Ethics and Justice
Ethics is also referred to as moral philosophy. A branch of philosophy, ethics looks at questions and issues that surround morality. Put another way, ethics deals with right versus wrong, good versus evil, justice versus crime, and virtue versus vice. The field of ethics features a number of branches. The following will examine some of the different fields of ethics.
Greek philosophy boasted its share of famous thinkers whose ideas still resonate to this day. Socrates’ philosophy was based on the belief that every person should attain self-knowledge and then do what is naturally good. Aristotle’s philosophical views centered around self-realization, which he claimed was the concept of people realizing their total potential as a means to becoming happy and good people. According to Aristotle’s way of looking at things, happiness should be the primary goal of every person.
Hedonism was another area of philosophy that came about from ideas produced by the Ancient Greeks. Hedonism asserts that the highest ethic one can aspire to is reduce pain while maximizing pleasure. One type of hedonism is called Cyrenaic hedonism, which asserts that the goal of life should be instant gratification and pleasure. Epicurus, the philosopher from Ancient Greece, opposed the extremist views of Cyrenaic hedonism, but he did espouse that living well should be pursued, just not living well at the expense of health. The last of the major Greek schools of philosophy is stoicism. This school of philosophical thought valued peace of mind and absolute liberation from being mastered by one’s emotions and desires.
Modern ethics deals with three branches in particular: consequentialism, deontology and pragmatic ethics. Consequentialism deals with the moral theory that the outcome of any given action creates the basis of for any type of ethical judgment about said action. In other words, an action that is morally right is one that creates a good outcome. Deontology involves analyzing the rightness or the goodness of choices from the examination of the acts themselves. Pragmatic ethics puts a concern for social reform ahead of any attempts to be held accountable for consequences, duty or individual virtue.
Postmodern ethics gained popularity in the 20th century. This branch of ethics deals with the belief that the world is relational, which gives rise to the opinion that the complex constellation of actions must be studied. Thus, a basic alignment of ideas of certain acts and rightness is hardly possible. Another offshoot of postmodern ethics involves machine ethics, which refers to concern with the moral conduct of artificially intelligent beings.
A discipline of philosophy, applied ethics tries to apply ethics to situations that one will find himself or herself in, in real life. Applied ethics has grown to include specialized fields like business ethics, bioethics and engineering ethics. Some aspects of public policy planning actually depend on applied ethics to come up with new policies. Two of the bigger fields in which applied ethics are used are in military ethics and in relational ethics.
The branch of moral psychology has competing definitions. Some people refer to it as a means of studying and examining one’s moral development. Other people, however, use moral psychology as a reference to the study of things that are a combination of psychology and ethics. An example would be a subject that is significant to the mind while still including moral issues.
Descriptive ethics is best thought of as a value-free way of approaching ethics. This makes descriptive ethics the social science of sociology instead of a humanity. Instead of analyzing ethics from a top-down observation, it examines ethics from the standpoint of real decisions made by practicing moral agents. Sometimes, this may lead to situated ethics and situational ethics.
Ethics and Morals in Modern Day Topics
Many modern day topics are not immune from questions surrounding ethics and morals. One of the most divisive as well as popular modern day topics to involve ethical and moral questions is the issue of abortion. Opponents will say that it is unethical to abort fetuses (who would develop into actual babies) except in the case of incest or rape, but proponents may say that it is unethical to force a woman to do something to her body (read: carry the baby to term) if she doesn’t want to. Another modern day topic that has heavy ethical and moral implications is the death penalty. Proponents may insist that it has the effect of deterring people from committing serious crimes, while opponents say that even the government does not have the right to commit murder to punish serious crimes.