Lecture 4 notes(oct 3).docx

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School of Environment
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Stephen Scharper

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ENV100: LECTURE 4 3 OCTOBER 2013 Introduction to Ethics - Ethics: is a branch of philosophy and is the study of morals and values. There are religious ethics and professional ethics as well. Ethics is to morality as geology is to rocks. It is hard to avoid this everyday usage. In this class, the focus is on the history of philosophical reflection on ethics. Ethics, the term, is used as a synonym for morality but this is not the case technically. There is a difference b/w morals and values.  Morals: what is right/wrong? What are the rules that govern your behavior? Don’t lie, cheat or steal - Ethics is the study of morality, the systematic study of human moral behavior, a systematic reflection on the customs and habits of a group of people Important distinctions one needs to make - Description vs prescription: it is important to distinguish from ‘what is’ vs ‘what ought to be’. It is often assumed that the way human life/society is structured is how it has ‘always been’ structured. Eg: in Toronto, homelessness wasn’t always as prevalent as it is today. There had been structural, economical and political changes that led to homelessness in North America. Therefore, it is important to see ‘what is’ from ‘what ought to be’. - Law vs morality: something may be legal (eg slavery in the 1800s) but may not be moral. Henry David Thoreau made that distinction and said that just because it is legal does not make it acceptable or moral.  Law sets the minimum standards for morality and is subject to some form of violent punishment  Ethical obligations extend well beyond legal morals.  Eg: killing a person is illegal and will be arrested. But are you legally compelled to help a homeless person? Will you be arrested if you do not help? Are you ethically bound?  It is also true that sometimes a law can be immoral and acts of civil disobedience aren’t necessarily employed to rectify it  Eg: Thoreau (video and his essay on civil disobedience) saw Mexico being attacked by USA as completely immoral and refused to pay tax to support the Mexican-American war. He talked about the role of civil disobedience. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi are major exponents of civil obedience, objection to immoral laws - It is imperative for people to have the freedom to choose b/w ‘what is’ and ‘what ought to be’. Ability to choose allows us to make ethical decisions. - Fact vs value: important to distinguish good moral decision making as something depending on facts and values. You can have excellent values but can still make poor moral judgments because your facts may be wrong. You can also be able to understand thoroughly all the different details of a moral problem but still make poor judgment because you don’t see the moral issues clearly or your values are faulty. This pertains to the thoughts of David Orr who said that just because we are educated about an issue doesn’t necessarily mean we will make the right ethical decision. How to develop moral character: Character or virtue ethics & Discernment - Character and virtue ethics: For Aristotle, ethics wasn’t simply about choosing good over evil. The real concern in ethics was your character and how character was shaped over time by practicing good values/acts habitually till its no longer a thought process (a habit of the heart)  These virtues aren’t taught in a classroom but learnt by repetition  For the ancient Greeks, stories were important to develop moral character so much so that Plato talked about censoring the story plot if the story involved immoral acts  Acts in the media portray good and evil, but how does that shape your character? - Discernment: it is not always about making the correct decision but rather it lies in being able to discern/see the real problem at hand that needs to be resolved. Sometimes we allow complex and technical dimensions overcrowd the moral issue.  Discerning moral issues is as important as the technical dimensions  For many people, discernment is largely an issue of the character  Eg: Aldo Leopold discerning a limitation of ethics and trying to extend it beyond the ethical framework, which is not sufficient to focus on human relationships. He believes that a new ethic, the land ethic, be evolved. Two types of strands for moral reasoning or problem solving: Teleological (or consequentialist) OR Deontological (or non-consequentialist) - Teleological approach: comes from the Greek word meaning ‘end’ or ‘objective’. In this type of reasoning, a moral decision is based its outcome or consequence. Regardless of what the action might be, actions are moral to the degree to which they lead to the desired goal. Eg: a branch of this is utilitarianism, which states that the proper end for moral action should be the greatest happiness or the greatest good or the greatest number. This determines whether something is moral or not. Moral decision-making is thus a calculation of what actions will produce the greatest happiness/pleasure and the least pain. Might giving a happy pill (that led to no harmful effects) to everyone be moral (drugging a population)? This type of reasoning suggests results, rather than underlying values or premises. - Deontological approach: this is related to ‘what ought to be’, determined by moral laws and principles (which are written or sometimes unwritten). Regardless of the effects or consequences, this method holds certain actions as wrong in and of itself. There are acts that are always wrong, no matter what, and you can’t justify them in terms of a higher value. Eg: rape, cheating, killing animals for sport. That is a categorical imperative.  A strand of the deontological approach is the Categorical Imperative  Categorical imperative was designed by Immanuel Kant  It requires the decision maker to be willing to make an individual action into a universal moral law (what if everybody did this, what if everyone could cross the street whenever they wanted to)  It acts as if your individual action could become a universal law. Therefore, a person must use reasoning to determine the universal implication of their individual action. Determining the appropriate rules is important.  Kant suggests that the only rule that governs actions is a (…??)  Eg: informing people of what is going to happen if they choose to participate in a research (give them a written consent form) is a direct result of Immanuel Kant and his categorical imperative  Kant said that morally, you cannot treat a human being as a means to an end. Have to treat them as a person in and of itself. You don’t use people as a means to an end and not an end of himself/herself. Eg: it is wrong to flirt with someone in order to get a third person’s attention.  This is a command that needs to be categorically followed.  Another strand of the deontological approach is the Divine Command.  ^ this relates to an authority higher than human beings. Relevant for a
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