Monday, October 19, 2009

Ethics 101

In ethics there are three parts to look at: the agent, action, and outcome.


then comes schools of thought which focus on each. here is a super-sloppy and quick intro to each:

the agent: Virtue Ethics like those proposed by Thomas Aquinas and others focus on the person as the source. this then becomes a discussion on the inherent nature of humanity being good or bad? Christians have always been divide on this but Augustinian thought seems to dominate and Calvin and Luther have picked up on the Bad part and run rampant with it. but some secular humanist and other faiths study this way too. like the Dali Lama and Tibetan Buddhism is largely concerned with the private transformation and buddha-like nature of the person.

the action: deontology is the idea that only moral means can make moral ends. you can't steal or kill at all. this can lead to some harsh laws like those followed by Javert in pursuing Jean ValJean and no room for transformation. one proponent of this style is Immanuel Kant. check out this video, it does a decent job, although not altogether accurate introduction (much like this one!):



the outcome: teleology is the idea that the ends justify the means. so one can steal bread to end starvation or murder for self-defense... however, this can also lead to apologetic measures like bombing for peace or conversion by the sword that Mulsim and Christians are particularly guilty of. it's a little more open to transformation and takes into account circumstances and context.

here's Eve explaining Teleology:



what do y'all think? which do you subscribe to?

7 comments:

societyvs said...

I kind of work from outcome into action...the agent is really a non issue for me.

I think there are moral standards that should be obeyed at all time - if possible. However, beng human, we know it isn;t always possible to follow a standard and at certain times breaking the standard may be better than keeping it (and in those cases there needs to be good reasoning for breaking the standard).

For example, stealing is wrong - it hurts the person who actually paid for the goods...so in that sense it's taking without asking from your neighbor.

However, I have been poor and know what it means to have nothing - even food sometimes. I don't see a problem with someone stealing bread from a store to eat - to feed themselves because they can barely afford to live in society. They can opt for begging in front of stores - but that's simply degrading. Let's be honest for second - how much billions do some of these people that own these chain stores have?

I am pretty lenient when it comes to issues like this. Ideally I think stealing is just wrong - but sometimes breaking this rule may feed someone for the day. Human life is more important than profit.

And this idea goes for many standards from divorce to self-defense. I do find that having a standard, that once deviated from one has to admit they were in the wrong - not the idea, helps one develop a sound moral compass.

The Anglican Family ;-) said...

I personally lean towards deontology (which formulates duties and, inversely, rights). However, it's important to note that these divisions aren't between three ethical systems but between three types of ethical systems. What the nature of the ethical system is depends entirely on it's formulation, so that deontology need not be legalistic, nor is endorsement of any specific 'law' contained in deontology, just in specific universal laws. Deontological systems are often expressed in moral hierarchies of laws, with higher laws potentially giving exception to violation of lower laws. Then there's consequentialism. Firstly, teleology, at least as I've always heard it used, is a philosophy believing that the nature of things is determined by an original act of design for an eventual purpose (or contemporary purpose), in contrasted to naturalism. What you're referring to is consequentialism, of which the best example is utilitarianism. Like deontology, what consequentialism justifies rest entirely in it's formulation, in what is quantified as good or bad, and how much.

And Eve is a genius and super cute!

Sabio Lantz said...

Luke,
Tell us, where do your ethics come from? What are your methods for improving/nurturing your moral mind?
Thanx

Luke said...

i think you hit it out of the park. thanks for your comment! esp the part of "these divisions aren't between three ethical systems but between three types of ethical systems." thank you for clarifying!

i would stop short on utilitarianism being the best, as i think John Stuart Mill and David Hume did a fair job of it, but it brings it's own fair amount of problems. the Mere Addition Paradox being one. i.e. bringing a moderately happy person in a very happy world would be seen as an immoral act; the paradox also states that that it would be a moral good to eliminate all people whose happiness is below average (repugnant conclusion), as this would raise the average happiness leading to an Orwellian nightmare. sometimes this branch falls into heuristics due to misunderstandings of the readers.

that's why i prefer pragmatism over utilitarianism. no problem of the repugnant conclusion or mere addition paradox. but prag is a sibling of utili and both have their merits and their problems.

thanks Anglican Family.. and yes, Eve is a genius!

Luke said...

@Sabio,

i have written a longer version of this in this post: http://toothface.blogspot.com/2009/06/what-governs-my-theological-thinking.html

but the elevator version is "i don't know." I tend to say the source is divinely inspired... however it is not totally as our brain makes mistakes and misreads all the time. some of our morals come not from UPON HIGH, but actually up, through evolution. things like not killing the young or members of our tribe can be traced in behavioral biology as this segment in RadioLab points out: http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/episodes/2006/04/28

however there are certain concepts that can't be traced or explained rationally. there is, even in science, room for the unknown and transcendent.

i think prayer and meditative rituals are helpful in improving our morals and ethics... however, i think social justice and human relationships do an even better job. so a duel practice of "praxis and reflection" is best.

so that is where i am, how about you? were do you think our ethics comes from? what methods do you think improve ethics?

Anglican Boy said...

"You hit it out of the park."
Thank you.

//i would stop short on utilitarianism being the best, as i think John Stuart Mill and David Hume did a fair job of it, but it brings it's own fair amount of problems.//

Mill is pretty solid, though I don’t always agree with him. I thought that Hume was a subjectivist?

//that's why i prefer pragmatism over utilitarianism. no problem of the repugnant conclusion or mere addition paradox. but prag is a sibling of utili and both have their merits and their problems. rock out dude!//

Hm, I haven’t heard very much about ethical pragmatism. I think I’ll read up on it.Report back later!

Anonymous said...

Please check out this essay on Justice and Rightness.

www.dabase.org/p9rightness.htm

It is from this book:

www.dabase.org/not2.htm