Religion and Ethics – Discussion Post Question
While we have never said so directly to this point, ethics operates through our relationships with other people and the environment where those relationships occur – our families, our communities, our businesses, our nations, the whole of civilization, and the physical environment of the earth. It would be nonsense to speak of ethics in isolation from our contacts with each other.
Relationships beyond ourselves immediately return the discussion to our duties. It also revisits and adds to the concept of the scope of our responsibilities as limited to our immediate contacts, or beyond, to the community or even the whole world.
In this university, where we prepare for our professional and occupational days to come, how can we attach the ethics we learn to the professional societies and communities where we will apply them? Everything that happens involves our relationships.
We need to evaluate ethical positions involving key moral controversies. Such controversies involve conflicting duties between self and society, profession and family, person and nation. Such conflicts require us to use ethical theories, moral values, and logical reasoning. An example of two such ethical theories we can use in these cases are Ethical Egoism and Social Contract Theory.
Instructions: Self and Others
Read/review the following resources for this activity:
- Textbook: Chapter 5, 6
- Minimum of 1 scholarly source (in addition to the textbook)
Initial Post Instructions
Rather than living in chaos, danger, and the hostility of our neighbors, we find ways to live together. It isn’t easy, but can we avoid doing so?
If everybody has self-interest in their own welfare and safety, then everybody also has self-interest in the welfare and safety of others. Self-interest involves community interest, and we must think about what we are willing to give up in order to get that safety and stability for ourselves, our families, our community, our nation, and even the world.
Thomas Hobbes and John Locke are just two examples of social contract moralists. Locke’s philosophy helped Thomas Jefferson formulate the United States Declaration of Independence. We are interested in what it means to live together in an orderly way under a social contract.
Initial Post Instructions: address one of the following sets of questions:
- What is a time when you or someone you know of experienced a conflict between duty to self and loyalty to the community? What would logical reasoning say should be done in that case? Why that? What would an Ethical Egoist say to do? Why would they say to do that? Note what you feel is the best course of action.
- What is a time when you or someone you know experienced a clash between professional duties and familial duties? Reference a professional code such as that of the American Nurses Association or American Bar Association in explaining the clash. What moral values should have been used in that case? Why those values? What would social contract ethics have said to have done? Why would social contract ethics say that? Note what you feel is the best course of action.
- Articulate and evaluate a time when you or someone you know saw personal obligations collide with national obligations. How did that tension involve differing positions on a moral debate? Did those positions rely on any key moral theories? If so, how so? If not, why not? Note what you feel is the best course of action.
- Minimum of 2 posts (1 initial & 1 follow-up)
- Minimum of 2 sources cited (assigned readings/online lessons and an outside scholarly source)
- APA format for in-text citations and list of references
Writing Requirements (APA format)
- Length: 2-3 pages (not including title page or references page)
- 1-inch margins
- Double spaced
- 12-point Times New Roman font
- Title page
- References page (minimum of 2 scholarly sources)
Required Resource Reading:
Our many relationships are where the applied ethics of our lives are acted out, and conflict commonly occurs at every level of life. This week, we will look at and practice using ethics when resolving conflicts. This is partly about the concern about the boundaries of our duties and obligations.
Ethical egoism says that what is morally right is whatever is in one’s own best interests. That does not mean anything that makes us happy is moral. Addictive drugs might make us happy, but they are not in our rational interests. The most famous advocate of Ethical Egoism was Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand lived during the twentieth century (1905-1982). She left the Soviet Union to come to the United States. There, she wrote novels, essays, and philosophical works. Her version of Ethical Egoism is called Objectivism.
Rand begins by asserting that all human behavior is self-interested. This is an objective and empirical claim based on observation of people, a claim of behavioral science. Notice her use of the descriptive word is. To bring that claim to ethics involves a shift of language into prescriptive form. Rand is claiming that all honest and ethical behavior is and should be self-interested and only self-interested. Again, notice the shift to the prescriptive words should be. But if every action is motivated solely by self-interest what does one make of altruism? Is it unrealistic – or even impossible – that people behave altruistically toward each other without a selfish motivation for doing so?
If that is true, then it seems as if ethics and morality are impossible. The idea continues that acting unselfishly has a benefit to the actor in a feel-good payoff of personal satisfaction; therefore, all altruistic acts are sabotaged in their moral value by the satisfaction that the actor enjoys. Especially for heroic acts, the public acclaim undermines the value of the true altruism, which would be an act benefiting others without pay-off as an actor. The objectivist position claims that people do altruistic, noble, and even heroic acts for what is in their own interest, and acting in self-interest undermines all value attached to those altruistic actions.
Having shifted from “is self-interested” to “should be only self-interested,” Rand’s position also denies that people have any duty or obligation to others. If each person should pursue his or her self-interest exclusively, it follows that one’s only duty is to their own self-interest and not to other people or the community at all. Rand would say that we can help others if it benefits us, but should avoid it if it means going against what is good for us. Rand’s conclusion is that any decision becomes right by virtue of one’s own advantage – and nothing else. Rand is ultimately about loyalty to self over loyalty to community, to a family, to a profession, or nation.
Professional, Familial, and National Obligations
Professional communities, formed as professional societies, serve several functions. These societies also have their own codes of ethic. The American Nurses Association for example has a code of ethics you can review here: https://www.nursingworld.org/practice-policy/nursing-excellence/ethics/code-of-ethics-for-nurses/Links to an external site.
Among the functions of such associations is to define the boundaries of the profession both as work to be accomplished and membership within the profession, to educate potential members of the professions through graduate education and accreditation of the graduate schools, to examine and certify graduates in order to determine whether they meet standards for practicing the profession, and to credential them for practicing the profession. Within that system is the need to guarantee that accredited members practice according to defined ethical standards. These societies–examples including the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association, among many others–all publish, educate for, and examine codes of ethics. When it becomes necessary to discipline a member, it is the Code of Ethics that provides the professional standard for behavior and quality of practice.
Professional education aimed toward entrance into the professions will endeavor to instill the values and ethos of the profession – ethos being a word with a common root as ethics. An ethics course within the professional curriculum will teach to instill the values of the professional community with a larger goal of protecting the integrity of the professional community’s status and acknowledged role in the community. Within such a curriculum is an intention that new members of the profession will make their decisions and practical applications in continuity with the community’s history and vision of the future.
One’s professional duties dictate what one is permitted and forbidden in that field. For example, a lawyer knows what it is right or wrong to do with a client because the ABA has laid out key ethical principles. But, what if violating the ABA code could benefit the lawyer personally? Should the lawyer do so? Rand would advise the lawyer to violate the code.
The American Medical Association dictates what a doctor should do when it comes to patients. But, what if injuring a patient might benefit the community overall? For example, experimenting on a patient without consent might lead to a cure for many. Should the doctor put the interests of the community above a professional duty to receive informed consent or authorization from boards of review? These are the types of questions we will continue to consider as we move through the course.
Every human is part of a family. We have mothers, fathers, siblings, relatives, etc. We are called on to serve them and do for them. Our children call for attention. Most feel obligated to care for their children and care for them well. One way we care for them is by providing for their basic needs such as safe shelter and food to eat. However, to do that requires money which requires a job, which comes with its own obligations. A senior engineer might have a professional duty to ensure that the project he is working is safe for all. However, she/he also has to get home in time to pick their children up from school. Perhaps, a junior engineer is on the project. The senior engineer then would have to decide whether or not to leave the project in the hands of the junior engineer to attend to a familial duty. They would have to test whether they are allowing their professional obligation to be neglected in favor of another pressing matter. This is just one example from day to day life where we see an interplay of ethics.
War is a time when some of the greatest personal ethical tests occur. War is a time when one’s personal ethics are often required to be put aside in pursuit of national objectives. This requirement often tempts people to find ways to be excused from armed service. Is a young woman who feigns a medical condition to avoid being drafted into a national army acting unethically by seeking to pursue her own interests rather national ones? What if she is morally opposed to the violence of war? Then is she justified in dodging the draft?
The social contract schools of ethics and politics developed from the need to support forms of government in Europe and America. the ethics of the social contract call for decisions that support the stability and safety of the commonwealth for the self-interested benefit of all people. Driven by self-interest, social contract morality requires an agreement on how to get along. It can be a formal contract negotiated at a conference (the Constitutional Convention) and also an operative morality that allows personal self-interest in exchange for the protected self-interest of others. The goal is to establish and maintain the conditions for a peaceful society and all the aspects of it.
Looking at the right of people to use their power to preserve their own lives and possessions (jus naturale), plus the responsibility to not do what is forbidden and destructive to life (lex naturalis), Hobbes arrived at the contractual ideal that people would lay down some of their rights to all things in exchange for others’ laying down claims to what they own. There is reciprocity here; a peaceful coexistence can be achieved among self-interested people by their relinquishing of claims upon each other. For our purposes, it shows the issues involved in the common safety and security of governed peoples and their relationship to whoever will govern them – what they yield to their governor in exchange for the ability to go about their lives and businesses.
Hobbes wanted a strong central authority. Without loyalty and submission to such authority (like a king or queen) we would steal each other’s possessions and land and then fight to the last man standing. Only His Majesty can and should hold all the authority except over our own ability to remain alive – he alone can handle the civil, military, ecclesiastical, and judicial system. That is what the social contract needs to be – enough to keep the barbarianism that lurks within us at bay.
John Locke had a different idea. He thought we had specific God-given rights that could never be nullified. These were the rights to life, liberty, and private property for example. The ethics of a commonwealth were that equally free and independent people ought not to harm the basic rights of others; therefore, there would be no subordination of people and that rights of self-preservation were to be protected.
People live in safety when they honor an informal and implied social contract – they let others live and prosper in exchange for confidence that others will let them live and prosper as well. Yes, self interest drives everybody – natural enough – and so we live peacefully under our social order and give up only what we need to give up for the common good that allows our self interests.
Title: The Elements of Moral Philosophy
Authors: James Rachels, Stuart Rachels
Publisher: Mcgraw-Hill Education
Publication Date: 2018-03-20
Rachels, S., & Rachels, J. (2019). The elements of moral philosophy (9th ed.). Mcgraw-Hill Education.
This textbook is available as an e-book and can be accessed from the module view.
If your course has a VitalSource eBook, make sure to review this information.