Chaos Ethics

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In , the Yorkshire-born philosopher Henry Sidgwick published the book that is viewed as the culmination of the classical utilitarian tradition, The Methods of Ethics. In his original conclusion, Sidgwick worried that there might be an irreconcilable conflict between self-interest and moral duty, one that threatened to undermine any belief that the imperfect moral order we encounter in the world could be reconciled with the perfection of Universal Reason.

This conclusion depressed him, and he ended the first edition by lamenting that:. Sidgwick, To put this same question the other way around: is a perfect ideal of rational conduct necessarily a good thing? It seems to me, viewing our world from a very different vantage point to Sidgwick, that the exactitude of moral order that this and many other brilliant academics have craved would risk a disaster far worse than mere chaos — which, we ought to bear in mind, is precisely what we find ourselves in, and always have. We have always lived in chaos and tried to condition it with order.

The Ethics of Chaos

However, we used to believe that behind that chaos was a perfect order that we merely failed to live up to, something I find increasingly difficult to accept. Instead, I want to suggest that behind our flawed attempts at law might also hide a perfect chaos, and the challenge facing us now is not to become masters of order, nor indeed to become masters of chaos, but to become masters at balancing order and chaos. To attain this, we must first understand both the moral law and moral chaos — and this means exploring not only ethical traditions built on order, but also those ethics that thrive in its absence.

But I never thought that this game would also provide the circumstances that would lead to my first book in moral philosophy. I had the basis for the book worked out, but what I was missing was a title — something less enigmatic than my draft title Enemy: A Morality Tale, but more exciting than my suggested alternative Universal Ethics — a title that now sounds bland even to me! It was at this juncture that Jon Cogburn, who had been very generous with his support for my first philosophy book, Imaginary Games, invited me to submit a chapter to a volume of popular culture philosophy he was working on.


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He gave me one of his draft chapters to read, a piece that discussed recent changes in the rules of the game that abandoned one of the oldest aspects of its design. Jon argued that the changes TSR now owned by Wizards of the Coast, now owned by the transnational toy corporation Hasbro had made to the rules were justifiable on philosophical grounds. I was shocked at his claims, and wrote a lengthy email to him defending the original rules — text that eventually made it into the final book as my essay Chaotic Good in the Balance Cogburn and Silcox, For over thirty years, these nine different positions caused players of this game to think about the relationship between order and chaos on the one hand, and good and evil on the other.

Then, in the recent fourth edition of the game, the alignment system was downsized to just Good, Lawful Good, Evil, Chaotic Evil and Unaligned. Jon argued that this was consistent with prevailing views in moral philosophy — I countered that his view was based on a very narrow examination of the state of contemporary ethics.

This is something that as a Discordian I simply could not accept, since the essence of that grand and ridiculous religion is precisely that both order and chaos can be beneficial. It was about Chaos Ethics. Anybody who has had to work within the strictures of an overly officious bureaucracy is well aware of this principle! Indeed, what I espouse here is not a formula for anarchy — as Greg Hill quipped, anarchy has too many rules, like hating the government — but rather a potential antidote to that mindless bureaucracy Hanna Arendt called the rule of no-one Arendt, , perhaps the cruelest and most tyrannical form of government we have discovered thus far.

Having mentioned two of my religions at this point, I suppose that I ought to come clean and confess to being a deeply religious individual — after all, I have no fewer than five religions, which is considerably more than most devout people can claim!


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These religions have greatly affected my own personal morality, perhaps more so than studying moral philosophy has, but of the five it is Christianity and Discordianism that have had the most impact on my ethics. Ironically, despite the Discordian religion being set up as a counter-point to the conservative lawfulness of the Christian-suffused United States of the s, the two religions are surprisingly complimentary — although their practitioners, I might add, tend not to be complimentary to one another!

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If I could contribute one thing back to Christianity to thank this tradition for what, via my parents, it has given me, it would be to show how moral chaos is precisely the duty of anyone who claims to follow the teachings of Jesus. That I have been heavily influenced by religious traditions does not mean, of course, that I expect my readers to have a religion, or even a non-religion of the kind I compare and contrast with the older traditions in the final chapter of The Mythology of Evolution Bateman, I would like this book to have something to offer anybody, from any background, although I suspect it is unrealistic to think that it can be read by just anyone.

This book expects the reader to be intelligent and capable of critical thought, just skeptical enough to avoid believing too quickly, but not so skeptical as to be incapable of believing anything beyond the orthodoxy of disbelief. This book expects the reader to bring their own morality to the table where it can be carefully examined, not to measure if it is right or wrong against universal standards, but to see if the reader can endorse their own ethics without resorting to the tub-thumping politics that would make an enemy of everyone whose moral viewpoint differs from our own.

Indeed, this book asks that we all set political conflict aside while we unravel the deeper problems in ethics, instead of deciding what is right and trying to enforce it upon everyone else. Only when we understand moral chaos can we hope to establish laws worth upholding.

The Joys and Chaos of Sharing Bivocational Ministry

All philosophical writing risks alienating some readers as a result of a complex technical vocabulary, but I have tried to keep this problem somewhat under control here. Where possible, I have used everyday language to express concepts, sometimes briefly mentioning the normal terms in philosophical circles for context. My inspiration in this is the incomparable Mary Midgley, who has a far greater faculty for presenting philosophy stripped of jargon than I will ever manage. Additionally, there is a glossary of the terms used in the book at the back, and key terms are italicized as they are introduced.

Once again, I have an endless list of people whom I must thank for their assistance in the development of this manuscript and its investigations. I can only hope that what I have written meets with some tiny part of his approval, since I am certain much of it will meet with his justifiable disdain. The inadequacies of this venture are, of course, entirely my own responsibility and I can indemnify my spectral mentor in Kantian ethics of any blame for my own, doubtless considerable, errors.

Walton, Joanna Zylinska, not to mention the aforementioned Jon Cogburn, without whom I might never have found a title, much less wrote the book that you now hold in your hands. Also, to those who are not academics — both those whose materials I have referenced, including Roger Barry of the Manaraefan Herred Viking reenactment society, and those who have helped me otherwise. Particular gratitude is due the tireless support staff at the University of Bolton, and especially the librarians Sheila Coakley and Denise Mercer who have endured my endless requests for inter-library loans and the sourcing of obscure papers.

Then there are the hordes of people who have helped me on either the manuscript itself or the long process leading up to it many of them unwitting accomplices in my crimes! I also owe a debt of gratitude to Cathy Bryant for getting me interested in philosophy in the first place, many moons ago in a very different life to the one I am living now. If it were not for her, the course of my life would have been very different indeed!

The final version of this book is greatly improved by virtue of their contributions, although it goes without saying that any remaining mistakes are mine and mine alone.


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Michael and Oscar in particular went above and beyond the call of duty in providing assistance, and for this I am forever in their debt. I must offer some apologies as well.

Apologies are also due to any moral realist who feels I have besmirched their position in some way — realisms hold little appeal for me, but I have adored the work of many realists, including Parfit, Wood and of course Kant himself. I certainly do not intend to imply any superior moral stance to anti-realists, non-cognitivists or any of the ragtag fleet of positions that flail wildly against the consistently clearer arguments of realists, for all that I cannot actually commit to any kind of realism personally.

I may also have to apologize to every rigorous teacher of moral philosophy and meta-ethics for riding roughshod over the fine and nice distinctions that these fields have accumulated internally over the years — but I hope we can all recognize that the complexity of the resulting maze is such that it has become a barrier to getting people interested in a truly fascinating field. Although I spent a long time learning the terminology in use, in my ongoing project to bridge the gap between academic philosophy and the world at large I have to be prudent about the choice of terms.

The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos | Sam Harris

Much of this book simplifies to a point that professors of philosophy could only respond by tearing out what little hair they have remaining after enduring the frustrations of university bureaucracy. To all such people, my sincere apologies: I wanted to write for a wider audience, and I needed to cast off a lot of baggage to make that journey possible. Additionally, I must express regret for my omissions, particularly to those people whose work I have not been able to incorporate into the research for this book. Explicit apologies are offered to the object-oriented ontologists in this regard — but I believe they may forgive me if I reveal that it was catching up with Latour that robbed me of the time necessary to absorb their many intriguing books.

There have been so many times that I have edited the phrase in and out of the manuscript that I cannot begin to guess whether it will appear in the final version! As far as trilogies go, this one is entirely insane — a book on the relationship between art and games, a book on the utter nonsense that the alleged war between Science and Religion has unleashed around the sciences, and now a book on how chaos can be as moral or more moral! But all three books are about the role of imagination in life — in art and in play, in science and religion, and in morality and ethics. Although any of these books can be enjoyed in isolation, I offer particular appreciation to anyone who manages to read and enjoy all three books as a trilogy, and hope you have enjoyed this journey as much as I have, but with hopefully a fraction of the toil it has required of me.

Finally, I must offer even greater gratitude than usual to my wife, Adria Smiley, for her assistance in making this book possible. Although she has always supported my writing, on this project I found myself in need of even more direct aid and if it were not for her assistance in compiling quotes from a mountain of papers literally the size of my head it is highly doubtful I would have been able to complete the manuscript in time. Marriage to Adria has been a splendid chaos indeed, and becoming a parent has only intensified our descent into disorder. Better to live happily in chaos than to be forever cursed to seek an order beyond possibility — an adage that applies to marriage just as it does to life.

Fear seizes me the moment I imagine using it once more. For this is no device made of glittering metal, ivory and crystal, like the titular machine in H. To anyone else, a mere collection of diaries — in my hands alone it becomes something far more terrifying: a paper time machine that allows me to enter my own past and confront the strange and disparate people I have been. Why should my diaries frighten me?

See a Problem?

After all, we can all imagine ourselves in the past, recalling memories of things long gone. But with memory, there is little possibility of discovering something unexpected — what we remember is almost always consistent with the story we tell about who we are. When I use my paper time machine, however, there is an ever-present risk that I will learn something new, or discover something disturbing.

Exploring my past became an upsetting ordeal, and I came to be afraid of the things I had once written down in innocent earnest, anxious about confronting the people I used to be. Now, I rarely open any volume unless there is a pressing need to check some fact of my earlier lives, and I strive to avoid needing to go back to these ghosts of myself. Part of the issue is simply the greater perspective I have gained with age — reading my younger selves occasionally reveals another side to a situation I had originally understood differently.

Experience allows for insights that are impossible in its absence, and time, the medium within which our lives occur, conflicts with memory, the medium in which our identities coalesce. This restlessness is part of what makes my own time travel so utterly unbearable. Contemporary philosopher Derek Parfit offers a way I might preserve my sanity in the face of my own historical diversity — but at the price of the coherent narrative I relate about my life that gives it unity. He suggests rather than thinking of ourselves as persons whose stories begin at birth and end at death, we can split our lives into different chapters — making us into what Thomas Nagel calls series-persons Parfit, As well as suggesting certain ancient approaches to identity, this idea resembles the concept of regeneration in the British time travel adventure Doctor Who.

Like the fictional Time Lord we all become different people over time — although we do not, of course, experience dramatic transformations of body with accompanying special effects. No, our lives feel continuous as they are lived — it takes something like my paper time machine to reveal the discontinuity of these regenerations, these series-persons we once were.

She notes that questions of how our past and future selves relate to us are intimately tied up with concepts such as fairness, responsibility, and justice — not to mention rationality — and that we should be cautious about disrupting these kinds of associations. All I want to do here with the concept of a series-person is to split my history into different identities, to divide my time machine into sets of volumes, each representing a different series-person, a different regeneration of me, without denying that these are still essential parts of who I am now. My diaries begin when I am twelve, back when I was a Christian teenager.

This religious-me is the first series-person I can reach in my time machine, although these early diaries are not very articulate, and my own memories have to fill in a great many gaps. Building on the extraordinary perspectives made possible by these discoveries, he explores a fresh approach to living drawn from one of the most mysterious and surprising books that has emerged from the ancient world, the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes. As the worlds of ancient wisdom and modern science come together, you will learn how to find happiness by living the unique dreams which animate your soul.

This path is called The Ethics of Chaos. In an international competition for best non-fiction book of the year, The Ethics of Chaos was the second-place winner. Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. More Details Other Editions 2. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about The Ethics of Chaos , please sign up.

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