Ethical Philosophy: Resolution or Paradox?
Moral experience, which is to say human experience, is loaded with paradox because moral and ethical choices do not always present an opportunity to choose simply between good and evil. Instead, one chooses between good and good, or, in the familiar phrase, between the lesser of two evils. The history of philosophy, which, one might think, should supply resolution to the confusions and dilemmas of life, does nothing so much as ask new and even more vexed questions. And these are questions that the philosophers either do not answer or provide answers that are radically different. Thus philosophy creates its own dilemmas for anyone who is serious about the questions it presents.
It seems hard to think of two more radically different approaches to philosophy than those taken by Aristotle, from the ancient Greek period, and Jean-Paul Sartre, from the postmodern period. Whereas Aristotle seeks to explain and classify everything (Gaarder 104)--from logic to science to ethics to law to politics--Sartre seems intent on explaining nothing, or more exactly explaining either that nothing can be explained or that there's not much point in doing so, even if it could (Gaarder 457). Whereas Aristotle sees human happiness as the highest good and philosophy as the highest happiness and the result of ethical habits of mind and behavior (Gaarder 115), Sartre makes the point that "it is useless to search for the meaning of life in general" (Gaarder 45