Home page Quotes

The Prevalence of Ethical Discourse in Everyday Life

“… it’s virtually impossible to make sense of or meaningfully participate in social life without recognising that the entanglement of facts and values is so much part of our self-understanding and human interactions.” (Johnny Lyons in ‘Problems, problems’ Dublin Review of Books February 2023).

Moral Blindness From An Absolutist Pursuit of Ideals

“The certitude of the soul that its ideal is right too often begets a moral blindness with regard to conduct, and its purity of motive is taken as absolution for its sins”.

George Russell (AE) quoted in “Idealism of nascent State extinguished by violence’, Diarmaid Ferriter, Irish Times 23/12/2022.


Ethical Opportunity and Ethical Risk

“… this is a writer who believes that one of the greatest opportunities is moral progress, and that one of the greatest risks is that we lose our way, ethically, perhaps forever.”

(Tim Harford on William MacAskill’s book What We Owe the Future – A Million Year View).


Keeping a Grip

“The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but the sense by which we take our real bearings in the world – the category of truth versus falsehood – is being destroyed.”  Hannah Arendt ( quoted in ‘Warning from history for post Coved-19 world’ by Richard Clarke, Rite&Reason The Irish Times 20/07/2020)


Epochal importance

“The great dilemma of our time is that, on the one hand, the climate crisis cannot be tackled  without rational, stable governments committed to joint action through global institutions and agreements. Yet, on the other hand, the big political shifts of our time have been towards unstable and irrational governments mobilising narrow and divisive forms of ethnic nationalism, isolationism and exceptionalism.” (Irish Times editorial 4/01/2020).

The Interrelation between Climate Change and Social Justice

“Collier [in his book The Future of Capitalism] believes that a catastrophic lack of morality – evidenced by the greed-is-good doctrine – lies at the core of modern capitalism. He calls for an ethical family, an ethical firm and an ethical globalisation. This is the correct approach, but while we may quibble with whether he has defined these concepts adequately, or even provided sufficient philosophical foundations, the core question is: how can we achieve this ethical society? Collier doesn’t persuasively answer this, nor does he go far enough in exposing the ethical lapses of twenty-first century capitalist economics and society. What, after all, can we say about the ethics of a society that appears to be willing to jeopardise the health and well-being of future generations by wantonly consuming more carbon-intensive material goods today? The yellow-vest protesters in Paris, as they clamour against a progressive green tax intended to ensure the future of the planet, are rightly wondering how they are going to have enough money to make it to the end of the month. Which shows that a truly ethical capitalism must simultaneously address structural inequality and the environment. If we are to achieve an ethical capitalism, we need an ethical politics, which respects the basic tenets of democratic values.” (Joseph E. Stiglitz ‘Capitalism and its Discontents’, Times Literary Supplement, 4 June 2019).

Rediscovering Morality

“In a society that is materially and logistically and in every way capable of ensuring people are paid a dignified wage, have healthcare, have access to an education and opportunity – if that is materially possible, I feel like we are morally compelled to make it so.”

Ocasio-Cortez, quoted in ‘How the American left is rediscovering morality’, Sarah March, Guardian 04/08/ 2018

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.)

Moral Responses to Political Issues

“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).

Thinning the Moral Mist with Philosophy and Practicing Moral Sympathy

“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 ….

A Reflection on Altruism

“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).

Coping with Competing Challenges and Pressures

“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).

Justice Experienced as Fundamental from its Opposition to Injustice

“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).

The Communal Premise of Ethics

“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’s Feel for Evidence and Ambiguity

“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 Deep Roots and Sway of Human Rights

“… 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).

Why the Question of the Origin of Moral Values is so Important

‘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).

A Similarity between Ethics and Art

“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).

The Mysterious Presence and Power of Morality

“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.)

To Wonder is to Philosophise

‘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).