Simply put [and stealing from Peter Singer]: how are we to live our lives? Everything else [that matters] follows from this question. Ethics is also about always asking the question of what is unanswered, undone, unaddressed, unregarded, unloved, and unfinished. It addresses all the places of incompleteness in a society--in its laws, its charters, its bills of rights, its institutions. Ethics will always be more important than "rights"--which are political--because rights are always predicated on categories that, by their very nature, exclude someone and something. Ethics attends to these exclusions. Ethics locates itself in all the places the law either overlooks or damages. There can never be, say, a *written* ethical code, because real ethics are, in some sense, unsayable, but never undoable.
Her commentary in its entirety makes good reading.
For a related -- but far lighter -- discussion of etiquette and its possible relation to something like ethics, check out the lively comments on this odd column about a Ball o’ Butter at Inside HigherEd.
Regarding the comments at "Inside HigherEd" regarding the "proper" etiquette for academics to display in public [and also, job-seeking] situations, I was especially struck by this:
"Smile, and remember other actions to take during the first interaction. When you meet someone for the first time, there are five things you should do: introduce yourself, shake the person’s hand, look them in the eyes, smile, and say their name back to them (so they know you are listening and you know that you pronounced their moniker correctly)."
I have learned the hard way that no one really wants you to look them directly in the eye. Apparently, this unnerves many people. I love looking people right in the eyes. I do it all the time, and I've been told it makes me "too intense." Really, really looking at people you are talking to, as if you actually care about them--I believe in it, passionately, but it has never helped me. In fact, a graduate school mentor once advised me against it. She told me I made my professors nervous because I was so forthright in my engagement with them. On this point, see Prof. Cohen's post just below this one regarding his comments to graduate students at George Washington University--how very humane. I wish he had been one of my professors.
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