Difference between the ethics of pragmatism and divine will.


There’s a joke from the TV version of Dilbert, in the episode Ethics they when asked about anything ethical, the character asks if they are talking about the ethics of pragmatism or divine will. What exactly do they mean by the difference between the two of them.

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Ethic pragmatism: don’t do things that hurt other people, because if you do they will hurt you back.

Religious ethics: don’t do the things that our god doesn’t like.

Often they have a lot of overlap (don’t kill people, don’t steal stuff), but they also have differences

Pragmatism is based in logic and focused on practical outcomes. Ethics based in pragmatism usually focus on doing the least amount of harm to the greatest number of people and how ethical decisions play out in the real world. The theoretical reasoning behind the ethical principals do not matter- what matters is how they play out practically. Your ethical code should be justifiable based on how it affects the way you interact with the world and how those interactions shape reality.

The idea of divine will is that everything in the universe is set out by a higher power. It’s often tied to the idea of predestination, which basically believes that everything that has happened and is going to happen has been set out ahead of time and already determine by God. In this framework, humans have little power and religion dictates many aspects of life, including ethics. There is some kind of all-knowing authority that knows the absolute difference between right and wrong, and you’ve been provided with some kind of text or spiritual leader to tell you what is right and what is wrong. You don’t need to be able to independently justify your ethical code based on the real world, because a perfect being provided it for you. Often ethics are discussed theoretically and not applied directly to real world situations or used to solve problems.