General Good

That description of ethics deserves to be held in slight estimation, which seeks only to regulate our conduct in articles of particular and personal concern, instead of exciting our attention to the general good of the species.

William Godwin, Preface to An enquiry concerning political justice, and its influence on general virtue and happiness (1792) 


This reminds me of DAYBREAK, a native periodical started by the Native American Studies program at SUNY Buffalo.  As is often repeated in native communities around Western New York and elsewhere, the staff dedicates their work to the seventh generation.  That’s how I remember their wording, back when I used to read the newspaper regularly.  In other words, when they make decisions about what stories to pursue and how to write them, they think of the children many years from now.  What will be the impact on this people of the staff’s choices today?  I respect this way of making decisions that some people call ethical decisions.  William Godwin, father of Mary Godwin Shelley, author of Frankenstein, has a similar attitude.  Let us decide, he says, based on how our choice affects others, not just ourselves.  The whole realm of ethics, Godwin argues, concerns how people’s actions determine the future of others.  If someone’s thinking does not include this, we have to call it something other than ethics.  Though Godwin focuses on defining a term and the staff members at DAYBREAK express a commitment, I sense an overlap in their statements.