Ethics as a Foundation

This is theme I’d like to return to from a few different angles: the classical notion that ethics come before economics come before politics.

Think about that: first we have to govern ourselves (ethics); then we have to govern our households, meaning our material needs and wants (economics); and then we have to govern ourselves as social animals (politics).

From Aristotle, we have the idea that he who would rule must first have been ruled — people who haven’t learned ethics and self-control don’t make very good stewards of other people’s lives or livelihoods.

And isn’t that what we so often today in ourselves, in our economics, and in our politics — people who are so ill-governed in themselves that they make a mess for everyone else when given a chance?

Such lack of control — i.e., of ethics — has historically not been a sustainable path to the good life. Complete licentiousness might be enjoyable in the short run but tends to exact its toll in the long.

And, of course, when ungoverned people are given (or take) a chance to govern something big and important to all of us, like a company or a government, what will happen to all of us as a result of the license they take?