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Extract from VOLITION AND ALLIED CAUSAL CONCEPTS, CHAPTER 17.
The term ‘deontology’ may be taken to refer to the theoretical study and foundation of ethics, without initial preference for any particular ethical system; another term for this is ‘meta-ethics’. This philosophical discipline is concerned with the form, rather than the content of ethics – how ethical systems are structured, the logical forms and arguments used in them, how standards or norms might be first established (‘axiology’), and indeed all ontological and epistemological issues relative to ethical judgment.
Deontology will, for instance, emphasize that the concepts of life, consciousness and volition are central to any ethical claim or system.
Ultimately, of course, ethics is the prerogative of humans – who are not only alive and conscious and volitional, but moreover able to reason about ethics in general, to formulate and understand particular ethical propositions, and to monitor and manage their own behavior systematically. There is no point researching and writing an ethics, if the subject of it is unable to read it or follow it.
Imperatives, prohibitions, permissions and exemptions – all such statements, whatever their specific contents, logically presuppose an acceptance that the subject has some rationality and free will . It is absurd (self-contradictory) to make or imply statements like: “don’t refer to the concepts of consciousness or volition in your discourse” – since to say “do not” implies one has awareness and choice.
Of course, volition is something very hard to fully define and prove, because it is – like consciousness and like feelings – a primary object of experience. It is not like something else, to which it might be compared and reduced; it is something sui generis, a basic building block of experience. There is no logical basis for excluding volition from the realm of existence, just because it cannot be entirely described in terms of material or mental phenomena. It suffices to point out that it is something we experience distinctively (through ‘self-knowledge’, ‘introspective intuition’ or ‘apperception’ – however we choose to call it). We do not, note well, merely conceive it as a generality – but distinctly experience particular acts of volition within us.