The History & Philosophy of Media
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness
of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that
is in the water under the earth:
5 thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the
LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon
the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and
keep my commandments.
8 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of any-
thing that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in
the water under the earth.
9 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your
God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to
the third and fourth generation of those who reject me,
10 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who
love me and keep my commandments.
34:12 Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of I Pledge Allegiance to the flag
the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee:
34:13 But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their
of the United States of America
34:14 For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name [is]
and to the Republic for which
Jealous, [is] a jealous God:
34:15 Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go
it stands, one Nation under
a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and [one] call thee,
and thou eat of his sacrifice; God, indivisible, with liberty
34:16 And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a
whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods. and justice for all.
34:17 Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god,
whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred
to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and
calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but
his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god
Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt
in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian
Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. To him came
Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians
might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he enumerated them,
and Thamus enquired about their several uses, and praised some of
them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them.
It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth
in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to let-
ters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them
better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit.
Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor
of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his
own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who
are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children
have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have;
for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’
souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the
external written characters and not remember of themselves. The
specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to
reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the
semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have
learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally
know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of
wisdom without the reality.
Plato (c.428-348 BCE), Phaedrus http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1636
Presumably, however, to say that happiness is the chief good seems a plati-
tude, and a clearer account of what it is still desired. This might perhaps be
given, if we could first ascertain the function of man. For just as for a flute-
player, a sculptor, or an artist, and, in general, for all things that have a func-
tion or activity, the good and the 'well' is thought to reside in the function, so
would it seem to be for man, if he has a function. Have the carpenter, then, and
the tanner certain functions or activities, and has man none? Is he born without
a function? Or as eye, hand, foot, and in general each of the parts evidently
has a function, may one lay it down that man similarly has a function apart
from all these? What then can this be? Life seems to be common even to
plants, but we are seeking what is peculiar to man. Let us exclude, therefore,
the life of nutrition and growth. Next there would be a life of perception, but
it also seems to be common even to the horse, the ox, and every animal. There
remains, then, an active life of the element that has a rational principle; of this,
one part has such a principle in the sense of being obedient to one, the other in
the sense of possessing one and exercising thought. And, as 'life of the rational
element' also has two meanings, we must state that life in the sense of activity
is what we mean; for this seems to be the more proper sense of the term. Now
if the function of man is an activity of soul which follows or implies a rational
principle, and if we say 'so-and-so-and 'a good so-and-so' have a function
which is the same in kind, e.g. a lyre, and a good lyre-player, and so without
qualification in all cases, eminence in respect of goodness being idded to the
name of the function (for the function of a lyre-player is to play the lyre, and
that of a good lyre-player is to do so well): if this is the case, and we state the
function of man to be a certain kind of life, and this to be an activity or actions
of the soul implying a rational principle, and the function of a good man to be
the good and noble performance of these, and if any action is well performed
when it is performed in accordance with the appropriate excellence: if this is
the case, human good turns out to be activity of soul in accordance with virtue,
and if there are more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most
But we must add 'in a complete life.' For one swallow does not make a sum-
mer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a
man blessed and happy.
Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC), ‘eudaemonism’, Nichomachean Ethics http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/8438
But what sort of law can that be, cording to a universal maxim and to make it a habit to promise nothing except
the conception of which must with the intention of keeping it. But it is soon clear to me that such a maxim
determine the will, even without will still only be based on the fear of consequences. Now it is a wholly differ-
paying any regard to the effect ent thing to be truthful from duty and to be so from apprehension of injurious
expected from it, in order that this consequences. In the first case, the very notion of the action already implies a
will may be called good absolute- law for me; in the second case, I must first look about elsewhere to see what
ly and without qualification? As results may be combined with it which would affect myself. For to
I have deprived the will of every deviate from the principle of duty is beyond all doubt wicked; but to be un-
impulse which could arise to it faithful to my maxim of prudence may often be very advantageous to me,
from obedience to any law, there although to abide by it is certainly safer. The shortest way, however, and an
remains nothing but the univer- unerring one, to discover the answer to this question whether a lying promise
sal conformity of its actions to is consistent with duty, is to ask myself, "Should I be content that my maxim
law in general, which alone is to (to extricate myself from difficulty by a false promise) should hold good as a
serve the will as a principle, i.e., universal law, for myself as well as for others?" and should I be able to say to
I am never to act otherwise than myself, "Every one may make a deceitful promise when he finds himself in a
so that I could also will that my difficulty from which he cannot otherwise extricate himself?" Then I presently
maxim should become a universal become aware that while I can will the lie, I can by no means will that lying
law. Here, now, it is the simple should be a universal law. For with such a law there would be no promises at
Imanuel; Kant (17024-1804)‘the categori- conformity to law in general, all, since it would be in vain to allege my intention in regard to my future ac-
cal imperative’: Foundations of the Meta- without assuming any particular tions to those who would not believe this allegation, or if they over hastily did
physics of Morals law applicable to certain actions, so would pay me back in my own coin. Hence my maxim, as soon as it should
that serves the will as its prin- be made a universal law, would necessarily destroy itself.
ciple and must so serve it, if duty is not to be a vain delusion and a chimeri-
cal notion. The common reason of men in its practical judgements perfectly I do not, therefore, need any far-reaching penetration to discern what I have
coincides with this and always has in view the principle here suggested. Let to do in order that my will may be morally good. Inexperienced in the course
the question be, for example: May I when in distress make a promise with the of the world, incapable of being prepared for all its contingencies, I only ask
intention not to keep it? I readily distinguish here between the two significa- myself: Canst thou also will that thy maxim should be a universal law? If not,
tions which the question may have: Whether it is prudent, or whether it is then it must be rejected, and that not because of a disadvantage accruing from
right, to make a false promise? The former may undoubtedly of be the case. it to myself or even to others, but because it cannot enter as a principle into a
I see clearly indeed that it is not enough to extricate myself from a present possible universal legislation, and reason extorts from me immediate respect
difficulty by means of this subterfuge, but it must be well considered whether for such legislation.
there may not hereafter spring from this lie much greater inconvenience than
that from which I now free myself, and as, with all my supposed cunning, the
consequences cannot be so easily foreseen but that credit once lost may be
much more injurious to me than any mischief which I seek to avoid at present,
it should be considered whether it would not be more prudent to act herein ac- http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/5682
I. Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign
masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we
ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand
the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and
effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all
we say, in all we think: every effort we can make to throw off our sub-
ction, will serve but to demonstrate and confirm it. In words a man
may pretend to abjure their empire: but in reality he will remain. subject
to it all the while. The principle of utility recognizes this subjection, and
assumes it for the foundation of that system, the object of which is to
rear the fabric of felicity by the hands of reason and of law. Systems
which attempt to question it, deal in sounds instead of sense, in caprice
instead of reason, in darkness instead of light.
But enough of metaphor and declamation: it is not by such means
that moral science is to be improved.
II. The principle of utility is the foundation of the present work: it
will be proper therefore at the outset to give an explicit and determinate
account of what is meant by it. By the principle of utility is meant that
principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever.
according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the
happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same
thing in other words to promote or to oppose that happiness. I say of
every action whatsoever, and therefore not only of every action of a
private individual, but of every measure of government.
III. By utility is meant that property in any object, whereby it tends
to produce benefit, advantage, pleasure, good, or happiness, (all this in
Principles of Morals and Legislation/15
the present case comes to the same thing) or (what comes again to the
same thing) to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil, or unhappi-
ness to the party whose interest is considered: if that party be the com-
munity in general, then the happiness of the community: if a particular
individual, then the happiness of that individual.
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), the felicitous calculus, An Introduction to the
Principles of Morals and Legislation, 1781 http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.
Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), ‘the banality of evil’, Eichman in Jerusalem,
Responsibility and Judgment
Is there a place for the discourse of rights in media ethics?
human rights, right to privacy, right to freedom of speech
Can the suffering of one person be justified through the benefits to a community?
What degree of harm is allowable in the production and distribution of media?
Can or should ethics articulate with politics?
Is there a universal ethics? Can there be an ethics which is not universal?