Ethics

Contributed by Clive

Okay, so I’m going to start with that basic question of what does it mean to do, or to have ethics? It’s not nearly [01:43:30] human ethics as David was describing earlier, so at least the project is, philosophers conceive of it, is that it’s not just merely descriptive. The goal of ethics isn’t just to take a look at the world and see what people’s values are. That’s something that anthropologists do, but that’s not something that philosophers do, because our question is a question about how ought things be. Not just how are things, so looking at regular values around war, violence or inequality, but thinking about things how things should be.

So there’s where we move from thinking about the way the world is to [01:44:00] moving to thinking about the way the world ought to be. In this way central to ethics is a sense of moral imagination and in this way the thought is that through our imagination we open up the possibility for genuine ethics, again, not in a descriptive sense, but in a prescriptive sense.

One of the things about that is though is that a lot of the times the way that we conceive or think of ethics is shaped by who answers that question. And so this is a question that crops up to me as I’m looking at this room thinking about who are we to even ask [01:44:30] or answer these questions? There’s an old Marxist thought which is that when we look at certain concepts of ethics and justice, think about even the term justice, or rights, or entitlements, they’re often used to protect the interests of the privileged, and so that’s why Marx was very skeptical of language of rights talk, was generally worried of talk of ethics in the first place.

So I think one of the things in thinking about ethics, and what really is ethics, is who gets to answer these questions and how does that [01:45:00] shape the way we think of ethics. And often think about the role ideology, ideologies around power and hierarchy, and how those come to shape the values that we think that we have. And then this raises Bruce’s question, which is can there be a common language? So if it’s true that the privileged have different concepts in language around ethics, different perhaps from those that are not privileged, can there be a common ground? We have very different ways of thinking about and conceiving of ethics, maybe not.

So I think that at least one question that considers whether there [01:45:30] is a common language. There may not be, I’ve gone both ways on this question. One answer that I think is true is that I think one of the ways into having a common and shared language around ethics is to actually have a common, shared experience, so bases of common experience.

When I’m asking myself, “What are we doing here?” Because that’s another question, “What are we,” as in this is the we, who are we asking these questions. Why do we get to answer them? I’m also wondering what we’re doing here, particularly here. If you care about ethics, seriously, [01:46:00] what are we doing sitting in a salon, having conversations? Why aren’t we at the soup kitchen feeding people? Why aren’t we in Sub-Saharan Africa helping out? Why aren’t we in the streets in North Carolina, Charlotte right now given the crisis that this country is in.

If we, though, think of the fact that part of having a common and shared language for ethics is having common and shared experience, which will allow [inaudible 01:46:20] for empathy, maybe this is the answer. Maybe we can answer this question of what are we doing here, which is that perhaps the role of the design, the designer, [01:46:30] is to create a basis for common and shared experience, which allows for common language and concepts to talk about ethics and values on a common plane.

So my thought is that perhaps this is the role, and this is a way of justifying what the heck we’re doing here. We still need to ask if this is the right we, and this is something that’s really bothered me. Whenever I do things like this … I mean do we have local Detroiters? Sure we have expertise as intellectuals and academics, but are we facing the struggles that people in Detroit are facing? Do we have non-privileged groups represented [01:47:00] here adequately?

And if we don’t, we need to think about designers, about how to bring people, be more inclusive, because again, the goal is to create a common base of experience and if we don’t have broad range of people in this room we’re not going to have that common basis to start having a common and shared discussion about ethics. So I’ll leave it at that. Thank you.