A Brief Observation on Ethics

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My observation about ethics, is that determining what we as a society ought to do requires skills in critical thinking, logic, and reason. Without such skills we are in danger of thinking in arbitrary absolutes and of over-generalizing the issues society faces. If we fail to explore other options, see things from alternate perspectives, or challenge our personal paradigms, we create an ethical vacuum and risk building individualistic pseudo-moralities from which we judge the rightness or wrongness of an action based solely upon whether or not we do such actions ourselves.

It is just this sort of faulty logic, this pseudo-moralistic judgment, that leads some people to feel that it is acceptable to condemn certain lifestyles or actions, such as homosexuality or prostitution: “I’m not gay, so being gay is wrong.” It also enables us to feel apathetic toward the rights of others who are different from us or live in different circumstances: “Gay people are different from everyone else, so they should just deal with homophobia and hope it goes away;” “I respect my body, so prostitutes clearly have no self-respect;” or, “I/people I know work hard and aren’t poor, therefore poor people must be doing something wrong.”

Our determination of ethical behavior should be based less on what we would or wouldn’t do personally, and more on whether or not we would like to be treated/judged in the same manner in which we treat/judge others. Moreover, the rightness or wrongness of an action should be judged less on how much we personally like or dislike something and more on the amount of goodness or harm it brings to others. For example, regulating business practices to ensure workers are well treated and the planet isn’t being polluted bring more goodness to more people than allowing business to do as it pleases; whereas, dictating the individual actions of consenting adults typically leads to oppression and marginalization, thus causing more harm to more people.

Therefore, a large number of us need to get off of our high-horses, stop trying to dictate who is screwing whom or who is smoking what, and start to really evaluate the ways in which our thoughts and actions affect the whole.

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