Volume 15, Issue 1, Spring 2001
John Michael Atherton
Ethics through Aikido
Practical Ethics Gets Physical
A mugging can overwhelm our ability to apply moral principles. When words fail, we still need advice that allows us to remain moral in the face of an attack. Self-defense offers just such advice and can be supported by utilitarian, deontological, and virtue approaches to ethics. Self-defense increases safety and security that enhance our freedom and well-being, which, in turn, allow us to survive and flourish as moral agents. Self-defense must, however, itself be qualified because its violent treatment of muggers may produce human time bombs that reduce the safety and security of society.
The martial art of Aikido trains our hand to act morally in the face of a physical attack when our mind is otherwise occupied. Aikido teaches self-defense, but it goes beyond self-centeredness to also protect the attacker. Such concern helps build community because it reduces vectors of resentment that spread when violence is perpetuated. The defense-only nature of Aikido teaches virtues in an embodied form on the mat. It offers philosophers an experiential and kinesthetic view of moral conduct that supplements and complements an exclusively intellectual approach. Moral philosophy cannot demand that we learn a martial art since it is only one of many possibilities to assist us in living a moral life; nevertheless, a reasonable attention to those conditions necessary for freedom and well-being entails an awareness of self-defense.