The Good Life Blueprint: Unraveling Virtue, Value, and Vision for a Better World


A Good Life in this World

Michael Shaun Conaway
Publishing Editor
June 28th, 2023

Virtue means doing the right thing, in relation to the right person, at the right time, to the right extent, in the right manner, and for the right purpose. — Aristotle

The sky is sunny and blue today where I live in Haarlem. Yesterday we got our first good rainstorm in the past six weeks. That’s very unusual for the Netherlands which is known for frequent rain, cool weather and overcast days. Evidently western Europe has already reached 2.3 degrees of warming. Yesterday in San Angelo, Texas it was 117F/47.5 C. The predictions are that Texas will have the warmest summer ever, like most of the states. And, maybe as to be expected, the Himalayan glaciers have accelerated their rate of melting, reported yesterday. At the same time the world is struggling to make the kind of changes necessary to stop the warming or even limit it. We talk of renewables replacing oil but my grocery store is filled with single use plastic wrapping on everything. Are things really better in plastic?

Our world is changing and it’s not for the better for us humans.

Most of us are unnerved by these challenging weather conditions. While it’s all in our hands, the way the world goes, it’s not really in my hands — as in, I am not the ruler of the world. So what do I do? Certainly do the small things that help, reduce, reuse and recycle, drive less, consume less. Most of us can do that but how do we deal with the larger issues of our responsibility of what kind of world are we leaving to our children and children’s children?

Philosophy is the science of asking the question, what is a good life? Aristotle is the originator of what is known as virtue ethics. His idea was that our character is what determines whether or not we are virtuous. Our character is built up of character traits that have to be balanced to have a eudaimonic (flourishing) life. Courage is good. Too much courage is reckless. Too little courage is cowardice. Aristotle believed that we could do the right thing if we possessed the character traits. Having the traits meant doing the right thing, so we could build those traits by our actions, our practice of being virtuous.

Emanuel Kant prescribed deontological (duties and rules) ethics that show up in the Victorian Era and continue in socially conservative culture where there are clear rules about what is right and wrong. In this ethics the duties and rules are more important than the outcomes. Kant believed that we could use reason to come to the morally correct action in any given situation. I’m guessing he was never cut off by an enormous SUV whose driver was texting rather than watching the road.

Joseph Fletcher proposed that our ethics are actually based upon the situation we find ourselves in. John Doris went on to develop Situational Ethics as a way to better describe human behaviour. He argues that any character traits that we have are based upon our local environment and situations that come up again and again, thus it seems that we have character traits when really we are a product of our environment and the specific situation we are in. Two social psychologists, Bibb Latané and John Darley, conducted an experiment where they simulated a person in distress to see if bystanders would help the person. If there were one or few bystanders they would render aid. But as the number of bystanders grew, at a certain point, no one rendered aid. It turns out the more people you have the less likely one person will take action. This is now known as the bystander effect. Latané and Darley followed this up with an experiment where students were told they were participating in a religious studies experiment and that they had to prepare a talk about the good samaritan. To give the talk they had to walk to another building where a person in distress was staged. They added a variable of telling some participants that they had to hurry to be on time for the speech. 63% of those with a low hurry condition helped the person, while only 10% of those with the high hurry condition stopped to give aid.

This certainly is good evidence that our situation or circumstances have a big effect on our ability to make ethical choices. It is important to note that even in the hurry group 10% did stop. What made them do that? It seems unlikely that Kant’s deontology (duties and rules) was on people’s minds. And if they were reasoning about the situation they might likely determine that their personal urgency was more important, considering that someone else would likely render aid. It seems to me Aristotle’s virtues ethics would better account for those who did render aid. Those who are likely to render aid, render aid regardless of the circumstances.

Thank you for sticking with me for the short ethics lesson.

Now what do Aristotle, Kant and Doris have to say about the weather?

We all have our lives to live, including all of our daily responsibilities to family, job, community etc. We are living in the busiest time ever with our 24/7 work from anywhere connectivity. When it comes to the environment, pollution and the climate crisis we are like the good samaritan test subjects, likely to walk by and assume that someone else will give aid. But this is clearly not the ethical thing to do. Ethically we must do whatever we can to avert the harm being done today and to future generations.

How do we improve upon the 10% who stop and help?

I believe that both Aristotle and Kant’s ethics can help. If we can practice virtuous behavior then we develop character traits that lead to virtuous behavior. In this case we must consider the most ethical choices we can make in regards to the environment, pollution and the climate crisis and we make it a daily practice to make ethical choices. Then when we are confronted by a situation where we may be tempted to push off the ethical choice, we are more likely, by habit, to be ethical.

Finally I do believe that we can begin to apply Kantian Ethics to examine our duty to our environment and to future generations and begin to make some rules that insure that our current generation doesn’t bring about the end of human civilization, as we know it on the Earth. We must select government representatives who will govern for the people rather than for the special interests that drive much of our policy making.

This week the Swiss people approved a net-zero climate law, adopting rules that will require climate ethical behaviour from Swiss corporations and businesses that operate in Switzerland. At the same time the people approved a minimum 15% corporate tax rate, adopting a global initiative to hold our multinational corporations accountable to paying taxes.

Our future depends on our ability to take a long and wide view of what is best for our human global civilization. Long in time, we should be planning 100 years out for the benefit of our descendants who will literally inherit the world that we leave to them. Wide in including all of humanity in our considerations. For too long the prosperous northern countries have stacked the deck in their favour. We citizens of these countries have been too prideful of the quality of our societies and the quality of our own lives. We now know that much of that prosperity has come at the expense of the global south and predominantly the world’s poorest people.

It turns out that we have a lot to do to become ethical. You and I are the place to start, as the decisions we make individually and collectively will shape life on this planet for the next 100 generations. This is a wonderful responsibility which makes our lives meaningful.

The generations alive on Earth today will be remembered…

…for all of the great, ethical decisions we made.

I believe that is what is possible for us all.

In the meantime, we’ll be looking for PROOF of a thriving future for humanity.

The Generative Futurist
Editor PROOF

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Proof 53 – The Good Life Blueprint: Unraveling Virtue, Value, and Vision for a Better World

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