The notion that morality is merely a matter of opinion is profoundly false and trivially true. This notion is profoundly false because it suggests that there is no right or wrong answer to moral questions, there is only “the answer that is right for you, and the answer that is right for me.” In this class, we took great pains to arrive at the realization that no matter what various answers any two people might arrive at, 2+2 will still equal 4. Regardless people’s opinions on any matter, right, wrong, or indifferent, moral questions have a definite answer that is unchanging and not affected by how people feel about it. The trivial truth about this notion is that any stance that we are to take on any subject will ultimately be an opinion, regardless how true or false we might be. All we have are opinions, so our thoughts on morality will necessarily be a matter of opinion. That does not mean that our opinions are not subject to being right or wrong, it simply means that they are opinions, and even as such, no one is right to hold the wrong opinion.
Plato claims that one never knowingly and deliberately does what one judges to be the morally inferior alternative. I believe that Plato was correct in this assessment. In my own experience, I can say that there are a great number of things in my life that I have done of which I am not very proud, but I don’t think that I have ever done anything that I sincerely believed at the time to be wrong. There are things that I have done (stealing my mother’s vehicle to take joy-rides well before I even saw a driver’s license on the distant horizon, stealing all varieties of random and relatively worthless merchandise from shops in the mall and discount shopping centers) knowing very well that a lot of people would consider it wrong or that I might be punished for being caught, but even then I managed to justify my actions such that I felt comfortable with my own choices. Since that time, I have matured slightly, but the things that I do wrong now I still believe are right. I believe that any time that we are presented with a moral question about our own behavior, we will work to do one of two things: evaluate the situation realistically and arrive at an informed decision as to what is right to do, or decide what we want to do and then manufacture reasons that our choice is justified. I have a firm belief in the human ability to believe in whatever we need to believe in so that we can do what we want to do, but I also believe that if a person is honest enough about the reality of a situation, they will do the right thing. People can be mistaken in their values, including overemphasizing the value of doing what they want (“that is my right“) relative to other factors in making a moral decision, but they cannot escape from the need to believe that they are justified in doing what they do.
I disagree with the idea that there are no moral truths because of some sort of difference between facts and values. Wherever values exist they can be described as being factual, and so if something must be factual in order to be “truth,” then values can be true.
Camille Paglia believes that the two sexes are at war with each other, that men seek to dominate women through aggression and that women seek to dominate men with sexuality. She seems to argue that women who choose to use their sexuality in their dealings with men should not be surprised if men respond with aggression, especially if those women do not want to engage in sexual activity after displaying their sexuality. She maintains that women who engage in games with the opposite sex should be held accountable for the part they played should they be forced to engage in sexual relations against their will. She claims that the men who force these women to engage in sexual relations are not right in doing so, but they are not alone in the responsibility for what happens. I think that her analysis of the situation is accurate: for anyone to forcibly engage in sexual relations with another is wrong, yet it is reckless and irresponsible to flaunt sexuality in the company of persons of questionable moral character and an unquestionable desire to fornicate, particularly if one desires not to fornicate.
The idea that, because people differ in their beliefs and judgments regarding morality and because people are “not likely” to change their beliefs and judgments, there cannot be a universal moral code that applies to all people is absurd. The existence or lack of existence of a universal moral code is in no way dependant upon the beliefs of people. If a universal moral code exists, then there are a lot of people who are wrong in the their moral beliefs and judgments. If no code exists, and what a person believes and what they value dictates their morality, then all of these people could be correct in their moral judgments even if they differ. A universal moral code cannot be proven impossible simply because people differ in their beliefs and judgments, because they can differ in those regardless of whether or not the moral code exists.
It is possible that we act on principle and remain consequentialists. True principles have their basis in reason, and when the reason (consequences, ill motives) is removed, then the principles no longer apply to the given situation. Those who maintain their belief in principles that might seem to be of no consequence in particular situations do so only when they believe that there are, in fact, consequences at stake. A decision to face the Dalton gang, for example, would have as one of its consequences a man who goes to his grave having died for what he believed in, while the consequences had he not faced the gang would’ve been a man who lived on with the suspicion in his heart that he was a coward who refused to stand up to the bullies simply because he feared harm. If the only consequences that we are allowed to recognize are material and physical instances of harm or well-being, then a decision to stand up to the Dalton gang would be a decision that completely disregarded all possible consequences. If we are allowed to admit, though, that the harm done to character in the instance of refusing to stand for what is right (i.e. it is not right for the Dalton gang to be allowed free reign over the people of Dodge City) is greater than the harm done when one loses his life performing his duty. Clearly, a man who decides to face the gang would rather die a man of character than live as a coward, both are very real consequences that have been weighed against each other. If the consequences that apply to character are not real, though, then this man has acted simply as a matter of principle with no care for the (real) consequences. I reject the notion that the only consequences that are real are those that affect the physical and material well-being of those persons involved, and therefore I cannot believe in such notions as “harmless wrongdoing” or “principled behavior.” The consequences at stake in both “harmless” wrongdoing and principled behavior are not those that affect the physical and material well-being of those involved, but rather the emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being (well-being of character) of those involved.
When moral disagreements occur, they can occur between stupid and inept people as well as capable and qualified people. A moral disagreement can occur when two people disagree about something and do not possess the wherewithal to prove each other wrong or prove their own arguments right. Their disagreement is in no way dependant upon whether or not they understand why they disagree or are able to formulate arguments supporting their belief.
William K. Frankena said, “To say that a developed moral agent must make up his or her own mind as to what is right…is not to say that one can make a course of action right by merely deciding on it.” The first portion of this statement seems to
build on Plato’s notion that a moral agent will not knowingly act in a way that he or she determines to be morally inferior. Moral agents are subject to gain information about moral judgments from outside of themselves, often including the opinions others and society at large. Regardless the factors that affect that moral agent’s personal belief or judgment, the moral agent’s own belief and judgment will ultimately determine how that agent will act. This is the first portion of Frankena’s statement—a developed moral agent must make up his or her own mind as to what is right—in order for that moral agent to choose a course of action that he or she believes to be right. The second portion of his statement allows for the fact that developed moral agents are fallible in their moral judgments. Developed moral agents will necessarily believe that the course of action they choose is right, but this does not mean that they will choose the right course of action. Developed moral agents are capable of being mistaken, and so in spite of the fact that they might sincerely believe that they choose the proper course of action, they are capable of choosing the wrong one.
Joseph Raz’s assertion that “morality judges the interest of all impartially” still permits the possibility that, in doing what is morally right, one’s self-interest is also served. It does not follow from his assertions that it can never be in one’s self-interest to be moral, simply because there can be instances in which the service of one’s self-interest coincides with what is morally right.
Though it can be said that, “by increasing a pain-riddled patient’s morphine in order to shorten the patient’s life,” a person has taken steps that both produce desirable results (the alleviation of the patient’s pain) and display morally wrong intent (the intent to kill the patient). The presence of ill motives and intent to do harm is more morally significant than the benefit to the patient of pain relief as the patient dies. The agent cannot be described as having done the “right” thing for the wrong reasons, as the wrong reasons make the action wrong.
Suttle’s position on duty to die and its implications on others is basically that it is morally permissible for some other people to do what will bring about or expedites a duty-bound person’s death when the duty-bound person fails to fulfill that duty. I agree that, when a person is morally obligated to do something and cannot or will not do it, then others have a moral right, and perhaps sometimes an obligation, to step in and assist the duty-bound person in fulfilling that duty.
The Moral Domain is said to be composed of “any thought, judgment, or action that either advances, sustains, or retards the well-being of the agent and/or others.” Any thoughts, actions, or judgments that do not advance, sustain, or retard the well-being of the agent and/or others falls outside of the Moral Domain. If “harmless wrongdoings” are to be understood as actions that do not advance, sustain, or retard the well-being of the agent and/or others, they would necessarily fall outside of the Moral Domain, and are therefore neither right nor wrong, and should therefore be considered “harmless doings.” If they must be included in the Moral Domain, though, perhaps it should be recognized that, if they are in fact “wrongdoings,” then they do, in fact, retard the well-being of the agent and/or others. In the instance of voyeurism, for example, a person who violates the privacy of another does very real harm to his/her own well-being.
The most significant change in my thinking due to this course has been my understanding of moral relativism. At times in my past I have sincerely believed that moral judgments for me can differ from others’ moral judgments for themselves without either sets of moral judgments being wrong. As a result of this course, I realize that when disagreements about the world in general occur, at least one of the persons involved in the disagreement must be wrong.
I found all of the topics we discussed in this class equally interesting. All of the topics were based on ethics, which I find to be very interesting.
This course would be much improved if only I had attended class more in the latter portion of the semester, and if we had spent less time waiting for some of the more stubborn or ignorant persons in the class to grasp the concepts we discussed so that we could move on to discuss the topics in greater depth.
I think that the most common misunderstanding of ethics would probably have to be that of moral relativism. People often rightly subscribe to the notion that it is mean and/or irresponsible to dismiss the practices of other cultures as wrong simply because they are different when we do not fully understand them, but people mistakenly take this further to believe that we cannot understand or make morally sound judgments of other cultures or even other people within our own culture. Moral relativism seems to prevent a lot of progress and advancement in the world today because so many people are so careful about passing judgment on the actions or beliefs of others. In a more critical world, perhaps we would be free of many of the stupid and ignorant ideas that still remain because no one wants to tell people how things really are.