Right to be Forgotten

Hello Ethics Nutters,

As I subscribe to the The American Journal of Bioethics I saw this fascinating podcast on the right to be forgotten in the digital age. Link below:

https://www.everydayethics.org/podcasts/2018/5/9/right-to-be-forgotten

What some see as an issue others may not. Seems like a lot stems from matters of opinion.

Go through it and you’ll know where I’m coming from.

Cheers,

Andrew

 

John Stuart Mill – Why be Moral?

It is not enough for moral theories to simply explain how things should be and then just leave it at that, there needs to be some reason for people to follow a moral theory. In other words, there needs to be some form of consequences inherent to that theory so that there is a reason to be moral, a reason not to break the rules. Each moral theory must answer this question in order for it to be applicable in the real world, and each goes about it in different ways. It is the focus of this paper to show why John Stuart Mill believes one should be moral under Utilitarianism.

Utilitarianism is a moral theory that states an action is morally right if and only if it produces more or at least the same amount of good, called utility, as any other alternative action available to the person.[1] To this, Mill added a greatest happiness principle which is simple one should act in such a way as to produce the greatest happiness.[2]

Mill focuses on which sanctions Utilitarianism provides compared to others and why people will follow Utilitarianism in chapter 3 of Utilitarianism 2nd Edition. Mill states that Utilitarianism can impose all of the sanctions other moral theories can, just as easily.[3] According to Mill there are two types of sanctions relating to moral theories, external and internal. External sanctions according to Mill are sanctions which are external to a person such as a sanction from fear of disapproval stemming from peer pressure. Mill does not go into great detail about this but believes that like other moral theories this form of sanction can be associated with Utilitarianism.[4] Internal sanctions, on the other hand, seem more important to Mill because they involve our conscience and are stronger. Internal sanctions come from ones own conscience and their feeling of duty such as the satisfaction from fulfilling a duty.[5] Mill sees these internal sanctions as being subjective because what one person may view as duty another may not, but this is a problem which he notes not only Utilitarianism has to deal with, but all moral theories.[6] Mill is most interested in these internal sanctions because what he is looking for is some kind of force to bind people to a moral code and since internal sanctions have the strongest influence on a person’s actions Mill targets them.

These sentiments of duty which Mill tries to use as a binding force can be either innate or implanted. He does not believe that it really matters which of the two it is because either would support Utilitarianism. If they are innate he does not see why they could not be with respect to others pain and pleasure, and so it would be fine under Utilitarianism and his greatest happiness principle.[7] Mill, however, feels that internal sanctions are not innate but rather implanted, but that they still remain natural.[8] He thinks that they can spring up spontaneously or can be cultivated. Those moral feelings which are cultivated into existence are natural according to Mill because they are a “natural outgrowth”[9] from human nature similar to speaking, or building cities.[10] This look at how Mill accepts implanted morals as internal sanctions raises doubts. There seem to be several problems with Mill accepting internal sanctions to be implanted. These are that the implications for what could now be called human nature seem to be drastic, that Mill is overlapping external sanctions with internally implemented sanctions, and there is a problem with the possibility of cultivating bad morals which he himself addresses.

To support Mills claim that moral feelings are acquired and yet still natural he uses several examples of acquired faculties in which he sees as natural, and that he believes no one would question as natural. His examples are of speech, reasoning, building cities, and farming.[11] These examples are flawed though because the first two are very different from the latter two. The first two examples seem to be innate human abilities which occur in human nature because humans are born with them and instead of acquiring these abilities later in life they are really just developing them. Everyone has, aside from birth defects, the ability to speak and reason later in life. The level of teaching someone how to speak is so low that it need not really be taught but only requires the infant to merely listen to something which cannot be avoided. As for reasoning, certain forms can be taught, and may even be very complex, but on the basic level of reasoning, it appears to be more of a function of the brain that can be present without being taught to the person. The other two examples, on the other hand, are things that are acquired but are so, from many lifetimes worth of knowledge being passed down through time and built upon. No one is born with the knowledge of how to farm or how to build a city, and how to do so properly would be impossible for a human to do in a lifetime. To simply say that because it is an “outgrowth” from human nature it is natural is to obscure the definition. This would mean that anything humans do is natural. For example, it was perfectly natural for Neil Armstrong to walk on the moon. That, according to Mill’s rational, is natural for a human to do. Mill should have stuck with internal sanctions which were innate. These seem to be things which are indeed natural because no one needs to be taught that health or security are good things all living beings innately recognize this from birth. This is only the first of a few problems that arise from his line of reasoning.

Mill distinguishes internal sanctions with implanted morals, from external sanctions when they should be looked at as the same thing. If for example someone is peer pressured into doing good deeds for the world and generating happiness for as many people as possible, and then the subject actually begins to develop his own desire to do this, it still began as peer pressure from a fear of disapproval, which is an external sanction. To this, however, Mill may respond something along the lines of the following. In the beginning, when he was doing the actions from fear of disapproval, it was an external sanction, but the moment he wanted to do it on his own it became an internal sanction which was implemented. From this however, one can see that if someone peer pressures someone into doing a bad act then it may get to the point where the person actually wants to do the evil act, and this seems to raise a problem.

This problem of bad morals being cultivated is actually addressed by Mill. His response is it is that these are “artificial”[12] moral feelings, and they are so, because they are being imposed rather than being naturally developed.[13] Imposed feelings, according to Mill, can be distinguished from naturally developed ones because naturally developed ones do not dissolve under scrutiny.[14] The problem here is how to distinguish “cultivation” and “imposition”. This really needs to be addressed because the former, Mill states can lead to good morals while the latter leads to bad “artificial” ones. If someone is cultivating someone even for seemingly good reasons, they must be to some degree imposing their values on another person, because through cultivation they are trying to alter a person’s view, in the end, to coincide with their own. If they did not need to impose their values on the other person then they would not need to cultivate the person in the first place because their morals would be aligned. The fact that Mill does not go into any great detail in this area seems to be a weakness. Mill makes a distinction between being able to naturally develop morals through cultivation, which requires some degree of imposition, and not being able to naturally develop morals through imposition alone. This distinction does not seem to exist. Even if one was to accept this distinction it remains unclear why an “artificial” imposed moral would always dissolve under scrutiny. If Mill was to impose instead of cultivating people to accept Utilitarianism, would it not stand up to scrutiny? Mill skips over many parts that just cannot be excluded because they raise serious doubts and reveal real weaknesses in his line of reasoning.

Never the less Mill believes that since utilitarian feelings of duty stand up to scrutiny, it is a strong foundation.[15] This is what Mill’s argument uses as a foundation and goes roughly as follows. The principles that Utilitarianism hold are a natural “outgrowth” from human nature which can be cultivated, and not be considered “artificial” because they are not being imposed and can withstand scrutiny. Because these principles are being cultivated they are implanted rather than innate sentiments of duty. These implanted sentiments of duty are of the strongest form of sanctions, internal ones. This will ensure people follow Utilitarianism so that they do not feel as though they have violated their sense of duty, which has been cultivated into them.

Through this paper, it has been discovered that this position is not strong. The fact that Mill tries to assert, that the feeling of duty crucial to Utilitarianism stands up to scrutiny is questionable and is never proved. Mill’s notion of what is and is not natural is inaccurate. The distinction between imposing ones views and cultivating someone to accept a view seems irrelevant if at all there is one. Finally, there also does not seem to be any real reason why to distinguish implanted internal sanctions with external sanctions. For all of these reasons, Mill does not do an adequate job in providing rational reasons why Utilitarianism is binding with inherent consequences and thus needs to be revised to be a successful moral theory.

[1] Robert Audi, The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy 2nd Edition, Cambridge University Press, 1999, pg. 942

[2] Ibid pg. 942

[3] John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism 2nd Edition, Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing, 2001, pg. 28

[4] Ibid pg. 28

[5] John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism 2nd Edition, Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing, 2001, pg. 29

[6] Ibid pg. 29

[7] Ibid pg. 30

[8] Ibid pg. 31

[9] Ibid pg. 31

[10] Ibid pg. 31

[11] John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism 2nd Edition, Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing, 2001, pg. 31

[12] John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism 2nd Edition, Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing, 2001, pg. 31

[13] Ibid pg. 31

[14] Ibid pg. 31

[15] John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism 2nd Edition, Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing, 2001, pg. 31

Art Caplan on Trump’s Doctor

Hello Ethics Nutters,

An interesting interview with Art Caplan on the most recent Trump scandal involving his former Doctor.

Interesting to hear what he has to say.

Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBJuFFo3hKw&t=216s&index=1&list=FLSrpD4fhC5a9QMxo3hP9lXg

Andrew

What is the study of Bioethics?

Hello Ethic Nutters,

It always came up when I was in my undergrad, what is bioethics? Here is the one and only Ezekiel Emanuel answering that question that so many people misunderstand.

Have a great weekend,

Andrew

Aldo Leopold Land Ethic and Sherwood Park

City parks are a useful tool in raising awareness for environmental problems, by providing people with an opportunity to see the beauty of nature beyond the narrow view of a household garden, of a potted plant in the corner of a room, or a small cactus completely out of place on an urban office desk. Many people who have lived exclusively in an urban environment, however, have never had a chance to see nature in anything other than this light. Parks allow people to witness nature in hopes that they may take home with them the mentality that nature is something to be protected. This paper examines Aldo Leopold’s land ethic and applies it to Sherwood Park to discover if under the land ethic it is ethical. Further, it will be questioned whether the nature in the park can actually be restored to its original beauty, and what some problems may be with the method used to limit human interaction with nature.

Aldo Leopold dedicated his entire life to the conservation effort. His most notable contribution to the field is his work on a land ethics. One of the main reasons why he formulates a land ethic is to end the connection between the economic value of the land and any notion derived from this of what is acceptable to do to the land. For instance, he does not want a group of trees to be protected if the rationale behind doing so is in order for them to become larger so that in the future when they are more valuable they will be cut down. Rather he would want the trees to be protected for their value as part of the biotic community. When an economically driven ethics is used not only do certain plants and animals become completely worthless, but entire biotic communities do as well.[1] Leopold wants to eliminate the economic-based standard of evidence for validity when looking at what is an acceptable way to treat the land. He attempts to do this through his development of a land ethics.

Leopold recognizes ethics as a limiting factor on a person’s freedoms.[2] This limiting factor found in ethics is a necessity. It protects the community in such a way as to balance the instinctual behavior of people to compete with one another, with a reason for people to co-operate.[3] Leopold wants to extend the sense of protecting a community to encompass the land as well.[4] When referring to the land Leopold does not just mean the soil but also everything on or dependent on the soil.[5] So, while the instinctual feeling of competition may lead people to cut down all the trees in Canada, Leopold wants to develop a land ethic to force co-operation among those living in the same community. This is to ensure that there will remain a place to compete in, in the first place.

From this concept of ethics, he builds an environmental ethics in order to put limitations on how people can interact with nature. At the core of his ethics is an attempt to place moral obligations on the private landowner so that even if someone owns the land they cannot simply do as they wish to it.[6] A logging company, for instance, could not buy large tracts of land and cut down all the trees under the notion that it is their land and they can do whatever they want with it. As was the case in the past when women were viewed as property and an ethic still existed on how to interact with women, albeit not the best one, Leopold wants the same situation to occur with the environment. No longer does he want the ownership of land to be a justification for someone being able to do whatever they wish to it. Leopold’s land ethic tries to show people what one person does on their land can and often does, affect what happens on another person’s land and that this complex interaction should not be overlooked.

Leopold sees nature as an extremely complex chain of which its ability to function is dependent on both the co-operation and competition of the diverse parts.[7] What happens in one area will undoubtedly influence what happens in another. There is no part of nature which can be placed in its own little bubble. Leopold sees the land as a “fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals.”[8] The proverbial circle of life as it were. With this view of nature, it is easy to understand why Leopold would want to put moral obligations on private landowners. What private lands owners do on their land will have an effect on what happens on another person’s land, and so some degree of responsibility must be established. Leopold does this through his concept of a land ethic.

What Leopold would like the landowner to acknowledge and follow is found in his famously quoted maxim “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”[9] Under this land ethic the right thing to do when interacting with nature is anything which would preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the area while anything contrary to this would be wrong. So for example, under this land ethic, a private owner of land could not clear-cut his section of land because it would preserve none of the three criteria. It would, however, allow the owner to cut down trees selectively in a manner which preserved the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community rather than in an approach that did the opposite. It is through this maxim that Leopold gives private landowners ethical obligations to the land. This, in turn, limits what can be done to the land and justifiably forces co-operation among members of the same community. It is this sense of a common community which Leopold is trying to get others to recognize. Land as a community not a commodity.

This land ethic as developed by Leopold is not without its problems. One main problem is that it is unclear how preserving the beauty of the biotic community could limit someone from doing anything. While integrity and stability are closer to the realm of objectivity, beauty is almost entirely subjective. Where one person sees a hideous barren wasteland, another could just as easily see a picturesque landscape. There would be nothing under the beauty criteria that would stop someone from cutting down large areas of trees to make a big grassy field. Furthermore the idea that the biotic community is a beautiful thing is entirely ethnocentric. While there are many beautiful biotic communities, there are undoubtedly many biotic communities which humans would not find beautiful. A good example of this would be parasites living off the carcasses of the dead, or the entire insect community in general, which people seem to inherently find gruesome. What the beauty of a biotic community is too a human should not only be irrelevant but even if it were relevant, it would be hard to argue whose idea of beauty should be followed.

Another problem with the land ethic is that it does not exclude the possibility of continuing to view the land as a commodity which Leopold seems to want to get away from. Although it would be a giant step forward if such obligations to the land were implemented it would not necessarily mean that people would stop viewing the land as a commodity. If people knew that the only way they could continue to profit from the land for many generations were to implement this land ethic, it would not in any way mean that those making money off the land viewed it as anything different than a commodity.

Sherwood Park is a fairly typical city park aside from its size. Being comprised of forty acres makes it a larger than a normal park, when compared to the parks, found further downtown. It is built around a ravine and is primarily comprised of fenced nature trails, and specific places designed for children to play in. Situated only a short distance north-west of Bayview and Eglinton the way in which Sherwood Park is set up is excellent in highlighting the themes and concerns found in Aldo Leopold’s land ethic.

The fact that Sherwood Park surrounds a ravine leads one to suspect that it was initially the leftover land in the area which could not be developed. With the difficulty of building on a ravine the park may have initially been one of those biotic communities which were entirely written off as having no economic value. This would be an unacceptable way to view the land to Leopold. Although there is an intense preservation effort currently going on in the park, it can still be said that the way in which people are viewing the park has not changed, rather it has flipped. Instead of looking at the park as having no economic value, the park is looked at as having great economic value for raising the property values in the area. With green space becoming less available while demand remains constant, having a large park near a house is an attractive selling point people are willing to pay considerable amounts of money for. So although how people see the value of the land as changed that fact that it is still being seen as a commodity would be something Leopold would be opposed to.

Although the way in which the park is being viewed might be something Leopold is against he certainly would not be against the way in which it is being preserved. Sherwood Park fulfills all three of the main criteria of preserving the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community in the area. It achieves each of these goals primarily through a system of fenced nature trails called “Discovery Walks”. The nature trails in the park are intended not only to guide people from one area to the next and provide a scenic view along the way, it is also used to limit where a visitor to the park can go. Limiting where a visitor can walk is useful in that it limits the possibility of damage to the area to a specific and easily monitored section. By keeping people sectioned off from the environment the biotic community in the area can be kept in an unimpaired condition, which would then naturally preserve the beauty, integrity, and stability of the area. This limiting factor on the part of those visiting the park may have just what Leopold had in mind when he recognized that some form of limitation on people’s freedoms will be needed.[10]

 

There are some in the environmental community such as Robert Goodin who would argue that it is not. Attempting to restore the nature in the area to its original value, value in the non-economic sense is impossible. Those who agree with this are working with the idea that nature is a pristine otherness to human culture which value reduces the more humans intermix with it.[11] Thus “a restored bit of nature is necessarily not as valuable as something similar that has been ‘untouched by human hands’.”[12] Goodin would say that what will exist in Sherwood Park in the future, once the restoration process is completed, will be some form of fake or forgery of the original one which value will be less than the original.[13]

 

Although some form of limitation is needed in order to preserve the biotic community, there is a downside to the use of nature trails to do so. Nature trails separate humans from nature, and the sense that humans are part of the interconnectedness of nature is lost. Otherness to the land can easily be a rationale for humans to dominate over nature as nature’s guardian.

The way in which the nature trails in Sherwood Park are set up completely limits the degree in which people can interact with nature. Not only are there many signs that instruct people to follow the paths but there are fences on both sides of the path as an extra obstacle. There is no sense of interacting or experiencing nature while on the nature trail. This is done so that ideas of nature such as those put forth by John Passmore can be maintained. Passmore states that nature is anything which is not human or human in origin.[14] It is a sort of distinction which views nature as the part of the world which is prior to human activity which we have had no hand in creating.[15] Although it is clear that the areas off limits in the park are not prior to any human activity, it is intentionally being left alone so that aside from the initial partitioning off of the area humans will have no hand in creating the land. People have been intentionally separated from the land in Sherwood Park in order to create an area of nature untouched by humans. This intentional separation furthers the notion of nature as an otherness to humans.

It has been said that the concept of nature as “otherness” to humanity is fundamental.[16] The reason for this being fundamental is that in order to define humanity it is not sufficient to use the definition of nature. Differences must be used and the fact that there is something different than humanity must mean that there is something other to humanity which it can differentiate itself from. “To the extent that we relate to it, we are outside nature.”[17] The otherness of nature to humans is clear, what is not so clear however is what this means for how people should treat nature. It can be taken to mean that humans should not interfere with nature but it can also be taken to mean that humans have some role in maintaining it. A problem arises though when humans take this otherness and separation with nature to mean that it can be dominated.

The notion that nature is something which can be dominated is certainly present in Sherwood Park. The entire restoration process is dependent on the idea that humans can know what is best for the area and that what they are doing is just that. This is no reason though to think that humans can or do know what is in the best interests of nature. The signs hung all along the fence also indicate a sense of human domination and control over nature. It is clearly stated on each sign that the goal of the fences is to limit access in order to prevent erosion and to restore the native vegetation. Preventing erosion and restoring the native vegetation is completely out of the hands of those working in the park and yet they are taking credit for it. Humans are manipulating Sherwood Park to their own specifications of what they view nature should be.

Sherwood Park meets all of the criteria in Aldo Leopold’s land ethic when determining what is right. Through the use of nature trails the lands integrity, stability, and beauty will be preserved for many years to come. The park though is still being looked at in economic terms as a commodity is something Leopold would be against. According to environmentalists such as Robert Goodin, it will not even be possible to restore the area to its original nature. Instead, Goodin would say that only a forgery of the original can be made. The limitations placed on people in the park raise the problem of human domination over nature through completely separating humans from nature and eliminating any chance at interacting with it in a meaningful way. We are placing nature in manipulated little bubbles for ourselves to observe. It is as though we have created a zoo for people to observe nature in. What they are really seeing though is not nature at all but rather a forgery of the original which we have manipulated into existence.

[1] Aldo Leopold “The Land Ethic” p.377

[2] ibid p.373

[3] ibid p.374

[4] ibid p.374

[5] ibid p.378

[6] ibid p.378

[7] ibid p.378

[8] ibid p.378

[9] ibid p.382

[10] ibid p.373

[11] Kate Soper “The Discourses of Nature” p.16

[12] Robert Goodin “Green Political Theory” p.41

[13] ibid p.41

[14] John Passmore “Man’s Responsibility for Nature” p.207

[15] Kate Soper “The Discourses of Nature” p.16

[16] ibid p.16

[17] Robert P. Harrison “Toward a Philosophy of Nature” p.427

Peace Requires Responsibility

Hello Ethic Nutters,

I purchased the book “The Morality of War” by Brian Orend and plan on reading through its chapters this year.

To get in the mindset I decided to turn to Youtube for information.

Sure enough, there’s so much more on Youtube than I can really share. My favourite, Obama’s Nobel speech in 2009. What a year that was. Great to listen to and I’m saving it for myself in favourites. Another not mentioned on Just War Theory, Michael Walzer speaking for Big Think. Search for it. You’re guaranteed to enjoy.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AORo-YEXxNQ

What an INCREDIBLE difference between Trump and Obama. You actually get the feeling of force behind the words.

Enjoy!

Andrew

Michael Shermer on Moral Realism

Hello Ethic Nutters,

Found another great video on Youtube. This one is about Moral Realism and, as the title suggests, “We don’t need God or religion to know right from wrong”.

It’s interesting although not too academic. Michael Shermer is known for many things other than Moral Philosophy although it is still interesting to hear his thoughts on the subject.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwRRmOcNl2k&list=FLSrpD4fhC5a9QMxo3hP9lXg&index=1&t=0s

Enjoy!

Andrew

The Ethics of “Greed is Good”

Gordon Gekko in his speech to the shareholders of Teldar Paper promotes greed as the means in which to save the troubling company. His argument begins with the assertion that the root of the problem is with the management of Teldar Paper. He notes that they have no stake in the company which he takes to be essential to the success of any company. When those in control of the company only own a small portion of the stock and yet it is everyone else who owns stock who owns the company there may be a conflict of interest. The potential conflict of interest here is that those who are in control of the small portion of stock in the company and yet control it may make business decisions which benefit another company which they may hold more shares in at the expense of Teldar Paper. Not only is there problems which may arise from the latter scenario but also with a minimum amount of shares in the company when those in management go on, as Gekko mentions, expensive business outings it is largely at the expensive of all the other shareholders and a real question arises if it is the best use of their money.

If the shareholders were fully informed as to exactly what their money was going towards, as Gordon Gekko attempts to do, a great deal of money would be saved. The money would be saved because as Gekko argues, the natural greed of all of the shareholders to want to maximize their own profit will minimize the seemingly frivolous expenditures of the excessively large managerial body of Teldar Paper. Greed would thus cut down the number of managers and the expense of the company outings both effective methods to save money for a failing business. The desire to maximize one’s own profit cuts through as many un-necessary wastages as possible and as Gordon Gekko phrases it, “captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.” Not only does Gekko believe that greed will save the company but also that greed can promote the greater social good. The article “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits” by Milton Friedman deals with the issue of the ability for corporate greed to promote the greater social good.

There is nothing inconsistent with the idea of a company both being greedy and promoting the greater social good. Milton Friedman regards the moral obligation of managers to make as much profit for the company as possible and one method of doing so is through promoting the social good. A company situated in a small community for example which pulls its resources from the local population would in its own interest support many of the social goods of that community in order to keep them happy.

Companies, in general, find that behaving morally pays off. This has long been known through the use of brand names, which a lot of value goes into so that a positive feeling is passed onto the consumer when buying the product. The value placed on brand names is called brand equity and through it, if companies want to maximize profit, avoid unethical conduct. The reason being is that brand names are extremely vulnerable when it comes to bad publicity when information of unethical conduct emerges. A good example of this is with sweatshops. Companies such as Nike have a lot of brand equity in keeping the swoosh logo a “clean” logo. It is in the best interests of Nike to avoid using sweatshops because of the possibility of bad publicity associated with using one, which could potentially harm the company’s image. So in a situation, as just mentioned it is in the profit-maximizing interest of the company to avoid using sweatshops and actually pay the workers decent wages. In doing so they are still being greedy but at the same time, they are doing a social good in the area. So for the promotion of many social goods, there is no tension between social responsibility and profit maximizing. Smart businesses, in fact, should start to realize that the two go hand in hand. Friedman believes that a genuine problem occurs when it is profit maximizing to pollute and polluting is legal. This is when he thinks things must be discussed, whether corporations have any strong social responsibility or not. In other words, do they need to do anything more than that which coincides with maximizing profit?

Strong corporate social responsibility is the idea that corporations should sometimes lose money, forgo some profit, in order to do some social good. The objection to this is that it is costing money but not to the managers which are the ones making the decision to do the social good. Rather, it is passing the cost to either the customers or to the shareholders. This is objectionable because the managers are spending other peoples’ money without their consent, which amounts to a form of taxation without representation which is only acceptable when the state does so. It should be recognized however that it is probably the case that when managers of a company are spending money on social goods and forgoing some money in the short run, they are doing so because they are expecting greater returns in the long run, and so it is not as though they are completely ignorant of the need to maximize the profit of the company. An objection to the idea of managers spending shareholder money on social good in the short run for a social good, is that it is generally the case that managers have no expertise at social problems. It is thought that such work should specifically be left to those who do. In response to this though when profit is lost in the short run for profit in the long run, which can be the aim of strong corporate responsibility, it is not as though it is the manager who is doing the social good but rather simply it is the manager who looks at which social good it is important to invest in, and then leaves it to the social workers in that area to do what it is they need to do.

After looking at what Milton Friedman writes about on the issue it seems clear as to why it is that Gordon Gekko claims that his purchase of Teldar Paper would promote the greatest social good. It seems that what Gekko has in mind is to not only cut back on the costly expenditures at the top of the company in the form of the excessive number of vice presidents but also use the profit-maximizing strategy of promoting the social good in order to attract customers and avoid bad publicity both of which will increase the brand names equity.

In “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand’s a businessman by the name of Hank Rearden also promotes the social good but entirely as an unintentional externality. Hank Rearden was motivated by greed similar to Gekko and in the process was endangering peoples’ lives in pursuit of it. Rearden sees nothing wrong with this because he is dealing with mutual consent. Those who are buying something from Rearden are benefiting from it without having to make a sacrifice and Rearden is benefiting from the transaction without having to sacrifice his own interests. Both parties are working in mutual consent to gain mutual advantages. Through these mutual gains, Rearden is inadvertently creating well-being for the fellow man, even though it is not his main objective which is clearly profit. He believes it to be true that he need not worry about promoting anything more than is own well-being. This can easily be taken to mean that Rearden is a cold-hearted businessman, which actually does not seem to be the case. Instead, it seems that he is thinking that if each person were to maximize their own well-being it would naturally mean that the social good would also be taken care of. He does not feel that for there to be good anyone must have to fall victim to it, rather than it should be those who want to promote good are free to do so, and those who promote good only through unintentional externalities are free to do so and should not be hindered.

The unintentional externalities seem to be the greatest difference between Rearden and Gekko. While Gekko seems to want to promote the social good in knowing it will generate greater profits, Rearden takes a more hard-line approach and believes that profit is what will generate the social good not that one should do social good which they may not want to in order to get profit. It should be noted that neither Gekko nor Rearden are against social good which may be mistakenly taken to be the case, just that both of them have differing views on the role of social good in relation to profit.

Knowledge for a Better World

Hello Ethic Nutters,

On a bit of a personal note, I want to share that this summer will be my 10th Anniversary of graduating from my Master’s program at NTNU. I’m very happy to be travelling back to visit the campus and friends.

For those who do not know the rich and significant history of NTNU and the achievements of its students and alumni, here is a short video worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIgKd1SwGLI

I owe a great deal to not only Prof. Gopal Sreenivasan who first told me about the program and encouraged me to apply, but also the faculty at NTNU, in particular, Prof. May Thorseth who supervised my Thesis.

Had I not had the opportunity to attend NTNU working at the U.N. would not have been possible along with all of the other experiences I had in Thailand.

No other achievement of mine has been more important to shaping my life than graduating from NTNU. I look forward to returning this summer!

Thanks,

Andrew

Biotechnological consequences on Mental Illness

With advances in technology there are new, never before thought of moral dilemmas. It has been thought, that with new technology, that would allow for the advance detection of genetic deformities in babies, more people would have abortions and entire groups of people, such as people who have Trisomy 13, will disappear and that if such a thing were to happen it would be morally wrong. The aim of this paper is not to debate whether eliminating such groups is morally wrong, rather it is to see if such technology will actually lead to the disappearance of a category of people, specifically the mentally ill through use of abortion. For such technology to eliminate mental illnesses it must be the case that mental illnesses in babies are able to be detected at all, that technology could then detect the abnormality, that the law would allow for abortions on this basis, and that each parent facing this situation will choose to abort the child.

To hold that we can detect a baby that has a mental illness, it must be that there is something physically different about the baby, that would indicate the mental illness. This leads one to the question; are mental illnesses physical phenomena which can be detected or not? There are conflicting answers to this question. In Fitts v. Federal National Mortgage Association, the judge ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to compensation for physical illness instead of mental illness from her bipolar disorder. The main support for this was that Jane Fitts was “genetically predisposed” to develop bipolar disorder because her father exhibited symptoms, she had an abnormal brain wave activity on both sides of her brain, and that there were physical changes to her due to the illnesses such as insomnia.[1] Groups such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), use cases such as the one just cited to support their claim that mental illnesses have a biological basis. If this is true it would seem that the detection of mental illnesses can occur with infant patients. However, there are conflicting reports. An article written by Keith Holler an editor of the “Review of Existential Psychology & Psychiatry” for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer comes to the opposite conclusion about mental illnesses. He notes that many groups such as NAMI receive funding from pharmaceutical companies which have a large interest in keeping the notion of mental illnesses as biological illnesses alive.[2] He writes “Psychiatrists have yet to conclusively prove that a single mental illness has a biological or physical cause or a genetic origin.”[3]  Furthermore he states that there has yet to be developed a single physical test to prove a mental illness.[4]  When a group of mental patients went on a fast to demand that the mental health industry produce just one study claiming that there is a biological basis for mental illnesses Dr. James Scully responded by telling them to look at “Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General”.[5] When the report was actually examined no such proof was found. In fact, it was found that it stated that “the precise causes (etiology) of mental disorders are not known…there is no definitive lesion, laboratory test, or abnormality in brain tissue that can identify (a mental) illness.”[6] Although I believe the argument fails here in that mental illnesses have no biological basis, the argument also fails in other places if the biological basis is taken to be true.

Even if there is a biological basis for mental illness, for example, some genetic predisposition, is technology at the stage in which this detection is possible? As of right now, the answer must be no. If we could detect the genetic phenomenon which leads to mental illness then there would be no conflict with whether or not such an illness has a biological basis. Due to the speed at which scientist are mapping other living organisms, it is not unreasonable to believe sooner rather than later technology will be able to detect a biological basis for mental illness, that is, of course, assuming there is one. Furthermore, I cannot possibly go over the technology involved in this size a paper so I shall assume for the argument that in three years such technology will be available to detect the biological basis and that this technology will somehow be available to everyone having a child.

Would a parent who knows their child is mentally ill, be legally allowed to have an abortion? In Canada, the parent would be allowed to have an abortion for this reason because not allowing the mother to do so would be violating section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.[7] In Canada and the United States, a mother can have an abortion to save her life, to preserve the physical or mental health of the mother, for social and economic reasons. Furthermore, the baby can be aborted in cases of rape, or when there are medical problems or defects with the child. In fact, no reason is even necessary for a mother to have an abortion.[8] Although mothers would be allowed to have in abortion, if it was discovered that their child was mentally ill, this is not enough to show that advances in technology threaten to wipe out mental illnesses through abortions, because there is no evidence that each parent facing this problem will all choose to have an abortion. Although it is true that many parents have trouble coping with their children being disabled[9], this does not mean that they would have an abortion. Many people facing the situation might be against abortions. The parents may not even have the fetus tested in the first place negating the problem altogether.

Advances in technology will not lead to the elimination of mental illnesses through abortion. Whether mental illnesses are something which can be physically found is still being debated with no clear answer. Even if it were possible, the technology is currently not available to detect it. Although it is reasonable to assume that the technology someday will be available, there is no evidence that even though it is legal, every mother that knows she is going to have a mentally ill child will have an abortion. The evidence is just not there that new technology is going to lead to mass abortions in hopes to have a perfect child as doomsayers believe.

References

  1. Bernadette Melnyk et al. Coping in Parents of Children Who Are Chronically Ill. Pediatric Nursing, November-December 2001/Vol.27/No.6
  2. Keith Hoeller. No Proof mental illness rooted in biology. Seattle PI, Friday August 23, 2003
  3. NAMI E-News February 28, 2002 Vol. 02-57
  4. http://www.canadianlawsite.com/abortion-laws.htm
  5. http://www.pregnantpause.org/lex/world02.htm

[1] NAMI E-News February 28, 2002 Vol. 02-57

[2] Keith Hoeller. No Proof mental illness rooted in biology. Seattle PI, Friday August 23, 2003

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[5] ibid

[6] ibid

[7] http://www.canadianlawsite.com/abortion-laws.htm

[8] http://www.pregnantpause.org/lex/world02.htm

[9] Bernadette Melnyk et al. Coping in Parents of Children Who Are Chronically Ill. Pediatric Nursing, November-December 2001/Vol.27/No.6