A book on ethics and philosophy of values

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b) Second statement of the doxa: there is a crisis of values

It is often said that our world is facing a crisis of values. The daily events seem to confirm this diagnosis. Thus A. Léonard draws up a list influenced by his catholic faith: Proliferation of weapons, third world debt, falling birth rates in the Western world, artificial breeding techniques, abortion and contraception, experimentation with the human body, invasion of privacy, violation of human rights, unrestrained pursuit of comfort and profund unhappiness […] 1.

In the same way, R. Misrahi, as a spinozist philosopher, lists all of the tragedies having occurred in modern history: In the early 21st century, the world is in crisis, and its gravity is equivalent to that of the beginning of the 20th century. There has been no world war three, but wars break out on every continent, in a new form, whether they are religious or national wars, or conflicts of interest. The collapse of all totalitarian regimes has led to hatred and local conflicts, whereas technological developments have generated extreme poverty and unemployment […] On the economic and social front, most people seem to live in a permanent state of crisis 2.

However, one might wonder whether the spirit of an era may be established by studying the news. For in every age, there have been wars, poverty, and unemployment. Why do we say that our postmodern era is in crisis, and not the 17th century, for example, even though the same disasters could be observed at that time?

Consequently, if there is a crisis of values, it is not because of the news, which proves nothing other than what King Salomon said: There is nothing new under the sun. To capture the spirit of a particular era, we must not analyse it based on a historical event such as September 11th. In my opinion, nothing could be more superficial.

On the contrary, our time is characterised by a great interest in ethics, such as never seen before. The laws of war regulate the actions of the States and most violations of international law are revealed by the press. The number of ethics committees is increasing in many sectors. A large number of companies follow a code of conduct (a deontology). In the university libraries, some sections are devoted to ethics (these books are not kept in the “Philosophy” section anymore, which shows that ethics are more than a simple field of Philosophy, but have their own legitimacy).

However, we may ask ourselves whether this phenomenon is really the sign of an ethical renewal, or of severe anxiety. If all these books on ethics are being written and all these ethics committees are being established during our time, it is to deal with a particular issue. However, only a fundamental problem may generate such a response, or, on the other hand, the proliferation of answers reveals that the problem remains intact.

The present focus on ethics may be the sign of their inability.
We must remember the words of Hölderlin: But where danger is, grows the saving power also 3. If so many ethical books are being presently released, it is because the danger of moral confusion itself is growing.

What, then, may be the cause of this postmodern confusion?

Where does such anxiety come from?

[Go to the next chapter]

1. Foundation of morality, p. 11
2. What is ethics, p.5
3. Wo aber Gefähr ist, wächst/ Das Rettende auch (Patmos -At Hombourg, 1803-1806).