Dan Fincke’s plan to take over the world now that he has left the stressful world of adjunct living is right on schedule. He’s now opened up a second blog called Empowerment Ethics, which will focus on the that subset of philosophy that has been his primary focus as a scholar. As someone who has, quite frankly, given very little thought to the question of secular ethics, I expect to learn a great deal from it. Here’s how he introduces one of the key axioms of his approach:
The gist of what I am dubbing “empowerment ethics” is simple.
I think I can argue in objectively factual terms that there is an overriding good that all humans should be concerned with. The good we should all strive for is to be as powerful according to our potential abilities as we can be. Every human being is made up of a set of powers. We do not just have our powers but we are our powers. We do not just have the powers of rationality, we exist through them. We do not just have abilities to feel things emotionally, we exist through them. And the same goes for our powers of sociability, our bodily powers, our sexual powers, our creative powers, our technological powers, our artistic powers, and any other distinct categories of powers you can identify within us. Each of our major categories of powers is comprised of component powers and each of our powers can combine into larger powers.
That’s the power part. The empowerment part specifically comes in when we realize that fulfilling our powers to their maximum means empowering others through the exercise of our abilities. The most marvelous thing about human powers is how much they can spread into other people and how much we need other people to use their powers to empower us. Every ability we have grows in its effectiveness the more that it increases the total net powerful effectiveness of the total number of people. When I am so powerful as to be able to empower you to be more powerful, then I am powerful not just in myself but also in you and in those you further empower, and so it goes, on and on.
I think this truth should guide all of us. What is best for each one of us is that we make ourselves as effective creators of power in the world as we can, in order that we may be more powerful through all of that power that we generate. And the way to create the most power in the world is to make our endeavors the kinds that empower others.And the ethics part comes in here: Sometimes we get shortsighted, myopic, and selfish. Ethical emotions, rules, character traits, practices, habits, attitudes, dispositions, etc. are developed by our brains and our societies to help us do what is empowering for the most people in the long run even when we are tempted not to. This is ultimately in our own interests since we depend on other thriving humans and their contributions to live maximally well ourselves and since our fullest realizations of our powers involve empowering others. While the best ethics may objectively vary with changing life conditions, we can reason out our general ethical principles and particular moral judgments the best when we make maximum empowerment our highest ideal.
And, in a nutshell, that’s what “empowerment ethics” is about. A more thorough overview of the views can be found in my post My Systematic, Naturalistic Empowerment Ethics, With Applications To Tyrants, the Differently Abled, and LGBT People, among others.
I plan to bring Dan here to Michigan later this year to give a lecture on secular ethics to our CFI Michigan chapter and I’m really looking forward to hearing him flesh out this basic structure with specifics.