Why Should We Conform To Morality’s Demands? (Essay)

December 14th, 2005

There are a number of different theories as to what morality standard we, as humans, should adhere to. We have studied the works of virtue theorists, deontologists, and consequentialist that have scripted opinions on this matter. I will compare the different reasons that Plato, Kant, and Mill supply for why we should conform to morality’s demands and will offer my own opinion on which I think most adequately addresses this issue.
Platonian thinkers, in the realm of ethics, are considered virtue theorists. This means that they rely on their definition of virtue in order to determine what is just. Virtue is viewed of as being the most positive action that you can do. With a focus on eudaimonia, which is defined by Plato as a satisfying life, humans are able and required to act just.
Personal justice is a struggle for a personal eudaimon. Eudaimonia is a state of happiness or life long satisfaction. Plato sets up a sort of “Justice Pays” idea when he defines why people should strive to be just. Justice seems to be only worthwhile if and only if our actions of justice positively contribute to our own eudaimonia.
In a society, Plato defines justice to be each person playing their own role in order to further harmony of soul; this includes respecting the individual. It is each part of the soul playing their proper role. Plato divides his idea of the correct society into three groups, guardians, soldiers, and workers. The reason he believes this is true justice is because it mirrors his ideas of the build of a soul. His first section of society is the guardians who echo the part of our soul that Plato refers to as “reason”. These people contain the “reason” section of the society; they provide guidance and leadership. The next part of the soul Plato echoes the soldiers on; this is spiritedness. These people protect and give strength to the society the same way spiritedness does to the soul. The third part of the society that echoes parts of the soul is the common worker, which mirrors “appetite”, our base desires or struggles.
Plato argues that because a just society is so closely related to the build of our souls, we should never commit an unjust act, because if we do, it will break our souls and we will feel it in the core of our being forever.
This idea of Plato’s seems reasonably implausible. First it seems that he offers a selfish reason for why we should act just. Justice doesn’t seem to be something that should be based on selfishness, it seems like justice by definition should exist barring almost all forms of selfishness. Another problem with Plato’s idea of justice seems to be that there is no connections between what Plato says is just and a person’s rights. If Plato’s theory would be correct, it seems as though lying to someone without them having any knowledge of it would be a just thing to do, since it might promote your own eudaimonia. We obviously believe that justice includes respecting someone enough not to lie to them, whether they find out or not. It seems like this idea of rights, or something like it, should fall in the theory somewhere, however it fails to do so. Another issue that this theory produces is the problem that comes up with people that act unjustly and get over it with time. Many people only feel guilty for a little while, but with time, they don’t feel the pain anymore. This doesn’t seem to fit into Plato’s theory of morality. This does not coincide with his thoughts about an unjust act, breaking the soul forever, and leaving the person acting unjust in pain.
Plato gives a virtue theory that offers many possibilities on why morality makes strong demands on us but falls short on a few issues. Deontologists also have their own ideas of why it is that morality needs to take such a strong position in our lives. Kant, a deontologist of the late 1700s, offers a strong position from a deontologist’s point of view. Kant’s theory begins with the description of our world. A Kantian would say that the world is divided into two main parts, the phenomenal world, which we cannot see or change, and the nominal world, the world that we see and can partially change. He argues that the nominal world is something that we can see and that we have the ability to determine what, of that world, we think is right or wrong.
We are the ones that determine what is right and wrong; therefore we are the ones that set up the Categorical Imperative. The Categorical Imperative not only shows us what is right and wrong, but it also determines what is right and wrong, through our creation, based on our perceptions of the nominal world. These are both defined, by Kant, as the epistemic and the ontological dimensions of the Categorical Imperative. The epistemic dimension shows us that it is what we can be sure about because it is stable and secure. The ontological dimension shows that the Categorical Imperative not only is a guide, but also reveals the truth for what is right and wrong.
Even though these dimensions differ in small ways, they both follow a single basic principle. The Categorical Imperative principle is explained three different ways, by Kant, but is determined to have the same effect. Kant says we should act only the actions that we feel we would want to become a universal law. This means that immorality is revealed through people not wanting such an action to become a universal law.
The second way he tries to explain his principle is to say that we, as humans, should strive to treat all of humanity as ends and never as means. We should be concerned that we do not use people as a gain for ourselves, hence, acting how we would want everyone to act.
The third way Kant tries to explain his Categorical Imperative, is to say that all of the laws that we construct, from the nominal world through the Categorical Imperative, must allow for any maxim to harmonize with its results and do so naturally. This means that no matter what situation that we put into the laws we have constructed, it must still hold true to the natural identities we prescribe to the law.
If a maxim is put into any of the laws and a contradiction occurs, we know that the act is not moral. Also, if a maxim comes out of the Categorical Imperative clean of contradiction and is something we wish to be a universal law, we can feel comfortable knowing that our action is morally blameless.
This theory seems very strong and plausible except for a few exceptions. One of these exceptions is an exception that relies on the maxim having a specific time specified in it. If the maxim were to say, “Is it moral for me to play tennis at 10:00am on Sunday morning?” we would have to say that this action is immoral simply because we would not wish it to be a universal law. It supports contradiction and therefore is proven by the Categorical Imperative to be immoral. We know this action isn’t immoral; therefore there must be something wrong with the Categorical Imperative.
The Categorical Imperative also seems to be deemed false because it seems to prove other things to be immoral when most people say they shouldn’t be. If you had no money but you asked someone if you could borrow some, promising to pay them back, that act of lying would be wrong whether they ever found out or not. The Categorical Imperative tells us that if they never found out about it, it would not be morally wrong.
The consequentialist, Mill, organized a theory that was far different from the deontologists and the virtue theorists. His theory is based on the idea that good is equal to pleasure. He explains morality by saying that morality first worried for the good of the community. Since the good of the community means that good is granted to the largest amount of people that comprise that community, then the best good for each person is their happiness or pleasure. However, he also says that good is an abstract joy that can be enjoyed by anyone. Mill is also sure to add that he thinks there is a qualitative difference between types of pleasure, and the best type of pleasure is when the person has practical wisdom.
The arguments against Mill are often with respect to the world and HIV. Consequentialism seems to tell us that we should kill all of the people with HIV to save future victims of this illness. Most people would argue that this thought of morality would not seem right. People with HIV have rights that extend beyond the happiness of the largest amount of people.
I personally feel that Mill’s justification for why there is an importance for morality is most adequate. I feel as though everyday we determine things consequentially. I feel that the case of the people that have HIV is a situation that is an objection only when it is not looked at closely enough. I would say that we should not kill everyone with HIV because we have security to uphold. Security in value is something that is vital to almost everyone’s happiness. By killing the people with HIV you make all of the other people wary and question their own security. This questioning of security would be detrimental to their own happiness and therefore bring unhappiness on the people much more than the happiness of those being saved from HIV. Living a life with HIV is even less pain than living your life in fear. In this way, I feel that Mill adequately applies our everyday rationality to the realm of ethics and morality, making morality’s demands on us more clear and understandable.


Bongo Bob said…
why indeed? simply, because it is what is most familiar. you have a deep, well oiled mind. have a happy life
3:18 AM


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