There is not much point in being free if one has no idea how to live successfully. I think freedom would terrify most people. It is not necessarily their fault. Most people have lived their entire lives within societies dominated by oppressive governments and have no experience with true freedom. In fact, most people actually think of freedom as something provided by a government, without making the very simple observation that if one is governed, one is not free. Free means ungoverned, or more precisely, self-governed.
But this is not about politics, or even freedom itself, but about what is required to live successfully and happily as a human being.
[NOTE: Some writers like to use the the expression, "human flourishing." Societies, like funguses, "flourish." I do not think the term is appropriate for individual human success. Things that flourish are things that reproduce mindlessly like protozoa and Muslims, —ala Oriana Fallaci.]
Ethics is the science that defines the principles for successful human life. Just as the physical sciences define the principles that must be observed in the technologies of medicine, mechanics, electronics, manufacturing, design, and biology if they are to be successful, ethics defines the principles that must be observed in the technology of living a life, if it is to be successful.
Almost everything published or promoted as ethics today, from religion to libertarianism is wrong, but it is not my intention to present a correct view of ethics here, but to identify a fundamental flaw in all ethical thinking.
The Is-Ought Fallacy
I am sorry I have to use an individual I greatly admire, Walter Williams, as an example of this mistake:
"The importance of knowing whether a statement is non-normative or normative is that in the former there are facts to settle any dispute, but in the latter there are none. Itís just a matter of opinion, and one personís opinion is just as good as another. A good clue to telling whether a statement is normative is whether it contains the words 'should' and 'ought.'"
The piece of sophistry introduced into the field of philosophy by Hume called the, "is-ought," problem is supposed to mean that no "ought" can be deduced from what, "is." "Science can discover the nature of what is, but science cannot tell you what you ought to do," it is sometimes explained.
It is not the business of science to tell anyone what to do. Ethics is the branch of philosophy that provides the principles by which an individual determines what to do in any situation and those principles are determined by the nature of what exists, particularly the nature of the world we live in (which science can tell us) and the nature of a human being (which philosophy tells us).
The problem with the is-ought sophistry is that it convinces people, even very intelligent ones like Walter Williams, that ethical principles are "just a matter of opinion, and one personís opinion is just as good as another." And everyone who swallows the lie is convinced there are no objective moral principles, when in fact, moral principles are not only objective, but absolute and as certain as any scientific principles.
The principles of ethics are actually moral values, and like all values only have meaning in terms of some objective, goal, or purpose. There are no intrinsic values. Nothing is just good or bad, things are only good or bad when they are good or bad for something and to someone.
The objective or goal of ethical principles is the successful life of a human being. Ethical values determined what is good for a human being if one chooses to live successfully and happily in this world and they are determined by what the nature of this world is and what the nature of a human being is.
It is human nature that is the most important is in determining ethical principles. One already knows the principles that describe physical nature cannot be violated. It is the requirements of one's own human nature that are less well understood though are the most important.
It is the whole human nature, both physical and psychological, that determines how a human being must live, but it is the psychological nature that is primary.
Every organism has a specific nature that determines how it must live, that is, what it must and must not do, to succeed as the kind of organism it is. Every organism except human beings are provided with an automatic pattern of behavior that guarantees the organism will live as its nature requires. That automatic pattern of behavior is called instinct.
Human beings do not have an automatic pattern of behavior. They must learn how they must live by discovering what the requirements of their nature are and how to acquire and achieve them. Instead of instinct, human beings have minds, which is their means of discovering how they must live and choosing to live as their nature requires.
The human mind has three independent attributes: volition, which is the ability and necessity to consciously choose all they do and think; intellect, which the ability and necessity to gain and store knowledge; and rationality, which is the ability and necessity to use knowledge to think, make judgments and make choices.
It is above all things the nature of the human mind that is the "is" that determines how a human being "must" live to live happily and successfully in this world.
Neither article is a treatise on ethics, but introductions to the more important concepts, nevertheless they both illustrate the fact that ethical principles are not arbitrary, not dictated by some authority, and not a matter of opinion, but as objective and absolute as any other objective knowledge.