23 March 2007

Philosophy post 1: ETHICS

Philosophy class has started! Each week for the next five or six, we will be discussing the interrelations of philosophy, faith, and the arts. We’ll proceed through the five major fields of philosophy: Ethics, Epistemology, Metaphysics, Aesthetics, and Political Philosophy. Others besides students are, of course, more than welcome to join the conversation. Today we begin with:

ETHICS: Is there any absolute right and wrong?

Dear Philosophy students: Please post a response to at least two of the following questions/discussions.

1. Is there any standard besides religious ones (God’s Word/the work of the Holy Spirit/the teaching of mature Christians) on which to base our decisions of what is right and wrong? What might that be? Suggest something that might be used as a measure of what’s right and wrong, and discuss whether all people could agree on it and how it could be enforced.
2. Are good and bad unchanging, or might rules of morality change in certain circumstances? First answer this question without referring to any Christian principles. Just try to answer it from logical reasoning or from experience/evidence. Then if you like, you may bring in Scripture after you’ve tried to establish an “objective” answer.
3. Do you personally believe that there can be any solid set of moral guidelines without religion? Explain why or why not. If you think not, then explain how Christianity offers a stable moral compass.
4. How do moral dilemmas function in art? Give an example of a song, movie, poem, play, or novel in which the entire plot or purpose of the work hinges on a significant moral dilemma. This could be either a personal decision a character has to make, or a larger discussion of the value or possibility of traditional morals, etc.
5. What have various philosophers thought about the Ethical Question throughout history? Describe the position taken by at least one major philosopher, and then tell if you agree with him and why or why not.

If you wish, you may bring up further questions for discussion or debate as well. You may bring into this conversation the ethical situations described on your handout this week. Thank you.


Kevin Stilley said...

Hello. What textbooks are you using with the class? Where are you studying?

Iambic Admonit said...

We're using the great little Introducing Philosophy, which has excellent comic-booky line drawings and presents the history of philosophy in a very approachable manner. We're also using Plato's Republic, and then songs, movies, and other readings as we go along. It's only a six-week intro course, for homeschoolers in 8th-12th grades. We had a wonderful beginning, with a very intelligent conversations (right, kids?).

Rosie Perera said...

I was at Curves yesterday and participated in a conversation between the staff person and another member about a local beauty salon where the owner had been skimming money off the tips of his employees and firing them when they complained about it. Finally one employee decided to document the discrepancies on camera (photographing the tip sheets each day and then her tip checks which were smaller than the total) and is providing these to help another former employee who has decided to take the case before the authorities. How had this manager been able to get away with this for so long? It turns out he was paying off his receptionists to cook the books. It was noticeably odd that the business kept going through receptionists at a rather alarming rate, but as the Curves staff member commented "they probably had morals" and refused to do their boss's dirty work for him.

It seems that pretty much any decent soul can recognize when something unethical is going on. But what defines unethical? Did these employees' knowledge that the boss's thievery was immoral come from a religious sensibility? I'd say not necessarily, not beyond the simple fact that we are all made in the image of God and can't help bearing that image, regardless of whether we believe in him or not.

The Golden Rule is a fairly good basis for morality and is almost universally acknowledged by most religions, and people of no religion at all. The fact that it appears in Scripture is almost incidental, as it is simply common sense. Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you. Of course! Not all people live their lives that way, or even attempt to, but even so, most people would acknowledge that they'd want other people to live that way.

Kant's categorical imperative comes close to restating this rule in a totally secular way. It is a moral obligation or command that is unconditionally and universally binding (how all people ought to act). Its formula is this: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." Why do some people, such as that salon owner, not live their lives according to Kant's maxim (which is also common sense; one need not even have heard of Kant to have an intuitive sense of it)? Because they somehow erroneously think they are unique and can get away with living differently.

There are absolute rules of morality, but there can be circumstances in which it is possible to determine a "lesser evil" and choose that course of action in order to avoid a greater evil. For example strangling an intruder who is about to murder you and your family would probably be excusable as "self-defence" in a court of law, even though it is still wrong to take the life of another individual. It's just that there are levels of wrongness. An aggravated murder with malice aforethought is more wrong than a murder committed in desperation to protect one's family. Sorry for such a gruesome example, but it was the first thing I could think of.

Darlin said...

Hey Mrs. H!!

Well I’ll try to at least sound logical here…Ill take a shot at number one:

“Is there any standard besides religious ones (God’s Word/the work of the Holy Spirit/the teaching of mature Christians) on which to base our decisions of what is right and wrong? What might that be? Suggest something that might be used as a measure of what’s right and wrong, and discuss whether all people could agree on it and how it could be enforced.”

To a certain extent I believe there are things that could guide your morals that aren’t exactly religious. Such as: the laws that are enforced by our government. (Even though it can be argued that Christian men established some of the laws we abide by today).
Some may suggest that we can make our decisions based on our emotions that they will guide us and decide whether that it is right/ wrong.

I don’t believe there is a way to force someone in to believing something. You may present information that sways their opinions, however, it is impossible to make them believe something they simply have no faith in.

Can EVERYONE agree on one thing? Any one thing? No, I don’t believe that is possible (At least not without Christ, in my personal beliefs.) Some one always has a different opinion… through out the entire world, that is. There are too many people for them all to share a same opinion, thought, belief, etc.

In our philosophy class alone we could barley find something that we could all agree on, and that is only about 10 or 11 people. (Something like that.)

And In response to number 3:

"Do you personally believe that there can be any solid set of moral guidelines without religion? Explain why or why not. If you think not, then explain how Christianity offers a stable moral compass."

No, I believe that all morals, whether from Christianity or not come from some sort of religion or faith.

Most people have some sort of morals, even if they are atheists.
A friend of mine, who was an atheist...extreme atheist had morals, her own standards of good/bad...right and wrong.

She believed in honesty and that lying was wrong. She believed that stealing was wrong and that pre marital sex was wrong. Where would these moral decisions come from?? Well stealing is against the law, and that simply is why she claimed to think it wrong. However, outside of court, lying is not against the law. And over a certain age… neither is pre-marital sex. She claimed it’s just kind of commonly known that those types of things are wrong. But who decides this?? Who decides right and wrong (if not any religious sect)? Where did these moral ideas originate?? Did they not come from religious beliefs? Why is only considered wrong just because government made it wrong? Who decides if government is right or wrong? How did government decide what is right?

Everyone follows and acts accordingly to what they believe, so they must believe something if they are doing anything. There is always a motive or idea that pushes them to act or react to anything. Is there not?

I am a Christian and because of that the Bible tells me exactly what is right and wrong. I always know which direction I am going and what I should choose, whether I choose it or not. But even if you are not a Christian, you must have something that drives you to choose and makes decisions and something to make you think whether or not you made the “right” choice. That “something” must have originated somewhere. The ideas of what is right and wrong come from somewhere. Even our government, a lot of the laws came along time ago from Christian men.

In conclusion, I believe that all most all, if not all, moral decisions came from some sect of religion or ideas of faith. (I may have just gone in a huge circle and made no sense… oh, well.)

Well, looking forward to class on Thursday!

Andrew said...

To answer question one first i would say we have laws laid down by out government and to enforce these laws they have officers of the law to punish those who do not abide by them. And no matter if the laws of moses (10 commandments) are religious or not they follow basic principles of life and if all followed maybe we would not suffer so. Because like our government God has a way of enforcing his laws.

Andrew said...

To answer question 3 i believe there can it is possible. I'll explain if there is a strict and set of rules and extreme punishment for these rules and many to administer the punishment none will go against and all may live morally correct. however man is also sinful and doesn't like correction so i do believe after a time those administering judgment will fall under the power of the people so my answer is yes but it is also no.


Hey Mrs. H,

How are ya?

As it says in question one, Is there any standard besides religious ones on which to base our decisions of what is right and wrong?

I think really the only other standard to base our decisions of what is right and what is wrong without bringing in religion is to just use logic and reason. Now what I mean by using logic and reason is to ask basic questions when making decisions. Basic questions such as, “Will my decision help the situation or make it worse?” “Will it result in consequences?” “Is there another way to go about this situation?” “If there is how do these same questions work for it?” You’re probably thinking that asking these questions won’t help in all situations because they can’t be answered. There are situations where it is very hard to tell what is right and what is wrong. A lot of times there isn’t just one answer. That is where people make mistakes because we aren’t perfect. I think that if you HAVE to not have religion than people can base their decisions on what they think (and what they think other people will think) is correct. Its like taking the “What Would Jesus Do” and making it “What is the right thing to do logically?” Of course not everyone is going to agree on this because personally I don’t agree with taking religion out. I just see this as the only reasonable way to go without religion.

Question 3 says, Do you personally believe that there can be any solid set of moral guidelines without religion?

I personally don’t believe that there can be any solid set of moral guidelines without religion. Saying this probably just contradicted what I said before lol. Again I say I don’t really believe what I said earlier I just think that’s the only other way to go. You can’t have a solid set of moral guidelines without religion because basically what do we do good for? A lot of it ends up being for religious reasons. The idea of “good” against “bad” is because it is what God says is good and bad. Someone who doesn’t believe in God may say something is good that a Christian might say is bad. Which person is right? Well for our religion we are right but in their eyes they are right. It’s all the same circle. There is no exact right and wrong therefore it’s hard to have right morals. I do think that certain things can lead toward more good and more bad but again who gets to decide what is right and wrong. Christianity offers a stable moral compass because the decisions we make with religion help others. It leads more in a happy ending than it does a bad one. It’s the exact opposite if you go against Christianity. Basically with morals there comes religion and you can’t have a solid set of morals without a solid religion.

So that was proably the most confusing and no sense making comment you every got.

well see ya!

Andrew said...

3. i think that one can have a set of 'moral guidelines' without religion, per say. Even a complete atheist will admit(?) to having at least some form of morals or conscience. Us students of Reformed Theology would call this Common Grace, but w/e...

1. One could argue that a standard of morality is whatever one makes it. therefore, there would never be a single standard that everyone would agree on. i suppose that there could be a 'majority rules' option, but there would always be at least a few people that would be unhappy.

RawkChick said...

ok-here's a stab at making sense to other people...hopefully you can. :)

in response to question #1, i believe that, for non-believers, there could be something other than God's word that could lead them to descisions of right and wrong. and even for believers, there is the government that we are supposed to submit to and obey. but for believers there is also the moral law (10 commandments) that we are supposed to try our best to obey, although we can't obey them perfectly since we are all sinners. i agree w/ Darlin that people can't force other people to believe something. and yes, Mrs. H, this is probably a cliche, but it gets the point across: 'you can lead a sheep to water, but you can't force it to drink' or w/e it is. and nobody can agree on anything-look at what happened in class! and that was only 10 or so people. it would also probably get very boring if we all agreed-there would be no debates, no political parties, although some people might think that would be great. ok i think im rambling...onto question #4

in the Matrix, Neo has a choice, a moral dilemma, of which pill to take, which will choose which course the movie will take-if he takes one (i forget which) he will forget w/e happened and go back to his 'normal' life. whereas if he takes the other pill, he becomes one of them, fighting Agent Smiths (Missterrr Anderrsonnn) , and learning who he is and what the world really is. the movie woudl be nothing if Neo didn't make the 'right' choice: the blue pill or the red pill.

so i hope all this made sense...see you all thurs.

QT Patutee said...

Hey Mrs. H!
well i'd like to answer questions 1 and 2...
1.) I don't believe there are any other moral standards that we need to follow other than the ones God has set up. This is why I believe that: because God created the world, He is all knowing and all powerful and knows what things need to be done for the world to run smoothly. 2nd: we are commanded to listen to God, and what He tells us, be it through the Bible, through a Pastor, through a friend, or in a still quiet whisper, everything else is of this world and can be disregarded. So what other force, or authority would there be to assign moral codes?
2.) I think there is a different moral standard for different situations. For instance: in the Bible it says "Do NOT murder." correct? Correct. What then happens in war? Or self defense, or anything else in that situation. I believe that is judged at a different measure.

that's all i've got to say. :-D
<3 me

Sem said...

Hi Mrs.H, I guess that I'll try to answer number 4 since no one else has.

Okay, well, in the story of Corrie Ten Boon, Corrie was hiding Jews in her house, and when the nazis came she lied and told them that she was not hiding any Jews, and they didn't find them. Now as a Christian, I believe lying is wrong, but her lying saved those people, but does that really make it okay?

Now another character in the story who was hiding Jews was also searched by the nazis, she did not lie, and the nazis did not believe her the jews were not found, everything works out.

Well, that was pretty much the only one i could answer, sorry, guess I'll see you tomorrow, byes.

Anonymous said...

Aswering question #1...No, I really don't think we can base our ideas on morality by anything other then religion. You can look at the morality in America which sometimes reflects the morality of Chistianity. But then there are so many difforant parts in the world that have totally difforant morality. I don't think people should base their morality on what they personally think is right. But there is a difforance between...say criminals and people like Hitler. Criminals most likely know what they do is wrong, though Hitler thought what he was doing was right.

Leopold said...

I enjoyed what Rosie said about the golden rule; it is a wonderful measure for ethics in general. For example, there was an article I read on the disparities between the ways that men and women approach ethics. It was interesting to note that a prior study was done, interviewing only male subjects, on what they considered to be ethical. By and large, they defined ethics as allowing other people their ability to act freely and independently, so long as they did not interfere with anyone else's ability to do so. The writer of the article I read (Carol Gilligan) did her own study later on, interviewing girls on the same subject, and based the article on both studies. She found that by the standards of what the white male subjects of the first study held popularly to be ethical, women and minorities were, by and large, ethically deficient. This is in part because women tend to look at ethical action as doing good for others, rather than avoiding harm. It is a more active definition, and the disparity is probably the source of a great deal of marital strife. However, the golden rule seems to encompass both.

Pere Grin said...

2. I think that good and bad are not “set in stone” so to speak. The Ten Commandments say “Do not murder” but in the Old Testament God repeatedly told the Israelites to kill all of a certain people group. While some may argue that this is only for the Christian view, the same thing applies to our society today. In our country, killing another human being is against the law. But then we fight wars with large death tolls. Are not then our soldiers breaking the law? No they are not because the law that says no man is allowed to kill another man does not apply to soldiers who are fighting for out country. What is bad in one case is necessary and the other.

3. Yes I believe that is it possible to have a solid set of moral guidelines without religion. I have a few friends that say they are atheist and they still adhere to their own set of morals. Admittedly I think that some of these morals are incorrect, but they do not break their morals any more then religious people break theirs. Sometimes it seems that they are “better people” because they do look like hypocrites like some Christians I know. All of them have very defined morals and they all hold to them. None of my friends would be what one calls “religious”.

Interestingly enough, I have been told "you're a christian, so you can do that." by some people I know. They feel tht because I am "religious" I can do things that they themselves are not "allowed" to do. Does this make Christians "more free" in some respects then those who are not "religious"?? Normally religion is touted by the media as a bunch of rules that one must follow to achieve an uncertain reward. But is seems to me that non-religious people have a harder set of rules to follow to be socially acceptable while Christians have religion to use as an excuse for certian behavior. Is this so?? Just a random thought I had.