Ethics 101
eBook - ePub

Ethics 101

From Altruism and Utilitarianism to Bioethics and Political Ethics, an Exploration of the Concepts of Right and Wrong

Brian Boone

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  1. 256 Seiten
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Ethics 101

From Altruism and Utilitarianism to Bioethics and Political Ethics, an Exploration of the Concepts of Right and Wrong

Brian Boone

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Über dieses Buch

Explore the mysteries of morality and the concept of right and wrong with this accessible, engaging guide featuring basic facts along with an overview of modern-day issues ranging from business ethics and bioethics to political and social ethics. Ethics 101 offers an exciting look into the history of moral principles that dictate human behavior. Unlike traditional textbooks that overwhelm, this easy-to-read guide presents the key concepts of ethics in fun, straightforward lessons and exercises featuring only the most important facts, theories, and ideas. Ethics 101 includes unique, accessible elements such as: -Explanations of the major moral philosophies including utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, and eastern philosophers including Avicenna, Buddha, and Confucius.-Classic thought exercises including the trolley problem, the sorites paradox, and agency theory-Unique profiles of the greatest characters in moral philosophy-An explanation of modern applied ethics in bioethics, business ethics, political ethics, professional ethics, organizational ethics, and social ethicsFrom Plato to Jean-Paul Sartre and utilitarianism to antirealism, Ethics 10 1 is jam-packed with enlightening information that you can't get anywhere else!

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Chapter 1


Philosophy as we know it, at least in the Western world (Europe and the Americas) sprung up around the sixth century B.C. in Greece. The Greek schools of thought dominated philosophy and all of its subsets until the first century A.D.
In their attempts to decipher the big questions about life, universe, and humanity, the philosophers of ancient Greece incorporated all the knowledge they had at the time. They didn’t see much of a distinction between the theoretical secrets of the unknown universe and the quantifiable, physical world. As such, these philosophers used every tool and discipline at their disposal, including ethics, logic, biology, the nature of art, the nature of beauty, and especially, political science. For the ancient Greeks, particularly for those in Athens, politics and public life were among the most important going concerns, and their inquiries into ethics frequently focused not just on the individual’s duties but also on the proper ways to lead and govern.
Many philosophers wrote and taught in ancient Greece. But this golden era of Greek philosophy is dominated by three of the most famous and influential thinkers in Western history: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
Socrates (ca. 470–399 B.C.) created much of the framework and methodology for how to approach philosophy and ethics. Among these innovations is the “Socratic method.” This method is a form of discourse and discussion based entirely on two or more parties asking each other an almost endless array of questions. The goal is to find common ground and highlight any flaws in their arguments so as to get closer to some kind of truth. Socrates thought that this ability is one of the things that separated humans from the rest of the animal kingdom, for we’re the only animals capable of logic and reason.
Carrying on the Socratic traditions was one of his primary students, Plato (ca. 428–348 B.C.). In Athens, Plato formed the first higher learning institution in the West, the Academy. One of his major contributions to moral philosophy is the theory of forms, which explores how humans can live a life of happiness in an ever-changing, material world.
The third pillar of ancient Greek philosophy is Aristotle (384–322 B.C.), a student of Plato’s at the Academy, and later a professor at the same institution. One of his main theories deals with universals. He proposed whether there were “universals,” and what they might be. This remains a major focus of ethical inquiry today.
The theories of these three philosophers created the Western philosophical canon, and represent the first major entries into the study of ethics.


A Brief History
While philosophy is ultimately the question of what is and isn’t human nature, it is most definitely human nature to wonder. This is something that separates us from other creatures—we are self-aware of our existence and mortality, and we have higher brain functions that give us the ability to reason. The earliest humans most certainly wondered about the same questions that “official” philosophers and students formally posed: Why was the Earth created? What is it made of? Why are humans here? What is the purpose of it all? How can we live happy lives?
To even think about asking these questions is philosophy at its most basic and raw. Philosophers have sought to answer these questions—or at least inch closer to universal truths. These same questions have led to centuries of religious development. Most religions are like philosophy in that they are about the pursuit of answers to the “big questions”—however, religion is much more likely than philosophy to claim to have the answers. Philosophy is about asking questions—always asking questions.
Formal philosophy began in Greece in the seventh century B.C. Hundreds of years before Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle would solidify the foundations of Western thought (and even before Confucius and Buddha would do the same in the East), philosophers such as Heraclitus and Anaxagoras were considering the makeup of the universe and the nature of life. Anaxagoras, for example, wrote that “there is a portion of everything in everything.” That’s some very sophisticated thinking, and it's an idea that has resonated throughout the centuries of philosophy and will continue to resonate for centuries to come.

Ethics versus Morality

Morality is about the good-bad duality. In a general sense, morality refers to a code or rules in which actions are judged against how they stack up to shared values. Some things are “right,” while others are “wrong.” Ethics, meanwhile, refers to the rules that form those moral codes and that also come from those moral codes.


Ideas about the nature of the universe logically leads to the idea that all people are connected. We all occupy the same planet, and within it, individual societies and countries have their own sets of standards of behavior. Why are those standards in place? The answer is straightforward: to maintain the peace and to keep things humming along so that some, many, or all, may live lives of worth and fulfillment. This is where the philosophical branch of moral philosophy comes into play.
“Moral philosophy”—a term that is used interchangeably with ethics—is its own realm of study. It sits apart from the broad ideas of general philosophy, as well as the other branches of philosophy. In fact, there are many branches of general philosophy. The main offshoots are:
Metaphysics. This is the study of all existence. This is about the really big questions. For example: Why is there life? What else is out there? Why are we here?
Epistemology. This concerns the intricacies of acquiring knowledge and perception. Epistemology isn’t so much about the truth so much as it is about determining how we know what we know. One question in this field might be: How do we know that what we think is the truth really is the truth?
Ethics. Much more on this to come!
Political philosophy. The ancient Greeks developed political philosophy in tandem with individual philosophy because, as they were laying the groundwork for democracy, it was crucial for them to determine the best way to govern so as to achieve “the greater good.” Political philosophy is about the underpinnings of government and rule so as to maintain peace, prosperity, and happiness for some, many, or all.
Aesthetics. This is about defining beauty, art, and other kinds of expression and appreciation thereof; the things that make being a human worthwhile.
You may have noticed that there is a hierarchy of the branches. Starting from metaphysics, the individual areas move from the biggest and broadest of questions about the biggest and broadest things, and progress down through finer and finer parts of existence. For example, metaphysics sits atop the list because it is about the study of all existence and why it is; aesthetics is at the bottom, because it’s about how to improve and appreciate life itself.


The philosophical branch that will be studied in this book is, of course, ethics. Ethics is about the application of philosophy. What good are answers, or at least very informed or deeply held opinions, about the nature of the universe and the meaning of life if you don’t know how to apply those “truths” to how you live your day-to-day life and interact with the world around you? Ethics seeks to determine how and why one should behave in a way that is the most virtuous. At its most elemental, ethics is about doing the right thing; the philosophy behind it is about determining what those right things are, in a way that benefits the individual and society at large in a fair, just, and kind manner. In other words, ethics is about right versus wrong—both in terms of defining those extremes and how to act on the side of “right.”


Reasons to Be Good
Ethics are obviously important constructs of civilization, born out of a primal human need to understand the world. But why, exactly, are ethics important? Because humanity needs structure to make sense out of the world. As we collect information, we order and categorize it. This helps us decode the vast and seemingly impossible-to-understand universe. Ethics is part of this ongoing crusade of decoding.
If knowledge defines the “what” of the universe, then philosophy is an attempt to unlock the “why.” Ethics is then how that “why” is carried out, giving us standards, virtues, and rules by which we use to direct how we behave, both on a daily basis and in the grand scheme of things.


Philosophers have pinpointed several different reasons why humans can and should act in a virtuous manner. Here are a few:
It’s a requirement for life. It’s our biological imperative as humans to survive and thrive, and ethics are part of the complicated structure of humanity that helps us determine the best ways to act so that each of us may live a long, productive life. Acting virtuously helps ensure that our actions are not aimless, pointless, or random. By narrowing down the vastness of the universe to a lived experience with purpose and meaning—especially if it’s one shared by a society or cultural group—goals and happiness are more within reach.
It’s a requirement for society. To be a member of society in good standing, one must follow the codes and laws that govern that culture. Everybody has a role to play, and if the social fabric breaks down, the happiness of others is threatened. Ethics builds relationships, both individually and on a grand scale. Kindness matters, and it helps forge the underlying bonds that unite a society.
For religious purposes. Some people try to act in a way they have decided is the most morally upstanding, and they get their cues from religion. This plays into a type of ethics called divine command theory. People who subscribe to this type of ethics act in accordance with the rules set forth by an organized religion, and those rules are derived from holy text or the direction of a divine entity. While some religions say it is important to act appropriately just because it is the right thing to do, they also provide the crucial incentive of consequences: be good enough, and a person will reach paradise when they die; be bad enough, and an eternity of torment awaits. In other words, we need incentives to act morally.
For self-interest. Some ethicists believe that humans ultimately act out of self-service, that they do things with their own interests in mind. This viewpoint even informs their moral behavior. As hinted at in “the Golden Rule” (do unto others as you would have done unto you) and the similar Eastern idea of karma, being good can be a self-serving pursuit. Hence, if a person behaves morally, respectfully, and kindly to others—for whatever reason, and even if those reasons are motivated by self-interest—good things will happen to that person in kind.
Because humans are good. This is a major theme of moral philosophy. The essential question is this: Are humans ethical because they have to be, or do humans pursue a moral life because certain acts are just naturally good, or naturally bad? As an action, this plays out in the idea that humans, by and large, are themselves naturally good, and they try to act accordingly.


Central to the discussion of ethics is the notion of virtues. Moral philosophy is very much invested in determining not only the way humans ought to act, but also the way they act. Ethics lead to quantifiable values, and those values are the handful of qualities that direct good behavior. Most every different viewpoint on ethics is concerned with virtues, because virtues have no ties to a specific religion or ethical ideology. And many are universal. (Some aren’t, but that’s a question for ethicists to debate.)


Philosophers for Hire
Sophists were professional traveling teachers who worked as freelance tutors in Athens and other major Greek cities in the fifth century B.C. They offered—only to wealthy males—an education in virtues, which was called arete. They got rich but were widely resented because they had their own agenda for what to teach the children of the wealthy: warrior values such as courage and physical strength.
As Athens adopted the early vestiges of democracy later on, arete evolved to mean how to influence others, particularly citizens in political functions, through persuasion with a mastery of rhetoric, or the ability to debate and discuss. Sophistic education grew out of this and capitalized on it.

Virtues of the Sophists

Among the virtues professed by some of the Sophists were:
Protagoras: Truth is relative, and so therefore everyone has their own subjective truth.
Gorgias: If something does exist, we cannot ever really know it, and we have no way to communicate it.
Prodicus: Wisdom is a great virtue, and those that are wise should receive more attention than the less learned.

The six main teachers in Athens at that time came to be known collectively as the Sophists. These influential philosophical thinkers wrapped up their ideas with politics, human...