Tibor R. Machan-A Primer on Ethics (1997)
Excelente obra que ofrece una introducción al campo de la ética y sus principales problemas filosóficos....
A PRIMER ON ETHICS
By Tibor R. Machan
University of Oklahoma Press
Norman and London
F , UNIVERSITY OF TOLEDO LIBRARIES '"EARNING RESOURCE CENTER-SCOTT PARK
This book is published with the generous assistance of Edith Gaylord Harper.
A section of chapter 10, "Children's Rights and Obligations," was previously published as "Between Parents and Children" in the Journal of Social Philosophy 23, no. 3 (1992), 16-22. Reprinted by permission of the Journal of Social Philosophy.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Machan, Tibor R. A primer on ethics / by Tibor R. Machan. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-8061-2946-8 (cloth: alk. paper) 1. Ethics. I. Title. BJI012.M324 1997 170-dc21 96-6502 CIP Text design by Cathy Carney Imboden. Text is set in New Century Schoolbook. The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on Library Resources, Inc. @ Copyright © 1997 by the University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University. All rights reserved. Manufactured in the U.S.A. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
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For my wonderful children Kate, Thomas, and Erin '
Preface Acknowledgments Preliminary Considerations What Is Ethics? Why Study Ethics? How Is Ethics Possible? Assumptions Made in Ethics Free Will? Moral Skepticism The Best Theory Is As True As Can Be Facts and Values Metaethics and Criticism of Moral Theories Metaethical Theories Criticism of Moral Theories Types of Moral Theories What Is Morally Good and Right? Ethical Positions More Ethical Positions in Brief Some Political Systems Ethics as a Personal Concern Ethics in Everyday Life Commonsense Ethics Theistic Ethics Challenges to Ethics Ethical Subjectivism
3 5 7 10 11
13 23 27 29 33 33 36 37 39 39 63 65 78 78 79 80 90 91
Ethical Relativism Nihilism 8. Rethinking the Fact/Value Dichotomy A Value-Free Study of Human Life? Are Ethical Judgments Bogus? Facts, Values, and Reality Goodness and Empiricism Proving Values Knowable 9. Applying Ethics One Convincing Moral Outlook Some Ethical Quandaries On Moral Challenges 10. Conclusion Questions for Discussion Notes Recommended Reading Index
96 101 107 108 110 111 112 115 118 119 127 158 161 171 173 179 181
Ace 0 R DIN G to much of the educated world in our time, .L:"'1.human actions are best understood in terms of individual histories and community influences. For many people, including teachers and leaders, this idea is axiomatic and has replaced concepts of personal responsibility, free will, human agency, moral blame, and praise-which some thinkers have described as prescientific assumptions. The behavior of grownups is widely attributed to their experience as children and to the constraints imposed on them, for example by schools. It is strongly implied that individuals are not free to decide their own conduct, although as links in a chain of causal forces they may oblige others to act in one way or another. Yet as one philosopher observes, "The claim that the individual could have acted otherwise is central to our notions of praise and blame."1 It is also central to the idea that we should have behaved differently in the past or that we should do so in the future (actions in this context include not just observable behavior but our thoughts about the world and about ourselves). Which view is correct? To what extent are people puppets of the environment? To what extent are we our own agents? Whenever people criticize human conduct, including a person's ideas, ethical considerations are immediately involved. Ethics as a field of inquiry is concerned with how humans ought to act. To say that someone should consider a different argu-
ment about free will (for example) is one kind of ethical claim, because it speaks to the issue of how we should use our minds and presupposes that we can in fact decide-that we can make the right choice in this area. An ethical claim, however, must square with other aspects of our lives: it must be both practical and capable of being made operational without being mysterious. Ifit remains vague or incomprehensible, then it gives us an excuse to avoid considering how we ought to behave from day to day. When we act without thinking, we dodge taking responsibility for ourselves. This book aims to set forth, succinctly, the basic elements of ethical inquiry without suggesting that teachers or anyone else can free students from the task of becoming good people. I have tried to suggest the nature of the ongoing debate about free will and other aspects of ethics. I do not pretend to complete neutrality; some of the positions that I describe seem to me the right ones. In these pages I sometimes explain where I stand and why, and I also describe and appraise the ideas of critics. The book is intended for use with at least one other text that presents major ethical theories by central moral thinkers past and present. I have listed some seminal works at the end. I have also included questions to help students reflect on their reading, although classroom teachers will be the most effective guides. I should note at the outset that in philosophical studies of morality generally, how much support a given position receives from individuals, groups, or society at large is unimportant. Even the most renowned philosopher may be wrong, and the public sector as a whole is no less susceptible to error. Respectability and popularity sometimes supplant independent judgment, especially when there is little time to study the various competing ethical positions. By the same token, individuals-you and I-must often act quickly on our moral beliefs, without taking the time and intellectual energy to appraise them. And even if we found the time, what would we
discover? Would we learn that our most cherished assumptions rest on nothing more than a persistent tradition? Would we perhaps find that our conduct has no rational basis? Ifwe pursued such a line of reasoning far enough, we might conclude that human beings are unable to double-check (and revise) their inherited ideas. If so, we would have to excuse a racist, anti-Semite, or sexual chauvinist just because of the culture in which he or she had grown up. The possibility of blaming a person's conduct exclusively on factors beyond his or her control raises questions that are especially troubling in our times. We cannot hope to answer these questions here, but we can at least begin to explore them.
Kimberly Wiar at the University of Oklahoma Press for her encouragement and support in bringing this book to publication. My friends Jim Chesher, Mark Turiano, and Aeon Skoble have helped me avoid embarrassing mistakes, keep the work balanced without becoming gutless, and tighten some sections that needed tightening. My gratitude goes also to my many hundreds of students and several dozen colleagues-from California State College, Bakersfield; the State University of New York at Fredonia; the University of California, Santa Barbara; the University of San Diego; Franklin College, Switzerland; the United States Military Academy at West Point; Adelphia University; and of course Auburn University. Over thirty years they have helped shape my understanding of the subject matter to be covered in an introductory book on ethics. THANK
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courses differ from other courses in at least two ways. First, many college students have studied other subjects in a systematic way but not philosophy. Students have come into contact with ethical considerations for the most part only while they observed other people, listened to Sunday school teachers, read editorials, heard lectures from their parents, read plays and novels (or moralizing pulp fiction), and watched television or movies. Still, people do not usually take notes when they do these things and do not reflect on them in an attentive, systematic, organized fashion. Most people know, more or less, that ethics is concerned with the distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, and proper and improper conduct. Most people also have some ideas about how to recognize ethical ideas and moral virtues, but the basis for these ideas, and possible alternatives, usually get short shrift. In an ethics course, we begin with these considerations. Second, ethics courses differ from those in other disciplines in what they offer. Courses in biology, history, and many other fields are taught, even at the college level, as sources of information. In the hard or natural sciences (and in many social T HIe s
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sciences) every era reaches a consensus regarding the answers and theories seen as good (and from time to time the consensus shifts). Students receive the accepted wisdom, test it for strength, and then build on it in advanced courses. Introductory courses necessarily ask students to defer to the judgment of professors and textbooks and to take much on faith. Some philosophy courses proceed in the same way. Students tend to trust the professor's description of an ethical position, the gist of a theory, the nature of supporting arguments, and so forth. In contrast, ethics professors are not mainly consultants, trainers, or guides for their students. (In their own conduct, admittedly, they model human actions, especially as they carry out their duties as teachers and scholars. Still, the same could be said of everyone we meet.) In ethics courses, unlike other classes, students are not simply told the score. Instead they are asked to scrutinize competing answers to questions and the arguments advanced to support them. Students beginning the study of philosophy often feel confused at the start. There are usually a great many ideas, assumptions, and theories and much new terminology. The emphasis in the classroom falls on scrutiny rather than on acceptance. There seems to be little in the way of universally accepted or settled knowledge. In an ethics class or text, we encounter a special approach to education: students learn through dialogue, back-and-forth argumentation and speculation about competing ideas. I do not mean that in ethics there are no right answers. I mean that the teaching of a course involves not imparting answers but rather assuring that different ideas come in for scrutiny and that students take responsibility for selecting one as right. I shall return later to the implications of this statement. Why does ethics differ from other areas of study? The reason is that, like other branches of philosophy, it is considered to
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have no orthodoxy that can simply be assumed. No view, that is, can be accepted on faith from one generation to the next. Ethical considerations form an integral part of human existence and are constantly disputed. Human beings argue about ethics partly because it is so central to their lives. WHAT Is ETHICS? The field of ethics, or morality-I use the two terms interchangeably-studies the proper standards and principles of human conduct. Otherwise stated, the discipline considers various answers to the question "How should I live?" Everyone seems to ask this question. People usually do so when they face some particular problem in life, but it sometimes arises in response to general concerns: "Can I have two drinks and still drive home safely?" "How can I talk to my mother so that she will listen?" "How can I help this company keep employee loyalty after all the layoffs?" "How, basically, should I lead my life?" ''What is the most important thing for me to consider when I make decisions?" The focus may be on the details of our lives or on the broad task of how people ought to behave. Ethics usually means determining what it is most important for us to do-specifying the conduct most befitting us as humans. Wejudge actions and people on the basis of moral (or ethical) principles or standards. We may call one action vicious, vile, or reckless or maybe wonderful, great, or swell. In our eyes someone may be a jerk, a bastard, or a cad or, alternatively, a decent gal or a really bad dude. The terms we use depend on the context and often on the slang in our particular era. In more profound moments, for example, we may describe someone or something as "noble," "honorable," or "exemplary." In any case, as we go about our daily business, we never stop appraising people and their actions, from schoolmates, parents, and teachers to rock stars, political, military, or diplomatic
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leaders, and even fictional characters. We are concerned not just with how well they perform (whether they do their jobs in a way that seems right and proper) but also with how good they are as human beings (whether they seem basically decent and virtuous). Ethical issues arise whenever we consider how people behave and what guides their conduct. That ethics, or morality, is the single most widespread concern of human beings is clear from the most cursory survey of today's novels, plays, poems, movies, and even sitcoms. We speak of the actors in such dramas as "characters," and indeed one of the main questions in ethics asks what our characterour basic moral nature-should be. It is not accidental that one word is used in both senses. A person's ethical or moral makeup is his or her character, and fictional personages impress us by virtue of their values and general orientation toward life. We are vitally interested in seeing whether they handle their conflicts and relationships, and the consequences of their actions, in a proper, ethical way. In the field of ethics, then, we examine courses of action. We want to identifY moral standards, to evaluate them, and to make sure that we know which ones we ought to live by. We need to know with reasonable certainty: after all, we do not want to judge ourselves or others haphazardly or wrongly. Ethics as a philosophical discipline allows us to reflect in a clear, orderly, dispassionate fashion. The customs of a particular group of people are not for the most part the concern of the study of ethics, although they may be influenced by the group's moral standards. The discipline tends to be concerned instead with what is good and evil, or right and wrong, for human beings generally, by virtue of their humanity. Most important, it concerns things that they have the power to choose, not what happens to them because of factors beyond their control.
Few things in life are as pervasive as norms of conduct. Every day the news abounds with the problems ofliving and acting properly. Politics and the law are the more public branches of ethics. (In the classical sense, politics and the law concern themselves with how people should live in a community, or with the basic governing principles of community life.) Not surprisingly, controversy is almost the rule in this field. People argue about right and wrong all the time. Philosophers disagree about the best way of understanding ethics. Not everyone will agree with the ideas in this book. Consequently you should approach the statements that you read here as a starting point and reflect on them carefully, without taking them as the last word by any means. WHY STUDY ETHICS?
In each age some people scrutinize their most basic convictions and debate different approaches and answers, probably because the issues involved are too important for casual treatment and cannot be left for others to handle (whether peers, parents, grandparents, or even thinkers of previous epochs). In some special fields we do tend to trust the pioneers who preceded us and to build on their work without repeating it. In basic areas, however, we tend to want to see for ourselves. This concern may explain the generation gap: young people cannot simply accept their elders' notions about God, morality, politics, the arts, culture, and other matters. Parents, on the other hand, want to be sure that their offspring benefit from their experience. Why is ethics part of human life? Philosophers and others have given very different answers to this question. As we will see, some deny that morality has any bearing on human life at all. Here I will offer my own reasons for disagreeing with this group. Human beings are free in ways that other animals are
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not. Unlike other creatures, we need to take initiative in our lives and to choose between alternatives. If we are not always considering different options, at least we seem to be capable of doing so. "Should I experiment with drugs or avoid them?" "Should I drive when I have taken a drink or two or seek help with reaching my destination?" "Should I take my parents' advice about my career or let the matter ride?" "Should I be sexually intimate casually or should I save intimacy for people who mean a great deal to me, maybe only in marriage?" "Should I seek a job that will help me get some money early in life or one that requires extensive study and preparation?" "Should I support politicians who promise to provide me with benefits for my life or those who aim to make sure I can take care of myself in peace?" Human beings ask such questions all the time even if they do not say them out loud. Now, animals also face some basic alternatives. Their nature equips them, however-and here I mean their particular traits as the kind of animals they are-with inborn genetic prompts on which they rely to produce results that are good for them individually and for the species. Animals, as far as we know, do not plan their actions even though they suffer from harmful consequences if something interferes with their normal development and behavior. Nonhuman animals do select from alternatives, not on their own initiative, but because they are genetically programmed to behave in a certain way. Geese instinctively fly south for the winter, and the few that stay behind do so because something has interfered with the impulse that prompts them to migrate. Human beings apparently do not come with such a detailed automatic pilot, or innate guidelines. When things go awry for you and me, however, we often seem to have done wrong although we had the opportunity to do right. If you disagree with this idea, you might try arguing with people who found it true. If you did, you would be claiming that
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they had gone wrong-had failed to go right although they had the opportunity. In other words, what you were doing would contradict what you were saying. Our confidence in humans' ability to choose a course of action or thought must be deeply entrenched if we cannot even deny it without presupposing that it exists. We will return to this point later. Clearly we think along these lines whenwe say, for example, "Shoot, I should have done this, but I didn't," or when we apologize or exclaim, "I sure am glad I got it right this time!"or when we take pride in the results of our efforts. More often, perhaps, we comment on other people's behavior in this way. "Jerry should have been more logical, should have driven less recklessly, should have performed that operation more carefully, should have studied harder." Or we might say, "My roommate really should have cleaned up after the party." In any case, the right course of action does not emerge automatically. Ifwe pay attention, we may find some clues. Study of the human body, for example, and even mere experience, can tell us about some of the biological requirements for our survival. Yet to perform the tasks oflife successfully we need to be aware of more than just pain and pleasure. The question "How should I live?" must be answered. Where many important issues in our lives are concerned, no instinct will tell us what to do. Ethics examines, clarifies, and tries to identify answers at least in general terms. Specific answers that fit particular circumstances remain, inevitably, for the individual to determine, since he or she alone may be privy to the relevant details. Ethics takes as its purpose helping us discover the most general, universal principles that may be used to guide human conduct. It helps us answer certain questions that we all confront unless we are intellectually incapacitated. By our words, our thoughts, and our actions, we all somehow reply to the question "How should I live?" Like much else in ethics, however,
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need for knowledge remains controversial. Some observers argue that none is required. And some maintain that ethics is not a valid discipline at all.
Some aspects of human life are optional. Higher education can be part of our lives or not, as we choose. Some institutions are similarly optional; a college mayor may not have amateur athletics, for example. The presence or absence of such features may be explained in terms of the wishes that people happen to have, which may change with little consequence for human life in general. The same cannot be said of ethics, however. Ethics is not an accessory in human life. Everyone must play the moral game. Even trying not to play it amounts to playing it, though probably badly. Before we can prove that ethics is indispensable, we must show that it is an integral part of our lives. In explaining why we need it, I have made many assumptions. These are controversial and must be discussed before we can seriously consider whether ethics is fundamental for human life or is a bogus field.
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people think that ethics and science are incompatible. Many social scientists and psychologists believe that various factors beyond people's control explain their conduct. If you think about it, you will recall times when you were convinced that something made you act badly. Perhaps you faulted some event in your upbringing or some cultural influence. (We tend to explain away our own conduct and to blame other people for theirs.) The existence of ethics as a legitimate field of inquiry is often in dispute. That it is an integral part of human life is not obvious. Before ethics may be said to exist, some other facts must hold true. Consider, for example, the claim "Judy should not lie," or "The president of the United States ought to stop trying to control people's lives." "Ought" implies "can." When we say that someone ought to do something, we presuppose that this person is capable of doing it and can decide to do it or to refrain. In each case the speaker assumes that Judy and the president can choose what they will do. In addition, both claims presuppose that Judy and the president-indeed anyone who looks into the matter-can identify certain standards of conduct. OME
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First, then, ethics requires us to make some genuine choices, to be able to initiate some actions. If we cannot, then the notion that we should or should not act one way or another simply does not apply. If I am incapable of driving a car, then it is meaningless to tell me not to drive recklessly. Second, ethics demands that the principles that apply to conduct be identifiable, objective. Principles relate to action, to how we should behave, and to the basis on which we choose a course of action. To become wealthy, for example, we need to follow some precepts, perhaps having to do with frugality, productivity, and shrewdness. By the same token, we need guidelines to achieve happiness or blessedness or forgiveness or to live a life that is morally good. These rules must be clear before they can be meaningful. Otherwise they cannot be learned, as they must be if we are to apply them daily. If we could not identify principles, we could not compare alternative courses of conduct and make an intelligent choice. That is, we would have no basis for discriminating among them. If we sought prosperity, for example, we would need to decide how to achieve it, or how to invest our money. How could we know which ways are best? Without criteria, the choice would be haphazard. In real life, however, we make principled choices daily. The precepts we follow depend on our goal and enable us to reach it. The fields of medicine, engineering, and business offer particularly clear examples. Possibly, then, we have satisfied the second requirement of ethics-that we be able to identify principles of conduct. Let us now see whether our two assumptions-that we have the power to choose and that we can identify principles of conduct-seem reasonable or appear to be based on mere prejudice or myth. Without deciding conclusively one way or the other, we will consider the major points for and against both. In so doing, we will be verifying that there is a basis for ethical
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inquiry. If the field's foundations are unstable, ethics itself is unsupported and might just as well be relegated to the realm of the occult, with astrology and palmistry. FREE WILL?
We must first determine whether we have free will-not necessarilyall of us all of the time but rather most of us normally, as a rule. In other words, are human beings, as they have appeared throughout history (though again not when intellectually incapacitated or significantly damaged) capable of initiating the behavior in which they engage? As we saw in chapter 1, if we cannot choose whether or not to do something, there is no sense in praising or blaming us for what we do. Consider the insanity plea in criminal trials. If you have no power over your actions, you cannot be regarded as guilty: you did not intend to do what you did. Similarly, if you are not responsible for the work that is being praised, then you cannot take credit for it. Many women do not like to have men constantly call attention to their looks. The women believe that their figures and features are not of their own making, and they wish the men would pick something over which they had had greater influence. (Liking someone's looks is another matter, of course.) Still, if people have no power over their own actions, praise and blame are forever irrelevant, inapplicable. Do human beings have free will? Let us begin our inquiry by considering some objections. Afterward we will return to arguments that demonstrate both the possibility and the existence of free will. Against Free Will
Nature's laws versus free will. One of the major objections to the concept of free will starts with the observation that nature
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is governed by a set of laws, mainly those of physics. These laws are said to control all material substances. Since human beings are basically complex mixtures of material substances, so the argument goes, whatever governs material substance in the universe must also govern human life. According to the argument, in other words, we humans are subject to the kind of causation that affects everything. The same idea is evident in the statement that what we or others do is the result of prior events. We are part ofan inevitable process and can therefore neither prevent nor control our actions. Since all events belong to a perpetual chain of cause and effect, humans have no more free will than anything else in the universe. You (or I) might argue that the chain had to start somewhere, that at some time a precipitating event occurred as a result of someone's initiating action. This event, termed an "original cause," would be a prerequisite for free will. It is argued that there is certainly no such thing as an original cause in the rest of nature, however. According to one advocate of determinism, "The best response to the demand for an explanation ofthe relation between an originator and decisions is that an explanation cannot be given. We have to regard this relation as primitive or unanalyzable."l In other words, no evidence or argument can be given for the origination or initiation of an action. The determinist claims that all of our actions, including decisions, should be regarded as the effects of prior events-that everything we do is the result of some set of causal circumstances. This theory, it is said, makes better sense than the alternative, which would be no explanation at all.
Affirming initiative. Now, we might say that the determinists are right in some areas ("domains") but not in all. Cause and effect are clearly evident, for example on the billiard table, in geological movements, and in the motion of the planets.
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But is the cause of a musical composition-the composeralso the effect of a prior cause, so that the composer may not be said to have made an original contribution?2 According to this argument, then, nature exhibits innumerable different domains that differ in complexity and organization. "Causal" reasoning does not necessarily rule out the possibility that a thing may cause some of its own behavior ("agent," or "original," causation). Causal interactions depend on the nature ofthe beings that interact. We need to investigate the capacity of the beings before ruling out agent causation. As we have seen, then, there may be in nature a form of existence that exhibits free will. The possibility is something to be determined and is not precluded by a narrow worldview or metaphysics that assigns everything just one set of causal features. Nature, which seems to comprise many types and kinds of things, may encompass free will. Having established the possibility offree will, we will shortly consider whether or not it actually exists.
We cannot know of free will. Another obstacle considered to interfere with the possibility of free will has to do with the limits of our knowledge. The dominant mode of studying, observing, or examining nature is called "empiricism." Many thinkers believe that we can know about nature only through feedback from our sensory organs. Our senses give us no direct evidence of free will, however, and in the absence of such evidence-so the argument goes-free will cannot be said to exist. We can know of free will. Still, the notion that all knowledge must be empirical is wrong. We know many things through observation in combination with inference and theory construction. (We do not even know empirically that empiricism is our sole form of knowledgeD Let us consider some examples. Many phenomena in the
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universe, including criminal guilt, are detected without eyewitnesses but by means of theories that seem to explain our observations best. This statement is true even in the natural sciences. Much of our wisdom in biology, astrophysics, subatomic physics, botany, and chemistry, not to mention psychology, consists not of observable data but of theoretical inference. The theory that best accounts for things is the one that consistently permits the fullest, most accurate predictions. We may find that free will belongs to this category of theories. In other words, free will may be something that we cannot directly observe but that has considerable explanatory value. It might, for example, account for the relatively large number of mistakes that human beings make by comparison with other animals. Free will might also illuminate the odd things that people do which do not fit into the theory of mechanical causation associated with physics. We know, for instance, that some people with bad childhoods tum into decent citizens, while others become crooks. In this area empiricism would clearly not help us. Free will is weird. Thinkers sometimes object to the notion of free will because nonhuman beings in nature do not exhibit it. It is argued that because dogs, cats, lizards, fish, and frogs have no free will, we are being arbitrary when we impute it to human beings. Why should people be regarded as free to do things when the rest of nature is not? Opponents of the free will idea who advance this argument include the behaviorist psychologist B. F. Skinner. 3 Free will is natural. As I suggested above, free will could be just another attribute, one of many encompassed by the tremendous variety of nature. Determinism seems to dictate how things can be (determinism seems to entail a very specific ontology),
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to stipulate that each thing can move only when prompted by something else. This law, however, cannot be shown to hold universally so as to preclude free will. Does God allow free will? According to a theological argument, if God knows everything, God knows the future, and what we do is therefore unalterable. If God knows that you will have three children, then you have no choice-you have three children. Your fate is preordained. God's "knowledge" is mysterious. We cannot draw inferences about human knowledge on the basis of divine knowledge. God's knowledge is not likely to be the kind that humans have. Indeed, the nature of God's knowledge is a mystery. For Free Will Thus far we have considered only whether free will is possible. But does it actually exist? I offer four arguments that have been proposed by philosophers in support of an affirmative answer. Are we determined to be determinists? According to one argument, ifwe are fully determined in what we think., believe, and do-if, that is, we regard everything as the effect of some antecedent cause-then our belief in determinism is itself a result of this determinism. By the same token, it can be argued that determinism is responsible for the view that determinism is false. No matter what you believe, in short, you had to believe it. Whether or not we turn out to be determinists, we cannot appraise the issue objectively, because our view on the matter, one way or the other, ad infinitum, is predetermined. In the absence of any objective assessment, we cannot solve the problem and end the debate. The very idea that we can attain philosophical, scientific,
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or judicial objectivity, or that we can ever know anything, has to do with freedom. Without objectivity, nothing can be verified. Consequently, if we are engaged in the business of learning about truth and distinguishing it from falsehood, then we are asserting that human beings have some degree of mental freedom. This view was propounded by Immanuel Kant, the important eighteenth-century philosopher, and more recently by Nathaniel Branden, a psychologist who defends free will.4
Should we become determinists? Determinism presents us with another dilemma. The determinist wants us to believe in determinism and in fact believes that we ought to do so rather than subscribe to the notion of free will. But as we have seen, "ought" implies "can." That is, when we say that someone ought to do something, we presume both capacity and the power to choose. The determinist is thus implicitly saying that it is up to us to decide whether to regard determinism or free will as the better doctrine. This statement, however, assumes that we are free to decide! In other words, we cannot even defend determinism without assuming that we have the power to make choices about arguments, evidence, and the operation of reasoning itself. We encounter this paradox whenever we meet people who blame us for failing to see that people cannot be blamed for their actions because their fate is not in their hands. If someone spoke to you or me in this way, we might well ask, "Which is it? Can you blame a person or not?" In one book defending determinism, the author concludes with the following question: "If ['Left-wing politics is less given to attitudes and policies that have something of the assumption of free will in them'], should one part . of the response . . . be a move to the Left in politics? I leave you with that bracing question."5 Yet if the answer is predetermined, a person will have no choice in whether to move right or left, and there is no genuine question. 6
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We often know we are free. In many areas of our lives, introspective knowledge is taken very seriously. Let us say that you go to the doctor complaining of pain, and she asks you where it is. If you say, "It's in my knee," the doctor doesn't say, "Why, you can't know. This is not public evidence. I will now find out directly and verifiably where you hurt." In fact your evidence is very good. Witnesses at trials are asked for the same kind of evidence when they are told to report what they have seen. The demand for such testimony calls for evidence that is in one sense introspective. That is, it requires us to look within and to affirm: "This is indeed what I have seen or heard." The demand forces us to refer to a memory, a source of information to which others are not privy without our reports. Introspective evidence is also involved in the various sciences when people describe what they have read on surveys or have seen on gauges or instruments. We tend to regard introspective evidence as reasonably reliable. How, then, should we react when someone says, "Damn it, I didn't make the right choice" or "I should have done x, and I failed to do it"? People often speak of having made different choices and of having intended one thing but not another. Furthermore, they often accuse themselves of having failed to act in some way-and as we have seen, the act of blaming implies awareness of the power to choose (and also invokes the notion of personal responsibility). In short, people all around us, drawing on their experience, provide abundant evidence regarding their free choices. If we simply disregarded this evidence, we would also invalidate much other information from such sources that we treat as decisive. Science discovers free will. The existence of free will, finally, is also supported by the fact that humans apparently have the capacity to self-monitor. The structure of the human brain allows us, so to speak, to govern ourselves. We are able to
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oversee our lives, to determine where we are going, and (as a consequence) to change course. In this way we alter our habits, control our tempers, lose or gain weight, correct our technique on the piano, and even modify firmly held opinions. We demonstrably exercise this sort of free will. A number of scientists, including Roger W. Sperry, have found evidence for the existence of free will in this sense. Sperry's view depends on some of the premises that I have already discussed. It presupposes, for example, that different kinds of causes occur in nature and that the brain as a complex neurophysiological system may manifest self-causation. (In an organism with our sort of brain, some mental functions may occur by what Sperry calls "downward causation," for which he finds some evidence in the external environment as well.? When we consider examples of such free will, in line with Sperry's theory, we can identify a locus of individual selfresponsibility, or initiative, or, to use Ted Honderich's term, origination, in the way in which we contemplate ourselves and in the way in which we behave. 8 Some cautionary words. Support for the existence of free will notwithstanding, outside influences clearly determine human behavior in some cases. A brain tumor, a severe childhood trauma, and an automobile accident are all examples of intrusive forces that sometimes incapacitate people. In addition, attorneys and expert witnesses would sometimes have us believe that people who engage in criminal behavior cannot control their actions. People whose behavior or judgment is involuntary cannot be said to possess free will. Compatibilism. People who deny the existence offree will cannot distinguish between cases in which the individual decides his or her behavior and cases in which the behavior is determined by forces beyond his or her control. In cases of the
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latter sort, we may regard the behavior as good or bad (in terms of value theory) but we deny-in the absence ofindividual volition-that it is morally and legally significant. In such cases, however, as we have seen, it is not possible to discuss how people ought to act (the rightness of conduct, or morality) without accepting free will. Philosophers who discuss ethics but deny free will and consequently have trouble distinguishing between morality and value theory include Marxists and some utilitarians. Nevertheless, some thinkers argue that even if genetics or the environment dictates our behavior or our judgments, we may still speak of morality. Such thinkers are called compatibilists. They use the terms "ethics" and "morality," however, with a special meaning: ethics is good behavior understood as conduct that conforms to certain standards, regardless of the reasons for conformity. So defined, ethics may concern itself with values and the best way to secure them, whether or not anyone can influence their achievement. The meaning of ethics changes drastically when we eliminate the concept of personal responsibility or agency. Is Free Will Well Founded? We now have a collage of arguments in support of free will. Can anyone do better with this issue? I do not know. We should perhaps confine ourselves to looking for the best among the competing theories. Are human beings doing what they do solely because offorces that act on them? Or do people, having the requisite capacity, often fail to take charge of their lives properly or effectively and make bad choices? Which theory, the free will or the deterministic, best explains the world and its complexities as we know them? I believe that the free will view makes better sense. It is superior to the deterministic theories in accounting for the array of possibilities, accomplishments as well as defeats, joys
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as well as sorrows, and creation as well as destruction, that we associate with human life. It also explains why we see so much change in language and in custom, style, art, and science. Unlike other living beings, whose possibilities are largely fixed by instincts and reflexes, people initiate much of their activity, for better and for worse. Drawing on their distinctive capacity for forming ideas and theories, for artistic and athletic inventiveness, human beings constantly remake their world without being obliged to do so. Such activity becomes intelligible once we acknowledge the ability to initiate conduct rather than relying solely on external forces for stimulus. This ability also presents humans with certain challenges, not the least of which is that no single formula or system can reasonably be expected to manage human affairs in the future, however much some social scientists seem to hope that it will. Social engineering thus offers little prospect of solving human problems. Education and individual initiative remain our only recourse. Free will does not contravene social science, however, as long as the latter is not conceived in strict deterministic terms and the former is considered to permit long-range commitments, chosen policies or strategies, institutional involvement, and so forth. Some choices commit people to long-range behaviors whose impact on the social world can be studied. When someone enters graduate school, begins a new career or relationship, or creates an institution, for example, we expect that person's future behavior to reflect the choice in certain predictable ways. In economics, we might study the marketplace as an arena within which people freely choose how they will earn a livelihood, what they will produce and consume, and how they will market products, bargain for prices, wages, and benefits, and so forth. Economists examine the various permutations and consequences of such choices as well as regular features of marketplace activity. People are free to act as commercial agents in a number
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of ways. They go about their business more or less intensely at different periods in their lives, for reasons of their own as they address their circumstances. We need not identify a cause of these events, and yet all of these actions are open to moral evaluation. 9 Much order, even predictability, is nevertheless evident in people's economic activities, providing that we do not expect to see impersonal laws or random forces played out precisely, as they would be by Halley's comet or by a subatomic particle. In acknowledging free will, social scientists are not obligated to abandon their science. In fact, the contrary is true: the concept of free will may bring them closer to scientific knowledge of human life. MORAL SKEPTICISM
Let us now turn to the second assumption: can we identify principles of conduct? Otherwise stated, is there any basis for our ethical or moral judgments? When a politician is denounced, or when a newspaper is criticized for its reporting, can we discern any underlying standards? What justifies the derogatory judgments? How do we know that the aggrieved child was mistreated by its parents-or that the patient's physician engaged in malpractice? Is ethics a realm in which claims can be established as right without reference to any standards?lo Constraints of space make it possible here only to lay the foundation for inquiry and to outline considerations involved in the debate. Against Morality The arguments advanced against the existence of moral standards have several different grounds. Moral diversity versus objectivity. As we noted above, people frequently differ in their views regarding right and wrong.
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Given that there are very many moral opinions, how can there be one true moral standard applicable to all? Some thinkers argue that cross-cultural and historical diversity precludes any single objective standard governing human action. It is mostly cultural anthropologists who advance this view-for example, Ruth Benedict. ll
No evidence of the senses supports moral claims. As we have also noted above, moral judgments cannot be verified by direct observation. I can tell you whether or not the janitor is vacuuming the hallway, whether people smoked cigarettes in this room today, where China's borders are on the wall map, and whether or not it is raining, all by consulting my senses. My senses will not, however, help me decide whether to tell the truth, defend welfare for the poor, avoid pornography, or advocate banning abortions. Accordingly, some people argue that moral disputes are impossible to settle. This argument is stressed in particular by logical positivists such as A. J. Ayer. 12
The gap between "is" and "ought." According to the rules of sound reasoning (good judgment), when a conclusion is drawn from premises, the terms present in the conclusion must also appear in the premises. Yet when we begin an argument with a claim that one or another thing is so, no "ought" or "should" is present. As we have seen, however, these terms must appear in any conclusion having moral import. It is clear, then, that moral conclusions cannot be derived from nonmoral premises. The gap between "is" and "ought" was first noted by the philosopher David Hume (1711-1776).
Morality is against nature. We would never think of praising or blaming rocks, trees, birds, or fish. Consequently, according to one argument, it is arbitrary and unjustifiable to bring morality into the picture when we consider human affairs. Nothing else
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in nature is subject to moral judgment or evaluation, so why should people be? John Mackie contends that moral values, if they existed, would be "entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe. "13 For Morality Various counterarguments have been advanced to suggest that moral standards do exist.
Diversity is more apparent than real. Three subarguments address apparent diversity. First, it is said that moral opinions tend to differ about details, not basics. Then, too, the appearance of diversity is sometimes fostered by individuals who want to obscure moral standards to avoid charges of wrongdoing. Finally, some people, acting as professional devil's advocates, promote skepticism (and the appearance of diversity) by continually testing, questioning, and seeking to verify (these people may avoid acting like skeptics with their children, friends, and political representatives, however). Perceptual knowledge is not all. We have seen that direct observation--evidence of the senses-is often invoked to prove a point. In complicated areas, though-for example, in astrophysics, particle physics, psychology, and crime detection, to name just a few-sensory evidence is insufficient, and complex theories and definitions are used for verification. It is the same with moral judgments (for example, we may need to use a definition of "good" or "morally right" for purposes of verification)-and ethics in fact proposes such theories and definitions. How not to deduce but to derive "ought" from "is." When Hume wrote about the is/ought gap, he was arguing against
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thinkers who believed that moral conclusions can be deduced from premises stating facts of various kinds. Deductions are formal statements that link premises with conclusions using logical structure and the essential meaning of the terms. Given their form, deductions never establish anything strictly newwhatever they establish is already implicitly true. But not all arguments consist of deductions; some are inferential. That is, some arguments extrapolate from our observations, reflections, economical theorizing, and so forth to develop a new understanding of the world. Sherlock Holmes notwithstanding, detectives rely on inferential reasoning, not deductive, to identifY a suspect. Nor do scientists work in a strictly deductive fashion. Instead, they advance their understanding by developing and evaluating concepts and theories to find those with the greatest explanatory value. Indeed, we are most often concerned to establish definitions that are the product not of deduction but of generalization, analogy, abstraction, and even serendipity. Accordingly, if we do not insist on deduction, we can design arguments whose premises include theories or definitions of "good" and "ought to" and thus support particular moral judgments. One example would be: The will of God is good. Everyone ought to do that which is good. Therefore everyone ought to obey the will of God.
Another might be: For human beings, goodness is living. For human beings, thinking promotes living. For human beings, thinking promotes goodness.
We cannot simply dismiss these theories. One of them may capture accurately the meaning of the relevant terms and may thereby allow us to infer moral conclusions. 14
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Nature is diverse enough to allow for major differences. Even if moral judgments or evaluations are applied solely to humans (and not to animals or to inanimate objects), there is nothing odd about the disparity. It may be the case, as Mary Midgley has argued, that the distinctiveness of human beings consists precisely in their ethical nature. 15 Indeed, Aristotle also advanced this view. After all, many of the products of human activitysuch as board games, museums, symphony music, philosophy, and the novel-occur nowhere else in the universe. THE BEST THEORY Is As TRUE As
To decide which theory is better, we must determine which one sheds greater light on the complexities of human life. When we consider the arguments for determinism and for free will, which gives us a better understanding of why social engineering and government regulation and regimentation do not work, of why there are so many differences between individuals and cultures, and of why people can disagree with each other? The preferable explanation may be that people are free to diverge because they are not set in their ways, as cats, dogs, and orangutans tend to be. The behavior of these creatures is in principle easier to predict, because (as far as we now know) they are not creative in the sense of being able to originate ideas and actions. The ideas produced by human beings can introduce new sorts of behavior in familiar situations. We allude to this tendency when we say that people often interpret their experiences differently. Nonetheless, we are able to predict individuals' behavior somewhat, because they often make up their minds in a particular way and keep to their decisions over time. We have this tendency in mind when we say that people honor their commitments, show integrity, and are loyal. At times, then, we can guess what others will do. Even in such cases, however, our predictions are not ironclad but only statistically significant. Hedge our bets as we may, people very often surprise us-
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and if we leave one culture and enter another, they surprise us even more. The complexity, diversity, and high degree of individuation that we associate with human beings are better explained by hypothesizing that they are free than it is by assuming that they are determined. Thus we have satisfied one requirement for ethics to be a bona fide subject matter of genuine concern. Similarly, we have seen that the objections to the possibility of firm ethical standards run into difficulties. What they offer can be explained even if there are firm moral standards, whatever they may be. So it seems that the second assumption of ethics, that there exist such firm standards, is also likely to be true. And that is where we will leave this basic issue for now.
3 FACTS AND VALUES
HE CONCEPT of value is used to mean, generally, anything that people strive for-what a person seeks out or pursues. Ethics takes as one of its concerns the identification of values that are fundamental for human existence. It seeks to define those that humans ought to pursue, those that we should choose, and how we should rank them. Otherwise stated, ethics is concerned with moral virtues or principles, with the distinctively human good, or (again) with basic right conduct in human life. The standards that it seeks to delineate are those that we should use in deciding how to conduct ourselves. Our decisions in this realm may be explicit or implicit, nearly subconscious. We may not reflect on them at length. Yet unless these decisions conform to basic guidelines, they will not fit into a consistent, workable life plan. Ethical principles supposedly steer us toward a good human life, which is the first goal of everyone. The principles of ethics involve basic moral values. The concept of value, however, is often used at moments when morality is not involved, for example when we speak of valuables, the truth of a statement, or something's aesthetic or economic worth. We sometimes also speak of values in a specific context.
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Here we are typically concerned with what is good or bad but not with what is morally right or wrong. Let us consider a few examples. Diseases are bad for living creatures, but there is nothing morally wrong or evil about them unless agency is involved. Then we presume that the bad things could have been avoided, because the agent could have chosen to act otherwise. It is awful when someone contracts HN, but it could only be morally wrong or evil if the disease was transmitted because someone intentionally or carelessly engaged in unsafe sex. Even apart from human life, we often make value judgments-for example, as we lament that the tomatoes or grapes in our garden have withered away without ripening, that animals in the wild starve or freeze to death, or that the ecosystem as a whole is damaged by some natural disaster such as a volcano. Interestingly, if we regarded the volcano as God's instrument, we could still not allege that God had done something morally bad since God is considered perfect by definition-a difficulty that relates to an ancient problem in theology. Philosophers and ordinary people alike often talk about the similarity or difference between facts and values. Some argue that any opinion regarding values is as good as any other, whereas we have clear standards for discriminating between facts and nonfacts. The distinction indicates that values cannot be objects of knowledge, because nothing can be objectively known if all different opinions are equally correct. If the sharp dichotomy between facts and values is justified, then ethics probably cannot be a clear, intelligible field; ethical inquiry under these circumstances would be indeterminate, even illusory. (We will discuss subjectivism and relativism in chapter 7.) According to another viewpoint, ethical values, or virtues, may be regarded as one type of rather complicated fact. The answer to the ethical question ''What should I, a human being, do?" can be a factual statement of the form "People should act so as to achieve some goal." This answer does not differ in type
FACTS AND VALUES
from answers to simpler questions such as the following: "What should I, a carpenter, do?" and "How should an airline pilot act?" We could easily consider the following answers factual: "Learn to excel with your tools, and produce quality furniture" and "Never make long-range social plans in one location." These answers, however, respond to questions about particular sorts of human living, not human life in general, and so they are relevant only for specialized or role ethics and not for the broad field of ethics generally. In ethics generally, the question "How should a person live?" might be answered with "Live so that you will serve God's will" or "Live to achieve the highest degree of personal excellence." This view of ethics reflects the more basic idea that human life-indeed all life-has inherently values. A living creature, in other words, inevitably grapples with conditions that either promote or impede its well-being. Once life has emerged in the world, values become part of the world's facts. Many philosophers, and others, deny that ethics concerns itself with any kind offacts except incidentally. (We will consider such arguments later at greater length.) These thinkers accept what is usually called the fact/value dichotomy or the is/ought gap, by which they mean that facts (or what is the case) represent a fundamentally different area of concern from values (or what ought to be the case). Even outside philosophy, especially in the social sciences, much is said about facts versus values and about judgments of fact versus opinions or feelings as to what is of value. Otherwise stated, some of the things we say state facts (rightly or wrongly), whereas other remarks express opinions or feelings about facts (and so right and wrong do not apply). Later I will show how people who deny that values can be facts still advance views about what is right and wrong. Strictly speaking, any ethical position, theory, or system that presents itself as a field of knowledge must view values as a type of fact or as somehow objective and not merely dependent
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on the opinions of an individual or a group. We cannot grasp moral or ethical values unless they are a kind of fact in the world, because we cannot otherwise separate those that have been correctly identified from those that have not. If we can provide no objective standards for telling the two groups apart, then ethics-the business of discriminating between right and wrong conduct, morally good and evil beings, and decent and indecent actions-becomes impossible. The kinds offacts with which ethics deals are not necessarily identical to those of, say, history or physics. The fact, if it is one, that "Human beings ought to be honest in their dealings" differs from the fact, if it is one, that Richard Nixon resigned the U.S. presidency on August 1,1974, or that salt dissolves in water. Nonmoral facts also come in different versions, however. Consider the following examples. Two plus two equals four. Black holes absorb all the matter surrounding them. Socks are worn on the feet. Photosynthesis is an organic chemical process.
These facts differ considerably from each other and from the statement about Nixon's resignation. The difference, which relates to their nature and constitution, affects the procedure we must use to discover them. Rather than distinguish simply between facts and values, then, we should conclude that there are all sorts of different facts, some of which amount to the values that are proper for living a human life. Considered in this light, ethics is as much a feature of the world as, say, the laws of physics or biology. The subject of inquiry, however, is the guidelines for living that are appropriate for one particular life form-a human being capable of making free choices and needing standards in order to make them well. Socrates and Aristotle understood ethics in this way, but it has also been regarded in different terms.
4 METAETHICS AND CRITICISM OF MORAL THEORIES
HE TERM "metaethics" refers to the topics that must be covered before we can discuss ethics. Metaethics thus encompasses the foundations of ethics. We dealt with some of these when we considered the pros and cons of free will and objective moral standards. Now we will briefly consider some of the outstanding metaethical positions on ways of justifying ethical standards. METAETHICAL THEORIES Imagine that your uncle is an alcoholic (he drinks beer), and you are trying to decide whether to hide his bottles. Some observers might argue that you should try to make him stop (because drinking is bad for him). Others would say that he has the right to drink if he wants to-it is his life, after all-and that you should avoid imposing your values on him. At a different level, we may ask, "How can we ever decide how to act? How can we identify the ethical principles that we should follow?" The following theories operate at this higher level. They are concerned with justifying ethics. Whereas ethical theorists pro-
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pound arguments for basic principles of conduct, metaethical theorists show how the basic principles are evident. Cognitivism The cognitivist view holds that the truth of moral judgments can be demonstrated-that morality is knowable. (Noncognitivism is the denial of this view. Noncognitivists often argue that ethics is actually a branch of psychology and is concerned with feelings or attitudes rather than with knowledge.) Plato and Kant were metaethical cognitivists. A. J. Ayer, a prominent noncognitivist, proposed emotivism, the idea that ethical claims are disguised manifestations of emotion. 1 Noncognitivists include the logical positivists. According to these philosophers, only judgments or statements that could be confirmed by observation could set forth something we know to be true or false. Naturalism Naturalists maintain that ethics is based on human nature. (There are some variations. Some thinkers use "naturalism" to mean that the subject matter is not supernatural, and others that the natural sciences deal with it.) Human nature supposedly encompasses any facts that make us human beings. Our biological constitution and our capacity for thinking are part of our human nature, whereas our color, our weight, and our age are not. Naturalists hold that we must look to our human nature for ultimate guidance in determining how we ought to act. (Nonnaturalists disagree.) Naturalism is a form ofcognitivism, since it holds that we can know right and wrong on the basis of our knowledge of human nature. Aristotle and Ayn Rand were metaethical naturalists; nonnaturalists have included G. E. Moore and Jean-Paul Sartre. Conventionalism Conventionalists believe that moral principles reflect a consensus that members of individual cultures reached over hundreds
METAETHICS AND CRITICISM OF MORAL THEORIES
and thousands of years. When we call ethical principles "society's basic edicts," we are suggesting that they are not so much discoveries as agreed-upon formulations. The agreement is sometimes thought to be worldwide and sometimes to be specific to particular cultures or societies (or ethnic groups or even gender groups). Conventionalism is a form of noncognitivism, since it treats ethics not as discoverable or provable but rather as having evolved and having become entrenched over time. Thomas Hobbes and David Hume were prominent metaethical conventionalists. Pragmatism We use the term "pragmatic" in daily life to mean practical, expedient, and realistic, as in "President George Bush had a pragmatic foreign policy." The philosophical pragmatist holds that moral principles should afford effective means of helping us reach practical goals. Someone can be pragmatic in personal matters (small scale) or in social matters (large scale). Either way, the guidelines focus on the way things work to further some interest. John Dewey, Sidney Hook, and Richard Rorty are all metaethical pragmatists, although they do not see eye to eye on many issues. Intuitionism Intuitionism, a somewhat odd form of cognitivism, holds that moral principles arise from deeply held convictions or beliefs known to be true not because of argument or analysis but because of gut feelings. We all have moral intuitions, and we should trust them. Even people who have never explored ethics have moral sentiments. These feelings furnish our best guide to how we should conduct ourselves. The basic idea here is the same as that in the old saw about woman's intuition: we should base our morality on the innate wisdom that we all have and not on the dictates of some fancy theory. Sir David Ross and John Rawls are two intuitionists.
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Mysticism Mystics regard moral principles as basically mysterious revelations from God or from some other supernatural source. As the utterances of superior beings, far beyond the reach ofour faculty for understanding, moral principles cannot be apprehended rationally and must be accepted on faith. (I will return to this point later.) St. Augustine's metaethics seems to fit this view, as do some views derived from various Western and Eastern theologies. CRITICISM OF MORAL THEORIES
When we try to answer the questions that we raise about the world in a systematic, self-conscious way, we advance theories. These answers are carefully devised, with arguments, distinctions, clarifications, and other ingredients that help us to be precise. Ethical theories are also subject to critical criteria or standards, either internal or external. Internal criticism, in any discipline, considers whether a theory meets certain basic structural requirements. For example, does the theory avoid contradictions (is it consistent?)? Is it unambiguous (set forth in clear, precise language)? Can the theory be applied in the intended field (in ethics: can we act on the theory's proposal?)? Can the theory be generalized, and is it comprehensive or complete (does it cover everything addressed by the question that it tries to answer?)? External criticisms deal with the comparative advantages of a theory. For example, does one theory cover as many problems in the field as another (is the theory more powerful?)? Is the theory consistent with generally accepted beliefs, knowledge, and so forth? Does the theory address our concerns in a given field better than other theories do? Does it deal more fully with commonsense concerns, or does it do violence to elementary wisdom? (A theory that made it okay to beat small children or
METAETHICS AND CRITICISM OF MORAL THEORIES
to betray our friends would be nearly impossible to justify.) Ethical theories may be subjected to criticism in these two fairly distinct areas just like theories in other disciplines. Since experiments are nearly impossible to conduct in ethics, greater stress falls on how well a moral theory handles thought experiments, imaginary cases, and situations that we actually face in real life. It is vital that we select realistic cases and not demand that the theory do the impossible, for example give us answers to science fiction questions or situations that cannot be clearly understood. Appropriate questions, phrased in terms of "What if?" must address something that individuals may actually encounter in their lives. By the same token, the cases investigated in conjunction with the testing of scientific theories must be connected with reality even if only remotely. TYPES OF MORAL THEORIES
Specific ethical theories are broadly classified as deontological, consequentialist, and teleological. A deontological moral theory focuses on the intention that underlies an action. In everyday ethical talk, for example, we often hear the expression "It is the thought that counts." If someone does something that is highly valued but the person has ulterior motives (for example, he or she wants power or praise or favors granted in return), then the act itself is deemed morally insignificant. Immanuel Kant advanced this point. By his account a moral act must aim for nothing beyond its realization as a moral act. The moral goodness of a deed derives from its being intended by the agent to be nothing except a morally good deed. A person may act in accordance with ethics or morality, but if she does it for pleasure or hopes to go to heaven or to win public approval as a result, no moral praise will be forthcoming even though the act accords with morality. An agent exhibits moral goodness only when he has the purest intention to be morally good.
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A consequentialist ethical theory, on the other hand, is concerned solely with effecting valued results, regardless of the motivation. To do the morally right thing is to produce what is good or valuable, whatever the person may intend by the action. An everyday expression that perhaps captures this sense is "The proof of the pudding is in the eating." Hedonists and some utilitarian moral theorists best exemplify the consequentialist type of ethical theorizing. Some of them might better be considered value theorists in that they are less interested in an agent's moral character or nature than in the behavior that will contribute to a better world. Teleological moral theories are often confused with consequentialist types, but there is a difference between the two. A teleological ethics, such as that of Aristotle, considers worthwhile goals or objectives of central importance in making actions morally good and demands, in addition, that actions succeed in achieving the goal. In a way this type of morality combines the features of the two described above: it must be intended because of a valued goal, and it must accomplish its purpose. The effort alone will not make the act fully worthy. The category into which a moral theorist fits will have much to do with the philosophical framework underlying the ethical position being advanced. In some schools of philosophy, or branches thereof, it is nearly impossible to speak of intentionmaterialism and even empiricism are examples. In others it is impossible to identify an action's consequences for certain. In still others both intentions and results are accepted as quite natural. A detailed, advanced study of ethical theories would evaluate each position in light of the overall philosophical approach.
GOOD AND RIGHT?
NE SENSIBLE explanation for the existence of ethics, as we have seen, is that human beings need principles by which to guide their lives so that they can live well as human beings. Philosophical inquiry into the issues may yield a correct moral position. Philosophers who advance ethical positions aim to help answer the moral questions that human beings ask. The main ethical question is: "How should I, a person, live my life?" We will examine some of the competing moralities that offer answers by first outlining their idea of the highest good, or the main goal for which humans should strive. We will discuss only those ethical positions that offer an argument in support of their answer. Later in the chapter we will briefly consider some that propose revelation, special intuition, mystical insight, and the like in place of argument. ETHICAL POSITIONS Hedonism Goal and principles. Ethical hedonism, we should note at the outset, differs from psychological hedonism, which holds that people are always pursuing pleasure no matter what else they
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are doing. Ethical hedonism, in contrast, holds that we ought to act so as to secure the maximum amount of pleasure for ourselves (that is, for the individual who acts). Jeremy Bentham is perhaps the best known exponent of ethical hedonism. The hedonists' goal is sometimes understood to be increasing the intensity or amount of pleasure. Some hedonists concern themselves with the pleasure only of human beings and not of animals. For others the pleasure of the individual actor or agent is the only relevant goal to be pursued. According to the form of hedonism that declares the maximum possible amount of pleasure as the proper moral goal that everyone should pursue, pleasure is a good in itself. The concern is not with the pleasure of some individual person but with pleasure as such. (We say that, according to this view, pleasure is considered to have intrinsic value, independent of its worth to someone or something.) That pleasure is a good in itself may seem obvious. If a person feels good, that person feels pleasure, plain and simple. The goodness of good feelings is self-evident. Under normal circumstances, at least, humans are beings who welcome pleasure and resist pain. The theory that pleasure itself is intrinsically good thus has considerable intuitive appeal. It is less evident that we should increase the amount of pleasure (regardless of whose it is) just because it is normally preferable to pain. Possibly, though, if we can calculate the increase that our actions will bring us and those near us, we can identify principles of conduct that will accomplish this limited goal. Still, no one person can calculate the amount of pleasure versus pain in the world. If the goal is an increase in the total amount of pleasure, it is not possible to answer the ethical question "How should I act?" It is probably impossible to determine whether more for oneself translates into an increase for the world overall, especially since a gain in pleasure may produce some increase in pain. Remember that one requirement
Is MORALLY GOOD AND RIGHT?
of an ethical theory is that the moral goal(s) specified must be reachable. The best thing that can be said about this form of hedonism may be that it may evolve into a different form, which we will consider next. Rather than speak of "the maximum amount of pleasure," possibly a confused idea, perhaps we should consider the type of hedonism that deals with increasing individual pleasures. Another possibility would be to address ourselves to maximum pleasure in the sense of "welfare," which governs much social or public policy. When social planners allocate the resources at their disposal, they often think in terms of the likelihood that a certain distribution scheme will increase the community's well-being overall. We will consider this point more fully in connection with utilitarianism. A more traditional form of hedonism says that we ought to act so as to attain the greatest amount of pleasure for ourselves. Hedonism considers both the intensity and the quantity of pleasure to be measurable. Some hedonists distinguish sharply between the finer pleasures appreciated by humans and the simple pleasures experienced by other animals. Other hedonists see no basis for such a distinction and believe that for every person the proper goal should be the accumulation of as many pleasant experiences as possible. If so, then the principles of conduct that we would invoke in making decisions would be those most likely to promote the attainment of this goal. We should notice that this doctrine takes the correct form for a moral point of view. That is, we are to do something that we are capable of doing (in this case choose to increase our pleasant experiences), and we are to live according to principles that we can identifY. The doctrine has not yet been shown to be correct, but as described, it can be a candidate for the best moral position for human beings. It offers a plausible answer to the question "How should I live as a human being?"
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Criticism and replies. There have been many objections to the view that hedonism affords the best answer to the moral question. We can briefly survey these challenges now and postpone until later a consideration of whether they are decisive. l An internal problem associated with hedonism is that when we pursue pleasure we often find ourselves undecided about what to do. Many pleasures may seem equally appealing: going to the movies, staying home to watch television, having dinner with friends, reading a magazine article, playing basketball, and so forth. 1b choose among the options, we may need a standard apart from the maximization of pleasure. Even if we could decide the matter, say, by flipping a coin, we would frequently find our pursuit of personal pleasure in conflict with other people's desires. If someone wanted my company and I did not want his, one of us would lose. In the community at large, then, all people will not be able to pursue pleasure at all times-some will have to abandon the objective on at least some occasions. Yet a basic moral principle must be generalizable. We cannot require one agent to follow a basic principle that all ethical agents cannot. A moral position that produces frequent conflicts between people cannot be generalized to apply to everyone. In addition, we may note as a criticism of one form of hedonism that physical pleasures are probably not the only ones we are capable of feeling. Human beings have a more complex emotional makeup than other animal forms, even the so-called higher creatures. The probable reason is our advanced consciousness and our sensitivity to factors other than the physical. Ifwe speak of measuring physical pleasures alone, we may be imposing an artificial restriction. Furthermore, we may eventually find it possible to measure at least the intensity of other experiences, which could then become other goals to be pursued. More complex forms of pleasure, however, such as emotional satisfaction, are the products
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of learning and opportunity. They are not inherent in human nature. These complex pleasures or satisfactions are thus not universalizable, because not all people can refer to them. The possibility of conflict within oneself and among different people increases considerably when complex pleasures are taken as goals that we should all pursue. The hedonist will of course have replies to these objections whose merits we will not discuss here. Ask yourself, as a reader, what reply you might make. For example, concerning the need to choose among equivalent pleasures, the hedonist might argue that the flip of a coin is as good a way as any of reaching a decision. The case in which an increase in one person's pleasure effects a decrease in someone else's might prompt the hedonist to claim that constraints on human action exist no matter what goal we choose to discuss; at such times it is necessary simply to be aware of this fact and to calculate the maximum attainable pleasure accordingly. The hedonist may concede that more complex pleasures are more difficult to measure but may nonetheless urge us to do the best we can with what we know. In response to those who say that universal pleasures are impossible because people have different degrees of access to education and to opportunities for pleasure, the hedonist might say, "Pleasures come in many forms, but they are all pleasures and can be measured as such. A person has the duty to increase the amount of personal pleasure, whatever the kind. The objection is irrelevant." The idea that we have the moral responsibility to seek pleasure for ourselves is not widely publicized except perhaps in Playboy and similar magazines. Still, in ordinary life people look for opportunities to enjoy spectator sports, parties, vacations, eating, drinking, and sexual activities. Some people pursue these pleasures diligently, even systematically. Often we view such conduct as reflecting inner drives rather than conscious choice. If so, the conduct would have no moral sig-
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nificance, since choice must be possible before ethics can even enter the picture. For some of us, however, the pursuit of pleasure is indeed a serious business, something to be learned and cultivated that is not at all inborn. It is not obviously absurd that experiencing the maximum possible amount of pleasure could be the moral goal for which all human beings should strive. Some prominent philosophers (for example, Jeremy Bentham) have argued with great complexity and ingenuity for just this position. People who are concerned to know what is good and what human beings should do will benefit from examining these ideas closely, however unpopular they may be within our culture. Utilitarianism
Goal and principles. Utilitarianism, as we will see, is related to hedonism. The doctrine's name suggests that utilitarians emphasize what is useful. The doctrine states, however, not that the good is what is useful but that the good is the greatest happiness of the greatest number of whatever can be happy. John Stuart Mill, a philosopher and political economist, is most notably associated with ethical utilitarianism even though quite a few notable others (such as Henry Sidgwick) also espoused the position. (A number of social theorists, especially in the field of political economy, would classifY themselves as utilitarians. They are thereby adopting an ethical viewpoint rather than a more descriptive analytical framework involving considerations of what people actually desire.) Happiness in utilitarianism is not the same thing as pleasure, although it is related to pleasure. More accurately, it is the greatest welfare (well-being, even satisfaction) ofthe greatest number of human beings, which is the proper goal of human activity. Before we can examine the arguments for and against utilitarianism, we must ask how this welfare or happiness is to be defined. In most utilitarian theories (and several versions are
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in evidence), welfare is closely tied to the achievement of desired goals-the satisfaction of preferences, wants, and wishes. Utilitarians maintain that whenever someone's desires are satisfied, that person is well off, and that person's welfare has arguably been attained. As utilitarians realize, however, some desires conflict with others and may harm the individual or society. Qualifications are therefore needed to make the theory plausible. Some theorists hold that desires or preferences that interfere with others' realization of their preferences do not count as significant in our understanding of welfare and what we should do to achieve it. Others construe welfare as depending on healthful or natural desires or preferences. Utilitarian welfare or happiness is frequently identified with physical and psychological well-being (as defined by the medical and psychological scientists in a community) rather than being left for subjective determination on the basis of desires, preferences, and so forth. The health and economic well-being of a community's members are frequently regarded as indicators. (In political theory this goal comes to the fore in the doctrine of the welfare state.) With these initial points in mind, we can now ask why we should think of the good as utilitarians do. Why should we all strive for the greatest happiness of the greatest number? Utilitarianism, like many other ethical theories, is tied to broader philosophical positions. One key point in utilitarian ethics is the idea that the good must be identifiable by means of observation. We could not otherwise know what is good-that is, what human beings are supposed to achieve. Ifwe cannot know what is good, and thus cannot learn how to achieve it, then we cannot hold ourselves and others responsible for doing so. Only the things in the world that are perceivable can be known. If there is a good we should strive for, then it must be perceivable. This view of human knowledge provides a background for our discussion of utilitarianism. Now that we know how to identify the good, we might con-
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clude that the best candidate is the combination of physical and mental well-being. While the latter is difficult to identify, the former appears knowable. Consequently utilitarians usually focus on physical welfare, which consists in the satisfaction of basic human wants and needs. These include food, shelter, medical care, and protection from the elements and from disasters. Most obvious is the need for economic well-being-the capacity to obtain from various sources in nature and in society the essentials for subsistence. The material conditions needed to maintain one's physical health and safety, and the requirements for sustaining those conditions, are clearly identifiable as good for us. Measuring mental well-being is not so easy. Utilitarian theory usually leaves the matter to subjective judgment. In other words, the individual appraises his or her psychic welfare except in some drastic cases, where psychological distress is clearly evident to observers. (In the terms of this theory it is possible to deny that someone is mentally or psychologically well off, even when the person claims to be well off, but only rarely. Involuntary hospitalization usually involves such exceptions.) In summary, utilitarian ethical theory is the view that the good is a state of physical and psychological well-being, the former identifiable publicly, the latter left to each person to judge privately. Right conduct maximizes the amount of what is good in the world, that is, it increases to the fullest possible extent people's physical and psychological well-being. This view can be implemented and meets the criteria for a sound theory of knowledge. Advocates hold that utilitarianism succeeds in comparison with other theories. It makes sense and can be used to conduct one's life, whereas other theories fail on both counts.
Act and rule utilitarianism. Ethical discussions usually consider two forms of utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism is the position that on each separate occasion when we decide to do
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something, we must first determine what will contribute most to the greatest happiness of the greatest number and then act accordingly. Rule utilitarianism is the position that a set of principles needs to be identified and applied to decision making. The consistent application of this set produces the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Rule utilitarianism tends to be favored over act utilitarianism, if only because act utilitarianism confronts us with a task that seems impossibly tedious and time-consuming. We could bog down attempting such an impossible task.
Criticism and replies. Utilitarianism has its problems. It is sometimes criticized as unworkable. It is impossible to know whether or not some action in fact contributes to the overall well-being of a community's membership, and it is even more difficult to determine whether it benefits humanity as a whole. If it is impossible, in line with the utilitarian goal, to guide one's conduct by asking whether maximum happiness is being promoted, then the theory falls prey to the criticism that it does not translate into meaningful guidelines that can be implemented. As we have seen, any proposed ethical theory that cannot provide such guidelines is unsuccessful by definition. Another criticism observes that people might act in accordance with utilitarian ethics and have obviously nonutilitarian motives. An individual might contribute to the welfare of millions (let us say by funding a new museum in Washington, D.C.) simply to achieve a good reputation, with no thought of the greatest happiness. (Some "philanthropists" help the poor in order to satisfy a need for personal recognition.) Still another objection to utilitarianism holds that it requires a centrally organized, dictatorial state. A great bureaucracy would be needed to assemble a vast quantity of information before the greatest welfare of the greatest number could be achieved. To determine what actions, or even rules, realize the maximum benefit, ev-
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eryone's needs and the total resources of the community must be known. Such knowledge would be useless if it were not possible to distribute resources to those most able to benefit from them. (The utilitarian theory of justice is therefore often called distributive justice.) Consequently, community experts, or on a large scale a fully centralized state, would be needed to discharge the ethical responsibilities that each person would bear as a moral agent. Such an arrangement would be moral paternalism, critics have argued. Individuals would lose the responsibility for attaining the proper goals of human conduct, and political leaders would be the sole moral decision makers. Utilitarianism would then become something other than an ethical theory, which requires self-responsibility. As a final objection, utilitarianism is said to violate certain commonsense ethical precepts. By its tenets, arguably, it would often be morally acceptable to lie, to cheat, and even to murder to advance the goal of the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people. Some persons achieve psychic wellbeing when they are told lies (about their actions, health, looks, achievements, and so on). Promises might have to be broken in terms of utilitarian ethics, because keeping them would not contribute to the "greater good.» Violating a person's last will and testament, for example, might enhance the public welfare, as might reneging on campaign promises to political constituents with no clout to assure their fulfillment. These and similar loopholes make utilitarianism suspect. Our commonsense ethical precepts may not furnish a sufficiently complete ethical doctrine, but we must beware of theories that betray them altogether. Utilitarians would respond to these charges in a variety of ways. Where the unworkability of utilitarian ethics is concerned, there may be no satisfactory answer. It is possible within utilitarianism to identify general principles. These
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permit a person to work, as a rule utilitarian, on behalf of mankind's overall happiness without even knowing the specific contribution of a particular act. Ifwe were able to identify some general principles or rules of conduct that would aid us in supporting the utilitarian goal, then we could pursue that goal. In personal conduct as well, we might follow the principle "Whenever possible, pay attention to what people around you need." Our actions would then be oriented toward the general utilitarian goal. People who furthered the goal of utilitarianism without intending to do so could be viewed as doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. What is crucial, as we have seen, is that actions are right because they contribute to the greatest happiness of the greatest number, not because they enhance the actor's reputation. Someone who acts from purely selfish motives may not be praiseworthy, but his actions may nonetheless be right. In this case we might recall the saying that hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue. Even those with questionable motives are impelled to do right in order to attain some respectability. A tool does not become bad as a result of occasional misuse. The fact that people can do right by utilitarian standards without meaning to does not invalidate the standards. With regard to people who intended to further the utilitarian good but failed, they should have paid greater attention to what needed to be done. Meaning well is not enough. We must verify that we are fulfilling the requirements for success. "I meant well" merely shows that matters could have been worse. (Common sense tells us that "I meant well" is often offered to excuse negligence rather than as evidence of serious intent.) That utilitarianism requires a centrally organized society is also open to argument. We may recall that each person is the best judge of his or her psychic well-being. There is a great deal of psychic well-being involved even in what appears to
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be plain physical well-being, and so decisions about what will produce one's happiness will to a large extent need to be one's own. In tum, a utilitarian society would be more likely to be individualist than collectivist. Many utilitarians argue that it is impossible to engage in interpersonal utility comparisons, because we simply cannot weigh and compare the importance to different people of their preferences, desires, and welfare, either physical or psychic. Consequently the only way to secure the greatest happiness of the greatest number is by forgoing central economic planning and moral paternalism in general. Allowing everyone to engage in the pursuit of personal happiness is the best route to the greatest happiness of the greatest number. (If it followed this path, utilitarianism might change into a form of egoism, a position we will consider shortly.) This perspective suggests that a free market economy may be best for the distribution of wealth (to achieve the utilitarian goal). If no one may use force or fraud to coerce others, then voluntary cooperation and competition can satisfy desires, needs, and preferences. Since individuals tend to know best what will contribute to their well-being or happiness, this arrangementrather than a centrally organized society amassing massive amounts of information about millions of diverse individualsis best for the purpose of living life ethically by utilitarian standards. Finally, the commonsense ethical precepts may not be sound anyway. If so, seeking to adjust them in a comprehensive ethical system could be a bad idea from the outset. Even if these precepts do embody practical wisdom distilled from millennia of human existence, possibly utilitarian ethics do not contradict them. In some cases utilitarian conduct might violate these precepts, but it would not necessarily do so in reality. It is quite likely also that if these precepts express practical wisdom (developed unsystematically), then they are the general rules that utilitarians believe will promote the greatest happiness
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of the greatest number. Habits such as being honest, keeping promises, and abiding by someone's last will and testament might further the utilitarian goal. Honesty, integrity, fairness, and other widely acclaimed virtues would then be regarded as the correct means of achieving the utilitarian good. We will return to some features of utilitarianism when we consider political philosophy. For now, this brief discussion should suffice to acquaint readers with a prominent and philosophically significant ethical theory. It is perhaps the most widely discussed and respected ethical position among Anglo-American philosophers today. Altruism Goal and principles. Altruism is undoubtedly the moral position with the largest number of advocates, defenders, and champions in human history and within our culture. "'Altruism' [is] assuming a duty to relieve the distress and promote the happiness of our fellows .... Altruism is to ... maintain quite simply that a man may and should discount altogether his own pleasure or happiness as such when he is deciding what course of action to pursue."2 While philosophers debate many moral positions, the altruistic one is unusual in having achieved prominence within the nonphilosophical community. Most people have been told that altruism is the moral code by which we should live our lives. The idea is now virtually synonymous with moral goodness. August Comte, a French philosopher and sociologist, named the doctrine, but many philosophers (most recently Thomas Nagel) have propounded its substance. It is probably the most widely professed moral position. Although the term was coined in recent times, the basic idea of altruism is very old indeed. It is that the moral goal of every human being should be the well-being, or good, of oth-
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ers. Service to other people alone, or to humanity in general, is the altruistic moral goal, and the more specific principles of morality (or human virtues) must work toward its achievement. The standard of morality consists in the provision of whatever others need for their well-being. (Some people believe that altruistic behavior is automatic, especially among some species of animal, but this is not an ethical view, because it denies the role of human choice. Some sociobiologists fall into this group as theorists who think that human behavior can be explained by the principles of our communal biological makeup. Ethics, however, is mostly concerned not with explaining human behavior but with guiding it.)3 The argument for altruism reflects mainly the belief that unless people regard doing good for others as their primary moral responsibility, they will treat others ruthlessly and cruelly. Altruism opposes a perceived human propensity for exploiting people at every opportunity. In a way, altruism is a viewpoint that treats selfish pursuits as evil (or at least morally inferior) and believes that they lead to conflict unless humans are restrained by morality, that is, by the obligation to serve others, to help them, and to love them. The doctrine of Christian charity, as proposed by St. Augustine, resembles altruism once it has been divorced from the goal of gaining everlasting salvation. Altruism views human nature as basically antisocial, with human behavior tending toward hurting others as necessary to satisfy one's own pleasures and desires. 4 Altruism considers it a central feature of morality to steer human beings away from the impulse toward selfgratification, self-serving conduct, pride, vanity, and conceit. Instinctual drives provide adequately for each individual. Suitable motivation, best furnished by a morality, is required to remove us from the realm of the jungle, the sphere of beastlike existence, to a higher, civilized, peaceful, cooperative stage. We share our natural selfishness with other animals. Our
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human motives, cultivated by a recognition of the quarrelsome, hostile tendencies in us, should direct us toward the well-being and benefit of our fellow humans. Once we have acknowledged that the urge toward selfsatisfaction is part of our natural, even instinctive, constitution, then it follows that any viable moral position must direct us outside ourselves, away from self-service. The reason is that, as we noted earlier, moral goals must be something that we can choose to pursue. We must choose moral principles. Altruism directs us toward the goal of benefiting others or society or humanity (variations arise in different altruistic positions). We can choose this goal; it is not automatic or innate. In addition, we can all choose it, or at least so it would initially seem. Being generalizable, it can serve as the proper goal for human beings. Without the universal moral responsibility to pursue this goal, we would have no motivation to practice the virtues that can produce a peaceful, productive, just society. Why would we want to be honest, fair, and honorable? Why would we pay our debts, keep our promises, respect others' property, fight for the security of the community, and defend liberty? Animated by the drive toward self-satisfaction, why would we not cheat, lie, steal, murder, and neglect the welfare of others or our community? According to the altruistic position, no reason exists for refraining from such conduct unless the duty to serve others binds us all.
Criticism and replies. Despite altruism's great prominence, there are objections. First, it could well be false that people's innate motives or drives cause them to promote their own well-being and to exploit others whenever possible. Morality is needed before we can learn to live well. Without morality, therefore, we cannot know what is to our own benefit or to anyone else's. On the other hand, we might be able to discover our own best interest more readily than we could that of others.
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Second, it is not obviously true that our nature prompts us to harm others at every opportunity. All of us probably have the capacity for destructive action, yet we are not necessarily tending toward it. Ifhuman nature did entail such basic drives, ethical positions advanced by philosophers and other thinkers could probably not escape their influence. Altruism itself would very likely reflect these tendencies. Also, many people who have chosen to pursue their self-interest and self-satisfaction seem not to have found that harming others advanced their own goals. On the contrary, selfish people, concerned with helping themselves, often engage in very productive and widely beneficial endeavors. Even at a glance, then, selfishness seems not to lead to the exploitation of others. Altruism presumes that it is in our selfish interest, more often than not, to hurt people-to treat them unfairly, to lie, to cheat, and to be unjust. This assumption presupposes that human nature benefits when we do harm to others. The idea is not at all self-evident, however, especially once we have conceded that humans are not innately destructive or hostile. If mutual antagonism is the norm among people, then it must be that nature in general produces freak entities, beings with mutually incompatible tendencies. (True, both theology and psychology have hypothesized just such inner tension within human nature.) Finally, altruism is not as practical as it at first appears. Before we can do good for others, we must know what that good is. Certainly we can decide for ourselves. Yet mistakenly or not, others may not accept our judgment. If doing good for them requires acting against their judgment, then open conflict may result. The evidence from mothers, friends, governments, and other institutions that meddle-fully supported by good intentions-bears out this statement. By the same token, if people in general instinctively protect their own interests, then is not the need or responsibility to do them good and to serve
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others' interests (which are already being served) superfluous? The altruist would offer several replies to these concerns. History demonstrates man's destructive nature. Some people may escape its force, even without adopting the altruistic position, but they can do so only by chance. Any sustained participation in social life requires altruism. (Morality is of no concern to people living alone on desert islands.) The notion that people might themselves benefit from treating others fairly, speaking honestly, respecting each other's needs and wants, and even helping each other is perhaps correct in some instances. Still, in times of danger or scarcity, people would most likely go to any lengths if they were not required, as a matter of moral duty, to serve others first. Morality certainly may be unnecessary under normal, uncomplicated circumstances. But when difficult decisions must be made, we can live right only by choosing the principles that do not come naturally-the ones that do not simply accommodate our inclinations. Second, it is not at all odd for human nature to be somewhat freakish. Human beings are unique in nature. No other living creatures have created so much misery for themselvesso much internal con:fl.ict and agony. Humans are neurotic, psychotic, nervous, guilt-ridden, awkward, frightened, and otherwise plagued animals. In light of this species-specific peculiarity, it seems reasonable to constrain human conduct, to redirect people away from themselves and toward others. In the absence of such guidance, human beings would have disappeared from the earth long ago. With respect to the difficulty of practicing altruism, we can say only that we must take care to assure that our efforts on others' behalf are for their own good. Once suitable precautions have been taken, we can justify acting against others' mistaken judgment. Is it not preferable to help others who disagree rather than to allow them to injure themselves by rejecting our help? Where would millions of people be without the help offered by
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laws that prohibit self-destructive conduct! What is important is that people receive help, not what they believe about it. It has been objected that help for others is superfluous, given that they are impelled to help themselves. Nevertheless, by distancing ourselves from our own drives, we can be more objective, accurate, and successful in helping people generally and can thereby find some peace. In cases where others are being helped, careful judgment can take the place of arbitrariness. Egoism Pseudoegoisms. Egoism comes in several versions, one of which is that everyone always acts in his or her own interest. This view, called psychological egoism, is not a possible ethical position because it lacks one crucial feature: the individual is not free to pursue or refrain from pursuing the right course of conduct. There is no mention of what should be done, only of what is being done. Furthermore, we may seriously question whether the claim of psychological egoism itself is true. The position appears to be vacuous or plainly false. If things that everyone does count as acting in one's own interest, then so labeling them does not help us understand what people do. Ifthere is a stable standard for measuring what is in one's own interest, too, then clearly not everything people do meets it, since people (and even one person over time) often do very different, indeed conflicting, things. Several other versions of egoism that are often discussed also fail to qualify as possible moral positions. The subjectivist egoist, who claims that his or her best interest-as he or she perceives it-alone has merit, fails because morality must be a universalizable system rather than one that applies to only one person or group of people as a unique guide. Similarly, a moral position cannot provide that all people should do what they feel like as individuals. As with hedonism,
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what is liked, desired, or welcomed varies enormously and cannot be formulated in such a way that everyone can pursue it. Furthermore, people are not free to choose in this area. Before moral significance could attach to enjoying something, learning to like it would have to precede liking it. The process oflearning must come first, with the emotional response only second. The reason is that although we can choose to initiate the learning process, we cannot choose to like someone or something. Most emotions are not chosen in the requisite sense. They are rather responses elicited from us on the basis of our earlier learning and choices or perhaps because of some innate disposition. Ethical egoism (or individualism). Egoism as a bona fide moral position avoids the problems noted above. The basic statement of this position is that each person should live so as to realize his or her rational self-interest. People will not automatically act rationally on their own behalf, and so this is a matter for conscious choice. Furthermore, such a standard of conduct can be applied to us all, supposedly because people's rational selfinterest is whatever suits them as human beings and as the individuals they are. Anyone can discover his or her rational self-interest. (This view is proposed most notably by the novelist Ayn Rand and by the philosophers Jesse Kalin and Eric Mack.)5 The case for ethical egoism can be summarized as follows. As self-de~ermined living beings, we need a set of standards to guide our conduct, which is a sound morality. Its goal is to enable us to succeed at living well, a goal we share with all other living beings-only they act instinctually while we must choose. Finally, it is selves or egos-individual human beingswho are alive and whose success at life is threatened if they fail to identify and act on the principles that lead them to success. Humans, unlike animals, cannot live automatically. We must learn how. The particular life we can pursue, and the choices it affords, are our own. By understanding who and what
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we are, we can identify the standards by which we can most likely advance our lives. These are our virtues. Why should we be honest? Why should we act courageously, generously, prudently, justly? Why should we have integrity? Because, the ethical egoist answers, doing so enables us to live a successful human life, one that is proper and fitting. In short, the ethical egoist holds that living a successful human life is the value to be pursued with a moral code. Since one's own successful or happy life is the only one that a person can promote in a morally relevant way, by choice, each person should proceed to do so in the context of his or her particular circumstances. More briefly stated, people should pursue their own individual happiness. The moral principles that make it possible to do so are the virtues suited to human life. The details of the egoist moral code, like those of the other positions that we have considered, cannot readily be discussed, because ethical systems concern broad guidelines, not the concrete decisions that each of us continually needs to make. 6 Thus the virtue of honesty can generally be defended as a principle of morality (and indeed in more than one ethical system), yet moral philosophy cannot establish exactly what a person should or should not say. The central virtue of the egoistic ethics is rationality, a uniquely human mode of awareness. Success in life or happiness for any individual must be achieved in a way suited to human life. We are morally virtuous when we choose to be as fully human as possible in our circumstances-when we strive to excel at being as we are. Each person has the distinctive human capacity to think at will and to attend to the world rationally (sustaining careful, logical thought). Therefore, to succeed as a person, everyone should choose to do so. For the egoist, rationality is the highest virtue, although ethical egoism encompasses other virtues, which must be rationally established (or at least susceptible to being so established).7
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Finally, the goal-someone's happiness-should be sharply distinguished from pleasure, fun, or thrills. Egoism of the sort that can be a moral position is not hedonistic, although for most people being happy will also involve many enjoyable experiences. Happiness, in this context, is a positive or joyful attitude each of us feels about how well we are doing in our own lives as people. 8 Human beings, as reflective, self-conscious creatures, can benefit from doing what suits them, and knowing that they have been the cause of this benefit is a source of immense joy. The phenomenon resembles what some psychologists describe as self-esteem. 9 Unlike other ethical positions, egoism defines the proper attitude in life as informed selfishness but not pathological self-centeredness (egotism). Egoism regards as virtues pride, ambition, integrity, honesty, and other traits that are highly prized. It advocates selfishness with regard to the sort of self that is proper for humans and not just any sort of self. (Indeed whether selfishness should be regarded as good or bad depends on the nature of that self.) Self-sacrifice and devotion to others as a matter of principle are considered morally repugnant. The most reprehensible way of conducting oneself, however, is to fail to exercise rational judgment, to evade reality, and to abandon oneself to blind impulse, to others' influence, to the dictates of thoughtless cliches, and the like. Since knowledge is indispensable for successful realization of goals, including the central goal of happiness, failure to try to acquire it-and thereby to foster error, misunderstanding, and confusion-is disastrous for oneself and immoral. Egoism is not widely advocated as an ethical code. Indeed, some of those who use the term favorably often argue that ethics should be abandoned. They believe that we are always being egoistic (selfish) even when we appear not to be. As we noted above, this position is psychological, not ethical, egoism. Many people seem to have accepted egoism as their ethical
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system without being able to articulate its tenets fully. People strive to be happy, to succeed on the job, at school, in marriage, and in the numerous projects that they undertake. Inventors usually pursue success avidly, as do financiers, politicians, doctors, and most productive people. (Some obviously meantempered people also strive to succeed, but very often they seek results without the work that is naturally required.) Even rationality is often acknowledged as a significant virtue, for example when people fault themselves for an oversight by saying, "Damn it, I didn't think!"
Critics and defenders. The critics have much to say about the egoist's position. They fault it for its allegedly naive view of human nature-the idea that we are born without destructive impulses and that we should simply proceed to achieve our natural goals. They say that egoism leads to self-centeredness, egotism, and the ruthless pursuit of gain, wealth, and power, prompted by the complex and often destructive motives that lie deep within us. (In a way, altruism is the ultimate criticism of egoism!) On a more formal note, some critics fault egoism as a moral theory on the ground that it cannot be implemented universally. Suppose someone asks you what he or she should do, and suppose that it would in fact be in his or her interest to marry the person whom you also want to marry. Could you as a consistent egoist advise this person correctly? If you do, you will undermine your own self-interest; if you do not, you demonstrate that egoism cannot be universalized to everyone. In general, when human interests conflict, egoism appears to set people on a war path, because it lacks a coordinating principle that transcends the competing claims. Critics therefore accuse egoism of generating contradictory plans of action: people both should and should not do certain things. Any ethical position caught in this dilemma must fail because it suggests that what a person should do cannot be done.
Is MORALLY GOOD AND RIGHT? III'
A further objection is that all the talk about happiness really leaves us with very little to go on. Just what exactly should we pursue? By saying that happiness consists in the awareness of ourselves as living successfully-that is, rationally-egoism asserts that rational living will lead to something that we ought to achieve. But is it not possible that something other than this happiness (which seems very self-indulgent anyway) might be worth pursuing? Could there not perhaps be more important goals-political liberty, social justice, being a productive member of society-that overshadow happiness? Finally, it does not even appear likely that rationality can produce happiness for a person. Many rational peoplescholars, artists, scientists, lawyers, and writers-have been notably unhappy. Then, too, some of the most irrational, whimsical, and haphazard people retire in luxury to Miami Beach to live out their lives in bliss. The ethical egoist will have answers to these objections. Again, the reader will need to assess both the objections and the answers. In response to the charge that he is naive about human nature, the egoist could reply that he is concerned only with the essentials. What the critic sees as naivete in reality amounts to focusing on only the morally relevant aspects of every person, the capacity freely to choose to think. The misery, neurosis, cruelty, and self-destruction that characterize some human life may often be explained in terms of people's refusal to ponder the requirements of their lives and their willingness to meddle in the lives of others (always for others' good). Were people to focus first of all on doing good for themselves, much of the disarray would disappear. Moreover, such factors do not prove that conflict is inherent in human nature. If some wellintegrated people attain peace of mind and happiness, it is at least theoretically possible for everyone to do so. The case about conflicts of interest, usually a conflict of desires and wishes, begs an important question, or so the egoist would say. If rationality is the first principle or virtue of egoism,
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then it would be appropriate to start by asking, "What should we do when our needs or wishes conflict?" We should not assume that the conflict cannot be resolved. If the rational answer is to cheat and lie, then so be it. Cheating and lying are then the right choice. (Sometimes cheating and lying seem quite right, as when we deceive a crook or lie to save a life.) Lying would not be rational, however, in most cases, including the one cited earlier involving rival suitors. After having appraised the consequences, neither individual would trust the other's advice, and the loved person would be deprived of a say in the matter. In such a case it could tum out to be irrational to lie. The rational course could well be to explain that both people are in love with the individual, to give each a chance to earn this person's love, and then to let the chips fall where they may. Certainly friends have taken this approach before and are proud of it. In general, egoism holds that each person should pursue his or her own happiness or success in life. Furthermore, the means by which all human beings can attain this goal is rational thought, which is in everyone's self-interest. Selfinterest, so understood, cannot be viewed as pitting good (that is, self-interestedly motivated) individuals against each other. Conflicting desires can be reconciled by careful thought, which is in everyone's best interest. Only in periods of inattentiveness or irrationality, when we are impulsive and refuse to think matters through carefully, will conflicts be handled badly. The difficulty of defining happiness is a problem not of ethics but of epistemology. This difficulty faces any complex system of ideas. It is enough to note, according to the egoist, that being happy differs from being satisfied, pleased, contented, or thrilled-it is the realization (with the corresponding feeling) of having performed well in life and of having lived fully as a human being. To be successful in the broadest sense means to do well what people alone can do, namely guide their lives ra-
Is MORALLY GOOD AND RIGHT? IJIII
tionally. No more skepticism is warranted here than anywhere else when we deal with difficult issues. Egoists grant that rational conduct will not guarantee a long and happy life. Accidents can happen. Rationality holds out a greater promise of success than the alternatives do, however. We cannot compare one person's rational life with another's irrational life without making sure that the two people started from essentially similar points. True, some who have lived irrationally may be comparatively well off in contrast to those who live rationally but in extremely different situations. What is crucial for ethical egoism is that living rationally is very likely to make each person happier, and to promote greater self-esteem, than will living irrationally. Moral theorists who advocate egoism propose that the rational life merits further examination to determine whether it is not indeed the most promising method for achieving happiness. We can go no further here. Egoism is not widely defended, mostly because many people, among them most recent philosophers, believe that the human ego or self is in some ways governed by other, nonethical philosophical considerations. The human ego is viewed by many as a bundle of prerational, even irrational passions that some nonegoistic or antiegoistic moral system could perhaps tame. The last version of egoism I have presented rejects this view of the human ego. This rejection demands independent argument, however, which I have merely outlined. MORE ETHICAL POSITIONS IN BRIEF
Stoicism The Stoics held that although we should strive to be happy and fulfilled, we should seek this goal by not desiring anything at all. Ifwe do so, we will never be disappointed, disillusioned, or unhappy. Stoicism contends that true happiness is best attained by dissociating ourselves from temporal, fleeting pleasures. A
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happy, virtuous life consists in detachment from everything in the world, which brings inner peace. Epicureanism Epicureanism is popularly associated with gourmet eating and to many people appears closely allied with hedonism. The two are not the same, however. Epicureanism focuses on a higher sort of happiness that is associated mainly with the mind in its most cultured state. The reasoning here is somewhat similar to that which we find in Stoicism: the worldly pleasures are not subject to our control as are the joys of the mind. This view is a version of subjectivism or hedonistic egoism and proposes that everyone should pursue his or her higher satisfactions in life. Contrary to popular opinion, Epicureanism does not require its devotees to pursue sensual thrills or aesthetic delights. Rather, it counsels inner peace and freedom, the basic ingredients of true pleasure. Asceticism Like Stoicism, asceticism prescribes self-denial but not for the sake of personal happiness. Quite the contrary. At least as far as living in this world is concerned, asceticism requires selfdenial and self-discipline to promote the achievement of various religious, supernatural, or otherworldly goals, such as eternal salvation or ultimate spiritual unity with the oneness of the universe. Situationism Situationism endeavors to construct an ethics on a foundation of relativism and subjectivism that proponents of this view find irrefutable. Since (as we have seen) both doctrines are antithetical to ethical inquiry, the best we can do is to admit them and see what can be salvaged. Situationism arises from the convictions of certain Existentialists, for example that no
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human nature can be identified and God does not exist. It holds that if we approach living with a feeling of love, of authentic devotion, this spirit will steer us in the only meaningful right course, especially in our relationship with others. Environmentalism Environmental ethics is sometimes derived from one or another of the major ethical theories. A utilitarian may argue for reducing automobile exhaust fume emission, for example, to enhance the general welfare. There are, however, schools of environmental ethics that derive an entire morality from certain views about nature, the wilderness, or God (or Gaia) as Nature. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) captured this outlook: "The more we depart from the state of nature, the more we lose our natural tastes." "All is good coming from the hand of the Author of all things; all degenerates in the hands of man."lO Concomitants of this moral position include frugality, restraint, moderation, and conservation rather than growth and abundance. Personal conduct and public policy directives stress recycling, the preservation of wilderness, restrictions on energy consumption, and comparable measures. SOME POLITICAL SYSTEMS
While ethics, politics, public policy, and other normative areas can be kept distinct-by which I mean that we can consider each one apart from the others-they are closely intertwined in our lives. Ethics addresses the issue of how we ought to live, as we have seen, and politics deals with how to organize a community of human beings. Since we spend much of our lives in the company of others with whom we are more or less intimately connected, our actions usually involve other people. Between the strictly private and the strictly public lie numerous levels of social involvement that we might term "social," as in "social and political philosophy."
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Since most ofthe specific cases discussed in this book belong in the sphere of the social and the political, there is good reason to examine some of the more general political positions being debated today. The following brief sketches, hardly more than definitions, indicate just a few of the key ideas and ideals of politics. Feudalism Although feudalism has little tradition in our hemisphere, it was once an extremely popular system in Europe, and it remains influential in some parts of the world. In a feudal order, vassals hold land that is worked by serfs. In return for the land, the vassals provide overlords with military and other services. The feudal system involves a hierarchical social structure, usually with a monarch or other supreme ruler at the top and various levels of nobility below, in gradually descending order of importance, with the serfs at the bottom. Feudalism predominated in medieval Europe and much of the rest of the world and gave rise to many legal features of contemporary societies. ll The feudal system of government derives largely from historical events and from certain ideas that became prominent in various philosophical and theological systems, including the notion that some people are naturally or by divine edict superior in moral and other respects to the rest and ought, therefore, to exercise paternalistic authority over them. This form of elitism-the entrenched superiority of the select few, who often govern-includes aristocracy, the "rule of the best" (but note that the meaning of "best" may change drastically over time). In a feudal system, also, designees of the royal family typically control major social institutions-commerce, religion, property holdings, and professional positions. Accordingly, the economic system of mercantilism is closely linked to feudalism, as is the institution of a state church. (Since the prevailing
Is MORALLY GOOD AND
church authorities are nevertheless often separate from the state, complex dilemmas of spiritual and political leadership sometimes arise.) Fascism is arguably a modem version offeudalism in which an inspired leader rises to political leadership and persuades the citizenry that he or she can do the right thing for the country, not by following some plan, but by relying on personal insight and wisdom. Constitutionalism The term "constitution" derives from "to constitute." This means "to be the basic structure for something." Thus a constitutional system of government usually involves a written document that forms the basis for governmental decisions. When we hear the slogan "government by law, not by men," we interpret it as a call for a constitution that will guide those in charge of government, so that they can be held accountable for how they govern, in contrast to absolute rulers, who may do as they please. Constitutionalism may be found in a monarchy or a democracy. Although constitutional democracy is the preferred system of government in our time in most of the world, constitutional monarchy once had its day. (A parliamentary system provides for partly decentralized rule by council, with political representatives from various regions of a country participating.) Constitutions usually list basic principles of decision making and set forth limits on the power or authority of the governing administration. The U.S. Constitution, for example, has a Bill of Rights that restricts the authority and scope of government. Constitutional systems are usually recommended because rules increase the predictability of the acts taken by government within a given geographical area. Yet since there is no way to predict the problems that people will face over the long term, a constitution usually needs to be interpreted so that it can be applied to situations not foreseen when it was originally
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drafted. A great deal of controversy surrounds the interpretive process. The United States has a system ofjudicial review. Iflegislatures or other lawmaking bodies proposed policies that were regarded as conflicting with the Constitution, the matter could be taken before federal courts, and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court. The policies in question would then be declared legal or illegal, depending on whether or not they were considered to accord with the Constitution. Another source of controversy about constitutionalism is whether it is ultimately democratic-whether it provides for government by the people. A constitution extends the ideas and ideals of the drafters and framers far into the future, beyond their lifetimes. As a result some thinkers have called constitutions dictatorial and undemocratic. Constitutionalism is also said to impose on the future the misconceptions and narrowmindedness of the past. Unless the constitution itself provides some handy way of making adjustments, it can come to seem obsolete or anachronistic and may cause civil upheaval. Yet without some basic procedural document, government would arguably degenerate into arbitrary rule reflecting the whims and passions of a monarch or the people. For this reason constitutionalism has usually found ardent supporters, such as the American founders (see Cato's Letters and The Federalist Papers, books that contain pertinent discussions).12 Socialism Economic considerations have loomed very large in modern political theory generally and in socialism in particular. Socialism is most often defined as the political economic order within which the means of production are publicly owned and are (usually) administered by government. Despite the economic focus of this definition, socialism as a system addresses the nature of human life as a whole. Socialists view each human being as part of a large whole-society or even humanity. Marx declared,
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"The human essence is the true collectivity of man," meaning that a human being is communal in orientation and fully aware of belonging to "the organic body" ofhumanityP Although not all socialists stress the collective nature of human life, most would agree that human beings are basically social animals and cannot be understood, let alone flourish, apart from their society. Furthermore, the individual cannot prosper independent of the community. Socialists regard the privatization of human life as at best a historical stage and at worst a complete distortion of human needs. Private property, for example, and individual rights more generally, contravene the proper lifestyle for humans, and human beings will be alienated in any system that involves the legal affirmation of privacy. 14 Although socialism stresses the health of society or humanity as a whole, this cannot be separated from the well-being of the constituent parts, namely individual people. The essential attribute of a good or just human community is cooperation, as opposed to competition or rivalry, in all realms of lifeeconomic, scientific, political, and athletic. In the economic realm, all production and distribution of value should be administered on a collective basis rather than privately (limited competition is acceptable in some economic spheres, however, under a policy dubbed "market socialism"). While socialists do not necessarily espouse central microeconomic management and planning, they do privilege the viewpoint of the public at large, with private initiative taking a subservient role. The idea is that only when human beings collectively manage their economic lives will they experience themselves as fully emancipated and fully realized as human beings. The reason is that humans are naturally conscious producers. Since production is necessarily a social phenomenon, participation in the social organization of production is necessary before people can experience themselves as they truly are.
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Socialism can take several forms. Some thinkers claim that, at least at the beginning of a socialist society, central planning allows those who understand the need for socialism to help raise others' awareness. Other thinkers favor a more democratic socialism that allows members of the community to set priorities for the whole and to receive feedback in a kind of ongoing dialogue. Still others, as I have indicated, identify the need for only limited socialization in economic and other matters, mostly to assure the satisfaction of basic human needs. Like language, human life in general is a social process. It is just as erroneous to believe that we can shape our individual lives as it is to think that we can invent our own language. This idea is perhaps a key reason for claiming that socialism is the proper form of human social life. Libertarianism and Capitalism Libertarianism as a political system claims that the highest political good is the protection of the individual citizen's right to life, liberty, and property. Capitalism is the economic system of libertarianism, since in libertarian societies, the right to private property-that is, the right to own anything of value (but not, of course, other human beings, who are themselves owners}-receives full respect and protection as an institution. Libertarian law rests on the idea that the individual is the most important member of society. Groups that form with the consent of individual members include the military, corporations, universities, clubs, and the government itself. Libertarian society prohibits involuntary servitude first and foremost and promotes, via political administration, the liberty of all persons to advance their own objectives, provided that they do not violate anyone's rights. There is disagreement as to whether the label "capitalism" should be applied to the economic order under libertarianism, mostly because the definition often varies, depending on
Is MORALLY GOOD AND RIGHT? .III'
whether its author has a favorable or unfavorable view of the system. Some have insisted on the use of "laissez-faire," in memory of the French entrepreneurs who exclaimed, when the king asked what the government could do to help the economy, "Laissez faire, laissez passer," or "allow us to do, allow us to act." Some use F. A. Hayek's term "the spontaneous order" to stress the system's support of uncoerced behavior. There is also the more popular term "free enterprise." Yet "capitalism" is most widely used, by both critics and supporters, to denote an economic order in which individuals have the right to own property and to determine its use. By itself capitalism is an economic arrangement of an organized human community or polity. Often, however, entire societies are called capitalist, mainly to stress that they have thriving commerce and industry. Strictly speaking, capitalism presupposes a libertarian legal order governed by a legal system in which the principle of private property rights plays a central role. Such a system oflaws has historically been grounded on various classical liberal ideals in political thought. Support for these ideals may draw on positivism, utilitarianism, natural rights theory, and/or individualism as well as on arguments invoking the merits of laissez-faire (no government interference in commerce), the "invisible hand" (as a principle of spontaneous social organization), prudence and industriousness (as significant virtues), and the price system as a regulator distinct from central planning (for balancing supply and demand). Otherwise stated, "capitalism" and "libertarianism" indicate that citizens in the community have the basic right to make their own (more or less wise or prudent) decisions concerning their labor and property. Thus capitalism encompasses freedom of trade and contract, the free movement of labor, and protection of property rights against both criminal and official intrusiveness. The concept of freedom plays a central role in the under-
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standing of both libertarianism and capitalism. There are two prominent ways of understanding the nature of freedom as it pertains to human relationships. The one that fits with capitalism is negative freedom: the lack of interference from others that all people in society enjoy with respect to themselves and their property. Citizens are free, in this sense, when no other adult person has authority over them that they have not granted oftheir own volition. The other meaning of freedom relates to the government's support of citizens' goals and purposes so that they may prosper. Under this conception of (positive) freedom a person may progress, advance, develop, or flourish only thanks to the efforts of capable others. In international political discussions the concept "capitalist" is used very loosely. Italy, New Zealand, the United States, Sweden, and France-very diverse societies-are all considered capitalist. Clearly, no country today is completely capitalist. None enjoys a condition of economic laissez-faire in which governments stay out of people's commercial transactions except when conflicting claims over various valued items demand adjudication. But many Western-type societies protect a good deal of free trade even if they also regulate most of it. Just as countries are called "democratic" as long as there is substantial suffrage even though many citizens may be prevented from voting, so the country is usually considered capitalist if it secures substantial free trade and private ownership of the major means of production (labor, capital, and intellectual creations). Political economists endorse capitalism most often because the system supports the creation of wealth. Such theorists also credit capitalism with other worthwhile traits, however, such as the encouragement of progress, political liberty, and innovation. Thinkers who defend the system for its practical virtues (such as its propensity to stimulate the production of wealth) are distinct from those who champion the system because they consider it morally just. The first group argues that a free
Is MORALLY GOOD AND RIGHT? J!/Iff
market or capitalist economic system is of great public benefit, even though it depends for its operation on private or even social vice, such as greed, ambition, and exploitation. As Bernard Mandeville, the author of The Fable of the Bees, observed, capitalism produces "private vice, public benefit." Many moral theorists see no virtue in efforts to improve one's own life. They believe, however, that enhancing the overall wealth of a human community is a worthwhile goal. Thinkers who stress the moral or normative merits of capitalism, mostly libertarians, say the system rewards prudence, hard work, ingenuity, industry, entrepreneurship, and personal or individual responsibility in all spheres of human life. This alone makes the system morally preferable to alternatives. Libertarianism or capitalism is considered not only useful but morally preferable also because it makes possible agency and the exercise of genuine moral choice as noncapitalist, collectivist systems or economic organizations would not. Capitalist theorists note that most critics of capitalism demean wealth. Most critics, indeed, denounce the pursuit of human individual well-being, and especially luxury, as long as there are needy people on earth and, more recently, as long as any portion of nature is overrun by human beings (the argument implies that humans are not natural creatures). The champions of capitalism charge, however, that this perspective reflects utopian thinking and amounts to begrudging anyone a measure of well-being, since some people will always be poor some of the time and people will continue to transform nature. Yet the capitalist advocate is not necessarily recommending reckless treatment of the environment. Indeed, arguably the strict and consistent adherence to the principle of private property-through, for example, privatization and a prohibition on the private as well as public dumping of waste-may solve the environmental problems we face better than any central planning proposed by champions of the environment. Libertar-
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ians and capitalists think that the environment suffers worst when the "tragedy of the commons" is permitted-when commonly owned values are overused, since everyone is deemed to have the right of access to them, while no one in particular has the responsibility of caring for them. Capitalism rests in large part on the belief that human beings are essentially individuals and a society's laws must value individuals above all else. Most historians of ideas admit that human individuality attracted little attention until the modern age. Even in our time, groups-ethnic, religious, racial, sexual, national, cultural, and so forth-have greater social significance than individuals. Individuals are constantly asked to make sacrifices for groups. In capitalism, however, the individual-as the sovereign citizen or the consumer-is king. A capitalist system does not place a premium on economic equality, however, as group thinking would, since in groups all members are deemed entitled to a fair share. Welfare Statism The welfare state or, from the economic viewpoint, the mixed economy, combines the principles of capitalism and socialism. Sometimes this system stresses moral considerations more than economic ones. Basically the welfare state is a legal system that aims to secure for everyone the negative right to liberty and the positive right to well-being. The welfare state, which is to say most Western countries, balances two values that its advocates regard as the bedrock of a civilized society. No one's sovereignty should be seriously compromised, nor should anyone's standard of living drop below a certain level. This scenario is difficult to maintain, because at different times one of the two objectives will probably take priority, and in mostly democratic systems political leaders vacillate between them. The right to strike, for example, which is the negative liberty to quit one's job in an effort to gain respect for one's terms of employment, may conflict with the positive
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right to be provided with various services-health care, mail delivery, or education. In the welfare state, both negative and positive rights receive legal protection. Negative rights prescribe respect for a person's life, liberty, and property-that is, everyone is by law supposed to refrain from interfering with these. Positive rights, in turn, entail respect for a person's basic needs-that is, people who lack the wherewithal to subsist, or even to flourish, are supposed to receive benefits through an appropriate public policy (taxation, mandated services, public education, and national health care). The moral underpinnings of the welfare state may be utilitarianism, altruism, or certain intuitively held moral precepts. Utilitarianism demands that everyone pursue the general welfare and justifies the implementation of any public policies that might be needed. Although many utilitarians believe that the general welfare is best achieved when government operates in a largely laissez-faire fashion, there is no objection to government intervention in social affairs as necessary to give all members of society a decent and prosperous form of life. Altruists, in turn, want people above all else to help others and favor introducing public measures as necessary to secure such help. Finally, there is the widely held gut feeling that everyone must be guaranteed both a measure of personal liberty and social welfare lest the quality of life in society decline below acceptable standards. While people object to the welfare state on several other grounds, its supporters consider it the most stable modern political order. Although controversy surrounds it, on the whole and in the long run, its supporters maintain, the system seems satisfactory and just. Communitarianism Communitarianism represents a sort of halfway house between the collectivist system of socialism and the individualist framework of capitalism. The idea is less amenable to sharp definition
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than are these others. Roughly, it stands for the view that human beings are necessarily or essentially parts of distinct human groups (communities) with diverse values, histories, priorities, practices, laws, and cultures. The organizing principles of these different groups themselves vary. There is no one true social and political order nor even any universal ethics. Rather, the particular character of the communities tells members how to live, what laws to enact, and what aesthetic and religious values to embrace. Some communities may be Spartan, others Stoic, yet others bohemian, and so forth. Each may have its peculiar way of life without condemning a different way. Yet despite popular opinion to the contrary, individuals do not consent to participate in the community's form of life. Such an idea derives from a mistake: a transcendent or general principle of human nature requires every community to adhere to certain minimal standards of justice. No such transcendent principle exists, according to many communitarians, and so communities that, say, grant individuals certain rights are simply different from, and not superior to, those that do not. 15 Actually, little else can be said here about communitarianism, because there are simply too many types, each with its own framework and priorities. The main point is that rules, laws, and ideals all result from the evolving consensus or collective practices of the community's membership. Just as socialism considers humanity the whole to which individuals belong, communitarianism identifies different ethnic, national, racial, gender, cultural, and professional groups as the whole to which the individual member belongs. We might consider, for example, that languages developed in part to fit the circumstances of different linguistic communities, with no language superior to (or even fully translatable into) any other. Communitarians often unite in criticizing bourgeois society and liberal capitalism, which stress individuality, privacy,
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personal freedom, consent, and competition. Communitarians believe that liberal capitalist views rest on a seriously flawed view of human nature. They are convinced, also, that the central idea ofliberal capitalism is Homo economicus, or "economic man." This concept figures prominently in economic analysis and treats individuals as autonomous entities who enter the world fully formed, self-sufficient, and ready to make choices in the market. While other conceptions of the human individual might support liberal capitalism, Homo economicus has attracted the attention of communitarians and has prompted them to elaborate their position.
6 ETHICS AS A PERSONAL CONCERN
THICAL positions, unlike some other issues in philosophy, bear directly on people's daily problems. No matter what happens, people must make decisions. We make a choice even when we leave things to others or conclude that we have no options. In metaphysical and epistemological matters, most people tend to rely on common sense, at least in their ordinary activities, if not in their professions. Ethics, however, requires them to be almost constantly aware of the uniquely human challenge to live right. ETHICS IN EVERYDAY LIFE Virtually every moment of our waking life we must decide what to do. Should we buy new Nikes now or save the money until we have a steady job? Should we attend all classes, no matter how dull they are? Should we get beer illegally or have alcoholfree parties until we are old enough to buy it ourselves? Should we act friendly with George or tell him that we are angry about the way he treated Sally? When we decide such matters, do we follow sound standards, in line with principles that are well founded? Do we choose our conduct, in areas major and minor, for the long and short term, arbitrarily or randomly,
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without reflection? Do we make at least our crucial decisions carefully, often relying on ethical notions that we were taught but remaining mindful ofthe need to reach our own conclusions? Whatever we do, we constantly confront the possibility that our decisions are ethically relevant, bearing on issues of general significance for the way we lead our lives. If ethics concerns the problem of living well or living badly as human beings, then we need to understand how it bears on our actions. We may not always be to blame when we make mistakes; it is sometimes not possible for us to identify the right conduct. Yet maybe we should pay more attention to these issues, at least in reflective moments (not obsessively, neurotically). As in the law, ignorance is not always an excuse; sometimes it results from having neglected a matter that we should really have investigated. Perhaps today, in an age when philosophers in academe have shown themselves less than eager to teach ethics, we should each as individuals assume more responsibility. Because of its universal human concern, ethics demands our careful attention even when we might prefer to leave it to specialists. COMMONSENSE ETHICS
In this book I have noted repeatedly that we are all aware of ethical principles, that we are all more or less sensitive to various moral virtues. We live largely by such awareness and sensitivity, even when we yield to some temptation that would not square with it. Our morality, then, is not acquired in the way that we learn the periodic table or the alphabet. We absorb ethics by osmosis, noting the example set by parents, neighbors, and others, along with the scolding and praise we receive from them. I will say more on this point later. For now, let us note merely that beliefs in what is right and wrong are often close to being intuitive, unselfconscious. They are not just beliefs of
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the kind we have about, say, Argentina's geography or Lincoln's role in the American Civil War. Instead these constitutional convictions, as it were, are almost an intrinsic part of us, as we see when they are violated and we respond with outrage or indignation or when they are upheld and we feel that we have witnessed nobility of character. Minor and major instances of heroism arouse such feelings in people who share the hero's values. Ethical convictions, somewhat like linguistic competence, are not systematically acquired. Some philosophers even suggest that moral and linguistic virtues are kin and require similar care, probably because they have vague origins and we may readily be tempted to violate them. In any case, even someone raised among thieves will probably encounter the commonsense view that stealing is wrong. The very idea is part of the intellectual, philosophical, and moral atmosphere that we all absorb. THEISTIC ETHICS
Guiding Principles Most people who think about morality or ethics associate these areas of concern with religion, and yet in the discussions above, I did not mention religion. The reason is that an ethical system must be shown to be sound without reliance on things that cannot be rationally apprehended. Most religions are essentially supernaturalistic, or mystical. The few that are not tend to identify God with nature, with the universe as a whole. For them the discussion of ethical issues given above could suffice. Other religions base their moral codes not on arguments but on faith. Still other religions hold that even though God is supernatural or transcends reality, rational investigation can discover the moral or ethical code that God designed for human beings. These religions, too, would allow for the possibility of
ETHICS AS A PERSONAL CONCERN
treating ethics (natural law, moral law) much as I have done in the preceding chapters. The matters that we will now consider are very controversial. Adherents of nearly every religious persuasion have their own way of describing how ethics fits into their framework. Those who have thought these matters through will probably want to state the problem in their own words. Many will regard what follows as biased. In this area as in others, students will ultimately have to develop their own ideas. First, however, they will find it useful to learn about the age-old conversation on this topic. Most religions (and there are hundreds) hold that the central duty of all persons is to achieve the salvation of their souls. This view, somewhat imprecise so as to allow for the numerous variations, is the crucial feature of theistic ethics. If we are to pursue our inquiry along philosophically appropriate lines, we must hold that we can know and understand what is meant by the salvation of our souls. According to theistic ethics the salvation of the soul is achieved by fulfilling the will or purpose of God. Our ethical position, then, requires that all persons be able to know the will or purpose of God, which in turn means that we must be able to know much of God. Because no ethical position can apply to only some people, theistic ethics too must be understandable by all individuals (although not by the crucially incapacitated). Many religious people will find this last point somewhat unusual. We should remember, however, that few religions allow for proof of an ethical position's correctness. Many abide by various moral edicts as a matter of faith, or at least trust in the spiritual leaders. We are concerned here not with the religions themselves, which are backed by faith, but with their ethics. These can be open to philosophical scrutiny and demonstration. Still, faith-reliant views raise many philosophical issues
PRIMER ON ETHICS
as well, mostly in the field of epistemology, which deals with the meaning of knowing, believing, being convinced of something, and understanding. The ethical positions taken by some major organized religions-especially Roman Catholicism-may be described as cognitivist. The cognitivist position starts with the proof of God's existence. It then describes God's nature and God's creation of the universe and mankind and spells out God's will, God's purpose, and how God wants us to live. God makes His will known to us, presumably by numerous means that he chooses. The Bible and the words of individuals inspired by an awareness of God tell people everywhere how to do God's will and thereby save their souls. As it turns out, there are many conflicting views on the goal that God sets for us and the virtues we must have to reach it. The idea that there are many religions-as many as 1,200 in the United States alone-and that therefore none could be right is, however, incorrect. People can be mistaken, and some have been for many centuries, about a number of things and still be at least partly right or eventually reach enlightenment. The various religious ethics are not so very different from one another at bottom. Most of them are a variety of (moderate) altruism. Religions throughout the world, for example, exhort adherents to love their neighbor as they do themselves. A religious ethical code generally also provides for serving the needs of others, whether mankind generally or the poor specifically. Most religions that accept the existence of an independent, objective God also exhort us to have faith in His design or purpose for us-that is, we must never discount the will of God. Indeed, this is one of the enormous rewards of religious conviction: God helps us when we are in doubt; God gives us guidance; the virtues required of each of us are just the virtues that make living a success rather than a failure. Theistic ethics clearly considers many people in need of
ETHICS AS A PERSONAL CONCERN
guidance. Such is especially the case in systems that include the concept of original sin or regard man as basically flawed in character. The "fall of man" is a prominent idea in many Christian ethics. We have already touched on this point in connection with other ethics, but in the religious context the theme of man's basic imperfection (the view that as a human being each of us is flawed) looms very large. As a result, many religions arrange to teach morality to people who would not on their own search out or discover the will of God. Missionary service may be understood as the desire to give moral guidance to those who were unable to obtain it directly from God because they did not seek him out. Some prominent non-Christian religions also hold that human beings are (at least initially) misguided as to what is important. They are too caught up with this world and with themselves and too little mindful of the cosmos to which they belong. Religious moral or ethical guidance helps people overcome such mistakes and illusions. To a large extent, then, priests, elders, and other spiritual leaders teach religious ethics. The mode of moral education differs from one religion to another, but certain features remain basically the same. Parables in many cases convey the essence of the good life. In summary, then, theistic ethics accepts God as benevolent designer and holds that we are duty bound to learn and fulfill God's plan as it applies to us. In practical terms this mandate often means trusting religious leaders or theologians to tell us which virtues we should cultivate. In many religions these virtues help guide us toward eternal, otherworldly salvation, which the soul experiences, as a consequence of a life well lived, only after the body has died. In one crucial respect the virtues taught by most religions tend to be altruistic. God's design is for humanity, and our duty is to contribute to humanity's role, to further its well-being. (Most Roman Catholics oppose abortion and contra-
A PRIMER ON ETHICS
ception partly because they believe sexual intercourse should be reserved for procreation and should not be treated as merely a source of physical pleasure. Procreation as a goal helps humanity to serve God and to flourish as God's favorite creature.) Criticism and Replies One of the crucial problems of all theistic ethics arises less from consideration ofthe ethical principles than from the problem of God's existence. The field of metaphysics makes God's existence a crucial topic. Without exploring metaphysics, let us for the present accept that God exists and that we can know this as well as certain essential aspects of God. We now face the familiar problem of thinking about ethics in line with our assumptions about God's nature. First, would God, an all-good and all-powerful being, allow terrible things to occur? Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other disasters occur all the time, maiming and killing innocent and guilty alike. Second and more to the point of ethics, why would God put human beings through the agony of having to make choices that could lead to either a good life or a bad one? If God loved us, if God were the supremely good being, would He not come to our aid under every situation and save us even from our own weaknesses? Third, why would an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good being create something that could engage in all the kinds of moral wrongdoing that are associated with human beings? In short, why would God permit the existence of evil in the world? Again, this problem, strictly speaking, has to do not with theistic ethics but with the reconciliation of God's existence and the existence of good and evil in the world. Still, at one point the problem touches ethical issues directly.
ETHICS AS A PERSONAL CONCERN
When we consider how we ought to act, we may ask: "Is it not God who determines what I do, so any action I take is right, since God never makes happen what is morally wrong?" But this would make us morally impotent. If, however, God does not determine what we do, then we still require moral learning that will make our actions and ourselves morally good. Another problem that emerges in theistic ethics more strictly concerns our understanding of human virtue, or what makes a human being good. According to a number of theistic ethics, it is impossible for human beings to be entirely good. We are created in the image of God, but we cannot achieve the perfect virtue that God (or Jesus or Allah) possesses. In other words, each of us must fail at something that we all must nevertheless attempt to achieve-namely perfect goodness. (Under the tenets of some religious creeds, perfect goodness may prove to be something a human being can achieve. This achievement, however, would be very rare.) The idea of being perfectly good is difficult to grasp. It may mean simply that someone is as virtuous as circumstances permit. In the kind of ethics we are now considering, this feat is not sufficient for perfection. The idea is itself unrealizable but serves as a goal to be approximated. Theistic ethics suggests to some people that human beings are left in a hopeless bind: we should each strive to be a good person yet do so in the full know ledge that we will not succeed. It may thus be argued that such ethical systems are internally incoherent, since they require human beings to aspire to something unattainable. People are then duty bound to accomplish the impossible. As to the need to rely on the work of the clergy or ministry, we are faced with the problem of elitism. This problem is not unique to theistic ethics. Some philosophers have argued that a chosen group of well-situated people (such as philosophers)
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can achieve excellence and must act as moral guardians for everyone else. Theistic ethics have often been mixed with such nontheistic doctrines. Some of the views that various organized religions have used to justify the role of the clergy possibly derive from such nontheistic doctrines. One problem with the idea that the clergy are needed because they are persons who have access to God's will is that not everyone can be reached by them. Each day some people are born who will never meet a priest, nun, or minister and who will never read a book relating the parables. Are they to be barred from the morally good life? This objection cuts to the heart of the theistic ethics which rely on knowledge that must be imparted by the few with a clear understanding of God's wilL Since the basic virtues must be universally implementable, people whom the clergy cannot reach cannot become virtuous. As a result, this "moral" position is impossible. Finally, insofar as theists are altruists, the criticism of altruism applies to them as well. If we leave aside the issue of God's existence, the first response to criticism of theistic ethics addresses the question of whether God's perfect goodness can be reconciled with the existence and possibility of evil in human life. One way of answering this objection is to maintain that God's will is good and that the human struggle between good and evil, between living well or badly, is itself good. To make this good possible, it is necessary to allow for the struggle and for the accompanying possibility of evil. Normally, a human being can choose to do right and to live well instead of badly. God makes evil possible but not necessary! Good cannot be possible unless evil is possible too. Thus God's perfect goodness guarantees only that good can be achieved, not that it will be. 1 Moreover, the good that may be brought into the world by human choice is greater than the good that would be there without human choice. Thus by making evil possible, God is actually creating a better world than the one
ETHICS AS A PERSONAL CONCERN
that would otherwise exist. One way of meeting the objection that theistic ethics sets impossible goals-that is, that a life of true virtue cannot be sustained by us-is to suggest the value of very high ideals, that is, of noble goals that are not fully reachable. Virtues such as justice, kindness, humility, and charity should be guidelines somewhat like the mathematical ideal of a circle. We cannot live up to these standards fully, just as we can never draw a perfect circle no matter how hard we try. Still, it is our duty to make a valiant attempt in every situation, however discouraged we might be about failure: these virtues should serve as unattainable but essential goals that guide our conduct. There is nothing wrong with setting such goals as long as our efforts bring us sufficiently close to perfection. It can be argued, furthermore, that the people who are excluded from the province of ethics are neither good nor evil in their conduct and lives. Like young children, who can make only limited choices, these people have no moral responsibilities and no moral faults or virtues. Only reasonably mature individuals have developed the capacities for the ethical life. Those people who are totally ignorant of the will of God but have never willfully turned away from God's teachings are like children or members of primitive tribes. They are morally untouched. Before closing this section, I must reiterate that not all people who believe in God think that morality is related to His will or plan. Some argue that God created the universe with the best plans God could conceive, for a world that would be the best even if it existed without God's coming into the picture. In other words, God created the world as it must be, no more and no less. This view resembles the beliefthat God would never will anything contradictory. It implies that what is right or wrong has to do with the kind of plan that would produce our world, not with God himself. N aturallaw theorists, some of them pre-Christian philosophers, believed that the universe contains basic laws of exis-
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tence, including laws to govern humanity-principles describing the good life for all people. They therefore thought that they could identify, without reference to God, the moral principles by which we should conduct life, even though some of them believed that something like God exists. The God in which these philosophers believed, however, was not the familiar Christian, Moslem, or Hindu God, with an active will that keeps shaping the world. Instead He was a necessary being-an indispensable, immutable fact on which everything else depends but which does nothing except support everything else. Such a God is the foundation of morality in the limited sense that existence itself is the basis for morality-and for everything else. A different group of theists conceives of God as Someone who created humanity without having any special plans for us. According to these theists, how we ought to live is for us to discover, not for God just to decide. These ways of viewing the matter are, at best, a small minority position within theism. Finally, a large segment of humanity does not view God or ethics as a matter for rational understanding at all. For many people God is a personal issue, something not open to demonstration or proof. The existence of a divine being is not like other features of reality that most of us consider knowable by anyone with normal human capacities. A current expression in modem theology is that God is dead. The saying may be interpreted as meaning that the idea of God's independent existence is no longer plausible. Instead, God must be defined as the deepest concerns we have, our ultimate concerns. This general idea figures in religious movements which preach that God is whatever we think God is. God "exists" in one's heart, soul, or consciousness, nothing more. The ethical notions that emerge from such views are similarly perplexing. What is right and wrong is not universalizable. Instead, right or wrong is a matter of personal conscience, with no possible basis in reality that would enable all of us to discover
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it. A person's own subjective conscience, and sincere feelings, dictate what is right or wrong. We now tum to some of these views, which are not especially wedded to religion. To end the present discussion, let us consider one last point in support of theistic ethics as a route to good human conduct. Some thinkers stress that human life undeniably has a mysterious dimension. Theism is the way to appreciate this dimension as well as the awesome task of living in a way that reflects our awareness ofit. The above-mentioned problems confront us only if we fail to appreciate the mystery of godliness fully. There may be significant objections if we insist that God and what follows from Him must completely accord with human critical thought. Once we acknowledge a mysterious dimension, however, we cannot approach God and the ethical life implied by God's reality in the same way that we deal with engineering, technical, and scientific tasks. This attitude, sometimes called fideism, has been alternatively accepted and rejected by the leaders of many religious orders, including Roman Catholicism. It proposes, essentially, that we must not subject what is godly to the routine scrutiny of human reason and that, in any case, human reason itself rests on a godly faith in the end, whether or not we acknowledge that it does so. In short, reason is itself something we follow as a matter of faith: we irrationally believe that reasoning will be fruitful.
7 CHALLENGES TO ETHICS
1 I made a case for the existence and function of morality as such-for whatever particular moral position is correct. In chapter 2 I discussed the two major underlying assumptions of ethics, without which ethics would probably not exist as a field of human concern. In the course of discussing the second assumption, I also noted some objections that might be made to my introductory remarks. In other words, I listed some features of moral skepticism, of doubtfulness about the possibility of morality. At this point I will examine some additional challenges to ethics. As in the field of metaphysics (the study of the most basic facts of reality, ifthere are such), and epistemology (the theory of knowledge), in ethics some thinkers argue that we must abandon our attempts to get it right. There simply are no answers to questions such as "What is morally good, right, wrong, or evil?" The point is not that one or another answer is not right but that none could be right. Although we very briefly reviewed some of the objections the idea that moral standards might be identifiable, at this to point we may usefully explore some prominent positions of moral skepticism, that is, disbelief in ethics altogether. N CHAPTER
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These positions and their arguments are not simply philosophical exercises meant to sharpen our minds on the topic. Everyone who tackles important questions seeks a sound foundation for answers. Skeptical questions are useful as means of ascertaining that one's answers are the best that can be given. We engage in this kind of discussion often, as when we debate whether there are exceptions to hypothesized rules or when we consider the need to reconcile contradictions. But sometimes the questions do not sharpen the answers. Ethical skeptics are those who argue not that a better answer is needed to the question of ethics but that no (correct) answers are possible, now or ever. ETHICAL SUBJECTIVISM
Principles One well-known antiethical viewpoint will hardly be a novelty to the reader of this book. This is the widespread idea that no one can say what is right and wrong except the person or people involved. To put it another way, ethical subjectivists hold that whether some act is good or bad is a matter of how it appears to the individual who is doing the evaluating. If the individual regards it as the right course, then so it is; ifhe or she does not, then it is not. All depends on the person concerned. This concept has been expressed in all human societies. I have perhaps expressed it here in a somewhat different fashion from others, however. Fine distinctions are possible even within this general viewpoint. Some would say that anything is right if someone believes it to be right. Others would say that deciding or choosing to do something makes that action right. Yet others hold that right and wrong (or should and should not) are not meaningful ideas-inasmuch as the terms denote no common, identifiable object, principle, or topic-but instead are confused ways of saying that a person wants what is said to be right or does not want what is said to be wrong.
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One argument for ethical subjectivism is that nothing can be invoked to demonstrate that something is right or wrong. People are unique. They are all creative, developing free agents and share nothing in common aside from the fact that they are all free to do as they will. There is no human nature from which to glean principles to help us make our choices. We are each fully responsible for creating ourselves as we will, not as some preestablished standard or code or set of principles would require. Even our understanding of the world may be entirely unique and not shared with others. We must acknowledge this fact. There is no right and wrong; there are only the choices that we make. Indeed, human life is the complex and confusing affair that it obviously is because life shapes us into the selves that we all are. To pretend that some standards can be identified to guide us in our conduct is self-delusion and invites us to kid ourselves instead of accepting the reality that we are free and on our own. (This attitude is very close to the existentialist view of the human situation.) Another subjectivist viewpoint asserts that we are not free at all. We cannot make choices, right or wrong, about our actions. We are guided by our innate constitution (instincts) or by our environment (sensory or social stimuli) to do as we will. Our likes and dislikes come about willy-nilly, without our having a hand in their development or assessment. We are like the rest of the animal kingdom (except with respect to our greater biological complexities), and we move about in our world in accordance with the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology, economics, and politics. These laws govern our behavior. They are not easy to identify, true, and it remains for science to determine exactly what does playa decisive role in human affairs. But there is no reason to think that we differ from molecules, stones, planets, plants, zebras, and the rest of nature, all of which conform to a predetermined, preexisting order of things. In short, we are complex machines developed
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through evolution by the forces of nature. Considerations of right and wrong are mere prescientific confusion. This form of subjectivism denies that we choose what is right and wrong. But it does concede that individuals (subjects) produce utterances such as "This is right" and "This is wrong." Such statements, however, mean no more than "I approve of this" or "I dislike that." This position is regarded as subjectivist because it makes approval and disapproval contingent on the individual's background. (Advocates of this position sometimes hold that the utterances involved can mean "We approve" and "We disapprove.") Some subjectivists hold that we should not prejudge the source of our values, however we came to develop them. Values remain unknowable for these thinkers, however. Here subjectivism simply rejects the possibility of universal values, identifiable by and for everyone. Instead, we can voice our feelings of approval or dismay; these we feel strongly and can articulate with such ethical phrases as "It is wrong to hurt little children" or "Everyone should tell the truth." In this perspective, right and wrong are still no more than preferences, although no claims are advanced about what causes them, if anything, and why someone does or does not have these preferences. The issue of freedom of choice remains unsettled here, but the character of statements about right and wrong is still subjectivist. Finally, a more positive yet still subjectivist position holds that it i.s possible to know what is right and wrong but that the judgment in each case applies to a particular subject or to a given individual. Thus "Human beings should cultivate the virtue of integrity" will be rejected by this view, but "Johnny should cultivate the virtue of integrity" could be either right or wrong, depending on Johnny's identity. In some respects this view belongs in the category of ethical theories termed relativistic, since the idea here is that right and wrong can be
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discovered only as matters related to a given person's feelings or desires. (There is a different view, called agent relativism, in which what is right and wrong relates to who and what a person is, as a matter of objective fact, and not merely to how the person feels.) Since no general, universalizable standard of right and wrong is available in line with the subjectivist approach, it cannot be a bona fide moral position. Each of us, however, may be able to tell what is right or wrong for ourselves. How can we do so without some general standard? The answer is that the standard will depend on our objectives. Here, too, in the end there is no basis on which to judge the goals. Although we may be able to learn, in relation to them, whether some actions or policies are right or wrong, there are no governing objectives or highest good on the community level, and so there is no way to appraise the merits of goals on the individual level. In line with this reasoning, we might state that if we wanted to become wealthy, we should learn about domestic and international finance. But whether we ought to become wealthy, whether being wealthy is good for one, is not answerable in this position. Criticism The reader will benefit from investigating the various subjectivist views critically. Here we will criticize only one subjectivist viewpoint, ethical subjectivism. The others have already been challenged, by implication, in connection with the ethical theories discussed earlier. To see whether the answers given below are sufficient, the reader will need to do much independent thinking. Ethical subjectivism poses two challenges to ethics. First, in most of its renditions human nature is a myth-each person must create his or her own nature. Second, it does not permit us to identify a standard of moral conduct. One problem with denying the existence of human nature
CHALLENGES TO ETHICS
is that the theory itself rejects any such denial. After all, when we say that humans are the sort of beings who must create themselves and that they are free to become what they want to be, we say exactly what human nature is. (The theory may attempt to argue that each person's character must be of his or her own choosing-that none of us is made into a certain quality of person. But the argument for individual character does not deny that we are all human by virtue of some features that all humans share.) In objection to the subjectivists we could go on to claim that the theory in fact proposes a standard of right and wrong, however much this is denied. Because we human beings are self-moved, free, and undetermined, it is our task to carry out the activities we can freely engage in, to be creative as only human beings can be. To be individuals true to the requirements of our human nature is to be creative, ever-growing, ever-developing, never-stagnant beings coping with our own circumstances. Whatever our freedom consists in, whatever it is that we are ultimately free to do, is just what we ought to do and do well. Even without leaving the theory itself, then, we can challenge some of the conclusions of subjectivism. Noting that this standard applies to us all is not to say that we are all compelled to live by it, that we have no other choice. It is a simple matter for us to defeat our unique freedom to be creative. We need only to refrain from exercising our minds so as to learn and from implementing the general standard acquired in our individual situation. The standard does not supply the means of implementation. We ourselves are responsible for devising it. Consequently the failure of people in various cultures to adhere to particular moral principles does not prove that these principles are inapplicable to them. The subjectivist would probably respond that the reference to human nature in the objection is misleading. Even if we are
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all free, we are not indeterminate (unless we understand "determinate" to mean "fixed or unchangeable in any respect"). If we can change tomorrow, if we can reject our freedom by failing to exercise it, if we can commit suicide, how then can we have a determinate, exact nature? To use "indeterminacy" under these circumstances would be to destroy the term's meaning in other contexts. What, then, do we mean when we say that we ought to exercise our freedom where this freedom manifests itself? Perhaps we are free in thought, in emotional capacity, or in any or all our behavior. All we know is that we are free. This is hardly enough to generate some moral position. It amounts to confusing morality-a set of reasonably precise guidelines to human conduct-with the mere realization that we are responsible for acting and deciding. In the end we perhaps have nothing to go on but our feelings. The possibility of escape from subjectivity is an illusion. Self-delusion alone makes us think it possible. As mentioned before, the subjectivism outlined here is closely tied to the philosophy of existentialism. The existentialist view is best stated by its advocates, however, and many of them are critical of the treatment given their ideas in lectures and books. You should therefore treat the discussion here as separate from the existentialist view, an independent challenge to the possibility of ethics. ETHICAL RELATIVISM
Principles In one respect subjectivism is a variety of relativism: right and wrong relate to our subjective, private, unique characteristics. Egoism is also sometimes considered subjectivist, but in the classical egoist position, right and wrong relate to us as human individuals, not as unique, isolated entities. As long as there is a firm, stable basic core, we should not call an ethical position relativist simply because it permits some variation to
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accommodate different circumstances. Relativism is broader than subjectivism because it does not specify to what standard judgments of right, good, wrong, or bad and so forth relate. It holds that whether some act is right or wrong is, or can depend on, a variety of factors. People's economic situations, national or cultural origins, level of intelligence, or historical era might all affect the answer given to the ethical question. In each case the central point is that there can be no answer to the ethical question "How should I, a human being, live?" According to the various relativistic ethics, only the following type of question is answerable: "How should I, a rich person, a poor person, a Jew, a woman, a twentieth-century poet, an Italian, a first-century carpenter, or a scientific genius live?" In other words, no fundamental human morality is available. Another way of stating this idea is to say that what is right and wrong is culturally based, to be determined by referring to social or community standards. Indeed, such a position arises from the more basic contention that even the meanings of our terms, the most basic aspects of the way we understand the world, derive from our communities. The relativist's argument also comes in several varieties. It rests mainly on the widespread realization that people live in very different circumstances and engage in a great variety of practices, most of which are considered right or good by many of the people concerned who are their intimates. Roman Catholic standards for sexual conduct will differ from those of secular humanists. Moslems disagree with Western liberals as to the role woman ought to play in society. Within these groups the members mayor may not meet the applicable standards and may be criticized or punished accordingly. But these same standards are irrelevant for outsiders unless they are the subject of study (for example, by a foreign visitor or anthropologists or students of world religions).
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More often relativism emerges in response to the belief that no objective, stable, and universally applicable standards of human conduct can be identified. When this proposition is accepted-as it is mostly when successful arguments in support of moral positions cannot be found-relativism is advanced as an alternative. Its specifics depend on the form proposed, but it usually provides that we are bound at least by the practices and codes of our culture, profession, age group, and so forth. The relativist's only absolute is the following rule: each person ought to cultivate the virtues that his or her group-ofwhatever kind-accepts. We cannot know whether these ideals are right in some ultimate, objective, transcultural sense (that is, for human beings as such). To some extent the famous Western idea of democracy encompasses elements of relativism. When we accept democracy as the highest ideal of a community, and when we do not confine the democratic process to certain issues and not others, then we accept relativism about values: we treat the support or opposition of a majority of the voters as sufficient grounds for considering the proposition either right or wrong. In a pure democracy, nothing is binding except that which is chosen by the majority of the people. The decisions (or compromises) endorsed by the majority of the people then determine the standards of political propriety-the ideals and values to be protected and preserved by law. One form of relativism is offered by those who believe that people of different class origin (from different economic or social backgrounds) are forced by their circumstances to accept ideals or virtues suited to the advancement of their class. According to this version of relativism, which we touched upon in connection with subjectivism (involving personal approval), our circumstances actually produce the ideals or virtues that we ought to cultivate. The underlying view that our environment produces human action actually eliminates the very possibility of ethics
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in the sense being treated here. If our economic circumstances force us to behave as we do, then we cannot be personally responsible for our actions, and thus ethics makes no sense. Criticism Before we may criticize relativism, we must determine whether no basic principle(s) of human conduct can be identified. One or two points can be raised, however, independently of such detailed and in-depth consideration. (Our discussion of various moral positions should provide the necessary context for determining whether relativism starts off correctly.) For example, is it true that different societies, nations, and occupational and economic groups all have fundamentally different ideals? Some common thread seems to be evident in all cultures and groups of people. For instance, life appears to have considerable value, as do children, property, family, and other key things. While notions of how human beings ought to live often vary in their details from culture to culture, from society to society, and from religion to religion, certain broad edicts do not. In any society parents ought to rear their children for success in adult life. Just what such rearing will involve may vary, but the variations may have to do with differences in circumstances (which may affect the application of principles) and may proceed in ways that are optional from the moral point of view. We might compare this scenario to nutrition: the basic principles of healthful eating are roughly similar for people, but exactly how people ought to eat will vary considerably, depending on age, climate, and other factors. Medicine, too, offers an analogy: basic principles of good health are the same for all human beings, although individuals and groups differ, sometimes in important respects, and medical treatment depends on the type of case and the individual. Those who reject relativism need not endorse the view that everywhere, anytime the very same actions will count as morally right for all. They need only
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maintain that we may identify certain fundamental principles of right conduct that apply to everyone. Also, is it not possible that people in some cultures or groups are morally corrupt? Most people in Nazi Germany may have been morally defective. Some thinkers assert that the Soviet and South African cultures were substantially morally corrupt, while others say the same of Iran and of some places in the West. (Some self-proclaimed spokespeople for the Native Americans and for African Americans denounce white people in such terms.) Should we not ask whether these claims are true rather than whether they are supported by some cultural perspective? To take seriously the view that no universal moral principle(s) are possible or exist, we would have to prove that none of the above claims could possibly be correct-that they all express special, limited biases or preferences or something equally weak. Although moral standards or principles, if they exist, cannot yield predictions as scientific principles are supposed to, some ethical systems hold that if we disregard what is right and do the wrong thing, we will live a bad life in crucial respects (we will be unhappy, miss out on pleasures, or incur divine punishment). Some relativists mistakenly argue that identifying some universal moral principles would entitle people to coerce others into abiding by them. The fear of moral authoritarianism has given considerable support to relativism. Yet it does not follow from" A knows B should do X" that "A should (or may justifiably) force or coerce B to do X." So this fear is unwarranted, except perhaps on grounds of some dubious psychological assumptions that knowledge of morality tends to lead people to impose their judgments on others. If relativism holds that people ought to act as their peer group believes they should, this itselfbecomes a moral principle in need of proof. (A similar problem arises with epistemological
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relativism: why should what is "true for Hungarians" or "true for women" bind all Hungarians or all women?) Significant differences among individuals may themselves justify different frameworks for determining what is right and wrong. At least the relativist would have to concede this point. Again, ethical relativists will have answers, and one of them is that although morality may apply to those who accept no part of it, it cannot be necessary if cultures can exist without it! How could we prove the truth of a moral system if entire groups of people could live without being subject to the pronouncements of that system? The onus of proof lies with those who claim that there is a universal moral position. They must show that each society, group, or historical epoch requires at least some of the virtues that are part of a sound moral position. Without such proof, relativism is arguably the most sensible view of the matter. The main objection, that relativism is inconsistent because it too offers an absolute moral principle, is simply incorrect. Relativism does not offer a moral position. It reports a fact of life. The questions "What should I do?" or "How should I live?" have meaningful answers only if we adopt the principles widely accepted in the relevant group (whichever, wherever, and whenever). To say so is not to take a moral position but merely to consider the proper meaning of the term "morality." NIHILISM
Principles Unlike the skeptical positions concerning the very possibility of ethics, the viewpoint known as nihilism opposes values explicitly. The term "nihilism" originated in the Latin word nihil, meaning "nothing." Basically the doctrine attacks the value of values, or morality itself. Most nihilists are actually fervent opponents of their culture's dominant values, although more
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broadly speaking, nihilism advocates opposition to all moral and political values. The nihilist rejects the very idea that moral (and political) values should be instrumental in human life. Since nihilism opposes values, it usually embodies certain theories about the uses to which morality and political theory are put. By and large, nihilists take a cynical view of human nature. They believe, in the main, that moral positions, especially those that gain prominence within a culture, are devices by which parasitic people who lack willpower and are incapable of creativity exploit the creative forces (people) in a culture. Nihilists see moral values as means by which the productive, imaginative, genuinely powerful elements of humanity are subordinated to its baser members. Consciously or unconsciously, moralists, according to the nihilist, seek to sabotage the very best in human beings. By intimidation, threat of punishment, doctrines of divine retribution (for example, the idea of hell and damnation in an afterlife), and the like, moralists foist upon people practices, systems, and institutions that destroy the life-sustaining features of the human race. One of the most brilliant and forceful nihilists in Western intellectual history was Friedrich Nietzsche, a nineteenthcentury German philosopher. Nietzsche's nihilism in part attacked the philosophical ideas about morality that were prominent in his own times both in academic circles and in the culture at large. He rejected Christianity's conceptions about morality (such as doctrines about the supreme virtue of humility, selfsacrifice, and charity). He regarded such moral ideals as part of a slave morality. He also opposed the philosophical conception of the nature of morality developed by Immanuel Kant, another prominent German philosopher. Nietzsche thought that in his moral writings Kant deliberately transplanted values from our natural world to a separate theoretical or ideal world where values acquired the character of formal rules or mathematical
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principles. For Kant, values had little to do with problems of living such as the consequences of actions and the benefits or losses that each person can encounter in life. Nietzsche thought that this position pitted human beings against morality, so that morality itself had to be rejected. But Nietzsche's nihilism can also be regarded as a call for the rejection of the prevailing conception of morality. He himself predicted that the twentieth century would see a return to nihilism. He hypothesized that new values would then be created-values suited to human life, not to human enslavement. The nihilist's position, in general, reflects total dismay and disgust with the so-called morally good human life. As a result the nihilist sometimes rejects and opposes all actual and possible moral positions. But as with Nietzsche, the nihilist often responds with a sharp attack on prevailing ideals and values only to cry out for new ones. Beyond the occasional call for new values, nihilists in general do not believe that values can be demonstrated objectively. Therefore the new values must in some sense be relative to the character of the willing individuals who select them. Criticism Nihilism is not very systematic. Lacking a structure within it, it must often be given one, and criticism of it is therefore difficult. Nihilism is more often a desperate (though brilliant, powerful, and even dazzlingly beautiful) form of protest than a precise argument in support of some philosophical viewpoint. Therefore, nihilists will most likely greet carefully formulated intellectual objections to their outcries with dismay. A nihilist might well regard such rejoinders as tantamount to meeting a call for protest and action with a theory about protests and action. A few points must be made about the nihilist's outcry, however.
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It does have theoretical features, it does involve assumptions, and it does use ideas that may initially appear meaningful and prove very difficult to understand when we examine them carefully. In short, if we are to take the nihilist seriously, we are entitled to examine the position and to apply certain standards. First, in a basic sense values are just what the nihilists are asking for. By opposing values, they proclaim some oftheir own. The strict nihilist tells us to abandon our concern with values and moral truth. However petty the procedure may appear to him, we must determine whether the call itself is warranted. Is it true that we ought to abandon a concern with values? Is this universally true? Will the quality oflife be improved if we do so? The nihilist is apparently obliged to answer yes to all these questions. But the nihilist who does so is not being candid with us. Nihilists do not tell us to discard all values. Instead they advise us that certain moral positions are in fact wrong and destructive. True, the nihilist disdains argumentation. At times the polite exchanges of ideas among philosophers and theologians offend him: he finds them phony and trivial. But it will not do to abandon the arena. The charge of phoniness needs to be established, not just asserted. Perhaps the philosophers who advocate a morality that is indifferent to human life have left reality behind. Still, it is possible that they are sincere: simply to attack them as frauds and enemies of humankind will leave them feeling hostile, defensive, and uncooperative. Nietzsche himself seems to have had ideals that he regarded as suited to human life. Perhaps he did not think that during his own times it would be useful to be constructive. Therefore he denigrated the existing moralists and moralities. But his criticism does not actually reject morality. Nietzsche too criticized from a moral point of view; he too argued for what should be done rather than for what was being done. He foresaw a future time, furthermore, when proper values would be generated, after the improper ones had wrought their destruction.
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Finally, it is one thing to argue that dominant moral currents are destructive, but it is quite another to claim that morality as such is destructive. Assume, for a moment, that a correct moral position can be identified, that human beings should do some things by virtue of their humanity, in order to live well rather than badly. It is quite possible that privately, with little advertising and historical notoriety, many people have indeed practiced proper moral principles. Notions of morality in a culture may become distorted by news media or by the pronouncements of politicians, religious leaders, or parents. Nevertheless, morality may also manifest itself properly. Otherwise stated, many people do the right thing and avoid doing the wrong thing, in many more or less complex situations. Thus while many Germans perhaps subscribed to national socialism (Nazism), others acted courageously, honestly, justly-that is, in accordance with sound virtues. This is at least one possible way of viewing the matter. Nihilism perhaps misses a different point: evil rarely announces itself as such; instead it puts on the facade of good. As Shakespeare observed in King Lear, "Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile." The nihilist would probably respond that we are merely playing into the hands of his enemies by trying to save morality. He will say that we are missing his point: morality is a fundamental mistake. We must reject it altogether rather than attempt to resurrect it. Whatever we put forth as the proper approach to human life, let it be nothing like morality. Let it be something basically different. Moreover, some nihilists (probably including Nietzsche) would protest that it is wrong to ask for universally applicable principles of human conduct. Humanity is not homogeneous. Different ways of life may be appropriate for different people; to pretend otherwise undermines life itself. Geniuses cannot be expected to live by a code suited to people with only modest intellectual and creative pow-
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ers. The universal application of moral principles and duties stifles human beings. However much nihilists seem to call for a different morality, they are in fact rejecting the idea of morality completely. Instead they are demanding that people be freed from the shackles of codes, principles, and virtues.
8 RETHINKING THE
F ACT/V AL DE
N THIS chapter I will take a different approach to the problem at hand. Rather than present arguments for and against various positions, I will defend particular answers to certain questions in moral philosophy. This chapter will therefore be more argumentative than its predecessors. Ordinarily textbooks confine themselves to explaining work done in the discipline of moral philosophy without defending particular positions advanced. But it is tiresome to review an endless sequence of ideas introduced by "on the one hand," "on the other hand," "and then again," and so forth. At a certain point the student reader is sufficiently familiar with the terrain to be ready to encounter the views of the teacher author. In class too, after an overview of the discipline's terms and major schools, it is time to introduce some views and to defend them. By doing so we show, if nothing else, that we are dealing with a subject in which argumentative, albeit friendly, exchange is crucial, since we cannot perform experimental research like that seen in most sciences. Let me start by discussing a metaethical issue, one that has preoccupied moral
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philosophers for centuries. I will also advance my views in the course of doing so, ending with a clear statement of my position in favor of cognitivism. A VALUE-FREE STUDY OF HUMAN LIFE? In contemporary philosophical circles the fact/value dichotomy
has considerable force. The idea is that the world, with human beings in it, contains facts as well as values. While the former are constants, matters upon which we can all agree, the latter cannot be proved and do not elicit general agreement. At the outset we discussed this issue in connection with the debate about the possibility of morality. Now we will explore this issue as it figures within prominent philosophies of our time. The view that facts and values are fundamentally different has always had champions. The several social sciences largely accept this view. Many scholars regard economics, sociology, psychology, and history as "value free." Economists, for instance, attempt to understand human economic activities without considering what people ought to do. If an economist is asked how prices rise or fall, why inflation occurs, or what produces unemployment, the answers are not supposed to address what might be right or wrong in the society. Economics eschews, for example, the notions of exorbitant prices, token wages, and excessive inflation, mainly because they involve evaluations. In debates about whether women are paid as they deserve to be in comparison with men, the economist tends to abstain. The reason is that most economists believe that the kind of support that is available for factual judgments is not available for value judgments. Sociologists, political scientists, and anthropologists often treat values or claims about what we ought or ought not to do as arbitrary, an expression of bias or ideology. As a matter of policy they disregard values completely in scientific discussions (except as facts about people's beliefs, desires, and
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preferences, for example in opinion surveys). Even psychologists and psychiatrists, who deal with individuals directly in a therapeutic situation, often proclaim that they can make no moral judgments and that to impose their own moral views upon their assessment of patients would introduce an arbitrary, extraneous element. Nondirective therapy has a long tradition! Although exceptions can be found, and in some respects attitudes appear to be changing, our culture is committed to a predominantly value-free, or amoralist, approach to human affairs. The value-free stance also explains why only religion should take morality into account in understanding human life: it is generally accepted that, in the religious domain, matters must be taken on faith without reliance on facts. The value-free view of all science follows from the belief that moral issues do not lend themselves to objective study and understanding. Within this position the phrase "That is a value judgment" means "That is your bias-just a matter of how you personally feel about it." As a feeling, a value judgment is neither right nor wrong. We simply have or lack feelings; they are not formed by careful analysis and argument. Accordingly, when value judgments are viewed as feelings, it is understood that they do not contribute to an objective evaluation. If I say, "Any president is wrong who lies to the citizenry in the course of carrying out his executive responsibilities," I am assumed to be expressing my own personal feeling or bias, conveying nothing that could be right or wrong and certainly not a claim that is demonstrably true or false. Similarly, if the claim "It was wrong for the United States government to enter the compound of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, or to veto the bill upholding ownership rights for those with beachfront property" can be no more than an expression of a feeling, then whether the government should or should not have taken such action will be impossible to discuss rationally. Even such claims as "Honesty is something we ought to practice," or "Injustice should be made
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illegal" are beyond rational, factual assessment and merely express someone's bias or some community's common but in the last analysis arbitrary belief. In one school of jurisprudence, theorists argue that laws cannot be based on any firm foundation because values reflect human will, the enacted desires of the people with power, and cannot be determined to be right. (This is the ancient debate between the natural law school of legal theory and the realist or positivist school.) ARE ETHICAL JUDGMENTS BOGus?
The idea we are here discussing is, then, the prominent notion in some philosophical systems: beliefs about right and wrong, about what we ought' or ought not to do, are not really judgments but convey feelings. The reason for voicing such feelings may be to persuade others to feel as we do about something or to articulate community norms. Values, however, have no objective, independent merit. Only within a certain community of persons could they be defended on the basis of the attitude or the form oflife practiced within the community. But such value judgments or moral claims do not demonstrably hold for people anywhere, anytime. Some thinkers have claimed, similarly, that ethics, politics, and other normative areas such as aesthetics are ineffable, not open to meaningful rational examination. According to many such philosophers, moral and political differences are unresolvable except, perhaps, within groups that have already agreed on certain basic norms that are, however, neither right nor wrong. As Professor Richard Rorty noted, we "cannot say that [e.g.] democratic institutions reflect a moral reality and that tyrannical regimes do not refl.ect one, that tyrannies get something wrong that democracies get right."l No doubt many people disagree with this proposition. Ordinary human beings who do not concern themselves professionally with exploring the matter tend, also, to be divided
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on the issue, even within themselves. At times we regard a moral judgment as objectively true-for example, we argue that condemning someone for his membership in a racial group is morally wrong. At times we assert that where and how we were raised determine, for example, whether we think that to engage in premarital sex is morally wrong. The main issue here, with which philosophers grapple, is whether value and moral judgments can be proved true. If they are sentiments or attitudes, of course, then they cannot. But why should they be regarded as sentiments or attitudes? According to one prominent view, values cannot be facts, so they must be something like feelings. This view is not an ethical position as such. 2 Moreover, it cannot be classified as relativism or subjectivism, both of which discuss the source of values, not whether they could be a variety of facts. The nature of values would be considered in the field of ontology, a subdivision of metaphysics, since it is concerned with the nature of being. There are, however, connections between the metaethical positions of subjectivism and relativism and certain aspects of metaphysics and ontology. FACTS, VALUES, AND REALITY
First, the issue of values concerns ontology because we are asking how values might exist. Many different types of things exist. Days are temporal existents (beings), distances are spatial, ideas are mental, and tables are material. There may be a type of being termed ethics or morality. It is thus vital for us to consider the ontological status ofvalues carefully before concluding that values cannot be a feature of reality, a type of fact. Second, the issue of values is also an epistemological issue, because we are concerned with what kinds of facts we can identifY, how we can know them. We do not attain knowledge of the existence of every kind of thing in the same way. The things that we know share some common features-attributes
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that make them knowledge-but it is very likely, for example, that we learn about the existence of electrons and the merits of poetry differently. Nevertheless, many philosophers clearly believe that it is impossible for values to be factual in nature or, otherwise stated, that what is good or bad, let alone what is morally good or evil, reflects not objectively knowable reality but only some subjective attitude on our part. We can now examine arguments supporting this position. GOODNESS AND EMPIRICISM
Empiricism, as we have seen earlier in this book, holds that knowledge must always amount to or rest entirely on sensory evidence. This position has been very influential in human intellectual history and especially in connection with the systematic scientific investigation of nature. Experimentation that can yield observable results, statistical analyses of empirical data, and so forth has for the last several centuries elicited widespread intellectual respect. But ifthere were such "facts"or existents-as moral values or goodness, sensory experience alone would not permit us to know them. This statement holds even if sensory data might enter the process. Moral knowledge possibly includes sensory data as well as some inferred features, as is true in most areas where experience does not exhaust the grounds on which knowledge rests-for example in physics or cosmology. Suppose that someone makes the following claim: "Each human being should seek happiness in life." First, there may be little or no evidence at some time that anyone actually seeks happiness in life. The claim, however, is not that people do seek happiness but that they should. How could a theory that ties all knowledge exclusively to sensory impressions include the moral value or merit-of the pursuit of happiness, perhaps, or the practice of honesty or humility-as a form of knowledge?
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Clearly it could not. Therefore, we must concede that moral values or virtues are not knowable ifwe accept strict empiricism as the correct theory of human knowledge. If we take values as expressing things desired, feelings, or the like-that is, if we equate any value (say, the goodness of honesty or justice) with the existence of some desire-then we can easily identify values by noting whether someone is desiring something (honesty would then be a value for those who desire it). From the empiricist theory of knowledge, it is not difficult to derive the position we are now discussing. This position states that values are either simply the desires or wishes that some people have and others do not or that they are drastically different from other facts known by us. A false analogy is often drawn using the act of seeing. The analogy holds that when I see, I see a fact; when I hold a value, I do not see any fact. Accordingly, values are not any type or kind of facts-or so the strict empiricist would argue. Most social scientists, however, do not say that feelings or sentiments cannot be known. Extreme behaviorists alone, who accept only the existence of bodily movements, would make this claim. Many social scientists (and some philosophers) do believe, however, that declarations of feeling can never be true or false. Such statements cannot contribute to our understanding of the world and our relation to it, although we could learn things about the person who exhibits them. So when someone tells us, say, that it is morally wrong to enter the civil wars of foreign countries, this statement could not be true or false. It states not what someone knows but only what someone feels. Or so some argue. The view that we have been considering here concerning the nature of facts and values, judgments concerning reality, and supposed judgments about moral issues is prominent within both our culture and the current philosophical mainstream (although changes are underway in both). But its prominence tells
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us nothing about whether the view is correct. Indeed, more recently, in late twentieth-century moral philosophy, two other possibilities have gained greater popularity among philosophers and, more slowly, in the culture in general. One is the position that a moral truth is a powerful, undislodgeable intuition, an unshakably firm belief regarding rightness or wrongness, that is not capable of objective demonstration. The other is the not entirely unrelated position that no one's ideas about anything can be proved true or false, whether about moral or nonmoral matters, and "truth" itself can be reinforced by our communities but not objectively established. Both views leave the central questions of ethics and politics unresolved. Both hold that it is impossible to reach agreements on ethics, or even on scientific matters, that can be grounded in objective reality and shown to be binding for human beings generally. While many thinkers disagree with these views, they are embraced by some prominent thinkers and are perhaps the most widely embraced in our era. Richard Rorty, as we have seen, would argue that there are no correct answers in these areas but only views that have been embraced by the community. Indeed, "correct" or "true" merely denotes such endorsement. No objective truth is possible. Truth comes only from one's community. We should thus aim for solidarity, not objectivity, when we search for answers. I will not consider objections at the present time. The criticisms discussed in connection with empiricism and pragmatism will permit the reader to assess the merits of these views. In short, the fact/value dichotomy rests largely upon the empiricist view of knowledge. The denial, then, of our capacity to know things in reality, including values, derives support from the view that our knowledge cannot be founded on any independent, objectively ascertainable facts, because when we know something, we necessarily inf:l.uence it. 3 If these positions are
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false, the fact/value dichotomy and the relativism of both facts and values, respectively, are very likely also mistaken. PROVING VALUES KNOWABLE
The problems associated with our ability to know moral principles do not end when we disprove empiricism. Even if we could show that empiricism is false, or at least only partly truethat is, if we could know things in other ways than by sensory evidence-we have not settled the issue of moral knowledge. A successful, sound, positive theory is required. The various moral positions we have considered, in combination with foundations laid in other branches of philosophy, suggest such positive theories. The reader will now be able to pursue the search for an answer to the main questions of morality. Starting with the discussions presented here, we will be able to undertake the search with some hope of success. The search itself is not easy to conduct. The various arguments that dispute the very possibility of morality are not the only ones with which we must contend. Other, more complicated objections are evident from some of the challenges addressed to the specific moral positions covered here. For example, thinkers sometimes object to a moral theory on the ground that it cannot be applied in many situations. If true, this charge would mean that such a morality is inadequate. As we have seen, to be genuine a moral position must be capable of being applied universally. People must be able to do what they ought to do. If virtue or moral excellence requires the impossible, then virtue or moral excellence is itself impossible. One way of testing moral positions is to confront them with hypothetical situations. If a moral theorist advances provisions (for example, as just or right) that lead to incompatible, contradictory requirements, then again the morality is invalid because it requires the impossible. But hypothetical examples are often not acceptable. Some
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are very sketchy. One that is frequently used involves a desert island on which there are two persons and a cup of water sufficient only for one person's survival until help arrives. The question is: what should either party do? Various moralities are called upon to provide the best answer. But the example is very odd. Where did these people come from? Are both equally good people? Do they deserve equal concern from the moral point of view? Can the moral issues be handled without our knowing much more about the situation? The lesson to be learned may be that frightful fantasies are not suitable for the testing of a moral position. When we search for a sound moral position, we must make sure that the testing ground is itself appropriate. Consider such questions as the following: "If you were alive in the fifteenth century with the knowledge that we have in the twentieth, and you found people starving because there was not enough food, what should you do?" Well, if you knew then what we came to know much later, for example about agriculture or mass production, then perhaps you should build a factory to produce food by modern technology. But in the fifteenth century such knowledge was not available, of course, and the hypothesis is unrealistic. The right answer might then have been to help people come to terms with the plight and ease them toward inevitable death by starvation. In order to test theories, people sometimes present challenges that have a science fiction, fantastic, or at least highly unusual nature. In moral theorizing people do so with particular frequency because they need to demonstrate the theory's adaptability. Human life changes quite rapidly, and a theory that cannot accommodate change is basically useless. Underlying such challenges is the view that a theory must cover a certain range of cases. Some such cases, however, cannot even be understood in terms of current knowledge and are the products largely of our imagination. The proper way of testing moral positions is hotly disputed. In many cases it may be
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appropriate to ask whether the method proposed for these tests is itself sound. If the method is questionable, then a moral theory that it finds deficient may yet be established as sound by some more reality-oriented means. So if a test involves not simply highly probable circumstances-based on or projected from current scientific research-but outright fantasies or science fiction, it may well not address the substance of moral theories. The impossible cannot be required in science or in other areas of human inquiry. Thus a successful moral theory may not have to settle highly imaginative, fantastic problems. In short, when we examine a moral theory, we must scrutinize questions that begin with "What if?" and not treat them as necessarily valid. What are we, then, to think about the supposed conflict between facts and values? Based on what I have been offering for consideration in the last several pages, it is probably best to view values as a type of fact. Facts of morality, then, would arise in connection with human living because we are the kind of beings that must make choices and needs a standard for making them in order to live rightly, or properly. As is the case in medicine, very broad principles of living properly can be identified, and we ought to choose these for guidance in our particular lives. When we implement them, they will always have to be adjusted to specific circumstances. But as broad guidelines they are, nonetheless, quite possibly sound for us all. Exactly what these guidelines are is not the issue here, only whether they are likely, or possible, for us to discoverto identify. Despite all the skeptical claims, there seems to be good reason to believe that some ways of living are right while others are wrong, not as a matter of opinion but of fact.
stop at this point and leave readers to find answers to their ethical questions for themselves. Indeed, they would be expected to do so in most cases, certainly as regards the details oftheir own lives. But teachers of ethics have ethical beliefs, which students may profitably examine. Like other teachers, I do not expect students to treat my views like some kind of divine law. Rather they should stimulate further thought. At this point I will therefore advance some moral solutions to problems that most of us find pressing. Readers should be aware at the outset that the ethical framework for these solutions is controversial. Other philosophers who see things differently advocate other positions. Still, I plan to offer the reader a starting point for the examination of diverse ethical perspectives. When we consider answers to ethical problems in the context of a course on ethics, we do so to prepare ourselves to act on those answers. We have the luxury of considering alternative answers. We can begin with one such answer and determine whether it makes sense. One way of proceeding involves asking whether the ethical system that would be invoked in its defense E COULD
has good support. To understand the importance of doing so, it is useful to have some such answers in view even if they are outlined only sketchily. We have already considered some ethical systems, so they can be invoked as alternative frameworks in the task of moral problem solving as well as scrutinized with some care in the context of class discussion or scholarly reflection. Let me then develop what I regard as the most fruitful approach to moral problems, in this case mainly involving concerns relating to technological, biological, and medical developments. ONE CONVINCING MORAL OUTLOOK
By all accounts moral principles or virtues serve principally to guide human beings in their future actions. We can no longer control the past. We do tend to accept, both in morality and in the criminal law, that we largely determine for ourselves, at least within some range of possibilities, what we will do. I can no longer change what I said in the past, whereas I can freely decide what I will say next, even though my choice is likely to be delimited by factors operative in my past-for example, if I am speaking professionally, by the topic on which I was invited to speak, by time constraints, by my abilities, and by the logic of the title given my speech. Still, here as elsewhere, the future is partly up to me-and the future is partly up to all of us as we embark upon it. The future is the clearest problem for us. We can choose among numerous options in deciding what we will do, whereas we can do little about the past apart from learning to understand it as well as possible. Furthermore, as to the future, not all ofthe possible choices will be good ones. Our problem, then, is to choose in such a way that what we will do is right-or as right as we can make it. In the last analysis ethics takes as its subject what is right to choose and what is wrong. Ifwe are questioned about our proposed course
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of conduct, the most important final question that we confront asks whether the conduct is morally right (ethical) and whether it accords with moral virtue. Regardless of any merits the conduct might have-whether it is interesting, adventurous, beautiful, profitable, progressive, helpful to people, innovative, or anything else-if it is morally wrong, we ought not to do it. By the same token, however deficient some action might be, if it does, in fact, turn out to be the morally right thing to do, it ought to be done. Nevertheless, a problem arises immediately from the evident fact that moral principles-the proper guidelines to human conduct-rest on what we have learned in the past. Most of us, indeed, guide ourselves by reference to moral habits, moral traditions, and moral preconceptions. Will these sources of guidance apply in the future? Will they need to be revised, and perhaps even abandoned, in favor of new principles? Clearly these questions are significant. Past experience shows us that many of the claims of morality are not fixed, even if we reject the counsel of moral relativists and skeptics who believe that all ethical ideals are transient. We do not need to agree in order to feel concern about whether moral principles are adequate to meet the challenges of the future. Some moral ideas and even ideals have changed throughout human history. A long time ago old people were allowed to wander off into the woods to die quietly when their time came. Most societies today would regard such treatment as immoral and cruel. At one time it was considered honorable to settle quarrels by means of a duel. This form of dispute resolution is now deemed barbaric. People discovered to be spies used to be punished by torture. Public policy today denounces such punishment as impermissible, inhumane, and often a violation of human rights. Even in the more mundane areas of child raising, marriage, and commerce, changes are apparent. Parents once thought
physical discipline appropriate for young children. Parents and teachers who use it today are often accused of child abuse. Divorce and especially premarital sexual relationships were at one time believed to be fundamental violations of morality. Today they are often regarded as morally justified. Again, in the past it was deemed wicked to engage in usury-to earn interest (in sometimes exorbitant amounts) on money lent. Nowadays, however, nearly all commercial lenders charge interest for loans. Let us not misunderstand these points. We need not agree with all of the instances of alleged moral change mentioned above. But as examples they help us appreciate the possibility that morality may develop and change. Positive change in one area, furthermore, may not extend to all moral principles. Irreverence to God, callousness toward those who need help, inattentiveness in one's own life, or some other attitude or form of conduct could well be wrong at any time, in any place. To take an easy example, wanton murder may have been wrong throughout human history-which is not to say that homicide, the killing of human beings, has been or is now always wrong. But it is at least readily imaginable that the slaughter of human beings is a fundamental wrong and that the principle prohibiting it would remain as a general principle of right social conduct among human beings for all time. Some other principle might emerge that is more basic and unalterable, at least as long as human nature remains essentially the same. Some people argue that, like murder, the wanton killing of other animals, especially those at the top of the evolutionary ladder, is morally objectionable, now that we know that animals closely resemble us in some areas (for example in the ability to feel pain). Indeed, in our view of ethics in relation to our future, some basic moral principle must arguably remain stable. After all, morality as an area of human concern arises in response to a
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most natural and ongoing human question: "How should I act?" Once we appreciate that the "I" is always a human being, then we must see the question as universal-one that is in principle on the minds of all human beings. Consequently, when we attempt to answer such a question, our answer at some very basic level must be very general indeed-the purpose morality serves is, after all, to provide people, by virtue oftheir humanity, with some basic guidance in living their lives. To live humanly is, in a sense, to live morally. Living humanly is, indeed, what all of us embark upon, at least by implication, when we choose to stay alive and to carryon with our lives. Let me expand on this very important point. One useful way of understanding morality involves drawing an analogy with rules of professional conduct. We are often familiar with the ethical codes that apply, for example, to the practice of law, medicine, engineering, and business. We are less familiar, perhaps, with ethical precepts that govern various special tasks that we may assume in our lives-as parents, friends, athletes, citizens, or even just neighbors. In both instances, we can easily appreciate that by embarking on the profession or the task, we commit ourselves to following certain standards. Indeed, in some cases we are held legally accountable-as when a doctor is charged with medical malpractice or when a parent abuses or neglects a child (a parental form of malpractice). In such cases we hold that the person under scrutiny has a duty to meet certain standards by virtue of his or her profession or task. Violation of these standards is tantamount to the violation of an oath. A moral system, in its sweeping application to all humans, takes precedence over the ethics of any profession. In life, the most general standards of morality may appear to be a kind of code that we must accept because we have embarked upon human life. Our acceptance does not occur instantaneously. Child raising is in part a way to introduce a person gradually to
the standards applicable to human life. Still, in general when we ask "How should I act?" we may fruitfully consider this question to amount to nothing more or less than an inquiry into the underlying principles. The crucial part of our inquiry entails finding the most basic principle informing human life. What principle might that be? Here again we may draw an analogy to a profession or a special task: we need first to understand the nature of the business at hand. What does it mean to be a lawyer, a business professional, or a doctor? What does it mean to be a parent or a friend? What goals or purposes do these roles serve? In this way we will perhaps discover the principles involved in acting in each special capacity. Where the fundamental principle of morality is concerned, we must find out what it means to be a human being. Only when we have done so can we determine what most basic standard or standards we need in order to lead our lives. These are the considerations that people usually have in mind when they consider the meaning or purpose of human life or their own particular lives. Obviously the search is a laborious one. Most people have exerted themselves to find an answer. Certainly most moral philosophers have done so. Not surprisingly, different answers have emerged. Yet we may not conclude that just any answer will do, although skeptics often draw this conclusion in the absence of consensus. Arguably, however, their inference is not valid. Many people who search may find the wrong answer. Even the right answer may lead some people in some wrong directions if they do not reason carefully. Indeed, disagreements prevail in part for this reason despite the dominance of some basic moral standards throughout much of human history. Not all people draw the best inferences from basic moral ideals. Some thinkers even maintain that the failure too shows the futility of the effort, but again the inference is hasty.
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Without taking stock of all the problems that attend our task, let me now consider what might be the most basic moral standard for human beings to live by and how this standard might help us approach an uncertain future. Clearly, some of what lies ahead of us will not be very different from past experience. Some problems that we will encounter will be novel, however. We should briefly explore these to see what form basic morality may take in our future. Regarding the most basic principle of morality, we must note two points at the outset. Such a principle must be one that we can choose to live by or not to live by. Otherwise our compliance with it or violation of it has nothing to do with morality. If we cannot choose whether or not to abide by a principle, as we have seen earlier in this book, we cannot be held responsible for doing so. Second, only one course of action is universally open to us as human beings-most others are more special, regional, historically conditioned, and the like. This conduct may be characterized as "thinking rationally" or "thinking with ideas." We do not automatically focus on and think about the world. This problem too arose earlier, when we considered why determinism may well be false, since it confounds rational understanding with just believing something because we had to. The human mind must be free to think, otherwise thinking cannot be distinguished from simply wondering, fantasizing, or casually forming impressions. As Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, "Intellect annuls Fate. So far as a man thinks, he is free .... The revelation of Thought takes man out of servitude into freedom." Emerson also wrote, "What is the hardest task in the world? To think."l These remarks suggest where we are headed in the present discussion. What is human nature? What makes us humans rather than, say, dogs, roses, or rocks? The answer will tell us where to look for a basic moral principle. The attribute in question will be
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what unites us with all past, present, and future members of the human race. On many other counts-concerning matters that are more specialized-we differ tremendously. Our age, physical constitution, sexual identity, economic background, national origin, natural environment, and so forth sort us human beings into many different groups. Our humanity unites us, however, and also confronts us with some very basic common tasks. Now, Aristotle's definition of a "human being" as a rational animal-a biological entity that is able to and needs to think with ideas-still works best. It does not require a human to be an intellectual who does a lot of deliberate, theoretical thinking and verbalizing, as Aristotle felt inclined to do. Only some people will share this inclination. If we take "rational animal" to mean needing to guide oneself in life by the use of ideas, thoughts, theories, principles, notions, conceptions, and so forth, we have a description that every human being fits. We are all of us beings of this sort unless we are crucially incapacitated and thus essentially defective as people, so that others must care for us. It is not possible to defend this view extensively here. We may nonetheless note, in its support, that we pronounce someone dead when his or her brain-the seat of reasoning or the soul-has permanently ceased to function. The part of the brain at issue is the cerebral cortex, where thinking is performed. Lower mental functions may remain. Breathing, for example, may continue under the guidance of automatic brain processes, but a p~rson stops being human because he or she cannot think and will never be able to do so again. At the other end of the life span, at the start, the human being emerges with the development in the fetus of a capacity to form some minimal ideas, a development that probably occurs in about the twenty-fifth week of life. Some thinkers contend that a human being begins at conception, but this assertion rests not on evidence from natural
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science but on faith or basic convictions concerning, for example, the mysterious event of ensoulment. While people are free to hold this belief, the event cannot be inspected publicly, remains inherently mysterious, and thus has no place in a theory designed to serve all human beings, whatever their religious persuasion. Here we are concerned to make, however briefly, a more naturalistic, universally accessible case for morality along lines advanced by some ancient and recent philosophers. 2 Why is our basic capacity to think of such fundamental importance in our search for basic moral principles? Because we are unique in that we may both use rationality in our lives and fail to do so: we must initiate the thought process and cannot be compelled. True, we may be encouraged to keep thinking. Or we may be physically prevented from engaging in thought. But the decision to initiate and sustain the effort is uniquely in our own power. Indeed, ifit were not, as we have seen, the occurrence or nonoccurrence of rational activity would be morally and legally irrelevant. Yet our choice to think clearly is relevant. Charges of malpractice, or more generally negligence, all make sense because they involve the agent's failure to attend, to think, and to be thoughtful when the agent had a responsibility to do so. There cannot be a penalty for being tall or short or blond or male or born to such and such parents in this or that country, because these matters do not lie within our control. Whether we use our heads, however, is up to us. It is perhaps the only activity common to all members of the human race, past, present, and future. It remains for human beings to use their heads well rather than badly. The discussion above should illustrate a moral position that can compete with others advanced by major thinkers whose work is studied in courses in mornl philosophy. Let us now consider several issues in personal, social, and public ethics. Some verge strongly in the direction of law and public policy.
Where I state my own position, the reader should recall the approach to ethics discussed above as supporting it. I will present different approaches to the issues based on different ethical frameworks. SOME ETHICAL QUANDARIES
We should note that there is no one plain and simple ethical approach apart from fundamental concern with what should be done or what should have been done. Accordingly, different ethical systems answer the various questions differently. Philosophical ethics asks which of the ethical systems is sound and offers the best general answer to how we ought to live our lives. Altruists, egoists, hedonists, utilitarians, Aristotelians, Kantians, and Marxians most often approach problems differently. All attempt to apply an ethical perspective to some human problem. No such thing as the ethical answer can be found, only that which is provided by one or another system of ethics, although some of these will not be sound. Sometimes "this is the ethical thing to do" actually means "this is what the correct or best ethical system requires of us." As we have noted already, even without any decisions about which system is sound, most of us take a commonsense ethical approach to problems. (We have such an approach in nearly any discipline that has become a specialty. Physics, chemistry, law, sociology, economics, and the rest all have their commonsense versions, which most ordinary people, nonspecialists in these fields, carry as tools for coping with life.) Thus most folks tend to regard dishonest actions as wrong, courageous actions as right, and so forth. Our commonsense morality is too loose to be dependable in all cases but is suggestive enough to help us in many circumstances. It clearly breaks down when decent people see themselves in irresolvable conflicts, just as amateur chemistry is insufficient to create birth control pills. What is troublesome and why ethical systems are proposed
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is that common sense breaks down at times, for example when courage and prudence, honesty and generosity, and justice and charity appear to conflict. In such a case, sometimes dubbed a moral dilemma, we need a system of ethics by which to determine our ethical priorities. The specific normative topics that I wish to touch upon include some with which we are familiar enough but not necessarily precisely in the terms being used here. I selected some (but not all) of those that I found pressing. In most cases I present at least two sides in the debate, although in some I simply layout a position that is worth considering and can serve as a good starting point for discussion. Most of these topics are ethical with a strong social component. Naturally enough, these tend to become the focus of widespread public attention. Many others could be discussed, but some of them are more properly seen as involving the personal ethical challenges that individuals confront: decisions about a career choice, sexual conduct, economic and financial needs, medical problems, and ethnic or racial concerns. Even these topics usually have a social dimension, since human beings make decisions in the context of interactions with fellow human beings. Still, the problems mentioned below involve social and public policy and often invite legal or political solutions. All entail an ethical question and demand an ethical solution on which any social, public, and legal policy could rest. Furthermore, the ethical problems confronting individuals tend not to be clearly identifiable, let alone soluble, because of the very significant differences among human beings. Such differences may also be the source of the great variations of customs, habits, and practices that distinguish societies and fuel the arguments of cultural relativists. Although we are probably able to identifY some general moral virtues such as prudence, courage, honesty, justice, and
generosity, the ways in which people exhibit them will differ. Courage will prompt an accountant and a soldier to do very different things. The balance struck between prudence and courage will similarly depend on the circumstances. It is very difficult to make moral judgments from afar without knowing the details. For this reason elaborately plotted dramas and novels, with characters who are quite fully developed, make the best morality plays. Ethical principles are easier to identify than to apply in individual cases, as we may readily see in the law. We know generally which basic laws should govern us (and the constitutional framers managed to draft them in a reasonably short time), but it is very difficult to determine who has violated them (a lengthy trial is often needed). Moral theorists note that some particular cases of right and wrong action recall the agent-relative model-meaning that the interpretation given the moral principle will depend very much on the specific situation. What one person ought to do will be determined not only by the fact that he or she is a human being, or even a mother or doctor or advertising executive, but also by individual makeup and situation. For example, a married man with children may appropriately work shorter hours than a single professional woman because of his family responsibilities. Not surprisingly, there is also considerable debate about the universalizability of ethical judgments. Some general principles seem clearly applicable to people in certain roles, such as parents, airline pilots, ship captains, soldiers, and auto mechanics. Are there specific actions we all ought to take, regardless of any individual differences among us? Or is it not possible for morality to identify such actions? When we tum to individual cases, we do better with broader social and political topics than we do when we are trying to determine whether a person should have acted in some particular way, an area best explored in drama and biography.
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Abortion Most of us see the abortion controversy in terms of the prolife and the prochoice positions. The central issue dividing the two sides is disagreement about the point at which a human being comes into existence, whether at conception or later, sometime between birth and about the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy. Ifthe being that emerges at conception is a human infant, then aborting it would in most cases be homicide. Some people argue about the moment at which life begins during pregnancy. But this cannot be the real question, since most prolife advocates are perfectly willing to end life-for example, they accept killing animals for food-and some prochoice advocates support animal rights. So the problem with abortion is not whether something that has a heartbeat or even feels pain may be killed with impunity. The problem is, rather, the point at which a human being comes into existence. Human beings ordinarily have a right to their lives, and so homicide or killing them, except in extraordinary circumstances, should be prohibited and severely punished. Thus-according to most prolifers-most abortions should also be prohibited, since they involve "murdering unborn babies." Those who take the prochoice side in this debate tend to believe that a potential human being, not an infant, emerges at conception or shortly thereafter. Only later does this being qualify as an infant, either when the fetus has developed considerably (for example, by acquiring its cerebral cortex or higher brain capacity, or when it is born and is recognized as a young person) or when the fetus becomes viable, or capable of living outside the uterus. Prochoice advocates generally argue that early abortions amount to the killing of a potential human being, not of an actual one-as killing a caterpillar would not be killing a butterfly. The terms "prolife" and "prochoice" are obviously shorthand.
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"Prolife" suggests that advocates favor the life of the fetus or unborn child over the pregnant woman's liberty to decide whether to carry to term. "Prochoice" suggests that it is more important for the pregnant woman to be free to decide whether to continue the pregnancy, at least in its early stages. Most prolifers have religious reasons for their view. They believe that God instills the soul in the embryo, zygote, or early fetus. Such ensoulment is considered to mark the beginning of human life for the being in question. To cause its death thereafter (for example, by aborting it) thus violates the right to life. When prochoice advocates are accused of killing innocent human life, the charge is equivalent to infanticide, the murder of children. Some prolifers advance secular reasons for their position. They claim, for example, that if the early fetus is not protected, the status of human life could gradually degenerate, so that in time it would become permissible to kill not just young fetuses but also infants for reasons the parents deem important. This case is called the slippery slope argument for banning most abortions. According to other prolifers, the important point is that the zygote, embryo, or fetus develops into an infant and eventually into an adult, so if killing an innocent infant or adult is murder, then so is killing a zygote. Prochoice advocates may deny that most abortions, notably those prior to the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy, involve the killing of a human being or child. Alternatively, they may claim that even if a child does come into existence at conception or thereabouts, a ban on abortion would enslave the pregnant woman. Some prochoicers think in terms not of the pregnant woman's right but rather of women's political power. According to this view, women should be able to use their bodies as they see fit.3 The idea here is that the prolife position often treats women as reproductive machines subjugated mostly to the will of men.
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Some feminists who are prochoice hold this view. Even when women consent to such treatment, they tend to do so because they lack political and economic power. As the discussion so far makes clear, one difficulty with the abortion debate is that the various sides approach it from drastically different philosophical or theological viewpoints. They have already committed themselves to very controversial ideas about the nature of God, human sexuality, and the nature of personhood. These more basic views largely inform their ideas about abortion and many other matters. For example, one position on abortion arises from the more basic view that a human being is most fundamentally a rational animal, an ethical primate, to use Mary Midgley's term. 4 As such, a zygote, embryo, or fetus is but a potential human being, at least until its higher brain functions develop. Until that time abortion may be morally objectionable on many grounds, but it is not homicide. This view rests on a secular approach to dealing with ethical and, especially, public policy or legal problems. In a multicultural country in particular, the secular approach ensures that all citizens have some common ground on which to judge a case. Ensoulment, being too closely tied to religious faith, cannot be discussed across religious and cultural groups, as legal policies should be. Law needs to be based on factors and principles that are accessible to all persons not crucially incapacitated (for example, mentally retarded). The slippery slope argument is possibly too cautious. We differentiate between adolescents and adults all the time, for example in deciding when people may sign contracts, vote, and buy cigarettes. We are therefore clearly able to make crucial distinctions even when they are murky rather than sharp. In many other spheres we deal with gray areas. We feel comfortable distinguishing mules from donkeys, mountains from hills, lakes from oceans, and planets from meteors. At the end of life, moreover, people pronounced brain dead often
become transplant donors. The individuals who receive their organs are considered no less human as a result-indicating that in this area too, someone is human chiefly by virtue of having a functioning higher brain. Another view rests mainly on the commitment to a given religious understanding of human life that makes it a person's duty to subordinate sexual or other pleasures to higher goals, including the goal of fulfilling God's command that we should multiply ourselves, reproduce, and not seek pleasure for its own sake. Accordingly, the real problem with abortion is that it subverts one of our primary goals in life, something no one has a right to do. This prolife position follows a religious commandment and rests on faith that a person is morally obligated to follow, not just on narrow arguments about when a human being comes into existence. We have not settled the matter. We have merely considered several positions and approaches to a serious ethical and legal problem. In this instance disputants are divided in part by how they understand the facts. Even if the debate is to some extent concerned with the purpose of sexual intercourse in human life, in the actual dispute about abortion the subject is rarely mentioned. We can skip here the discussion about pregnancies arising from rape or incest, because they are issues of detail and are mostly of concern only to the prolife side. We will also skip the difficult issue of late-term abortions, which are defended by some on the ground that the emerging child may suffer from serious physical impairments and that hazards may threaten the pregnant woman when she gives birth. 5 As to the basic ethical and legal issues in the abortion controversy, it is crucial to notice that, in the main, all sides often seem to view the right to life as central in social-political philosophy. They treat it as largely established that a human being, once we have one, has the basic right to life-meaning
JJIlI A PRIMER ON ETHICS
that no one may kill it. The foundation of such a basic right is itself a major source of dispute in ethics and political philosophy. Still, in the abortion debate it does not occasion disagreement among most participants. Most people in the debate accept that if something is a human being, it has the (negative) right to life-that is, the right not to be killed. Advertising A frequent object of scorn in our culture is advertising. Indeed, business in general is not held in very high esteem. One reason is that people engaged in trade are often looking for profitseeking to satisfy personal economic goals. The idea of trying to increase benefits for oneself, in turn, has often been morally suspect. Certainly some ethical systems treat such a goal as morally undignified or base if not downright evil. For instance, altruism teaches that we ought to help other people. In business this is hardly the first goal that most people pursue. Advertising, in particular, is an important means of attracting customers. Business owners often use all sorts of gimmickry, polemics, and jingles or whatever to improve their chances of making a sale. This is so clearly self-promoting that it earns moral respect only from an ethical egoist perspective. Yet even if egoism is questionable, most moral theories recognize the virtue of prudence. Aristotle stressed it, and it is listed as the first of the cardinal virtues. Advertising could be seen as a form of prudence, at least when we consider this virtue in relation to economics. Yet advertising has been criticized by some prominent intellectuals, including the economist John Kenneth Galbraith. 6 His objection is that advertising helps companies create new desires in us for things that we could easily do without. The acquisitive impulse permits companies to continue to produce their wares in the belief that we will continue to purchase them. As a result society's resources are wasted on trivial pursuits, while important social endeavors are underfunded.
Another criticism of advertising is that when a product or service is promoted, we hear only part of the truth, if that much, about it, and so we cannot make an informed choice to purchase it. 7 Such partial truth is tantamount to deception by omission. If advertising does not convey the whole truth to the public, it is misleading-dishonest and therefore inherently immoral. Probably for such reasons people believe that there must be something shady about advertising. F. A. Hayek responded to Galbraith's objection by noting that although advertising tries to create new desires, nearly all creative activity has this side effect-whether art, science, or philosophy.8 Whenever people invent something new, others may become attracted to it. We are not merely stimulusresponse machines, however. We are able to scrutinize our desires and to pick and choose which of them to satisfy. That some people are unable to resist temptation cannot be blamed on those who try to attract their patronage. People are responsible for controlling themselves and must not lead others' lives for them in this respect or in some other. We all need to be prudent, whether we are buyers or sellers. As to the criticism about advertisers' failure to tell the whole truth, it may be answered that they have no moral obligation to do so. Honesty does not demand full disclosure to everyone. Buyers should seek out the best deal for themselves; sellers should stick to promoting their wares truthfully. But being truthful does not mean being someone else's consumer protection agent. The market generally makes room for all commercial parties to advance their interest, via marketing and advertising, but it is admittedly not primarily a charitable forum. 9 Assisted Suicide In some states majorities of voters have passed laws permitting the practice of assisted suicide. Those principally affected are usually the terminally ill or people with a debilitating illness
J!IfII A PRIMER ON ETHICS
who are in extreme physical pain, who want to die but do not feel competent to end their lives decisively and relatively peacefully. Such persons want help in committing suicide. Many believe that they have the right to seek out such help without exposing would-be assistants to possible criminal charges. Opponents of assisted suicide tend to believe that no one has the right to help another person hasten death, either because suicide itself, being morally wrong, should be legally wrong, or because the assistance is itself a form of homicide, the killing of another, and no law ought to sanction it. The reasons given in support of the right to seek assistance may be summarized as follows: everyone has the right to decide whether to live or die. Having any right amounts to having exclusive authority to choose-for example, a person who has the right to speak may decide whether or not to do so, and no one may command this right on behalf of this person. The right to life, accordingly, means that we may each decide whether or not to continue to live. We also have the right to free association. And we have the right to mutual terms-that is, if I want to associate with another person in some endeavor who also wants to assciate with me in it, and no third party's rights are in jeopardy, no one is justified in coming between us. Indeed, the right of free association is simply a special right derived from the basic rights to life and liberty. To seek assistance in committing suicide, therefore, is the exercise of (a) the right to life and (b) the right to freedom of association among consenting adults. Usually, however, the right to assisted suicides is defended on somewhat narrower grounds, with the extreme nature of the situation as an added premise of the argument. In other words, defenders do not usually argue that just anyone has the right to commit suicide. (Suicide is, indeed, banned in most societies, even in the United States, where the law is supposed to secure everyone's right to life. The Constitution does not
mention a right to life.) Arguments in favor of assisted suicide typically mention a basic right to life, at least when the subject is discussed in the context not of existing law but of moral and political theory. Opponents of assisted suicide tend to argue either that (a) no one has the right to take his or her own life, or (b) no one can consent to have his or her life taken by another (which is what assisted suicide amounts to). The law is supposed to help preserve life, so it would be perverse to make suicide legal. Furthermore, law is supposed, most important, to secure one's life from possible threats by others, which it would not be if assisted suicides became legal. Objections to assisted suicide also frequently cite the possibility of abuse. People desperate enough to try to commit suicide, it is said, are often not competent to decide whether they should live or die. They are easily manipulated, sometimes by next of kin, who may stand to benefit from the death. Along similar lines, it is said that doctors confront a gradual erosion of their duty to heal people if they participate in suicide. Finally, the opposition to assisted suicide often cites communitarian ideas in support of its case. According to this argument, an individual belongs not to himself or herself alone but also to the community, of which he or she may well be a vital part. Communities flourish in large measure because their members are treated as indispensable. Consequently, to permit them to commit suicide, and especially to have assistance from others in doing so, would weaken the community's well-being. Capital Punishment Most systems ofjustice presume that human beings can control their conduct at least somewhat and that they have the power to choose to follow or violate certain standards of conduct. They are thus responsible for their actions that involve breaking laws. Such responsibility carries with it the high probability that
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when they violate some very serious laws, usually involving life-and-death issues (murder, armed robbery, rape, treason, and so forth), they will be punished for their transgression (unless it can be shown that they were powerless to choose to act differently, as when someone is deemed criminally insane). The exact link between punishment and criminal responsibility is too complex to probe here. Generally speaking, the most severe violations of the law are considered punishable by death, thus the institution of capital punishment, while in purely moral matters, where there is no question of illegal activity, punishment is considered unwarranted-the bad deed is somehow construed to be self-punishing or deserving of social ostracism, rebuke, or the like. Controversy surrounds the question of the law's proper scope, and this is not our topic. The questions raised by capital punishment are narrower: is it too severe a response to the voluntary, free choice to commit a horrible crime? Does anyone deserve to be killed? Should governments administer death even if it appears to be deserved? What if the wrong person is put to death? Does capital punishment deter crime? Does the death sentence make the legal system (and its administrators) itself complicit in murder? Those who defend capital punishment fall into two main groups: those who consider it a useful deterrent to criminal conduct and those who believe it is sometimes proper retribution even if it does not deter. The first group argues, roughly, that since most people value their lives highly, they will refrain from reprehensible acts if they know that the penalty may be death. Not all murders are premeditated, of course, but ifviolent crimes are well known to be punishable by execution, even people who tend to be reckless are likely to hesitate. If the possibility of death discourages people from severe criminal conduct, capital punishment is justified, because, in utilitarian terms, the reduction of heinous crimes makes society happier. Those who consider execution proper retribution for certain
crimes argue that wrongdoers must accept the consequences of their conduct. Murderers should understand that they have failed to respect human life. The way to send criminals the message is to do to the culprit what he or she did to others. This is the ancient "eye for an eye" notion of justice somewhat standardized. (Proponents do not suggest that those who tortured victims before killing them should themselves be tortured.) The perpetrator of severe crimes must grasp the degree of severity involved, and capital punishment achieves this objective splendidly. In some sense the perpetrator of the crime has a right to be punished-and those administering the laws of society ought to execute the penalty as a matter of duty. It really does not matter whether the example deters others, since the main concern is the proper response to an individual convict's criminal judgment and conduct. Opponents also produce many lines of argumentation, of which we will sample a few, in outline form. Some deny, flatly, that capital punishment deters. They argue that no causal relationship has ever been found to suggest that putting criminals to death discourages others from committing crimes. People interpret the actions of their fellow human beings in different ways. The question then becomes how potential criminals view the state's execution of someone. There is no assurance that executions of criminals will be seen as a threat, especially to irrational people who find it personally acceptable, in terms of their convictions, to murder someone or commit some other severe crime. Some discussions draw on comparative statistical analyses, and there is also disagreement regarding the proper interpretation of the data gathered. Critics of the retributionist view argue in part that when we make death a form of punishment, so that killing becomes a matter of state policy, we tend to demean the law, reducing it to the level of the criminal who destroys lives. Furthermore, it is argued that citizens in a society that practices capital
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punishment are likely to devalue human life as they become inured to execution. Some argue merely that executions are cruel and unusual, in that the state, acting dramatically, pompously, and publicly, inflicts more serious injury on a person than that person inflicted upon others relatively privately. Capital punishment is also criticized because it is irrevocable and because there is the possibility of human error. The courts especially, which rely on hindsight and the more or less thorough examination of a case, should arguably refrain from imposing capital punishment, since it is easy to kill the wrong person. Even if a criminal deserves the most severe punishment, for our own sake, out of prudence, we should not impose a sentence that cannot be altered if we prove to have been wrong. According to this reasoning, which is probably most likely to emerge from classical egoism, members of a society should concern themselves with their own well-being rather than with the punishment of others, whether or not they deserve it. To this last position some reply that capital punishment should be reserved for cases in which we are certain of the verdict. If someone were convicted merely on circumstantial evidence, we would not administer irrevocable punishment. In some cases, however, no one can doubt the guilt of the accused. One example is Jack Ruby's televised killing of Lee Harvey Oswald, himself in custody because he was charged with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In these cases, surely, we would not need to worry about the possibility that we had made a mistake. Yet even in such apparently open and shut cases we might worry-for example, about whether the perpetrator was competent to be a bona fide culprit. Perhaps the person couldn't help himself and modem medical knowledge was not sophisticated enough to diagnose his or her mental aftliction. While this may be rare enough, capital punishment, being final, would make any form of redress impossible in any case. So the debate continues.
Children's Rights and Obligations In this instance I will make the case for a certain moral assessment of parent-child relationships.1o We tend to take it for granted that the parent-child relationship has certain moral dimensions. Such concepts as parental authority, child abuse, the duty to obey, and so forth suggest that this statement is true. We also distinguish between the legal and the moral dimensions of parent-child relationships when, for example, we speak of the legally enforceable duty of child support or of children's rights that may be protected by lawor, in the alternative, of a parent's moral responsibility to teach values and the child's responsibility to help around the house. Yet it is not entirely clear just how these moral components of the parent-child relationship arise. Ifparents beget children, why are parents then obligated to do anything special on their behalf? And if the child refuses to obey the parents, what is wrong apart from a kind of recklessness that invites untoward repercussions from the parents? Certainly much of the law across the civilized world affirms the obligations of parents and children, but it does not explain their origins. When children challenge a parent, for example, or when a parent is merely considering how to behave toward children, we cannot look to the law for an appropriate response. Since much of family life is carried on behind closed doors, mere legal guidelines do not suffice to steer people in the right direction. I propose an understanding of the moral dimensions of parent-child relations that may well do more than clarify the matter for the participants. In short, I wish to propose a way of answering the relevant questions that most parents and children will readily understand. In particular I want to explore why children should obey their parents and what parents owe their children and why. One way to understand parents' authority over their children and its limits-which includes why children should obey
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their parents-is by answering the question "What would my child, once he or she became an adult, have wanted me to do for (and maybe to) him or her as a child?" To understand our obligations to our children, we must recognize that in voluntarily becoming parents we agree to treat our children as provided by the answer to this question. The answer indicates what parents owe children-but the form taken by the duty is something particular, dependent upon the individual child and his or her circumstances. We may usefully take the same approach to discovering why parents have authority that children ought to accept. Would a grown person wish that her parents had guided her in certain ways when she was young? Would she ask for some sternness in this guidance-for example, the parents should not permit her to start smoking, should make her go to bed at a reasonable hour, should demand that she do her homework, and so forth? More specifically, say a child has musical talent. Would the grownup who had been this child have wanted his parents to have insisted, using discipline if necessary, that he develop this talent? If so, and if parents ought to rear their children to grow into mature and fulfilled adults, then this answer would tell them how to treat their children. In general terms, parents should seemingly rear their children as they think the child, once grown, would ask them to. We might draw the same conclusions about general moral standards and mores that we did with measures pertaining to individual development. Whatever the child as adult would rationally propose, of course, would necessarily be limited to the possible. The parents could not be asked to finance an unaffordable lifestyle or to act in ways that would otherwise exceed their capacities. Why does this approach appear to be fruitful as a way of determining parents' obligations toward their children? Because it takes into account what a grown adult would want to have had
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done for and to him as a child. Furthermore, it also takes into account the individuality of the child in question, not simply some generalities about child raising. A crucial element of self-development is becoming the person one will be as a matter of choice, not because of coercion. The rational reconstructive approach to child rearing does justice to this point. That is, our approach respects the human being's essential autonomy or free will. If we focus on what the adult version of our child would want, we acknowledge the role of autonomous choice early, if only in a surrogate fashion. As parents, we stand in for the adult child and thus give the child a kind of self-direction. This approach also ensures the requisite amount of socialization or moral teaching from parents. A grown person could not reasonably want to be brought up without regard to sound moral standards. Since moral teaching involves disputed notions-especially if complete moralities are being taught rather than commonsense moral ideals-parents' moral teaching would always have to be somewhat provisional. That is, parents would need to be aware that they would eventually be challenged and should thus be willing to defend their moral teaching by giving the child reasons that he or she could understand and could eventually evaluate. It would be evident that either mere indoctrination or indifference to moral issues would constitute, at least in part, neglectful child rearing. We might approach the question of what children owe their parents and why by asking what parents need from children so that they can maintain the household. A child should obey her parents because doing so gives her the best chance of optimal development as long as parents are endeavoring to promote her development. Since children are not able to evaluate the situation fully, the general prescription "Obey your parents" makes sense in the context of most parent-child relationships. Once the child-rearing experience ceases to be the best alternative-
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for example, when beatings occur, when talents are neglected, when wildly irrational moralities are promulgated-and the child or someone representing her interest can grasp that this point has been reached, there is no longer a duty of obedience, and the child ought to seek a better situation. Since it is hard for a child to have and to act on such knowledge, public awareness of appropriate parenting skills (and danger signals) is needed. When a child is persistently hidden from public view, for example, closer public scrutiny of the family situation may be warranted. Here too we engage in rational reconstruction to identify the morally justifiable course of action. As a rational adult I can imagine how I would have wanted to be brought up. Indeed we often address this question in our later years, sometimes with the aid of a therapist or friends, sometimes entirely on our own. We may decide that our parents should have made us eat nourishing food, do our homework, get exercise, exhibit good manners, earn good grades, and so forth. They ought not to have forced us to follow in Father's footsteps or to adopt Mother's tastes in clothes. We are probably indifferent with regard to some matters, of course, such as vacation spots chosen, novels to be read at different ages, and so forth. What about religion and politics? Here rearing would presumably entail handing down some values but with the understanding that these would become areas of personal choice later in the child's life. We cannot rationally ask parents to avoid imparting their values to their offspring-indeed, part of their responsibility involves doing so. But it is sensible to insist, also, that parents help children understand the nature and difficulty of the challenges that lie ahead. In this way parents merely prepare the child for adolescence and seek to buffer the shock of change. Children, we may assume, want to become successful adults and therefore want their parents to prepare them for such suc-
cess. Is the assumption rational? Yes, since children's interest in living communicates to parents the message: "Do well by me, since I am committed to living well-something you, my parents, ought to have anticipated when I was born." A kind of teleological ethics, then, seems to make the best sense of parental authority and children's obedience. Given the rational assumption that children want to be brought up in certain ways, parents have the authority to create the conditions for such rearing. These conditions also set limits on parents. There is a final topic to be considered. Clearly children are not without rights-indeed, some positive rights (for example, the right to be fed). First, like adults, they have rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They may not be killed, assaulted, or robbed. A child, as a dependent being, lacks the full autonomy needed to exercise basic rights independently and does so with the help of parents. Parents supervise children's choices, their actions, their disposal of their property, and their efforts generally to secure happiness. Such supervision, as we have seen, must comply with certain standards. Every normal child deserves some measure of autonomy. Children are not zoo animals, to be barred from exploring the neighborhood to make contact with other people. Furthermore, because parents are deemed to have invited children into their lives, and because offspring are dependents, parents are committed to providing for them. May the government enforce these obligations? Yes, because parents have assumed a legally enforceable duty to children. How we understand breach of that duty, and what action we take when it occurs, will vary, depending on the era and the climate of public opinion. When people have children, the parents enter into a compact with the adults the children will become. This concept may be difficult to appreciate, because the relationship is unique, one that is possible only with human children. Parents can be understood only as having made a promise or having taken an
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oath to support children by providing whatever they need in order to grow up. In other words, children are entitled to such support from their parents because-in the eyes of society-it has been promised to them. Let us examine this idea in greater detail. Children are young human beings, normally on their way to adulthood, when they will become moral agents who depend upon the normal upbringing they received to enable them to do well in their lives and to make good choices. We expect parentsto-be to know how children develop. So when they undertake to become parents, we expect them to know that they are responsible for raising their children to become capable adults. Children, in turn, conceivably have the (positive) right to be treated in ways that will help them become sound or able adults. Children have this right by virtue of the parents' choice to bring them into the world. Without appropriate rearing, children may become adults who cannot choose to live right, in which case they will fail to become persons. In such a case the parents' promise or oath will not have been properly carried out. Now, in a civilized society the government tries to ensure that the contract between parents and children is upheldon both sides. The parents' authority has official support, and abuse of their authority can bring criminal charges and/or the termination of parental rights. Parents may be prosecuted for negligence if they fail to comply with parental duties in some respects-by abusing or neglecting the child in crucial ways, for example. It is also appropriate for children's duty of obedience to their parents to receive official backing. Runaway kids should be returned home as long as there is no proof of child abuse. Children should not be treated as adults when they attempt to behave as adults-for example, when they try to purchase cigarettes or alcohol as minors or when they try to marry.
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Everyone ought to recognize that children are dependents and may not be counted upon to act wisely on their own behalf. Parents too must be required to provide the support necessary to enable children to embark upon adulthood successfully. At a child's birth-and perhaps even from an earlier time, if personhood is determined to begin earlier-citizenship should be recorded. Children should be provided with all the protection to which they are entitled. If children are not being provided for, law officers should have the authority to investigate. Because children have special status, and their parents have a special duty, the state exercises a certain legal authority over parents that it lacks over adults without children. We can easily see why this would be a proper way to handle parent-child relations. Children are not property but offspring-very young human beings personally "(pro)created," "invited," or "adopted" to be loved and, by implication, to be reared until they reach maturity. Gambling Gambling occupies a uniquely ambiguous place in moral theory, as it does in the eyes of the law. Some people regard it as a form of recreation, permissible as a way of relaxing a bit, to give the gambler respite from hard work. For others any gambling, especially the organized kind found in casinos and at racetracks, is morally degenerate, a sure sign of moral corruption. Gambling is often regarded as casting doubt on individual virtues, especially prudence and industry. We all know that places exist throughout society, such as Atlantic City, New Jersey, Las Vegas, Nevada, or the numerous Native American bingo centers, where gambling is enthusiastically pursued and indeed officially encouraged (it is often a source of state revenue). Citizens of the United States are thus in the curious position of living in a country where they both
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"have the right to gamble and are prohibited from doing so. It is fair to say, furthermore, that society's overall stance is not clear: is gambling recreation or an immoral indulgence? Opponents of gambling argue that it is generally corrupting. To gamble is to pursue unearned income and thereby to flout the time-honored connection between work and wealth. Gamblers learn to trust not the effort to produce but the throw of the dice, something that is random, a function of chance. Since such trust is often disappointed, gamblers are emotionally volatile and swing from euphoria to deep depression. Furthermore, gambling tends to make a person dependent on worldly pleasures, which great wealth can achieve, rather than on sensible moderation, which stresses life's spiritual dimensions. Supporters maintain that gambling now and then is entertainment, recreation, toying with risk, rather like going to an amusement park. According to the argument, gambling affords a sense of risk and adventure without requiring the gambler to take big chances. That some people suffer harm from gambling merely demonstrates a given of ethics, namely that a person can choose to live well or badly, approaching life with decency and good sense or with deviousness and recklessness. From a utilitarian perspective we could defend gambling as a source of state funds in this country and abroad. Gambling, at least in limited measure, can also improve a community's wellbeing, without the need for coercive taxation, by bringing more business into the area. People who travel to Monte Carlo or Vegas may not always be levelheaded about gambling, but people who travel to work or eat out are not always careful and cautious either. Work and play alike are subject to abuse. Gambling is play, and abusers should be told that they are going overboard, not that they are doing something inherently wrong. Moreover, the fact that some people are immoderate does not prove that everyone is out of control.
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Nor is there any virtue in outright prohibition, especially if it is backed by legal sanctions, by punishment. No one earns moral credit for refraining from a reckless act simply because engaging in it will result in great loss. Choosing the morally right course merits praise only if the choice reflected moral considerations, not fear of prosecution and conviction. Different ethical systems, as we have seen, treat moral worthiness differently. Still, even in commonsense terms, when a person is frugal from a belief that frugality is right, the belief makes the behavior morally worthwhile, not some incidental valued result or good feelings associated with it. In other words, a person should be frugal on principle, in nearly all but the most extraordinary circumstances, regardless of his or her specific aims. Yet there are those who would argue that by prohibiting gambling the state would be doing what a sound moral system is supposed to achieve, namely promoting proper behavior by people. It is not the thought but the consequence that makes a person's behavior ethical. This consideration is especially germane to gambling and other destructive behavior that tempts many people and must be countered by an equally strong motivation, such as fear. The Treatment of Animals Still another area of serious moral debate concerns the treatment of animals, especially those with fairly complex emotions and feelings, such as pleasure, pain, fear, anticipation, and so forth. Some people argue that animals have basic rights, not unlike those of human beings or at least children. Others claim that we need to consider the pain and pleasure of animals, their well-being or interest, as well as that of human beings. People who subscribe to this last view tend to argue for vegetarianism and against animal experimentation, slaughter, and sporting events such as bullfights.
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Some people contend that animals have no rights that would dictate their proper treatment but that we should consider their feelings for the sake of our own moral well-being. We should be kind to animals-human~ven as we use them for our benefit. Defenders of animal rights start with the belief that human beings, acting collectively, have devised rights for themselves as a way of securing their interests. According to Charles Darwin's theory of evolutionary biology, there is no great difference between humans and other animals. Therefore, they should all be regarded as having rights that the law ought to protect. Defenders of animals also require us to consider their pain and pleasure, as we do our own work, from a utilitarian perspective. The greatest happiness or well-being of the greatest number applies to all sentient beings. (The exact cutoff point is impossible to identify.) As we decide how to treat animals, we should therefore recognize that millions of them are routinely-and immorally-sacrificed, often in excruciating ways, to promote various human objectives. It is our proper goal in life, the utilitarian claims, to maximize well-being, to create as much of it as we can. By depriving animals of pleasure and inflicting great pain as we use them for our own purposes, we are acting counterproductively. On occasion animals, just like humans, might have to be treated painfully but not on the present scale. Some people hold that animals differ from us and that people owe them little. Still, in deference to our own sensibilities, we should be aware of their feelings and inflict pain on them only when there are good reasons for doing so. Such reasons could include medical experimentation, sports, and culinary pleasures. Wherever possible we ought to minimize the pain we inflict on animals. Whether laws ought to be passed protecting the interest of animals is similarly open to debate. Some are in favor, and some maintain that the proper treatment of animals must be left to
the conscience of human beings, although we canjudge people's conduct in this area by objective standards of right and wrong. (Not all moral wrongs need be legally prohibited-indeed, such prohibition deprives us of bona fide moral choices, since we are threatened with sanctions unless we comply. As we noted above, it is not morally praiseworthy to pursue a course of action merely to avoid punishment.) The most extreme view about animals is that they are biological machines, entirely unfeeling, and we may do with them as we wish. Since they have no noteworthy feelings, how we treat them depends entirely on our goals. Racial Discrimination In the United States of America, especially, the issue of race relations is uppermost in the minds of many people concerned with ethics and public policy. Yet elsewhere, too, this topic is not far from view, even if it is cast mainly in terms of ethnicity and not race per se. The questions that arise include whether there is any justification for regarding members of racial groups other than one's own differently in various realms of human interaction. Racial discrimination is now generally outlawed in our economic relations, but many people act as if such discrimination were quite acceptable in more personal, intimate areas. Is this attitude sensible? What position should we take on racism in the economic realm? Should it be publicly banned, regulated, or left to the moral choices made by the economic agents? Should members of races who suffered grave injustice in the past be compensated, given special breaks, or should public policy leave them to fend for themselves, without regard for the historical record? The main problem with race is that it is an attribute which none of us can choose any more than we can choose our height. It is plainly unjust to blame or praise the people for things
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that are beyond their control. Nevertheless, even if someone's skin color or height has no moral significance, surely it carries weight in other areas. Sometimes, for example, we choose to associate with people because oftheir personalities and physique. We ask people for dates who appeal to us in ways unrelated to moral character. Aesthetics, compatibility, and attractiveness matter. Even if this fact of life leaves people feeling disappointed, in some areas we are not regarded as reprehensible for discriminating in this way. If we are at all justified in seeking some personal pleasure and happiness in our lives, we ought to indulge our personal tastes even as we deal with others. We should clearly pursue forms of recreation and culinary pleasures that please us. In areas apart from education and personal growth, we should buy books and music that we like. We should find and engage in the type of exercise that suits us best. So when it comes to areas of intimate personal concern, we are justified in satisfying our own particular standards. Nearly any ethical theory would agree, as would commonsense morality, unless in pursuing these personal goals we run afoul of primary moral objectives. An egoist would find the above-mentioned course of conduct more acceptable than a utilitarian and far more so than an altruist, while the hedonist would make it morally obligatory. Few would assert that pleasing one self in these ways is outright immoral, and for the sake of prudence we ought to act along such lines. When we take the same approach to professional associations, however, objections quickly spring to mind. If we were to pick business associates on the basis of personal tastes, we would be violating the unspoken principle that colleagues should be chosen on the basis of their ability to advance one's business or economic objectives. This statement is especially true in a corporate setting, where the executive is literally obligated to the shareholders not to hire on the basis of any criteria other than ability to contribute to the enterprise.
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Even in my private life it is true that I ought to purchase my milk where I get the best buy, not where my personal biases are accommodated. I ought to promote the junior vice president in my firm who advances company welfare rather than the one whom I find attractive or the one who puts me at ease. Professional ethics requires us to live up to an oath of office, as it were. If I start teaching or practice medicine, the goals implicit or explicit in these endeavors must guide my choices, not personal matters. Perhaps I enjoy handsome tall people, but if a short, chubby, balding individual seems most likely to further the aims of the firm that I manage, I should hire or promote that person. Attractive women may be socially desirable, but when we consider doing business with other people, their contribution to business objectives, not beauty, ought to count the most. Whether these principles of professional ethics ought to be legally mandated is itself a hotly debated issue. Some argue that legal enforcement is needed because people are too tempted to forget the priorities that they have set, and the resulting bias in the market hurts innocent people. Discrimination may adversely affect entire generations, and so public policy must seriously discourage it. This policy objective is especially important in public institutions, which ought to exemplify the country's social-political philosophy, not the preferences of individual administrators. Some claim that by legally mandating such conduct, unless by mutually acceptable contract or labor agreements, we not only violate moral autonomy but also court further discrimination. It is impossible, for example, to compel customers to be fair when they go shopping. Employees too can seekjobs purely on the basis of personal preferences with complete impunity. If so, however, then forcing some people to be fair-for example, employers-is itself not fair. Here too broader considerations of political philosophy enter in. If we believe in protecting individual rights to life, liberty, and property, this credo will affect public policy on
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racial matters. However eager we may be to erase prejudice, we may not resort to coercive measures that force people to interact. Yet even under these circumstances some measures must be taken to preclude discrimination. Hiring practices, for example, should be fully disclosed and not revealed only after prospective employees have appeared seeking work. A place of business that discriminates should be required to proclaim the fact to avoid misleading advertisement or outright deception. Otherwise people should be legally free to do as they choose. If we see society not in individualist terms, however, but more as socialists or even communitarians, we will take a different attitude toward the public policy that should prevail. If it is understood that we belong to our communities, that we are parts of a large whole (society, the nation, or humanity), then our legal obligations will depend upon the goals that these larger entities should pursue. If society takes harmony between the races as its goal, effective laws to this end ought to be enacted. Sometimes even the mere symbolic expression of an objective can command public policy. If a country has for much of its existence not just tolerated but actively promoted discrimination in the form of slavery and segregation, then programs like mandated affirmative action, as both a form of remedial action and a social corrective, may be warranted. Sometimes a form of cultural bias is construed as racism. Members of certain races are often united by cultural tiespreferences in the area of music, art, dress, and etiquette-and not just by skin color or other physical attributes. Cultural preference can still be unjust, especially when it enters into personnel decisions where there is no real conflict between a person's cultural heritage and his or her professional competence in the workplace. Political discrimination must be viewed differently, since we may choose our political views for ourselves or inherit them from our parents. Whether political discrimination amounts
to insidious bigotry will depend on the circumstances. The same holds for religion, which is often passed down from one generation to the next. If ajob applicant for a prominent and well-paying position in one's own company opposes one's own religious views vigorously in public, it may be morally imperative not to ally oneself with that person, even if the business would clearly benefit from his or her expertise. Jews will not eagerly appoint anti-Semites to prominent posts in their firms. Yet when we are considering the duties of, say, a personnel manager in a publicly held corporation, he or she would not be justified in excluding the applicant on the basis of religion beliefs, since the firm belongs to the stockholders who are owed competent service, regardless of the personal views of employees. Racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination can be acceptable when it is not an obstacle to justice-for example, in personal relations (race and religion are often specified in newspaper personal ads). When discrimination affects people in a professional context-so that it extends beyond the arena of personal choice and begins to impinge on the performance of teachers, sellers of insurance, company managers, athletic coaches, and politicians-it is morally objectionable and may warrant legal sanctions. The moral and legal aspects of such discrimination are hotly debated. Should it be legally forbidden or morally opposed? Should present remedies seek to rectify past (rather than merely present) discrimination? Should we include not just race and sex but also religion and political conviction when we prohibit discrimination? Discrimination against Nazis or Communists would seem reasonable, since these doctrines advocate objectionable conduct. What about discriminating against people who believe in religions that you or I consider morally misguided? Little can be said in favor of any kind of discrimination on the basis of racial or sexual inferiority, since we have no proof of such inferiority. Nevertheless, some people argue that
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such issues are, after all, subjective. We have no basis for condemning racial or sexual discrimination, according to these people, or at least none that avoids circularity or violation of the is/ought gap. Noone can claim, truthfully, that there is anything wrong with disliking others because of their race, sex, or other attributes even if these traits are unchosen ones. (I discussed this line of thinking earlier in the book.) Still, by any bona fide moral viewpoint, it would be unjustifiable to hold race or sex against others (or against oneself, for that matter). The reason is that moral fault can be found with someone only if the person in question had some choice in the matter. If, nevertheless, race and sex do figure when someone chooses friends or romantic partners, there may be some aesthetic or other justification pertaining to one's particular preferences or tastes. People have the right to associate with others on their own terms. This political idea is clearly defensible. They might also have likes and dislikes that draw them toward people of certain racial and/or sexual characteristics. (You or I might like it very much if a member of the opposite sex returned our affection, but we would feel differently if we found the other person unattractive for some reason. Moreover, although homophobia prompts censure, it is not sexism to be heterosexual or homosexual.) It is always possible, of course, that when we cite personal preferences or tastes, we are merely concealing our belief that we regard another person or group as inferior, in which case we are guilty of racism or sexism after all, having pronounced moral judgment against a person on the basis of his or her race or sex. Sexual Harassment In recent history women have begun speaking out. They have declared (and are declaring) what they want in areas including relations with the opposite sex. Indeed men are also beginning
to concern themselves with such issues. When women and men associate with each other in professional circumstances, the possibility of sexual interaction is now a subject for much concern. Still, where apart from the workplace are men and women going to meet so that they may learn about each other's personality, values, tastes, and preferences? Bars surely are not the best spot. It seems right and proper for men and women to become acquainted at work, come to admire each other, and sometimes even fall in love. On the other hand, professional situations have their own particular dynamics. The firm's employees are expected to focus on professional goals, not personal ones. At the office, factory, shop, or university, professionals ought to concentrate on doing the job well. Anything else amounts to a failure to fulfill one's responsibility. In some cases such a failure can actually harm associatesas when attorneys or physicians, not to mention teachers, psychologists, and psychiatrists, make passes at their clients. There is also often an imbalance of power (or workplace authority), so that although the situation for romance at first seems optimal, the relationship may run aground when the two parties are unable to negotiate because they are not on equal footing. Sexual harassment is an unwelcome attempt repeatedly to involve someone sexually or romantically. It may not amount to assault, but it can involve unwelcome touching, intimate language, or frequent closeness. If the job brings people together, they ought to address themselves to the tasks at hand rather than to behavior that undermines it. There will, no doubt, be gray areas-offices have picnics, bowling leagues, parties, and other occasions when the job is not the main focus. Still, the principle to follow, it is argued, involves making sure that one's conduct is not offensive to the other person and taking no for an answer. People should both give and heed appropriate cues
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in the workplace. It is important to respect physical bound-
aries, to steer clear of language that some may find offensive, and to avoid telling suggestive anecdotes that may violate office decorum. Some people argue, however, that neat rules will never govern the romantic-sexual entanglements of human beings, that there is something inherently mysterious, confusing, even wild in this realm that defies intervention. People just have to fend for themselves. As long as the matter involves adults, and as long as professional ethics are observed (the job must get done), the rest should be left to fate. To regard women, for example, as warranting special consideration is to underrate them, to demean them. Women are not children and can, when they try, fend well enough for themselves. They do not require elaborate company policies, let alone federal or state laws, to protect them from men. If they cannot cope, let them leaveand the same goes for any whining men who find their female or homosexual superiors too imposing. Let them handle the situation on their own terms, without trying to follow rules that must ultimately be phony. In this realm it is impossible to identify any such standards-romance is more like art than like law. ON MORAL CHALLENGES
I have given only a few examples of the sorts of moral problems that will continue to confront us and capture public attention. There are many others, some of them personal, unique, and thus relevant only to the individuals who face them. These arise in the course of parenting, marital tasks, professional projects, and dealings with friends and neighbors. Such problems require solutions tailored to the individuals affected. The best investigations of different scenarios appear in good novels, movies, and television programs and in biographies and the personal lives of individuals. Moral solutions require, most of all, the
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close attention of the people involved, guided by the basic moral virtues. To live morally it is probably most important to focus on the tasks we face and to think clearly about them. Even when the results are not an unequivocal success, ifwe have been attentive and conscientious in life, and not apathetic or indifferent, we can derive at least a measure of pride from having done our level best, which is all that can really be expected from any human being. I have concentrated mainly on ethics in my general discussion and less on politics except in a few of the particular cases we have just considered (public attention usually focuses on ethical problems of broad social relevance). In the philosophical community there is a great deal of discussion about where the line should be drawn between ethics and politics. Some philosophers find it important and meaningful to separate the two; others think ethics is largely politics, a matter of collective concern. In my view there is an important distinction between right conduct for individuals and the law that regulates our communities, although I do see the two areas as related. We can decide how to constitute a community only after we know how we ourselves should act. In a primer on ethics, the latter should be of greater concern to us. It is of course impossible to separate ethics and politics completely. What we ought to do will have enormous influence on the governing principles of society and human interaction. Some see ethics as the normative field and politics as the metanormative, mainly because politics involves the preconditions for choices that guide personal and social action or conduct in the community context. ll The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, for example, prohibits the government from regulating our choice of religion, of companions, and of words or thoughts. Government is precluded from prescribing because individual liberty is paramount. The framers believed, with
J!IJ' A PRIMER ON ETHICS
some lamentable exceptions, that as much as possible, people should guide their own lives and make their own choices. The law therefore confines itself largely to setting forth what government ought and ought not to do. This orientation, which belongs in the liberal political tradition in the classical sense, was elaborated by John Locke, Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill, thinkers who advocated a society in which government operated with rather limited scope and powers. Other political outlooks include, for example, Marxian socialism, in which the ethical and political realms are indistinguishable. Marxists view people's lives as intricately interwoven on all fronts. There is thus no separate private (personal, familial, recreational, or even professional) realm. There are a few incidental personal concerns. Everything else is a matter of collective concern. As Marx observed, "The human essence is the true collectivity of man," meaning that we are social beings rather than private individuals. 12 Some people take a middle-of-the-road approach to the issue and advocate communitarianism, the welfare state, or market socialism-the labels multiply year after year as scholars try to articulate how human beings ought to live in each other's company. In this work I have not attempted to address politics in any detail. In the process I have indicated that I regard the classical liberal position as more sensible than one that proclaims our collective nature as dominant. I agree that human beings are essentially social and political animals, as Aristotle noted long ago, but I believe that an irreducible (existential) individuality is inherent in all human life. The stress on individuality is especially evident in ethics-that is, in each person's moral responsibility to conduct his or her life properly. To elaborate upon this idea, however, I would need a longer book. 13
preceding chapters we have focused mainly on alternative ethical systems and the problem of identifying one that is universally binding, that is, true. We have also discussed some substantive ethical issues in line with my own ethical position, which is classical egoism. I have touched upon other issues, but I have by no means considered all the problems that emerge within this one branch of philosophy. Aside from the question of which ethical system is right, what the true principles of morality are, and the like, for example, philosophers often examine the character or structure of moral principles. That is, if moral principles can be identified, what do they look like? Are they principles of a tactical or strategic sort, so that by involving them we are better able to achieve certain goals? Or are they more likely to be principles such as those found in "formal systems" (for example, mathematics)binding on grounds of what might be called internal necessity? Perhaps neither-or maybe both? As we saw earlier, the former conception of moral principles is usually called consequentialist or teleological (which means roughly "forward directed"), whereas the latter is called formalist or deontological (which means roughly "inherently compelling"). Some argue that such divisions are artificial and that moral principles are both forward directed and formal, both consequentialist (identified by N THE
JJIIi' A PRIMER ON ETHICS
reference to consequences) and internally binding (imposing the requirement that we adhere to them as a matter of principle). Another issue that moral philosophers investigate is the nature of obligations, duties, promises, virtues, and so forth. These are central moral or ethical concepts or notions, whatever the ethical system that we regard as correct. Their character in any case needs to be specified. The central concept of any moral position is sometimes said to be "duty" or "obligation." This view is contrasted with that which identifies "virtue" or "goodness" as the central moral concept, overriding all others. In some cases philosophers claim that anything morally binding must ultimately be derived from a basic moral duty on which each person should act. In other cases the basic principle is held to be a central value or good that each person should pursue. Some argue that all moral edicts and judgments must ultimately be traced to an imaginary social contract to which human beings are party. The idea here is that the best way to learn what human beings ought to aim for in life, how they ought to conduct themselves-or, in the phrase used by some political philosophers, what the principles of justice are-is to imagine a contract that might have been drawn by people who were thinking about living together in a society. The social contract theory oflaw is well known, especially in political philosophy and elsewhere, but even in the broader area of morality some have approached the issue by way of the contractarian path. Moral theories are not normally invoked in moral judgments, however, just as theories in psychology, chemistry, or physics are not explicitly invoked when we encounter the subject matter of these fields in our daily lives. The need for theories arises when commonsense knowledge, moral or otherwise, fails to supply adequate guidance. We know well enough, without moral theories, that people ought to tell the truth, ought to face threats and danger with courage, ought to be careful and pru-
dent as they plan various courses of action, and ought to treat others justly and generously. But when conflicts arise between these commonsense moral notions, theories help settle them. A theory of ethics is a very broad but systematic response to the question "How should I live?" with a built-in (a) justification of the answer and (b) ranking of virtues or moral principles. Suppose a theory states, "People ought to pursue pleasure in their lives." The theory will then arrange moral principles in line with this priority and will place, for example, selfsatisfaction or prudence at the top of the list of virtues, thereby helping the individual to choose between conflicting ways of acting. If someone needs to know whether to be honest or to be generous, and cannot be both, a theory will help settle the dispute. A theory of ethics, as in any other field, establishes a sort of long-range order, making it unnecessary to determine what to do on every occasion. A theory produces principles for us and ranks them so that we can conduct our lives without stopping for tedious, time-consuming deliberation every time we must act. "Honesty is the best policy" might be one such principle. Throughout this book I have presented some of the specialized topics in ethics in terms that should be familiar to most readers. These topics carry other labels. As I mentioned above, for example, the fact/value dichotomy is often called the is/ought problem, the issue being whether arguments with premises that contain the connective "is" can be used to prove conclusions with the connective "ought to." I have also discussed extensively the basic requirements that any bona fide ethical system must satisfy. For example, in each ethical system, human beings must be free to choose, principles of conduct must be knowable, and human beings must be able to identify a common reachable goal, however general. The philosophical slogan that denotes these requirements is "ought implies can." Before people can practice a principle, various
A PRIMER ON ETHICS
requirements must be met. Any ethical system must be internally consistent, must contain sufficiently precise terms, must be capable of universalization, and must be practicable. The system must also, generally speaking, accommodate ordinary moral precepts. No genuine ethical system, for example, could sanction wanton killing, cruelty to innocent people, rampant dishonesty, or blatant cowardice. Even after these requirements have been met, the ethical system that best answers our moral concerns will demonstrate its superiority to others by being comprehensive, complete, and realistically defensible (that is, it will not rely on anything unbelievable or fundamentally incomprehensible to prove it right). Several phrases, bordering onjargon, have developed within professional philosophical circles in relation to ethics (for example, "supererogatory" or "indefeasible" principles). No one outside the community of professional philosophers needs to learn these terms. It is more important to grasp the ideas that are captured by the shorthand references. As with all fields of inquiry, in ethics there are many important technicalities. Specialists develop fine distinctions and nuances. These are not trivial within technical philosophy, just as legal niceties are crucial for those dealing with the finer points oflaw. But they are not central for purposes of acting decently and of acquainting oneself with moral theory, one of the key branches of philosophy. It remains for us to consider, in conclusion, one question that is asked with particular frequency: "Who is to say what is right or wrong?" The reasons for asking this question are not always the same, but the implications are very interesting. Many people believe that some authority figure (a father, a mother, the church, or the state) decides what is right and what is wrong. But we may ask: is it correct to think of morality as a matter of authority? In a sense there is no harm in doing so, at least initially.
Let us assume that morally proper conduct can be identified: we should be honest with our friends, at least. Let us suppose that some good people in our midst have accomplished this objective. This assumption might be much like accepting that some people have managed to identify the correct medical principles or the laws of biology. Medical doctors, for instance, are among those credentialed to say what constitutes health and what does not. Who can identify an automobile engine that runs well? Presumably an auto mechanic can. So perhaps the answer to the question "Who is to say?" is that people with skill and experience doing the morally right thing can say what is good or evil, right or wrong. Clearly some people have had such stature-Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, Jesus, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and many more. Other frequently consulted individuals have included Dante, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Hemingway, and at least some of the main characters in their works offiction who have stood as ethical models for us. Yet we must not forget that morality is everyone's concern. It is a constant and inescapable part of everyone's life. The question of who decides is therefore important. We cannot address ethics-in contrast to medicine, law, accounting, or education-only now and then or here and there. We are always dealing with moral problems just by having to guide our lives, needing to decide what we will do next. So we cannot just rely on some specialists in this realm, people who will straighten things out for us when we are in ajam but for whom we otherwise have no need. In a sense, then, probably everyone needs to be an authority on what is right or wrong. The way, in turn, to become an authority may well be to think about how to live, to ask about and discuss the issue, to read about how others have lived. We all participate in the moral aspect of human life as we do not in business, law, medicine, education, carpentry, or farming,
LfIfJiI A PRIMER ON ETHICS
where it is perfectly possible to divide the labor. The role of the teacher in morality is not too powerful, whereas the role of morally good persons in a person's life certainly is. (Indeed, one of the most interesting questions of ethics, since Socrates raised it, has been "Can morality be taught?")1 In nearly all the professions some people keep to a mostly theoretical plane, others are concerned with application, and still others practice. In law there are scholars, lawyers, and jurists as well as many other professionals who pursue ancillary activities. In education there are theorists, administrators of institutions, and teachers. Economists, managers, and businesspeople make up the field of commerce. These divisions are not sharp, and people in one branch usually need to be familiar with the others. In moral matters the situation may be the same. Moral philosophers are professionally concerned with theoretical issues of morality-that is, why we need it, which system makes the best sense, and which virtues should be primary and which subordinate. Educators, conscientious parents, and community leaders teach moral positions by example and by instruction. The rest of us apply moral principles directly. Here too no sharp divisions are possible. In law, the scholars know about legal technicalities and must apply the principles to their own conduct. Doctors must concern themselves personally with health measures, aside from curing others who are ill and studying recent advances in medicine. By the same token the layman must follow moral principles but will also need to inspect them and maybe even to decide whether the theoreticians have done their job well. And philosophers of ethics must themselves live as moral agents. They can hardly bury themselves in books and leave the matter at the office when they go home. Remarkable and widely admired human beings such as Socrates, Jesus, Buddha, the saints, creative geniuses, statesmen, military leaders, artists, educators, doctors, and the like
are frequently viewed as "moral authorities." That is to say, such people are often considered to exemplifY the moral life, either fully or at least in some domain of human affairs. They are examples not simply of greatness but of human moral excellence. Someone could be a great pianist and yet a morally detestable person. It is more often assumed, however, that the great human beings-not necessarily the popular ones-also demonstrate how to lead a good human life in the context of their own situation. In a sense, some people may indeed have the authority to "say" what is right or wrong. But they do not do so simply by saying what is right. Instead they exemplifY and embody human virtue and thus inform the rest of mankind of what it is to be good. (The most vicious, degenerate, and malicious people around best exemplifY human evil. They would very likely not characterize themselves as such. By their conduct, however, they show what evil is, at least within their own sphere of activity.) There is another source of moral information, if we may call it that, namely literature and drama, which mostly deal with moral problems. The best playwrights treat moral issues with incredible force and clarity. Films too explore moral existence. Art forms are mainly concerned with the implementation and practical consequences of certain moral positions. The task of formulating arguments to support and justify various moral positions, as well as the job of addressing skepticism, belongs in the philosopher's domain. Yet when philosophy fails to work on these problems energetically enough-when the field itself is in bad shape, so to speak-others may take up the task. In short, no one is permanently charged with attending to the more systematic moral aspects of human life. In contrast to other spheres of human activity, which may concern us only sporadically or never, the issues of morality can never be left aside.
.If!I1f A PRIMER ON ETHICS
No one can evade the question "How should I, a human being, live?" Whether we dismiss the question, investigate it to avoid confusion, or attempt to answer it-everyone is concerned to some extent, even if involvement is not acknowledged as such. To rely on others to say what is right and wrong is risky. Seeking advice from trusted friends, and from people who are themselves morally good, or from artists, educators, and others who communicate about such matters, may itself at times be the morally proper thing to do. If it is possible to know what is morally right, it may also be possible to identify someone who guides his or her life by a sound moral position. We may well be able to trust those whom we know to have been virtuous. Yet here too people can change. Ultimately we cannot abdicate our own role of moral agent. (Some philosophers have addressed the question "Why should I be moral?" as if taking part in moral or ethical decision making were an option that we could simply accept or reject. But it is probably impossible for most human beings, apart from the sociopath and the mentally incapacitated individual, to opt out of "the moral game.") It is said that no man is an island. Perhaps the statement is true. But perhaps, also, in some matters each of us is always alone, ultimately responsible. Morality would appear to be one such area. Even people who believe in collective moral responsibility (and collective moral pride or guilt) try, in their articles, books, and lectures, to persuade individuals, who will or will not heed their words. These individuals will be admonished to accept the proffered view. They will then be blamed if they do not and praised if they do. I argued earlier that probably the most important choice for us to make, the one that ultimately sets us on the best available course, is to pay attention, to think. Because ethics addresses a dynamic and changing aspect of reality-human life-any ethical system will probably fail to anticipate every eventuality.
It then becomes necessary for each of us to figure out the answer for ourselves. Some of the "What if" challenges must be met with "Well, we will figure it out when we get there, because we will be vigilant and conscientious, within our power, to take in everything. That is our only hope and we are probably up to it most of the time." The point is not to be intellectual and articulate-although in some cases these qualities are neededbut to think and try to solve problems rather than theorize about them, which is the job of intellectuals. To the central question of morality, "How should I conduct myself?" the right answer may be, "I ought to pay attention and think before I act."
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
n ethics classes spontaneous discussion is often shaped by the concerns of students and teachers and the larger community surrounding the classroom. Here are just some examples of relevant questions with a bearing on the broader, theoretical areas of the discipline of ethics, to help readers begin to reflect on the subject.
1. Why does ethics arise in human life? In your own
4. 5. 6.
words, describe objections you would raise to the answer offered in this book. What basic or minimum requirements must a theory satisfy to qualify as a genuine moral position? Why are these requirements basic? If morality is possible, what relationship exists between facts and values? If morality is not possible, what sense might we make of moral language? What is hedonism? Why could it be a moral position? What objections would you raise to the morality of hedonism? What is altruism? Egoism? What objections to these moral positions would you consider forceful?
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
7. What are the distinguishing features of theistic ethics? Discuss theistic ethics critically. (Offer objections, respond to them, and evaluate the theory on the basis of arguments.) 8. What arguments would you offer to support the subjectivist position in ethics? What objections would you raise? Discuss some well-known moral wrongs-deceit, fraud, injustice, and the like-in terms of the subjectivist approach. 9. What arguments support relativism? List some of the relativist positions on moral values. Select one that you believe has the most merit. Criticize it and defend it. 10. What positions on the nature of morality would you call realist or objectivist or naturalist-or their opposite? (Analyze the implications of these terms and then describe morality in the way that fits each of them best.) 11. What is nihilism? What are the best reasons for holding this position? Criticize the position. 12. Outline the empiricist case against the possibility of morality or moral knowledge. Construct a criticism of the empiricist case against morality. 13. Explain your own attitude toward morality, or ethics. Has the discussion in these pages changed your mind in any way? What was your view before you read this book? What do you think now? Is there a difference? Why? 14. Give some examples of what you regard as morally wrong conduct. How would you defend your judgment? 15. Defend the view of morality you consider correct and then defend some position in ethics or show why none can be supported successfully. (Where do you place your own outlook within the general framework presented, and why?)
1. Paul Johnston, Wittgenstein and Moral Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1989), 236 n. 27. 2. AsSUMPTIONS MAnE IN ETHICS 1. Ted Honderich, How Free Are You? The Determinism Problem (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 42-43. 2. Even in physical reality, as in the freezing of water, the causal relationship is not exactly the same as in other domains. The freezing occurs by what has been called "downward causation" rather than by the more familiar "action-reaction" causation. 3. See B. F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York: Bantam Books, 1972). 4. See Nathaniel Branden, The Psychology of Self-Esteem (New York: Bantam Books, 1969). 5. Honderich, How Free Are YOu? 129. 6. It is no genuine question, as Joseph M. Boyle, G. Grisez, and o. Tollefsen indicate in Free Choice (South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1976). 7. Roger W. Sperry, Science and Moral Priority (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983). By "downward causation" is meant the process of something's being caused or produced because of a structural feature of the situation; for example, water freezes because of its molecular structure. 8. See Honderich, How Free Are You?
NOTES TO PAGES
9. For more on this point, see Tibor R. Machan, ed., Commerce and Morality (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1988), especially "Ethics and Its Uses." 10. This view is advanced in the name of Ludwig Wittgenstein by Johnston, Wittgenstein and Moral Philosophy. But see, in contrast, Julius Kovesi, Moral Notions (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967). Kovesi also approaches ethics using Wittgenstein's teachings. 11. Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1934). 12. See A. J. Ayer, Language, Truth, and Logic (New York: Dover Publ., 1952). A very helpful discussion of the type of argument Ayer advances can be found in Laurie Calhoun, "Scientistic Confusion and Metaethical Relativism," Ethica 7:2 (1995): 53-72. See also Renford Bambrough, Moral Scepticism and Moral Knowledge (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1979). 13. J. L. Mackie, Ethics (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1977),38. 14. For more along these lines, see W. D. Falk, Ought, Reasons, and Morality (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1986), especially "Goading and Guiding" and "Hume on Is and Ought." 15. See Mary Midgley, The Ethical Primate: Humans, Freedom, and Morality (London: Routledge, 1994). 3.
FACTS AND VALUES
1. Actually, this is a highly disputed point. Still, it appears that we can distinguish between talking about God and talking about moral good or evil, since even to regard God as "all good" requires understanding both concepts independent of each other.
METAETHICS AND CRITICISM OF MORAL THEORIES
1. The most developed version of emotivism may be found in Charles L. Stevenson, Ethics and Language (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1952). 5.
Is MORALLY GOOD AND
1. Many critics of moral positions simply assume that some courses of conduct or goals are of prime moral significance and then argue that
NOTES TO PAGES
the theory being examined fails because it does not accommodate this assumption. This approach is highly debatable, however, since it assumes that we "know intuitively" which moral principles are primary. Although we may know, from our ordinary experiences and learning, that certain principles are morally important, it is not possible, without further systematic reflection, to determine which of these principles is primary, which secondary, and so forth. Moral dilemmas arise from situations that appear to pit our moral principles against one another, so we need to rank the principles. Philosophical ethics becomes important in this area. 2. See W. G. Maclagan, "Self and Others: A Defense of Altruism," Philosophical Quarterly 4 (1954): 109-10. 3. "To explain" can be used narrowly, to mean "to provide external or prior causes for," or more broadly, "to render understandable, meaningful." The former excludes ethics, and the latter does not. 4. Most altruists subscribe to the religious doctrine of original sin as well as to the more secular view that we are all naturally inclined to be callous toward others. One good place to find a statement on original sin is in Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind (Chicago: Regnery, 1953), while Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1968) includes a statement on callousness. 5. For more on this point, see Tibor R. Machan, "Egoism, Psychological Egoism, and Ethical Egoism," in P. H. Werhane and R. F. Freedman, eds., The Blackwell Companion to Business Ethics (London: Basil Blackwell, 1996). I am also a proponent of what I call "classical egoism or individualism." See, for example, Tibor R. Machan, Capitalism and Individualism (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990). 6. If an ethical system provided an individual with step-by-step instructions for living-a blueprint, as it were, rather than a general set of guidelines-ethical behavior would in a sense be passive, not the result ofthe individual's initiative. 7. Ethical egoism is a view that has been developed by several philosophers, including (some would argue) Aristotle, Bishop Butler, Ayn Rand, Jesse Kalin, Eric Mack, and myself. See Tibor R. Machan, "Recent Work on Ethical Egoism," in K. J. Lucey and T. R. Machan, eds., Recent Work in Philosophy (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Allenheld, 1983). See also W. D. Falk, "Morality, Self, and Others," in Ought,
NOTES TO PAGES
Reasons, and Morality. 8. Tibor R. Machan and Douglas J. Den Uyl, "Recent Work on the Concept of Happiness," American Philosophical Quarterly 21 (1984): 1-31. See also David L. Norton, Personal Destinies: A Philosophy of Ethical Individualism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976). 9. See, for example, Nathaniel Branden, The Psychology of SelfEsteem. 10. Quoted in Dixy Lee Ray, Thrashing the Planet (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1990), 80. 11. For example, the police power of states derives from the idea that the head of the feudal order is the "keeper of the realm" and must safeguard the material, spiritual, and moral welfare of people within a given jurisdiction. 12. John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, Cato's Letters: or, Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious and Other Important Subjects (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995). Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, and Roy P. Fairfield, The Federalist Papers (New York: Viking Penguin, 1987). 13. Karl Marx, Selected Writings, ed. David McLellan (London: Oxford University Press, 1977), 126 (first quotation). Karl Marx, Grundrisse, trans. and ed. David McLellan (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1971), 33 (second quotation). 14. For extended discussions of these issues, see Tibor R. Machan, ed., The Main Debate: Communism ~rsus Capitalism (New York: Random House, 1988). 15. For this line of communitarian reasoning, see Richard Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), especially "Solidarity or Objectivity" and "The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy." A somewhat different, though also less clear-cut, version of communitarianism is advanced by Amitai Etzioni, The Spirit of Community (New York: Crown, 1994). 6.
ETHICS AS A PERSONAL CONCERN
1. Here we need to mention again that theistic ethics sometimes holds that goodness comes about because a perfect God wills it, so that
NOTES TO PAGES
goodness depends on God's will. Yet this is criticized on the grounds that unless some idea of goodness is independent of God, the very idea that God is perfectly good is empty, meaningless. This point figures heavily in the debate about whether people who do not believe in God could be morally good. 8.
RETHINKING THE FACTNALUE DICHOTOMY
1. Richard Rorty, "The Seer of Prague," New Republic, July 1, 1991, 37. 2. We might, of course, say that certain feelings are unhealthy, certain tastes vulgar, and certain attitudes perverse or degenerate. But if we tried to prove these claims, an advocate of the position described above might respond that they too were unprovable, just like value judgments. All of them merely express feelings, tastes, attitudes about other people's feelings, tastes, and so forth. 3. Tibor R. Machan, "Some Reflections on Richard Rorty's Philosophy," Metaphilosophy 24 (January/ApriI1993): 123-35.
9. APPLYING ETHICS 1. Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Fate" and "Intellect," The Complete Writings (New York: William H. Wise &Co., 1929), 527, 224. 2. I have in mind Aristotle, Spinoza, Locke, Ayn Rand, and Mary Midgley, among others. 3. See, for example, Catherine A. MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987), 93ff. 4. Mary Midgley, The Ethical Primate. 5. Some of these matters are discussed in the applied ethics texts listed at the end of this book. There is also a very balanced discussion of this topic in Alissa Rubin, "Partial Truths: The Late-Term Abortion Saga," The New Republic, March 4,1996,27-29. 6. John Kenneth Galbraith, "The Dependence Effect," in Milton Snoeyenbos, Robert Almeder, and James Humber, eds., Business Ethics (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1983),425-30. 7. Burton Leiser, "Deceptive Practices in Advertising," in Tom L. Beauchamp and Norman E. Bowie, eds., Ethical Theory and Business (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1983), 334-43.
NOTES TO PAGES
8. F. A. Hayek, "The Non Sequitur of the 'Dependence Effect,'" in Beauchamp and Bowie, Ethical Theory and Business, 363-66. 9. Tibor R. Machan, "Advertising: The Whole or Only Some of the Truth?" Public Affairs Quarterly 2 (1987), 59-71. 10. The original version of this discussion was Tibor R. Machan, "Between Parents and Children," Journal of Social Philosophy 23 (Winter 1992): 16-22. 11. Possibilities for personal action range from such private issues as the choice of a career or a romantic partner, to the sort of sport we want to pursue, to family matters such as how to deal with our parents once we have grown up, how we should discipline our children, and what help, if any, we should offer neighbors in distress. Social action broadly construed might involve professional ethics in medicine, law, business, education, the arts, and politics (for example, what duty, if any, do we have to our clients, students, patients, patrons, and constituents?). On ethics and politics in community life, see, for example, Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl, Liberty and Nature (La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1991). 12. Karl Marx, Selected Writings, ed. David McLellan (London: Oxford University Press, 1977), 128. 13. See Tibor R. Machan, Human Rights and Human Liberties (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1975) and Capitalism and Individualism (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990). See also my brief book The Virtue of Liberty (lrvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: FEE Books, 1994). 10. CONCLUSION 1. See, for example, Barbara Darling-Smith, Can Virtue Be Taught? (South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1993).
Almond, Brenda, ed. Introducing Applied Ethics. Oxford: Basil Blackwell,1995. Gold, Steven Jay, ed. Moral Controversies. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1993. Machan, Tibor, ed. Commerce and Morality. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 198B. McGee, Robert W., ed. Business Ethics and Common Sense. Westport, Conn.: Quorum Books, 1992. Olen, Jeffrey, and Vincent Barry, eds.Applying Ethics. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth,1996. Regan, Tom, ed. Earthbound: New Introductory Essays in Business Ethics. New York: Random House, 1984. Regan, Tom, ed. Just Business: New Introductory Essays in Environmental Ethics. New York: Random House, 1993. Shaw, William H., ed. Social and Personal Ethics. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth,1993. Sher, George, ed. Moral Philosophy: Selected Readings. Fort Worth, Tex.: Harcourt Brace, 1996. Skoble, Aeon, and T. R. Machan, eds. Political Philosophy: Essential Selections. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1998. Stein, Harry. Ethics (and Other Liabilities). New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982. Sterba, James P. Contemporary Social and Political Philosophy. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1994. Sterba, James P., ed. Morality and Social Justice. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1995.
Abortion, 130-34 Advertising, 134-35 Altruism, 60, 175n; business and, 134; criticism of, 53-56; goals and principles, 51-53; religion and, 82, 83-84, 86; selfishness and, 52-54; welfare statism and,75 Animal rights, 149-51 Aristotle, 27, 32, 34, 38, 125, 134, 160 Asceticism, 64 Assisted suicide, 135-37 Authoritarianism, moral, 100 Ayer, A. J., 34 Benedict, Ruth, 24 Bentham, Jeremy, 40, 44 Brain and free will, 19-20 Branden, Nathaniel, 18 Buddha, 165, 166 Capitalism, 70-74 Capital punishment, 137-40 Gato's Letters, 68 Child-parent relations, 141-47
Choice. See Free will Classical egoism. See Ethical egoism Cognitivism, 34, 35, 82 Commonsense ethics (commonsense morality), 79-80,127-28,162-63 Communitarianism, 75-77, 137 Compatibilism, 20-21 Comte, August, 51 Confucius, 165 Consequentialism, 38, 161 Constitutionalism, 67-68 Conventionalism, 34-35 Dante, 165 Darwin, Charles, 150 Deductive reasoning, 26 Democracy and relativism, 98 Deontology, 37, 161 Determinism versus free will, 14-23,27-28 Dewey, John, 35 Discrimination, 151-56 Dostoevsky, Fyodor, 165 Downward causation, 20, 173n
Egoism. See Ethical egoism Elitism, religion and, 85-86 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 124 Emotivism, 34 Empiricism: fact/value dichotomy and, 112-15; free will and, 1516; moral standards and, 24, 25 Environmentalism, 65 Environment and capitalism, 73-74 Epicureanism, 64 Epistemology, 82, 111-12 Ethical egoism (individualism), 57-63, 161; advertising and, 134; capital punishment and, 140; subjectivism and, 96; utilitarianism and, 50 Ethical relativism: criticism of, 99-101; principles of, 96-99 Ethical subjectivism: criticism of, 94-96; principles of, 91-94 Ethical theory, 162-63. See also Moral theories Ethics: authority in, 16467; choice and, 119, 124; commonsense and, 79-80, 127-28; compatibilism and, 20-21; and conduct, objective principles of, 12,13; courses, 3-4; defined, 5-7; parentchild relations and, 141-47; politics and, 65-77, 15960; professional, 157-58, 178n; religion and, 80-89; requirements of, 163-64; skepticism and, 90-106;
teleological, 145; theistic, 80-89, 176-77n; validity of study, 7-10; values and, 2932. See also Metaethics; Moral principles Existentialism, 64-65, 92, 96
Fable of the Bees, The, 73 Fact/value dichotomy, 31,108-17, 163; empiricism and, 112-15 Federalist Papers, The, 68 Feudalism, 66-67 Fideism,89 Formalism, 161 Free will: arguments against, 13-17; arguments for, 1723; child rearing and, 143; compatibilism and, 20-21; determinism and, 14-23, 27-28; human brain and, 19-20 Gaia, 65 Galbraith, John Kenneth, 134-35 Gambling, 147-49 Generation gap, 7 God, 174n, 176-77n;abortion and, 131, 132, 133; environmentalism and, 65; free will and, 17; mysticicm and, 36; situationism and, 64-65; theistic ethics and, 80-89 Happiness, 44-45, 58-64. See also Welfare Hayek, F. A., 71, 135 Hedonism, 56-57; criticism of, 42-44; Epicureanism and, 64;
goals and principles of, 39-41 Hemingway, Ernest, 165 Hobbes, 11loD1as,35 Honderich, Ted, 20 Hook, Sidney, 35 Hume, David, 24, 25-26, 35 IndividualisD1, 57-63. See also Ethical egoisD1 Inferential reasoning, 26 Intuitionism, 35 Is/ought gap (is/ought problem), 24,25-26,31,156,163 Jesus, 165, 166 Justice, distributive, 48
Moore, G. E., 34 Moral paternalism, 48, 50 Moral principles (moral standards): arguments against existence of, 23-25; arguments for existence of, 25-28; choice and, 124; empiricism and, 24, 25; fundamental and basic, 123-126; primary, 174-75n; stabilityof,121-22 Moral skepticism, 23-27, 90-106 Moral theory, 36-38 Mysticism, 36
Kalin,Jesse,57 Kant, ImD1anuel, 18, 34, 37, 102-103 Kennedy, John F., 140 King, Martin Luther, 165 King Lear, 105
Nagel, 11lomas, 51 Naturalism, 34 Natural law: free will and, 13-14; religion and, 87-88 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 102-105 Nihilism: criticism of, 103-106; principles of, 101-103 NoncognitivisD1, 34, 35 Nonnaturalists,34
Libertarianism, 70-74 Lincoln, AbrahaD1, 165 Locke, John, 160 Logical positivists, 34
Ontology, 111 Original sin, 83 Oswald, Lee Harvey, 140 "Ought implies can," 11, 163
Mack, Eric, 57 Mackie, John, 25 Mandeville, Bernard, 73 Marx, Karl, 68-69, 160 MarxisD1, 21,160 Metaethics, 33-36 Midgley, Mary, 27, 132 Mill, John Stuart, 44, 160
Parent-child relations, 141-47 Plato, 34 Pleasure, hedonism and, 39-44 Politics: child rearing and, 144; ethics and, 65-77, 159-60 Pragmatism, 35 Prochoice, 130-134 Professional ethics, 152-55,
157-58,178n Prolife, 130-34 Racial discrimination, 151-56 Rand,Ayn, 34-57 Rationality: child rearing and, 142, 144--45; egoism and, 58, 59, 61-63; fideism and, 89; human beings defined by, 124, 125-26, 132 Rawls, John, 35 Reasoning, deductive versus inferential, 26 Relativism. See Ethical relativism Religion: abortion and, 131-133; child rearing and, 144; elitism and, 85-86; ethics and, 80-89; natural law and, 87-88 Rights: animal, 149-51; children's, 141-47; negative versus positive, 74-75 Right to life, 133-34, 136-37 Rorty, Richard, 35, 110, 114 Ross, Sir David, 35 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 65 Ruby, Jack, 140 Saint Augustine, 36, 52 Sartre,Jean-Paul,34 Selfishness: altruism and, 52, 54; egoism and, 59 Sexual harrassment, 156-58 Shakespeare, William, 105, 165 Sidgwick, Henry, 44 Situationism, 64-65
Skinner, B. F., 16 Smith, Adam, 160 Social contract theory, 162 Socialism, 68-70, 160 Social science, free will and, 22-23; value and, 108-109, 113 Socrates, 20, 32, 165, 166 Stoicism, 63-64 Subjectivism. See Ethical subjectivism Suicide, 135-37 Teleological ethics, 38, 145 Teleology, 161 Theistic ethics, 80-89, 176-77n Theory, purpose of, 162-63 Utilitarianism, 21, 38, 41; act versus rule, 46-47; animal rights and, 150; capital punishment and, 138; criticism of, 47-51; environmentalism and, 65; gambling and, 148; goals and principles, 44--46; welfare statism and, 75 Values, 29-32; epistemology and, 111-12; as facts, 31-32, 117; nihilism and, 101-104; proving knowable, 115-17; social sciences and, 108-109, 113; subjectivism and, 93 Washington, Cieorge, 165 Welfare, 44-51 Welfare statism, 74-75