A Primer on Ethics by Tibor R. Machan

By Tibor R. Machan

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Social engineering thus offers little prospect of solving human problems. Education and individual initiative remain our only recourse. Free will does not contravene social science, however, as long as the latter is not conceived in strict deterministic terms and the former is considered to permit long-range commitments, chosen policies or strategies, institutional involvement, and so forth. Some choices commit people to long-range behaviors whose impact on the social world can be studied. When someone enters graduate school, begins a new career or relationship, or creates an institution, for example, we expect that person's future behavior to reflect the choice in certain predictable ways.

With these initial points in mind, we can now ask why we should think of the good as utilitarians do. Why should we all strive for the greatest happiness of the greatest number? Utilitarianism, like many other ethical theories, is tied to broader philosophical positions. One key point in utilitarian ethics is the idea that the good must be identifiable by means of observation. We could not otherwise know what is good-that is, what human beings are supposed to achieve. Ifwe cannot know what is good, and thus cannot learn how to achieve it, then we cannot hold ourselves and others responsible for doing so.

Conventionalism is a form of noncognitivism, since it treats ethics not as discoverable or provable but rather as having evolved and having become entrenched over time. Thomas Hobbes and David Hume were prominent metaethical conventionalists. " The philosophical pragmatist holds that moral principles should afford effective means of helping us reach practical goals. Someone can be pragmatic in personal matters (small scale) or in social matters (large scale). Either way, the guidelines focus on the way things work to further some interest.

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