Minimalist Ethics

Daniel Callahan

in The Roots of Bioethics

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199931378
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199980598 | DOI:
Minimalist Ethics

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A “minimalist ethic” is one that reduces all ethical questions to John Stuart Mill’s principle that one can live one’s life as one likes so long as no harm is done to others. Thus, it becomes common to think of most ethical decisions involving no harm to others as simply “personal choices,” not subject to moral judgment either by oneself or by others. This may work well enough in affluent times when there is money and therapy to allow one to live as an isolated moral agent with no duties to others. It is not a good ethics for hard times, when our community shares economic or social troubles, calling on us to worry about the good of the community, not simply of individuals and which may entail imposing moral obligations on ourselves that require a broad notion of human welfare. John Stuart Mill, if read closely, seems to understand that need. The reduction of ethics to autonomy, to our formal relations with others in a political context, is insufficient for a good society and tears the heart of our ethics as a search for the way best to live one’s life.

Keywords: ethics; autonomy; affluence; obligations; JS Mill; politics

Chapter.  6633 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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