in the Basic Law. To be sure, nature appears here in a
limited perspective, a perspective usually called anthropocentric;
that is, it is nature in so far as it is the foundation of human life. In
other constitutions, such as that of the Free State of Bavaria, nature
is set beside cultural monuments – that is, its originality and
aesthetic value are also addressed. The crucial thing in our context
is that nature protection appears in the Basic Law as a sub-clause
of the description of the state in which we live, and, in particular,
is formulated as a duty of the state. This in fact represents a
fundamental modification of our understanding of society qua
state. The duties of the state up to now have been to guarantee
external and internal security (the security state), to organize and
guarantee the legal system (the constitutional state), to organize
and promote education (the cultural state), to provide social secur­
ity for citizens (the social state) and, finally, to manage the econ­
omy (the social market economy). The duty of protecting the
natural foundations of life is a fundamental modification of the
above. For, as can be seen, all the previous duties of the state were
intra-social, that is, they aimed at regulating and safeguarding the
relationships of human beings among themselves. That anything
like society and the state were present within nature and were
based on nature has up to now played no part in society’s

I 30 Moral Argumentation

conception of itself, as far as this is articulated in the Basic Law.
One could speak here, with Gunter Altner, of an oblivion of nature.1S

However, this obliviousness towards nature, both in our social
self-awareness and in our awareness of ourselves as human beings,
is not merely a matter of forgetting; it is a programme. Since the
Enlightenment, society has been understood as an organization of
human beings created to overcome their dependence on nature
and to emancipate themselves from their natural state. In this,
nature was quite clearly seen, on one hand, as a basis of life which
was unproblematic ally available for use and, on the other, as a
still-preponderant power from which man had every reason to set
himself apart. Through the experience of the dialectic of enlight­
enment or, more generally, of the ambivalence of progress, we
have learned that the process of emancipation from nature has
placed us only in still greater dependence on nature. Admittedly,
the threat emanating from nature today, from the greenhouse
effect, the hole in the ozone layer, the erosion and increasing
infertility of soils and, finally, the poisoning of the means of life,
does nQt arise from the original nature but from the second nature,
anthropogenic nature. From this perspective one would also have
to criticize the formulation of Article 20a of the Basic Law. In view
of the present condition of nature the formulation is already
obsolete, in that what is at stake is no longer just the preservation
but the regaining and reproduction of the natural foundations of
life. Admittedly, to postulate that as a duty of the state would be
to ask too much of the state.19 The reproduction must be a task for
society as a whole, in the sense that while it is a duty of the state
it is also a task which must be performed by every social agency,
and implicitly must be solved in every production process.20

To include nature protection in the catalogue of duties of the
state would therefore be only to make a start in incorporating
nature in our social understanding of ourselves. Since the terms
‘protection’ and ‘preservation’ now fail entirely to match the real
demands of the condition of nature which defines our historical
situation, and even the term ‘development’21 conveys them only
indistinctly and euphemistically, our conception of ourselves as an
industrial society must be revised, together with our understand­
ing of social work as the appropriation of nature for the creation of
products. Some years ago I called for the relationship of production
and reproduction to be re-thought by analogy to traditional agri­
culture.22 In traditional agriculture the reproduction of nature, i.e.
of the field, always enjoyed equal rights alongside the production
of goods, i.e. food. Indeed, it can be said that the relationship of

Moral Argumentation 13 1

reproduction to production was the reverse of our current under­
standing of it, in that the real producer was nature while the
farmer’s activity was concerned with the reproduction of nature.
Or one might say that production was a joint outcome of the
reproductive work on nature. The present concept of industrial
labour is the exact opposite of this. According to Marx labour was
understood as the appropriation and processing of nature, on the
model of craft work. The productive activity – the forming of
material provided by nature – was allocated essentially to the
worker. It is no wonder that in the course of capitalism and
industrialism nature’s part in this production process was over­
looked, and in particular, no practical steps were taken to ensure
that nature, on which this process actually depended, was repro­
duced. This led to the well-known environmental damage. The
Kassel social ecologist Hans Immler has therefore demanded, quite
logically, that ‘nature be granted its economic rights’23 by being
recognized as an essential producer within the industrial process.
‘We are the products, nature is the productivity’ (p.76). This
encapsulates in an extreme form the change to our social under­
standing of ourselves which is prefigured in Article 20a of the
Basic Law.

It has emerged, therefore, that moral problems do actually arise,
and moral argumentation is rightly used, in the discourses which
have led to new conventions in the field of animal and nature
protection, and will lead to others in future. What is called for by
animal and nature protection cannot be delivered without a fun­
damental revision of our conception of ourselves as human beings
and of our society.

Moral Questions Concerning the Nature We
Ourselves Are

Most of the moral questions which are publicly debated arise in
relation to the nature which we ourselves are, that is, with regard
to our bodies and our manner of dealing with life and death. It is
in this area that nature takes on the greatest importance as a
fundamental value of modernity, but from which critical reflection
on modernity also originates. For in this area our understanding of
ourselves as human beings is questioned in principle by the
extraordinary increase in the possibilities of manipulation which

132 Moral Argumentation

have occurred over the last century. The question which arises is:
how much are we still prepared to accept as given – that is, as
nature – in the human being. The problems are so diverse and the
public discussion so wide-ranging that it is impossible to do justice
to all aspects of the moral problems relating to the nature which
we ourselves are. It will therefore be necessary to proceed paradig­
matically in what follows, using examples to reveal the central
problems and the possible strategies for argumentation. All the
same, I shall start by giving an overview of the various complexes
of problems.

As the first complex I would mention reproduction medicine – the
whole field from the fertilization of the human ovum to birth.
Scientific knowledge and technical possibilities have increased so
enormously in this area that there is hardly a process which cannot
in principle be understood, controlled and performed technically.
A close intertwinement of diagnostic and manipulative methods is
found to exist. The human ovum and sperm cell can be isolated
and artificial fertilization carried out – in vitro fertilization. The
extra-uterine cultivation of such a ‘fruit’ – one can hardly speak of
a ‘fruit of the womb’ any longer – can now be carried forward up
to a certain stage, but given the advance of technical developments,
it is, of course, foreseeable that production of a human being
outside the uterus will be entirely feasible. This opens up, on the
one hand, a whole mass of opportunities for research on the
human embryo and, on the other, the prospect of diagnosing its
predispositions, i.e. carrying out a prenatal analysis of the human
genome, with the further prospect of making suitable changes and
selections. In particular, surrogate motherhood can be realized in
practice, meaning the implantation of an egg fertilized outside the
uterus into the uterus of another woman and the growing of the
embryo by the latter. Of course, prenatal diagnostics, especially
genetic diagnostics, are possible without isolating the egg and
sperm cells, by removing cells of the developing embryo from the
uterus. From this follows the potential practice of prenatal selec­
tion, which is already adopted today to avoid hereditary diseases
by induced abortion, and is used in some countries for gender
selection. In India, for example, only eighty girls are born for every
hundred boys. The capacity for manipulation in this area also
extends to the control and management of the birth process itself.
The possibility of continuous monitoring of the process and its
control by medication and surgery gave rise to the idea of the
programmed birth, i.e. a birth meeting a certain ideal standard, or
birth by non-indicated Caesarean section. In the United States, for

Moral Argumentation 1 33

example, one-quarter of all children are already ‘brought into the
world’ by Caesarean section.

The ethical problems which present themselves here can be
referred to under the headings of abortion, eugenics, gender selec­
tion and surrogate motherhood. But as they call into question the
naturalness of the human origin itself, a large number of other
topoi crystallize around them.

The next complex to be discussed is gene therapy. Progress in
molecular biology and genetic engineering will sooner or later lead
to a situation in which a complete register of the human genome
is available. This means that it will be possible to identlfy the
individual components of the human genotype and to know the
phenotypic characteristics or procedural functions for which each
of them is responsible. Furthermore, it will be possible to dissect,
change and reconstruct at will the carrier of hereditary character­
istics, DNA. This, of course, opens up for discussion and possible
change the constitution of species including humans, as well as the
identity of the individual, to the extent that it resides in the
uniqueness of his genetic endowment. Moreover, it will be possible
to cure genetic defects, and thus hereditary diseases and, finally,
to promote the development of individual and species in a particu­
lar direction through improvement and selection.

Moral questions already arise, of course, in the research required
for these developments, in the investigations into life generally
and into human life and human embryos in particular. They also
arise with interventions in the basic natural make-up, the genetic
constitution, of the human being. Here, a distinction must be made
between an intervention in the germ line, changes which are
passed on to descendants, and an intervention in individual body
cells.

The moral questions which arise here can be brought together
under the headings of personal identity, species identity, self­
determination, responsibility for future generations and, finally,
eugenics.

Eugenics in turn forms a complex of its own. The problems of
human breeding, which have already been posed in connection with
traditional animal breeding – the selection of individuals for repro­
duction and the elimination of unwanted offspring – take on new
and greater importance in view of the possibility of genetic manip­
ulation and intervention in the reproductive process.

The fourth complex I would mention is that of organ transplants.
Progress in surgical and immunosuppression techniques are lead­
ing us towards a situation in which practically every organ or

134 Moral Argumentation

part of the human body can be replaced. This, of course, funda­
mentally changes the relationship of human beings to their own
bodies and to bodily identity. But many other morally relevant
problems are bound up with this – with regard to organ replace­
ment by artificial devices or by animal organs, for example, or the
permissibility of organ removal or, conversely, the duty to make
the organs of one’s own body available to others. The question
arises as to when a person is to be pronounced dead; whether it
is permitted to keep him or her vegetally alive after brain death
to conserve organs; whether it is permitted to remove organs after
death without agreement while alive. In addition, there is the
question of a trade in organs, and of the distribution of usable
organs for transplants.

As the fifth complex I should like to summarize all the problems
connected with human death. Here the technical possibilities of
extending life have been so far developed that the question arises
whether their application to the individual can still be regarded as
desirable, and whether death in the context of medical apparatus
is worthy of a human being. With regard to organ transplantation
the point at issue is at what time a person can be considered
actually dead, and whether the demand for the inviolability of the
body extends to the cadaver. Finally, there is the problem of
euthanasia, of the facilitated death in cases when individuals find
life unendurable, or, if they can no longer make themselves under­
stood, whether their lives must be regarded as unendurable in the
judgement of doctors or family members.

This sketch of the moral problems which arise in relation to the
nature which we ourselves are has not yet been differentiated with
regard to the two main branches of ethics; that is, it has not taken
account of the difference between the project of a moral life and
public moral discourse. Many of the moral questions relating to
the nature which we ourselves are must be solved existentially,
through the choice and practice of a certain life project. The
solutions they entail cannot be generalized, even though they
require support from the consensus and the solidarity of people
close to the individual concerned. In this section, however, I want
to concentrate on the questions which arise in public moral dis­
course because they call for a consensus on social regulations. For
this reason, the first question to be answered is why there is any
need for regulation in the sphere of the nature we ourselves are,
since there have always been regulations for the social manner of
dealing with the human body, with life and death – regulations in
the form of medical professional ethics, on the one hand, and

Moral Argumentation 135

existing law, on the other. Why do some of these existing regula­
tions appear inappropriate or inadequate today?

Essentially, there are three answers to this question. Professional
medical ethics, institutionalized for so long in the Hippocratic
oath,24 has proved its worth historically. These ethics have been so
successful because they represented not only the individual moral­
ity of particular doctors but a guild ethics, in that the medical
profession ensured their observance. But precisely in this respect
they have failed in recent times, notably in the Third Reich, so that
self-regulation by the medical profession can no longer be regarded
as sufficient in all cases. On the other hand, however, those same
events have caused a loss of confidence in legal or state regulation,
so that what is needed today is to strengthen both the controls on
the state and the possibilities of free self-determination.

Apart from the historical problems concerning medical pro­
fessional ethics, however, these ethics have also been called into
question by the increasing technical capabilities of medicine. In
view of the pharmacological and technical possibilities of prolong­
ing life, the fundamental obligation to take measures to preserve
life has become questionable. Just because of these measures,
together with the growing importance attached to human self­
determination – here, that of the patient – the question arises
whether the general ban on euthanasia contained in the Hippo­
cratic oath ought to be maintained. These problems have already
led to reformulations of the self-imposed obligations of doctors.

The main reason why new social regulations will be needed for
our way of dealing with the nature which we ourselves are is that
scientific and technical progress has actually given rise to new
situations in which the human scope for action has been signifi­
cantly widened, in particular as a result of gene and transplant
technology. These developments put at issue the existing consen­
sus as to what a human being is and what is worthy of a human
being, as well as the basic principles of our social co-existence.
They impinge partly on the safeguarded goods recognized in the
fundamental and human rights, and partly challenge us to define
new public goods which need to be safeguarded. Naturally, this
needs to be demonstrated with reference to particular cases.

The third area in which there is a need for public regulation is
that of research. The new technical methods of dealing medically
with the nature we ourselves are arise from, or make necessary,
research on the human being, and especially research on human
cells and embryos. Such investigations, can, of course, threaten
human identity and dignity, and, in some cases, the integrity of

136 Moral Argumentation

the human species. On the other hand, they are protected in
principle by the fundamental modern value of freedom of research
which is central to our conception of what society is. We are
dealing here with a conflict of fundamental rights.

Finally, there is one area which does not call for an extension of
social regulation, but rather a reduction. As this represents a
special case in relation to the points discussed so far, I should like
to deal with it first. It is the problem of abortion, or termination of
pregnancy.

Abortion

The debate on §218 of the German Penal Code, which makes
abortion a punishable offence, has stirred up the most extensive
and dramatic public controversy of the recent past. Apart from
many pragmatic and demographic arguments, explicitly moral
arguments have been advanced. They are moral in our understand­
ing of the term, since they touch on basic moral conceptions of our
culture and on our understanding of society. In going so far as to
demand the actual abolition of §218, some of these demands have
concerned the legitimacy of state regulations and state intervention
in the realm of natural reproduction. But even when they did not
go so far, the point at issue has always been a relaxation of an
existing social regulation.

The first thing to be clarified, therefore, is what this regulation
actually amounts to. The simplest answer is given by its placing in
the penal code: abortion is punishable. Moreover, the position of this
paragraph in the penal code, directly following murder, man­
slaughter and infanticide, makes it clear that it concerns the
protection by criminal law of human life. But that is not quite
correct, or at least, not quite adequate. On the one hand, awareness
of the protection of unborn life as a basic moral theme has only been
awakened in the first place by the discussion about §218.25 Yet its
formulation is itself an extension of the basic prohibition on killing,
in that it applies to human beings; as we shall see, the question
whether and at what time the undeveloped embryo can be referred
to as a human being should be left open. On the other hand,
however, the placing of this law in the context of the protection of
life is inadequate in that, as can be seen from its origin in the Reich
Penal Code of 1871, this law forms part of the authoritarian
regulation of the whole area of sexual morality or morals in the

Moral Argumentation 137

narrower sense.26 At that time adultery was still a punishable
offence, as were sexual relations between cousins, sexual practices
involving animals, homosexuality and the dissemination of por­
nographic writings. The repeal of all these penal laws signifies a
fundamental change in our social conception of ourselves, which
can be summed up briefly as the dismantling of the authoritarian
state. Today, we no longer regard it as a function of the state to
supervise the observance of morality in the narrower sense. How­
ever, this development has remained incomplete, since the state
supervision of individual morality has been retained in form of
the compulsory consultation which is a prerequisite for non­
criminal abortion. On the other hand, this development has made
it possible to isolate and elaborate the theme of the protection of
unborn life. And it has been strengthened by the need to protect
embryos from the interference of scientific research and from
genetic manipulation.

The principle that the termination of pregnancy is a punishable
offence has been maintained up to now. Any permission to termi­
nate pregnancy is to be seen as an exception. The conditions for
making exceptions fall into two main groups, determined by
length of pregnancy and by medical or other indications. With
regard to length of pregnancy, termination within a specific period
is not punishable; with regard to indications, it is not punishable if
certain indications for termination are present. Here, a special
distinction is made between medicat embryopathk criminological
and emergency indications. Originally, in the fifth Penal Code
Reform Law of 1974, the length-of-pregnancy criterion had been
established as pragmatically the simplest; the indications criterion
was enforced later by a ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court.
A particular historical circumstance which still obstructs the debate
today is the fact that the period-of-pregnancy criterion had been
established in the German Democratic Republic by a law of 1972.
Today, a kind of mixture of the time criterion and the indications
criterion is operated, with a clear preponderance of the latter.
Thus, termination of pregnancy on grounds of indications is not
an offence if it takes place within a certain period. It must be
noted, however, that no right to terminate pregnancy exists and
that, in a ruling of 1993, the Federal Constitutional Court did not
even permit a termination of pregnancy under certain conditions
to be termed not unlawful.

This last fact concerning the legal situation makes it clear that
we are dealing here with an eminently moral problem, a question
of our social understanding of ourselves. This is shown, for

138 Moral Argumentation

example, by a comparison with the legal situation in the United
States. There, termination of pregnancy, at least within a certain
period, is a right covered by the ‘right of privacy’.27 The arguments
of the German women’s movement, put forward, admittedly,
under the somewhat unappealing slogan ‘My belly belongs to me’,
have not led to a social consensus in Germany. To express it
differently: it has not been possible to establish the moral topos of
self-determination widely enough to cover a right of parents or of a
woman to decide whether she wants to be pregnant or to bring a
child into the world. But that was precisely the fundamental
maxim of the women who organized themselves in the struggle
over §218. I quote the spokesperson of Aktion §21 8 at the hearing
of the German Bundestag’s special committee on reform of the
penal code in 1972, Barbara Nirumand. She demanded that it be
assumed that ‘motherhood and fatherhood must be based on the
free decision of the individual, and should not be enforced by the
State’. She also noted that it was unrealistic, when reforming the
prohibition on abortion, ‘not to proceed from the assumption that
women are no longer willing to submit to state-enforced birth’.28
With this formulation Nirumand expressed the reason why the
reform of §218 had become a compelling need. Women were
actually asserting in huge numbers the right of self-determination
demanded by Barbara Nirumand. The number of illegal abortions
at that time was estimated at 500,000 -2,000,000 per annum. This
means that §218 had been subverted in practice – the necessary
social consensus had been withdrawn. The maintenance of §218 in
force had the further result, of course, that the women concerned
were largely dependent on unqualified assistance with abortion,
or had their pregnancies terminated abroad.

In our context, which concerns the moral argumentation used in
the debate over §218, we can make the following observations at
this point: firstly, the moral topos of the protection of unborn life has
been articulated; and secondly, according to our Basic Law there is
no right to privacy or to self-determination. It is true that Article 2
of the Basic Law guarantees the free development of the personality; it
is true that there are certain protected areas of privacy such as
freedom of opinion, freedom of faith and the inviolability of
domicile. But that does not mean that a general right of self­
determination has been recognized, in face of which the prohibi­
tion of abortion would have to be legitimized in certain cases as a
restriction of this right. On the contrary, one is obliged to note a
general tendency to control step by step by legislation what might
be called privacy or the scope for free self-determination. In the

Moral Argumentation 139

case of abortion, however, this is not just a tendency but an historic
fact: whenever an act of conception has taken place, the existence
of a foetus is no longer a private matter.

Self-determination is a moral topos which undoubtedly means
more than the free development of the personality. The free development
of the personality is a concept more closely related to education, and
could, at most, call for an additional field of application for the
realization of the personality. Self-determination, by contrast, artic­
ulates an independence from tutelage and ‘leading by the nose’, it
implies a freely projected life and independence of judgement and
decision in particular situations. For this reason self-determination
is less a humanistic term than a topos of emancipation and of
liberation movements in general. In the Declaration of Human
Rights the concept appears as the right of peoples to self-determi­
nation. The abolition of §218 was a goal relating to self-determina­
tion in the struggle of women for emancipation and equal rights.

The establishment of the topos of the protection of unborn life was,
in a sense, easier, as is was introduced, on the one hand, to
legitimize a social consensus already canonized, that is, §218, and,
on the other, because it was effectively assisted by other threats to
human life from science and technology. Nevertheless, the legiti­
mizing of this topos, and thus the retrospective justification of §218,
were still difficult, since to legitimize human life from the moment
of its conception, i.e. before one could speak of a sentient being,
before it was endowed with interest and could be addressed as a
person, and long before birth, with which it first becomes an
organically independent entity in the world – to legitimize this
proved a difficult task. In the analysis of the legal philosopher
Norbert Hoerster, such legitimization is really only possible if the
value to be protected is not tied to some empirical quality of the
developing organism which may be present at this or that stage,
but to a transcendental attribute, namely its likeness to God. He
invokes the joint declaration of the Council of Evangelical
Churches in Germany and of the German Conference of Bishops
of 1989 in asserting that ‘each human individual, when it comes
into being, is endowed by God with an immortal soul and is thus
made in His likeness’.29

Leaving aside the question whether this assertion is theologi­
cally tenable, it is certainly a moral topos, since it concerns the self­
understanding of the human being and undoubtedly forms part of
the background of the moral culture which gave rise to §218. The
question is only whether this context is still an appropriate basis
for our social understanding of ourselves. The fundamentally

140 Moral Argumentation

secular and lay character of our society and our state argue against
this. It is, no doubt, especially significant that this idea was put
forward precisely by a Catholic moral theologian in the debate
over §218. I quote Professor Anselm Hertz, OP:

The theory concerning the sout predicated on a specific world-view,
would be rejected in the juridical sphere with the argument that
conceptions based on world-views are without legal relevance in a
pluralistic society. Only a general consensus on the intrinsic value
of human life can decide on the need to protect nascent life, thereby
making it a value to be safeguarded and thus a legal good. In this
case nascent human life would have to be included within the
protection of legal goods, as it would be illogical to seek to protect
human life but not nascent human life.3D

This states clearly that we are concerned here with society’s
understanding of itself: we live in a secular and pluralist society.
For this reason social regulations cannot be legitimized by world­
views held only by certain religious sections of society. Instead of
doing that, the theologian just quoted tries to invoke a different
basis for consensus, that of reason, by using the catchword
‘illogical’.

Still more important is the fact that in his argumentation he sets
aside the historical basis of §218 which was mentioned earlier –
the unity of law and morality. Here, he invokes St Thomas
Aquinas:

St Thomas Aquinas deals with the question whether it is the task of
human, i.e. positive law to prohibit all human wrongdoing and
place it under threat of punishment. He answers in the negative:
only serious human wrongdoing deserves punishment. He justifies
this with two considerations: firstly, only wrongdoing which causes
damage to others should be penalized, since without this prohibition
human society could not survive. Murder and theft are mentioned
as examples. Secondly, only wrongdoing from which the majority is
able to abstain should be punishable.31

Against this background, the theologian quoted could actually
argue for the abolition of §218. At any rate, with St Thomas
Aquinas he formulates an extremely modern, or rather, a current
conception of state and society, according to which the institution­
alized, i.e. legal order of social life does indeed have a moral
foundation, but does not use it to assert morality. This brings us
back to the beginning of our investigation. With the principle of

Moral Argumentation 1 4 1

the general criminality of abortion, §218 perpetuates the authoritar­
ian model of the state.

Genetic engineering

Genetic research and engineering are a characteristic example of
the way in which social regulations can become necessary because
possibilities of human action have outstripped the capacity of the
existing set of customary practices, laws and more general moral
ideas to cope with them. That genetic research and engineering
pose moral questions when they concern the human genome is
self-evident: the integrity of both the individual person and the
human species is at stake. Ethical discussion of research on human
beings and on the use of possible genetic engineering techniques
began at an early stage – early enough in this case – before the
specific techniques were really successful and marketable. Gunther
Anders’s thesis that human expertise has run far ahead of moral
development does not apply in this case. On the contrary, a large
number of self-constraints on doctors and researchers already exist,
as well as legal regulations.32 In Germany, for example, there is a
law protecting the embryo; a ban on genetic code therapy has been
written into the Swiss constitution, and a similar regulation is
contained in the Austrian law on reproductive medicine.33 All
these legal provisions rule out any intervention in genetic material
which could have an effect on subsequent generations. Further­
more, a UNESCO declaration on bioethics and a bioethical conven­
tion of the Council of Europe are currently under discussion.34 All
these regulations and legal resolutions are largely driven by the
anticipation of possible dangers. Nevertheless, they also contain
the first signs of a new basic moral consensus with regard to the
nature we ourselves are. It is therefore worthwhile to explore the
implications of these early signs, particularly as they have not yet
taken on any fixed form and could be undermined by successes of
genetic engineering. This can be seen in a prominently placed
formulation in the preamble of the draft of the UNESCO declar­
ation on bioethics. It states that the declaration has come into being
in recognition of the fact that ‘research on the human genome and
the resulting applications open up vast prospects for progress in
improving the health of individuals and of humankind as a whole’.

These hopes in human progress through science and technology
– positively naive35 in face of our experiences with the project of

142 Moral Argumentation

modernity – give grounds to fear that despite regional and medi­
cal-professional restraint with regard to the human genome, some­
where development in genetic engineering will be carried forward
with all possible brutality. In the long term, this situation could
lead to a fragmentation of the human species. It is therefore all the
more important to agree on what we wish to understand by being
human.

I should like to point out the most important ethical aspects of
this question with reference to three central problems: firstly, germ­
line gene therapy; secondly, the possibilities of eugenics through
genetic engineering, and thirdly, the problems arising from the
introduction of genetic mapping or a genetic register for personal
and social life.

At present there is agreement that genetic engineering methods
can be used for illnesses caused by genetic factors, as long as they
involve somatic therapy and do not influence the genetic germ­
line. A somatic therapy is one which is applied only to the cells or
stem cells of the affected organ of an adult person. It is compared
to chemotherapy or transplant therapy and in Germany is held to
be safeguarded by the law governing the manufacture and pre­
scription of medicines. Germ-line gene therapy, by contrast is
morally problematic and is actually prohibited. It would intervene
in the DNA of the stem cells before or immediately after fertiliza­
tion, with the result that the change produced would be hereditary.
That germ-line gene therapy is so widely, indeed almost univer­
sally, proscribed seems at first sight paradoxical. For if one wants
to make an impact on hereditary illnesses, then surely it is desir­
able to eliminate the responsible genetic defect permanently. How­
ever, the rejection of this therapy is understandable in view of the
mass of counter-arguments and problems. There are numerous
pragmatic considerations, such as the fact that to develop the
necessary techniques research on embryos would be needed, that
experiments with this technology could actually cause genetic
defects, and, finally, that this whole direction of research would
inaugurate a genetic eugenics. The last argument could turn out to
be non-pragmatk i.e. an argument of principle. I shall come back
to that. It is all the more important to consider the categoricat or,
as I call them, the moral arguments, just because it may well be
that the present consensus which rejects germ-line gene therapy is
based mainly on pragmatic considerations.

In moral argumentation important new moral topoi are now
emerging, which point towards a new human self-understanding
and give new content to the concepts of personal integrity and

Moral Argumentation 1 43

human dignity. These are the topoi of the essentially natal and
natural character of human origin. These topoi were probably first
developed in the report of the commission of enquiry on ‘Oppor­
tunities and risks of genetic engineering’ of 1987. They have special
and far-reaching implications in a number of ways. For example,
to legitimize embryo research and germ-line gene manipulation it
is often argued that these are done before any person who could
be a bearer of human dignity has come into being. Against this, by
introducing the topoi of the ‘natal’ and ‘natural’ character of origin,
the concept of human beings is so formulated that their prov­
enance from nature, and thus the provenance of the person from
nature, and therefore the person’s facticity and contingency, are an
integral part of this concept. That early manipulation of the heri­
table material could impair the self-understanding, the self-respect
and therefore the dignity of the person who develops later has
been very aptly expressed by Hermann Schmid. In his report on
Gentherapie aus juristiseher Sieht (Gene therapy from a legal perspec­
tive), he writes: ‘Children ought not to exist as the products of
their parents and their doctors. All should have the possibility of
understanding themselves and their essence as an expression of a
fate which lies outside the human sphere – or is created by God –
and not as the project and the more or less successful experiment
of other people’ (p. 142). This attempt to incorporate the natural
origin of human beings in their dignity is supplemented by an
endeavour to establish a right to individuality and imperfection.
Underlying this is an awareness not only that individuality is
threatened by the possible technology of cloning, but that it is
already called into question by genetic manipulation in relation to
a norm. The linking of the right of individuality to a right of
imperfection is, no doubt, one of the most fundamental protests
made against the project of modernity under the banner of nature.
For the fact that humanity has become its own project, and the
improvement of the human being its programme, is one of the
four main tendencies of the whole project of modernity.36 I quote
from the ‘Benda Report’, in which these topoi were probably
articulated for the first time:

Both his unique individuality and his imperfection have always
been part of the essence of the human being. To measure humans
against an allegedly correct norm and to manipulate them geneti­
cally to match this norm would be to contradict the image of the
human being in the Basic Law and to violate human dignity in the
deepest possible way.37

144 Moral Argumentation

The observation that the acceptance of one’s own imperfection,
and indeed, a right of imperfection, are an intrinsic part of human
dignity and self-respect may be one of the most significant moral
advances made in the current debate on gene therapy. But how
little this topos has been accepted up to now can be seen from
objections to the prohibition of germ-line gene therapy put forward
by Hermann Schmid. He maintains, for example, that ‘far from
violating human dignity, gene therapy, by restoring health, would
make it possible in the first place’. Furthermore, one should bear
in mind ‘that grave but avoidable illness cannot be seen as consti­
tutive of the personal identity of a human being’.38

This argument founders on a problem to which Schmid himself
draws attention – the difficulty of deciding to what the concept of
human dignity refers: to the individual or to the species. For the
individual human being, dignity is not established by eliminating
a genetic defect, since he or she did not exist before the genetic
manipulation was carried out. On the other hand, if he or she does
exist, then a grave illness is indeed constitutive of the identity of a
human being. On this question the moral philosopher Christoph
Rehmann-Sutter, who specializes in genetic ethics and opposes a
concept of health based on the ideal of perfection, remarks aptly:
‘Is not true health rather a strength, a capability? An ability to deal
with imperfection, and that means with mourning, suffering and
death?’39 For the self-understanding and self-respect of individual
human beings it is undoubtedly of extreme importance whether or
not they must see themselves as a product of manipulation. It is
even decisive for the self-understanding of each individual human
being whether the human genome is regarded as inviolable or is
made available for manipulation. For in the latter case, even if no
manipulation has taken place in an individual case, the human
being would have to regard himself or herself as in principle an
artefact. On this point I quote Christoph Rehmann-Sutter:

Germ-line gene therapy involves crossing a boundary beyond which
lies the specific technical manipulation of the human genotype. This
boundary is extremely significant, not so much because I believe
this intervention to be forbidden in principle for us humans, but
because crossing it changes something quite fundamental in the
relationship we humans adopt to our own imperfection and to the
imperfection of others. The mere fact that we influence the structure
of the human genome at a certain point deprives it of the character
of a natural disposition and gives it that of an artefact . . . But it then
has the status of an artificial product not only at the p oint where

Moral Argumentation 1 45

changes have actually been made, but also where none have been
made. For not to make changes is also a decision which henceforth
must be attributed to human beings.4o

This leads on to the second area of problems, which I have
mentioned under the general heading of genetic eugenics. These
explicitly concern the question of improving human beings under­
stood in the sense of the human species. At present there is
undoubtedly no universal consensus on this question, as the
preamble to the UNESCO declaration on bioethics has already
shown. This lack of consensus became explicitly obvious when the
topic of which eugenic practices were to be banned was dropped
from the UNESCO Declaration in the last stage before its adoption
by the General Conference of November 1997. Why, it might be
argued, should one not want to improve humankind genetically?
Is not the desire for perfection actually self-evident? Does not
wanting something always mean wanting something better? hl
face of such arguments it is hardly enough to point out that one
would not know in which respects humankind was to be perfected,
or whether an improvement in one respect – in long-term memory
or intelligence, for example – really was a step forward.

Nevertheless, the UNESCO declaration does introduce a new
moral topos which might provide support for a ban on genetic
eugenics. Article 1 of the Declaration concludes by stating that ‘the
human genome . . . is the heritage of humanity’.

This concept is certainly still very indefinite, but because other
things have already been declared to be part of the common
heritage of humankind, it does imply certain statements. For
example, the seabed, the moon, together with books, works of art
and historical monuments in general, have been declared part of
the human heritage, and likewise all cultures in their diversity and
as a totality. Such statements mean that a good declared to belong
to the human heritage may not be particularized, that is, may not
be appropriated by individual groups or states. It must in principle
be available to all. We have here, therefore, a kind of return to the
idea of common land, but on the plane of humanity. What might
this idea imply with regard to the human genetic material and its
possible manipulation? I believe that it implies that products of
the genetic manipulation of humans may not be patented, as has
already been done for animals and threatens by analogy to be
done for humans. Further, this idea is likely to imply that each
human being or each human group may not regard its genetic
material as its property, but must feel itself to be a component of

1 46 Moral Argumentation

humankind – as is actually the case through the ramifications of
kinship. From this it would follow, at least, that each genetic
manipulation of the germ-line would require a practically univer­
sal legitimation. It would be quite out of the question to carry out
improvements according to particular desiderata.

However, these considerations show implicitly how weak this
level of opposition is in face of the idea of improving humankind.
By contrast, the historical argument against eugenics is strong. The
Europe-wide ban on germ line gene therapy is no doubt crucially
affected by this argument. In the 1989 guidelines of the German
medical profession on gene therapy any positive intervention with
regard to genetic material is ruled out. The historical reason for
the rejection of eugenics lies in the experience of the so-called
Third Reich. In National-Socialist Germany the idea of a scientific
eugenics, which had already come into being, was brought
together with a racist anthropology.41 It would be an understate­
ment to argue today that the National Socialists misused scientific
eugenics. Certainly, that is also the case, in the sense that what
they regarded as unfit to live was eradicated in the name of
eugenics. The danger of such misuse would in itself justify a ban
on eugenic measures. But that could hardly be called a moral
justification. Such a justification would spring, rather, from the
reality of the link between eugenics and racism. The so-called
Third Reich itself expounded this link, and its possibility seems
unavoidable. It consists in the fact that the question as to what
constitutes a good human being is answered from the perspective of
a particular group. This would run deeply counter to our basic
understanding of society with regard both to the equality of
human beings and to the fundamental pluralism of society.

We have here an example of a case in which the historical
context fundamentally determines the moral discourse, at least for
us. We would call into question our historical understanding of
ourselves if we did not take account of experiences from our past.
Equally, the argument has shown that these experiences are gener­
alizable in terms of their consequences. It is interesting to note that
an historical argument relevant to us plays a part in the American
debate on euthanasia. The American professor of ethics, Tom L.
Beauchamp, for example, writes:

It therefore seems sensible to discard at the outset any such distinc­
tion [between justified and unjustified euthanasia], to prevent the
inevitable slide into a situation devoid of principles. With regard to
the historical context, it should be pointed out that precisely this has

Moral Argumentation 1 4 7

happened in the darker phases of human history – including the
period of the Nazi regime, when euthanasia was first practised with
the best intentions in the case of very seriously handicapped non­
Jewish Germans, and the programme was gradually extended to all
persons classified as harmful to the race.42

I come, finally, to the topic which I mentioned under the
heading of gene analysis, genetic mapping and genetic registration.
The possibility of a more-or-Iess complete genetic analysis of the
individual harbours many dangers which necessitate social regu­
lations. For example, the privacy of a person is threatened by the
possible use of genetic information on that person, and presents a
danger of discrimination – in the labour market, for example.
Moreover, a person’s self-understanding cannot be untouched by
the fact that he ‘knows the truth about himself’ genetically. It is
therefore highly significant that the UNESCO declaration contains
the following passage: ‘Everyone has a right to respect for their
dignity and for their rights regardless of their genetic character­
istics. That dignity makes it imperative not to reduce individuals
to their genetic characteristics and to respect their uniqueness and
diversity’ (Article 2). One might, to an extent, welcome the recog­
nition that the radical individuality of each human being – which
actually is only postulated – also has its fundamentum in re, in that
each person is indeed a unique entity according to his or her
genetic material. However, this knowledge does, of course, carry
the danger that the individuality of a human being might be
reduced to this very fundament. An early form of this can be seen
in the use of genetic fingerprinting in crime detection. Here, the
dignity of the human being actually has to be protected against its
natural substrate. A crucial aspect of human self-understanding
lies in not allowing oneself to be reduced to one’s genetic identity
but – to mention the alternatives – to regard identity as something
achieved throughout life, a biographical product.

To achieve this, it might even be necessary to close one’s eyes to
one’s own genetic dispositions. For it is only too easy – as classical
tragedies teach us – for an oracle to take control of a biography. In
his book Mensch nach Mafl (Humans made to measure) Wolfgang
van den Daele even talks of a right of ignorance.43 As we shall see
in a moment, such a right has been adopted in the Council of
Europe’s convention on bioethics. However, whether or not one
wants to make use of that right forms part of the project of a moral
existence.

For social discourse on the admissibility of genetic analysis and

148 Moral Argumentation

the possible use of such data in social life, however, the danger of
discrimination must be considered. If such methods were to be
permitted at all, then a decision not to submit oneself to genetic
examination could lead to negative discrimination – for example,
in job applications. It is therefore to be welcomed that the right to
preserve the private sphere with regard to genetic information is
mentioned in the Council of Europe’s convention on bioethics.

Article 10 (Private life and right to information): Everyone has the
right to respect for private life in relation to information about his
or her health. Everyone is entitled to know any information collected
about his or her health. However, the wishes of individuals not to
be so informed shall be observed. In exceptional cases, restrictions
may be placed by law on the exercise of the rights contained in the
preceding paragraph in the interests of the patient.

The next paragraph is explicitly directed against discrimination:

Article 11 (Non-discrimination) : Any form of discrimination against
a person on grounds of his or her genetic heritage is prohibited.

What really follows from this stipulation is that genetic analysis
for any other than therapeutic purposes should not be performed
at all, and that its results may only be used in the therapeutic
context.

This brings to an end the account of the second area in which
moral questions arise with regard to the nature we ourselves are.
A discussion of prosthetic technologies and transplant possibilities
would yield analogous results. Moral questions arise in all these
areas because what is to be regarded as nature in us humans, and
therefore what our being a part of nature actually means for our
understanding of ourselves as humans, is made a matter for debate
and possible modification. It is emerging that the very possibility
of its technical manipulation is making the nature we ourselves
are into a central moral tapas.

Moral Problems in Deal ing with Foreigners

There is hardly a single area of social behaviour of which the
regulation more profoundly determines the kind of society we live
in than the way in which we deal with foreigners. The reason is

Moral Argumentation 1 49

that this behaviour is directly dependent on the definition of
belonging and not-belonging, on how this distinction is made and
on the mediation between the groups thus separated. Just as my
conception of the other and my relationship to others define my
own understanding of myself, our social understanding of our­
selves is crucially shaped by our way of perceiving foreigners and
our relationship to them. Questions about the regulation or our
behaviour towards foreigners are therefore serious questions, and
thus moral ones.

In Germany, the discourse on foreignness and our relationship
to foreigners has been shaped, on the one hand, by the historical
perspective – the racial policies of the so-called Third Reich, the
expulsion and, finally, the annihilation of Jews and gypsies – and,
on the other, by the present situation. In Germany today the
relationship to foreigners is no longer, or not only, an external
relationship, but an internal one. The German population includes
about seven million foreigners – roughly 10 per cent. They are
referred to as ‘aliens’, although for the most part they, and often
their parents, were born in Germany and in most cases have lived
in Germany for decades. On one hand, the high proportion of
aliens in the German population is maintained artificially, since it
is made extraordinarily difficult for them to obtain citizenship,
while, on the other, it is continuously reproduced by the arrival of
more and more foreigners, primarily asylum-seekers – about
100,000 annually. This gives rise to two main topics for the public
debate on how to deal with foreigners: first, the controversy over
citizenship and secondly, the right of asylum. These are debates in
which explicit regulation – laws and rights – are at issue. However,
they are often carried on in a climate of hostility to foreigners and
of racism, and this gives us cause to ask about our customary
behaviour towards foreigners in a more comprehensive sense. This
will lead us back, at the end of the book, to the question of
customary behaviour in general. Even though all public moral
discourses are concerned with customary behaviour, it is especially
clear in this case that there is a striking lack of customary behav­
iour with regard to foreigners, or that what is customary is
urgently in need of change. There appears to exist a need for
society to make up lost ground in learning how to behave towards
foreigners, without which there is hardly any prospect of reaching
satisfactory solutions in the political debate about legal regulations.

150 Moral Argumentation

The right of citizenship

The main reason for the large proportion of members of our society
who are not citizens in the full sense (8.9 per cent in 1997) is the
high hurdle placed in the way of naturalization. In addition,
hostility to foreigners and cultural intolerance help to ensure that
the foreigners in the German Federal Republic depend strongly on
support from their compatriots, cut themselves off in ghetto-like
communities and, as a reaction to their hostile environment, often
do not want to be naturalized.

The German law of citizenship does not really fit a modem
state, in that it attributes citizenship but makes it practically
impossible to acquire it;44 it is a lex sanguinis and not a lex solis,
which means in effect that one becomes a German citizen by virtue
of German blood, that is, by descent. Admittedly, since 1 January
2000 it has also been possible to obtain German citizenship through
having been born in Germany.45 The preconditions are that one
parent has had his or her legal domicile in the Federal Republic of
Germany for at least eight years and has a right of residence or
has held an unlimited residence permit for the last three years.
However, this first step towards a lex solis is highly ambivalent,
since the children concerned can also obtain the nationality of their
parents on the basis of their parents’ nationality. For this reason
§29 of the Law of Citizenship withdraws the concession to the
children of foreign parents by requiring them to decide on one
nationality by the age of twenty-three. If they fail to do so, German
citizenship is automatically forfeited. For this reason the legal
expert Helmut Rittstieg describes this kind of citizenship as ‘dis­
solvently conditional’ (auflosend bedingt) and observes critically that
‘Germans with lesser rights in relation to Germans by descent’ are
being created (Deutsches Auslanderrecht) . This form of natural acqui­
sition of German citizenship is, therefore, a half-hearted but never­
theless welcome step towards a revision of the relationship of
Germans to their aliens – and thus implicitly towards a revision of
the conception of what it means to be German.

For adults, the acquisition of German citizenship remains extra­
ordinarily difficult. Only since 1993 has a right of naturalization
for foreigners existed in some cases. According to the new version
of the law regarding foreigners, in force since 1 January 2000, an
alien ‘who has legally had his or her principal residence in
Germany for eight years’ [trans. E.J.] has the right of naturalization

Moral Argumentation 15 I

(§85). This only applies, however, under additional conditions, two
of which are very rigorous. Firstly (§85.3), foreigners must be able
‘to earn a livelihood for themselves and family members entitled
to support without claiming welfare and unemployment benefit’;
secondly (§85.4), they must ‘relinquish or forfeit their previous
nationality’ [trans. E.J.]. The clause just quoted, §85.3, excludes
from citizenship all socially disadvantaged people, such as the
unemployed or unemployable, and, in particular, it prevents asy­
lum-seekers from obtaining the right of naturalization simply by
remaining in the country.

The requirement that the applicant lose or relinquish his or her
previous citizenship is also very drastic, since, on the one hand, it
represents an imposition on the person concerned – since they are
forced to give up a part of their identity – and on the other,
because very many states do not release their citizens in this way,
or not easily. According to German law there is, as a rule, no
possibility of dual nationality.

It is true that under some circumstances, as specified in §85,
multiple nationality is accepted, but in individual cases it will be
extremely difficult to prove that these conditions – for example,
that ‘the foreign state regularly refuses to release its citizens’ (§87.2,
trans. E.J.) – are fulfilled.

There is no direct way to obtain German citizenship – that is, no
law of immigration. German citizenship can only be obtained if
the applicant has already, through other constellations and oppor­
tunities, met the essential conditions – legal domicile and secure
livelihood – while still a foreigner. Moreover, the right to be
naturalized even under these conditions has only been achieved
through very laborious political compromises. The consensus on
the matter is still unstable and could easily break down if there is
a shift in the political climate or a change of government. The
possibilities of obtaining German citizenship remain in strong
contrast to what is customary in other European countries, such as
France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Sweden. In all
these countries a five-year period of residence is, as a rule, suf­
ficient and, above all, those born in the country have the right of
citizenship without restriction – i.e., a lex solis obtains.

The question of German citizenship and of the rules and laws
governing naturalization is, indeed, crucial for our society’s con­
ception of itself. Because citizenship is really based on the blood
relationship, the racial idea – that is, the idea that race constitutes
the basis and unity of the state – is preserved, blocking the way to
a modern conception of the state and a renewal of society’s

1 52 Moral Argumentation

understanding of itself in contradistinction to that of the Third
Reich. In their book Heimat Babylon, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and
Thomas Schmid rightly point out that at the time of the emergence
of the nation state, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries, Germans were seeking, and found, in race (das Volk) the
cement which would bind together the many petty states making
up Germany at that time, and overcome the regionalism and
particularism that went with them:

From that time onwards there was in Germany (and especially
among its elites, an increasing tendency to make ‘the others’ – the
French, the English, the Jews, the non-residents – responsible for all
problems. In short, because the nation state was founded not on
political but on racial concepts, and thus on hostility to foreigners,
and because this form did not suit the Germans, it took a chauvin­
istic turn.46

Consequently, the concept ‘German’ still has racist traits; that is to
say, one simply cannot imagine a German who is black or of
Asiatic appearance.

The discussion on the basis of citizenship, dual nationality and
naturalization therefore always revolves around the way in which
we wish to understand our state community and in what sense it
is called German.

There is a further problem connected to the right of citizenship
– the question of the sense in which, and how self-consistently, our
society is democratic. The high proportion of foreign citizens in
the Federal Republic means that a significant part of the population
is excluded from democratic rights of participation, since the right
to vote depends on citizenship. The foreign citizens are under all
the obligations which apply to the regular citizens. They also share
their general rights and can, as a rule, make use of the welfare
state; yet they are not involved in the formation of the political will
and they cannot be elected. Their interests could therefore, at most,
be represented for them by committed German citizens. A funda­
mental principle of democracy, that all those who have reached
majority can take part in the decisions which affect them, is set
aside. It is self-evident that there can be no consensus of society as
a whole on this point, and that the maintenance of the convention
of restricted rights of participation can only be repressive.

Moral Argumentation 1 53

The right of asylum

The right of asylum, as originally contained in Article 16 of the
Basic Law, was unique and exemplary world-wide. The second
clause states succinctly: ‘No German may be extradited to a foreign
country. Persons persecuted for political reasons enjoy the right of
asylum’ [trans. E.J.]. The last sentence is unique because it grants
to a non-citizen who is seeking protection a right, and does not
merely formulate an obligation of the state to give asylum. More­
over, this right of asylum is absolute, in the sense that it is not
dependent on a particular political situation, or on a policy of the
German state, and is not granted in relation to certain countries
and regimes. In the debates of the Herrenchiemsee Constitutional
Convention, and of the Parliamentary Council, this point was
given special prominence by fears that the right of asylum might
be claimed by ‘refugees with undemocratic inclinations’.47

What induced the Herrenchiemsee Convention and the Parlia­
mentary Council to incorporate asylum as an absolute right in the
Basic Law was, clearly, the experience of the Third Reich. Even in
the current debate on the right of asylum it is constantly argued
that Germany has a moral obligation to grant asylum because it
itself had repressive regimes at the time of the Third Reich and
again in the GDR, which made refugees of many of its citizens and
forced them to seek asylum in other countries. However, this
historic obligation towards the ‘free world’, in which hundreds of
thousands of Germans found shelter, is only one side of the
historical background of the debate. The other side is that the
German emigrants were by no means everywhere received with
open arms, were frequently faced with closed borders and were
sent back even when their lives were at risk. In face of the influx
of refugees and the political situation, the conditions on which
foreigners were admitted were tightened in the countries con­
cerned. In his book Emigration. Die Geschichte der Hitler-Fliichtlinge
1 933-1 945 the human-rights activist Kurt R. Grossmann writes:

When the racial persecution was at its height, states sent back
women and children, and even women in an advanced state of
pregnancy. From at least 1938 democratic countries such as the
United Kingdom, Sweden and Denmark adopted a policy of repatri­
ating refugees who crossed their border without a visa. But entry
visas could only be obtained after lengthy formalities. Illegal immi­
gration remained a punishable offence – a hopeless contradiction in

1 54 Moral Argumentation

face of the mortal danger from which political and racial refugees
were trying to escape.48

Against the background of such experiences, there were strong
reasons to formulate a right of asylum for refugees. The discussions
of the past years have been essentially concerned with restricting
this right, or with legitimizing the actual restriction with further
provisions, in particular, the law on asylum procedure of 1982.

Today, when a large part of the population and the decisive
political faction would like to be rid of the law of asylum, the
Geneva Convention on Refugees of 1953, extended in 1969, plays
a significant role.49 For it lays down in terms of international law –
sanctioned by about 100 states – certain minimum requirements to
be met by asylum regulations, which it would be difficult for the
German Federal Republic to disregard without loss of international
standing. According to Article 1, Paragraph 2 of the Geneva
Convention on Refugees, a refugee is defined as a person who
‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of
race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group
or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality’.50 The
crucial provision is found in Article 33, which proclaims a ban on
expelling and sending back refugees:

No Contracting State shall expel or return a refugee in any manner
whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom
would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality,
membership of a particular social group or political opinion.s1

As I said, this formulation sets minimum standards; on the other
hand, it falls short of the German law on asylum in that it only
prohibits expulsion and sending back, but does not grant the
refugee a right of entry. According to the German asylum law, in
principle, a foreigner who is persecuted politically could make an
application for asylum even from outside German territory, or,
conversely, the German state should allow anyone who wants to
claim asylum to enter the country.

As mentioned earlier, this right has already been substantially
restricted by the law on asylum procedure of 1982. According to
Article 16 of the Basic Law, the right of asylum cannot, strictly
speaking, be denied to anyone, and this, as a fundamental right,
cannot be affected by changes to the constitution. That is why it
was decided to use the alternative method of raising a procedural
wall against asylum. The procedure now requires the refugee to

Moral Argumentation I 55

provide proof of persecution. It also acts as a practical deterrent to
the seeking of asylum by imposing compulsory accommodation
and thus splitting up families, by maintaining long waiting times,
and so on. The right of asylum, already extensively undermined in
this way, has now been taken practically ad absurdum by an
addition to Article 16 of the Basic Law. According to it, no one
may now claim asylum who enters either from other states of the
European Community or from states ‘in which it appears to be
guaranteed by the legal situation, the application of law and the
general political conditions that neither political persecution nor
inhumane or degrading punishment takes place’ (Basic Law, Art.
16a, §3). Which states these are is determined by a law, and can
therefore be subject to the political judgement of other states. As
the Federal Republic is now surrounded by a cordon of such states,
asylum-seekers can only reach the country by sea, by air or by
illegal means. In practice the number of asylum-seekers has been
kept constant by these measures, and the originally absolute right
of asylum has been abolished.

The currently sanctioned consensus regarding the treatment of
foreigners seeking protection has now been described. This consen­
sus is supported by a broad political majority – without which the
change in the constitution would not have been possible. It cannot
be said, however, that the problem has been solved by this so­
called compromise on asylum, or that the debate on asylum in the
population has been laid to rest. On the contrary, repeated scan­
dalous expulsions made on the basis of the present legal situation
constantly cause the debate to flare up again and give rise to
resistance going as far as civil disobedience and illegal actions.

Our conception of the society we want to live in does indeed
depend on the regulations concerning the right of asylum. This
can be seen in the fact that the right has been called generous or
over-generous. At the time of the Cold War the Federal Republic
of Germany was rather emphatic in seeing itself as a free constitu­
tional state, and, priding itself on this status, accepted a large
number of refugees – who, admittedly, were largely ‘brothers and
sisters’ from the ‘so-called’ German Democratic Republic. Today,
our understanding of ourselves as a free state still depends on our
readiness to accept political refugees. This self-evaluation is endan­
gered if, driven either by the hostility to foreigners in our own
population or by purely pragmatic considerations about our
capacity to accept refugees or the social burden they represent, we
restrict the right of asylum. Political freedom itself suffers if one is
unwilling to share it with others. And any quibbling about the

1 5 6 Moral Argumentation

right of asylum threatens our historical awareness. The willingness
in effect to abolish Article 16 of the Basic Law by an addendum
has caused a break with the past, a repression of the historical
origin of the Federal Republic. The experience of flight and perse­
cution in the Third Reich simply does not admit a purely prag­
matic modification of a right as fundamental as that of asylum.

In the debate on the right of asylum it is constantly argued that
the primary objective is to curb the misuse of the right and to
distinguish genuine political refugees from those who wish to
enter the Federal Republic for merely economic reasons. It should
not be overlooked here, however, that for political refugees, the
Federal Republic is also especially attractive, in the spectrum of
possible destination countries, because of its economic prosperity.
If one wishes to neutralize this factor in one way or another, that
is itself a serious question, in that the Federal Republic is not
willing to share its wealth with at least a part of the rest of the
world, and especially with those who enter its territory as refugees.
In that case our social understanding of ourselves is not deter­
mined by generosity, but more and more by a siege mentality.

Customary behaviour towards foreigners

The right of asylum, however admirably conceived by the fathers
of the Basic Law, never had a broad basis of support among the
population. As long as the East-West confrontation existed the
praxis of asylum was straightforward, as anyone who knocked on
our door could be celebrated as a triumph of the Free World and
the western way of life, and a defeat for totalitarianism. Statistics
on numbers of refugees were therefore published and read with
satisfaction. But this did not reflect an openness towards foreigners
or a willingness to integrate them. On the contrary, one is obliged
to note a long-standing tradition of hostility to foreigners, and an
inability to uphold courteous relations with them. For this reason,
the present discourse on dealing with foreigners is not concerned
merely with formal regulations, such as the rights of citizenship
and asylum, but with a culture of the treatment of foreigners, that
is, with the customary behaviour and the social attitudes and
assumptions which need to be mediated by education.

That there is a prospect of change in this area is shown by the
practical discourse on external nature. Here, an environmental
ethics has come into being which concerns the treatment of

Moral Argumentation 1 5 7

resources such as refuse and packaging, and relates generally to
consumer habits and tourism. This discourse has actually led to
new forms of customary behaviour which are successfully medi­
ated by education, and especially by schools. Just as there is now
an environmental education, one should aim also at a multicultural
education. How much any such thing is lacking becomes strikingly
apparent if one peruses the classic works on good behaviour in
search of a category on ‘behaviour towards foreigners’. The stan­
dard work by Knigge, for example, gives advice on behaviour
towards practically every conceivable human category – superiors,
princes, people in love, poor people, scholars, etc., etc. But guid­
ance on behaviour towards foreigners is not to be found, any more
than it is in Salzmann’s primer on morals.

If one looks back in history, one can observe an increase in the
rights of foreigners and, concurrently, a decrease in personal
courtesy towards them. Originally, in the legal arrangements of
antiquity, the foreigner or stranger was without rights. The law
related only to the members of the community concerned. How­
ever, the stranger was under the protection of Zeus and, in the
individual case, enjoyed personal hospitality. Within a community,
therefore, the stranger was protected as the guest of a particular
person or family. The right of hospitality was itself a highly
developed institution, governing many matters concerned with
acting as host, showing respect, presenting oneself and exchanging
gifts. In the long run it created personal links which in some cases
had political consequences. In particular, trade relationships gave
rise to a body of law on strangers. In Greek communities there
were synoecetes and in Roman ones peregrini, i.e. citizens without
formal citizenship, whose presence, tax liability and business activ­
ities were governed by law. While the progressive expansion of
the rights of strangers gave them legal protection and made it
easier for them to work in the host community, it did not facilitate
their acceptance. It can be said, rather, that the law on strangers,
the successor to which may be seen in the law on foreigners today,
created a foreign body within the community, and intensified
tendencies of personal differentiation. Characteristic of this devel­
opment is the position of Jews in Germany. A countervailing
movement is represented by the development of universal human
rights, the emancipation movement and the policies of naturaliza­
tion and assimilation which came in the wake of the French
Revolution. This line of development lives on the idea of equality,
which means implicitly that the existence of inequality is denied .
The attempt t o meet the foreigner a s a n equal and t o accept him as

1 58 Moral Argumentation

such requires him to negate his differentness and to adapt to the
society and culture which receives him. Here, again, the history of
the Jews is instructive. They were forcibly apprised of how flimsy
was the offer of equality, and how illusory their own efforts at
assimilation – just because the acknowledgement of foreigners as
the other, and willingness to live with them as such, were lacking.

The continuous trend of European culture in this regard, unfor­
tunately, is xenophobia, that is, hostility towards foreigners, a
development which was occasionally enlivened, but actually
merely confirmed, by periods of exoticism. Exoticism is an effusive
enthusiasm for foreignness – as for things Chinese and Japanese in
the eighteenth century and for the Near East in the nineteenth.
This interest in, love for or, indeed, infatuation with the foreign is,
in part, a sign of dissatisfaction with one’s own world, and
survives only as long as one can keep the foreign world concretely
at arm’s length: exoticism is love of the most distant. Xenophobia,
by contrast, has its basis precisely in self-definition and in esteem
for one’s own world. It has therefore been presented as something
positively natural for the constitution of self-image and community
spirit: in order to value one’s own world one needs to differentiate
oneself from the foreign, which is therefore seen as inferior, wrong.
According to this model the Greeks distinguished themselves from
the barbarians, the Christians from the pagans, the civilized from
savages, the white from the black, the Aryans from the Jews. In
Germany, where the idea of the nation state was founded on the
concept of the Volk, the race, the self-image of the nation state
became associated with racial anthropology. Underlying this
whole mindset is the notion that homogeneity is a prerequisite for
social cohesion. Accordingly, politicians talk today of a threat to
the German community on the grounds that it is being flooded
and subverted by foreigners and alien races (iiberfremdet und
durchrasst).

This ideology of a necessary social homogeneity has often been
linked, and still is linked today, to the fear instilled by moderniza­
tion. Rationalization, driven aggressively forward, produces struc­
tural unemployment and therefore a tendency to suspend the free
competition for jobs. The scarce j obs are seen as our jobs: German
j obs for the Germans. In addition, the continuing dismantling of
the welfare state fuels resentment towards foreigners benefiting
from it. The level of pensions is compared to the welfare benefits
paid to asylum-seekers, and more and more restrictions are placed
on the social equality of foreign citizens. The lack of willingness to
accept the foreigners among us, to take an interest in them, and, in

Moral Argumentation 1 59

general, the inability to deal with foreignness in any way, are the
foundations of a new racism. In everyday life, someone is foreign
primarily if he looks foreign, and the defence mechanisms and
prejudices are therefore attached to externalities. From skin colour,
the colour of hair and the way it hangs, through physical form to
dress customs and eating habits – such outward signs become
symbols of a threat. For this reason the hostility towards foreigners,
in its practical, daily application, is directed not so much at those
who are aliens in terms of their legal status, but at all those who
appear foreign through their appearance, behaviour or language,
even if they are Germans. The only exception to this are certain
groups of recognizable foreigners whose equality of rank is acknowl­
edged, that is, in whom their assumed equality is coupled with at
least a tolerance of their differentness. Characteristic of this tend­
ency is behaviour towards Americans and Japanese. No matter
how preposterously American tourists may dress and behave – as
such they are acknowledged. Likewise, the different table manners
and eating habits, the permanent smile and the answer hovering
between yes and no are excused in a Japanese businessman. Such
examples of acknowledgement of the foreign, which demonstrate
in principle the possibility of different forms of behaviour, under­
line the fact that in general foreigners as such are not acknowl­
edged and meet with racially tinged repulsion. Japanese and
Americans are the ‘good’ foreigners, just as, on the basis of a
general anti-Semitism, there was always talk of ‘good’ Jews.

This everyday racism contradicts the conception of ourselves
anchored in the Basic Law. That is already enough to make it a
burning moral issue. Beyond that, however, the hostility towards
foreigners does not accord with our belief that we live in a modem
society. The everyday behaviour towards foreigners, as well as the
legislation relating to them, which treats their presence as a matter
for policing, that is, as a threat to be averted, runs counter to the
actual modernity of our society.

The unity of a modem society no longer depends on inner
homogeneity, whether ethnic, linguistic or cultural. Rather, it is

determined functionally, that is, it is generated by the division of
labour, the market and, more recently, by technical networking.
Modem society is a society of people defined in terms of work and
commuting. Its cohesion is ensured by the actual involvement of
its members in the system, not by a common faith, still less by a
likeness of biological features, or even by a common language. It
is true that the functioning of society benefits strongly from a
common language. But it can be seen from many societies that this

1 60 Moral Argumentation

common language can have only this functional character – that is,
it does not absolutely need to be the mother tongue of the majority
– and that in principle the matter can be resolved multilingually.
Religion is in any case a private affair in modern society. But even
what is ordinarily called culture – art, manners, public holidays,
taste – has lost its constitutive importance for modern societies. In
technical civilization the central social functions are no longer
organized and shaped culturally. Thus, culture, too, is turning into
something private, something which belongs to the sphere of
leisure, festivals and vacations. For this reason our behaviour
towards foreigners and our understanding of foreignness decide,
at the same time, whether we are developing a modern under­
standing of society. But even if this self-understanding is still
lacking, the actual modernity of society should be seen as an
opportunity for putting into effect the social process of learning
how to deal with foreigners.

I should like to call the customary behaviour now prevailing in
dealing with foreigners the customary behaviour of the frontier. Just
as the law relating to foreigners is essentially a law governing the
entering and leaving of the country by aliens, and their permission
to reside here, customary behaviour at present is of a kind which
places no expectations on ourselves, but only on the others, the
aliens. They are expected to adapt, to respect our laws and cus­
toms, to learn our language and, especially, to present themselves
in an unobtrusive way. The one-sidedness of this form of custom­
ary behaviour needs to be overcome. The aim must be to develop
modes of interaction which, though based on a fundamental
equality as formulated in human rights, for example, at the same
time imply recognition of otherness. The first step would be to
establish what I would call customary behaviour of second degree.
While this would certainly place demands on us in our way of
treating foreigners, it would not yet require any interest or com­
mitment or even communication concerning ourselves. It involves
the traditional kind of attitude towards foreigners which, since the
Enlightenment in Europe, everyone is actually supposed to have
learned: respect, tolerance and courtesy. Courtesy is understood
here not as any highly specific form of conduct, but as the way in
which everyday communication is organized, in terms of good
conduct, helpfulness, civility in manifesting respect and tolerance.
That these requirements have not yet been turned into customary
attitudes governing average everyday behaviour towards foreign­
ers is in truth a scandal. It might be explained, on the one hand,
by the foreigners’ inability to impose sanctions – members of one’s

Moral Argumentation 16 1

own group always have the possibility of negative sanctions if
customary behaviour towards them is not respected; but it may
also be explained by the fact that these requirements are mediated
by reflection or even, more precisely, by abstraction: the other is
respected because he or she is also a human being and his or her
religion and culture are also a religion and culture like our own.
This abstractness of second-degree customary behaviour could
probably be remedied by engaging somewhat more with the other,
the alien, by developing an interest in him or her and revealing
something about one’s own life. This touches on what is nowadays
called multicultural learning and praxis. The reality of a pluralist
and potentially multilingual society can only be done adequate
justice if it becomes a matter of course that everyone learns
something about other cultures during their primary socialization,
grows up with at least one foreign language and participates in
the practices of other cultures, through personal connections or as
a guest at festivities. In this way the members of the dominant
ethnic group and culture, in our case the Germans of the Christian
West, will be able to recognize the narrowness of our own culture
and in some cases the superior practices of others. I am thinking
of such things as festival arrangements, greeting rituals and gift
customs, clothing, eating habits and table manners. Education
must not only impart knowledge of other cultures and religions –
though it must certainly do that as well – but must make possible
concrete experiences, and rehearse practical behaviour. Anti-racism
cannot be limited to linguistic rules and formal equality, but must
be practised from school or even kindergarten age, especially
through working in multi-ethnic teams, so that it is taken for
granted as a part of everyday life.

There are, however, some preconditions for this multicultural
praxis and learning. They can be characterized generally as atten­
tiveness, interest, helpfulness and, above all, the suspension of
one’s own claim to totality. For the difference between the foreign­
ers and our own people consists primarily in the fact that our
people form the majority and are on their own ground. True
recognition of the other as other will really only be achieved when
we are able to revoke this dominance and see ourselves in the role
of the stranger: for we ourselves do not know the others’ language,
or their rites and customs, yet as a rule we insist that they learn
ours. To begin with, this anomaly can only be mitigated by a
helpfulness which acknowledges the difficulties of the other, the
alien, and makes them our own. But it is also possible to practise
taking an interest in the foreigner, being attentive to his peculiarity

1 6 2 Moral Argumentation

and problematizing our own. There is no doubt a long way to go
before these attitudes will be taken for granted as what is customary
in average behaviour. But the moral challenge currently presented
by the foreigners among us can only be met in that way: not just
by tolerance and equality, but by acknowledgement and interest.

5

Summary

Now that we have reached the end of this account of ethics in its
historical and social context, and in the context of our present
stage of civilization, it will be worthwhile to look back over what
has been said. I started from a critique of philosophical ethics
which, through its ambition as a special discipline, is in danger of
becoming an arcane meta-ethics, or a professional game for spe­
cialists in ethical discourse. I then defined what moral questions
actually are, and noted that we live in an age when moral ques­
tions are actually being posed, both for the individual and for
society. Moral questions are to be seen as those through which
matters become serious. A question is serious when it decides
what kind of person I am, or what kind of society we live in – or
how we understand our society. This gives rise to two main fields
of ethics, the field of the personal life-project and the field of moral
discourse. Questions which, in being answered, shape our personal
life-project can only be resolved existentially. Moral questions
concerning the constitution of our society are resolved by establish­
ing social conventions which then regulate social behaviour. The .
field of the project of a moral1ife, on the one hand, and the field
of moral discourse, on the other, represent the two main parts of a
philosophical ethics. Between them lies the area of customary
behaviour, which mediates between the two. It is a part of ethics,
but not of philosophical ethics, in that customary behaviour can
only be investigated empirically and can only be mediated through
education.

Ethics is radically concrete; that is to say, moral questions only
arise in real situations and can only be dealt with in relation to
them. For this reason a large part of this book has been concerned

164 Summary

with the general conditions of moral situations here and now.
These include the historical preconditions of our society, its cul­
tural foundations and especially its moral culture, the stage of
development of civilization and, finally, the whole area of existing
social conventions, from customary behaviour through laws to
fundamental and human rights.

The project of a moral life is a matter for each individual.
Nevertheless, the structures which a mode of living must have in
order to qualify as moral can be determined in general terms. The
basic requirement is that one takes one’s life seriously. If one’s life
is to conform to a project, one must take explicit responsibility for
it. That presupposes selfhood and the ability to act. As regards its
content, the project of a moral life can be defined by the fact that it
is concerned with being-human-well. Under the given conditions,
this being-human-well defines itself essentially by resistance to the
dangers to which humane qualities are subjected by technical
civilization.

In the field of social conventions, moral questions do not arise
from every regulation affecting social behaviour. Social conven­
tions become morally relevant when they touch on our basic
conception of the society in which we live, and the concept of
humanity implicit in it. Such questions arise today with regard to
the regulation of social behaviour towards external nature, towards
the nature that we ourselves are and towards foreigners. Which
other areas of social behaviour may become morally relevant is
difficult to anticipate, because society’s understanding of itself is
never laid out fully and explicitly before us. Moreover, this self­
understanding is determined not merely by the codified constitu­
tion but by society’s historical conception of itself. In this way, a
problem which decides a society’s relationship to its own past is
always a moral problem.

Finally, the question arises once more as to the connection
between the different parts of ethics. While the division between
questions of the moral life-project and questions of the conventions
of social behaviour is an analytical one, it also characterizes, of
course, a certain state of social development. It is one of the factors
which mark out the present state as modern. To come to terms with
this division it is necessary to place ethics within the concrete
historical situation. That does not mean simply accepting the
division. Political commitment has been mentioned as one link
between the two spheres. One form of political commitment is to
make it the content of a moral life to take a stand on certain moral
questions which concern social regulations. Another possibility, of

Summary 165

course, would be to attempt to lead an exemplartJ life, by demon­
strating through one’s own life certain forms of behaviour one
considers correct for society as a whole, thereby becoming politi­
cally effective through one’s mode of living. Both these possibilities
do, however, presuppose the division between one’s own life­
project and social conventions. But the practical mediation between
them is carried out incessantly and day by day by customary
behaviour. If we have distinguished somewhat trenchantly
between customary behaviour and the moral realm itself, because
moral questions with regard both to one’s own life and to social
life present themselves precisely at the point where customary
behaviour is no longer sufficient, it is nevertheless customary
behaviour which places moral decisions, once taken, on a perma­
nent footing, that is, it turns them into habits. These habits, and
the resulting solidity of modes of living, reliability of character and
predictability of behaviour in social life, are necessary if a project
of a moral life is to become a mode of living, and if social
behaviour is to conform to the basic social consensus without
constant recourse to explicit rules. So, in the end, the realm of
customary behaviour must be paid its due. Even though it is not
the realm of true moral behaviour, it is the humus of that behav­
iour, the ground from which it constantly arises and to which it
returns: the ethos.

Notes

Chapter I Introduction

1. Gernot Bohme, EinfUhrung in die Philosophie. Weltweisheit, Lebensform,
Wissenschaft, (Frankfurt am Main, 1997).

2. Cf. Gernot Bohme, Der Typ Sokrates (Frankfurt am Main, 1998).
3. Bohme, Einfiihrung in die Philosoph ie, ch. ILL
4. Karl-Otto Apel, Towards a Transformation of Philosophy, trans. Glyn

Adey and David Frisby (London, 1980).
5. Karl-Otto Apel, Diskurs und Verantwortung. Das Problem des Ubergangs

zur postkonventionellen Moral (Frankfurt am Main, 1990).
6. Jtirgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms. Contributions to a Dis­

course Theory of Law and Democracy, trans. William Rehg (Cambridge,
1996).

7. Lawrence Kohlberg and Richard B. Kramer, ‘Continuities and discon­
tinuities in child and adult moral development’, Human Development
12 (1969), pp. 93-120.

8. Ernst Tugendhat, Vorlesungen iiber Ethik (Frankfurt am Main, 1993).
9. Plato, Protagoras, 352a, b.

10. Plato, Gorgias, 470ff. Cf. my interpretation in ‘Sokrates und der Tyr­
ann’, in Der Typ Sokrates.

11. Hans Kramer, Integrative Ethik (Frankfurt am Main, 1992).
12. The most dialectically advanced attempt to reconcile happiness and

morality is undoubtedly that of Martin Seel in his book Versuch iiber
die Form des Gliicks (Frankfurt am Main, 1995). But it succeeds only if
one makes an assumption which I do not share: that morality is
concerned in any way with happiness.

13. Forum ftir Philosophie Bad Homburg (eds), Zerstorung des moralischen
Selbstbewusstseins: Chance oder Gefiihrdung? (Frankfurt am Main, 1988),
p. 16.

14. Ibid., p. 105 (trans. E.J.).

168 Notes to pp. 7-36

15. Ibid., p. 103 (trans. E.J.).
16. Ernst Tugendhat, ibid., p. 350.
17. Ibid., p. 156 (trans. E.J.).
18. It was initiated by Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue (Notre

Dame, IN, 1981). It says much about the success of this rehabilitation
that a German television presenter, Ulrich Wickert, has been able to
put a ‘book of virtues’ (Das Buch der Tugenden, Hamburg, 1995) on the
market.

19. Gadamer sometimes translates arete into German as Bestheit. Hans­
Georg Gadamer, 1st Ethik lehrbar? Vortrag 1995 (Heidelberg, 1995).

20. Sophocles, Antigone, 332ff. (2nd chorus).
21. Cf. Ruthard Stablein, Hoflichkeit. Tugend oder schOner Schein (Biihl­

Moos, 1993).
22. Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Oxford,

and Cambridge, MA, 1994).
23. Richard Rorty’s revalorization of this form of solidarity is noteworthy:

Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge, 1989).
24. Hans Kramer, Integrative Ethik (Frankfurt am Main, 1992), p. 280.
25. Carol Gilligan, In A Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s

Development (Cambridge, MA, and London, 1982).

Chapter 2 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

1. Immanuel Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties, trans. Mary J. Gregor
(Lincoln, NB, and London, 1992), section 2.

2. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans.
Talcott Parsons (London, 1985).

3. Immanuel Kant, ‘An Answer to the Question: What is Enlighten­
ment?’, in James Schmidt (ed.), What is Enlightenment? Eighteenth­
Century Answers and Twentieth-Centurtj Questions, trans. James Schmidt
(Berkeley, CA, and London, 1996), pp. 58-64.

4. Jiirgen Habermas, ‘Technology and Science as “Ideology”‘, in J.
Habermas, Towards a Rational Society, trans. J. Shapiro (Cambridge,
1987).

5. Robert K. Merton, On Social Structure and Science (Chicago and Lon­
don, 1996).

6. Stephen Box and Stephen Cotgrove, ‘Scientific identity, occupational
selections and role strain’, British Journal of SociologJj 17 (1966),
pp. 20-8.

7. Gerhard Schweppenhauser, Ethik nach Auschwitz. Adornos negative
Moralphilosophie (Hamburg, 1993).

8. Theodor W. Adorno, Notes to Literature, trans. Shierry Weber Nichol­
sen (New York, 1991-2).

9. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton (London, 1990).
10. Who included only three women.

Notes to pp. 37-5 1 169

11. On the Jenninger case see Armin Laschet and Heinz Malangre (eds),
Philipp Jenninger. Rede lind Reaktion (Aachen, 1989).

12. Dorte von Westernhagen, Die Kinder der Titter. Das Dritte Reich lind die
Generation danach (Munich, 1987).

13. Norbert Elias, The Loneliness of the Dying, trans. Edmund Jephcott
(Oxford, 1985).

14. Cf. Hermann Diels, Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers. A Complete
Translation of the Fragments in Diels’s ‘Fragmente der Vorsokratiker’, trans.
Kathleen Freeman (Oxford, 1948), p. 147.

15. Translated from Ruth Kluger, Weiler leben. Eine Jugend (Munich, 1995),
p. 34.

16. Ka-Tzetnik 135633, Shivitti – Eine Vision (Munich, 1992), p. 84.
17. Louis Begley, Wartime Lies (London, 1992).
18. Cf. Victor Klemperer, I Shall Bear Witness. The Diaries of Victor

Klemperer 1942-1945, abridged and trans. Martin Chalmers (London,
1998).

19. Ka-Tzetnik, 135633, Shivitti, p. 69 (trans. E.J.).
20. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem. A Report on the Banality of Evil

(Harmondsworth, 1979).
21. Ibid., p. 276.
22. Ibid., pp. 25-6.
23. Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority. An Experimental View (Lon-

don, 1997).
24. Ibid., p. 6.
25. Ibid., pp. 20-1.
26. Ibid., p. 23.
27. Compare Jean-Paul Sartre’s account of physical love as an interplay

of sadism and masochism, in Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel E.
Barnes (London, 1957).

28. Sigmund Freud, Thoughts for the Times on War and Death, in The
Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud,
trans. under the general editorship of James Strachey, vol. XIV (Lon­
don, 1957), pp. 275-300. Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and Its Discon­
tents, in ibid, vol. XXI (1961), pp. 64-145.

29. Quoted from Walther Hofer (ed.), Der Nationalsozialismlls. Dokumente
1933-1945, (Frankfurt am Main, 1957), p. 114.

30. Cf. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerllsalem.
31. Max Scheler, Der Formalismus in der Ethik und die materiale Wertethik.

Neller Versueh der Grundlegung eines ethischen Personalism us (Munich,
1966); Nicolai Hartmann, Ethik (Berlin, 1926).

32. Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression, trans. Marjorie Latzke (London, 1996).
33. Ibid., ch. 13, ‘Ecce homo’.
34. Claude Levi-Strauss, Totemism, trans. Rodney Needham (Harmonds­

worth, 1973); ‘Totem and caste’, in The Savage Mind (London, 1974).
35. Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo (London, 1983).
36. On Bataille’s theory of prohibition and transgression, see Rita Bischof,

170 Notes to pp. 5 1-72

Souveranitiit und Subversion. Georges Batailles Theorie der Moderne
(Munich, 1984).

37. Hans Kramer, Integrative Ethik (Frankfurt am Main, 1992), p. 280.
38. Hauke Brunkhorst, ‘Wider den Tugendboom. Recht und Moral

stUtzen sich nur, wenn man sie trennt’, in Frankfurter Rundschau, 25
November 1995. Brunkhorst’s use of the phrase ‘solidarity towards
friends’ is probably directed critically against Richard Rorty, Contin­
gency, Irony, and Solidarity.

39. The term was coined by Jiirgen Habermas. For a more detailed
analysis of the project of modernity in terms of four dimensions
(nature, science, humanity, society), see Gernot Bohme, Einftihrung in
die Philosophie. Weltweisheit, Lebensform, Wissenschaft (Frankfurt am
Main, 1994; 2nd edn 1997).

40. The tenth commandment. The seventh and eighth commandments
also relate to property.

41. Jiirgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Twelve
Lectures, trans. Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, 1987).

42. Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 11 December 1948.
43. Konvention zum Schutze der Menschenrechte und GrundJreiheiten. Vom 4.

November 1950; translated from Grundgesetz (Munich, 1994).
44. Ibid.
45. Basic Law, Art. 1, clause 2.
46. Especially if the additional protocols are added. These are also printed

in Grundgesetz.
47. Extract in Wolfgang Heidelmeyer, Die Menschenrechte (Paderborn,

1972) (trans. E.J.).
48. Karl-Otto Apel, Towards a Transformation of Philosophy, trans. Glyn

Adey and David Frisby (London, 1980).
49. Jiirgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms. Contributions to a Discourse

Theon) of Law and Democracy, trans. William Rehg (Cambridge, 1996).
50. On this problem, see e.g. Karl F. Bertram, Das Widerstandsrecht des

Grundgesetzes, (Berlin, 1970).
51. Ernst Tugendhat seeks to legitimize the state on the basis of social

human rights, seeing it as necessary to their observance. Tugendhat,
Vorlesungen tiber Ethik (Frankfurt am Main, 1993), p. 350.

52. It was somewhat different in the ‘New World’, where the state was
not automatically presupposed as existing (Otto Vossler, ‘Studien zur
Erklarung der Menschenrechte’, Historische Zeitschrift 142 (1930),
pp. 515-45, esp. p. 529). See also the Bill of Rights of Virginia of 12 June
1776.

53. 6. Zusatzprotokoll zur Konvention der Menschenrechte und Grundfreiheiten,
Art. 2. See Grundgesetz, p. 99.

54. Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen (eds), The Quality of Life (Oxford,
1993).

Chapter 3 The Moral Life

Notes to pp. 76- 102 17 1

1. In connection with what follows, d. my article, ‘Humanity and
resistance’, Thesis Eleven 28 (1991), pp. 70-85.

2. Ernst Tugendhat, Vorlesungen uber Ethik (Frankfurt am Main, 1993),
p. 336.

3. Ruth KlUger, Weiter leben. Eine Iugend (Munich, 1995), pp. 133ff.
4. Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberrtj Finn (New York and London,

1999).
5. Rita Bischof, Souveriinitat und Subversion. Georges Batailles Theorie der

Moderne (Munich, 1984).
6. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and

Edward Robinson (Oxford, 1967), p. 330.
7. Ibid.
8. German: gelingendes Leben – a standard term for the goal of ethics.
9. Cf. the well-known book by Paul Watzlawick, The Situation Is Hopeless,

But Not Serious: The Pursuit of Unhappiness (New York and London,
1983).

10. On the interpretation of the Hippias Minor, see my book Der Typ
Sokrates (Frankfurt am Main, 1988).

11. Plato, Protagoras and Meno, trans. W. K. C. Guthrie (Harmondsworth,
1977), p. 88.

12. Albert Camus, The Rebel, trans. Anthony Bower (Harmondsworth,
1990).

13. Gottfried Benn, Der Ptolomiier, in Gesammelte Werke, vol. 2, ed. Dieter
Wellershoff (Wiesbaden, 1959), p. 232 (trans. E.J.).

14. Gernot Bohme, ‘Leibsein als Aufgabe’, in Klaus Michael Meyer-Abich
and Wolfgang Krohn (eds), Festschrift fUr Carl Friedrich Freiherr von
Weizsiicker zum 80. Geburtstag (Munich, 1996).

15. Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Alterity, trans. Richard A. Cohen (Pitts­
burgh, 1985), p. 69.

16. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Moscow,
1967), pp. 40££.

17. Cypora Gutnic, ‘Frauen in Auschwitz. Gespriich mit Pierre Michel
Klein’, in Ruthard Stiiblein (ed.), Mut. Wiederentdeckung einer person­
lichen Kategorie (Darmstadt, 1993), p. 266.

18. Gernot Bohme, ‘Lebensgestalt und Zeitgeschichte’, BIOS. Zeitschrift
fUr Biographieforschung und Oral History (1990), pp. 135-51.

19. Immanuel Kant: ‘For the empirical consciousness . . . is by itself
dispersed and without relation to the identity of the subject.’ Critique
of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge,
1997), p. 247 (B133).

20. Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture,
trans. R. F. C Hull (London, 1971).

21. Ibid., p. 26.

172 Notes to pp. 102-24

22. Ibid.
23. Ibid., p. 28.
24. Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man. In a Series of

Letters, trans. Reginald Schnell (Bristol, 1994).
25. Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man, p. 600.
26. S0ren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, trans. H. V. and E. H. Hong (Princeton,

1987).
27. S0ren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Dread, trans. Walter Lowrie (Prince­

ton, 1957), pp. 123 ff.
28. For a closer analysis see Chapter III, 3, ‘Existenzphilosophie’ in my

introduction to philosophy EinfUhrung in die Philosophie. Weltweisheit,
Lebensform, Wissenschaft (Frankfurt am Main, 1997).

29. The point at issue is being-human-well. Both expressions have their
drawbacks: ‘how well one is human’ seems to presuppose a human
essence; ‘what kind of a person one is’ seems to refer to qualities or
predicates. In reality, what one is develops out of how one is.

30. Hans Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of an Ethics for the

Technological Age, trans. H. Jonas and D. Herr (Chicago and London,
1984).

31. The Holy Bible (Authorized King James Version).

Chapter 4 Moral Argumentation

1. Garrett Hardin and John Baden (eds), Managing the Commons (San
Francisco, 1977).

2. Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgement, trans. Paul Guyer
and Eric Matthews (Cambridge, 2000), §42.

3. Albert Schweitzer, The Teaching of Reverence for Life (London, 1966).
4. On the beginnings of animal protection legislation see Peter Singer,

Animal Liberation. A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals (New
York, 1975), pp. 212ff.

5. Klaus M. Meyer-Abich, ‘Frieden mit den Tieren. Ein neues Verhaltnis
zu unseren naturgeschichtlichen Verwandten’, in Klaus Franke (ed.),
Mehr Recht fUr Tiere (Reinbek, 1985), pp. 7-22.

6. Heinrich Bollinger, G. Brockhaus, Joachim Hohl and H. Schwaiger,
Medizinerwelten. Die Deformation des Arztes als berufliche Qualification
(Munich, 1981).

7. Tierschutzgesetz of 18 August 1986 (BGBl I, p. 1319), modified by
Article I of the law of 20 June 1990 (BGBl I, p. 1762).

8. Eisenhardt von Loeper, ‘Bewahrung der Schopfung und Achtung der
Mitgeschopflichkeit als Staatsziel – ein Pladoyer’, in Manuel Schneider
and Andreas Karrer (eds), Die Natur ins Recht setzen. Ansiitze fUr eine
Gemeinschaft allen Lebells (Karlsruhe, 1992), p. 247 n.

9. Ulrike Dahlke, ‘Der theologische Hintergrund des Begriffs “Mitge­
schopf” in §1 TierSchG’, in Thema: ‘Tierschutzethik’: Tagung der

Notes to pp. 125-37 173

Fachgruppe ‘Tierschutzrecht und gerichtliche Veterintirmedizin (Stuttgart­
Hohenheim, 1993).

10. Paul W. Taylor, Respect for Nature. A Theon) of Environmental Ethics
(Princeton, 1986).

11. Cf. Meyer-Abich, ‘Frieden mit den Tieren’, n. 5.
12. See my critique of Ursula Wolf’s book Das Tier in der Moral (Frankfurt

am Main, 1990), in Merkur 505 (1991), pp. 344-7.
13. Hans Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of an Ethics for the

Technological Age, trans. H. Jonas and D. Herr (Chicago and London,
1984).

14. Regarding these historical conditions of the conception of humanity,
see my book Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht (Frankfurt am
Main, 1994).

15. Dieter Birnbacher, ‘Sind wir fUr die Natur verantwortlich?’, in D.
Birnbacher (ed.), Ok%gie und Ethik (Stuttgart, 1991), pp. 103-30; Joel
Feinberg, Die Rechte der Tiere und zUkiinftiger Generationen, in idem.,
pp. 140-79.

16. Klaus M. Meyer-Abich, Wege zum Frieden mit der Natur. Praktische
Naturphilosophie fUr die Umweltpolitik (Munich, 1984); Michel Serres,
The Natural Contract, trans. E. MacArthur and W. Paulson (Ann Arbor,
1995).

17. Cf. the essay cited in n. 5 above.
18. Gunter Altner, Naturvergessenheit. Grundlagen einer umfassenden Bioethik

(Darmstadt, 1991).
19. In any case, Basic Law, Article 20a prudently refers only to legal

measures, not to concrete ones.
20. Gernot Bohme, ‘Die Reproduktion von Natur als gesellschaftliche

Aufgabe’, in Gernot Bohme and Engelbert Schramm (eds), Soziale
Naturwissenschaft. Wege zu einer Erweiterung der Okologie (Frankfurt am
Main, 1985), pp. 93-107.

21. It would not be enough to say in Article 20a: ‘the state protects and
develops the natural foundations of life’ since the latter need in some
cases to be completely restored. Cf. my article ‘Die Natur herstellen.
Der Zustand unserer natiirlichen Lebensbedingungen als unser ge­
schichtlicher Ort’, Frankfurter Rundschau, 5 August 1995.

22. In the essay ‘Die Konsitution der Natur durch Arbeit’, in Bohme and
Schramm (eds), Soziale Naturwissenschaft, pp. 43-62.

23. Hans Immler, ‘Die Natur ins wirtschaftliche Recht setzen. Argumente
fur eine okologische Okonomie’, in Schneider and Karrer (eds), Die
Natur ins Recht setzen, pp. 73-85.

24. Reprinted in Arthur J. Brock, Greek Medicine (London and Toronto,
1972), p. 35.

25. In fact, however, it was contained in the Hippocratic oath: ‘nor . . .
will I give a destructive pessary to a woman’ (ibid.).

26. Strafgesetzbuch (Munich, 1994) (Beck-Texte im dtv), Introduction,
p. XXVII.

174 Notes to pp. 138-50

27. Michael Piazolo, Das Recht aUf Abtreibung als Teilaspekt des Right of
Privacy (Frankfurt am Main, 1982).

28. Translated from ‘Reform des §218. Aus der offentlichen Anhorung
des Sonderausschusses fur die Strafrechtsreform des Deutschen Bun­
destages’, Zur Sache 6/72 (Deutscher Bundestag: Presse- und Infor­
mationszentrum, 1972), p. 174.

29. Translated from Norbert Hoerster, Abtreibung im siikularen Staat. Argu­
mente gegen den § 218 (Frankfurt am Main, 1991), p. 116.

30. Translated from Anselm Hertz, ‘Moraltheologische und strafrechtliche
Argumente zum Schutz des werdenden Lebens’, in Jurgen Baumann
(ed.), Das Verbot des §218 (Darmstadt, 1972), p. 92.

31. Ibid., p. 90, referring to Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 96 a2, a3.
32. Some are reproduced in Hans-Martin Sass (ed.), Medizin und Ethik

(Stuttgart, 1989).
33. Hermann Schmid, ‘Gentherapie aus juristischer Sicht – schweizerische

und internationale Tendenzen’, in Christoph Rehmann-Sutter and
Hansjakob Muller (eds), Ethik und Gentherapie. Zum praktischen Diskurs
um die molekulare Medizin (Tilbingen, 1995), pp. 137-53.

34. ‘Entwurf der Bioethik-Deklaration’, printed in Frankfurter Rundschau,
14 August 1995, Dokumentation. English text in Eubios. Journal of
Asian and International Bioethics 6 (1995), pp. 58-9. Revised draft:
Avant-Projet de declaration universelle sur le genome humain et les droits
de la personne humaine (Paris, UNESCO, 4 March 1996).

35. The 1995 draft even spoke of a ‘reduction of inequality throughout
the world’.

36. See my book EinfUhrung in die Philosophie. Weltweisheit, Lebensform,
Wissenschaft (Frankfurt am Main, 1998), ch. I.2 – I.6.

37. From Schmid, ‘Gentherapie aus juristischer Sicht’, p. 139 (trans. E.J.).
38. Ibid., p. 151 (trans. E.J.).
39. Christoph Rehmann-Sutter, ‘Politik der genetischen Identitiit. Gute

und schlechte Grunde, auf Keimbahntheorie zu verzichten’, in Chris­
toph Rehmann-Sutter and Hansjakob Muller (eds), Ethik und Genther­
apie, p. 187 (trans. E.J.).

40. Ibid., pp. 180ff.
41. Peter Weingart, Jilrgen Kroll and Kurt Bayertz, Rasse, Blut und Gene.

Geschichte der Eugenik und Rassenhygiene in Deutschland (Frankfurt am
Main, 1988).

42. Translated from Tom L. Beauchamp, ‘Antwort auf Rachels zum
Thema Euthanasie’, in Hans-Martin Sass (ed.), Medizin und Ethik,
p. 274.

43. Wolfgang van den Daele, Mensch nach Mafl? Ethische Probleme der
Genmanipulation und Gentherapie (Munich, 1985).

44. Regarding this difference between traditional and modern societies,
see Talcott Parsons and Edward A. Shils (eds), Towards a General
Theory of Action (Cambridge, MA, 1967), pp. 80ff.

45. Deutsc1tes Ausliinderrecht (Beck-Texte), 13th edn (Introduction by Prof.

Notes to pp. 152-4 175

Helmut Rittstieg), (Munich, 2000). See, in particular, §4 of the Law of
Citizenship (5 taatsangehOrigkeitsgesetz).

46. Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Thomas Schmid, Heimat Babylon. Das Wagnis
der multikulturellen Demokratie (Hamburg, 1992), pp. 320-1.

47. Cf. Ursula Munch, Asylpolitik in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland.
Entwicklung und Alternativen (Opladen, 1992), pp. 19f£.

48. Translated from Kurt R. Grossmann, Emigration. Die Geschichte der
Hitler-Fluchtlinge 1933-1945 (Frankfurt am Main, 1969), pp. 9f£.

49. Der volkerrechtliche Rahmen fUr die Reform des deutschen Asylrechts,
compiled by Jochen A. Frowein and Andres Zimmermann (Cologne
(Bundesanzeiger), 1993).

50. United Nations, 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
(28 July 1951).

51. This formulation was taken over as §51 in the law on aliens of 1990.

Index

ability to act 7, 77, 80-5, 89, 97-9,
164

abortion 66, 132, 133, 136-41
academic ethics, critique of 4-7
action

authentic 80-3
unintended consequences of 80
see also ability to act; instrumental

action; moral actions
Adorno, Theodor W. 34, 46
affects, and self-control 25
after-life 6
aggressor, identification with the

39
agriculture, industrialized 31-2,

117, 121-2, 130-1
Altner, Gunter 130
Amnesty International 60
Anders, Gunther 141
animal protection law, German

119, 120-1, 122-3, 127
animals

and the incest taboo 50
man differentiated from 90, 102
relationship of people to 117,

119,120-7
responsibility to 125-7
rights of 128
and species-specific inhibitions on

killing 49-50

testing 116, 121
anthropology 14,28,101-4

racist Nazi 146
anti-racism 161
Antiphon 38
Apel, Karl-Otto 4, 6-7, 21, 62
Aquinas, Saint Thomas 140
Arendt, Hannah 40-2, 44
arete 12, 13, 53, 76
courseworkhero.co.uk 52, 72, 88, 90
arms research, responsibility of the

scientist in 32-3
asylum, the right of 36, 149, 153-6
ataraxy 99
Auschwitz, ethics after 34-47
Austria, law on reproductive

medicine 141
authenticity 18, 19-20,81-2
authoritarianism 137,141
authority

assertion against an internalized
83-4

of the law 67
obedience to, Milgram experiment

42-4

origins of state 61-3

autonomy 50 60-1

Bataille, Georges 51, 77
Bavaria 129

178 Index

Beauchamp, Tom L. 146-7
beauty 54, 103
Begley, Louis 39,47
being-human-well 4,12-15,24,

88-101, 164
after Auschwitz 40
and context of virtues 47
demands and temptations 83,

97-9
Benda Report 143
Benn, Gottfried 89
bioethics 124-5, 126

Council of Europe convention
141, 147, 148

UNESCO declaration 141,145,
147

biography
and achievement of selfhood

78-9,94,100-1,147
insurances and 98-9

birth
Caesarian section 132-3
genetic manipulation of 132-6
and state of having been born 66,

93-4
birth control, morality and

technology of 27-8
body

medical interference in
relationship

133-4

as nature we ourselves are 15,
91-4,131-48

Box, Stephen 33
bravery 52-3
Brecht, Bertolt 72, 101
breeding, human selective 133-4
bridging principles

(Amvendungsprinzipien) 4
bureaucracy 29

Camus, Albert 89
capitalism

effect on conception of human
being 32, 131

and profitability 29-32
caste systems, and totemism 50-1

categorical imperative 4, 7, 22, 47,
108

celibacy 27
cells, genetic intervention in 133,

135, 142
charity 19,55,112-13
child abuse, and pornography 27
children

rights of 95
see also parent-child relationship

chivalry 55
Christianity

and animals 123-4
ethics 112-13
and evil 46

citizenship 29, 53-4
and foreigners in Germany 149,

150-2
lex sanguinis 36, 150
lex solis 150, 151
the right of 150-2

civil courage 83-4
civil disobedience 64, 84
civility 160-1
civilization

reaction against 45, 87
the state of 6,23-34, 88, 89, 164
see also technical civilization

civilizing process 24-8
cloning 143
cognitive development, and moral

development 5
Cohn-Bendit, Daniel 152
collaboration 39-40
commitment 18,87-8,89,113,164
communalism 33
competence

moral 21
professional 33

confidence, shattering of moral
46-7,75

conformity 17,60,108
conscience

freedom of 68
and selfhood 79-80

consciousness, of being oneself
78-9,92-4

consensus 67, 140, 165
building from moral

argumentation 21, 86-8, 134,
141

and social rights 70
constitutional community 61-2
consumerism, and genetically

manipulated food 28
consumption, separation from profit

maximization 29-30, 31
context

i n moral judgement 22,110-14,
164

of virtues 47
contraception see birth control
conventions see social conventions
Cotgrove, Stephen 33
Council of Europe, bioethical

convention 141,147,148
Council of Evangelical Churches in

Germany 139
courage, peacetime and wartime

83-4
courtesy (Hoflichkeit) 17, 160
crime

genetic fingerprinting in detection
147

state-organized 26, 40-2, 43
and violation of taboos 49

criminal law
and abortion 136-41
and reconciliation 55

culture
approaching through play 102,

104
sources of Germanic 48,52-9

customary behaviour 8, 12, 16-20,
75, 107, 163, 164, 165

compared with classical virtues
52-3

cultural differences in 19
distinguished from goodness 13
distinguished from laws 17,115
examples of 17-19
of the frontier 160-1
legitimacy of 22
of the second degree 160

Index 179

and system imperatives 33-4
towards foreigners 149,

156-62
as a vehicle for inhumanity 20

Dasein (Heidegger) 111
death

denial of 91
with dignity 38, 100
integration into self-consciousness

93-4
medical definitions of 134
and technical scientific medicine

134-5
unwitnessed 37-8

death penalty 36
Declaration of Human Rights (1789)

61
demands (Zumufungen), and being­

human-well 83, 97-9
democracy 62-4

basic values of 9
the principle defined 62

dependence 15, 126, 130
desires, motivation by 81
dietetics 30
difference, the principle of 104
differentiation, of subsystems of

instrumental action 31-3
dignity

human 60,64-7,100-1,135-6,
143-4

as a taboo 64-5
disabled 66
discipline 25-7
discourse

ethics of 4, 62
see also moral discourse

discrimination, genetic analysis and
147-8

disinterestedness 33
DNA 133,142
doctors, desensitization in training

122
dominance of the majority 161
drives, prohibitions and 45, 51
drugs testing, on animals 121

180 Index

duties
in feudalism compared with

capitalism 32
and metaphysics of morals 12
and rights, formally regulated 29

Ebeling, Hans 7
education

aesthetic 103-4
environmental 157
in humanism 14
mediation of customary behaviour

through 16,157,163
right to 60,69,70

efficiency 32
ego

and identity 95-6
and reality 92-3

Eichmann, Karl Adolf 40-2, 44, 47
Elias, Norbert 24-5, 38
emancipation 128, 139, 157
embarrassment, overcoming 83
embryos

point of definition of human life
136

research on human 132, 135-6,
137,142-3

emission levels, toxic 118
empathy 37, 99
endogamy 50,51
engagement 89-101, 161
Enlightenment 30, 46, 58, 128
environmental ethics 16, 156-7
environmental problems, and our

nature 91-4, 116-10 130-1
equality 62-3, 157-8
equanimity 96
essence, human 89,90-1
ethical life (Sittlichkeit), and morality

(Moralitiit) 12
ethics

after Auschwitz 34-47
and the concept of evil 44-7
critique of academic 4-7, 163
functional expectations of 16
individual and social 11-12
main fields of 163

and medical research 133-6
and philosophy as a way of life

and wisdom for living 2-3
practical relevance of 12-22
principal demands of 7
public attention to 28-9
scientific and technical 16
striving (Strebensethik) 6, 11, 14
themes of 11-22
the transition to 104-5
use of term 1-2, 12

ethnology, and taboos 49
ethology 49
eugenics, genetic 133,142,145-6
Eurocentrism 23
European Convention of Human

Rights 59-60, 61, 70, 71
European Social Charter 70
euthanasia 10-11,35,134,135,

146-7
evil

ability to say ‘No’ to 39-40,42-4
affective involvement in 44-5
autonomous existence of 14,42,

44,45-6
ethics and the concept of 44-7,

105
and philosophy 46

evolution, animals and man 125
executive power 61, 67
existence

and personality formation 4,
92-4

temporality of 101,109-14
existentialism 104-5,106-7
exogamy 50,51
exoticism 158
expertise, and moral development

10,141
experts, dependence on 30,34,75,

79,99
expression, freedom of 68
extermination camps 41, 100
external nature

moral questions concerning
115-31,156

need for regulation 116-18,164

‘face’, conversation of the (Levinas)
110-11

facticity, and project 10, 15, 91, 100
facts, and law 21
family

Christianity and the 56
of man 65-6, 96, 123
protection of 71-2
separation from work 33

fear, of examinations 82-3
Federal Republic of Germany 61,

150,155
civil courage in 83-4

feudalism 31,32,61
fidelity 18-19,54
foreigners

customary behaviour towards
156-62,164

moral problems in dealing with
148-62

forgiveness 55-6
freedom 56-8, 60, 71, 89

in legal norms 57
and nature 15
play and 102, 108
political 155-6
the problem of 81
of research 135-6
rights of 67-9
to commit evil 45

French Revolution 67, 157
Freud, Sigmund 5, 45, 51
fundamental rights

and human rights 9, 59-73, 164
moral potential of 60, 72-3

game 102-4,107
Gehlen, Arnold 102
gender

genetic selection 132, 133
relations 95

gene theory, and prohibition on
incest 51

gene therapy 133,135
Genesis 126
genetic analysis 147-8

Index 18 1

genetic engineering 117, 124, 126,
133,137,141-8

and avoidance of disability 88
genetic mapping 142,147
genetic register 142, 147
Geneva Convention on Refugees

(1953, 1969) 154
genocide, victims of 37-8
genome research see human genome
germ line therapy 133,142-3,

144-5
German Basic Law 48, 59-73, 100,

123,138
and asylum 153-6
as a constitution 36, 67
and fundamental rights 59-60
and human dignity 64-6
protection of nature for future

generations 129-31
and recognition of human rights

60
right of resistance 63
safeguarded goods 71, 120
and social rights 70

German Conference of Bishops 139
German Democratic Republic 153,

155
constitution 61, 70

German Penal Code, on abortion
136-41

Germany
foreigners in 149-62
historical background 34-47
law of citizenship 150
law protecting the embryo 141
see also Federal Republic of

Germany; German Democratic
Republic

given, the 10, 89-91, 132
God

reconciliation between man and
55-6

and value of the individual 57,
139

good life 6, 72, 104
Good Samaritan parable 112-13
good, the 46,88,105

182 Index

goodness
and being-human-well 12-15,76
trust in 46-7

goods
basic 72
defining new public 135
see also safeguarded goods

Graeco-Roman basic ideas 52-4
Grossmann, Kurt R. 153-4
group identity, and taboos 49-50
guilt 75,80
gypsies, annihilation of 149

fIabermas, Jurgen 5,31,59,62
habits 165
happiness, and virtue 5-6, 7, 38, 78
fIartmann, Nicolai 48
health, based on ideal of perfection

144-5
fiegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich 12
fIeidegger, Martin 7,77,93,94,111
helpfulness 161
heritage, human genome as 145-8
fIertz, Anselm 140
fIimmler, fIeinrich 37, 47
fIippocratic Oath 135
historical context 6, 7, 11, 34-47,

88,146,164
and human rights 73
and justification 22

fIobbes, Thomas 119
fIoerster, Norbert 139
fIolocaust, survivors of the 37
honesty 19
honour 17, 54
hubris 14
fIuizinga, Johan 102
human see being-human-well;

dignity, human; human being
human being

as bearer of fundamental rights
65-6

as defective 102
and evil 44-7
in feudalism 32
goodness and the 12-15,76
as a historical being 24

ideal of 14-15,90
improvement project 143-8
natural origin 125-6, 143
as a product of technical

civilization 28
questions affecting our conception

of the 105-6,115,119,120-8
human condition 15,27,90,94
human development

civilization and 23
Kant’s stages 23-4
possibilities of 92-4

human genome 132,133,141,
144-5

human rights 21, 48
as emancipation from the state

67
and fundamental rights 9, 59-73,

164
indeterminacy of the concept 66
universal validity of 62, 157

humanism, education in 14
humanity

the concept implicit in society
94-5,164

and dignity 65,101
ideals of 13,52-4,90-1
as its own project 98,143
and play 103
violation in rape 45

ideal, and nature 14-15,90-1
identity, and genetic issues 133-6,

147-8
ignorance, right of 147
illness

genetic causes 142
and insurance 9
relationship of self to 94

imagination
affects and self-control 25
and the devil 46

imitation, and politeness 17
immaturity 30
Immler, fians 131
immunosuppression techniques

133-4

imperfection, right to 143-8
incest taboo 49,50,51
individual

delegated political sovereignty of
63-4

ethics 9,11-12
moral existence of the 10, 11,

105-7
value of the 57,147-8

individuality, right to 143-8
industrialization 121-2, 130-1
instrumental action

differentiation of subsystems of
31-4,75

impact on ethics 32-4
insurance 9,98
interest, as involvement in ethics 1,

161-2
interest groups 122
international law, on refugees 154
international relations, and

reconciliation 55
involvement 4,98-9,100,106-7
is/ought distinction 14

Jenninger, Philipp 37
Jesus Christ 5, 112
Jewish councils 39
Jews

European, annihilation of 41-2,
149

position in Germany 157-8
reports of persecuted 37, 39

Jonas, Hans 110, 111-12, 126
Judaeo-Christian moral ideas 54-6
judiciary 61, 67
justice 53
justification, in moral argumentation

21-2

Ka-Tzetnik 39-40, 45-6
kairos 109-10
Kant, Immanuel 5,14,23-4,30,45,

58,103,119
categorical imperative 4, 22, 108
on freedom 80,81
practical wisdom 3, 12

Index 18 3

Kierkegaard, S0ren 94, 104-5, 106,
108

killing, species-specific inhibitions on
49-50

Kluger, Ruth 38, 76
Kohlberg, Lawrence 5,22,106
Kramer, Hans 6,51
Kuhlmann, Wolfgang 6

land, industrialization, and the
relationship to nature 31-2,
121-2

law
as consensus-forming 56, 67
and facts 21
and medical research 134-5
and morality 60-1, 140

legal system, accountability of a 35
legislation 8, 21-2, 115
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm 46
Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim 58
level-headedness 53
Levi-Strauss, Claude 50-1
Levinas, Emmanuel 95,110-11
liberal rights, fundamental and

human rights as 60-1
liberalism 85-6
life 60,71-2, 101, 108-9

the aesthetic way of 104, 108
philosophy as a way of 1, 2-3
preserving vs. right of self-

determination 10-11, 138-9
protection of unborn 136-41
reverence for 119,124-5
right to 71
technical possibilities of extending

134,135
technicization of 26-8

life-project, personal 33,77-8,
86-8, 134, 163, 165

litigiousness 99
living

modes of, rationalization and
29-31

ritually 101, 102-3
Lorenz, Konrad 49-50
loyalty 18

184 Index

Lucifer 46
lying

intentionally 80-1, 87
moral prohibition on 19

magnanimity 53,55
Malthus, Thomas Robert 27-8
man

as animal rationale 90-1, 125
the essence of 15
‘family’ of 65-6, 96, 123
relation to nature 116-18,

120-4
Mandeville, Bernard 46
manipulation, possibilities of

131-6, 142-8
manners 26
marriage, as a sacrament 56
Marx, Karl 96, 131
media, imaginary world of 27, 99
medical ethics, professional

134-6
medical experiments, Nazism 35
medical profession, dominance of

expertise 79
medical research, on cells and

embryos 135-6
medicine, technical-scientific 94,

121,122
possibilities of manipulation

9-10, 131-6, 142-8
see also reproductive medicine

Merton, Robert K. 32-3
meta-ethics 6, 12
metaphysics 12, 15, 34, 95-6
Meyer-Abich, Klaus M. 125,128
Milgram experiment 42-4
Milgram, Stanley 42-4
mistakes, deliberate 82-3, 87
modern society

basic moral ideas 56-9
defined in terms of work 159-60

modernity
critical reflection on 131-48
the project of 56,58-9,118-19,

141-2, 143
social development 164

moral actions
distinguished from moral

judgements 5, 7
self-awareness as prerequisite of

82
temporal nature of 109-14

moral argumentation 115-62
the context of 23-73
function of problematizing

customary behaviour 20-1
and moral existence 85-8
and moral judgement 20-2

moral development
and cognitive development 5
and expertise 141

moral discourse 4, 59-60, 163
boundaries of 34
framework of topoi for 52
and historical facts 35
human rights and fundamental

rights as themes of 59-61,
66-7,72-3

leading to new social regulations
115-31

and problematization of moral
ideas in new context 87

reciprocal recognition and equality
in 62

moral existence
of fundamental and human rights

60-1
and moral argumentation 85-8
politicization as a sign of 86-8,

164
possibility of a 77-8, 80

moral ideas
basic 48-59
Graeco-Roman 52-4
Judaeo-Christian 54-6
of the modern age 56-9
possibility of application in

technical civilization 84-5, 109
taboos as 49,51-2

moral judgement
development of 22, 106-7
distinguished from moral actions

5,7,20-2

male and female 22
and moral argument 20-2

moral knowledge, as tacit
knowledge 48

moral life 3-4,74-114
the context of 23-73,111-14
exemplary 165
and fundamental and human

rights 60-1
happiness and 78
motivation for 48, 76
practice for 84, 92, 99
preconditions for 81, 113-14
the project of 163, 164
skills for 74-88, 89

moral philosophy 2, 11-12
moral problems

in dealing with foreigners
148-62

existence of 7-8
public opinion-forming and social

regulation 3,8,20-1
moral questions

concerning external nature
115-31

concerning the nature we
ourselves are 66,131-48

definition of 105-7
the existence of 9-11, 75
incidence of 107-9
for the individual 24
the nature of 118-20
seriousness of 8-22,69,74,163
for society 24, 67

morality
begins with resistance 76,78-9,

84,89,100
and birth control 27-8
and happiness 6
and law 60-1,140
(Moralitiit), and ethical life

(Sittlichkeit) 12
relationship with customary

behaviour 16, 19-20
superfluity in everyday life 75,

84
transition to postconventional 7

Index 185

motherhood
by choice 138
surrogate 132, 133

multicultural education 157, 161

National-Socialism, the legacy of
34-47,146

nationality, and citizenship in
Germany 150-1

natural law 59
naturalization, rights in Germany

150-1,157
nature

and being-human-well 91-4
Christian conception of 123-4
defining 10
distanCing from 26-7
and freedom 15
as a fundamental ethical value

71,118-19
and ideal 90-1
industrialization and the

relationship to the land 31-2,
130-1

as a moral authority 119
as property 117
and rationality 58-9
as a safeguarded good 120,

129-31
vs. civilization 23, 119
we ourselves are 89-90
see also external nature

Nazism see National-Socialism
negativity, integration of 78-9
Nietzsche, Friedrich 14,102
Nirumand, Barbara 138
‘No’, ability to say 39-40, 42-4,

78-9,89
norm, genetic manipulation in

relation to a 143
normality, and illness 94
norms, social 4, 9
Nussbaum, Martha 72

obedience 54
to authority, Milgram experiment

42-4

186 Index

objectivity 2,25,30,82,97
occupation, free choice of 69
openness 93,95
organ transplants 133-4,135,148
original sin 45
otherness 95, 160-2

parent-child relationship 95-6, 97,
111-12,126

part, of whole 94-7
participation

and the moral life 85-8, 107
and origins of state authority

62-3
rights of 86, 152

partnerships 95, 96
past, remembrance of the 34-47
patria 54
patriarchy, in feudalism 31,32
peace ethics 16
penal code

abortion and 136-41
taboos and 49

perpetrators (Auschwitz)
children of the 37
imagination about the 40-2
and victims 37, 38-9

personality
free development of 4, 138-9
integrity of 10,33-4, 100, 142

philosophy
critique of academic discourse

4-7
and the existence of evil 46
as practical wisdom 1-2
as a science 2
as a way of life 1

Piaget, Jean 5,106
Plato 46, 80, 86, 88
play, and seriousness 101-14
pluralism

and engaging with the other
161-2

and religion 58,140
poetry, after Auschwitz 34
politeia 53-4
politeness 17-18,19-20,160

political commitment 86-8, 164
population growth, moral solution to

27-8
pornography, and child abuse 27
power relations, animals and 126-8
practical action, as a moral way of

life 77-8
practical wisdom (Weltweisheit) 3
prenatal genetic screening 132, 133,

135-6
primitive societies, and taboos 49
principles 22, 47
privacy 57,71, 138, 147-8
private property 57, 71
private sphere 27, 30, 33
production

as appropriation of nature 120-2
and reproduction 31, 130-1

professionalism 33
profitability 29-32
progress 24, 130, 135, 141-2
project, facticity and 10, 15, 91, 100
prosthetics 134, 148
Protagoras 5,81-2,102
psychoanalysis 45, 92
public institutions, judgement of 35
public opinion, formation of 3-4, 8,

20-1, 107
public sphere 30, 69
punishment, protection against

degrading 71

race, as basis of the state in Germany
151-2, 158

racism 140, 151-2, 159
and eugenics 146

rape 45
rationality, and nature 58-9,90-1
rationalization 29-31, 33, 59, 158
readiness 110
reason, and the senses 103
reconciliation, and forgiveness

55-6
reflection 81-2,92
refugees

defined 154

repatriation of 153-4
regulation

concerning external nature 115,
116-18,164

from without to within 25-6
see also social regulations

Rehmann-Sutter, Christoph 144-5
religion

freedom of 68
and pluralism 58,140

remorse, the problem of 79-80
replaceability 107-8
repression

internal 26
of National-Socialism in the

German public sphere 36-7
and taboos 51

reproduction
and abortion rights 136-41
and production 31,130-1

reproductive medicine 132-3
research

ethics 132-6
freedom of 135-6

residence, and citizenship 151
resistance

morality begins with 7,76-9,84,
89,100

right of 36, 63-4
respect 17, 160

and citizenship 53-4
for the law, freedom and 81
for nature 124-5

respectability, and customary
behaviour 17

responsibility 15, 18, 84, 164
to animals 125-7
Jonas on 111-12,126
of the scientist, in arms research

32-3
rights

of animals 128
and duties, formally regulated 29
natural 15
as a racial privilege 35
in relation to those of others 53
see also children, rights of;

Index 187

fundamental rights; human
rights; social rights

risk, in politicization of one’s life-
project 87-8

Rittstieg, Helmut 150
roles, social 33,107-8
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques 119

sacredness, of life 124
safeguarded goods 68,71-3,120,

135
sanctions 20-1, 61
scepticism 33, 75-6
Scheler, Max 48
Schiller, Friedrich 103-4, 108
Schmid, Hermann 143,144
Schmid, Thomas 152
Schmitz, Hermann 105,111
Schopenhauer, Arthur 119
Schweitzer, Albert 119,124
science

encroachment on nature
116-17

and philosophy 2
scientists, responsibility of 32-3
secrecy, right to 71
secular culture, and Judaeo-Christian

religion 54-6
security 71, 91
self-consciousness 82, 105

and nature 10, 92-4
self-control 25-6, 30
self-determination 10, 56-8, 135

and fundamental and human
rights 60-1

right of, vs. preservation of life
11,138-9

self-mastery, as masculine self-
stylization 52-3

self-problematization 59
self-realization 6, 33, 113
self-respect 100
self-understanding 15,92-4,147

of society 9, 11,84, 129-31, 160,
164

selfhood, and the moral life 76-80,
164

188 Index

seriousness
the beginning of 109-14,164
binding nature of 109-14
of challenge to civilized life 35
defining 104-5
in everyday life 84-5,99,104-5
of moral questions 8-22,69,74,

105-7, 163
and play 101-14
and respect for fundamental and

human rights 60-1
of rights of participation 87-8

Serres, Michel 128
sexual morality 27-8

and abortion 136-7
and penal law 136-7

sexuality
and individuality 95, 96
sadistic dimension in European

45
shame 26-7, 83
skills, for moral living 74-88, 89
sociability 103
social cohesion, homogeneity and

157-9
social contract 69
social conventions 20-2, 60-2, 115,

163, 164-5
social regulations

formation of public consciousness
for 3,5,8

moral questions and 10-11,
115-31, 134-5

morality-free 8, 86, 115
social rights 67, 69-70
social security, right to 69
socialism 61, 70
socialization 24-5, 76, 128
society, self-understanding of 9,11,

69, 115, 129-31, 164
Socrates 3,5,6,80-1,86-7

death of 38
solidarity 18, 19,55,96-7
Sophists 59,119
Sophocles 14
soul 139-40
species being 96

standard of living, right to a certain
69

state
duty to nature 129-31
legitimacy of intervention in

reproductive matters 136-41
origins of authority 61, 62-3, 67
rationalization and the modern

29-31
relationship to society 69, 86,

129-31
rights of freedom and the 67-9
terror 7
see also authoritarianism

Stoicism 3
strangers

hospitality to 157
legal protection of 157

subjectivity 105, 106
suicide 100
Switzerland, ban on genetic code

therapy 141
systems, and instrumental action

32-3,75

taboos 21, 37, 48, 49-52
Taylor, Paul W. 125
technical civilization 24-34

animals in 127
and basic moral ideas 56-9,84
and culture 160
dangers of 26-8, 100, 164
objectivity in 82, 98

temptations (Anmutungen), and
being-human-well 83, 97-9

Ten Commandments 54
therapy, refusal of 79
Third Reich 14-15,40-2,149,153

failure of intellectuals i n the 6-7,
135

misuse of euthanasia in the 11,
146

tolerance 58,160-1
topoi 52,53,68
torture 37
totemism, and caste systems 50-1
transgression, of prohibitions 77

trials
Eichmann’s 40-2
facts and law 21

trust, in moral order 46-7, 87
truth

and falsehood 19,81,87
pluralism and 58
representation in universalism 22

Tugendhat, Ernst 5, 7, 76
Twain, Mark 76-7

unborn, people yet 66, 136-41
uncertainty 7-9,92-3
unconsciousness, and taboos 49
UNESCO, bioethics declaration

141,145
unhappiness, courage to cope with

78-80
United Nations 62

Convention of Human Rights
(1966) 70

United States
abortion issue 138
euthanasia debate 146-7

Universal Declaration of Human
Rights (1948) 56, 59-73, 96, 123

Article 1 64, 66
Article 21 62-3
Preamble 65-6
rights to self-determination 139
social rights 69-70

universalism 22, 33
urbanity (Urbanitiit) 17

values 8-9, 21, 48
van den Daele, Wolfgang 147
victims

of genocide 37-9

Index 189

and perpetrators 38-9
Vietnam War 43
virginity 27
virtue

being and 46
and being-human-well 11, 12-15
and happiness 5-6, 7, 38, 78
terminology 12-13

virtues
classical, compared with

customary behaviour 52-3
Graeco-Roman 52-4
Judaeo-Christian 54-6
secondary 47

voluntariness, and involuntariness of
action 80-1

wage-labourers 32
war 45, 50, 83-4
Warsaw ghetto uprising 39
Weber, Max 24, 29-30, 59
whole

being part of the 94-7
falsity of the 46-7

will 15,89
work 33,60

as a modern value 26, 57-8,
159-60

protection from obligatory and
compulsory 69

right to 69,70
work ethic 29
world views

biocentric 125
Christian in pluralism 140
evaluation of 105-7

xenophobia 158

Notes

Chapter I Introduction

1. Gernot Bohme, EinfUhrung in die Philosophie. Weltweisheit, Lebensform,
Wissenschaft, (Frankfurt am Main, 1997).

2. Cf. Gernot Bohme, Der Typ Sokrates (Frankfurt am Main, 1998).
3. Bohme, Einfiihrung in die Philosoph ie, ch. ILL
4. Karl-Otto Apel, Towards a Transformation of Philosophy, trans. Glyn

Adey and David Frisby (London, 1980).
5. Karl-Otto Apel, Diskurs und Verantwortung. Das Problem des Ubergangs

zur postkonventionellen Moral (Frankfurt am Main, 1990).
6. Jtirgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms. Contributions to a Dis­

course Theory of Law and Democracy, trans. William Rehg (Cambridge,
1996).

7. Lawrence Kohlberg and Richard B. Kramer, ‘Continuities and discon­
tinuities in child and adult moral development’, Human Development
12 (1969), pp. 93-120.

8. Ernst Tugendhat, Vorlesungen iiber Ethik (Frankfurt am Main, 1993).
9. Plato, Protagoras, 352a, b.

10. Plato, Gorgias, 470ff. Cf. my interpretation in ‘Sokrates und der Tyr­
ann’, in Der Typ Sokrates.

11. Hans Kramer, Integrative Ethik (Frankfurt am Main, 1992).
12. The most dialectically advanced attempt to reconcile happiness and

morality is undoubtedly that of Martin Seel in his book Versuch iiber
die Form des Gliicks (Frankfurt am Main, 1995). But it succeeds only if
one makes an assumption which I do not share: that morality is
concerned in any way with happiness.

13. Forum ftir Philosophie Bad Homburg (eds), Zerstorung des moralischen
Selbstbewusstseins: Chance oder Gefiihrdung? (Frankfurt am Main, 1988),
p. 16.

14. Ibid., p. 105 (trans. E.J.).

168 Notes to pp. 7-36

15. Ibid., p. 103 (trans. E.J.).
16. Ernst Tugendhat, ibid., p. 350.
17. Ibid., p. 156 (trans. E.J.).
18. It was initiated by Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue (Notre

Dame, IN, 1981). It says much about the success of this rehabilitation
that a German television presenter, Ulrich Wickert, has been able to
put a ‘book of virtues’ (Das Buch der Tugenden, Hamburg, 1995) on the
market.

19. Gadamer sometimes translates arete into German as Bestheit. Hans­
Georg Gadamer, 1st Ethik lehrbar? Vortrag 1995 (Heidelberg, 1995).

20. Sophocles, Antigone, 332ff. (2nd chorus).
21. Cf. Ruthard Stablein, Hoflichkeit. Tugend oder schOner Schein (Biihl­

Moos, 1993).
22. Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Oxford,

and Cambridge, MA, 1994).
23. Richard Rorty’s revalorization of this form of solidarity is noteworthy:

Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge, 1989).
24. Hans Kramer, Integrative Ethik (Frankfurt am Main, 1992), p. 280.
25. Carol Gilligan, In A Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s

Development (Cambridge, MA, and London, 1982).

Chapter 2 The Context of Moral Living and Argumentation

1. Immanuel Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties, trans. Mary J. Gregor
(Lincoln, NB, and London, 1992), section 2.

2. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans.
Talcott Parsons (London, 1985).

3. Immanuel Kant, ‘An Answer to the Question: What is Enlighten­
ment?’, in James Schmidt (ed.), What is Enlightenment? Eighteenth­
Century Answers and Twentieth-Centurtj Questions, trans. James Schmidt
(Berkeley, CA, and London, 1996), pp. 58-64.

4. Jiirgen Habermas, ‘Technology and Science as “Ideology”‘, in J.
Habermas, Towards a Rational Society, trans. J. Shapiro (Cambridge,
1987).

5. Robert K. Merton, On Social Structure and Science (Chicago and Lon­
don, 1996).

6. Stephen Box and Stephen Cotgrove, ‘Scientific identity, occupational
selections and role strain’, British Journal of SociologJj 17 (1966),
pp. 20-8.

7. Gerhard Schweppenhauser, Ethik nach Auschwitz. Adornos negative
Moralphilosophie (Hamburg, 1993).

8. Theodor W. Adorno, Notes to Literature, trans. Shierry Weber Nichol­
sen (New York, 1991-2).

9. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton (London, 1990).
10. Who included only three women.

Notes to pp. 37-5 1 169

11. On the Jenninger case see Armin Laschet and Heinz Malangre (eds),
Philipp Jenninger. Rede lind Reaktion (Aachen, 1989).

12. Dorte von Westernhagen, Die Kinder der Titter. Das Dritte Reich lind die
Generation danach (Munich, 1987).

13. Norbert Elias, The Loneliness of the Dying, trans. Edmund Jephcott
(Oxford, 1985).

14. Cf. Hermann Diels, Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers. A Complete
Translation of the Fragments in Diels’s ‘Fragmente der Vorsokratiker’, trans.
Kathleen Freeman (Oxford, 1948), p. 147.

15. Translated from Ruth Kluger, Weiler leben. Eine Jugend (Munich, 1995),
p. 34.

16. Ka-Tzetnik 135633, Shivitti – Eine Vision (Munich, 1992), p. 84.
17. Louis Begley, Wartime Lies (London, 1992).
18. Cf. Victor Klemperer, I Shall Bear Witness. The Diaries of Victor

Klemperer 1942-1945, abridged and trans. Martin Chalmers (London,
1998).

19. Ka-Tzetnik, 135633, Shivitti, p. 69 (trans. E.J.).
20. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem. A Report on the Banality of Evil

(Harmondsworth, 1979).
21. Ibid., p. 276.
22. Ibid., pp. 25-6.
23. Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority. An Experimental View (Lon-

don, 1997).
24. Ibid., p. 6.
25. Ibid., pp. 20-1.
26. Ibid., p. 23.
27. Compare Jean-Paul Sartre’s account of physical love as an interplay

of sadism and masochism, in Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel E.
Barnes (London, 1957).

28. Sigmund Freud, Thoughts for the Times on War and Death, in The
Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud,
trans. under the general editorship of James Strachey, vol. XIV (Lon­
don, 1957), pp. 275-300. Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and Its Discon­
tents, in ibid, vol. XXI (1961), pp. 64-145.

29. Quoted from Walther Hofer (ed.), Der Nationalsozialismlls. Dokumente
1933-1945, (Frankfurt am Main, 1957), p. 114.

30. Cf. Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerllsalem.
31. Max Scheler, Der Formalismus in der Ethik und die materiale Wertethik.

Neller Versueh der Grundlegung eines ethischen Personalism us (Munich,
1966); Nicolai Hartmann, Ethik (Berlin, 1926).

32. Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression, trans. Marjorie Latzke (London, 1996).
33. Ibid., ch. 13, ‘Ecce homo’.
34. Claude Levi-Strauss, Totemism, trans. Rodney Needham (Harmonds­

worth, 1973); ‘Totem and caste’, in The Savage Mind (London, 1974).
35. Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo (London, 1983).
36. On Bataille’s theory of prohibition and transgression, see Rita Bischof,

170 Notes to pp. 51-72

Souveranitiit und Subversion. Georges Batailles Theorie der Moderne
(Munich, 1984).

37. Hans Kramer, Integrative Ethik (Frankfurt am Main, 1992), p. 280.
38. Hauke Brunkhorst, ‘Wider den Tugendboom. Recht und Moral

stUtzen sich nur, wenn man sie trennt’, in Frankfurter Rundschau, 25
November 1995. Brunkhorst’s use of the phrase ‘solidarity towards
friends’ is probably directed critically against Richard Rorty, Contin­
gency, Irony, and Solidarity.

39. The term was coined by Jiirgen Habermas. For a more detailed
analysis of the project of modernity in terms of four dimensions
(nature, science, humanity, society), see Gernot Bohme, Einftihrung in
die Philosophie. Weltweisheit, Lebensform, Wissenschaft (Frankfurt am
Main, 1994; 2nd edn 1997).

40. The tenth commandment. The seventh and eighth commandments
also relate to property.

41. Jiirgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Twelve
Lectures, trans. Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, 1987).

42. Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 11 December 1948.
43. Konvention zum Schutze der Menschenrechte und GrundJreiheiten. Vom 4.

November 1950; translated from Grundgesetz (Munich, 1994).
44. Ibid.
45. Basic Law, Art. 1, clause 2.
46. Especially if the additional protocols are added. These are also printed

in Grundgesetz.
47. Extract in Wolfgang Heidelmeyer, Die Menschenrechte (Paderborn,

1972) (trans. E.J.).
48. Karl-Otto Apel, Towards a Transformation of Philosophy, trans. Glyn

Adey and David Frisby (London, 1980).
49. Jiirgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms. Contributions to a Discourse

Theon) of Law and Democracy, trans. William Rehg (Cambridge, 1996).
50. On this problem, see e.g. Karl F. Bertram, Das Widerstandsrecht des

Grundgesetzes, (Berlin, 1970).
51. Ernst Tugendhat seeks to legitimize the state on the basis of social

human rights, seeing it as necessary to their observance. Tugendhat,
Vorlesungen tiber Ethik (Frankfurt am Main, 1993), p. 350.

52. It was somewhat different in the ‘New World’, where the state was
not automatically presupposed as existing (Otto Vossler, ‘Studien zur
Erklarung der Menschenrechte’, Historische Zeitschrift 142 (1930),
pp. 515-45, esp. p. 529). See also the Bill of Rights of Virginia of 12 June
1776.

53. 6. Zusatzprotokoll zur Konvention der Menschenrechte und Grundfreiheiten,
Art. 2. See Grundgesetz, p. 99.

54. Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen (eds), The Quality of Life (Oxford,
1993).

Chapter 3 The Moral Life

Notes to pp. 76- 102 17 1

1. In connection with what follows, d. my article, ‘Humanity and
resistance’, Thesis Eleven 28 (1991), pp. 70-85.

2. Ernst Tugendhat, Vorlesungen uber Ethik (Frankfurt am Main, 1993),
p. 336.

3. Ruth KlUger, Weiter leben. Eine Iugend (Munich, 1995), pp. 133ff.
4. Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberrtj Finn (New York and London,

1999).
5. Rita Bischof, Souveriinitat und Subversion. Georges Batailles Theorie der

Moderne (Munich, 1984).
6. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and

Edward Robinson (Oxford, 1967), p. 330.
7. Ibid.
8. German: gelingendes Leben – a standard term for the goal of ethics.
9. Cf. the well-known book by Paul Watzlawick, The Situation Is Hopeless,

But Not Serious: The Pursuit of Unhappiness (New York and London,
1983).

10. On the interpretation of the Hippias Minor, see my book Der Typ
Sokrates (Frankfurt am Main, 1988).

11. Plato, Protagoras and Meno, trans. W. K. C. Guthrie (Harmondsworth,
1977), p. 88.

12. Albert Camus, The Rebel, trans. Anthony Bower (Harmondsworth,
1990).

13. Gottfried Benn, Der Ptolomiier, in Gesammelte Werke, vol. 2, ed. Dieter
Wellershoff (Wiesbaden, 1959), p. 232 (trans. E.J.).

14. Gernot Bohme, ‘Leibsein als Aufgabe’, in Klaus Michael Meyer-Abich
and Wolfgang Krohn (eds), Festschrift fUr Carl Friedrich Freiherr von
Weizsiicker zum 80. Geburtstag (Munich, 1996).

15. Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Alterity, trans. Richard A. Cohen (Pitts­
burgh, 1985), p. 69.

16. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Moscow,
1967), pp. 40££.

17. Cypora Gutnic, ‘Frauen in Auschwitz. Gespriich mit Pierre Michel
Klein’, in Ruthard Stiiblein (ed.), Mut. Wiederentdeckung einer person­
lichen Kategorie (Darmstadt, 1993), p. 266.

18. Gernot Bohme, ‘Lebensgestalt und Zeitgeschichte’, BIOS. Zeitschrift
fUr Biographieforschung und Oral History (1990), pp. 135-51.

19. Immanuel Kant: ‘For the empirical consciousness . . . is by itself
dispersed and without relation to the identity of the subject.’ Critique
of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge,
1997), p. 247 (B133).

20. Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture,
trans. R. F. C Hull (London, 1971).

21. Ibid., p. 26.

172 Notes to pp. 102-24

22. Ibid.
23. Ibid., p. 28.
24. Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man. In a Series of

Letters, trans. Reginald Schnell (Bristol, 1994).
25. Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man, p. 600.
26. S0ren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, trans. H. V. and E. H. Hong (Princeton,

1987).
27. S0ren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Dread, trans. Walter Lowrie (Prince­

ton, 1957), pp. 123 ff.
28. For a closer analysis see Chapter III, 3, ‘Existenzphilosophie’ in my

introduction to philosophy EinfUhrung in die Philosophie. Weltweisheit,
Lebensform, Wissenschaft (Frankfurt am Main, 1997).

29. The point at issue is being-human-well. Both expressions have their
drawbacks: ‘how well one is human’ seems to presuppose a human
essence; ‘what kind of a person one is’ seems to refer to qualities or
predicates. In reality, what one is develops out of how one is.

30. Hans Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of an Ethics for the

Technological Age, trans. H. Jonas and D. Herr (Chicago and London,
1984).

31. The Holy Bible (Authorized King James Version).

Chapter 4 Moral Argumentation

1. Garrett Hardin and John Baden (eds), Managing the Commons (San
Francisco, 1977).

2. Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgement, trans. Paul Guyer
and Eric Matthews (Cambridge, 2000), §42.

3. Albert Schweitzer, The Teaching of Reverence for Life (London, 1966).
4. On the beginnings of animal protection legislation see Peter Singer,

Animal Liberation. A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals (New
York, 1975), pp. 212ff.

5. Klaus M. Meyer-Abich, ‘Frieden mit den Tieren. Ein neues Verhaltnis
zu unseren naturgeschichtlichen Verwandten’, in Klaus Franke (ed.),
Mehr Recht fUr Tiere (Reinbek, 1985), pp. 7-22.

6. Heinrich Bollinger, G. Brockhaus, Joachim Hohl and H. Schwaiger,
Medizinerwelten. Die Deformation des Arztes als berufliche Qualification
(Munich, 1981).

7. Tierschutzgesetz of 18 August 1986 (BGBl I, p. 1319), modified by
Article I of the law of 20 June 1990 (BGBl I, p. 1762).

8. Eisenhardt von Loeper, ‘Bewahrung der Schopfung und Achtung der
Mitgeschopflichkeit als Staatsziel – ein Pladoyer’, in Manuel Schneider
and Andreas Karrer (eds), Die Natur ins Recht setzen. Ansiitze fUr eine
Gemeinschaft allen Lebells (Karlsruhe, 1992), p. 247 n.

9. Ulrike Dahlke, ‘Der theologische Hintergrund des Begriffs “Mitge­
schopf” in §1 TierSchG’, in Thema: ‘Tierschutzethik’: Tagung der

Notes to pp. 125-37 173

Fachgruppe ‘Tierschutzrecht und gerichtliche Veterintirmedizin (Stuttgart­
Hohenheim, 1993).

10. Paul W. Taylor, Respect for Nature. A Theon) of Environmental Ethics
(Princeton, 1986).

11. Cf. Meyer-Abich, ‘Frieden mit den Tieren’, n. 5.
12. See my critique of Ursula Wolf’s book Das Tier in der Moral (Frankfurt

am Main, 1990), in Merkur 505 (1991), pp. 344-7.
13. Hans Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of an Ethics for the

Technological Age, trans. H. Jonas and D. Herr (Chicago and London,
1984).

14. Regarding these historical conditions of the conception of humanity,
see my book Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht (Frankfurt am
Main, 1994).

15. Dieter Birnbacher, ‘Sind wir fUr die Natur verantwortlich?’, in D.
Birnbacher (ed.), Ok%gie und Ethik (Stuttgart, 1991), pp. 103-30; Joel
Feinberg, Die Rechte der Tiere und zUkiinftiger Generationen, in idem.,
pp. 140-79.

16. Klaus M. Meyer-Abich, Wege zum Frieden mit der Natur. Praktische
Naturphilosophie fUr die Umweltpolitik (Munich, 1984); Michel Serres,
The Natural Contract, trans. E. MacArthur and W. Paulson (Ann Arbor,
1995).

17. Cf. the essay cited in n. 5 above.
18. Gunter Altner, Naturvergessenheit. Grundlagen einer umfassenden Bioethik

(Darmstadt, 1991).
19. In any case, Basic Law, Article 20a prudently refers only to legal

measures, not to concrete ones.
20. Gernot Bohme, ‘Die Reproduktion von Natur als gesellschaftliche

Aufgabe’, in Gernot Bohme and Engelbert Schramm (eds), Soziale
Naturwissenschaft. Wege zu einer Erweiterung der Okologie (Frankfurt am
Main, 1985), pp. 93-107.

21. It would not be enough to say in Article 20a: ‘the state protects and
develops the natural foundations of life’ since the latter need in some
cases to be completely restored. Cf. my article ‘Die Natur herstellen.
Der Zustand unserer natiirlichen Lebensbedingungen als unser ge­
schichtlicher Ort’, Frankfurter Rundschau, 5 August 1995.

22. In the essay ‘Die Konsitution der Natur durch Arbeit’, in Bohme and
Schramm (eds), Soziale Naturwissenschaft, pp. 43-62.

23. Hans Immler, ‘Die Natur ins wirtschaftliche Recht setzen. Argumente
fur eine okologische Okonomie’, in Schneider and Karrer (eds), Die
Natur ins Recht setzen, pp. 73-85.

24. Reprinted in Arthur J. Brock, Greek Medicine (London and Toronto,
1972), p. 35.

25. In fact, however, it was contained in the Hippocratic oath: ‘nor . . .
will I give a destructive pessary to a woman’ (ibid.).

26. Strafgesetzbuch (Munich, 1994) (Beck-Texte im dtv), Introduction,
p. XXVII.

174 Notes to pp. 138-50

27. Michael Piazolo, Das Recht aUf Abtreibung als Teilaspekt des Right of
Privacy (Frankfurt am Main, 1982).

28. Translated from ‘Reform des §218. Aus der offentlichen Anhorung
des Sonderausschusses fur die Strafrechtsreform des Deutschen Bun­
destages’, Zur Sache 6/72 (Deutscher Bundestag: Presse- und Infor­
mationszentrum, 1972), p. 174.

29. Translated from Norbert Hoerster, Abtreibung im siikularen Staat. Argu­
mente gegen den § 218 (Frankfurt am Main, 1991), p. 116.

30. Translated from Anselm Hertz, ‘Moraltheologische und strafrechtliche
Argumente zum Schutz des werdenden Lebens’, in Jurgen Baumann
(ed.), Das Verbot des §218 (Darmstadt, 1972), p. 92.

31. Ibid., p. 90, referring to Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 96 a2, a3.
32. Some are reproduced in Hans-Martin Sass (ed.), Medizin und Ethik

(Stuttgart, 1989).
33. Hermann Schmid, ‘Gentherapie aus juristischer Sicht – schweizerische

und internationale Tendenzen’, in Christoph Rehmann-Sutter and
Hansjakob Muller (eds), Ethik und Gentherapie. Zum praktischen Diskurs
um die molekulare Medizin (Tilbingen, 1995), pp. 137-53.

34. ‘Entwurf der Bioethik-Deklaration’, printed in Frankfurter Rundschau,
14 August 1995, Dokumentation. English text in Eubios. Journal of
Asian and International Bioethics 6 (1995), pp. 58-9. Revised draft:
Avant-Projet de declaration universelle sur le genome humain et les droits
de la personne humaine (Paris, UNESCO, 4 March 1996).

35. The 1995 draft even spoke of a ‘reduction of inequality throughout
the world’.

36. See my book EinfUhrung in die Philosophie. Weltweisheit, Lebensform,
Wissenschaft (Frankfurt am Main, 1998), ch. I.2 – I.6.

37. From Schmid, ‘Gentherapie aus juristischer Sicht’, p. 139 (trans. E.J.).
38. Ibid., p. 151 (trans. E.J.).
39. Christoph Rehmann-Sutter, ‘Politik der genetischen Identitiit. Gute

und schlechte Grunde, auf Keimbahntheorie zu verzichten’, in Chris­
toph Rehmann-Sutter and Hansjakob Muller (eds), Ethik und Genther­
apie, p. 187 (trans. E.J.).

40. Ibid., pp. 180ff.
41. Peter Weingart, Jilrgen Kroll and Kurt Bayertz, Rasse, Blut und Gene.

Geschichte der Eugenik und Rassenhygiene in Deutschland (Frankfurt am
Main, 1988).

42. Translated from Tom L. Beauchamp, ‘Antwort auf Rachels zum
Thema Euthanasie’, in Hans-Martin Sass (ed.), Medizin und Ethik,
p. 274.

43. Wolfgang van den Daele, Mensch nach Mafl? Ethische Probleme der
Genmanipulation und Gentherapie (Munich, 1985).

44. Regarding this difference between traditional and modern societies,
see Talcott Parsons and Edward A. Shils (eds), Towards a General
Theory of Action (Cambridge, MA, 1967), pp. 80ff.

45. Deutsc1tes Ausliinderrecht (Beck-Texte), 13th edn (Introduction by Prof.

Notes to pp. 152-4 175

Helmut Rittstieg), (Munich, 2000). See, in particular, §4 of the Law of
Citizenship (5 taatsangehOrigkeitsgesetz).

46. Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Thomas Schmid, Heimat Babylon. Das Wagnis
der multikulturellen Demokratie (Hamburg, 1992), pp. 320-1.

47. Cf. Ursula Munch, Asylpolitik in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland.
Entwicklung und Alternativen (Opladen, 1992), pp. 19f£.

48. Translated from Kurt R. Grossmann, Emigration. Die Geschichte der
Hitler-Fluchtlinge 1933-1945 (Frankfurt am Main, 1969), pp. 9f£.

49. Der volkerrechtliche Rahmen fUr die Reform des deutschen Asylrechts,
compiled by Jochen A. Frowein and Andres Zimmermann (Cologne
(Bundesanzeiger), 1993).

50. United Nations, 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
(28 July 1951).

51. This formulation was taken over as §51 in the law on aliens of 1990.

Index

ability to act 7, 77, 80-5, 89, 97-9,
164

abortion 66, 132, 133, 136-41
academic ethics, critique of 4-7
action

authentic 80-3
unintended consequences of 80
see also ability to act; instrumental

action; moral actions
Adorno, Theodor W. 34, 46
affects, and self-control 25
after-life 6
aggressor, identification with the

39
agriculture, industrialized 31-2,

117, 121-2, 130-1
Altner, Gunter 130
Amnesty International 60
Anders, Gunther 141
animal protection law, German

119, 120-1, 122-3, 127
animals

and the incest taboo 50
man differentiated from 90, 102
relationship of people to 117,

119,120-7
responsibility to 125-7
rights of 128
and species-specific inhibitions on

killing 49-50

testing 116, 121
anthropology 14,28,101-4

racist Nazi 146
anti-racism 161
Antiphon 38
Apel, Karl-Otto 4, 6-7, 21, 62
Aquinas, Saint Thomas 140
Arendt, Hannah 40-2, 44
arete 12, 13, 53, 76
courseworkhero.co.uk 52, 72, 88, 90
arms research, responsibility of the

scientist in 32-3
asylum, the right of 36, 149, 153-6
ataraxy 99
Auschwitz, ethics after 34-47
Austria, law on reproductive

medicine 141
authenticity 18, 19-20,81-2
authoritarianism 137,141
authority

assertion against an internalized
83-4

of the law 67
obedience to, Milgram experiment

42-4

origins of state 61-3

autonomy 50 60-1

Bataille, Georges 51, 77
Bavaria 129

178 Index

Beauchamp, Tom L. 146-7
beauty 54, 103
Begley, Louis 39,47
being-human-well 4,12-15,24,

88-101, 164
after Auschwitz 40
and context of virtues 47
demands and temptations 83,

97-9
Benda Report 143
Benn, Gottfried 89
bioethics 124-5, 126

Council of Europe convention
141, 147, 148

UNESCO declaration 141,145,
147

biography
and achievement of selfhood

78-9,94,100-1,147
insurances and 98-9

birth
Caesarian section 132-3
genetic manipulation of 132-6
and state of having been born 66,

93-4
birth control, morality and

technology of 27-8
body

medical interference in
relationship

133-4

as nature we ourselves are 15,
91-4,131-48

Box, Stephen 33
bravery 52-3
Brecht, Bertolt 72, 101
breeding, human selective 133-4
bridging principles

(Amvendungsprinzipien) 4
bureaucracy 29

Camus, Albert 89
capitalism

effect on conception of human
being 32, 131

and profitability 29-32
caste systems, and totemism 50-1

categorical imperative 4, 7, 22, 47,
108

celibacy 27
cells, genetic intervention in 133,

135, 142
charity 19,55,112-13
child abuse, and pornography 27
children

rights of 95
see also parent-child relationship

chivalry 55
Christianity

and animals 123-4
ethics 112-13
and evil 46

citizenship 29, 53-4
and foreigners in Germany 149,

150-2
lex sanguinis 36, 150
lex solis 150, 151
the right of 150-2

civil courage 83-4
civil disobedience 64, 84
civility 160-1
civilization

reaction against 45, 87
the state of 6,23-34, 88, 89, 164
see also technical civilization

civilizing process 24-8
cloning 143
cognitive development, and moral

development 5
Cohn-Bendit, Daniel 152
collaboration 39-40
commitment 18,87-8,89,113,164
communalism 33
competence

moral 21
professional 33

confidence, shattering of moral
46-7,75

conformity 17,60,108
conscience

freedom of 68
and selfhood 79-80

consciousness, of being oneself
78-9,92-4

consensus 67, 140, 165
building from moral

argumentation 21, 86-8, 134,
141

and social rights 70
constitutional community 61-2
consumerism, and genetically

manipulated food 28
consumption, separation from profit

maximization 29-30, 31
context

in moral judgement 22,110-14,
164

of virtues 47
contraception see birth control
conventions see social conventions
Cotgrove, Stephen 33
Council of Europe, bioethical

convention 141,147,148
Council of Evangelical Churches in

Germany 139
courage, peacetime and wartime

83-4
courtesy (Hoflichkeit) 17, 160
crime

genetic fingerprinting in detection
147

state-organized 26, 40-2, 43
and violation of taboos 49

criminal law
and abortion 136-41
and reconciliation 55

culture
approaching through play 102,

104
sources of Germanic 48,52-9

customary behaviour 8, 12, 16-20,
75, 107, 163, 164, 165

compared with classical virtues
52-3

cultural differences in 19
distinguished from goodness 13
distinguished from laws 17,115
examples of 17-19
of the frontier 160-1
legitimacy of 22
of the second degree 160

Index 179

and system imperatives 33-4
towards foreigners 149,

156-62
as a vehicle for inhumanity 20

Dasein (Heidegger) 111
death

denial of 91
with dignity 38, 100
integration into self-consciousness

93-4
medical definitions of 134
and technical scientific medicine

134-5
unwitnessed 37-8

death penalty 36
Declaration of Human Rights (1789)

61
demands (Zumufungen), and being­

human-well 83, 97-9
democracy 62-4

basic values of 9
the principle defined 62

dependence 15, 126, 130
desires, motivation by 81
dietetics 30
difference, the principle of 104
differentiation, of subsystems of

instrumental action 31-3
dignity

human 60,64-7,100-1,135-6,
143-4

as a taboo 64-5
disabled 66
discipline 25-7
discourse

ethics of 4, 62
see also moral discourse

discrimination, genetic analysis and
147-8

disinterestedness 33
DNA 133,142
doctors, desensitization in training

122
dominance of the majority 161
drives, prohibitions and 45, 51
drugs testing, on animals 121

180 Index

duties
in feudalism compared with

capitalism 32
and metaphysics of morals 12
and rights, formally regulated 29

Ebeling, Hans 7
education

aesthetic 103-4
environmental 157
in humanism 14
mediation of customary behaviour

through 16,157,163
right to 60,69,70

efficiency 32
ego

and identity 95-6
and reality 92-3

Eichmann, Karl Adolf 40-2, 44, 47
Elias, Norbert 24-5, 38
emancipation 128, 139, 157
embarrassment, overcoming 83
embryos

point of definition of human life
136

research on human 132, 135-6,
137,142-3

emission levels, toxic 118
empathy 37, 99
endogamy 50,51
engagement 89-101, 161
Enlightenment 30, 46, 58, 128
environmental ethics 16, 156-7
environmental problems, and our

nature 91-4, 116-10 130-1
equality 62-3, 157-8
equanimity 96
essence, human 89,90-1
ethical life (Sittlichkeit), and morality

(Moralitiit) 12
ethics

after Auschwitz 34-47
and the concept of evil 44-7
critique of academic 4-7, 163
functional expectations of 16
individual and social 11-12
main fields of 163

and medical research 133-6
and philosophy as a way of life

and wisdom for living 2-3
practical relevance of 12-22
principal demands of 7
public attention to 28-9
scientific and technical 16
striving (Strebensethik) 6, 11, 14
themes of 11-22
the transition to 104-5
use of term 1-2, 12

ethnology, and taboos 49
ethology 49
eugenics, genetic 133,142,145-6
Eurocentrism 23
European Convention of Human

Rights 59-60, 61, 70, 71
European Social Charter 70
euthanasia 10-11,35,134,135,

146-7
evil

ability to say ‘No’ to 39-40,42-4
affective involvement in 44-5
autonomous existence of 14,42,

44,45-6
ethics and the concept of 44-7,

105
and philosophy 46

evolution, animals and man 125
executive power 61, 67
existence

and personality formation 4,
92-4

temporality of 101,109-14
existentialism 104-5,106-7
exogamy 50,51
exoticism 158
expertise, and moral development

10,141
experts, dependence on 30,34,75,

79,99
expression, freedom of 68
extermination camps 41, 100
external nature

moral questions concerning
115-31,156

need for regulation 116-18,164

‘face’, conversation of the (Levinas)
110-11

facticity, and project 10, 15, 91, 100
facts, and law 21
family

Christianity and the 56
of man 65-6, 96, 123
protection of 71-2
separation from work 33

fear, of examinations 82-3
Federal Republic of Germany 61,

150,155
civil courage in 83-4

feudalism 31,32,61
fidelity 18-19,54
foreigners

customary behaviour towards
156-62,164

moral problems in dealing with
148-62

forgiveness 55-6
freedom 56-8, 60, 71, 89

in legal norms 57
and nature 15
play and 102, 108
political 155-6
the problem of 81
of research 135-6
rights of 67-9
to commit evil 45

French Revolution 67, 157
Freud, Sigmund 5, 45, 51
fundamental rights

and human rights 9, 59-73, 164
moral potential of 60, 72-3

game 102-4,107
Gehlen, Arnold 102
gender

genetic selection 132, 133
relations 95

gene theory, and prohibition on
incest 51

gene therapy 133,135
Genesis 126
genetic analysis 147-8

Index 18 1

genetic engineering 117, 124, 126,
133,137,141-8

and avoidance of disability 88
genetic mapping 142,147
genetic register 142, 147
Geneva Convention on Refugees

(1953, 1969) 154
genocide, victims of 37-8
genome research see human genome
germ line therapy 133,142-3,

144-5
German Basic Law 48, 59-73, 100,

123,138
and asylum 153-6
as a constitution 36, 67
and fundamental rights 59-60
and human dignity 64-6
protection of nature for future

generations 129-31
and recognition of human rights

60
right of resistance 63
safeguarded goods 71, 120
and social rights 70

German Conference of Bishops 139
German Democratic Republic 153,

155
constitution 61, 70

German Penal Code, on abortion
136-41

Germany
foreigners in 149-62
historical background 34-47
law of citizenship 150
law protecting the embryo 141
see also Federal Republic of

Germany; German Democratic
Republic

given, the 10, 89-91, 132
God

reconciliation between man and
55-6

and value of the individual 57,
139

good life 6, 72, 104
Good Samaritan parable 112-13
good, the 46,88,105

182 Index

goodness
and being-human-well 12-15,76
trust in 46-7

goods
basic 72
defining new public 135
see also safeguarded goods

Graeco-Roman basic ideas 52-4
Grossmann, Kurt R. 153-4
group identity, and taboos 49-50
guilt 75,80
gypsies, annihilation of 149

fIabermas, Jurgen 5,31,59,62
habits 165
happiness, and virtue 5-6, 7, 38, 78
fIartmann, Nicolai 48
health, based on ideal of perfection

144-5
fiegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich 12
fIeidegger, Martin 7,77,93,94,111
helpfulness 161
heritage, human genome as 145-8
fIertz, Anselm 140
fIimmler, fIeinrich 37, 47
fIippocratic Oath 135
historical context 6, 7, 11, 34-47,

88,146,164
and human rights 73
and justification 22

fIobbes, Thomas 119
fIoerster, Norbert 139
fIolocaust, survivors of the 37
honesty 19
honour 17, 54
hubris 14
fIuizinga, Johan 102
human see being-human-well;

dignity, human; human being
human being

as bearer of fundamental rights
65-6

as defective 102
and evil 44-7
in feudalism 32
goodness and the 12-15,76
as a historical being 24

ideal of 14-15,90
improvement project 143-8
natural origin 125-6, 143
as a product of technical

civilization 28
questions affecting our conception

of the 105-6,115,119,120-8
human condition 15,27,90,94
human development

civilization and 23
Kant’s stages 23-4
possibilities of 92-4

human genome 132,133,141,
144-5

human rights 21, 48
as emancipation from the state

67
and fundamental rights 9, 59-73,

164
indeterminacy of the concept 66
universal validity of 62, 157

humanism, education in 14
humanity

the concept implicit in society
94-5,164

and dignity 65,101
ideals of 13,52-4,90-1
as its own project 98,143
and play 103
violation in rape 45

ideal, and nature 14-15,90-1
identity, and genetic issues 133-6,

147-8
ignorance, right of 147
illness

genetic causes 142
and insurance 9
relationship of self to 94

imagination
affects and self-control 25
and the devil 46

imitation, and politeness 17
immaturity 30
Immler, fians 131
immunosuppression techniques

133-4

imperfection, right to 143-8
incest taboo 49,50,51
individual

delegated political sovereignty of
63-4

ethics 9,11-12
moral existence of the 10, 11,

105-7
value of the 57,147-8

individuality, right to 143-8
industrialization 121-2, 130-1
instrumental action

differentiation of subsystems of
31-4,75

impact on ethics 32-4
insurance 9,98
interest, as involvement in ethics 1,

161-2
interest groups 122
international law, on refugees 154
international relations, and

reconciliation 55
involvement 4,98-9,100,106-7
is/ought distinction 14

Jenninger, Philipp 37
Jesus Christ 5, 112
Jewish councils 39
Jews

European, annihilation of 41-2,
149

position in Germany 157-8
reports of persecuted 37, 39

Jonas, Hans 110, 111-12, 126
Judaeo-Christian moral ideas 54-6
judiciary 61, 67
justice 53
justification, in moral argumentation

21-2

Ka-Tzetnik 39-40, 45-6
kairos 109-10
Kant, Immanuel 5,14,23-4,30,45,

58,103,119
categorical imperative 4, 22, 108
on freedom 80,81
practical wisdom 3, 12

Index 183

Kierkegaard, S0ren 94, 104-5, 106,
108

killing, species-specific inhibitions on
49-50

Kluger, Ruth 38, 76
Kohlberg, Lawrence 5,22,106
Kramer, Hans 6,51
Kuhlmann, Wolfgang 6

land, industrialization, and the
relationship to nature 31-2,
121-2

law
as consensus-forming 56, 67
and facts 21
and medical research 134-5
and morality 60-1, 140

legal system, accountability of a 35
legislation 8, 21-2, 115
Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm 46
Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim 58
level-headedness 53
Levi-Strauss, Claude 50-1
Levinas, Emmanuel 95,110-11
liberal rights, fundamental and

human rights as 60-1
liberalism 85-6
life 60,71-2, 101, 108-9

the aesthetic way of 104, 108
philosophy as a way of 1, 2-3
preserving vs. right of self-

determination 10-11, 138-9
protection of unborn 136-41
reverence for 119,124-5
right to 71
technical possibilities of extending

134,135
technicization of 26-8

life-project, personal 33,77-8,
86-8, 134, 163, 165

litigiousness 99
living

modes of, rationalization and
29-31

ritually 101, 102-3
Lorenz, Konrad 49-50
loyalty 18

184 Index

Lucifer 46
lying

intentionally 80-1, 87
moral prohibition on 19

magnanimity 53,55
Malthus, Thomas Robert 27-8
man

as animal rationale 90-1, 125
the essence of 15
‘family’ of 65-6, 96, 123
relation to nature 116-18,

120-4
Mandeville, Bernard 46
manipulation, possibilities of

131-6, 142-8
manners 26
marriage, as a sacrament 56
Marx, Karl 96, 131
media, imaginary world of 27, 99
medical ethics, professional

134-6
medical experiments, Nazism 35
medical profession, dominance of

expertise 79
medical research, on cells and

embryos 135-6
medicine, technical-scientific 94,

121,122
possibilities of manipulation

9-10, 131-6, 142-8
see also reproductive medicine

Merton, Robert K. 32-3
meta-ethics 6, 12
metaphysics 12, 15, 34, 95-6
Meyer-Abich, Klaus M. 125,128
Milgram experiment 42-4
Milgram, Stanley 42-4
mistakes, deliberate 82-3, 87
modern society

basic moral ideas 56-9
defined in terms of work 159-60

modernity
critical reflection on 131-48
the project of 56,58-9,118-19,

141-2, 143
social development 164

moral actions
distinguished from moral

judgements 5, 7
self-awareness as prerequisite of

82
temporal nature of 109-14

moral argumentation 115-62
the context of 23-73
function of problematizing

customary behaviour 20-1
and moral existence 85-8
and moral judgement 20-2

moral development
and cognitive development 5
and expertise 141

moral discourse 4, 59-60, 163
boundaries of 34
framework of topoi for 52
and historical facts 35
human rights and fundamental

rights as themes of 59-61,
66-7,72-3

leading to new social regulations
115-31

and problematization of moral
ideas in new context 87

reciprocal recognition and equality
in 62

moral existence
of fundamental and human rights

60-1
and moral argumentation 85-8
politicization as a sign of 86-8,

164
possibility of a 77-8, 80

moral ideas
basic 48-59
Graeco-Roman 52-4
Judaeo-Christian 54-6
of the modern age 56-9
possibility of application in

technical civilization 84-5, 109
taboos as 49,51-2

moral judgement
development of 22, 106-7
distinguished from moral actions

5,7,20-2

male and female 22
and moral argument 20-2

moral knowledge, as tacit
knowledge 48

moral life 3-4,74-114
the context of 23-73,111-14
exemplary 165
and fundamental and human

rights 60-1
happiness and 78
motivation for 48, 76
practice for 84, 92, 99
preconditions for 81, 113-14
the project of 163, 164
skills for 74-88, 89

moral philosophy 2, 11-12
moral problems

in dealing with foreigners
148-62

existence of 7-8
public opinion-forming and social

regulation 3,8,20-1
moral questions

concerning external nature
115-31

concerning the nature we
ourselves are 66,131-48

definition of 105-7
the existence of 9-11, 75
incidence of 107-9
for the individual 24
the nature of 118-20
seriousness of 8-22,69,74,163
for society 24, 67

morality
begins with resistance 76,78-9,

84,89,100
and birth control 27-8
and happiness 6
and law 60-1,140
(Moralitiit), and ethical life

(Sittlichkeit) 12
relationship with customary

behaviour 16, 19-20
superfluity in everyday life 75,

84
transition to postconventional 7

Index 185

motherhood
by choice 138
surrogate 132, 133

multicultural education 157, 161

National-Socialism, the legacy of
34-47,146

nationality, and citizenship in
Germany 150-1

natural law 59
naturalization, rights in Germany

150-1,157
nature

and being-human-well 91-4
Christian conception of 123-4
defining 10
distanCing from 26-7
and freedom 15
as a fundamental ethical value

71,118-19
and ideal 90-1
industrialization and the

relationship to the land 31-2,
130-1

as a moral authority 119
as property 117
and rationality 58-9
as a safeguarded good 120,

129-31
vs. civilization 23, 119
we ourselves are 89-90
see also external nature

Nazism see National-Socialism
negativity, integration of 78-9
Nietzsche, Friedrich 14,102
Nirumand, Barbara 138
‘No’, ability to say 39-40, 42-4,

78-9,89
norm, genetic manipulation in

relation to a 143
normality, and illness 94
norms, social 4, 9
Nussbaum, Martha 72

obedience 54
to authority, Milgram experiment

42-4

186 Index

objectivity 2,25,30,82,97
occupation, free choice of 69
openness 93,95
organ transplants 133-4,135,148
original sin 45
otherness 95, 160-2

parent-child relationship 95-6, 97,
111-12,126

part, of whole 94-7
participation

and the moral life 85-8, 107
and origins of state authority

62-3
rights of 86, 152

partnerships 95, 96
past, remembrance of the 34-47
patria 54
patriarchy, in feudalism 31,32
peace ethics 16
penal code

abortion and 136-41
taboos and 49

perpetrators (Auschwitz)
children of the 37
imagination about the 40-2
and victims 37, 38-9

personality
free development of 4, 138-9
integrity of 10,33-4, 100, 142

philosophy
critique of academic discourse

4-7
and the existence of evil 46
as practical wisdom 1-2
as a science 2
as a way of life 1

Piaget, Jean 5,106
Plato 46, 80, 86, 88
play, and seriousness 101-14
pluralism

and engaging with the other
161-2

and religion 58,140
poetry, after Auschwitz 34
politeia 53-4
politeness 17-18,19-20,160

political commitment 86-8, 164
population growth, moral solution to

27-8
pornography, and child abuse 27
power relations, animals and 126-8
practical action, as a moral way of

life 77-8
practical wisdom (Weltweisheit) 3
prenatal genetic screening 132, 133,

135-6
primitive societies, and taboos 49
principles 22, 47
privacy 57,71, 138, 147-8
private property 57, 71
private sphere 27, 30, 33
production

as appropriation of nature 120-2
and reproduction 31, 130-1

professionalism 33
profitability 29-32
progress 24, 130, 135, 141-2
project, facticity and 10, 15, 91, 100
prosthetics 134, 148
Protagoras 5,81-2,102
psychoanalysis 45, 92
public institutions, judgement of 35
public opinion, formation of 3-4, 8,

20-1, 107
public sphere 30, 69
punishment, protection against

degrading 71

race, as basis of the state in Germany
151-2, 158

racism 140, 151-2, 159
and eugenics 146

rape 45
rationality, and nature 58-9,90-1
rationalization 29-31, 33, 59, 158
readiness 110
reason, and the senses 103
reconciliation, and forgiveness

55-6
reflection 81-2,92
refugees

defined 154

repatriation of 153-4
regulation

concerning external nature 115,
116-18,164

from without to within 25-6
see also social regulations

Rehmann-Sutter, Christoph 144-5
religion

freedom of 68
and pluralism 58,140

remorse, the problem of 79-80
replaceability 107-8
repression

internal 26
of National-Socialism in the

German public sphere 36-7
and taboos 51

reproduction
and abortion rights 136-41
and production 31,130-1

reproductive medicine 132-3
research

ethics 132-6
freedom of 135-6

residence, and citizenship 151
resistance

morality begins with 7,76-9,84,
89,100

right of 36, 63-4
respect 17, 160

and citizenship 53-4
for the law, freedom and 81
for nature 124-5

respectability, and customary
behaviour 17

responsibility 15, 18, 84, 164
to animals 125-7
Jonas on 111-12,126
of the scientist, in arms research

32-3
rights

of animals 128
and duties, formally regulated 29
natural 15
as a racial privilege 35
in relation to those of others 53
see also children, rights of;

Index 187

fundamental rights; human
rights; social rights

risk, in politicization of one’s life-
project 87-8

Rittstieg, Helmut 150
roles, social 33,107-8
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques 119

sacredness, of life 124
safeguarded goods 68,71-3,120,

135
sanctions 20-1, 61
scepticism 33, 75-6
Scheler, Max 48
Schiller, Friedrich 103-4, 108
Schmid, Hermann 143,144
Schmid, Thomas 152
Schmitz, Hermann 105,111
Schopenhauer, Arthur 119
Schweitzer, Albert 119,124
science

encroachment on nature
116-17

and philosophy 2
scientists, responsibility of 32-3
secrecy, right to 71
secular culture, and Judaeo-Christian

religion 54-6
security 71, 91
self-consciousness 82, 105

and nature 10, 92-4
self-control 25-6, 30
self-determination 10, 56-8, 135

and fundamental and human
rights 60-1

right of, vs. preservation of life
11,138-9

self-mastery, as masculine self-
stylization 52-3

self-problematization 59
self-realization 6, 33, 113
self-respect 100
self-understanding 15,92-4,147

of society 9, 11,84, 129-31, 160,
164

selfhood, and the moral life 76-80,
164

188 Index

seriousness
the beginning of 109-14,164
binding nature of 109-14
of challenge to civilized life 35
defining 104-5
in everyday life 84-5,99,104-5
of moral questions 8-22,69,74,

105-7, 163
and play 101-14
and respect for fundamental and

human rights 60-1
of rights of participation 87-8

Serres, Michel 128
sexual morality 27-8

and abortion 136-7
and penal law 136-7

sexuality
and individuality 95, 96
sadistic dimension in European

45
shame 26-7, 83
skills, for moral living 74-88, 89
sociability 103
social cohesion, homogeneity and

157-9
social contract 69
social conventions 20-2, 60-2, 115,

163, 164-5
social regulations

formation of public consciousness
for 3,5,8

moral questions and 10-11,
115-31, 134-5

morality-free 8, 86, 115
social rights 67, 69-70
social security, right to 69
socialism 61, 70
socialization 24-5, 76, 128
society, self-understanding of 9,11,

69, 115, 129-31, 164
Socrates 3,5,6,80-1,86-7

death of 38
solidarity 18, 19,55,96-7
Sophists 59,119
Sophocles 14
soul 139-40
species being 96

standard of living, right to a certain
69

state
duty to nature 129-31
legitimacy of intervention in

reproductive matters 136-41
origins of authority 61, 62-3, 67
rationalization and the modern

29-31
relationship to society 69, 86,

129-31
rights of freedom and the 67-9
terror 7
see also authoritarianism

Stoicism 3
strangers

hospitality to 157
legal protection of 157

subjectivity 105, 106
suicide 100
Switzerland, ban on genetic code

therapy 141
systems, and instrumental action

32-3,75

taboos 21, 37, 48, 49-52
Taylor, Paul W. 125
technical civilization 24-34

animals in 127
and basic moral ideas 56-9,84
and culture 160
dangers of 26-8, 100, 164
objectivity in 82, 98

temptations (Anmutungen), and
being-human-well 83, 97-9

Ten Commandments 54
therapy, refusal of 79
Third Reich 14-15,40-2,149,153

failure of intellectuals in the 6-7,
135

misuse of euthanasia in the 11,
146

tolerance 58,160-1
topoi 52,53,68
torture 37
totemism, and caste systems 50-1
transgression, of prohibitions 77

trials
Eichmann’s 40-2
facts and law 21

trust, in moral order 46-7, 87
truth

and falsehood 19,81,87
pluralism and 58
representation in universalism 22

Tugendhat, Ernst 5, 7, 76
Twain, Mark 76-7

unborn, people yet 66, 136-41
uncertainty 7-9,92-3
unconsciousness, and taboos 49
UNESCO, bioethics declaration

141,145
unhappiness, courage to cope with

78-80
United Nations 62

Convention of Human Rights
(1966) 70

United States
abortion issue 138
euthanasia debate 146-7

Universal Declaration of Human
Rights (1948) 56, 59-73, 96, 123

Article 1 64, 66
Article 21 62-3
Preamble 65-6
rights to self-determination 139
social rights 69-70

universalism 22, 33
urbanity (Urbanitiit) 17

values 8-9, 21, 48
van den Daele, Wolfgang 147
victims

of genocide 37-9

Index 189

and perpetrators 38-9
Vietnam War 43
virginity 27
virtue

being and 46
and being-human-well 11, 12-15
and happiness 5-6, 7, 38, 78
terminology 12-13

virtues
classical, compared with

customary behaviour 52-3
Graeco-Roman 52-4
Judaeo-Christian 54-6
secondary 47

voluntariness, and involuntariness of
action 80-1

wage-labourers 32
war 45, 50, 83-4
Warsaw ghetto uprising 39
Weber, Max 24, 29-30, 59
whole

being part of the 94-7
falsity of the 46-7

will 15,89
work 33,60

as a modern value 26, 57-8,
159-60

protection from obligatory and
compulsory 69

right to 69,70
work ethic 29
world views

biocentric 125
Christian in pluralism 140
evaluation of 105-7

xenophobia 158

DetailedOutline WR2.53

J. Robinson & A. Robinson/ 2009

1

Douglas College Learning Centre

Sample Detailed Essay Outline: Residential Schools

Introduction:

late 1800s to 1980s more than 100,000 First Nations children in Canada
attended residential schools (Llewellyn, 2008, p. 258)

At the schools, the children suffered from emotional, physical, sexual and
spiritual abuse (Steckley & Cummins, 2001, p. 191)

worst abuses punishment for speaking their indigenous languages (Petten,
2007, p. 22).

Thesis: The imposition of residential schools on First Nations children has led to
significant loss of indigenous languages, and this language loss has led to further
cultural losses for traditional First Nations cultures in Canada.

Topic Sentence 1: One far-reaching result of the residential school system is the loss of
indigenous languages in Canada.

1. Children lost their mother tongues at the schools

a. Children lost mother tongues at early age ( Petten, 2007)

b. Children were abused for speaking their indigenous languages

i. priests and nuns punched, slapped, verbally abused little children

(Knockwood, 1992, p. 99)

ii. priests stuck pins in their tongues (Steckley & Cummins, 2001, p. 193)

2. Effects of children’s language loss on loss of indigenous languages

i. 2001 Canada Census, only 24% of people who identified themselves

as aboriginal said they could communicate in an aboriginal language

(as cited in Norris, 2007, p. 20)

ii. over the past 100 years, at least ten indigenous languages have

become extinct (Norris, 2007, p. 20).

Topic Sentence 2: This loss of indigenous languages caused by residential schools affected
traditional family and community relationships.

1. At the schools

a. it “drove a wedge between family members,” even between siblings at the

same school (Knockwood, 1992, p. 100)

b. Freda Simon, tells of arriving at a residential school to find that her sister,

who had been taken to the school two years earlier, could no longer speak

their language (Knockwood, 1992, p. 100)

2. In their communities

a. early survivors of residential schools were unable to develop bonds with

older members of their communities and were unable to learn the

traditional ways of their people through “songs, games, stories and

ceremonies” (Blair, Rice, Wood & Janvier, 2002, p. 89).

b. A strong traditional value was respect for elders (Couture, 1996)

Detailed Outline WR2.53

J. Robinson & A. Robinson/ 2009

2

Topic Sentence 3: Besides damaging family and community relationships, the loss of
indigenous languages also distanced many First Nations people from their traditional belief
systems.

1. Connection to nature important in First Nations spirituality

a. “all of life is spiritual: everything that exists, animals, plants, people, rocks, the

sun and stars have elements of sacredness” (Rajotte, 1998, p. 21).

2. Elders passed on spiritual teachings through myths and rituals

3. Without knowledge of traditional languages, young people could not learn about the

spiritual beliefs of their people.

a. spirituality was all encompassing, affecting not only their thoughts about the

spirit world but also their knowledge of places, plants and animals and

traditional skills such as fishing, trapping, and tanning (Blair et al, 2002, p. 96).

4. Not learning from elders meant not learning about spirituality, places and traditional

skills

a. without access to the elders’ knowledge of nature, young people lost access

to the beliefs and practices their people had developed over thousands of

years (Steckley and Cummins, 2001, p. 17).

Conclusion
Restated Thesis: In short, interpersonal relationships and traditional belief systems
were both sacrificed when residential schools contributed to the decline of First
Nations children’s indigenous language abilities.

Comment:

June 11, 2008, Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper offered an official apology

on behalf of the Canadian government to survivors of residential schools

(Fitzpatrick & Nguyen, 2008, p. 1).

aboriginal people need more than an apology; they need a government

commitment to dealing with the negative impacts of the schools in areas such as

“language, culture, … tradition, and spirituality” Beverly Jacobs, President of the

Native Women’s Association of Canada, (Native women’s leader, 2008, p. 2).

The effects of the residential schools on First Nations’ language and culture will

never be undone; all Canadians can do now is support efforts by aboriginal

people to preserve and revitalize those linguistic and cultural traditions that have

not been completely lost.

Note: You may want to look at the following handouts related to this essay:

Handout WR2.52: Sample Basic Essay Outline

Handout WR4.35: Sample Essay APA Style

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