Advances in Ecological Economics series
Chapter 10: Ethics in relation to economics, ecology and eschatology
Ethics is the ordering of multiple ends into a hierarchy with reference to some vision of the Ultimate End, however dimly we perceive it. The ultimate end is that which is intrinsically good and does not derive its goodness by being instrumental to some other good. All other goods are instrumental to it indirectly and in varying degrees. Ethics is the problem of putting first things first, higher values ahead of lower values, and then, of course, acting according to that ordering of values in specific circumstances (Daly and Townsend, 1993, pp. 17–24). The specific circumstances may be medical, economic, familial, and so on, but the problem of ethics is basically the same – ethics is singular – knowing what goes in first place, second place, and so on, putting it there, and acting accordingly, with enough knowledge of how the world works to avoid perverse unintended consequences. If we had a clear vision of the ultimate end the process could be top-down, but often it is only in the bottom-up process of struggling to rank competing ends in specific situations that we get an insight into what the ultimate end must be like for our consciences to approve the decisions. We do not have a different ultimate end and hierarchy of purposes for each area of life.
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