If we examine the circumstances under which we claim that ethical considerations are relevant, we find that we do so when we are concerned about the consequences of the actions of some human beings upon other human beings. At the same time, we find that unless we think that there is a breakdown in what we consider is human respect in a particular social community, we do not raise the question of ethics in that community. Slavery does not constitute an ethical problem in a society in which master and slave sincerely accept slavery as a manner of living in mutual acceptance, or as a legitimate manner of entering in a work agreement. Ethics, therefore, have to do with our emotions, not with our rationality. No doubt we use reason to justify our ethical concerns, and we speak as if there were transcendental values that validate our arguments against what we consider unethical behavior, but we do so only if we find ourselves in an emotional contradiction with respect to our concerns, and we want to dissolve the contradiction through denial, by employing a compelling argument. What determines whether we see a given behavior as unethical, and that we act accordingly, is an emotion - love, mutual acceptance, empathy - and not reason. This is not usually apparent to us, for the following reasons:
1) Emotions have a biological foundation; they are as biological phenomena proper to our bodyhoods. Culture does not constitute our emotions, but the course of our emotioning is mostly cultural. Moreover, the braiding of our emotioning with our languaging is necessarily only cultural. In these circumstances, although our concern for the well-being of other human beings, that is, our ethical behavior, has a biological foundation, the applicability of this concern is cultural. We usually do not see the emotional foundation of our ethical behavior because we devalue emotions and pretend that our actions should have only a rational foundation. For this same reason we do not see the braiding of emotioning and rationality, and we are blind to how our epigenetic culturing sets boundaries to our ethical behavior.
2) Biologically, we human beings belong to the species homo sapiens and are characterised as such by a particular primate body constitution associated with our existence in language. I think that the great centrality of language in human beings, and its deep involvement, through the structure of the nervous system, with co-operation, with sensuality, with food-sharing, and with male concern for children, indicates that the bodyhood of homo sapiens must have arisen in the evolution of primates as a result of the conservation of a particular manner of living (i.e. through the conservation of a particular ontogenic phenotype) that entailed an intimate sensual coexistence in small groups, food-sharing, co-operation between male and female in child care and the enjoyment of domestic life by males and females. In the conservation of this mode of life, that started several (four?) millions of years ago, language is a consequence, not an initial condition. Yet, as language appeared (two...million years ago?), it became part of the ontogenic phenotype conserved, giving rise to a manner of living that is becoming progressively more involved in the recursiveness of consensuality, under the form of cultural complexities, that it entails. Indeed, the emotional problems that we modern human beings have with sexuality, with sharing, with domestic life, with loneliness, and with the glorification of relations of power, do not arise from our biology, but on the contrary, from our rational justification of manners of living that restrict our basic biology as sensual, domestic, languaging animals, that live in groups of mutual concern. Daily life shows this clearly as an emotional conflict in our need to justify rationally our actions when somebody begs from us and we refuse to share, acting as if we had not seen the beggar. We human beings are ethical animals, that is we are animals; that is, we are animals that have arisen in a biological history of love and mutual concern. Yet, we do not usually see ourselves like this. Nor do we usually see our human condition as ethical animals as the present of a primate evolution that is the result of a conservation of a manner of living that entails food-sharing, co-operativeness, sensuality and love (mutual acceptance), as the central actions and emotions that define the boundaries of coexistence of the evolving group.
3) Culturally, we are constituted as human beings of one kind or another by our participation in different social systems, each of which specifies the extension of our concerns for other homo sapiens by operationally defining as human beings only those that belong to it. Due to this, although in us ethics arises in our emotioning as a biologically founded concern for the other, we live this concern differently in each social system that we integrate as a result of their different constitutive consensual braiding of emotioning and reasoning that specifies who is an 'other'. Daily life shows this clearly when we argue differently about our responsibility with respect to other homo sapiens in the different social domains in which we participate. Indeed, our behavior shows that those homo sapiens who do not belong to the particular social domain in which our emotioning is taking place at a particular moment do not belong to the domain of our concerns for human beings at that moment, and no ethical question arises in us with respect to them. We do not usually see this because, in the denial of the legitimacy of our emotioning, we do not see the emotional acceptance of the basic premises on which rests the validity of our reasoning. As a result, when somebody accepts our argument in favour of a particular ethical behavior in a given social domain, we believe that our interlocutor is yielding to the transcendental, compelling power of our reasoning, and we do not see that he or she is doing so because, by accepting as legitimate the social domain in which the argument takes place, he or she enters the emotional domain of mutual acceptance in which the premises of that argument are valid.
4) We change our concerns for other human beings as we move from one social domain to another, and we move from one social domain to another as we move from one network of conversations (social or non-social) to another in the braided flow of our emotioning and reasoning. Furthermore, this happens to us spontaneously as a result of the braiding of emotioning and reasoning that takes place in us, moment after moment in our epigenetic ontogeny, as our conversational and non-conversational domains of interactions and emotioning intersect in their realisation through our bodyhoods. That this is so is apparent in the changes that we undergo in our concerns for other human beings in the normal flow of our daily lives. We may live these changes in our concerns either as spontaneous emotional changes, or as emotional changes that result in us from our reflections in a domain different from the one in which they take place, or we may live them as emotional changes that take place in the same domain of our reasoning as a result of changes in our self-awareness; but they always happen to us in our cultural epigenesis as a result of the dynamics of our bodyhoods in it. Indeed we find ourselves immersed in our ethical concerns and we live them as a matter of course: we do not control their occurrence. Furthermore, generally we do not see this because usually we believe in the transcendental power of reason, and through it, in the universal validity of ethics.
The modern Western culture to which current science belongs is immersed in the explanatory path of objectivity-without-parenthesis. In this explanatory path, or, as I can say now, in this basic attitude of coexistence, in which usually we attempt to compel others with arguments that we deem to be universal because they are founded on reason, and in which we deny to emotions their basic legitimacy and devalue them, we argue as if ethics has, or should have, a rational, transcendental grounding. Yet, even if while living in this explanatory path we do not accept the emotional foundation of our ethical behavior, we in our praxis know that our concern for the other pertains to our emotioning because we resort to agreement to make it universal. Indeed, we show that this is so in the legal systems that we create to regulate our coexistence in the non-social communities that we integrate. And we do this without being aware of why we do it, because we speak of social regulation to correct operational dynamics proper to the praxis of interactions in a non-social community; that is, in a community founded on an emotion different from love, which constitutively does not include the other in the domain of mutual acceptance of the participants. And, of course, this is possible because in a legal system sincerity does not matter, and it is only the behavior of mutual acceptance apparent in our compliance with the law, that is required. But, how is that we are frequently not satisfied with rational arguments that negate the other, even if we believe that they are grounded on a universal, transcendental truth? How is it that ethical arguments that we accept to be fully rational are not in fact universally compelling as they ought to be? These questions have no adequate answer from the explanatory path of objectivity-without-parenthesis because this explanatory path denies the fundamental emotional grounding of human rationality. This issue will be examined next.
We human beings usually exist simultaneously or in succession in many different domains of coexistence, each constituted as a configuration of conversations and as a domain of rationality under a fundamental manner of emotioning, that specify who belongs to it. In these circumstances we may find ourselves emotionally negating the validity of the consequences of our actions upon other human beings while we accept them on rational grounds. If it is the case that as this happens we want the simultaneous validity of both our empathy and our reasoning, we are in an ethical conflict. And we are in an ethical conflict even if we are operating in objectivity-without-parenthesis; it just happens to us that although we accept our rational argument this is not sufficiently compelling to negate our empathy (love). If in this case we lean towards empathy, we operationally move out of the path of objectivity-without-parenthesis into the path of objectivity-in-parenthesis and take responsibility for our actions. If, on the contrary, we do otherwise, and we lean towards our rational argument, we devalue our emotion of empathy and do not take responsibility for our actions. In both cases, however, we may act without being aware of the epistemological and ontological implications of what we do; and if, in addition, we still remain in doubt about the validity or legitimacy of what we do, we remain in emotional contradiction, and we suffer.
If we are in the path of coexistence of objectivity-in-parenthesis, the situation is different because we are aware of the many different domains of reality in which we may live, as well as of the emotional grounding of our ethical concerns. In this path of coexistence we are also aware that at any moment our ethical concerns do not go beyond the operational boundary of mutual acceptance that specifies the social domain in which we make our ethical reflections. Furthermore, in this path of coexistence we are also aware that the social domains in which we participate, as well as their extension, depend on the epigenetic braiding of language and emotioning that we have lived in the culture to which we belong (see Maturana & Varela, 1980).