I am a moral philosopher developing a distinctive approach to humanistic ethics, within the larger family of philosophical views called “perfectionism”. I call my view “Empowerment Ethics” and in a series of posts, each with “Empowerment Ethics” in the title, I am defending and developing every aspect of it here at Camels With Hammers. Keep regular tabs on the entire series by bookmarking and periodically checking this regularly updated page, devoted to a comprehensive links to all the series’ articles. The post below is part of this series and is adapted from a post that originally appeared on Secularite.
Welcome to my “Empowerment Ethics” series. This is the inaugural post, readapted for Camels With Hammers, where the series will now be a regular feature.
Here at Empowerment Ethics (with reposts from my former Secularite blog all throughout May and then with new posts starting in June), I will lay out a comprehensive vision of ethics, covering the full breadth of issues from the most technical, abstract, general foundations of morality to very specific applications related to cutting edge real world moral controversies. This series will not involve aggregation or personal posts or treat topics outside of ethics unless these somehow serve the topic at hand. It will be strictly an ethics series. It will be a rigorous but accessible professional philosophy series. While I expect it to be morally inspiring and practically relevant to those looking for ways to live better, it will not be fluffy feel good New Agey pablum. It is going to be driven by arguments and a vigorous quest for conceptual and practical consistency.
Long time readers of my work may already be familiar with various fragments of my ethical philosophy. My goal here in this Empowerment Ethics series is to reboot the project, go back to square one, assume nothing, and work out a thorough and systematic presentation of it and to take it to new places. The posts are usually around 1,500 words. That is as easily digestible and accessible as I can manage without losing important nuances or thoroughness. Each post is fairly narrowly focused on one piece of my larger total ethical system.
So, even if you know nothing about my philosophy yet or nothing about the philosophical study of ethics, or are intimidated by long complicated abstract philosophy posts, you have nothing to fear here. In this series, I assume readers are brand new to both my writings on ethics and to moral philosophy in general, and write this blog from scratch as though my previous ethical writings at Camels With Hammers do not exist and as though you are brand new to moral philosophy.
I am looking at this series like one perpetually written draft of a book. Call it a “blogbook”. My goal is that over time loyal readers will come to understand and be able to think within the logic of my ethical theory as it is applied to new problems so often; and as the core, foundational posts are regularly linked back to for those who need to get caught up to speed on the basics. New readers who are intrigued will even be able to go back to the beginning and follow an outline I will eventually create that will give them the chance to read the whole series the same way they would read a book, with a comparable kind of coherence, logical structure, and natural flow from page to page as they might find in that genre.
There will be major chapters in this blogbook. I will let you know which chapter each post fits within in the larger blogbook as the chapters emerge. I hope eventually to create a table of contents page that will link to every blog post on the site and will order (and periodically reorder) them all in the most systematic fashion so that readers can either work through the whole ethical theory post by post in the most logical order, or skim to find the parts of greatest concern to them individually and use those as entry points to the rest of the philosophy.
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 in and through them. We do not just have abilities to feel things emotionally, we exist in and 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.
Who am I?
I am Dan Fincke. I earned a PhD in Philosophy from Fordham University. I completed and defended my dissertation “On Deriving and Defending an Axiology of the Will to Power” in 2010. It was a systematic interpretation of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and an attempt to develop a contemporary ethics informed by his insights.
I spent 2003-2013 as a philosophy professor at the university level, teaching approximately 2,500 students spread across 93.5 sections of philosophy at Fordham University, William Paterson University, St. John’s University, Fairfield University, Hofstra University, Hunter College (City University of New York), and City College (City University of New York). I am also an APPA certified philosophical counselor who helps people work out their problems in their life that are distinctly philosophical in nature. If you would like to work through your problems with me, contact me at camelswithhammers at gmail dot com and make your subject heading “Philosophical Advice”. For examples of what my advice looks like check out the posts archived here.
In 2009, I began Camels With Hammers, a blog about atheism, ethics, philosophy, and Nietzsche. It was picked up by Freethought Blogs in 2011 and moved toPatheos in 2012 and has attained around 2.5 million pageviews over its two and a half years at those sites.
In 2013, I began teaching online interactive video philosophy classes open to anyone in the world (wherein I dialogue with students in real time using Google Hangouts’ video conferencing capabilities, rather than post a canned lecture for students to watch passively) and to give speeches at atheism conferences. Learn more about my classes and sign up for information here.
In 2014 I am devoting my full professional energies to my independent classes, philosophical advice services, freelance writing, public speaking, and podcasting. I will soon begin a podcast called Hammering Out Ethics, with Dan Fincke through the Secular Broadcasting Network.
Be my friend on Facebook. It doesn’t matter if we’ve never met in person, I love meeting new people.
Who Are You?
I would love it if you would introduce yourselves in the comments section and share this post with your friends if you are interested in the project so far. Also feel free to let me know what you would like to see from this blog that’s consistent with the vision I have just laid out. I thrive on rigorous, critical reader feedback about my ideas. My only request is that while on my site you adhere to strict ethical standards of civility like the ones I have laid out in my civility pledge.
Not satisfied with some aspect of my moral philosophy yet? Click the question or challenge that is closest to yours:
Is Empowerment Ethics Atheistic?
Can Morality Mean Something Other Than Absolutist Morality?
Is Morality Just Subjective?
Are Individuals’ Moralities Merely Personal?
Is Morality Relative?
Does Everyone Mean Something Different By The Word ‘Good’?
Can Atheists Condemn Rape Without Theistic Moral Absolutism?
Is Morality Just Culturally Relative?