The term polyethics was used by the Italian writer Paolo Maurensig (author of The Luneburg Variation and Canone Inverso) in a book which he wrote with Ricardo Illy (former mayor of Trieste). In Spain, it has been used by Pablo Ródenas, Professor of Ethics and Philosophy at the Universidad de La Laguna, and by Francisco Fernández Buey (1943-2012), head of the Humanities Department of the Universidad Pompeu Fabra de Barcelona. I’m rooting myself in the considerations of the latter.
“Polyethics” is an ambivalent term that alludes to, on the one hand, a plurality of ethics, to a diversity of moral conceptions and practices (which does not imply, in any case, admission of ethical relativism, but rather a creative battle of ideas), and, on the other hand, it’s a word formed by combining two others, ethics and politics, with the intention of suggesting a new path of philosophical thinking in which a reflection on the moral responsibility of our acts is fused with our political knowledge. This second meaning is certainly a desideratum born in an era of extreme political manipulation of citizenship.
Polyethics is still not its own philosophical discipline, but when the historic conditions of the 20th and 21st centuries (extremely cruel wars, revolutions, exterminations, bloody totalitarianism, atomic weaponry, growing inequalities, global warming) blew up the idea that a rational link between ethics and politics was possible, a few men and women (Brecht, Lukács, Weil, Arendt, Levi, Benjamin, Kraus, among others) resisted and continue to resist the denial of that possibility.
With diverse political positions but with a shared questioning of the establishment in the moral order and in the political organization of the societies in which they lived and live, they offered and continue to offer a collection of works, reflections, and practices that have contributed and contribute to oxygenate human thought and action.
In terms of what’s innovative about it, the desire to fuse ethics and politics has oscillated, in the words of Fernández Buey, between the affirmation that at the bottom of it all, everything is political, and the affirmation that there is no bottom, that the human being is what it seems to be and that, therefore, politics must be ethics of the collective, of the public sphere, as repeatedly pointed out by the Spanish logician, translator and philosopher Manuel Sacristán Luzón (1925-1985).
This normative proposal is extracted from two parallel considerations. In the first place, from the observation that the separation between ethics and politics, established in the origins of European modernity (Maquiavelo), had a methodological basis but has been perverted in the practical life of human societies to radically separate real political practice from any moral consideration. In the second place, from the verification of the principle problems that we tend to call political refer to, in the majority of cases, to essential ethical principles and, vice versa, that there do not exist issued of private behavior that do not ultimately end in political or legal-political considerations.
In the end, it’s about recovering a whole that was lost once it was admitted, from an analytical perspective, that ethical judgment and political reflection should be kept separate. The complexity and needs of human social life will demand it’s fusion, and its emergent qualities.