Introduction to Ethics


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An introduction to ethics includes a definition. What is the foundation of ethics; religion or philosophy? What is the need of ethics? General types of ethics. The pitfalls of setting our own ethics.

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Introduction to Ethics

  1. 1. An Introduction to Ethics Jim Sutherland, PhD
  2. 2. What is right and wrong? • A 12-year-old girl was taken in marriage in the village of Lohutok, S. Sudan. Is that good or bad? Why? • Should the death penalty apply for a man or woman engaged in consensual homosexual acts? • Is it good for a husband to donate his sperm to his infertile wife, so that she can be artificially inseminated and perhaps bear their child? 2
  3. 3. Religion Philosophy • Founded upon revelation • Concerned with morals – Morals are absolute. – Have to do with person- to- God • Concerned with ―supranature‖ • Miracles are a part • Goal is to find God • Arthur A. Custance, Noah’s Three Sons, p. 29. • Founded upon reason • Concerned with ethics – Ethics are relative. (School of Morals?) – Are person-to-person • Not concerned with nature, but with ―metanature‖ (science concerned with nature) • Miracles are irrelevant • Goal is to find truth 3
  4. 4. Ethics (Moral Philosophy) Defined • It concerns the nature of the right [deontology] and the nature of the good [utility]. • Theories of the good are of two basic types: – Theistic ( based upon the assumption of a God) – Philosophical/anthropological (based upon reason) 4
  5. 5. Theistic ethics • Monotheistic (believing in one god) religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, believe that one God exists, can be accessed, and is in control of earthly events. – Their holy books provide detailed guidance as to what God considers to be right and good. – This guidance is taken as absolute, and may be in the form of commands. 5
  6. 6. Absolute and Relative Theistic Ethics • Some theists believe in moral absolutes—that certain acts, thoughts and failures to act are always wrong. Absolutes are contained in books believed to have been transmitted from God. • Other theists consider ―absolutes‖ more as guidelines and would consider absolutists as presumptuous or even arrogant. 6
  7. 7. Indo-European Origins of Philosophy • Indo-European tribes conquered India from the northwest from about 1800-1500 BC. They produced the Vedas (―knowledge‖) which are the oldest of Hindu sacred books. (Noss & Noss, p. 73-74). – The Greeks are another branch of these tribes. (Noss, p. 73). – ―Only Indo-Europeans have continually returned to the fundamental problems of metaphysics, the Aryans in India (giving rise to Hindu Philosophy), the Greeks in Greece….‖ Arthur A. Custance, Noah’s Three Sons, Zondervan, 1975, p. 31. 7
  8. 8. Hindu/Buddhist philosophy • ―The gods of the early Indo-Europeans were gods of light, but this light was not moral light but rather the illumination of the mind or understanding.‖ • Philosophy can be defined as ―strictly rational speculation, concerned with the ultimate nature and meaning of reality, apart from revelation, to satisfy a purely intellectual need…‖ Custance, p. 30. 8
  9. 9. 3 Stages in the History of Ethics • First stage: moral authority shifted from above humans (the divine), to humans. • Second stage: extending the belief that humans are responsible only to humans – Rise of nihilism and relativism • Third stage: focus shifting from individual to public ethics—toward utilitarianism. – Applied ethics is popular – Virtue ethics is gaining ground • From J. B. Schneewind, ―Modern moral philosophy,‖ ch. 12 in A Companion to Ethics, Peter Singer, ed. ISBN: 0631187855 9
  10. 10. Philosophical ethics--Assumptions • Assumes that humans are basically good, and can be more ethical. • Reason is a sufficient basis for developing ethics. • Humans are accountable only to other humans. 10
  11. 11. Philosophical ethics--Assumptions • Carl F.H. Henry noted these assumptions: 1. ―nature is the ultimate reality‖ 2. Humans are essentially animals. 3. ―truth and right are intrinsically time-bound and changing‖ Carl F. H. Henry, Christian Personal Ethics, 1957, p. 23 11
  12. 12. Locating Ethics Within Philosophy Meta-ethics (philosophical questions) ―What is goodness?‖ How are good and bad determined? Normative ethics (“moral” questions) Ethical theory ―What should we do?‖ Deontology Utility, Virtue, (Teleological=+goals) Applied ethics Adapted from “Metaethics” accessed 3/3/10 What is right and wrong in specific situations 12
  13. 13. Theological/philosophical worldviews Monotheistic Philosophical/ Anthropological/ Utopian Animistic Kingdom Divine Kingdom is coming Political, social Balancing between human & spirits God Is sovereign We are the gods God is gone Power Is God’s & delegated Is ours, by reason, majority, force Belongs to the spirits Goal Please God Please people or self Please spirits People Sinful (Islam--less so) Basically good-- optimistic Basically good Accountable To God To people To spirits 13
  14. 14. Moral Facts [Truth] • Ethicial philosophers can be classified in one of two ways: – (1 those who believe that moral facts exist, and – (2 those who either deny that moral facts exist, or, if they exist, deny that they can be known. 14
  15. 15. Schools of Those Who Accept Moral Truth • A further division--for those who have come so far as to believe that moral good exists--is among those who emphasize – what is right (deontologists) – what is good (utilitarians or consequentialists) – virtue or character as the basis for ethics. 15
  16. 16. Theories of Moral Truth Ethical Theories: Moral Truth Exists: Moral Truth Doesn’t Exist: Cognitivism (―moral facts‖ can be discovered by reason Non-cognitivism (―Moral facts‖ are just expressions of desire.) Descriptivism (―Moral judgments can be true or false.‖) Non-descriptivism (Moral judgments are neither true or false.) Sources in , A Companion to Ethics, Peter Singer, Ed. Intuitionism (We know right and wrong innately—‖moral sense theory.‖) Projectivism (We project our values upon a world that has none.) ―Relativism‖ by David Wong, pp. 442-450 Naturalism (Moral facts are found in nature and are scientific or social scientific.) Nihilism (Moral facts don’t exist and morality is false.) Realism‖, Michael Smith, p 399-410 Absolutism (Bible, Prescriptivist) (There is one truth-- two sides can’t be right.) Relativism (Morality is a function of culture and history—it isn’t absolute.) ―Intuitionism‖ by Jonathan Dancy, pp. 411-419 Moral Realism (moral facts validated by the consensus of behavior and bycircumstances—‖ Irrealism (There are no moral facts.) ―Universal Prescriptivism‖, by R.M. Hare, pp. 451-463 Consequentialism (Try to find the most good for the most people.) Error theory (―denies that moral sentences express propositions‖) Wikipedia ―Ethical Naturalism‖ 16
  17. 17. Theories that “right” exists Moral theories: Deontological (of the “Right”) Consequential (of the “Good”) Virtue, Character Basis: Absolutes Consequence Character Activity: Obeying Weighing Being Example: Universal prescriptivism (Kant) Utilitarianism Greek (Plato) Aquinas Natural law Egoism Hedonism Humanistic Franklin Naturalism Biblical 17
  18. 18. Arguments against absolutes: Diversity – Because moral standards differ so much among cultures, morality derives from local ethics, not from innate moral absolutes – But diversity can say nothing about what is right and wrong, only about what is. – Diversity does not rule out absolutes. One system can still be right. – An overall pattern or morality is there, despite differences in details. Generally, stealing and murder within the in-group and adultery are wrong, while penalties differ. (Ethics: Approaching moral decisions. Arthur F. Holmes. 2nd ed., 2007, ISBN: 978-0-8308-2803-6, p. 136) 18
  19. 19. Arguments against absolutes: Diversity – Local moral standards have been transformed by Christian teaching, reducing diversity. Examples are slavery and cannibalism. (Holmes, citing William Frankena, p. 20) • Other examples are killing twins and albinos in Africa, and burning widows (sutee). – "[T]he relativist cannot consistently reject all intolerance. In tolerating other moralities than his own, he must tolerate their intolerance....Further, at least one virtue, tolerance, is then not entirely relative; and at least one moral belief, the belief that we ought to be tolerant, is taken to be true." (Holmes, p. 23) 19
  20. 20. Argument against absolutes: Dependency (determinism) • Humans are socialized into accepting moral/ethical practices, which they must accept. – People cannot believe otherwise—beliefs are determined by environment. – If so, how do non-conformists, reformers and prophets arise? – Determinism is not a view that can be chosen, since those who believe it have no choice but to believe it. If so, the determinist cannot say that this view is independently better than another. (Holmes, p. 139) 20
  21. 21. Argument against absolutes: Dependency (determinism) • The Holy Spirit, by the power and grace of God, can overcome any environmental upbringing and social norms, as well as ethics generated by sin. 21
  22. 22. Lack of consensus among philosophers • Moral philosophers tend to pull down one another's theories, while confidently highlighting their own. You find that few agree as to what moral facts there may be, and some cannot even agree that moral facts are possible. Even if such facts could somehow be discovered by reason alone, ethicists would probably not rally around them. They have been trying for at least 2500 years, but have reached no consensus. 22
  23. 23. Human value in Hinduism • Hinduism: everything is one (monism), so humans have no special value. – One creation account reads: ―In the beginning this [universe] was the Self alone—in the likeness of a man.‖ ―He was afraid,‖ and lonely, so he created a woman. Self split into man and woman and then had intercourse, creating human beings. Further relations produced the animals. ―He knew that he was [the whole of] creation, for he had brought it all forth. Hence he became [all] creation.‖ Brihadaranyaka Upanishad I, iv:1-5 23
  24. 24. Human value in Buddhism • The first step on the Eightfold Path is ―anatta‖— there is no ―self‖ or ―atman.‖ – The corollary is that all is an illusion--―maya.‖ – Individuality is ignorance. Bentley-Taylor, p. 172-173 • However, since Buddha claimed no special revelation, he went on to propose an extremely difficult ethic, based upon his reasoning. E.A. Burtt, p. 27 – How can one follow step two, renouncing lust and ill-will, if the self is illusory? 24
  25. 25. Human value in Islam • Individual value seems to be based upon performance and obedience to Allah. – Allah loves those who do right, but does not love the transgressor or prodigals (Surah 2:195, 222; 5:87). Human worth is conditional, not based upon God’s grace. 25
  26. 26. Evolutionary ethics • If the material universe is the product of nothing, plus time, plus chance, or if matter itself is eternal, there is no necessary value to that universe, or anything in it. – Ethics becomes a matter of personal choice, plus culture, plus a point on the time spectrum. – Right and wrong are defined by the majority and enforced by sanctions. 26
  27. 27. Valentine (March 2010) • He is a physics student in a European university. – He accepts no absolutes, not wanting anyone to tell him what to do. Religion is used to control people, he believes. – He repeated several times that he didn’t know the difference between right and wrong, and used those terms as if they had definable content. I suggested that he would not want me to steal his wallet or to abduct his sister, with whom he was traveling. He thought that in some circumstances taking his money would be justified [situation ethics], but did not respond to the abduction statement. – Individuals had value because they formed communities. He seemed to be concerned for minorities. A weakness of utilitarian ethics is that minorities are not protected, if good is defined by doing the most good for the greatest number. 27
  28. 28. Valentine • He claimed that the UN hurt developing peoples by providing free commodities, hurting businesses providing these items, revealing concerned for small business people. • He advocates going to a tribe or people to help them to clarify their own values, for each individual to determine what is right and wrong. – How each person formulating his own ethical system would foster community he did not say. This seems instead to be the worst possible foundation for community. – The person has no intrinsic worth. • So is the terrible task of defining good and evil for one’s self, with its inevitable inconsistencies. END 28