Ethics For Dummies
eBook - ePub

Ethics For Dummies

Christopher Panza, Adam Potthast

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eBook - ePub

Ethics For Dummies

Christopher Panza, Adam Potthast

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An easy-to-grasp guide to addressing the principles of ethics and applying them to daily life

How do you define "good" versus "evil?" Do you know the difference between moral "truth" and moral relativity? Whether or not you know Aristotle from Hume, Ethics For Dummies will get you comfortable with the centuries-old study of ethical philosophy quickly and effectively!

Ethics For Dummies is a practical, friendly guide that takes the headache out of the often-confusing subject of ethics. In plain English, it examines the controversial facets of ethical thought, explores the problem of evil, demystifies the writings and theories of such great thinkers through the ages as Aristotle, Confucius, Descartes, Kant, Nietzsche, and so much more.

  • Provides the tools to tackle and understand today's important questions and ethical dilemmas
  • Shows you how to apply the concepts and theories of ethical philosophy to your everyday life
  • Other title by Panza: Existentialism For Dummies

Whether you're currently enrolled in an ethics course or are interested in living a good life but are vexed with ethical complexities, Ethics For Dummies has you covered!

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Informations

Éditeur
For Dummies
Année
2010
ISBN
9780470650448
Édition
1
Part I
Ethics 101: Just the Basics, Please
591710-pp0101.eps
In this part . . .
Ethics is the most practical kind of philosophy, but that doesn’t mean that all you need to study it is basic common sense. You also need to know some of the lingo and some of the basic assumptions about the field. That’s what this part of the book is about.
Here we discuss some basic distinctions, and then we cordially invite you to ask why you should care about ethics in the first place. Because you also need to avoid some really important pitfalls in your ethical thinking, such as the idea that ethics is really just a matter of opinion, we devote a chapter to this topic. Getting away from this idea is important so you can appreciate the rich debates about ethics in the rest of the book and what they have to do with living an ethical life.
Chapter 1
Approaching Ethics: What Is It and Why Should You Care?
In This Chapter
Surveying fundamental ethical definitions and distinctions you need to know
Understanding why you should be ethical
Determining what’s involved in making a commitment to an ethical life
You probably wouldn’t try to make a cake without ingredients, pots, and pans, right? Well the same goes for making a recipe for an ethical life. You have to know some things before you start cooking. And although living an ethical life isn’t always easy, the basic tools are easy to master.
This chapter starts with some basics regarding ethics to help you get a better grasp of the subject. We help you by clarifying some basic distinctions that quickly emerge in your study of ethics. We also explain why being ethical is important. We finish the chapter with a discussion of what’s involved in making a commitment to living an ethical life. Consider this chapter your jumping-off point into the wonderful world of ethics.
Knowing the Right Words: Ethical Vocabulary
Although ethics and morality are essential parts of human life, not many people understand how to talk about them. Good, evil, right, wrong, great, and bad: Who could possibly sort through all that mess? Getting a firm grasp on these words and distinctions is important so you don’t fall into any misunderstandings later. The following sections explain important ethics vocabulary words and how to use them.
Focusing on should and ought
Fortunately you don’t really need to sort through lots of different terms. In fact, most of ethics and morality can be boiled down to one simple concept that can be expressed using the words should and ought. “Good” or “right” actions are actions that you ought to do. “Bad” character traits are ones you should try not to develop. “Evil” traits are those you should really try to avoid. Isn’t it cool how just these two words can unify so many ethical concepts?
To clearly understand what ethics means in terms of should and ought, consider this example: Most people are comfortable considering what science is about. Science tries to figure out the way the world is, was, or will be. The following are all scientific questions (some easier to answer than others):
What will be the effect of detonating a nuclear weapon in a major city?
What led to the extinction of the dodo bird?
Is there a beer in the fridge?
remember.eps
Ethics isn’t just about the way the world is. Sure, you have to know a lot about how the world works to answer ethical questions, but ethics is about something a little more ambitious than science. It’s about the way the world ought to be or should be. Focusing on how the world should be gives ethical questions a different nature altogether. Ethical questions look more like this:
Ought we to be detonating nuclear weapons around large numbers of people?
Should endangered species be protected from human hunting?
Should I really have that last beer in the fridge before driving home?
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Lots of people miss the point about ethical discussions because they assume “ought” questions are really “is” questions. How many times have you heard someone defend his unjust actions by saying “Yeah, well, life isn’t fair?” That person may be right about how the world works, but that doesn’t mean it should continue to work that way. And in all likelihood, he’s contributing to keeping the world in a way that it ought not to be. The world may not be fair, but it should be.
You probably have a big question dawning on you right about now: How do I find out what I ought to do? It’s a great question; it’s the subject of the rest of this book.
Avoiding the pitfall of separating ethics and morality
Although the terms ethics and morality have two different definitions in the dictionary, throughout this book we use them interchangeably and don’t make any effort to distinguish between the ideas. The truth is that you can argue all day about whether something is immoral or just unethical, whether someone has ethics but no morals, or whether ethics is about society but morality is about you.
remember.eps
The reason these arguments don’t go anywhere is that in the end, both ethics and morality are actually about the same: What you ought to be doing with your life. If it’s true that an act is immoral, then you ought not to do it. The situation doesn’t change if the act is unethical instead. It’s still something you ought not to do.
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“But wait!” you may say. “Ethics and morality can’t be the same thing. Something can be unethical but still moral.” Some people think, for instance, that Robin Hood’s stealing to feed the poor was unethical but still moral. That thought may be true — we’re not saying that words don’t get used in that way. But in the end, what do you really want to know about Robin Hood? You want to know whether he ought to have been doing what he did. Ditto with something that seems immoral but may still be ethical, like selling goods at hugely inflated prices. If ethics and morality say different things, you need to find out what the relationship between you and your customers should be and how you should act, feel, and think toward them based on that relationship.
So, seriously, don’t worry about the difference between ethics and morality. Your ethical conversations will make a lot more progress if you just concentrate on the “oughtiness” of things. Professional philosophers don’t bother distinguishing between the two lots of the time, so you shouldn’t either.
Putting law in its proper place
Even though you don’t need to differentiate ethics and morality, you should distinguish between the concepts of ethics (or morality) and legality. If you don’t, you may end up confusing the ethical thing to do with the legal thing to do. There’s some overlap between ethics and the law, but they aren’t always in line with one another. For example, consider speeding. Speeding is illegal, but that doesn’t mean it’s always unethical. It seems ethically acceptable to speed in order to get someone to the hospital for an emergency, for instance. You may still be punished according to the law, but that doesn’t automatically make your act unethical.
The law also sometimes permits people to do unethical things. Cheating on your partner is usually ethically wrong, for instance. But breaking romantic commitments isn’t typically illegal (and even where it is, laws against adultery aren’t usually enforced).
remember.eps
Should all unethical things be illegal? Probably not, but it’s worth noting that unless ethics and legality are separate concepts, it’s not even possible to ask that question. The law may be inspired by ethical standards, but in many cases it’s better not to make laws about unethical behaviors. People usually sort out these kinds of things on their own. Besides, it could simply be too expensive to enforce some laws. (Lying is usually unethical, but how full would prisons be if they had to hold all the liars in addition to the thieves, tax-cheats, murderers, and rapists?)
ponderthis.eps
If ethics and legality were the same thing, all laws would be ethical, and all ethical acts would be permitted under the law. In other words, an unjust law couldn’t exist. But this thinking seems to be false. If, for example, Congress passed a law that all brown-haired people had to wear polka-dotted pants on Thursdays or go to prison, this law would be terribly unjust. But it could only be labeled unjust if an independent ethical standard existed against which laws can be evaluated. Because ethical standards can actually be used to judge laws, ethics and legality mu...

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