the nature of ethics

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the nature of ethics

Postby Athena on June 30th, 2017, 4:55 pm 

As I understand the reaction to my post in another thread about ethics, my thoughts on ethics are not appreciated in that thread. Because I still want to discuss ethics I am starting this thread to talk about ethics the way I understand the nature of ethics.

Before a person can be ethical, a person must be virtuous. According to Aristotle being moral is making the effort to be the best persons we can we be. Being moral is understanding cause and effect and capable of reasoning what is the right thing to do. Our ethics, liberty, and justice depend on us being virtuous people educated for good moral judgment.

"Bringing reason to the world becomes the enterprise of morality rather than metaphysics, and the work as the hope of humanity." Christine Korsgaard

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Re: the nature of ethics

Postby mitchellmckain on July 1st, 2017, 2:45 pm 

Since Athena and I have made the same choice with regard to normative ethics, I thought I would provide some background.

Normative ethics concerns the question of HOW we should determine what is right and wrong. This is prescriptive as opposed to the observational approach which simply studies what people actually do in what proportions. Historically there have been three different answers, theories, or approaches to this type of ethical inquiry.

Virtue ethics: This was proposed by Aristotle and focused on the character of the person making ethical choices.

Deontological ethics: this was proposed by Immanuel Kant and roots morality and ethics in upholding a set of rational rules or laws.

Consequential ethics: argued for by a number of different people in different ways, this focuses on the consequences our actions have for people.

In comparing these three, I begin with the observation that the fact that actions have consequences is the reason why we are concerned with the ethics in the first place. Thus I propose that the difference between these three approaches to normative ethics is what consequences are the most important when deciding on the ethics of an action.

Virtue ethics thus focuses on the consequences of actions to our own personal character. Deontological ethics by contrast is focused on social order and the integrity of the laws and rules. Consequential ethics however only looks at the direct consequences to the well being of the people involved. The focus on these different consequences, however, point to some serious flaws in two of these approaches and thus underlines one of the three as being a better answer.

The flaw in consequential ethics is that we rarely have all that much control over the end results of our actions. To many factors are involved and thus to make the ethics of an action rest only on the success or failure of our efforts to achieve the best results makes for a very poor foundation for ethical decisions.

The flaw in deontological ethics is not only that rigid rules can sometimes do more harm than good, but that the rules can even be used as a tool for evil to abuse and destroy the innocent. Sure we can try to fix the rules to correct such injustices but we seem to have a nearly unlimited capacity to find loopholes and twist their intent to serve nefarious ends.

Thus in the end, it is oldest answer of virtue ethics that looks the most workable of the three. To put it very simply, virtue ethics simply means that it is what we see in the mirror at the end of the day which counts the most, asking what decisions can we live with best. Of course this makes some assumptions that we have a conscience and care about such things. But regardless, the focus on character as the most important concern of ethical decisions remains.

I suppose I should acknowledge one way in which virtue ethics can mislead. This happens when the concern the motivation is to serve the appearance of character and what other people think of you rather than actual character.
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Re: the nature of ethics

Postby Sivad on July 1st, 2017, 4:33 pm 

I'm more of an ethical eclecticist. It seems that different roles require different considerations, look to virtue ethics in personal affairs, follow deontological ethics as a citizen, and act on the basis of utility when responsible for large numbers of people. There's also the issue of whether some ethical systems are suitable for certain people. For instance, people who lack prudence or empathy probably shouldn't practice virtue ethics, they'd be better off following clearly defined rules. I also don't think it's necessary to wear one ethical hat at a time, in many respects these systems overlap, compliment, and inform each other.
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Re: the nature of ethics

Postby Athena on July 2nd, 2017, 10:42 am 

I would say those forms of ethics overlap, and understanding all three is essential to a democracy with liberty. People who do not understand this can not have liberty and must be controlled with laws and a system of punishments, just as a city dog needs to be controlled by a leash unless well trained. That means our liberty and justice must be protected in the classroom, or both are destroyed and our democracy fails.

The nature of ethics depends on our mental capacity and our mental capacity depends on our education.

For sure there is a feeling component to our ethical decisions. Our emotions are powerful and it could be argued that our nature is flawed because we a motived to avoid what is painful and to do what gives us pleasure and this leads to industrial and institutional corruption. When the bottom line is money decisions are likely to be very unethical, and the most devious are likely to be the most rewarded while the ethical people are most likely to be fired. Being fired hurts a lot so ethical people may become unethical to avoid being fired. While being advanced, or getting credit for doing a good job, or getting big bucks, feels really good, motivating us to repeat this behavior. And the US is so screwed because it has gotten to tangled with capitalism while at the same time dropping the education essential to our liberty and justice. In the past, people with good character were the most rewarded, and today it is the people with the worst characters who are rewarded most.

Coming out of ancient Athens is the notion that moral means to know the law (logos) and to know good manners. The US has lost this knowledge.
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Re: the nature of ethics

Postby RoccoR on July 2nd, 2017, 2:21 pm 

RE: the nature of ethics
※→ Athena, Sivad, et al,

(Observation - OPINION)

The "Nature of Ethics" is one of those topics there is no right answer. Closely related to morals, Ethics is difficult to define; let alone come to a universal agreement on the evaluation of the application of Ethics.

        "The nature of ethics depends on our mental capacity and our mental capacity depends on our education."
          ----------------- Athena on July 2nd, 2017, Posting #4

    Yes, there are a couple of ethical theories that might be applied.

          "different considerations, look to virtue ethics in personal affairs, follow deontological ethics as a citizen, and act on the basis of utility (taking the safest action with the least consequences to themselves) when responsible for large numbers of people."
            ----------------- Sivad on July 1st, 2017 (supra)

    I think our friend Slvad meant to say "Utilitarians" foster ethics --- holding that the best moral action is the one that maximizes utility --- the greatest good for the greatest number of people.; whereas the "Deontologist" is the one which is more compliance oriented - following the choices are morally required, forbidden to ignore, or restricted in their application.

    The very best example of "Utilitarianism" is the case of the Sea Captain.

          The ship is in danger of capsizing. There are four crewmen trapped behind a watertight door, in a compartment which needs to be flooded if the Captain is to save the ship, passengers and crew.

            Questions:
              • Do you flood the compartment which will kill the four crew trapped below?
              OR
              • Do you open the compartment, saving the crewmen and losing the ship, passengers and crew.?

    The "Utilitarian" sacrifices the four crewmen; acting in the fashion of the greatest good for the greatest number of people. The "Deontologist" saves the four crew trapped below and loses the ship and puts the remaining s passengers and crew at risk and in peril. BUT the Deontologist Captain did not cause the death of the four crewmen.

    NOW, this does not mean that one choice is correct and one is incorrect.

    The lifeboat example, which I'm sure you have heard before. The ship capsizes. a lifeboat, already overloads, with survivors bailing water come across another survivor. The lifeboat cannot take-on another survivor.

      Questions:
        • Do you attempt to hold onto the survivor?
        OR
        • Do you push the survivor away to face a sure death in the sea?


    There are all sorts of questions --- like these --- each more complicated than the last. Each requiring the use of logic and critical in facing ethical dilemma.

    All you can do is hope the right neurons and grey cells are functioning to make these decisions. There are numerous examples I could give you, in which the law was broken, but the audience came to think of it as heroism. Guarding Tess, in which the hero makes a choice. Break the law and save a life (Deontologist), or observe the law and civil rights (Utilitarian), and loose a live. (Plus you might even like the movie.)

    Most Respectfully,
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    Re: the nature of ethics

    Postby mitchellmckain on July 2nd, 2017, 8:01 pm 

    RoccoR » July 2nd, 2017, 1:21 pm wrote:RE: the nature of ethics
    ※→ Athena, Sivad, et al,

    (Observation - OPINION)

    The "Nature of Ethics" is one of those topics there is no right answer. Closely related to morals, Ethics is difficult to define; let alone come to a universal agreement on the evaluation of the application of Ethics.

    I would dispute this or at least modify it to say that ethical dilemmas can often be very complex, difficult as well as far from black and white, but I think you trivialize the difficulties by saying their are no right answers. There may often be no easy answers but that does not mean there are never any right answers.

    RoccoR » July 2nd, 2017, 1:21 pm wrote:
          "The nature of ethics depends on our mental capacity and our mental capacity depends on our education."
            ----------------- Athena on July 2nd, 2017, Posting #4

      Yes, there are a couple of ethical theories that might be applied.

            "different considerations, look to virtue ethics in personal affairs, follow deontological ethics as a citizen, and act on the basis of utility (taking the safest action with the least consequences to themselves) when responsible for large numbers of people."
              ----------------- Sivad on July 1st, 2017 (supra)

      I think our friend Slvad meant to say "Utilitarians" foster ethics --- holding that the best moral action is the one that maximizes utility --- the greatest good for the greatest number of people.; whereas the "Deontologist" is the one which is more compliance oriented - following the choices are morally required, forbidden to ignore, or restricted in their application.

      The very best example of "Utilitarianism" is the case of the Sea Captain.

            The ship is in danger of capsizing. There are four crewmen trapped behind a watertight door, in a compartment which needs to be flooded if the Captain is to save the ship, passengers and crew.

              Questions:
                • Do you flood the compartment which will kill the four crew trapped below?
                OR
                • Do you open the compartment, saving the crewmen and losing the ship, passengers and crew.?

      The "Utilitarian" sacrifices the four crewmen; acting in the fashion of the greatest good for the greatest number of people. The "Deontologist" saves the four crew trapped below and loses the ship and puts the remaining s passengers and crew at risk and in peril. BUT the Deontologist Captain did not cause the death of the four crewmen.

      NOW, this does not mean that one choice is correct and one is incorrect.

      Assuming immediate action was required, I am not sure about that last claim since I doubt the Captain would hesitate in that situation to sacrifice the men in order to save his boat and passengers. If, however, it was four children or passengers who were trapped in that part of the ship, the choice might be quite different. Thus I would make the point that it is not just about competing ethical theories here. I would however say that ethical dilemmas can made very difficult and complex in many situations and thus only the person facing them can really make them as best they are able.

      RoccoR » July 2nd, 2017, 1:21 pm wrote:The lifeboat example, which I'm sure you have heard before. The ship capsizes. a lifeboat, already overloads, with survivors bailing water come across another survivor. The lifeboat cannot take-on another survivor.

        Questions:
          • Do you attempt to hold onto the survivor?
          OR
          • Do you push the survivor away to face a sure death in the sea?

      OR... you explain the situation to the approaching survivor and assuming they agree they can simply hold on to the lifeboat and stay in the water or you might volunteer to get out of the boat and do the same. If they are unreasonable and have pretty much the behavior of a mindless zombie (again reminded of the new film "Day of the Triffids" in which blind people behave like zombies) caring only about himself then I would feel quite justified in pushing them away as a threat to those in the boat.

      RoccoR » July 2nd, 2017, 1:21 pm wrote:All you can do is hope the right neurons and grey cells are functioning to make these decisions. There are numerous examples I could give you, in which the law was broken, but the audience came to think of it as heroism. Guarding Tess, in which the hero makes a choice. Break the law and save a life (Deontologist), or observe the law and civil rights (Utilitarian), and loose a live. (Plus you might even like the movie.)

      I am guessing that is a typo in which you have Deontologist and Utilitarian accidentally switched.
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      Re: the nature of ethics

      Postby Athena on July 3rd, 2017, 11:51 am 

      I agree with Mitchell on a few points. I am strongly opposed to black or white, this or that thinking. I agree with "I would however say that ethical dilemmas can be very difficult and complex in many situations and thus only the person facing them can really make them as best as they are able." My decisions are between me and God, and your opinion is not that important unless you are affected by the decision. I hope we have agreement, but if not, what really matters is do I believe I am making the right decision. That is what liberty is all about, the right to decide for ourselves what is the right decision.

      Also, a captain has a duty to save passengers and the boat. Crew members have a duty too, and as the captain is the last to leave the boat, crew members must also be willing to give their lives for the safety of passengers and the boat. And in the lifeboat situation, what kind of person would put everyone else at risk? Considering everyone involved, do we want to save the life of someone who would put us all at risk? If we want to save the person in the water, then maybe we are willing to take turns of who goes in the water?

      Personally, I think family is about more than individuals, and I am in favor of women putting others first. This of course is a benefit to the husband and children and perhaps older parents or other disabled members of the family, and beyond this, it is a benefit to society. In the long run, what might work better, benefiting ourselves or benefiting others?
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      Re: the nature of ethics

      Postby RoccoR on July 3rd, 2017, 4:04 pm 

      RE: the nature of ethics
      ※→ Athena, mitchellmckain, et al,

      I don't know how many courses on leadership, morals and ethics I have attended over my two careers (a number). Yet, I walked away with very little more, than the understanding I walked in with.

      Athena wrote: I am strongly opposed to black or white, this or that thinking.

      (COMMENT)

      Yes, black and white decisions are generally the result of not completely understanding the nature of the event that calls for a decision. So, I agree with "Athena" and recognize that in the practical reality of the real-world, most all of us - but not all of us, (no matter what we might say otherwise) operate in a sliding gray scale. We will be utilitarian when necessary; and we will be a Deontologist when the situation call for it.

      mitchellmckain on July 2nd, 2017, 8:01 pm wrote: I would dispute this or at least modify it to say that ethical dilemmas can often be very complex, difficult as well as far from black and white, but I think you trivialize the difficulties by saying their are no right answers. There may often be no easy answers but that does not mean there are never any right answers.

      (COMMENT)

      I cannot say you are wrong. You're following the "Principle of Sufficient Reason." And that is really difficult to challenge. You may not be able to determine the causal effects that ultimately lead to a conclusion; but the utilitarianism in you does not want to be on the oversight investigation should the outcome of a decision be disastrous. Clearly, there are a half-dozen reasons for the sinking of the Titanic (just as an example).

      Athena wrote: Also, a captain has a duty to save passengers and the boat.

      (COMMENT)

      Only within the resources available. The Titanic lost over a thousand passengers. White Star simply did not have enough lifeboats to deal with such a catastrophic event. Was the White Star Line ever questioned on the ethical decisions leading to the launching of such a ship. The responsibility was (ultimately) to maximize the wealth of the shareholders.

      A great many of us have had some career that included responsibility for something. The TSA Officer that scans you for explosives and weapons is a compliance oriented type of guy. They have very little discretion in what they do and how they do it. However, a police officer has a lot of discretion in whether or not to issue a citation on a traffic stop. The Captain in the scenario has a responsibility in many different directions and must weigh the risks in the assessment as to what must be done.

      Agreed! In real-life critical moments when the crisis calls for decisive action, it is no time to break into a philosophical debate, with yourself or anyone else. Yeah, sure, you will listen to your staff for advice; but in the end, you can only hope that your experience has groomed you for just that kind of decision at that moment.

      Athena wrote: Personally, I think family is about more than individuals, and I am in favor of women putting others first. This of course is a benefit to the husband and children and perhaps older parents or other disabled members of the family, and beyond this, it is a benefit to society. In the long run, what might work better, benefiting ourselves or benefiting others?

      (COMMENT)

      This is something that is hard to put into words. Back in the 1970' and 1980's, I had the opportunity to participate in the simulated (practice) Evacuation of US Citizens and Designated Aliens from Threatened Areas Abroad [AKA: Noncombatant Evacuation Operation (NEO)] while stationed overseas. While there were many unofficial discussions back in the day among the troops, none were more interesting than to listen to the troops with dependents (of which there were many) as to their divided responsibilities between making sure their families got out safely and the responsibility to report, upload and move to seek-out and confront the threat. What I heard was, they didn't know what they would do until it happened. The Moral and Ethical question of divided loyalties was hard to even address in the theoretical form.

      Most Respectfully,
      R
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      Re: the nature of ethics

      Postby mitchellmckain on July 3rd, 2017, 5:12 pm 

      RoccoR » July 3rd, 2017, 3:04 pm wrote:
      mitchellmckain on July 2nd, 2017, 8:01 pm wrote: I would dispute this or at least modify it to say that ethical dilemmas can often be very complex, difficult as well as far from black and white, but I think you trivialize the difficulties by saying their are no right answers. There may often be no easy answers but that does not mean there are never any right answers.

      (COMMENT)

      I cannot say you are wrong. You're following the "Principle of Sufficient Reason." And that is really difficult to challenge. You may not be able to determine the causal effects that ultimately lead to a conclusion; but the utilitarianism in you does not want to be on the oversight investigation should the outcome of a decision be disastrous. Clearly, there are a half-dozen reasons for the sinking of the Titanic (just as an example).

      Well the "black and white" comment means that ethical decisions can sometimes be gray enough that a decision could go either way. But regardless these are NOT questions we approach with the attitude that "there are no right answers." On contrary, the seriousness and excruciating reflection which are focused on such situations means that we are striving very hard for a right answer. In fact, I would argue that it is more helpful to think of these things in this way rather than beating ourselves up just because people died. In your example of the Captain, I would not be beating myself up about the three crewmen who died because it most certainly was the right answer. I would still regret their death and mourn for them, but the right answer means I did the best that could be done.

      RoccoR » July 3rd, 2017, 3:04 pm wrote:This is something that is hard to put into words. Back in the 1970' and 1980's, I had the opportunity to participate in the simulated (practice) Evacuation of US Citizens and Designated Aliens from Threatened Areas Abroad [AKA: Noncombatant Evacuation Operation (NEO)] while stationed overseas. While there were many unofficial discussions back in the day among the troops, none were more interesting than to listen to the troops with dependents (of which there were many) as to their divided responsibilities between making sure their families got out safely and the responsibility to report, upload and move to seek-out and confront the threat. What I heard was, they didn't know what they would do until it happened. The Moral and Ethical question of divided loyalties was hard to even address in the theoretical form.

      Yes, very difficult. One of the problems is the different ways people see themselves in relationship to the rescue work: just a job, a career, or a vocation (i.e. purpose of life thing). If it is just a job, which you are doing for the sake of your family in the first place, then it is going to be quite difficult to put that ahead of seeing to the safety of your family. I would only suggest that you be up front about this to the boss/coordinators so that they are not counting on you when your loyalties are elsewhere. If it is a military organization that could be a problem however.
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      Re: the nature of ethics

      Postby Athena on July 4th, 2017, 11:54 am 

      RoccoR » July 3rd, 2017, 2:04 pm wrote:RE: the nature of ethics
      ※→ Athena, mitchellmckain, et al,

      I don't know how many courses on leadership, morals and ethics I have attended over my two careers (a number). Yet, I walked away with very little more, than the understanding I walked in with.


      How do you think you knew so much before taking the courses? Do you think everyone just naturally knows so much that it is a waste of money to have such courses?

      Athena wrote: I am strongly opposed to black or white, this or that thinking.

      (COMMENT)

      Yes, black and white decisions are generally the result of not completely understanding the nature of the event that calls for a decision. So, I agree with "Athena" and recognize that in the practical reality of the real-world, most all of us - but not all of us, (no matter what we might say otherwise) operate in a sliding gray scale. We will be utilitarian when necessary; and we will be a Deontologist when the situation call for it.


      I really don't like the things we call one another, such as conservative or liberal, utilitarian or deontologist, because I don't think anyone is one or the other. We might categorize concepts like that, but as you said, we lean one way and the other, depending on what the situation calls for. What if we were more careful with our language and didn't label each other? Actually, it is amazing to me how humans come up with these terms to name a concept and then argue about them as though they were as matter, something we can analyze for elements that we can identify, measure, and count. A concept is only a thought and thoughts are made of thoughts and exist only if we think they do.

      mitchellmckain on July 2nd, 2017, 8:01 pm wrote: I would dispute this or at least modify it to say that ethical dilemmas can often be very complex, difficult as well as far from black and white, but I think you trivialize the difficulties by saying their are no right answers. There may often be no easy answers but that does not mean there are never any right answers.

      (COMMENT)

      I cannot say you are wrong. You're following the "Principle of Sufficient Reason." And that is really difficult to challenge. You may not be able to determine the causal effects that ultimately lead to a conclusion; but the utilitarianism in you does not want to be on the oversight investigation should the outcome of a decision be disastrous. Clearly, there are a half-dozen reasons for the sinking of the Titanic (just as an example).


      From my point of view, there are rights and wrongs. Other points of view may not agree with my mine and liberty means being okay with that, as long as one person does not impose his decisions on others. However, some decisions affect "us" and then it is pretty important to share agreement. When a decision affects "us" what is the best way come to an agreement about right and wrong?

      Only within the resources available. The Titanic lost over a thousand passengers. White Star simply did not have enough lifeboats to deal with such a catastrophic event. Was the White Star Line ever questioned on the ethical decisions leading to the launching of such a ship. The responsibility was (ultimately) to maximize the wealth of the shareholders.


      I imagine the lifeboat decision was a judgment about space. If a lifeboat was the size of a coffee cup, it would easier to store enough lifeboats on a ship for everyone. I live in apartments that are designed terribly because they are designed by men who do not cook for families, or who have not attempted to raise children in a small apartment, nor even live as a single in a small apartment for several years. My point is the design process is done with no experience of living with the design. You build a ship with many priorities and where to put the lifeboats may not be one of them, especially not with a ship that is supposed to impossible to sink. Hindsight makes the problem of a lack of lifeboats obvious, but I doubt if the lifeboat decision was made with this awareness. If they had awareness they would have known there was a design problem with their unsinkable ship and corrected it. I think we need to be careful about accusing others without proof, because when we hold the opinion that rich people only care about money, we contribute to making that so, and contribute to tearing "us" apart with conflict, I don't think we want to do that. Such talk can lead to very bad decisions, such as France's revolution and China's revolution killing off their intellectuals and successful business men. On the other hand, if we had democratic industry instead of autocratic industry, the decision making might improve.

      Athena wrote: Personally, I think family is about more than individuals, and I am in favor of women putting others first. This, of course, is a benefit to the husband and children and perhaps older parents or other disabled members of the family, and beyond this, it is a benefit to society. In the long run, what might work better, benefiting ourselves or benefiting others?

      (COMMENT)

      This is something that is hard to put into words. Back in the 1970' and 1980's, I had the opportunity to participate in the simulated (practice) Evacuation of US Citizens and Designated Aliens from Threatened Areas Abroad [AKA: Noncombatant Evacuation Operation (NEO)] while stationed overseas. While there were many unofficial discussions back in the day among the troops, none were more interesting than to listen to the troops with dependents (of which there were many) as to their divided responsibilities between making sure their families got out safely and the responsibility to report, upload and move to seek-out and confront the threat. What I heard was, they didn't know what they would do until it happened. The Moral and Ethical question of divided loyalties was hard to even address in the theoretical form.

      Most Respectfully,
      R


      Not all decisions are made with the head. I think we need to make more room for decisions made by our guts and hearts. I think we are horribly out of touch with our own feelings and the feelings of others. We seem to have agreement that artificial intelligence can be superior to being human. Is our whole culture psychopathic?
      You have military experience- would you be willing to start another thread about how war has affected us? I think that is a vitally important subject, but different from the nature of ethics. I think we are reeling from the Great Depression and the following war, and I would love to explore this. I think as individuals need psychoanalysis, the US needs psychoanalysis. Without this perhaps ethical decisions aren't really possible? Who was it who advised, "know thy self"?

      I seriously wanted to get out of my marriage and consider joining the National Gaurd as a way out of my marriage but realized I would not like putting my duty to the National Gaurd before my children. Missing a birthday party wouldn't be a big thing, but if they needed evacuating this would be more important to me than anything else. Imagine a world that functioned around family values instead of industrial/military values. What would that be like?
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