How an ethics-based approach works with global agendas

How to develop “more ethical” and why we should live in accordance with it

Is “ethics” a useless word when it comes to politics, policy-making, business, international affairs, laws, governments and real-world situations? The rule of law exists and, to varying extent, it governs power systems, wills and decisions of individuals and organizations, determining the status quo we live with. Then, why have an ethics-based approach at all?

No matter how powerful, rich, intelligent, or “fit”, one is always vulnerable to various risks and challenges to one’s well-being mostly as a result of the actions (or inactions) of other agents and systems. Even if you believe that you now have sufficient power, wealth, intelligence and “fitness” to preserve yourself from the action of others, you probably mostly owe them not only to yourself but to other agents and systems as well. Moreover, for sustaining such advantages and obtaining more, you still need some support from other agents and systems. Plus, generally, you (or most of us) are not that powerful, rich, intelligent, or “fit”.

In my view, this is why we need “ethics” in its very basic sense, primarily in relation to thinking and developing more effective tools, both at the conceptual and theoretical level, in addition to those we already have. All this with a view to reduce or prevent risks to our own well-being. 

Ethical reasoning and capabilities help us investigate, explore, examine, test, create, develop and enhance possibilities and tools serving our own well-being interests. For all this to work, it has to be based on relevant evidence and data as well as reliance on more useful theories and identification of probabilities.

This is why we need a strong theoretical literacy to deal with complexity and contextual ambiguity towards needed directions. We also need scientific knowledge to understand the needs and goals to ensure our well-being and develop effective and accurate responses. Finally, we need to hone our thinking skills to use such literacy and knowledge more effectively to autonomously address any issue or event as needed. To improve our responses, deliberations, theories and forecasts, we must have access to quality information, such as, for example, expert reports provided by the United Nations. And these requirements are just the beginning to enable us to generate quality deliberations, designs and decisions aimed at enhancing our own level of well-being.

In a nutshell, forecasting more likely future(s), including their possible consequences on sustaining and furthering our own well-being, and developing quality tools to help us imagine and/or forecast other possible futures with their probable consequences on our level of well-being are at the core of ethics – in my point of view.

At any level of global, national, social, political, environmental, interpersonal or personal possibilities, in terms of such an ethical thinking, there are many sorts of strong and highly-complex interdependence between one’s own well-being and others’ well-being. You could simply call it “well-being of environmental systems”.

In short, ethics is about finding out the causalities of such interdependence and creating tools and approaches that can be elevated to systems and rights, keeping in mind that those sorts of interdependence are relevant to our opportunities for well-being.

It requires us to consider externalities mostly generated by such interdependence and these include a broad range of factors, from  interrelatedness of ethical issues, values, opportunities, and risks to interactions and interconnectedness of agents and systems, unintended consequences of actions and inactions, volatilities of relevant occurrences, new quality information, misinformation, informational cascades, uncertainties, nonlinearities, alternatives, innovations, investments, side effects, etc. In short, very diverse multiple considerations.

Therefore, our very intuitions, “self-evident moral facts”, “common sense deliberations”, traditional moralities and willpower are not sufficient for such multiple considerations and quality deliberations (to me, these are almost irrelevant to such ethical reasoning, and mostly problematic rather than ethical).

In this sense, ethics depends on both science, effective theories, data and technology to constantly maintain and/or upgrade “further ethics itself” as well as our lives.

Ethics tries to deal with that primary and complex interdependence by developing, realizing and ensuring some rights and quality systems that improve one’s own and others’ well-being.

I coined a term for such an ethical complexity in relation to those various probable future(s): “Ethical-Possibility-Enhancement”.

Ethical-Possibility Enhancement is intended to probabilistically facilitate one’s own and others’ motivations and capabilities to understand and develop what is more ethical that may not have originated from any person before. 

As a result, insofar as one accepts such a theory of ethics, one also “wants” and really seeks to do what is “more ethical” because one is able to see “more ethical possibilities and related actions/inactions” as one’s own ultimate self-interest.

Thus, living in accordance with such a theory of ethics based on values of secular well-being is not like a burden but more like a strong preference (or a fundamental priority/framing) even if some adverse circumstances and a lack of opportunity or motivation may prevent one from living following its precepts some or even most of the time. Likewise, one may ultimately know that anyone’s real self-interest is compatible with investing in a deliberate development of ethical systems that empower everyone, and ensuring that everyone’s rights against any abuse is preserved.

This interdisciplinary theory of ethics is primarily based on, and works thanks to complex social sciences, embracing principles of evolution, economics, business management, sustainability, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, behavioral economics, systems thinking, genetics and more. Also data analysis and findings presented by annual reports of the United Nations, OECD, Global Challenges Foundations, and such other reliable organizations in academia and think tanks  enter the picture.

As a sort of ethics-framework, the theory of Ethical-Possibility-Enhancement also provides us with possibilities to develop ethical approaches on any critical issue such as Freedom of Expression and Information.

One of the main objectives of this theory is to enable and stimulate research into furthering new Ethical-Possibility-Enhancement-oriented (EPE-oriented) debates, tools and theories, including approaches and perspectives about any  possible responses to our challenges and opportunities.

It invites any individual, organization or movement to reconsider and reformulate their tools and strategies for achieving and promoting such interests, values and goals, in particular through exploring or generating results, with accurate interpretations of shared interests and, ultimately, conflict-resolution.

In other words, “Ethical-Possibility-Enhancement” implies enhancing any ethicalities of future-occurrences for oneself or for anyone by means of Cognitive-Ethical-Development (CED) investments. This also requires individual efforts and systemic intervention tools that belong to the sphere of social progress, global (inclusive and sustainable) development, human rights systems, and science-based policy-making and investments. Both aim to ensure and enhance “autonomy of individuals” as a necessary priority.

Then, what is Cognitive-Ethical-Development? In my version of this concept, it’s an integral part of Ethical-Possibility-Enhancement, which is primarily on how to enhance one’s own and others’ ethical reasoning capabilities.

Before elaborating that concept, I have to introduce another term of my theory: “Ethical-Impossibility-Entropy”.  Entropy has the idea of irreversible breakdown at its core. Therefore, this refers to a probable decrease of any ethicalities of future-occurrences for oneself or anyone else. In short, it implies the opposite of Ethical-Possibility-Enhancement in relation to probabilities on their effects on the level of well-being.

Now, to further clarify the interdependence of our future(s), let us look at the determinants of Ethical-Impossibility-Entropy and Ethical-Possibility-Enhancement: One’s own action and outcomes (or effects), other people’s, human-produced systems, and nonhuman-initiated systems.

All facilitate or hinder possible ethicalities of our future(s). What can we do about that especially under the effects of actions/inactions of other agents and systems?

At first look, any individual is solely limited to her own effects for determining her own future. In addition, one’s own effects (and hence one’s own actions/inactions) are impacted by one’s own and others’ human-produced systems’ and nonhuman-initiated systems’ actions, inactions or effects. But at the same time, similarly, we produce our own actions and outcomes in order to be able to influence or change any possible consequences and any possible action that is not our own, for Ethical-Possibility-Enhancement, and against Ethical-Impossibility-Entropy.

So, we can and need to impact both our own, others’ human-produced systems’s and nonhuman-initiated systems’s. In such a sense, my theory of ethics is mostly about impact on the behavior of others and on our environments, not only about one’s own actions (or lack of them) like in most other theories of ethics. As a consequence, “How to change other agents and systems as well as myself?” is a very fundamental question in my theory of ethics (apart from, maybe even against, usual questions of morality).

To evaluate the ethical impact in terms of power, in my view, we must consider this too: The determinants of one’s own actions and outcomes are (1) motivations, (2) capabilities, and (3) opportunities that are the result of one’s own, others, human-produced systems’ and nonhuman-initiated systems’ actions and outcomes. This is also a significant nonlinear causality of determinants of any ethicalities, and also gives us the tools of how we can transform such actions including our own as Ethical-Possibility-Enhancement. It also shows us why we must try to change other agents behaviors and design systems towards Ethical-Possibility-Enhancement.

Further, we need to look at the determinants of Cognitive-Ethical-Development: (1) cognitive capabilities, (2) rationality capabilities, (3) ethical deliberation capabilities and (4) constant and integrated development of these against such entropies and against lack of such capabilities. So, it’s critical to consider potential and vulnerability of cognition, rationality, ethicality, motivations, and the whole (integrated) development. To evolve, all these require us to develop Ethical-Possibility-Enhancement-oriented systems, and related rights.

I mean that “what is ethical” requires developing social and political systems that are Ethical-Possibility-Enhancement-oriented. More importantly, the ethical HOWs – such as how to determine a policy, how to change others’ behaviors toward more ethical possibilities without reducing their autonomy, how to eliminate poverty, how to ensure human rights, and how to combat climate change – require system-oriented, patient-oriented, and hence other-agents-related issues and considerations and deliberations.

What we don’t need is narrow thinking that is limited to questions like “What should I do?” or “Which virtues do I have?” or “What should/shouldn’t one do in a particular situation?”and so on. These are “morality”-based approaches that are, according to my theory, problematic, insufficient, and even facilitate and/or generate Ethical-Impossibility-Entropy-effects.

Finally, I want to add to my arguments above, noting that as one acquires and spreads the theories and concepts of Ethical-Possibility-Enhancement and Cognitive-Ethical-Development, it will be possible to decrease retributive approaches and increase non-retributive approaches both in everyday life, criminal justice system, and international affairs.

This could happen thanks to potential positive results from the spread of awareness that blame, outrage, backward-looking, retributivist, and violent-response approaches ignore and reduce causal investigations and externality-considerations. They also mostly lead to Ethical-Impossibility-Entropy.

We need evidence-based, forward-looking, and cause-investigating/transforming approaches and responses to our challenges.

This theory of ethics (I wrote it in much more detail in 2016) necessarily has a priority that is to always continue to aim to enhance one’s own Cognitive-Ethical-Development. So, it tries to have a deliberate awareness of incomplete deliberation of ethical issues, and evidence-sensitivity of them. It means that my theoretical work is just a consideration-improver if successful, and never dictates ethical, moral rules, actions, principles and/or maxims. I think that we need to develop such a political culture especially against the rise of authoritarian governance approaches.

For the most needed Ethical-Possibility-Enhancement-tools (because of their nonlinear causality capacity), we need global agendas, global goals, more integrative visions, more deliberate cooperation and coordination designs and plans.

We must select, connect, improve, and champion Ethical-Possibility-Enhancement-oriented ideas, goals, systems, and multiple systemic leaderships. So, this is why I suggest that we should seek to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

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About the Author /

Majored in Economics (Anadolu University). I'm a Philosophy graduate student (Yeditepe University). I'm interested in ethics, human rights, SDGs and interdisciplinary studies.

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