Have you ever heard a politician say, “In the next election I will support whatever policies the polls tell me are most likely to get me elected”? Think about it for just a second. I bet you haven’t. If a candidate did say something like that, wouldn’t you find it distasteful? It would exhibit a lack of character.
Our notions of democracy come from ancient Greece. Our notions of good government come from the same place. Interestingly democracy was not thought of by the founders as desirous. They actually thought it more akin to mob rule. But I digress.
Aristotle thought a connection exists between“ethics” and “politics” in philosophy. He thought ethics is the study of what is good for the individual to do. Politics is the study of what is good for the government to do. When good individuals live together as a society it is possible they can make good policy… At least the probability is higher that when there are no ethics.
Government policy controls much of life
Those are ideas we wish had stuck. Most of us accept the idea of good, bad, right and wrong are terms we appropriately use. They apply to evaluation of government policies. This has been an article of faith for a very long time; but, it is no longer.
We live in an age when it is common for politicians to advance policy proposals that have no ethical foundation at all. Editorial writers, and commentators join and support them. They don’t pretend ethics are involved. This makes the definition of behavioral norms difficult.
“From each according to his ability and to each according to his need…” This was an ethical principle. It was also a public policy goal for Marx, Engels, and other communists. They do not believe in democracy.
But they do believe public policy should be subordinate to ethics. You are living with government policy controlling much of your life. What do you think? Do morals and ethics shape policy or does it work the other way around?