Ethics from Experience? No.

Around 75 years ago, it became popular for college professors to say that ethics depends not on doing the right thing to have the good life. Instead, these masters of confusion want us to base ethics on personal experience. That would be enough stupidity for one lifetime, but they also want us to believe that because your experiences differ from mine, you cannot tell me what’s right or wrong, nor can I tell you—only our experiences can tell us what’s right or wrong. One writer believes we cannot even discuss right and wrong because our experience differs.

I completely agree that experience is a powerful motivator and interpreter of right and wrong. To say that we cannot arrive at objectivity on what is right and what is wrong, however, is the kind of stupidity that unravels societies. How the hell can we function if we cannot agree on at least a framework of rights and wrongs?

As a business leader, you have no problem proving the need for some right/wrong boundaries, do you? Imagine you’re at work. You go to your boss and tell her that while you realize she wants you at work at 8:00am, you want to come in at 10:00. If she is still listening, explain that your experience shows that you wake up slow and aren’t at your best until around 9:30, but to be on the safe side, you’ll begin work at 10:00. And tell her that your experience also shows that anything done past 5:00 is wasted effort, so you will go home then.

I think you get the point. If work starts at 8:00, it’s right to be there no later than 8:00. Some things are right, some are wrong. You can think of a thousand examples of rights and wrongs on which reasonable people agree; and if you’ve supervised employees or raised a teenager, you can think of a thousand more.

When I talk about ethics, I am not referring to speculative or overly subjective whims. I mean proven right habits to adopt and proven wrong habits to avoid, and that one can adopt and avoid habits to find the good life.