The Principles of Ethics Ethics is the search for universal objective principles for evaluating human behavior, good or bad. The ability to interpret the morally correct resolution to a moral, when confronted by a moral dilemma, can be a very difficult task. In societies today, ethics are developed by ones religious beliefs, government, and through experience. Social ethics serve as the premise for morality. There are two common systems of thought regarding ethics. One is absolutism, and the other is relativism.
Cultural relativism is the belief that right and wrong vary from one society to another and from one time to another. In practice, it is the belief that what is right for one person is not necessarily right for another person. The cultural relativist observes that some things that are considered wrong today in America, such as slavery, were not always considered wrong in America and are not always considered wrong in other societies today. In Middle Eastern countries, it is considered wrong for a woman to be out in public with her head uncovered, but elsewhere in the world it is acceptable and even the norm. From this they conceive that right and wrong must be relative, and that absolute right and wrong do not exist. Absolutism, on the other hand, believes that right and wrong are based on a truth that doesn’t vary.
The absolutist believes that what is right or wrong is always right or wrong whether or not a society recognizes it as such at the time. Absolutism is often founded in religious faith, believing that the truth of right and wrong comes from God, such as is found in the Ten Commandments. The absolutist views ethics much like the scientist views nature, that there is a truth out there waiting to be discovered and explained, and once explained everything else falls into place. For example, when an absolutist believes that life begins at conception, it becomes obvious to him or her that abortion is the taking of a human life and is, therefore, wrong. Humans through ethics, create morality, a personal or social code of conduct. The principles for one’s morality are founded by the ethical standards of their society.
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Through experience, education, religion, and morality humans develop morals based on social and religious ethics. Morals give humans the ability to distinguish the morally right and good decision to make when confronted with a moral dilemma. However, in some instances we are confronted with a morally problematic situation in which it is difficult to distinguish the morally correct solution. For example, we ” ll consider the morally problematic situation faced by my neighbors, the Turners. The Turner family is like any average, American, middle-class family of Catholic faith. One night Michael, the Turners eldest son who had just graduated from college, went out to a bar to celebrate.
Later, in the morning hours, Michael decides that he should go home. He decides to drive home even though he was full of liquor and could barely walk. On his way home Michael runs a red light, proceeds to smash into a car, thereby killing the driver. He then leaves the scene, of which there were no witnesses, and hurries home. Michael’s parents tell him to stay at the house while they attempt to resolve and analyze the situation. The next day, a couple of police officers arrive at the house and question Michael’s parents about his whereabouts on the previous night.
Unbeknown to them he was a suspect for vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of a crime. What is the morally correct decision for the Michaels parents to make in this situation? Should they protect their son from prosecution or hand him over to the proper authorities? His parents must decide which of their options is morally correct, and then choose that option. The ethical principles of divine moral authority and utilitarianism can be used to help a person distinguish the morally correct decision, when confronted with a morally problematic situation. In the Turners case, the two principles can be applied to their dilemma in order find the solution that is morally correct. However, the Turners through their examination raise another question. Why should we be moral? The morally correct solution to the Turners situation varies depending on the ethical principle that is applied.
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After analyzing the situation using the principles, one learns why we should be moral. Robert C. Mortimer, a philosopher during the 1950 s, developed the ethical principle of divine moral authority. The principles of divine moral authority are established primarily by the ethical principles of Catholicism.
Mortimer states that, according to moral authority, “man’s ownership and use of the material world is not absolute, but subject to the law of God. In order to make a morally correct judgment, we must assure that the judgment coincides with natural moral law, the laws established by our God. Natural moral law, in accordance with Mortimer, states that nature has intrinsic goals, without irregularities and purposes, in which the lower goals must be subordinate to higher goals. According to Mortimer, the Turners must analyze their situation according to natural moral law. Michael has killed a person, which violates one of most sacred laws of God, eve though he did not kill the person intentionally. Although Michael is their son, his parents must acknowledge that Michael has violated a moral law of the society and the law of God.
Though Michael’s parents do not want their son to be taken away from them bad prosecuted, they must realize the severity of the situation. If Michael’s parents decided to elude the police and continue to protect their son, they too would be violating moral and ethical laws established by society and their God. Mortimer would argue that Michael’s parents must rely on reason and not their feelings because to make the body obey the mind is in harmony with nature. Through reason, without being contaminated by the functions of the body, Michael’s parents are able to justifiably acknowledge the morally correct solution to their situation.
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What if the parents are unable to distinguish the morally correct decision? Mortimer says that, when we are unable to make a morally correct decision, our conscience will provide the morally correct answer. Ultimately, it is our conscience that allows us to decipher the morally good from the morally wrong. According to Mortimer, if the solution is contrary to a man’s own conscientious judgment there is a higher obligation to obey one’s own conscience. Through our conscience we establish the right and moral solution to a situation. After analyzing the Turners morally problematic situation, Mortimer would argue that society and God morally obligate Michael’s parents, to turn him over to the authorities. Michael’s parents must look beyond their sensations and realize that their son has committed a serious crime and that it is God’s will for him not to be punished, but corrected.
However, the ethical principle of utilitarianism provides Michael’s parents with a different situation. John Stuart Mill developed the ethical principle of utilitarianism in the 1860 s. Utilitarianism states that moral good is that action, which brings about the greatest happiness and least pain for the greatest number affected by that act because humans, naturally, desire happiness and avoid unhappiness. Again, Michael’s parents are confronted with another dilemma. Michael’s parents would, according to their desire for happiness, conclude that it is morally correct for them to elude the police and continue to conceal the whereabouts of their son. However, Michael’s parents must also take into account how their decision affects society.
Does the Turners decision to protect Michael bring the greatest amount of happiness to everyone affected by Michael’s actions? What about the family of the person that Michael killed? If the police did not find Michael, then the greatest amount of happiness would not be experienced in the aspect of the victim’s family. Furthermore, justice would not be served which would not bring happiness to the society who demand justice is served. Mill would argue that, in spite of Michael’s parent’s feelings, turning their son in would be the morally correct thing for Michael’s parents to do even though happiness is not being brought to his parents. In this situation Michael has violated laws established by our society and our God.
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Michael drove his car while he was intoxicated, ran a red light, fled the scene of a crime, and he committed the greatest sin when he killed a person. I realize that Michael did not mean to kill the person. Nevertheless, since he made the morally incorrect decision to drive while he was intoxicated he is responsible for murdering that person. Would the accident have taken place if Michael weren’t intoxicated? Probably not. Therefore, Michael is responsible for his own actions and ultimately responsible for the death of that person.
I would argue that it is of moral good for Michael’s parents to turn him over to the police and allow him to be judged by society. Michael’s parents must realize that their son has to be corrected by society for his actions, because it is for his moral good and the moral good of the society. I also realize that Michael’s parents do not want to “lose” their son. But, they cannot rely on their feelings and must listen to what their conscience tells them. Ultimately, I think that the only, morally right, choice that Michael’s parents can make is too allow him to be prosecuted by society and their God for his actions. Why should Michael’s parents be moral? They should be moral because being moral is in accordance with the laws established by our God.
We are all driven by our conscience and soul to do what is morally right, some just choose the wrong path, but we are all consciously aware. Without morals there would be no justice or ethics. Our society is built from moral standards and ethics. Without ethics and morals there would be no society. Everything that exists today would not be present without ethics and morals; there would be no concept of good and bad. Morals and ethics make it possible for us to live in a society as a community with laws and regulations.
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The ethical principles of Mortimer and Mill raise many questions towards the morally problematic situation faced by the Turners. Although the Turners don’t want to lose their son, it is seen through both of the principles that the only morally correct solution for the family’s situation is for them to turn their son over to the police. Morals make us who we are as an individual and as a society. In order to have a prosperous society we must do what is morally good, in any instance. If we did not follow what was morally good, then our society would be filled with anarchy due to the lack of laws, and the world would run amuck.