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A Golden Age for Ethics and Philosophy?

‘ … algorithms are starting to learn from their environments. And once an algorithm is learning, we no longer know to any degree of certainty what its rule and parameters are. At which point we can’t be certain of how it will interact with other algorithms, the physical world, or us.

Accordingly, he [Toby Walsh, professor of artificial intelligence, University New South Wales) believes ethics to be the new frontier in tech, foreseeing “a golden age for philosophy” – a view with which Eugene Spafford of Purdue University , a cyber security expert, concurs.

“Where there are choices to be made, that’s where ethics come in” – he [Spafford] said. “And we tend to want to have an agency that we can interrogate or blame, which is very difficult to do with an algorithm.”‘

(Source: ‘Franken-algorithms: the deadly consequences of unpredictable code’, Andrew Smith, the Guardian 30/08/2018.)


“An extreme climate is forcing politicians to invoke the concept of right and wrong. To describe government-sanctioned separation of families at the Mexican-American border, for instance, wonky policy language does not suffice. Liberal leaders from Hillary Clinton to Van Jones to Elizabeth Warren have summoned an old-fashioned word more often associated with the [political] right: this, they’ve said, is a moral crisis” To read more click here. (Source: ‘How the American left is rediscovering morality’, Sarah March, the Guardian 4 August 2018).

“We are right to seek moral clarity, thinning the fog, but we can never completely clear the mist. We will always be in some sense muddling through because ethics is not a clear-cut system, either God-given or embedded in some transcendent eternal realm. It is the attempt to do the best thing by each other, motivated not by cool logic but by what the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers (including Adam Smith and David Hume) called moral sympathy. We recognise that others have interests, lives worth living and so accept that  we ought to treat them as such. But it is and can never be entirely clear what that demands of us. The existentialists were therefore right to emphasise the impossibility of escaping our responsibility to choose for ourselves without the validation of an external authority” (Source: ‘Time to abandon ethical theory?’ Julian Baggini, Times Literary Supplement 22 May 2018). To link to full article click Here ….

“For altruism in people is not just an instinctive thing, even it it has an instinctive component. It is also a considered response, based sometimes on agape or neighbour love, sometimes on complex interpersonal emotions like pride and shame, which are in turn founded on the recognition of the other as an other like me. In all cases altruism in people involves the judgment that what is bad for the other is something have a motive to remedy. And the existence of that thought is precisely what is not explained by the theory [of evolution] that tells us that altruism is also a dominant strategy in the game of reproduction.” (Roger Scruton, The Soul of the World,  Princeton University Press p. 6).

“All these I take to be not just the material of tragedy, but everyday facts of practical wisdom: I must constantly choose among competing and apparently incommensurate goods; circumstances may force me to a position in which I cannot help being false to something or doing something wrong; an event that simply happens to me may, without my consent, alter my life; it is equally problematic to entrust one’s good to family, lovers, country as it is to try to have a good life without them (Source: The Fragility of Goodness, Martha Nussbaum).

“Because somewhere deep inside, every person knows when he is committing or colluding with an injustice. Somewhere deep in the heart of every ‘reasonable person’ of sound mind, there is a place where he cannot delude himself regarding his acts and their implications. The burden created by the injustice – even if it is repressed – is there, and it has effects and it has a price.” (David Grossman, ‘Contemplations on Peace’ in his book Writing in the Dark, Essays on Literature and Politics, (p.103). “All ethics so far evolved rest on a single premise: that the individual is a member of the community of interdependent parts.” Aldo Leopold.

“The philosopher is marked by the distinguishing trait that he possesses inseparably the taste for evidence and the feeling for ambiguity.” (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, quoted in At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell, p.241.

“… the roots of human rights lie deeper than the world of human covenants. They are far more profound than contracts between governments and have their origin in the metaphysical. How else, indeed, could the document enshrine words like ‘dignity’ and ‘conscience’, words which strain against the bonds of legal definition and political categorisation?” (Seamus Heaney on how artists view human rights, in ‘Human Rights, Poetic Redress’, The Irish Times 15/03/2008).

‘The question of the origin of moral values is therefore for me a question of the first rank because it conditions the future of mankind (Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo).

‘Ethics, like art and aesthetics is a colourful, multifaceted appreciation and engagement with other people in the world.’ (Robert Solomon in It’s Good Business).

“Two things fill the mind with ever increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” (Kant, Critique of Practical Reason.)

‘It is through wonder that people now begin and originally began to philosophise; wondering in the first place at obvious perplexities, and then by gradual progression raising questions about greater matters too, ….’ (Aristotle Metaphysics Book 1part 11 9).