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Why be Ethical?

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Juan Sanchez

on 3 June 2015

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Transcript of Why be Ethical?

Aristotle is considered to be one of the great minds that helped shape Western worldviews as we know them today. He was a Greek philosopher born in Stagirus, Northern Greece, in 384 BCE. His father was a good friend of King Amyntas II of Macedonia, so Aristotle became friends with his son Philip. This later led to Aristotle becoming the tutor of Alexander the Great, Philip's son. Before this, Aristotle studied in Plato's Academy for 20 years. There he studied philosophy, among other subjects. Aristotle had a different approach to philosophy than Plato. He "thrived from hands-on experience", while Plato was more contemplative. With the help of Alexander the Great, Aristotle went on to establish his own school, the Lyceum in Athens.
Immanuel Kant was born in Königsberg, Prussia in 1724. He spent his whole life there, never traveling more than 100 km from the town. He experienced poverty for most of his life, and was raised by strict parents devout to a Protestant sect called Pietism. Kant's life consisted of a precise routine of study and work. He studied at the local university, and made a meager living as a private tutor afterward. He got hired as a professor of logic and metaphysics at the university at the age of 46. Kant's strict upbringing and humble life led him to his reflection and discoveries in philosophy.
Kant wrote many challenging books, which influenced Western philosophy and thought immensely.
Emmanuel Levinas was born in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1905. He was raised in a pious Jewish family. He studied philosophy in France and later in Germany. His philosophical views are shaped by the contrast between Western philosophy and the values of his Jewish faith. He fought in the French army in WWII, but was eventually captured and experienced the horrors of the Holocaust; his whole family was exterminated. This experience reawakened Levinas's awareness of his Jewish roots. In 1957 he began giving Jewish lectures to young Jewish intellectuals in France. At the age of 55 Levinas completed his doctoral thesis, Totality and Infinity, and in 1973 he was named professor of philosophy at the most prestigious school in Paris. He gained recognition by the philosophical world and became a popular writer. After retiring, Levinas continued to write and give lectures until illness prevented him from doing so. He died in 1995, just 5 days before his 90th birthday in Paris, France.
Why be Ethical?
Juan Sanchez TA: McReavey
The Good
Aristotle would describe "the good" as "that at which all things aim". In other words, it is the end or goal of all activities that benefit or enrich humankind. Aristotle also proposes that the "ultimate good" is the pursuit of happiness as rational human beings. He described different ways of reaching happiness, all of which are rooted in community, since Aristotle believed that human life is "shaped to its full extent in the context of a community".
In Search of the Good- A Catholic Understanding of Moral Living Textbook
History/biographies of Aristotle, Kant and Levinas
Ideas on ethics, philosophy, and the good of Aristotle, Kant and Levinas
Philosophy and Ethics
It is important to note that Aristotle did not equate pleasure to happiness. Happiness is lasting, while pleasure is only momentary.
Aristotle's ethical beliefs are often referred to as "teleological ethics".
comes from the Greek words
, “end” and
, “science”. It entails "discovering the finality of what we are intended to be".
Aristotle also described humans as rational animals. He believed that humans' greatest capacity is intelligence; therefore, he believed acting ethically is engaging our capacity to reason as we develop good character. This ties back to Aristotle's reflection on happiness: the highest form of happiness is acting rationally in order to achieve something that enriches the community as well as the individual.
The Good
Kant proposed the theory of practical reason, which compliments theoretical reason and helps us understand what we
to do as moral beings. For Kant, the thing that went above all else in all circumstances was good will; that is, the will to do something for no reason other than that it is our duty. This is where the name for Kant's
deontological ethical theory
comes from; the Greek word
means duty.
"Moral worth is not measured by the results of one's actions, but by the motive behind them."
Kant held that duty is determined by ethical principles or "maxims" that affect how we act. Ethical maxims describe the way any rational person would act if reason were fully in charge of his/her actions, and principles tell us how we ought to act.
One of Kant's most famous maxims is
"I ought never to act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law".
Philosophy and Ethics
Kant held the belief that the good is the aim of all moral life. He would describe the good as doing your duty for the sake of others, even when you may not want to.

Kant stated that we need God, freedom, and immortality in order to achieve the "supreme good". God, because humans can't do it on their own; freedom because humans must choose to take on the duty of doing God's will; and immortality because it is impossible to achieve the supreme good in mortal life.

The Good
Philosophy and Ethics
According to Levinas, the "Good" is the central question to all philosophy. For Levinas, the Good is interested in what is unique about each person or thing. These unique things are traces of the Good, or God, but no object is ever identical to God or the Good. This uniqueness is shown most evidently through the human face. Although traces of God can be found in human faces, God is infinite and always one step above human perception. Levinas develops the idea that the human face inspires us to do good by giving us the free will to open up and help faces that make themselves vulnerable to us; faces thrust upon us the responsibility to seek the Good.
Levinas was heavily influenced by the contrast of his Jewish faith and Western philosophy. Levinas perceived that Western philosophy of the time aimed to overcome all difference by ignoring diversity and including everything into an "all-encompassing unity", called "Being". Hebrew tradition, however, celebrated differences and held that this is what gives each thing its identity. He described Western philosophy as "Totality" the Hebrew tradition as "Infinity.
To Levinas, the face of the Other, a vulnerable stranger, invites us to recognize pain and misery, enabling humility and as a result becoming ethical.
Historical Philosophers that Shaped Western and Catholic views on Ethics, Morality, and the Good
What are Ethics? Morality?
Ethics are often described as the good that humans aim towards. Morality concerns the way humans can attain this good. In the context of decision-making, ethics are personal standards of right and wrong.
Ethics and Morality are an essential part of the Catholic faith, but how do we know what is ethical? And more importantly, How do we know what "Good" is?
Catholic Understanding of Ethics and Morality
Romans 13:8-10
"Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law."
"A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together. An evil end corrupts the action, even if the object is good in itself. It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances which supply their context." CCC 1755-1756
There are many sources to consider when summarizing a Catholic understanding of ethics and morality. There's the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), the Bible, the Ten Commandments, etc. These values can be similar or different to those of Aristotle, Kant, and Levinas.
This Bible passage demonstrates the importance of community and "law" in the Catholic faith. This can be seen as similar to Aristotle's ideas of finding happiness and therefore the good in community. The line "Love your neighbour as yourself" is similar to Kant's maxim,
"I ought never to act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law
", as well as Levinas's idea that moral actions are spurred by considering others, (or at least their faces). Kant expresses that he wants to act in a way that everyone else should act. The passage is also in accord with Kant's ideas about achieving the good through performing your duty (following the "law").
This selection from the CCC contrasts Kant's belief that the outcome of an action does not matter and good will is the important thing. According to the Catholic Church, the morality of an action also depends on its end and the circumstances. Aristotle's teleological ethics also differs from this passage in the way that teleological ethics is concerned only with the finality of what humans do.
"Law is a rule of conduct enacted by competent authority for the sake of the common good. The moral law presupposes the rational order, established among creatures for their good and to serve their final end, by the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Creator. All law finds its first and ultimate truth in the eternal law. Law is declared and established by reason as a participation in the providence of the living God, Creator and Redeemer of all. Alone among all animate beings, man can boast of having been counted worthy to receive a law from God: as an animal endowed with reason, capable of understanding and discernment, he is to govern his conduct by using his freedom and reason, in obedience to the One who has entrusted everything to him" CCC 1951
The Catholic Church's description of humans as "animals endowed with reason" is exactly like Aristotle's definition of humans as rational animals. The mention of freedom ties back to Kant's ideas about freedom to do your duty, and Levinas's idea about finding freedom in human faces. The mention of Law as a tool for common good is akin to the emphasis Aristotle placed in community. The line concerning obedience to God is comparable to Kant's sense of duty and Levinas's idea of the "responsibility to seek the good" brought on by the human face.
Why Be Ethical?
How do the Choices you make have an Ethical/Moral Dimension?
All the choices we make every day affect ourselves as well as those around us. Whether it's choosing what to wear in the morning, choosing a political party, or choosing whether to give money to charity, ethics play a factor in the morality applied to these decisions. The In Search of the Good textbook describes four ways ethics can be located within us
Personal Response
The Other
This is brought about by a call to action- a stimulus that triggers your natural human instinct to help when another is in peril. This ethical response enacts responsibility for others
you. An example would be a scream or alarm calling you to action.
Levinas often talked about finding responsibilities for others through the human face. By making eye contact with someone who needs help-someone who is vulnerable- we feel that we should take on responsibility for that person. This ethical response does not always spur moral action, however; as beings with free will, we can choose not to act according to our ethical impulses.
The experience of obligation ties back with Kant's ideas of finding the Good in doing your duty. Doing something just because your parents, society, or another authoritative figure tells you to, and thinking that it's "the right thing to do" is an ethical response. We may not always do what we are told, but a lot of the time we know it's the right thing to do. In a way, this is also similar to Aristotle's ideas about finding happiness in community; when you do what is expected of you in your community, it is possible find happiness.
This experience is found when you are disgusted or appalled by an injustice, or "something that cannot be". It goes against what you expect of your fellow humans-you find yourself indignant and calling for change and action. In modern Western society, we often experience this when watching the news or reading about a horrible event elsewhere in the world-we feel like we should do something to make a change, but most of us rarely do.
There are many different situations to which these "experiences" apply- ethical decision making that may or may not result in moral acts are a part of every day life!
Whether we realize it or not, we make ethical choices every day. We may or may not always choose what is considered ethical, whether it is spurred by duty, a personal response, a desire for happiness, sympathy for another, or an experience of contrast. God calls us to do what is right through our conscience- where we are alone with God and hold ourselves in our own hands- this is where moral actions are spurred by ethical experiences. Therefore, God has given us freedom in order for us to choose to make ethical choices.

From a more secular perspective, making ethical choices can be beneficial to yourself as well as to those around you- when you are obedient, helpful, and loving, it is easy to find happiness as well as a purpose. Acting ethically is an obvious advantage to consider as "rational animals".
Catechism of the Catholic Church
The Bible (NRSV)
Full transcript