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How do we know, if at all, that our behavior is ethical?

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Introduction

How do we know, if at all, that our behavior is ethical? Candidate name: Anders Rasmussen Candidate number: D1099019 Subject: Theory of knowledge Topic number: Four Date: April 6, 2002 Word count: 1430 How do we know, if at all, that our behavior is ethical? As generally known there are great difficulties concerning this question. The problem really lies in defining the term ethics. Once this has been defined (assuming it is possible) answering the question above is rather simple. One only has to ask whether a behavior is in accordance with that definition or not. Hence in this essay I focus on defining ethics, as far as possible. Socrates was the one, who first introduced the concept of ethical philosophy by claiming that his slave boy, whom he had discovered actually was able to think on his own, should since he was human be treated in a humanitarian way. Many philosophers have since the ancient Greek civilization given their subjective views on the question of what ethics is. To get a better grip on this question I think one should first look at the extremes. One philosopher in this category is Nietzsche. He claimed that ethics are laws created by the weak to protect the weak and that these laws are hindering the strong and creative from reaching his/her full potential. This might sound cruel; nevertheless I think he does have a point. ...read more.

Middle

Imagine yourself standing in a street corner; suddenly a terrified person runs by, two seconds later another out of your mind looking man with a knife raised over his head comes and asks you if you saw in which direction the first man went. Should you tell him the truth? If you are a true Christian you should, since lying is wrong according to the Ten Commandments. The utilitarian perspective seems good since happiness will increase. However, wouldn't this ethically otherwise horrible action such as World War 2? It has after all had many positive effects such as the creation of the United Nations i.e. the long tern effect has increased happiness on the earth. A world ruled according to this principle would also mean an end to all individual rights. If killing someone would make people happy then it would be justified to execute that individual. Anders Rasmussen, D1099019 My conclusion so far is that it is wrong to make ethical laws or principals; there will always be situations such as the ones exemplified above where it is not appropriate. I think that ethics is subjective and should remain so, since creating laws will most likely lead to misinterpretations and a more inhuman society. Ethics is after all one of the prime things that makes us human. This though is not to say that we should live in total anarchy, people that obviously do harm to mankind should be punished. ...read more.

Conclusion

There are some problems though about the superego. If our values are inflicted upon us by the culture in which we have grown up (a Christian would probably say that they are given to us from God) and thus differs from one culture to another (we can by looking at the world tell that this is the case!) clashes might occur when different societies meet. Since different subjective meanings about what is right and what is wrong will be shared by one society. It is in such situations, when the intuition fails to settle argument, that we should use our more objective tool... the reasoning. Conclusion: First of all we should not create a strict ethical constitution telling us the exact answer to the question "How do we know if at all that our behavior is ethical?" We should not let the moral philosopher become an engineer. Instead it is the individual that should, in each unique situation, use all available tools and act the way he or she finds most appropriate in the particular situation i.e. "how do we know, if at all, that our behavior is ethical is a question which will have different answer in different situation and we must therefore ask ourselves this question as often as possible. This is not a "perfect" system, and it will always create conflicts among us. Still I think taking away all moral responsibility is to take away what makes us human. Truly believing that you are acting ethically is as ethical one can ever get, as a human being. ...read more.

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