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Drawing by David Shrigley

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1 Drawing by David Shrigley
Professional Ethics PE 3340 Today’s Topics What Is Ethics? & Cultural Relativism Drawing by David Shrigley

2 A World of Ethics Our values are reflected in our attitude toward ourselves, other individuals, society and social groups, and the world around us. Since our values are manifested in our actions, so in a sense there is no escape from ethics. Even if we say “To heck with ethics!” or claim to be nihilists we are expressing a specific moral attitude toward careful deliberation about values. Nihilism: the claim that nothing has any value or purpose.

3 The Problem of Definition
Two basic elements of ethics: (1) The nature of morality or what is good. (2) How we ought to live our lives. • If we knew something about the former, we might know something about the latter. • However there are many accounts of morality and they often clash with each other.

4 The Problem of Definition
• Rachel aims to describe a “minimum conception of morality” or some basic features that all ethical theories possess. • He does this through three dramatic examples that (1) expose some moral principles that shape our everyday ethical thought and (2) show something of the nature of ethical reasoning.

5 First Example: Baby Theresa
Born anencephalic: the cerebrum and the cerebellum are missing, as is the top of the skull. In the United States, most cases of anencephaly are detected during pregnancy and aborted. Of those not aborted, half are still born. About 350 each year are born alive, and they usually die within days. (Rachels, page 2)

6 Picture 1: Anencephalic Fetus
Photograph: Ed Uthman, MD

7 Picture 2: Anencephalic Fetus
Photograph: Ed Uthman, MD

8 First Example: Baby Theresa
What was the right thing to do in the case of Baby Theresa?

9 Logical Reasoning: The Basics
• Ethics is an activity that requires critical thinking and rational arguments. • In other words, we need to examine what reasons can be given in support of an ethical position. • When we reason we make a conscious effort to show how one thought provides support for another.

10 Logical Reasoning: The Basics
Example 1. If animals feel pain, then we should not hurt them. 2. Animals feel pain. 3. Therefore, we should not hurt them. • In this simple example the first two statements are the premises that provide justification for the last statement which is the conclusion.

11 Logical Reasoning: The Basics
Two terms of evaluation: Valid Argument: if the premises are true, then it is impossible for the conclusion to be false. Sound Argument: a valid argument that contains only true premises.

12 Valid Argument 1.If the moon is made of cheese, cows can fly.
3. Hence, cows can fly. Note the basic form of this argument: 1. If A, then B. 2. A. 3. Hence, B.

13 Sound Argument 1. If we are in Corpus Christi, then we are in Texas.
3. Hence, we are in Texas. Note: the form of this argument is exactly the same as the previous argument. The only difference is that these premises are true and so the argument is sound.

14 Baby Theresa: The Benefits Argument
1. If we can benefit someone, without harming anyone else, we ought to do so. 2. Transplanting the organs would benefit other children without harming Baby Theresa. 3. Therefore, we ought to transplant her organs.

15 The Argument That We Should Not Use People As Means
1. It is wrong to use people as a means to other people’s ends. 2. If we harvest Theresa's organs, we would be using her as a means to benefit other children. 3. Therefore, we should not harvest Theresa's organs.

16 Rachel’s Assessment The prohibition against killing is strong, but most people do not think it absolute. Baby Theresa is (1) going to die soon, (2) not conscious, and (3) her organs could help save several other children. We might even regard Baby Theresa as “born dead”. Note: Rachel's claim about changes to the concept of "death" p.5.

17 Third Example: Tracy Latimer
Facts: Tracy Latimer, 12-year-old victim of cerebral palsy from Saskatchewan, was killed by her father in 1993. • She had the mental life of a 3-month old baby and was in constant, severe pain. Mrs. Latimer supported her husband. • Mr. Latimer was charged and found guilty of murder. He served time and has since been paroled.

18 Where is Saskatchewan?

19 The Slippery Slope Argument
1. If we accept any sort of mercy killing, we will have stepped onto a “slippery slope” down which we will inevitably slide. 2. In the end all life will be held cheap. 3. If all life will be held cheap, Tracy should not have been killed. 4. Hence, Tracy should not have been killed.

20 Rachel’s Question • We might agree with this ethical principle: it is wrong to treat some people worse than others when there are no relevant differences between them that would justify it. Question: was this the case with Tracy?

21 Robert Latimer in his own words
“People are saying this is a handicap issue, but they are wrong. This is a torture issue. This is about mutilation and torture for Tracy.”

22 Reason and Impartiality
• Rachel’s holds that two basic points about ethics emerge from a consideration of these examples. 1. Our feelings are important, but they must be guided by reason. 2. Ethics includes the idea of impartiality.

23 The Challenge of Cultural Relativism

24 How Different Cultures Have Different Moral Codes
Morality differs in every society, and is a convenient term for socially approved habits. Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture (1934) • Consider the example from Herodotus (c BC) in his History. There he describes how the ancient Greeks burned but the Callatians ate the bodies of their dead fathers.

25 Five Features of Cultural Relativism
1. Different societies have different moral codes. 2. (a) The "good" is determined by society; (b) an act is "right" if it is allowed by the guiding ideals of the society in which it is performed, and "wrong" if it is forbidden by those ideals. 3. There is no objective standard that can be used to judge one society’s code as better than an other’s. 4. The moral code of our society has no special status. 5. We should adopt an attitude of tolerance.

26 The Cultural Differences Argument
The Greeks believed it was wrong to eat the dead. The Callatians believed it was right to eat the dead. 3. Therefore, eating the dead is neither objectively right nor objectively wrong: it is merely a matter of opinion from culture to culture. Question: Is this a sound argument?

27 Generalized Cultural Differences Argument
Different cultures have different moral codes. 2. If different cultures have different moral codes, then whether it is right for an individual to act in a certain way depends entirely on the society to which he or she belongs. 3. Therefore, whether it is right for an individual to act in a certain way depends entirely on the society to which he or she belongs. (see Rachels p.18)

28 Consider : A Related Argument
Some people think that earth is flat. Some people think the earth is round. 3. If there is disagreement concerning some matter of fact, there is no objective truth. 4. Hence, there is no objective truth whether the earth is round or flat. Objection: The Cultural Differences Argument tries to derive a substantive conclusion about a subject from the mere fact that people disagree about it. But this is impossible. (Rachels p. 18)

29 What If….. Cultural Relativism Were True?
We could no longer say that the customs of other societies are morally inferior/superior to our own.

30 What If….. Cultural Relativism Were True?
2. We could decide whether our actions are right or wrong just by consulting the standards of our society.

31 What If….. Cultural Relativism Were True?
3. The idea of moral progress is called into doubt.

32 How Much Do Cultures Disagree?
• Reconsider the case of eating the dead. Perhaps this is done protect the spirit of the deceased. • Indeed compare the practice to the Catholic Eucharist or Holy Communion. • Has there ever been a society that allows for murder? • Has there ever been a society that allows for unlimited lying?

33 Reason, Impartiality, and Cultural Relativism
1. Those who defend cultural practices typically give reasons. (Consider the case of female genital mutilation.) 2. Cultural relativism violates the fundamental norm of impartiality by giving preferences to individual cultural groups.

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