Globalization: Ethics Overview

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Review homework answers.


  1. Intuition – should at least attempt to line up with our intuition OR explain why it doesn’t. For example, an ethical system that simply said murdering is good wouldn’t be accepted – unless possibly it had a really good explanation as to WHY.
  2. The Shallow Pond – The path from John’s dorm room to Emerson Hall passes a shallow ornamental pond near the Science Center. On his way to the Philosophy class, John notices that a small child has fallen in and is in danger of drowning. If John wades in and pulls the child out, it will mean getting his clothes wet and muddy and either missing the Philosophy class or delaying it until he can find something clean and dry to wear. He is also wearing a brand new pair of Gucci shoes which he is “breaking in” for the first time. Assume that it is evident from the circumstances that there is no time for John to take his shoes off if he has any hope of saving the child and that John himself can “see” that this is so. John’s shoes will become wet and be ruined beyond repair. To replace the shoes will cost him $100. If John passes by the child, then, while he’ll make the Philosophy class on time, the child will die straightaway. John heads straight for the Philosophy class and, as expected, the child dies.
  3. The Envelope – In your mailbox, there’s something from (the U.S. Committee for) UNICEF. It’s a letter appealing to you to contribute $100 of your own money. After reading it through, you correctly conclude that, unless you soon send in a check for $100, then, instead of each living many more years, over thirty children will soon die of starvation. But, you throw the material in your wastebasket, including the convenient return envelope provided. You send nothing, and, instead of living many years, over thirty more children soon die than would have lived had you sent in the requested $100.
  4. Is there any moral difference between the two?
  5. This is where Ethics comes in. Aristotle set off ethics as a separate branch of philosophy
    1. Defined: a philosophic activity concerned with identifying and determining what philosophers call the GOOD, and the kind of conduct necessary to promote it.
    2. Various types:
      1. Virtue ethics: focus on virtue, ala Aristotle and Plato. Rich description of the good as happiness.
      2. Consequentialist : consequences are what determine morality. Utilitarianism (Mill)  (more narrow version of happiness that affects all people) and Ethical Egoism (Rand) (happiness of one’s own self interest)
      3. Deontological – from German “Dein” which means duty. Kant. You control the intention with which you commit the action. The only good is a good will.
  6. Evaluating Ethical Theories
    1. Prescriptiveness – How well the theory tells us we ought to act. Is it clear, but also flexible given the realities of human interaction.
    2. Fairness of application – Must apply to all persons in relevantly similar situations. Cannot admit arbitrary exceptions or whims.
    3. Justification – What kind of reason is offered that this is a good theory.

James Rachels

Cultural relativism: “If we assume that our ideas of right and wrong will be shared by all peoples at all times, we are merely naïve”

  1. Different societies have different moral codes
  2. There is no objective moral standard that can be used to judge one social code better than another.
  3. The moral code of our own society has no special status; it is merely one among many
  4. There is no “universal truth” in ethics – that is, there are no moral truths that hold for all people at all times.
  5. The moral code of a society determines what is right within that society; that is, if the moral code of a society says that a certain action is right, then that action is right, at least within that society.
  6. It is mere arrogance for us to try to judge the conduct of other peoples. We should adopt an attitude of tolerance toward the practices of other cultures.

Cultural Differences Argument:

  1. Different Cultures have different moral codes
  2. Therefore, there is no objective “truth” in morality. Right and wrong are only matters of opinion, and opinions vary from culture to culture.

The first premise concerns what people believe. The second concerns what really is the case. The conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise.

If people disagree about whether the earth is flat, does that mean there is no right answer?

Consequences of Cultural Relativism:

  1. We could no longer say that the customs of other societies are morally inferior to our own
    1. Nazis
  2. Could decide whether actions are right or wrong just by consulting the standards of our own society.
    1. South African apartheid – sure, society says it is ok.
  3. The idea of moral progress is called into doubt
    1. Women’s rights

Values more similar than we think, i.e., eating cows (grandma) OR Eskimos in harsh environment.

There are universal values

  1. Caring for infants
  2. truth telling
  3. not murdering

Without these society would not be possible

Some things can be relative, like whether or not women should cover their breasts. But this doesn’t mean everything is.

  1. Utilitarianism History
    1. Epicurean Roots: pleasure is greatest good
    2. Simplify British legal system
    3. Differs from egoism: pleasure of whole society
  2. Jeremy Bentham
    1. Uses epicurean pleasure for HEDONISTIC CALCULUS
    2. Objection: Quantity not quality (drink beer all day, stay hopped up on drugs, affair, torture for entertainment.
  3. John Stuart Mill
    1. Quality      Higher vs. Lower
      1. “Better a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”
      2.  Maybe the pig is happier?
      3. Pig only knows one side, Socrates knows both
      4. “Unexamined life is not worth living.”
      5. Capability to appreciate finer things can die in others
  4. Objections
    1. Is happiness pleasure? Ex: Matrix, pleasure machine. Offers more happiness, yet we don’t seem to prefer it.
    2. Punishment: 4 in car wreck, need single living, healthy man to save them.

REPLY: Act vs. Rule

  1. Act – every action appeals directly to principle of utility
  2. Rule – draw on human history to create rules or principles for certain types of action. Ex: Don’t kill innocent people
  3. But Mill believes if rules conflict, then we move to act.
  4. Ex: Save lives when possible, conflicts with don’t kill innocent in example, so we might still end up with the same problem.
  5. Problem of fanatical majority
    1. Reply: in the future you might be majority
  6. Problem of dirty hands – Nazi torturer, engineer of weapons
  7. Problem of Personal Loyalty: save stranger or daughter.


  1. The Role of Reason
    1. Being rational, you can figure out your duty ahead of time. A priori.   Utilitarianism is a posteriori.  Good will, not happiness is the ultimate end.
    2. Two kinds of imperatives (commands):
      1. Hypothetical: ought to do. A means to an end.
      2. Categorical: you have to do it. It always holds.
      3. Categorical Imperative = Moral law (known by reason).
  2. Universalizability Principle
    1. “I ought never act in such a way that I could not also will that my maxim should become universal law.”
      1. maxim = personal rule
      2. Ask for an example of universal law of nature
      3. Ex: haircut & lying. Lying would undermine the notion of truth. CAN universalize truth telling. This shows your PERFECT DUTY. No exceptions
      4.  Contrast with utilitarianism.
      5. Ex: Suicide: contradiction between preserving life & destroying life
      6. Lying for money: promises would mean nothing.
    2. Ex: Jewish friend hidden in your house. Promise not to tell anyone. Conflict of duties.  Contrast with utilitarianism
  3. Basis for moral law is Respect for Persons Principle:
    1. “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in any other person, always at the same time as an end, and never merely as a means.”
      1. How could you treat someone as a means?
      2. Kant’s example of borrowing money
      3. Prostitution (using oneself as a means for money)
    2. Respect for persons can be viewed as a different version of the moral law, but Kant says it is a grounding.
  4. Objections
    1. Could we have a good Nazi? Says every nation should be able to exterminate undesirable people.
    2. Could say respect principle is undermined.
    3. Could you defend this? Jews are not seen as people, but rats
    4. Are all humans rational autonomous beings?
      1. Severe mental disorders
      2. Embryo
      3. Fetus
      4. Baby
    5. Perhaps the key is potential for rationality?
    6. Should we universalize banning abortion?  Baby and mother rational
  5. Shopkeeper: contrast Kant vs. utilitarianism.
  1. Aristotle
    1. Teleological Principle – all things act for some “telos” or end. The highest end of that thing is THE GOOD. The highest good for humans is happiness, but this is just a poor translation of greek eudaimonia.
    2. Determine what conduct promotes this: What distinguishes us as human beings? We are able to reason.
    3. Socrates and Plato thought if we knew the right thing to do, we couldn’t fail to do it. Aristotle differed because he believed it was possible to know the right thing and fail to do it. This was called Akrasia or weakness of will.
    4. Virtues of thought and virtues of character. Thought virtues cultivated through education. To achieve a virtuous character you must be able to act on your knowledge and acquire a virtuous character. You do this by performing virtuous actions over and over again until it becomes a habit.
    5. Doctrine of the Mean – hitting the mean between two extremes. Being calm is the mean between being angry and being meek. He gives an entire list.

Ethics of Care – emphasis on relationship.

Do example with one dilemma for each ethics as a class first. Then:

Activity: Group Ink Shedding – Use 4 of the top 10 moral dilemmas. ( Have 1 group for each ethical theory, and have them evaluate what to do based on their ethic. Then switch pass papers to next group to have them evaluate it with their theory. Discuss results.

Homework: In journal, in what specific ways do you feel responsible for your own life right now?

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