“Scepticism is an attitude that treats every claim to truth as up for debate. Religion, philosophy, science, history, psychology – generally, sceptics believe every source of knowledge has its limits, and its up to us to figure out what those are.”

So says a 05 October 2018 article by The Ethics Centre, Ethics Explainer: Scepticism, which revisits the arguments of René Descarte, one of the Western canon’s most famous philosophers.

“Descartes wanted to prove certain truths were innate and could not be contested. To do so, he started to pick out every claim to truth he could think of – including how we see the world – and challenge it.”

How can we know we exist, that what we perceive as reality is not just an illusion?  Descarte’s

epiphany was that his doubting proved he was thinking; “I think, therefore I am.”


So where does ethics come in? Beset as we are by Fake News, Climate Change Scepticism, Gender Bias, Global protests and  discontent with Government, Threats of Warfare, how can ethics help?

The Ethics Centre suggests “Acknowledging how powerful our habits and emotions are is key to recognising when we’re tempted to overlook the facts in favour of how something makes us feel.”


But could there be more to it than that? What if overlooking the facts in favour of something that makes us feel good has been a survival characteristic for the human race? Giving that thought some serious scientific underpinning,  A neurochemical hypothesis for the origin of hominids

reports that  “the human striatum exhibits a unique neurochemical profile that differs dramatically from those of other primates. The human signature of elevated striatal dopamine, serotonin, and neuropeptide Y, coupled with lowered acetylcholine, systematically favors externally driven behavior and greatly amplifies sensitivity to social cues that promote social conformity, empathy, and altruism.” This comes from a January 2018 Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The authors conclude that “ Such exceptional neurochemistry would have favored individuals especially sensitive to social cues throughout later human evolution and may account for cerebral cortical expansion and the emergence of language.

The Public Full-text is available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322648915_A_neurochemical_hypothesis_for_the_origin_of_hominids


Back to 21st Century, where “Being tied in a knot of lies, the danger of scepticism, micro-dosing LSD and dismantling bi-partisan politics were just some of the themes threaded throughout this year’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas.”

This quote comes from  In Review: The Festival Of Dangerous Ideas 2018, by The Ethics Centre, 1 November 2018. The summing up by co-founder, co-curator, and Executive Director of the Ethics Centre, Dr Simon Longstaff, was:

“Hard truths, fleshy realities, blunt edged disagreement and sharp new ideas – all mixed together with a throng of people in an iconic location that spoke alongside the artists and speakers. It was a brilliant amalgam, FODI at its best.”


Putting ideas into practice,  a new survey, undertaken by The Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) in partnership with the The Ethics Centre (TEC) found that” the majority of Australian employees are aware that their organisations have each of the building blocks of an ethics programme; a code of ethics, training, and a ‘speak up’ line”. The survey “illuminated the role managers play in upholding behaviours within the workplace” and “identifies pressures felt and attitudes toward management positions”.

The survey further identifies pressures felt and attitudes toward management positions:

  • Managers are more likely to feel pressure to compromise their ethical standards than those not in a management position (by 9%)
  • They were also much more likely to have lenient views toward charging personal entertainment as expenses and using company petrol for mileage
  • Employees who have felt pressure to compromise their ethical standards were also more likely to feel their manager failed to promote/reward ethical behaviour (43%).

At an employee level, almost 1 in 4 reported awareness of misconduct in the workplace, yet worryingly only 1 in 3 of those workers decided to speak up.

For further details see Ethics programs work in practise.

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