ON THE TASKS OF SCIENTIFIC ETHICS
To be scientific, ethics must not include statements that are derived in any manner other than ethical reasoning from axioms or facts. But on this road it cannot arrive at norms, at rules of conduct. Contrary to the common view, no science at all can give rules. Science says merely what is, and how it is, but not what ought to be. Norms, i.e. rules of conduct, follow not from theoretical studies but from the practical applications of the theoretical results. Hygiene, for instance, indicates physical movement as an indispensable condition of maintaining health; but the norm “We ought to make physical exercises” originates from our concern with the important aim of maintaining our health.
Thus, scientific ethics can also do no more than study, and leave the derivation of norms from its results to agents that are intent upon certain practical objectives; but then the question arises as to what it is that scientific ethics should study. Some people suggest it ought to study the origin and development of ethical concepts; but the resulting “descriptive ethics” is a fully different science. To get a clear idea of what is the proper study of scientific ethics, we must first agree that science would never have been born at all if the intentions and actions of some individuals had not conflicted with those of others. (The same is true of the interrelationships between social groups and between groups and individuals.) The fact that these conflicts happen to be of different intensities furnishes the object of study for scientific ethics; it is to study the conditions in which those conflicts are at their smallest.
Thus, by analysing and generalizing facts provided by experience, scientific ethics will arrive (partly it has already arrived) at a number of purely theoretical propositions. It leaves the derivation of rules of conduct as well as their execution to factors pursuing definite practical objectives and possessing a certain executive power. (Analogously, “an expert” hygiene would expect the public health authorities to formulate sanitary regulations and to control their execution.) Such factors are most often educators in the broad sense, i.e. parents, teachers in the case of individuals, and religion and law in the case of societies.
But the educators of individuals and societies could hardly wait till ethics would provide for them the results of theoretical investigations from which they could derive rules serving their appropriate ends. Those ends, which are ultimately reduced to securing the coexistence of individuals and social groups, had been calling for implementation long before any attempts at scientific ethics have first been made. Therefore the educators tended to implement those ends by means of norms created on the strength of a social instinct, especially of an ethical instinct, which can be called the social self-preservation instinct. In this way numerous rules of conduct were created, in habits and customs, in the ethics of personal relations and in the precepts of public opinion, in common law and later in positive law, and in religious precepts. Such numerous, sometimes conflicting norms existed before the appearance of scientific ethics. (Similarly, there had been numerous precepts concerning the protection of health in customs and in rituals still before scientific hygiene was created). But this does not mean that, in view of these circumstances, scientific ethics is futile, or even that it has come too late. On the contrary, the results of its precise studies will provide the foundation for overcoming the possible conflicts between the norms guiding our lives. Moreover in strictly observing its scientific character and arriving at new truths scientific ethics will acquire such a significance among the factors regulating human life that it will be impossible not to listen to its voice.