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Basic Proposal


  • Good; Bad; Whatever: The Problem with Ethics.

Following on from a session i gave at the KnowledgeLab 4; Who Cares? on Moral Dialogue, I'd like to propose an entire KnowledgeLab on the broad theme of Ethics.

  • Some very quick ideas of some strands that might be pursued.

What do I do when I experience moral objections to something? What do I base my objections on, and what legitimacy do they have? Is it possible/desirable to reject ethics, or to use it? If the danger of using ethics is totalitarianism/fascism/oppression, etc. is it possible that the danger of rejecting ethics is the same? How can/should we be more open/conscious about ethics? Could overtly ethical talk lead to greater understanding, or greater division? How do anarchist politics relate to ethics? Does libertarianism mean relativism? What does tolerance mean, and where does it lead us? What do we mean by/how do we defend notions of right and wrong? And, are any of the above questions the right questions? Can we think about ethics in rational terms? If not, how do/should we engage with ethics?

  • In-(a bit more)depth: Some (over-lapping) themes that might be covered are:

Anarchism and Ethics: What does a libertarian politics have to say about ethics. Can libertarians make statements about right and wrong? If so, how, and with what practical implications?

Plurality, Relativism and Context: How can consensus be reached amongst people with different voices? Can the rational and the non-rational find a common language, or will this lead to the cooption of one by the other? Are all ethical positions legitimate? Why respect some cultures/beliefs and not others?

Coercian and Constraint: To what extent is absolute libertarianism feasible? When can libertarians legitimately intefere with another's actions? If it is legitimate to stop a man raping a women, can we use a libertarian argument to stop a pro-life activist defending a foetus?

What is Ethics Anyway?: On what do we ground any objections to any actions? If we say capitalism is wrong, what do we mean by that? Can we use the same justifications to condemn human slavery as we can animal slavery? Can we ever makes claims to being ethically right? If so, how?

The Myth of Neutrality: Mainstream liberalism has been under sustained attack from the argument that it's claim to neutrality is a fraud. Is anarchism open to the same critique? Does anarchism claim to be ethically neutral? If so, how does it defend this? If not, what ethical position does anarchism adopt? Is libertarianism/anarchism relativist?

How can we open up debates about ethics, without creating (personal and political) divisions? Are we scared of talking about ethics, because we are scared of becoming the next oppressor, etc?

Some anarchists talk of ethics as a personal thing: but how are our ethics formed? To what extent do/should we be more conscious/open about our ethics? How many of our understandings of what is right or wrong are grounded (more or less) in a legal/political/economic culture most of us have been immersed in since birth?

Politics: Can/should/do we differentiate politicis from ethics? Should we be more or less overtly ethical in our political discourse?

If we ignore ethics, do we leave ourselves open to making grave ethical mistakes? (Can such a thing as grave ethical mistakes exist? If not, what do we say about millions of people believing, for example, that black people are morally inferior?) Conversely: If we use ethics, what are the dangers of creating/defending/fighting for a new totality? To what extent do we want totality? If a gut response is: not at all! do we nonetheless not seek for an end to, amongst other things, the torture of political prisoners? If so, should we not admit that in some senses we do seek some totalities?


At present, this is an attempt to generate/guage interest in this proposal; as such, no real efforts are being made to actualise this k-lab. this is partly because i (matt) am not currently in a position to do so, and partly because i want to ensure there is sufficient enthusiasm before taking this further. please feel free to email the k-lab list [[1]] or me directly brianmaiden 'at' if you might be interested in helping with hosting this event

Call for Papers

Please mail ideas for workshops or presentations, to: sonmule 'at'


There is currently no venue or date for this K-Lab. If you're interested in hosting this event, please mail sonmule 'at'

Ideally, K-Lab six will take place early next year.


K-Lab Six currently has no funding. Thoughts/suggestions on how we might get some, please mail sonmule 'at'