Steven Weiner, Computer Specialist and Aesthetic Realism associate, writes:
What is ethics? Is it something remote and abstract—or does it have to do centrally with every moment of our lives, every object and happening in the world? Is it academic, forbidding, dull—or exciting, beautiful, as well as urgent? (It’s the latter.) You’ll gain new, invaluable knowledge about yourself and all people, and about art, and also about what’s happening in today’s very troubled economy, in “Ethics Is Always There,” the new issue of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known!
The commentary by Ellen Reiss begins:
Dear Unknown Friends:
Here is the final section of the lecture we have been serializing: Where Ethics Is, by Eli Siegel. From one point of view, this 1974 lecture is firmly philosophic. In it, Mr. Siegel comments on statements of Plato and Aristotle, and then uses, as text, passages from a 20th-century work that he respects: Ethics, by British philosopher P.H. Nowell-Smith. Yet while Aesthetic Realism on the subject of ethics is certainly related to the best considerations of the matter in philosophic history, the Aesthetic Realism understanding of ethics is New. It has a vitality, a down-to-earthness, an immediacy not present elsewhere: a relevance to the living, breathing, bewildered, hoping, wondering, worried lives of people every day.
In the course of this lecture, Mr. Siegel defines and describes ethics. Ethics, he says, “is the study of what the outside world deserves from you.” And he continues: ethics is “the study of what is coming to yourself and what is coming to all other things at the same time.” Here, we have one of the big ways Aesthetic Realism is groundbreaking: it shows that ethics is also aesthetics. That is, ethics has what all true art has—the oneness of opposites; it has, centrally, the oneness of Self and World, care for just-me and care for the world-other-than-me. All humanity’s trouble about ethics, be that trouble national or personal, has come because people’s sense of what they deserve has not been the same as an interest in what other people and things deserve. Mr. Siegel explained: “Once you feel what is owing to yourself is more and what is owing to other people is less, you can rob people’s purses, tell lies, keep back things that would do good to people, start wars.”
In this talk about the meaning of ethics, Mr. Siegel sometimes refers to other talks he was giving at the time: his Goodbye Profit System lectures. In them he showed that by the 1970s, history had reached a certain point: for an economy to work well, it now had to be based on ethics. It had to be based on justice to each person and all people. Profit-motivated economics is not based on looking at one’s fellow humans in terms of What do they—people as real as I am, with feelings as deep as my own—deserve? It’s based instead, by very definition, on the profit motive: on looking at a person in terms of How can I make money—as much money as possible—from this fellow, this woman?
The failure of profit-driven economics is with us today, with more intensity and more repercussions. The enormous worry about money, the miles-long lines of cars trying to reach food pantries, the ever-increasing poverty, the diminishing of the middle class: these exist because an economic way is 1) fundamentally unethical and 2) is therefore mortally ailing. And Mr. Siegel was right in showing that what people are looking for is something that has never been fully in the world before: an economy based, with terrific practicality, on good will rather than ill will….Read more