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How can we know, if at all, that our behaviour is ethical?

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Introduction

How can we know, if at all, that our behaviour is ethical? People base their ethical behaviour on a predetermined set of morals. These morals may have come from past experience or may have been set through what people believe in, their religious beliefs for example. Throughout history different theories have appeared that base themselves on this question, whether or not our behaviour is ethical and how we can be sure it is. Philosophers have debated this subject and come up with their own reasons as to why a person's behaviour can be judged to be ethical. According to this every person, society or religion has a different idea as to what ethical behaviour is; therefore we have difficulty in judging whether or not the way in which we act is ethical. An example of differences in ethical behaviour can be found in religion. If we take an extreme Muslim society such as Afghanistan and compare it with a Western country such as Great Britain, major differences can already be seen. What is acceptable and what is not depends entirely on the religion you follow or what one believes in. In Afghanistan, the authorities think that it is acceptable to repress women, to the extent that the have public executions in an arena that was supposed to be used for football matches. This is accepted as a suitable punishment for women and some men when they are found to be opposing the Taleban regime. ...read more.

Middle

From this we will be able to know if our behaviour is ethical, if it is able to generate the maximum amount of happiness. There are several problems with this, how can we know that our behaviour will provide the greatest amount of happiness. For example a doctor has the chance to save a mother and child's life or an elderly man's life, the treatment would allow the mother and child to live for a few years as they are both infected by a life threatening disease. With Bentham's argument the greatest amount of happiness would be provided if the mother and child were saved, as they are two rather then one, like the elderly man. But when measured in years of happiness where the elderly man may live for another twenty years, the mother and child will only live for another two and this would mean that the greatest amount of happiness might be provided if the doctor were to save the old man. Although on strict utilitarian grounds the doctor would have to save the mother and child. Mill wanted to go beyond this argument offered by Bentham, as he understood the problems of Bentham's theory on ethical behaviour. He wanted to shift the emphasis on happiness or pleasure to being a matter of quality rather than quantity. He also distinguishes between the higher pleasures, associated with the mind and lower pleasures, associated with the body. ...read more.

Conclusion

If the opposite view was taken, a person can do an ethical deed but for the wrong reasons as well. This has already been discussed to some extent but the main factor in this is self-interest. Another example would be a person handing money to a beggar on the street but only to make himself feel better and look good in front of the people who viewed him doing this. We can come to the conclusion that it is very difficult to judge whether or not our behaviour is ethical, if it is at all. It just depends on your beliefs and the way you have been brought up. This is where someone picks up their morals and how they view the world, to judge how to treat other people. Motive can be used to judge ethical behaviour, if a person has good motives then this person can be said to be behaving ethical and the opposite applies to a person that has bad motives. This can be applied to anywhere, but it again depends on your own beliefs. War can be used as an example to illustrate this, both sides in a war see themselves as acting with good motives. This would make it difficult to judge which side was acting ethically, depending on which side you supported in this war. People therefore have to judge for themselves if they are acting ethically or not. 1,480 words ?? ?? ?? ?? Roland Strobl 28/04/07 1 ...read more.

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