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Ethics, Life and Institutions

Ethics, Life and Institutions

An Attempt at Practical Philosophy

Sokol, Jan

subjects: philosophy, sociology

paperback, 258 pp., 1. edition
translation: Pauzerová, Markéta
published: november 2016
ISBN: 978-80-246-3429-6
recommended price: 350 czk



General complaints about moral decay, however frequent, and perhaps even justified they might be, are of little use. This book is not complaining. It is an attempt to apply our improved knowledge in various fields to questions of morality. It seeks to enhance our ability to discern among different moral phenomena and to discuss them more precisely. Second, it tries to take use of recent developements of sciences, in particular sciences of life, in practical philosophy, without giving up the differences between a human and other living beings.

With very few exceptions, the whole tradition of moral philosophy considers the acting person to be an autonomous, independent individual, handling with his or her own property to pursue his or her own happiness. On the other hand, most of us in the contemporary societies are often acting as employees or representatives of social institutions, using entrusted property and competence of our employers to pursue their – and not our own – goals. People in public roles, like judges, policemen or clerks, cannot guide themselves even by the categorical imperative or by the role reversal test. In complex networks of organizations, morals cannot be fully replaced by written rules, as some philosophers think, but takes a different shape.

The content of the book can be roughly divided into three parts. In the first one, the basic notions of e.g. freedom, life, responsibility or justice are analyzed and precized, as well as varied layers of practical philosophy. The second is a succinct overview of main schools or streams of western moral thought, trying to find a binding and universal foundation of morals and ethics. The third part re-introduces another founding idea, rather forgotten in modern times, namely the idea of heritage, both biologiocal and cultural, of the past. This idea, widespread e.g. in the sedentary farming societies, has to be reformulated, but could be fundamental for more realistic and efficient solutions of our responsibility for life and nature. The last part is a tentative analysis of moral relations and problems connected with the growing complexity of institutions.

About the Author

Jan Sokol (1936–2021)
was a former dissident, translator and post-1990 politician. He studied mathematics, cultural anthropology and philosophy at Charles University in Prague, where he is full professor of philosophy. In the fall semester 2008/9 he was teaching Ethics and Human Rights at Harvard University, Cambridge (MA). He published some 25 books (in English: Thinking about ordinary things, 2014) and several hundreds of articles in various languages.