Ethics

Dual Scalar Situationism

Joseph Fletcher once said, “If the ends don’t justify the means, then what does?” Personally I find this to be a very pithy question and for some time now I’ve tended to agree with him on the basic utilitarian premise that consequences are to be considered the determining factor in assigning a moral value to a particular act. In Fletcher’s case the well-being of humanity was to be the end of each action, hence his focus on agape love, while in the case of Bentham, Mill, and other classic utilitarians happiness was the desired result of all our choices.

The problem with these systems in their earliest forms, however, is that they generally tend to stress only one right option in any particular case. “The greatest good for the greatest amount” is said to be the proper goal, which of course leads one to wonder about good acts that don’t necessarily provide the greatest good for the greatest amount, but only some good for some. Obviously it’s quite counterintuitive to consider these lesser acts as morally blameworthy, and one can’t help but notice that the absolute precision needed to achieve the greatest good in each scenario is far too impractical for virtually all of us in our everyday lives. Furthermore, these systems also often fail to take into account the heart and motives of the doer, which is clearly crucial to any moral judgement as we all know deep down. That Mother Theresa did many wonderful things there is no doubt; but if she had confessed before her death that all the good she had done was simply for the sake of recognition and admiration, most of us would be willing to condemn her as a fraud, even though we would still continue to recognize the general goodness of what she did.

Now, there have certainly been many corrections made to utilitarianism over the years as these questions have been seen and addressed by a variety of philosophers, but I’m going to offer some of my own thoughts, however flawed and dependent on others as they might be. As I see it, though, in each case regarding moral acts we make two judgements: one regarding the deed and one regarding the doer. The moral value of a particular act, I say, is based on the consequences of that act (I agree with Fletcher that love and the well-being of humanity are in focus and prefer to avoid using the term “happiness”, as it appears too fleeting and transient), while the moral status of the actor is determined by something intrinsic, such as motive.  In the first case, then, we can say that there is a scale on which a gradation of goodness and badness exists on each side, with morally neutral acts in the middle. The greatest acts which bring the greatest good for humanity are at the one far end, while the worst acts are at the other. Classic utilitarianism would say that only this greatest act on the one end is acceptable in any particular circumstance, as I mentioned earlier; but assuming this gradation of moral value, why should we consider only one option to be the right one? Could it not be that there are a variety of right choices, some better than others, but none morally blameworthy insofar as they remain on the good end of the scale or at least in the neutral zone?

This eliminates the rigidity and impracticality of the classical system by allowing a greater degree of freedom in the choices that can be made but still doesn’t provide criteria for determining the moral status of the one doing the act, which is a key element; but in this case too I think there must be a scale of motivation or something of the sort. The better the motives, the more morally praiseworthy the individual; the worse the motives, the more morally blameworthy. Unfortunately, at this point I haven’t yet determined what constitutes a good motive and what a bad; and explicating the subtle interplay of desire and intention proves to be more difficult than one might at first think. Nevertheless, I believe the general thrust already mentioned still stands: the moral value of an act is determined by its consequences and is to be kept as a distinct judgement from the moral status of the actor, which status is determined by the goodness or badness of his/her motives. This I shall call dual scalar situationism.

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Brief Thoughts on the Zimmerman Trial

The way I understand it — and I could be very wrong  — the American legal system has been set up in such a way so as to prevent anyone from being convicted should there be a reasonable doubt as to their guilt. In other words, neither hunches nor emotions count, and whether or not you’re inclined to believe that such and such a person is guilty really makes no difference. The jury’s job is to determine if the evidence is strong enough to convict, not strong enough to be persuasive, not strong enough to satisfy one’s own curiosity.

Regardless of your personal thoughts on Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, those six women in Florida decided that there was some level of reasonable doubt which precluded a conviction of murder or even manslaughter. The same thing happened with Casey Anthony a few years ago. You might not think that’s fair; but I dare say you’ll be loving it should you or someone you love be wrongfully accused.

What is Love? (Baby Don’t Hurt Me)

Not surprisingly my last entry on pornography proved to be more popular than any other post I’ve written thus far, which means I’ll probably pursue the topic of sexuality more extensively in the future — something I planned to do anyway, but even more so now that I realize it helps the numbers. Until then, however, I think it’s crucial to address some more fundamental issues that will help set the stage for what’s to come, not only with regard to sex, but also with regard to all other ethical issues that confront us from day to day.

The fact is morality isn’t always as clear-cut as we would wish it to be; and I speak from experience when I say that conventional wisdom doesn’t usually answer the questions many of us are asking, at least not as thoroughly as we would like. For some, choosing to accept certain standards of behavior because “that’s the way I was raised” or because “my pastor said so” might be the right choice. Everyone has their own particular interests, and some are content with accepting the traditions that have been passed down over time, and that’s okay. Some of us, however, are a bit more restless and want to know “why?” What rational reasons lie behind these rules, constraints, and customs of society and religion that so many of us take for granted? I’m not saying I have all the answers. Far from it; but I am making progress in gaining some level off understanding.

At this point I think one of the key factors in any ethical theory, any system of morality, is the very basic concept of love — the love of the neighbor as expressed in the teachings of Jesus, most thoroughly in the Sermon on the Mount. It really does sound overly-simplistic and unfortunately cliché, but I do think that making this principle the foundation of one’s behavior is what humans are truly called to do, whomever or wherever they may be. The question immediately becomes, however, “what is love?”

Most people don’t really seem to understand this, probably due to the many uses of the word “love” that have been employed throughout history, even today; but the Greek concept of agape is most accurate to these purposes, which is essentially nothing more than the desire for the well-being of others, not just family and friend, but foe as well, or, to put a more Hebraic spin on it, the shalom of all humankind. As St. Paul says in his epistle to the Romans, “whatever command there might be…it is fulfilled in ‘love your neighbor as yourself'”. For some things, this is pretty much obvious. Murder, rape, and theft are all clear violations and can almost never be done in a loving manner since they always harm members of humanity and desecrate the rights of individuals, though, admittedly, one could conceivably argue that, in certain instances, terribly heinous acts could be done to accomplish the greater good, such as in the case of murdering one to save twenty or stealing to provide for a family. These, however, aren’t the questions I’m trying to address right now, and virtually any ethical system is going to have its difficulties, so at this point it’s not wort placing too much emphasis on these matters. What I do want to clarify, though, is that the ends do indeed justify the means. contrary to what many would say. What comes of our actions is what makes our actions right or wrong, and it is this consequentialism that has significantly influenced my thinking. I’ve taken a page from Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics as well as from the works of David Brondos, whom I so thoroughly praise whenever I get the chance. A part of me is also attracted to certain forms of virtue ethics and natural law, which I don’t see as necessarily contrary to a love-based ethics as such, but rather supplementary, depending on how one sees it. At the end of the day, what we’re all seeking is the good of humanity, and to be ethical, we must direct our actions in such a manner.

My ways of thinking will no doubt evolve over time, and I hope no one considers me the final authority on anything, since I no doubt will change my mind on many things and don’t consider myself an expert on these topics. But be that as it may, I do think I might be able to contribute something of value and I hope whatever I write will be given due consideration by those reading.

Porn and Depression? Who Knew?

*EDIT: I’ve since come to question the evidence I’ve put forth in condemnation of internet porn, since the data isn’t quite as clear as I thought. The post will remain for reference, though it no longer reflects my actual opinion at this time.

I actually consider myself a pretty open-minded guy — accepting of many things both sexual and non-sexual that seem to be at odds with much of conservative American culture. That being said, I have a hard time considering contemporary internet pornography to be one of those things. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your — *ahem* — habits, the evidence appears to be mounting and the verdict is not looking good, for the porn industry at least.

In an era where depression, sexual dysfunction, and pornography use are on the rise among Americans, one can’t help but look at the theories of various researchers and try to find a connection — something that might give us an answer and a cure for many of these people who are suffering across the country. Correlation doesn’t always equal causation of course; and no doubt depression and sexual disfunction were in existence well before the advent of free internet boning. In fact, I do want to clarify that I in no way believe that all depression or sexual dysfunction results from pornography. It’s virtually certain at this point that a variety of other causes, both physiological and psychological, can contribute to these problems and should therefore always be considered in a diagnosis. Nevertheless, there does seem to be a compelling reason to consider that many sufferers might actually be inducing these illnesses unintentionally by simply indulging in too much online novelty sex.

The way it works is really quite simple. Whenever an individual sees something arousing, the brain responds by producing a chemical called dopamine, which is part of the reward system and serves to tell that individual that such an object is worth pursuing. The more arousing the object, the more dopamine is produced, leading to an even greater rush. This is normal and is a necessary part of life. Without it we would have no motivation and therefore accomplish nothing and eventually die out. In fact, it’s believed that people with certain types of ADD and sluggish cognitive tempo suffer from a dopamine deficiency, which prevents them from pursuing goals and actualizing their potential. If you didn’t have it, you would never fall in love and never enjoy very much of life at all, and our existence would be boring at best.

As we all know, however, even the most exciting things and events in our lives often lose their appeal. Even one’s spouse eventually becomes a taken-for-granted part of life who no longer provides the same high that he or she did in the early days. In a way, this too is good since the brain doesn’t want to spend every waking moment being intensely thrilled to the point of exhaustion. Such is essentially what happens to many addicts and it’s precisely what happens to internet pornography users. The first look at a particular video with a particular actress stimulates the brain just as any new suitor to our liking would; but after a while (usually a very short while), that actress and video becomes less arousing, which means that in order to get the same rush as before, one needs to look at a new video with a new actress to get the dopamine surge. The real problem arises when such a vast number of women are placed before one at the click of a mouse, so that an individual can keep the dopamine surging without giving the brain any time to readjust. This means that the neural receptors become desensitized and therefore need the stimulation of (an often new) pornographic video to get the rush they desire (to my knowledge a phenomenon actually not far off from that seen in compulsive gamblers, especially internet gamblers). In reality, only the most Cassanova-like men can have so many lovers, and even then, they probably wouldn’t be able to have more than a few new girls a week. At least in this scenario the brain has more time to readjust and therefore avoids being so desensitized to its own chemicals. With internet porn, however, the brain doesn’t know the difference, and, as far as its concerned, each new actress is a new potential partner, and it consequently reacts accordingly by firing out that dopamine in hopes that you can maximize your reproductive potential and keep your genes alive. And when men satisfy themselves with one or more new “mates” per day, their brain goes into overload and stops reacting normally in general.

So how does this look for these men? They become sluggish and depressed since they’ve been so overstimulated that their dopamine receptors sort of go numb and fail to process as they should in the real world; and because their partners have become old-hat they find it difficult to get an erection and consequently turn to more porn for the much-needed jolt. Occasionally even the acts portrayed in the videos become boring, leading men to search for something more and more explicit so that not only new partners are needed, but any realistic sex act becomes almost blasé and unappealing.

While this theory could be wrong, I have to admit that the logic is hard to deny.