Ethics as a mundane part of everyday evaluative activity.

Ethics as a mundane part of everyday evaluative activity.

 

It is that part of our lives where the evaluation of human behaviour is our primary concern. A bit more narrowly, it is the evaluation of human behaviour that we undertake when our concern is with what is done by someone that has potential impacts on the interests of others. Ethics is a routine and mundane part of our lives because evaluation is an inevitable part of all of our lives.  The evaluation of the behaviour of people is deeper and more central to what we are as social beings than almost anything else.

 

Examples are probably unnecessary here, but I will introduce a few to show you how common evaluations of people are, and how ethical evaluation forms a sub-set.

 

 

  • Consider how you might characterise someone, a friend perhaps, as amiable, cheerful, courteous, dependable and tactful. That is just a smattering of the evaluative terms that we might use when describing someone found to be good company.

 

  • Or, and differently, we might describe another person as zany, witty, whimsical, playful, clever, humorous and jocular. Again it looks as thought we are evaluating them in terms of attributes that make them fun to be with.

 

  • However, imagine that instead of either of these sets of characteristics you said that a person was conceited, pompous and arrogant. These are evaluative terms too, but ones that point to aspects of someone that might count as reasons for avoiding them.

 

Finally, consider two very different kinds of evaluations:

 

  • Imagine that your evaluation of someone is like this: he is cruel, callous and malicious. In all likelihood this is not just a character you would avoid as a companion on a long journey, but someone to be avoided at all costs.

 

  • Imagine now the complete opposite: your evaluation is that someone is kind, compassionate, and loyal. That character would be a social asset rather than a liability.

 

Proper use of all of the evaluative terms found above, and others implicit in the examples, entails a sensitive judgment about the person in question based on accurate observations. None of these can be used lightly and some skill is involved in working out whether someone is shy and retiring or mutely resentful. It would be my guess that this part of the domain of evaluation is more tightly packed with terms that have fine grades of difference than any other non-scientific area we are involved with.

 

These evaluative terms relate to personality and character traits (the evaluative terms that are doing all the work here in the examples). These are the ones that get further classified as vices or virtues: vices being those traits that destroy or undermine cooperative endeavours, while virtues are the strengths of character (traits) that support and facilitate cooperation and coordination. So here under (A) we have ethics as the routine evaluation of people in terms of vices and virtues.

 

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