The Ethical as the Second Stage on Life’s Way

Ethics are the social rules that govern how a person ought to act. Ethics are not always in opposition to aesthetics, but they must take precedence when the two conflict. The aesthetic life must be subordinated to the ethical life, as the ethical life is based on a consistent, coherent set of rules established for the good of society. A person can still experience pleasure while living the ethical life. The ethical life serves the purpose of allowing diverse people to coexist in harmony and causes individuals to act for the good of society. The ethical person considers the effect his or her actions will have on others and gives more weight to promoting social welfare than to achieving personal gain. The ethical life also affords pleasures that the aesthetic does not.

Aesthetics steers one away from consistency, since repetition can lead to boredom. An ethical person doesn’t simply enjoy things because they’re novel but makes ethical choices because those choices evoke a higher set of principles. Kierkegaard uses marriage as an example of an ethical life choice. In marriage, the excitement of passion can quickly fade, leading to boredom and a diminishing of aesthetic pleasure. However, by consistently acting for the good of one’s spouse, one learns that there are enjoyments beyond excitement. Still, the ethical life does little to nurture one’s spiritual self. The ethical life diverts one from self-exploration since it requires an individual to follow a set of socially accepted norms and regulations. According to Kierkegaard, self-exploration is necessary for faith, the key requirement for a properly religious life.

Popular pages: Selected Works of Søren Kierkegaard