Shortcutting… Ethics

2 Jul

Another area of Philosophy that I find really interesting is Ethics, which as you probably know is concerned with right and wrong actions. With a few ethical theories up your sleeve, you should be able to justify just about anything. So with out further ado, let me introduce today’s contestants:

In the red corner, we have deontological/ absolute ethics. This is basically where there are constant rules that can never be broken (the clue’s in the name), for example, ‘do not kill’, ‘do not steal’, ‘do not blog’. Different philosophers have different justifications for their rules: Thomas Aquinas had a theory called Natural Law where he basically thought that God had a few things he wanted us to do: reproduce, protect the innocent, educate people, etc etc (look up the ‘five primary precepts’ for more detail), and he thought any action was wrong which frustrated its final cause/ contradicts one of the precepts, so for example he would have been against contraception as it frustrates the final cause of sex which is to reproduce. For the non-religious, Immanuel Kant’s Universal Law might be more appealing: he believed we should only do actions if we could ‘will them to become a universal law’. In other words, I shouldn’t steal because if everyone stole, society would be in total chaos.

In the blue corner, we have teleological/ relative/ consequential ethics. This is to do with looking at the results of actions and saying that certain things could be right in certain situations, e.g. I can steal if its from some mega-rich dude who wouldn’t even notice, to feed my starving family. This one’s championed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, who believed in Utilitarianism: the greatest good for the greatest number. For a utilitarian then, it would be okay to kill one in order to save many, whereas for an absolutist it would not as it is never okay to kill.

Both of these theories clearly have their pros and cons: absolutism, for example, is much easier to apply, but relativism is a bit kinder somehow – it allows you to steal to feed your starving family, which is undeniably quite nice of it.

I’ll leave you to decide who wins the fight, but feel free to just be fickle morally dubious and stick with whichever one suits you…

Keep shortcutting (I wouldn’t mind that being a universal law!),


2 Responses to “Shortcutting… Ethics”

  1. mamagirlsaysitall July 3, 2012 at 1:19 am #

    As a Sociology major, I’ve figured out that I don’t agree with Aquinas, I like Bentham, and that questions of morality can be sliced any number of ways depending on which sociologist you ask. =)

    • shortcutting July 3, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

      Ah, I agree about not agreeing with Aquinas, and I am quite a fan of Utilitarianism, it’s certainly true though that there never seems to be a definitive answer on anything!

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