Practical or applied ethics relate to the use of normative ethical theories to practical problems. Moral philosophers have for a long time focused their interests on the practical queries relating to relief programs, war interventions, scholarships for the destitute students, media ethics, welfare of animals, capital punishment and so on. Actions and intentions have been a central theme in ethics. The question that arises is whether the acts are altruistic and whether such actions and programs are obligatory or simply the quest of a discretionary ethical awareness. These queries have for many years generated debate among philosophers in the field of applied ethics. Altruism connotes the acts of assistance, benevolence and humanity. It therefore involves being concerned of other people well-being and doing that which is morally right and beneficent to them. According to Kant, every person has an obligation to be beneficent (Kant 49). That is, to assist others in accordance to one’s ability without expecting any form of gain in return.
A practical example of what may be considered a beneficent act in recent memory regarding war is the foreign intervention in the Syrian civil war. Activities of foreign involvements in the ongoing Syrian civil war include military, political, and operational support. The Syrian war has drawn considerable attention to the international community with some countries including the United States getting actively involved in providing humanitarian aid for thousands of civilians who have been directly and significantly affected by the war. Rawls states that social arrangements establishing a political state is a shared effort aimed at promoting the welfare of all in the society (Rawls 333). Rawls base his argument on a platform of social beneficence. An aspect best illustrated by the United States’ humanitarian act.
United States has also deployed ships near Syria amid concerns of use of chemical weapons by the warring factions. This action by the United States to provide relief for the civilians illustrates a charitable act in the sense that, deploying ships near Syria as cautionary measure aimed at possible military intervention to protect innocent civilians against attacks of chemical nature from warring groups can be founded on the principles of ‘just war’. This intervention by the United States is ethical in that the interventions are morally acceptable considering the fact that civilians are the most affected and are possible targets when chemical weapons are used. The central issue regarding deployment of ships as a chemical weapon deterrent is ethically acceptable and well-grounded by Mill’s philosophical views on the right of one or more states to interfere with internal activities of another state because it is involved in atrocious acts against its own civilians (Mills 18).
In order to categorize an issue in the context of applied ethical issue, there are two factors that one must consider. First, the issue must be controversial in that it must be supported by many people and consecutively opposed by a significant number osf people. In the case of positioning ships near Syria there have been clear disagreements between the supporters and those who are opposed to the event. Most people believe that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against innocent civilians is grossly immoral and such an atrocity warrants the intervention of the international community and the United States to protect innocent citizens. Accordingly, there are many people who are opposed to any form of military action by the United States on the Syrian government. The second factor for considering whether an act is within the context of applied ethical issue is that the act must be a manifestly moral issue. That is, an issue must touch on the universally obligatory practices. The duty to intervene and prevent perpetration of further atrocities by a government to its own citizens is a good example.
The use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war has a connotation of the two factors hence it is within the context of applied ethical issue. In this case it is noteworthy that the use of chemical weapons is immoral and prohibited by international conventions. As such, it would be morally acceptable for the United States to intervene and stop the Syrian government from further using chemical weapons on innocent civilians. On the contrary, there are many normative ethics that could yield a contrasting conclusion. However the ships deployment is justifiable through the principle of benevolence which basically means helping those in need. To this extent, the behavior of the United States is ethical considering the traumatic events that most of the civilians have had to endure.
Kant, Immanuel, Ethical Philosophy, second edition, James W. Ellington (trans.), Indianapolis:
Hackett Publishing, 1994.
Mill, John Stuart, “Utilitarianism,” in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed., J.M. Robson,
London: Routledge and Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1991.
Rawls, John, A Theory of Justice: Original Edition, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press,