Ethics - academic discipline whose subject matter is morality; "acted ethically" = according to the rules
- Definition (link)
- the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation
- a : a set of moral principles: a theory or system of moral values - often used in plural but singular or plural in construction
b: ethics plural in form but singular or plural in construction: the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group
c: a guiding philosophy
d: a consciousness of moral importance
- ethics plural: a set of moral issues or aspects (such as rightness)
Morality - required - a set of rules of behavior - allows social cooperation - usually a "do or don't" decision (i.e., traffic lights) = social control system
Society - agreed upon rules of behavior
Moral rules have purpose - general benefit for collective individuals - not always for the benefit of the individual - performance evaluations or grades
People accept rules - society's existence, stability, endure over generations
Religion: another mechanism of control - not required or necessary for ethics or morals (i.e., eating pork or divorce)
Morality is a required part of society
argument: "abortion is wrong bc the pope says so"
problem: if you base the argument on moral authority of religion you lose ability to communicate
Morality/social institution - understand internal structure
- Specific: "That is wrong"
- Mid-level: "Lying is wrong"
- Principle level: "Do unto others"
- Specific justified by references to mid-level... mid-level justified by reference to principle... principle based on harm to either individual or society
Student recently asked me: Is it ethical for males and females to share a hotel room when attending a conference?
- Is this an ethical question?
- Is this a moral question?
- Is my/your/anyone's reply contingent upon another type of morals or code?
Normally, common beliefs or behaviors imply a "truth" to the matter.
Relativism implies there is no truth, i.e., there is no better way or opinion, all are equally good (thus, it's all relative).
In this class, "check your guns at the door" - we can't let emotional, religious, or pre-disposed beliefs to get in the way
Descriptive ethical relativism
People/cultures differ in their moral beliefs
You can have those beliefs, but let's try ato focus on at ethics and not morality.
Factual plane on which people disagree - no argument over the merits of the opinions - no judgments of the facts
People may disagree over moral matters (i.e., it is wrong to eat pork). People may disagree about some ethical matters (it is wrong to kill an animal for food), but not others (it is wrong to kill a human).
Problem: "Politicization" of any claim - reject any factual claim that is based on a political issue that you disagree with
This is a dangerous place - lots of land mines these days
Even if people disagree, there may be situations in which they do agree (i.e., It is wrong to kill a human) -
Eskimos: leave dying to die in snow... we do not do that, but we may have a similar moral belief, but have evolved different practices. (Can't keep up with food source) - people, in error, point to differences between cultures as an example of cultural differences
Disagreement may be at such a fundamental level that we cannot reach agreement, but we must venture to find agreement, and analyze the merit of the relativistic arguments.. what principle is that based on, are you willing to accept implications of accepting all cases where this principle applies... however, the alternative is unacceptable... cannot presuppose the outcome of the argument.
"I have the right to my opinion" - are you willing to accept all aspects where... you must analyze opinions and undergo the process of analyzing views... not morality, but pure logic...
Philosophical ethical relativism
- Different moral judgments about different situations
- Disagreement about the same issue
- "Genetic fallacy" that the disagreement is based on moral beliefs that are the result of the individual's socialization or culture
- No locus of authority to provide definitive answers - no way to tell which is correct
- No way to decide between conflicting moral beliefs (I deserve to be happy, but divorce is wrong)
Looks like beliefs are incompatible: which side has preponderance of evidence? When you have incompatible beliefs, bring to descriptive level...
Moral beliefs or judgments are not right or wrong - I believe what I believe, there is no right or wrong
- "Are you willing to accept the moral implications of applying that to all situations? Ok, I will give you an F, is that wrong?"
- that is wrong and see the point
- ok, but attribute it to power
- "are all exercises of power wrong?" eg., Were perpetuators of slavery or holocaust just?
- What are principles upon which they based decisions
- All men created equal?
- "ok, give me an F" - no right or wrong
- What evidence do you have that there is no right or wrong
- math problems have 1 answer.
- difference of opinion does not validate an incorrect answer
- "it is my belief"
- investigate cohesion of "set of beliefs"
- look for genesis of beliefs - may be what you were taught
- where did you pick up that belief - does not warrant truth
- was belief analyzed? How acquired may not validate it
- "no way to tell who is correct or incorrect"
- systematic way of analyzing things? Evaluate beliefs
- tell me some of the things you believe - are they coherent
- therefore, there is a way of evaluating beliefs
- look at internal consistency
- People don't have the discipline of rational investigation or discussion
- Possible to live in a world that includes acts that are unjust - is there a place for morally correct and incorrect judgments
- "right to free speech, but not ok to yell fire in crowded theater when there is no fire?"
Normative ethical relativism:
Moral beliefs are a matter of personal taste. We should not impose our beliefs on others who disagree with us.
There is a way to treat others if you say we should not impose our beliefs on others = internally incoherent
- Will you allow a little kid to beat on another in a day care class you are observing?
- Should I impose my belief that effort and ability and knowledge should be determinants of grades? Should I not impose my beliefs on you and just make up arbitrary grades?
Factual versus normative comments: eg: scandals: "there are no ethics in business" but this is descriptive... we want to talk about what people should be doing, not what they are doing. Distinction between describing how things are and how they should be.
A strategy or methodology for moral reasoning - to achieve a certain state of affairs.
To provide the greatest good for the greatest number. Guarantee that the net level of satisfaction for the collective individuals is the best that it can be.
It is an argumentative strategy but is not wed to a particular moralistic or social theory.
Distinction between aggregate consequential and non-aggregate consequential approaches... Utilitarianism is an aggregate approach... tries to make systematic sense out a mass of beliefs.
Identify most fundamental belief and show that everything else follow. The goal of all morality is to maximize inter-satisfaction. Fundamental goal of ethics is to maximize human interests.
Leave grandma in the snow...
- consider alternative actions,
- identify who is benefiting and by how much.
- Look at aggregate benefits and losses.
- Utilitarianism asks you to set up the ledger.
- Look at individual gains and losses.
- Look at bottom line.
- Consider all alternatives and choose the one with the best bottom line, even if it does not benefit you.
Does not imply that the number of individuals benefit, but that the net amount of benefit is maximized. Example: welfare or redistribution of income program. Tax everyone $5 per year, and give a few people who have nothing $40 per week. Summed harms are much less than the benefit to one individual.
Example: Ok to tax everyone, and distribute money in case there are natural disasters?
Consider benefit not just for people in the sample, but in the population, and not just now but for the future as well.
Strategy: account for the 7 levels of analysis (you need not memorize this):
- certainty of uncertainty
- propinquity or remoteness
- fecundity, or chance of being followed by sensations of the same kind
- purity, or the chance it has of not being followed by sensations of the opposite kind
- extent, that is, the number of persons to whom it extends.
There is only one moral principle: unity.
Sometimes hard to see when an argument is utilitarian.
- One might talk about consequences, but they are distributed and not collective.
- Just because you talk about consequences does not mean they are interested in aggregate consequences.
- "I don't want my money going to educate other people's children."
- Argue that if you are concerned about aggregate welfare, what happens when a large portion of the population is underutilized because they are not prepared to be useful?
Isn't it smarter to spend a little money to have them be prepared?
- What is the impact of under-educating 11 million kids? Is there such thing as "a right" to education? Who is responsible for providing that right? Is it ok to deflect that right?
Important to define the community. Why are you limiting the community?
Some may call this "socialism" or "socialistic thinking"
Do we have to purchase "Police care" or "Fire care" or "Road care"?
No: Having Police and Fire and Streets Departments is for the greater good, thus, it is Utilitarian
Act and rule Utilitarianism
- Figure out alternative actions are, and for each predict how many will benefit and be harmed by each action.
- Straight-forward cost/benefit approach.
- All moral issues are reduced to strict factual consequences.
Common good/aggregate welfare question/argument/approach:
What would you rather do: cause pain to some individuals now (lost jobs for some) or cause loss of jobs for everyone in the future.
Ask a series of questions:
- Who will benefit? Who is at risk?
- What are the benefits predicted?
- What is the probability of benefits occurring? Are you overstating the probability
- What are the costs? Are you understating the costs? Minimizing?
- Are there any other things you cold have done that would deliver similar benefits?
- Are you inappropriately limiting the community under consideration?
Difficulties with utilitarianism:
Pragmatic difficulty of predicting, measuring, and comparing consequences (costs, etc)
- May be difficult to get at the facts: which choice will cause greatest future welfare
- "What is right is a function of the predicted end result" - the end justifies the action you took
- does not capture that sometimes the means used were wrong even if they maximize aggregate welfare
- It allows that anything be done to an individual person with no limits whatsoever if it increases aggregate welfare
Utilitarian often comes into conflict with the rights and dignity of the individual, i.e., a moral belief that people hold, 3 responses:
- No rights beyond aggregate welfare, (i.e., too bad - you want to send your kid to private school, you still pay school tax)
- Conflict never happens, so the conflict is only theoretical, since act that maximizes aggregate welfare will respect individuals.
Whatever rights require will be what is required to maximize happiness. Rejoiner: Not merely theoretical - there are cases of conflict where attempting to maximize aggregate welfare will conflict with individuals rights (i.e., DUI laws)
Adopt a global rule on the basis of aggregate welfare decisions. These rules should maximize happiness. Eg., we do not kill Phil. Not because it violates his rights, but because not killing Phil leads to a happier more comfortable stable society as people will not be afraid of being killed.
- If we have a society that wants to talk about rights, people have a certain inherent moral standing that needs to be respected.
- Rights allow us to respect that standing but making claims against the society for the common good.
- Individuals state their claim to moral rights without understanding where they come from, cultural limits on rights... just rhetoric.
- Emphasis on individualism and liberty, evolved into people believing they have the right to whatever they want and the right to express themselves anyway they want=rampant unrestrained individualism.
- Rights should be identified entitlements based on morally central issues. (E.g., cannot "interfere with" Julia by punching her in the nose because you don't want to be "interfered with" - you have the right to not be "interfered with").
- The right to liberty is not a rule
- def: liberty = "any basic right or freedom to which all human beings are entitled and in whose exercise a government may not interfere"
- once incarcerated, there is no right to liberty (i.e., freedom)
- What is the justification for your rights claim? What are the moral reasons for the thing you feel you are entitled to
Role of legal rights; legal and moral rights often have overlapping membership. Need to distinguish between the two. Legal rights may be based on moral rights.
Right: a characteristic or set of characteristics that is possessed by the members of the society; an interest of a person (within a social system) that is protected or should be protected from interference/intervening from others.
Which interests? Why bother with this? Why should we imagine that individuals have rights that should be protected (i.e., utilitarian approach to aggregate welfare)?
Persons should be treated with dignity = touchstone of the social system.
- Cannot use people as an object for the betterment of the society.
- Why do we protect the dignity of persons?
- What does it mean to be a person?
- Persons have a special capacity of autonomy - the ability to make choices based on reason. Aristotle: rational animal.
Basis of a right- how distinguish from frivolous claim
What is the scope or boundaries of the right - what is an entitlement to that right
- How to discuss cases where there are conflicting rights claims - prioritizing
2 different aspects of rights-negative and positive:
Negative: Right not to be interfered with. Emphasis in our culture? (Libertarians=right to liberty, thus no distribution of capital). Right to have a car and not have it stolen. Imposes obligations on other equally.
Positive: Right to receive something (aid, "stuff") - imposes obligations on others differentially.
Conditions (criteria to help determine when one is obligated to act): must be a serious need, must be ability by the person to do something about it, responsibility to help cannot put you at comparable risk, is anyone else around (i.e., last resort - less likely aid will be given if this is primary need).
For each case or rights we can have corresponding duties (negative and positive rights/duties) (Examples?) Loud music, marijuana
Plugging specific rights into one category will be difficult and controversial. Decision should be based on what kinds of reasons can you give for protecting a right.
Basic rights: Those rights essential for treating person with dignity as an autonomous agent. (e.g., right to life, free speech). Rights that would supercede a utilitarian model looking for aggregate welfare (moral trump card).
Derivative rights: Rights that are instrumentally valuable for achieving something else we value.
- instrumental for protecting basic rights or the overall system of rights (right to bear arms is not essential for life, but can be seen as an instrument for protecting rights)
- Instrumental for the common good (bordering on Utilitarianism)
Property (private control over things, use/benefit/exclusion of others from use or benefit)
- enables competition, promotes growth, incentive=engine for economic growth,
- aggregate welfare is improved?
- possible constraints to scope of "property"
- rights-based arguments where systems of private property damage aggregate wealth = inequality and lesser property for many
- fairness: person should have some control over what is produced. If you spent the time to make or produce it, you should have rights to its use. (labor theory-fair return). Look at contribution of parties and risk bared by parties (Locke).
- Autonomy: instrument for greater control over life choice (Locke).
Questions you can ask when rights arguments are raised:
- What is the basis of the claim?
- Give substantive moral reason you are entitled to this claim?
- Is this a basic or instrumental right?
- What can you say about the scope of the right?
- Absolute and unconditioned or are there conditions upon the way this right is exercised?
- Respect autonomy (basic right)
- Protect rights (derivative right)
- Promotes common good (derivative right)
AFSCME Case: Blocked traffic on Walnut Street @5:00 PM
- What is the foundation of the right? Time/place/manner restrictions
- Still have the autonomy to speak and the right to do so, but not at rush hour
- Still have the ability to express opinions, which is for common good, but not then
- What damage is done to that foundation of the right is not recognized in this specific case?
- Put protesters in a protest zone 5 miles away.
- Arrest ringleaders and prevent them from protesting.
- What is basic right?
What are limits of the right?
How does preventing you from exercising this right in this specific case damage the foundations of the right?
- What are moral reasons for claiming you are entitled to this?
- What is the foundation of the right? (basic or derivative)