Igor Bubelov About Blog Photos

On Ethics

July 30, 2021

People keep asking unanswerable questions since the ancient times, and we tend to label such questions as philosophical. One of the fundamental puzzles of our lives is ethics. Every living being acts, but humans are a bit more introspective. How do we know what to do? How do we make sure we’re doing the right things? What’s the difference between good and bad actions? Is this goodness objective or subjective?

My own understanding of ethics is pretty simplistic, but that simplicity makes it practical. If we assume that avoiding suffering is more important than seeking pleasure, it’s not hard to infer consistent set of rules for judging actions. Here are a few examples:

  • Should I steal? No, it harms other people, and it can also harm you if you get caught.
  • Should I seek knowledge? Yes, knowledge of causes and effects helps us prevent suffering.
  • Should I help others? It depends. If there are people in need who suffer a lot, and you don’t see helping them as a huge personal sacrifice, you should help them. If people are doing OK without your help or if your help can lead to unintended long-term harm, it may be unethical to help others despite their wishes and even proven short-term relief. Consider some welfare programs or rent control. They might look as a good thing aimed to eliminate suffering, but you can easily do more harm than good, if you don’t examine the data carefully and critically enough. Good actions tend to rely on cold reason, so we should prefer reason to emotions when the stakes are high.
  • Should I work at Facebook? No, absolutely not. Companies of this kind promise to add pleasure but end up causing a lot of suffering. This also applies to monopolies in general. Concentrated power also concentrates the potential to abuse it, so it’s no good.
  • Can I be rude with some people? If you feel it’s the best way to prevent them from harming you or themselves. Otherwise, no.
  • Should I have debt? Borrowing money allows us to buy nice things here and now, but we should be confident of our ability to pay back our debts. Little debt on good terms can be good, but it’s very important not to underestimate the worst case scenario.

This little rule helps me answer many polarizing and difficult questions.