Posted on October 13, 2018
Hello Ethic Nutters,
In the news another first to take note of by China. Remember just a little earlier this year the cloning of primates, well now Chinese scientists have achieved the birth of baby mice by “two mums and no dad”.
See the following link for the BBC story: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-45801043
It can be certain, as we witness this technological revolution, a need exists for unified regulations so that private sector profits from this technology are not hindered in one nation while unrestricted in another.
Posted on October 11, 2018
Upon first reading, it is apparent that Kierkegaard writing Fear and Trembling pseudonymously as Johannes de Silentio, which translates to John of Silence, is dealing with the teleological suspension of the ethical and yet with a great deal more. In this paper, I will examine the purpose of the book, which I take to be an attempt to get people to view faith as something hard to attain, and I will examine why Kierkegaard cannot understand Abraham.
The purpose of writing Fear and Trembling for Kierkegaard was on the surface simply because he enjoys writing and Abraham is someone he admires a great deal. “He writes because to him it is a luxury that is all the more pleasant and apparent the fewer there are who buy and read what he writes” (pg7) At the time, it is known that few people indeed actually took the time to read his works. In the preface of Fear and Trembling he is clearly stating that he is writing the book, merely for the joy he gets out of writing. As one reads further into the text, however, there appears to be another possible reason for him to write the book, perhaps a strong reason. This reason is that he wants people to go back to viewing faith as something which is difficult to come by not something which is easy. “Faith is another matter, but no one has the right to lead others to believe that faith is something inferior or that it is an easy matter since, on the contrary, it is the greatest and most difficult of all.” (pg52) It is clear that Kierkegaard believes that his generation views faith as something relatively easy to obtain and then continue past it, “In our age, everyone is unwilling to stop with faith but goes further.” (pg.7) Kierkegaard denies this is possible, and so what he wants to do is to get people back to the notion that faith is actually something which is extremely hard. This is a direct challenge to the Hegelian belief that through philosophy faith is something which one can transcend. I believe the way in which he does this is analogous to his example of the mother weaning her child off of breast milk. (pg.11) Kierkegaard brings up the example of a mother blackening her breast in order to wean her child off of breast milk in the first of his four Abraham and Isaac scenarios, in order to understand why Abraham in the first scenario turned back to Isaac with a wild gaze. It was to make Isaac have faith, the same way in which a mother does something which she knows the child does not want in order to do what is best for the child in the end. Along these lines Kierkegaard is shocking the reader into a realization that faith is something which is not easy to come by, is not something which someone can go beyond, but rather extremely difficult, and impossible to go beyond.
The difficulty of attaining faith is constant throughout the entire text as is the notion that one cannot go past it. This is never more explicit than when speaking about Abraham the father of faith, his entire obsession, he states “…you got no further than faith.” (pg. 23) He makes it clear in the epilogue why someone cannot go beyond faith, and it is based on the notion that faith is unlike science in which generations can build upon the previous generations, rather each generation starts primitively and cannot go any further than the previous one. “…no generation has learned to love from another, no generation is able to begin at any other point than at the beginning…” (pg.121) He goes on to state that thinking someone could go further than the previous generation is “foolish and idle talk.”
It seems to me however that Kierkegaard is making it appear harder to attain faith than he truly believes it to be. The reason for this is that he begins the epilogue with a case when merchants sank a few cargoes of spices to increase the value. This specifically is not the reason why I believe he is making it seem harder to attain faith than he truly believes but rather his sympathy towards the case. Kierkegaard stating “This was an excusable, perhaps even necessary, deception.” (pg.121) and “Is this the kind of self-deception the present generation needs?” (pg.121) along with his emphasis on the mother weaning the child by blackening her breast all indicate to me that Kierkegaard wrote this book to shock people, by overemphasizing how hard faith is, into realizing they should change their ways, even if they do not realize at the time it is the best thing for them.
Kierkegaard uses the example of Abraham in Fear and Trembling because Abraham has achieved what is extremely difficult, which is having faith. The strange thing about Kierkegaard using Abraham is that he continuously mentions throughout the book that he cannot understand Abraham. “I cannot understand Abraham – I can only admire him.” (pg.112). Even more perplexing perhaps is when at the end of Fear and Trembling when he states, “I, for my part, perhaps can understand Abraham…” (pg.119). All of this can be explained I believe when one takes into consideration the relationship in which the ethical, the universal, and speech all have to one another and why Abraham thus cannot speak.
For Kierkegaard, the ethical is universal because it applies “to everyone…at all times.” (pg.54) As a result of this, it places the universal in the realm of the public. The one thing which connects people to one another in the realm of the public and allows us to share our experiences is our ability to speak to one another, and yet when trying to become a “knight of faith” one must do so as a single individual above the universal so that they may stand in absolute relation to the absolute. (pg. 113) If someone were to speak about their experience they would no longer be a single individual rather they would be in the realm of the universal. “As soon as I speak, I express the universal, and if I do not do so, no one can understand me.” (pg.60). This sheds light onto why Abraham does not speak.
Abraham remains silent out of necessity. Abraham’s experience with God is his own individual experience; he has entered into a private relationship with God in a manner through God’s command to Abraham. The moment Abraham speaks to someone is the moment he would go from the individual private relationship with God to the universal public domain. No one would be able to understand Abraham if he spoke. If he was to explain to me what he was doing in a manner in which I could understand, which Kierkegaard would deny is even possible, he would be sent back to the universal, the public realm because his journey would no longer be done by the single individual in isolation, he would have shared his experience with me. It is not the case that Abraham cannot open his mouth and utter words. To say Abraham cannot speak is really to say that if he were to try and explain his actions there would be no way in which someone else could understand him. “Abraham cannot speak, because he cannot say that which would explain everything (that is, so it is understandable)…” (pg.115). “Speak he cannot; he speaks no human language…he speaks in a divine language, he speaks in tongues.”(pg.114)
This explains why all throughout the book Kierkegaard states time and again that he cannot understand Abraham. The reason is that Abrahams experience is a unique one, Abraham was in a unique relationship with God, one in which no one else can experience, one in which, because of its uniqueness to specifically Abraham, no one can understand. “Faith itself cannot be mediated into the universal, for thereby it is canceled. Faith is this paradox, and the single individual simply cannot make himself understandable to anyone.”(pg.71) If Kierkegaard could understand Abraham than Abrahams experience would not be in the private realm of the single individual in relation to the absolute, rather it would be in the realm of the public, the universal.
What is one to make however of the fact that Abraham actually does speak at one point to Isaac. After Isaac asks Abraham where the lamb is for the offering, Abraham replies, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”(pg.116) Kierkegaard’s reply to this is that Abraham although he was speaking he was doing so in a way in which Isaac, or anyone for that matter, could not understand. Had he told Isaac the truth he would have broken his special relationship with God and moved back into the universal. There is an irony here that relates to the irony and paradox of faith in that Abraham is actually speaking the truth but a truth in which only he can understand. The paradox which is expressed through irony here is what also explains how at the end of Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard states he may be able to understand Abraham.
The only thing that can be known is that Abraham was in a paradox and experienced the absurd. The absurd and the paradox are both non-rational, they go against basic human ways of thinking and yet it is this which is necessary for someone to become a “knight of faith”. They must believe in the absurd. Kierkegaard states at one point that it is not that Abraham believes that God will stop him from sacrificing Isaac but that Abraham believes in the absurd in that after sacrificing Isaac he fully expects that God will bring Isaac back to him. It is also in this irony that the use of Johannes de Silentio as a pseudonym can be understood. The only thing Johannes wants to talk about and write is the one thing one cannot.
Posted on September 15, 2018
The purpose of this brief is to expand on an earlier post which had within it a definition of Good in its abstraction. A unique definition I thought of while studying in my final year at the University of Toronto.
The definition of Good as thought by me, recently edited for clarity, is the following:
That which generates externalities outside oneself which have a greater tendency to promote positive externalities amongst those experiencing effects from the initial externality than it would promote negative externalities over a given timespan.
What does this mean in the real world though? In the following few sections, I will explain further the definition by way of an example, and share a benefit and constraint of this definition.
An externality is an effect generated by a given cause. My sitting at a desk for two hours has the externality of my legs being sore. Since legs are painful when they are sore, and pain is a negative sensation, this is an example of a negative externality. Another example is when I compliment someone on their nice hat, they feel good. The externality is the recipient feeling good. This is an example of a positive externality.
The definition does not end with a single event however in describing Good. The reason for this is that in existence there is a continuum of events and an action which causes a blip of good feelings or pain in the leg may cause more negative externalities or end up causing tremendous positive externalities if we take our scope of time and lengthen it.
Looking at the two examples just shared, let us continue the examples and see how that sheds light on the definition.
The worker who has just experienced the negative externality of pain in the leg has actually warned his colleagues about staying seated for too long and in fact now what used to be common negative externalities amongst workers, has altogether been eliminated. The externality then which caused an initial negative externality would be defined as Good, within this timeframe. An externality which generated greater positive externalities amongst those experiencing the effects from the initial externality, then negative externalities, over a given timeframe.
The hat wearer received a compliment and decided to leave his girlfriend because of his now enlarged ego. Now the hat wearer’s girlfriend is sad and inconsolable along with her parents who hate to see her this way. The externality then which caused an initial positive externality would be defined as Bad, within this timeframe. An externality which generated greater negative externalities, over a given timeframe.
What is a benefit of this definition and constraints?
A benefit of this definition is that it understands and is rooted in the complexities of life. Would complimenting someone on a nice hat always be Good? For some, it would be because the act generates pleasure in the recipient. As a rule, it might even be seen as good because everyone likes compliments. What Good is, however, I would argue, is more than an instance in time. It is an externality which has had a lasting impact for more than a brief moment in time taking into account all individuals affected. Additionally, Good is not a Rule to prescribe an action based on past indications that it more than not generates pleasure or benefit. It is my opinion that Rules attempt to reproduce an action that was initially found to be Good. That could similarly apply to this definition but what is defined as Good would not be made based on its ability to be formulated into a prescribed Rule.
One constraint is that it could be said that the timespan in determining whether an externality was Good is not fixed. Detractors could say well as of now it is Good, but what if we wait a year and see how it has a further effect on people. In response, proponents could argue in measuring Good, if possible and in fact, I lean on that it cannot be, we must go with what is known to present day while acknowledging it may not always be Good.
To conclude, this is my definition and it is not without the need for further thought and development. Additional examples could further shed light on the definition in practice and I hope that by use of those used a picture of what is meant has been provided while perhaps not a full picture. I hope though it has peaked interest in its use as a viable approach to defining the morality of actions, events, and similar.
Posted on September 6, 2018
First I want to begin by saying I’m not against Dating Apps, I myself have used them and I know of people who have had really good success with them. As this is a blog about Ethics, I want to think about it in terms of how the process of finding someone, and the frequency with which it is done, is either good or bad, or neutral.
So how does it work? Download any choice of app dedicated to pairing people up and in a matter of minutes your scrolling through today’s classifieds. Thousands of people have signed up as well so it’s a little different than in the past. You can filter age, location, and some even areas like income and other areas of a person that may be desirable or undesirable. Messaging begins and if you’re lucky you exchange places to meet and tell each other what you will be wearing that first night and where you will meet. The second floor of bar X, her in red you in blue etc. etc. So is there anything wrong with this picture? Depends on who you ask.
On the one hand, it is a modern service offered to those looking to meet up with a significant other. On the other hand, it mass produces an experience which for hundreds of years took effort and skill. That seems to be the two sides of the coin. Personally, I’m on the fence.
While these apps have given rise to McDate’s, as we can call them, doesn’t the fact that couples resulting from their use are genuinely happy trump any ick factor. If there is an ick factor at all.
Yes, the ick factor is at play here. Often used for arguments against equal marriage rights, cloning, eating meat, etc. is to a lesser extent an influencer on whether people see McDating as good or bad. Those who have no ick factor say it’s fine. Those that do, of course, say it’s bad. Without going at length into why an ick factor should not have moral influence, I would just end by saying that I’m neutral. My measure would be on an individual basis rather than as a whole, and dependent on amounts of Utility generated.
Just a comment.
Posted on August 18, 2018
The focus of this paper is an examination of the question: Is the only intrinsic good pleasure and the only intrinsic evil is pain? The moral view which agrees with this claim is called value hedonism. Welfare hedonism although very similar is of a slightly different view. Welfare hedonists hold that pleasure and pain are the only intrinsic goods and evils which are counted towards a person’s well-being. They do not rule out the possibility of there being other intrinsic goods and evils just not ones which count towards well-being.
If all that is important is that someone is gaining pleasure regardless from the activities it is that they receive pleasure from, then it would under the view of pleasure being the only intrinsic good mean that a person is living a good life even if they are gaining their pleasure from the most basic of forms.
The objection here, however, is that we intuitively believe that it is not only that someone is gaining pleasure that is important but also from what sorts of activities they are gaining that pleasure from. For instance, if we were to compare someone who gains pleasure from watching the weather network to someone who gains pleasure from watching the opera, we are rightfully inclined to think that the one gaining the pleasure listening to great music has a greater overall well-being than that of the person watching the weather network. This objection raised though does not entirely rule out that pleasure is the only intrinsic good it merely shows that how someone is getting the pleasure is also of importance. Clearly, the mental state someone is in while gaining pleasure is also of importance but even with a combination of physical and mental states producing pleasure is that enough to determine someone’s well-being? Kagan thinks not. He illustrates through the use of the businessman and the experience machine examples that merely having physical and mental pleasures is in fact not by itself enough. There is reason to think that to determine well-being there must be some form of an external criterion to the situation so that well-being cannot be solely determined by the individual. These reasons can be seen in the businessman example.
The businessman example is that of a businessman who believes he has everything he has always wanted, a wife, children, and a successful business which provides him with large amounts of both mental and physical pleasures. What he does not know though is that his wife actually cheats on him, his children use him for his money and his business is about to be bought out. Under the view that pleasure is the only intrinsic good and pain the only intrinsic evil we would have to accept that the businessman’s life is a good one. It is reasonable however to reject the consideration of his life as being a good one because when looked at the situation objectively it is clear that the truth of the matter is he is not living the life he would like. It may be reasonable to say then that another intrinsic good is a certain objective truth of the matter or truth in general. Thus if we are to reject the idea that both the person watching the weather network and the person listening to opera are of equal well-being and also reject the idea that the ignorant businessman is living good life, then it seems to be there is good reason to deny the claim that pleasure is the only intrinsic good.
None of what has already been mentioned however specifically seems to addresses the issue of the intrinsic aspect of the question. Does the idea that the businessman is better off if he actually knew the truth of the matter necessarily mean that the objective truth of the matter is an intrinsic good? Does it not seem to be that the truth of the matter will make the businessman’s life better is a sufficient enough of a reason to state that truth is an intrinsic good. It is clearly a good, but for it to be intrinsic it must meet specific criteria.
To say something has intrinsic value is to say that it is valued for its own sake. Pleasure, for instance, is taken to have intrinsic value because it is valuable in itself, it is not used as a means to an end. Playing a sport, for instance, would be a good but it would not be an intrinsic good because people play sports as a means to the end goal of pleasure. A distinction is therefore made between goods which are in themselves valuable and those which are used as a means to an end called instrumental values. To say that pain is the only intrinsic evil and pleasure the only intrinsic good is not to deny the notion that there are other good’s and evils simply that the only intrinsic ones are pleasure and pain.
There are good reasons however to think that pleasures are not all good, specifically in three instances. The first instance involves morally vicious pleasures. The classic example of this is with torture. It seems reasonable to want to deny the claim that the pleasure someone gets from torturing someone is a good thing, rather just the opposite. Additionally, it is true that we take it to be a good thing to feel some pain for others in pain. Undeserved pleasures also raise serious doubts to the claim that pleasure is intrinsically good. For instance, after committing a crime it is reasonable to accept that the perpetrator deserves a certain degree of pain. The final instance of pleasure which is reason to think that pleasure is not intrinsically good is with mindless pleasures. A good example of this is someone who watches television all day to receive pleasure. These three objections seem to be sufficient enough for disputing the claim that pleasure is an intrinsic good and pain and intrinsic evil, since it is clear that not all pleasures are good and not all pains are evil.
So it may be the case in the end that the only intrinsic good is pleasure and the only intrinsic evil is indeed pain. At the same time, however, it seems clear that to determine the well-being of one’s life there are other goods aside from pleasure which may need to be counted which do not lead to bringing you pleasure but add to the well-being. Likewise with the case of evils which bring you pain but are needed in order to perhaps better recognize the pleasures.
Posted on July 14, 2018
It seems as though today concern for the environment is again in the media and for good reason. Seems that not only are our seas damaged, not beyond repair, and sea animals at jeopardy of vanishing, but the very oceans themselves are increasingly becoming dumping grounds for plastic products of all varieties.
In the news now straws are the culprit rather than our consumer behaviour which drives the pollution to disastrous levels. Stories being shared for a good reason, are warning consumers that changes need to be made and some businesses have taken notice and eliminated their use. Deeming it important to make a stand is hopefully not without some thought on whether looking back in the past, conversations could have lasted longer and been more conclusive on action items.
Only focusing on straws, everyone knows, will not solve this complex problem of climate change and environmental degradation. New approaches to reduce rising temperatures can be made and improvements upon past action can be fruitful. Environmental disasters are linked, as this news story reveals:
The question I have is important for others to know. Why not make it more public? It would only lead to good and better social views on nature.
Posted on June 16, 2018
In “The Methods of Ethics”, Henry Sidgwick is looking for the proper moral code to use in order to figure out what is it people “ought” to do. In doing so he examines three moral theories seriously, Egoistic hedonism, Universalistic hedonism also known as utilitarianism, and Intuitionalism. Of these three, it is Henry Sidgwick’s review and critique of Intuitionalism with regards to the four conditions he believes must be completely fulfilled in order to arrive at trustworthy conclusions which will be the focus of this paper.
The moral theory of Intuitionalism begins with the fundamental assumption that it is possible for people to clearly see what actions are in themselves right and reasonable. Our intuitions about what is right and wrong relate to the intentions of the individual performing the action. The rightness of an action then depends more on the state of mind of the individual than only the outwards actions themselves. “In other words, what we judge to be ‘wrong’ – in the strictest ethical sense – is not any part of the actual effects, as such, of the muscular movements immediately caused by the agent’s volition, but the effects which he foresaw in willing the act; or, more strictly, his volition of choice of realizing the effects as foreseen.” When analyzing the individual’s state of mind the motives and the intentions of the individual must be examined. While the intention serves as a judge to determine the rightful or wrongness of an action, the motives determine the scale in which that action is right or wrong. For instance, the morality of the simple action of stealing a loaf of bread cannot be determined by the physical action along, a great deal more information needs to be revealed. Two essential bits of information needed to determine the morality of an action under Intuitionalism are the individual’s intentions and motives. One possible scenario is that the individual intended to steal the loaf of bread with the motivation of feeding his family. In this scenario, the act is still wrong but because the motivating factor is taken to be a good one, it lessens how bad the action of stealing is and seems to be intuitively more excusable. If the individual intended to steal the loaf of bread only to see if he could do it than the motivating factor would intuitively not diminish the wrongness of the action. This demonstrates how the rightness or wrongness of an action can be determined intuitively by looking at the intentions and motivations of an action without actually looking at the consequences.
Since Sidgwick is trying to find a usable moral theory to determine what people ought to do, the notion that Intuitionalism can lead to moral judgments of right and wrong is not enough. Many moral theories can tell us what we ought to do but that does not mean that those theories are correct. Sidgwick believes that for Intuitionalism to be a useful theory it must be able to lead us to trustworthy conclusions. In order to distinguish self-evident truths from mere-opinions Sidgwick proposes four conditions, each of which the fulfillment of must be met in order to accept the self-evident truths which follow from Intuitionalism as trustworthy conclusions. The four conditions which must be met are that the terms of the proposition must be clear and precise, the self-evidence of the proposition must be ascertained by careful reflection, it must be mutually consistent, and the intuition must be widely accepted.
Sidgwick thinks that Intuitionalism does not pass the first criteria of being clear and precise. A moral theory must be able to clearly decide every possible case of what is right and what is wrong. It must be that it can determine what our individual duties are in so far as we can reliably say action x is or is not bad. So in the case of the person stealing a loaf of bread, Sidgwick is looking for a moral theory which will have a clear and precise answer i.e. the action of stealing a loaf of bread is bad, what he is trying to avoid is an “it depends answer”. Sidgwick also thinks that Intuitionalism cannot determine what to do in instances where two duties are conflicting with one another. For example, Sidgwick believes that in an instance between meeting someone for lunch, versus saving a person it could not be determined which to do. It seems incorrect though that Intuitionalism cannot make clear and precise principles in both instances of individual duties and when two duties are conflicting with one another. Rather than thinking Intuitionalism fails to meet this criterion it is more the case that Intuitionalism simply needs more specifics in determining whether an action is right or wrong which when dealing with morals is a strong characteristic of the theory rather than a weak characteristic. Although it may be the case that Intuitionalism cannot clearly state whether stealing a loaf of bread is wrong, it is only due to the extreme broadness of the situation. The greater the amount of information provided the stronger and easier it would be for Intuitionalism to make a clear and precise principle from it. For instance if we add to the example of the person stealing a loaf of bread that it is being stolen from a baker who has a large excess of bread which will foreseeable be thrown out, and the person stealing the bread may die of hunger, then it seems that the Intuition that what the person is doing is at least morally neutral if not acceptable. Just how precise the self-evident proposition needs to be is wrongfully left to doubt. It is a fallacy to look for a moral theory which makes sweeping judgments without taking into consideration the context of the action, which by looking at the motives and intentions of an action Intuitionalism is stronger for.
The second condition Sidgwick puts forth to determine if the apparent self-evident truths that stem from Intuitionalism can be taken as trustworthy conclusions is that they must be ascertained by careful reflection. The careful reflection is necessary in Sidgwick’s view in order to guard against mistaking impulses and impressions with dictates of reason and additionally from opinions which upon frequent repetition may be mistaken as self-evidence. This condition of reflection is important for Sidgwick as he does not want to be tempted to simply approve actions as moral any which brings desire. Not everything that first strikes someone as valid is self-evident and Sidgwick is trying to state that it really must be a judgment of self-evidence, intuition is not sufficient grounds alone. He wants to put intuitions of rightness through rigorous testing in order to see if it really expresses a clear intuition of rightness or if it has just been mistaken as such.
That the propositions be taken to be self-evident must be mutually consistent is Sidgwick’s third criteria. He believes that any collision between two intuitions is evidence that the intuition of at least one of them must be false. Although in general, this may be true it does not seem to hold up when the specifics of a case are added, which as already mentioned is what strengthens Intuitionalism. To illustrate this it can be helpful to look at the stealing of the loaf of bread case. Our general intuition about stealing is that it is morally wrong and our general intuition about saving one’s own life is morally good. If the only way the individual could save his life were to steal the loaf of bread in order to feed himself there is a clear case of two intuitions conflicting with one another and yet it does not seem to be that either one of the intuitions is false. Rather than completely eliminating the intuitions on what is right and wrong, it would be more plausible to state that when there are two conflicting intuitions the specifics of the case will lead to a new intuition for all scenarios in which those two previous intuitions conflict. So it could be said that it is intuitively good, perhaps only to a slight degree, that the person stole the loaf of bread. From then on it would be known that it is intuitively good to save a life at the expense of a minor theft in large part because it is intuitively known that the importance of the former vastly outweighs that of the latter.
General acceptance of the self-evidence of an intuitional proposition is Sidgwick’s fourth and final criteria. Since intuitive propositions are supposed to be self-evident then it should be the case that the majority of people can easily arrive at the same conclusion without any elaborate background information. The denial by some of the self-evidence of the proposition would seemingly force impairment in the confidence of a claim one can hold on just how self-evident it truly is.
It is those four conditions, clear and precise, sustained by careful reflection, mutually consistent, and generally accepted, through which Sidgwick goes against Intuitionalism. It actually seems as though Sidgwick set up the conditions in order for Intuitionalism to fail. If the first and third conditions are met then it seems condition two could not be because of what each one demands. The first and third conditions demand specifics while specifics seem to deny the self-evidence of the proposition and thus failing the second condition. Intuitionalism seems incapable of passing these four conditions laid out by Sidgwick to determine if the conclusions that follow can be trustworthy although he believes that Utilitarianism, which is the moral theory he clearly prefers, can pass the test.
The moral theory of Intuitionalism which holds that through intuition, it is possible to clearly determine whether a certain action is right or wrong is rejected by Sidgwick. It is rejected on the basis that the conclusions which are apparently self-evident are not trustworthy, because they do not meet all four of the conditions for determining whether a method of reasoning leads to trustworthy conclusions. Those conditions being that they be clear and precise, self-evident upon careful reflection, mutually consistent and that there is general acceptance of their validity.
 Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics, 7th ed. (1907; Indianapolis: Hackett, 1981) pg.201
 ibid pg.338-341
 ibid pg.339
 ibid pg.341
Posted on June 2, 2018
Over the years I continue to look at the world through an ethical lens, it’s unavoidable after 5 years of morality, ethics, law, and theological lectures.
Often people complain today on social media about how this person said this, or this person did that. It is a remarkable equalizer in terms of social justice with corporate PR Teams often themselves in the news frantically responding to a tweet which went uncontrollably viral and permeated the various app feeds of every 15 – 35 year old in the developed world.
It’s as though now we can say, finally, don’t treat me badly or you will be the one in the spotlight. And it will hit you hardest where it hurts, in your pocketbook from a tarnished reputation.
Could this be avoided if people were to follow the “Golden Rule” – do unto others as you would have done unto you. The thought often arises, if an individual said today, I don’t treat people that way and so I do not expect to be treated that way, what could they really do. People have a remarkable tool now in the Internet, to respond in the court of public opinion and marketplace to say “Hey, enough!” Using a tool which has established itself as the means of communication, people today can affect change in ways never before imagined.
The other side of social media and a connected world devoid of personal relationships or relationships strained by time online is that people, at least I find, are increasingly rude and intolerant. Everyone has a microphone and freedom to shout over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat etc. etc. etc. Online bullying is a very real issue in schools today.
For many, living life with the expectation of being treated how they themselves have treated others is just the normal way of making decisions. Can we say though, without lowering ourselves to “their” level, I will treat others how I have been treated?
If people continually live with the Golden Rule, or as found in many ethical tenants some close variation, then surely how a person has been treated by someone is in fact what they want in return, for good or bad. Some might say, well I am not myself someone who follows the Golden Rule and so treat me well. What they are really saying is I want to be free from consequences my actions may cause. It is one thing to behave a certain way and expect to be treated that way in return. It is outlandish to think unwelcome behaviour would be treated well in return. Is it not? Clearly, there are many who would say, “forgive”, “turn the other cheek”, “get over it”, and they may in fact interestingly be those who live strongest by the Golden Rule.
It’s a complex dilemma for sure. If we “Flip it and Reverse it” to take Missy Elliott’s terminology, on the left hand we have nothing in return for unwelcome behaviour which we have forgiven. On the right hand, we have change through activism and progress. Change based not on benign neglect of social justice concerns, but on expectations of a better world and social environments free of hate and intolerance.
Posted on May 26, 2018
When the idea that hockey players should be wearing helmets first came out, many thought it was a good idea and said that they would endorse it while at the same time refusing to wear one themselves because others were not. This assignment looks at some of the conditions under which it may be rational for players to not wear helmets themselves while at the same time supporting a rule which would require everyone to wear one, and what some implications of this may be for understanding efficiency.
Efficiency when looking at market economics is generally taken to mean Pareto efficiency, which falls under the Pareto standard. The Pareto standard is the idea that a social state is more efficient with the more people in that state in which it is efficient for. So for instance, a social state between fifteen people will be as efficient as possible when it is efficient for each individual in that society working towards making it efficient. This creates a benefit for those involved in making a greater positive balance of achievement over sacrifice. Pareto efficiency is used because it allows the possibility for at least some individuals to be in a better position to achieve their goals while at the same time not hindering anyone else’s ability to do so. It, therefore, would allow one or several hockey players to not wear helmets in order to make more profit if possible while at the same time not decreasing the amount of profit for those who are wearing helmets.
Possible conditions than for not wearing a helmet could be when someone wants to gain endorsements and a way in which to do so is to distinguish your self from the rest of the hockey players. This was one of the reasons why some of the players decided not to wear helmets when they were first introduced because they believed that their fans would not be able to recognize them. Under this view, it seems it would be wrong to force helmets upon them because in doing so you would be worsening their welfare while improving others. This, however, is assuming that welfare is only taken to mean profit which need not be the case.
While the Pareto efficiency may allow certain players to not wear helmets if they so choose in order to maximize their own gains, Pareto efficiency can also provide a reason for supporting a rule requiring hockey players to wear helmets if welfare is taken to mean not only profit but also safety. In making helmet wearing mandatory everyone who plays hockey will be safer while not making anyone worse off. In the ability of helmets to decrease the risk of skull fracture upon hitting the ice, it is clear that a player’s welfare in the health and safety sense will be improved. Even this claim, however, has been recently challenged, by suggestions that the wearing of helmets provides a false sense of security through which the players become more aggressive and actually increase the risks of serious injury. On the profit side of the issue, if everyone was forced to wear a helmet then it could not be said that one person is losing profit from not having the fans recognize their face because that loss would be placed upon each player equally.
We are understanding efficiency in the market as Pareto efficiency which only allows for win-win transformations. To know if the implementation of mandatory hockey helmets is an efficient rule to require, it needs to be that such a rule will create a win-win transformation. In order for this to be known there need to be certain presuppositions in which to determine what the value is of certain inputs and outputs such as profit and health. In addition, there must be a consensus of the presuppositions in which all of the hockey players come to in order to make it valid. What the costs and benefits will have a large impact on whether or not the suggested helmet rule is an efficient one.
The problem with cost-benefit analysis is those specific measurements on values such as health and well-being cannot be made as easy as it can with money. Additionally, finding a consensus throughout the entire hockey league on how much weight should be given to each value in the analysis would be an extremely difficult task to accomplish. While some players would place more weight on health and well-being others would place more weight on profit. Others, the more reasonable ones perhaps, would recognize that the two are combined. Someone who stays safe has a better chance of making a greater profit over the long run than someone who does not wear the necessary protective gear and then becomes injured unable to make a profit. For our understanding of efficiency in large groups then, it would seem that the implication of a rule which requires hockey players to wear helmets would be efficient. When looking at individual efficiency however it is generally evaluated in accordance with the agent’s own goals and preferences.
If we were to look at one individual hockey player and evaluate that person in accordance with their own goals and preferences than it could easily be the case that the implications of implementing the helmet rule are indeed not efficient. For example, if prior to implementing the rule, the hockey player generated a large portion of profit from fans recognizing him and faced only a small amount of danger while on the ice, forcing the player to wear a helmet would create a losing scenario for the individual.
It must be concluded then that the implications for efficiency differ depending on whether we look at individual hockey players or all of the hockey players together. When we look at them as one it would in effect lead to the implementation of the helmet rule while if we look at them individually the efficiency of implementation of the helmet rule will vary from case to case.