There are no Right and Wrong answers in Ethics?
Debate Rounds (4)
First, I'll try to define what morally right and morally wrong are. I'll use eating as an example. Eating provides sustenance and energy for our bodies. It enables us to function in everyday life, allows us to perform other actions, and helps us contribute to society. Eating falls under taking good care of one's self. That, in itself, is morally right. Conversely, overindulgence would be a morally wrong thing to do. The reasons behind it vary: it can be because one overeats for comfort; another reason may be one just loves food and can't help but take up that third helping, or it could just simply be one doesn't know or care when one ought to stop. Excessive eating leads to obesity and other various health problems, as well as costly expenses to try and get back to one's original weight (if they choose to try to go back at all.) So, once again, overindulgence is a morally wrong thing to do. However, in my next point, I'll show how these examples can become part of the "there are no right and wrong answers in ethics."
As it is all too clear in our world today, we have entered a moral "gray zone;" that is to say, we no longer bother to draw an absolute line between what could be considered morally right or wrong. Greed and pride are at an all-time high in the halls of our leaders in Washington D.C., as the gridlock between political parties continue. There is a general antipathy towards religious institutions and the moral laws they attempt to uphold. Understandably, there are those who do not wish to associate with them, since even a number of the leaders and members of these institutions are accused of child molestation and of attempting to cover up said accusations (ie, they look like hypocrites.) America itself has become a poster-child for obesity as well as becoming the trademark for apathy towards one's own health and society's overall well-being. Laws, whether they are in a holy book or created by a government, are disregarded for the sake of one's personal preferences (drug abuse, being one example.) Honestly, these examples aren't really new, but they're the most recent issues that I've personally witnessed.
With all these things that would be considered morally wrong, a majority of today's society has decided to throw responsibility away and simply say, "I'm doing what makes me happy, so 'right' or 'wrong' doesn't apply." Right or wrong are going to make someone feel bad for being what they are or for doing what they do. In order to maintain their comfort and the laissez-faire attitude towards their actions, they are eager for others to suspend judgment for the sake of one's own feelings. In short, a group with the same interest would rather make "right" and "wrong" irrelevant when it comes to their actions.
When "ethics," "right," and "wrong" become irrelevant, they cease to exist in a self-serving gray-zone society that does not want those black and white answers changing their status quo.
With the example you used, the punishment is severe in that we hurt ourselves and physically learn why such an action is harmful. It isn't necessarily the case that touching a stove top is unethical or immoral, just physically harmful. But if we continue with your point-- that parents teach us the difference between right and wrong-- then I have a rebuttal.
Parents push for a certain behavior in their children and use "right" and "wrong" and "rewards" and "punishments" as ways to ingrain behavioral patterns. If a child is told to stay quiet and be good while Mom or Dad are on the phone, it isn't because it's morally right-- it's because Mom or Dad just want to speak in peace without being interrupted. Punishments are ways to curb behavioral patterns that do not coincide with a parent's personal preference. The same can be said of rewards: if a child gets high grades and is doing well in school, a parent will be eager to promote this behavior and ensure its continuance. It isn't because it's the "right" thing to do, it just means that making this behavior a habit will guarantee that the child will ALWAYS do well in school and thereby increasing their success later in life.
"...In this case people will steal, kill, etc. to get what they need, and even though its for a good purpose, its still wrong to commit crime towards another." Stealing is a good example for the point I'd like to make, so I'll go with that. A thief being punished follows along the same ideas as curbing a certain behavior. It isn't so much that he did something "wrong" as it is he committed an act that damages the overall welfare of the group and authority. The victim of the theft is more upset about the fact he had his things taken from him in the first place, rather than the idea of whether or not it's "wrong." The authority figures punish the thief because the victim (who obviously has more to give to the authorities than the man who was driven to theft in the first place) will make enough noise about the matter. The authority figures want to continue being the beneficiary of the victim's confidence and other assets.
In short, people aren't punished because they've committed a morally "wrong" act: they're punished because their self-serving act did not benefit everyone in the community and the punishment ensures to curb any future acts of the same nature. The same goes for praising or rewarding morally "good" behavior: a community will reinforce the act because it wants to continue benefiting positively from whatever item or service someone is providing.
If I'm understanding right, the goal of your argument is that the idea of right and wrong are inherent; that we have an instinctual comprehension of these concepts. What you're actually arguing for is a human's virtue, or decency. I don't disagree that we have an innate understanding of decency. What I do reject is the idea of something being labelled as morally "right" or "wrong" when different cultural groups all over the world each have an unique spectrum of what they deem "right" and "wrong."
What you bring up as 'wrong' under the direction of religion or society sounds closer to what taboo means. "Taboo: a social or religious custom prohibiting or forbidding discussion of a particular practice or forbidding association with a particular person, place, or thing." That's the key thing here. Taboo doesn't necessarily mean a practice is "wrong," just frowned upon by certain people (depending where you are, at least.) Of course, if you ask why something is considered taboo, the first reason anyone will try to give you is that its "wrong" and will assume that that's enough of a reason. Taboo should never be confused with the concept of "wrong." I'll give you examples.
A tribe in Papua, New Guinea holds a ceremony for the male members of the tribe in which they perform bodily mutilation. After being locked inside a "spirit house" for a number of weeks, the males (ranging from as young as 11 to over 30) submit themselves to having their skin cut all over the body in order to emulate the hide of a crocodile: an animal which this tribe reveres as sacred. It is an excruciating process, during which people have died, so it's a very risky thing to participate in. However, if they do not participate in this ceremony, they will never be seen as true men within the tribe. Source here: http://video.nationalgeographic.com...; Here, in America, we'd be absolutely appalled to see this ritual. We view bodily mutilation as taboo, as something no one should ever commit or talk about. We'd even be quick to call it "wrong." However, this ceremony isn't wrong to the tribe. This is natural, how things have always been, and always will be. They view this as a chance to learn from this opportunity and grow from it.
When faced with such a polarization between values, it's easy to get overwhelmed. However, it's important to realize this is also something we can learn and grow from: there can never be an absolute "right" and "wrong" in ethics because there are simply too many "rights" and "wrongs" to sort out! In order to define an absolute "right," you'd have to make the entire world agree with a certain idea. That's over 7 billion people you'd need to convert to that one single idea. And even then, there might be disagreements; someone might not be happy with the idea at all and won't conform to it. Well, without that one person, you don't have an absolute "right" answer.
As for the point you brought up earlier about fetal abduction, it's an interesting one; however I don't think religion has a particular bearing over it. From what I understood, it's a freak occurrence involving some pretty mentally disturbed women. According to Wikipedia, "Fetal abducting is the kidnapping of an unborn child by forcing a pregnant mother to comply with an early caesarean, and then taking the fetus directly from the mother's womb." The wiki also provided abduction cases, in which the primary aggressors are all women within the United States against randomly targeted mothers also in the US. It's a very disturbing and disheartening phenomena, I have to say, however I don't believe they are the result of the lack of religion in one's life. In fact, there's one case provided (http://en.wikipedia.org...) in which the aggressor plead "guilty but mentally ill."
In the end, I don't think religion is necessarily the best method to measure what is considered "right" or "wrong." I don't think it's necessary for God or any kind of higher power to exist in order for a person to choose between the concepts of "right" and "wrong" answers. There are atheists and agnostics out in the world who don't follow any particular creed and still make choices society would deem "good."
Assuming it's true that the Ten Commandments are handed directly from God to Moses, these rules are biblical instructions laying out the guidelines for building and maintaining a close relationship with God Himself, not so much with mankind towards each other. However, that's assuming it's true they're from God. The only source which states so is from the Bible, and that in itself is not a direct source from God. "The Old Testament was compiled and edited by various men over a period of centuries, with many scholars concluding that the Hebrew canon was solidified by about the 3rd century BC." (http://en.wikipedia.org...) The New Testament itself was written in the 300s AD to provide continuity and guidance for the newly-spreading Christianity. In the end, the Bible only dictates the taboos of the religion and does not necessarily point out what can be universally considered right and wrong.
The phrase "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God" is, I think, a bit misleading when it comes to the legal system. It's not asking for any assistance from God, so much as it's threatening the wrath of God. It implies dire consequences to those who perjure while in court. For those who are religious, the phrase "so help you God" will remind them of the rules set in place by his or her credo. In short, it's an outdated phrase and while the goal of it is to make sure someone is being truthful, the goal of it does not necessarily guarantee the person will be truthful.
As for fetal abduction, you're right in that the aggressor's actions do not seem wrong to them. But that just reinforces my point: it's would be considered wrong to us, but they see it as entirely good and justified. Sure, there's a massive majority that disagrees with their point of view, but being the majority doesn't necessarily make a group of people right. There is no absolute right and wrong in ethics when both sides believe they're justified or correct.
When it comes to people calling out to God in times of chaos or trouble or when they need His help, I won't pretend it doesn't happen. I would hate to underestimate or undervalue a person's faith simply for the sake of a debate. But, I feel it's safe to say that it's not necessarily the case that it's a human instinct to look for answers in a higher power. Sometimes too, when frustrated, there are people who will invoke the name of God or any other deity simply because the phrases have become day-to-day slang. "Oh my god" and "Jesus Christ" (phrases used out of shock, fear, horror, anger, and even excitement) have little meaning today where Christianity no longer dominates the social strata.
You've brought up really interesting points and it's been a blast debating with you! I still have to say though that there are no absolute right and wrong answers in ethics because there are just too many answers in this world to pick and choose from. Even my answer isn't necessarily a right answer! That's the fun of ethics though: you can pick and choose what right and wrong answers you want to understand in your life and in the end, no one can really tell you whether you've picked right or wrong. That's for you to figure out as you go along in life.
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