Ethics and Morality, Essay Example

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Essay

According to White (1991), ethics is defined as the segment in philosophy concerned with right and wrong and other issues related to human conduct (p. 14). Morality is defined as a system of behavior based on standards of right and wrong. Ethical knowledge is a necessary condition for becoming a moral agent because it establishes a foundation and a framework on which to base moral decisions. It serves as a guide to moral behavior based on the knowledge of right and wrong. If a person does not have a moral framework to follow, he or she will not be adequately equipped with the knowledge between right and wrong. Although morality is often innate, it is still necessary to have a strong ethical foundation to be an effective moral agent.

Philosopher Immanuel Kant, gained fame for his work which propagated respect for one another. According to Kant, there is a positive linear relationship between personal needs and self-love. In other words, a person who needs something will rely on others for help(Janaway, 2012). Those who provide the help do so because they feel morally obligated. Where then does the moral obligation stem from?

The Euthyphro

The Euthyphro asks whether something that is morally good is commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because God commanded it(Combs, 2011). This dialogue is philosophically important because it addresses the issue of morality from the perspective of theists as well as atheists. In other words, it created a debate as to the proper definition of morality. Socrates argued that the pious is not the same as those loved by God. The Euthyphro does not define the pious, which is what it initially aimed to do; instead it gives characteristics of the pious. In order to identify the philosophical lessons learned from this debate, it is essential to identify the dilemma associated with the debate. It can be divided into two separate issues: (a) is what is commanded by God commanded by Him because it is right, and (b) is something right because it is commanded by God?

Intellectuals and realists argue that morality exists independently from God’s involvement. In other words, certain actions are right or wrong in and of themselves, regardless of God’s commands. Socrates agreed with this viewpoint. However, theists disagree with this viewpoint by stating that if something exists that is either right or wrong independently of God’s command, which must mean that God does not have supremacy over that thing. Therefore, God is not sovereign. This means that God does not establish right or wrong independently from mankind’s input, instead He relies on man’s interpretation of right and wrong to further His ideals. Theists therefore find this approach unacceptable. Theists also argue that if morality exists without God’s input, then morality would have a certain authority even if God did not exist. It would therefore mean that God would have no impact on morality and would therefore play no important role in human morality. Theists argue that this negates the existence of God and therefore disagree with this viewpoint. Non-theists use this argument to deny the existence of God by claiming that if morality exists independently from God, then God is not needed to establish moral foundations, and therefore does not exist; or at least, does not need to exist.

The second part of the dilemma asks if something is right because it is commanded by God. This option argues that morality will not exist if God does not exist. In other words, without the moral guidance and existence of God, morality would cease to exist and nothing would be right or wrong.  Voluntarists argue that something is good because God allows it and is bad or wrong because God prohibits it. Non-theists argue that if there is no reason for morality to exist, other than the fact that God wills it so, then it would mean that morality is based purely on God’s will, and not on reason. This would mean than morality is subjective, judged by God, and determined by Him. Also, if this is true, then God is not just or rational. Lastly, this would imply that on God’s command, anything can be good or bad. So, God would be the sole decision-maker on what is good or bad. This would mean that morality, which is believed to be individual behavior based on personal standards of good or bad, would not exist anymore. Free will would not exist either. So, the philosophical lesson learned from this dialogue is one of reason and morality. Morality determines individual actions. Individuals must reason to determine what is moral and what is not. Morality is essential to life. Whether or not a person believes in God does not give that person reason to act in a manner which is morally irresponsible.

The Unjust Man Argument

Plato argues that the just man is happier because by making just decisions he instills order in his life. The just man has a well-ordered soul and bases all his decisions on reason. This means that reason will determine and limit the just man’s desires, whether they are just or unjust(Nails, 2002). If the just man forgoes reason to do something which is unjust, he will contaminate his well-ordered soul. This would result in inner turmoil. Although certain desires will be attained by acting unjustly, the man’s soul would become chaotic. This chaos would translate into unhappiness. So, the unjust man would eventually become incredibly unhappy, despite all he has gained by acting unjustly. I am personally persuaded by Plato’s argument. Reason and knowledge set the conditions for a just and happy soul because it defies any reason for unjust behavior. In western society most people have good moral standards. Our behavior is guided by our moral standards. When a situation arises where we stand to gain something by acting unjustly, we are forced to examine our morality. Through reason and knowledge about consequences and right and wrong, we can make a sound decision based on our individual moral ideals(Nails, 2002). If our moral are sound, we make a decision that is just and we feel good about that decision. This results in a happy soul.

Aristotle

Aristotle describes function of man as the rational pursuit of virtue. Virtue is described as that which is good; however, in this pursuit, one must first identify what is good. Aristotle argues that good is not just good. Ultimate good is the higher good, the good that is more desirable than any other good. In order to be the highest good, Aristotle names three qualities: it must be desirable for itself, it is not desirable for the sake of another good, and all other goods are considered desirable for its sake (Kraut, 2010). He argues that humans live to attain the ultimate good. In other words, man lives to attain the utmost well-being. Money, health, etc. are mere tools to obtain the goal of well-being. He argues that happiness happens when man does something to reach his highest goal of well-being. Happiness is not a state of well-being, but rather the pursuit of it. “[Happiness] consists in those lifelong activities that actualize the virtues of the rational part of the soul,” (Kraut, 2010). So, based on Aristotle’s description on the function of man, it is safe to say that searching for a higher good, for the ultimate good, will bring happiness to a person. A person will therefore not be truly happy unless he or she actively seeks well-being.

Conclusion

Good deeds are the result of good morals. Some of the most notable philosophers of modern history all agree that in order to be a good moral agent, one must have solid ethical knowledge. Strong ethics establishes a framework for admirable moral conduct. In other words, a person’s ethical foundation is a fundamental component of that person’s moral decision. It teaches the individual the difference between right and wrong, and the value and consequences of all decisions. Without a moral framework, a person will not understand the difference between right and wrong. Not understanding the difference between right and wrong will result in unjust behavior that will be harmful to the individual and those around him. Morality and knowledge of ethics pertains to all aspects of live and influences each and every decision.

References

Combs, B. E. (2011). Plato’s “Euthyphro”: An Examination of the Socratic Method in the Definitional Dialogues. Austin: The University of Texas at Austin.

Janaway, C. (2012). Necessity, Responsibility and Character: Schopenhauer on Freedom of the Will. Kantian Review, 17(3), 431-457.

Kraut, R. (2010). Aristotle’s Ethics. Retrieved June 26, 2011, from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy : http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2010/entries/aristotle-ethics/

Nails, D. (2002). The People of Plato: A Prosopography of Plato and Other Socratics. New York: Hackett Publishing.

White, T. I. (1991). Discovering Philosophy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Simon & Schuster.

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