The article ‘Dark Side of Everest Awaits Climbers,’ by Brian Handwerk has its key focus on an ethical dilemma that has to face a climber at some point in the act of climbing the famous Mount Everest. This is the world’s tallest mountain. It is not easy to reach the top of the mountain. At the same time, all climbers who go beyond the height of 8000 meters have to face the difficulty of insufficient oxygen as well as several other health complications. On the other hand, reaching the summit of the Everest marks one of the greatest achievements in an individual’s life. According to Handwerk, being at the highest point in the world may easily be a simulation of achieving the greatest ambition a human being can have. Ethics presents its greatest impasse when a fellow climber faces threats of the harsh conditions and is close to death. Sometimes this happens as the summit gets closer. At this point, helping someone may not only be difficult, but quite challenging especially when you are struggling to survive. The next immediate question is whether to help or let someone die as while proceeding to your victory of reaching the world’s highest point.
‘Dark Side of Everest Awaits Climbers, TV Viewers,’ comprise of two sections. The first section bears the title ‘The Allure of the Roof of the World.’ This part begins with the story of Matt Dickson, a filmmaker who could not complete his movie because of the tribulations on the mountain. When Dickson goes up the mountain, he takes guide Alan Hinkes with him. They soon get to a situation where a Hungarian climber gets abandoned for death, and the physician has declared that nothing can help for a rescue. In Dickson’s words, even if they had the desire to help, it would not have worked as it would place even both their lives in extensive danger. Brian Handwerk tries to explain the complexity in the trivia in climbing high or attempting to help someone. He purports the presence of a line which once crossed then no more help is possible. He links this line to the human moral boundaries that make them pursue the summit at the expense of human life.
‘Life and Death Decision Making in the "Death Zone," marks the second and the final part of the article. This part places its focus on the zone considered to be the most risky while climbing the Everest. It is of general view that the area that lies above seven thousand six hundred meters marks the start of the death zone. Despite considering climbers who cannot walk in this zone beyond help, a 1996 case of Beck Weathers who survived this level after being abandoned challenges this belief.
Another notable decision in relation to this ethical dilemma is that of Pete Athans, who has seven records of climbing the Everest. During the 1996 disaster, his commitment to helping other humans made him put on hold a whole commercial group on its way to the summit. According to his reasoning, being on altitude above 8000 does not make people inhuman; neither does it free someone from the responsibility of providing help to another. The most trying circumstances here are those of leaving your course of reaching the summit, risking your life while making effort to salvage the life of a fellow climber. In the words of Dickson, only individuals who are able to do this command total respect from Beck Weathers.
Relativism and Utilitarianism
Ethics relative to persons and cultures
Closely related to the school of thought of ethical relativism, cultural relativism subscribes to the theories of beliefs that contribute to morality and ethics. In view of cultural and ethical relativism, all beliefs held by individuals, ethical traditions, and customs should be treated from a relative point of view in relation to the context of an individual and his society. Thus, there is no room for a superior individual, culture or society. One act considered moral and virtuous in one society may be treated as immoral and taboo in another community. Similarly, the decision as to whether an act is right or wrong may vary from one person to the other depending on several factors like moral and cultural background (O'Grady, 2002).
In this respect, relativism deprives every individual and society the right to pass judgment on another based on ethical and morality grounds. No one can decide the extent to which another is correct or incorrect. Similarly, no society bears the authority to judge another society. However, it is worth noting that modern theorists subject various arguments that attempt to bring in rationale into relativism. This later view projects that humans can not grant all cultures, acts and practices the right to be relative even when they remain harmful to individuals and entire humanity. As such, we should endeavor to achieve a situation whereby moral and ethical relativism work within rational parameters. It is within such considerations that the statements to fundamental human rights and freedoms get considerations (Rorty, 1997).
Relativism as a universal theory
Most of the anthropologists who subscribe to relativism point out several controversial issues that occur in various cultures and get condemned in other cultures. The list of such issues is long and may include the contest between monotheism and polytheism, monogamy and polygamy, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, torture, capital punishment, and racism among many others. The concepts on which relativism is founded project that all these issues of morality should be left to individual societies rather than be treated with a universal moral umbrella (Rorty, 1997).
Relativism cannot easily work as a universal theory. The reason for this is the general principle that every act is either moral or immoral, or right or wrong, only within the society in which its practices occur. Several theorists who dispute of relativism ask a number of questions (O'Grady, 2002). There are societies in which individuals could not be allowed to live beyond certain ages. Instead, they would be seen to be wasting resources for younger people. Were these killings justified? Should they be allowed to go on to justify relativism?
Relativism forms the basis for diversified consideration in moral and ethical applications. If we were to expect a universal theory from relativism, relativism should be able to define universal standards for ethics and morality, which it does not. In the eyes of all forms of relativism, there is no universal application of moral and ethical standards (O'Grady, 2002).
Universal principles and individual applications
In the argument of Kinnier et al (2008), all principles that are supposed to be considered as universal must subscribe to various fundamental qualities. First and foremost, they must welcome and appreciate the existence of diversity with an intention to bring such diversities together while maintaining the diverse nature. The second essential quality is to recognize personal biases as well as confronting such biases. Finally, they must bear respect for the several other cultures. It is within the second point of recognizing personal biases and confronting such biases that individual applications come in while trying to apply universal principles. It is this fundamental point that relativism lacks; recognizing personal biases and confronting such biases (Kinnier et al, 2008).
Universal principles are contrary to relativism, and they express the belief that there are various moral theories, notions or principles that are basic and applicable to all humanity universally. Universal principles comprise general rules of existence. They also contain nd certain ethical and moral positions. There may be no original, universal rule for ethical and moral behavior. However, universal principles propose basic guidelines. This states that humanity must lay down parameters for human behavior.
One such universal principle drawn from implicit universalism is democracy. Defined within the confines of authority and governance, democracy requires that every governing institution be established by the will of the people through a free and fair election. Further, the people should draw a constitution to define the limits of the powers of such an institution. As well, the people must create other institutions that can check and control such an institution. Implicit universalism believes that all humanity in the entire universe must have this right of democracy.
Kinnier, R. T., Dixon, A. L., Barratt, T. M., & Moyer, E. L. (2008). Should Universalism Trump Cultural Relativism in Counseling? Counseling and Values, 52(2), 113-124.
O'Grady, P. (2002). Relativism. Chesham: Acumen.
Rorty, R. (1997). Philosophical papers. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. Handwerk, B. (2003, April 25). Dark Side of Everest Awaits Climbers, TV Viewers. Daily
Nature and Science News and Headlines; National Geographic. Retrieved September 16, 2012, from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/04/0425_030425_darkeverest.html