Ethics/Fundamentals of Ethics by Russ Shafer Landau
1.) Write an essay explaining the difference between monistic and pluralistic approaches to ethics. Give an example of a monistic theory, and explain why it qualifies as monistic. What are the two main types of pluralistic theories? Is ethical pluralism preferable to ethical monism? Defend your answer.
Monism is used to explain a philosophy which considers only one Supreme Being in the universe. It explains all expansions and survival of creation which includes mental and corporal or spiritual beings. Monism in ethics is the belief of being optimistic or idealistic. A pluralistic approach to ethics on the other hand contains certain normative theories which explain the differences between ethical rights and wrongs.
Ethical monism may be displayed as a fully growing hedonism, and ethical pluralism would be displayed by stating an irreducible plurality of all final ends, principles or goods (King, 158). The monist approach to ethics claims that the presupposition of goods, ends or principles being plural means that each of these constructs are limited. Limited goods cannot be termed to be absolute or idealistic as per the monism approach to ethics (King, 159). Hence, according to monism there is only one true approach or philosophy as against the approach to pluralism which considers various approaches or philosophies concerning the same thing.
One of the approaches to monism is provided by Lester C. Ward. According to him, mind is the highest force and matter is ruled by the mind. In this case individuals regard their body to truly exist and the mind to perform diverse functions. However, in reality the body is bound to end one day whereas the soul or the mind is constantly changing and yet it is permanent and will never end. The soul was inherited from past and will be transmitted in the future. Hence, according to the monists the ultimate truth is the existence of the mind which is all powerful and has only a single quality.
There are two main pluralistic approaches to ethics. These are virtue and duty ethics. The virtue ethics begins by considering certain attributes of an individual to be morally good or bad whereas duty ethics emphasises on facts and rules and the components which separate them from right and wrong.
Most monistic theories suffer from the point of justification. The supreme principle of utilitarianism theory is completely different from the supreme principle of the divine commands theory and natural law theory. A natural law theorist would consider the utilitarian theory to be a valid moral principle but would not consider it to be a divine or supreme principle. Also the monistic theories have problems in themselves. The issue with the divine command theory is that one cannot find out God’s command due to competing claims as to the place wherein public proclamation of the will of God is found. Another problem is that if God is nonexistent then the morality of right and wrong also deems nonexistent. In this case, the pluralistic approach considers a group of theories. Given the moral system, an individual needs to use one’s judgement to find the best possible course of action from certain alternatives. This is where a pluralist provides the manner to solve conflicts in moral rules. Moral norms do have exceptions. But, most moral norms do not present themselves with exceptions, but obligations. Things can be analytically moral at times and at times immoral. This is the main reason for defending ethical pluralism.
2.) What does it mean to say that an ethical standard is objective? In what ways do ethical relativists deny the objectivity of ethics, and why do you think they do so? Is morality objective? Defend your answer.
Accurate moral beliefs communicate and accurately depict objectivity in the real world. They describe something which has been discovered and hence they are valid. Despite the fact that individuals believe them or not, they are accurate and hence this is the condition for ethical standards to be considered as objective.
The term objective relativism implies that an order of value, meaning and truth is objective and real but all value systems are subject to a particular place and time and may be established only by guidelines and techniques which is internal to each view. Hence, one cannot be sure that the presuppositions, conclusions and techniques apply to the real world. Ethical relativists contend that one cannot definitely declare a certain action to be wrong or right because one is not absolutely sure as to which belief corresponds to reality. Ethical relativists maintain that an agreement which has been taken universally may not be objectively correct. This can be provided by a simple statement. If the world decides to torture babies for the purpose of enjoyment then it does not render that the agreement is correct. According to objective relativists there is possible validity of two contradictory opinions, but validity is a judgement which is always considered under relative circumstances. Total subjective assurance in whether a set of beliefs held by an individual is valid or not does not ensure that they communicate with reality. This stems from the fact that objective relativity is not deterrence to debate about ethical views with objectivists. There is always relativity in ethics in the sense that a debate can range with certain ethical subjects like assisted suicide, affirmative action and abortion. The claims can be laid down by conflicting parties and accordingly certain hypotheses can be provided. However, it is not rationally possible to chalk out a methodological path which if diligently followed by rational and competent parties would lead to universal conclusions which may come under scepticism by defying reason. Hence, morality is a relative construct.
3.) Write an essay comparing and contrasting ethical relativism and moral nihilism. Explain why someone might be attracted to each of these views. Is one of these theories preferable to the other? Defend your answer.
Moral relativism is a viewpoint which means that the ethical judgements are correct or wrong depending on certain relative standpoints and no point of view is uniquely preferred over other views. The concept of nihilism commences by accepting that the view of moral relativism. The concept of moral nihilism further contends that depending on the circumstances the same judgement may be true or false and there is not universal guideline which may be used to compare these judgements and hence abandons all moral conversations. The end belief is that morality is meaningless and the nihilist view abandons morality.
The usual tilt is towards accepting viewpoints of ethical relativism and nihilism by abandoning the view that absolute truths exist in the real world. Relativism and nihilism are different by the manner they handle existential vacuum. Relativism involves an active theory to this ethical dilemma and tries to build personal explanations depending on the changing circumstances. In other words, relativism believes in the creation of personal meaning but also believes that such meanings are not universally valid. Nihilism, on the other hand, rejects any trials to construct personal meaning and thereby recognizes all ethical systems to be invalid and vacuous. Depending on the various constructions of personal meaning individuals may be attracted to any one of these ethical thoughts.
Moreover there are certain conceptions of relativism and nihilism which hold well with both contemporary and classical theorists with respect to association with human welfare, construction of personal meaning and philosophical truth analysis. Also both these approaches provide unique methods to erect personal meaning given an individual’s patterns of values and beliefs. Hence, at a given point of time, none of these thoughts may be preferred over the other.
4.) Does ethical objectivism license intolerance or dogmatism? Explain why many have thought that it does, and explain how an objectivist might reply to this accusation.
Ethical objectivism relates to the fact that morality is objective in nature. According to this thought, moral virtues and values are intrinsic in nature and do not rely on external factors. The concept of grace is not present in ethical objectivism. Most people do not believe in this view and regard this to be baseless dogmas. They mostly support the views on ethical relativism which maintains that moral wrongs and right differ from place to place and society to society and universal objective ethical standards do not exist. However, ethical objectivism is a doctrine which maintains that despite diverse societies have diverse ethical codes there is an objective moral core which contains things that are universally valid. Ethical objectivity contends with the anthropological information that diverse societies practice diverse moral codes. However, it does not believe that believing in something makes it true. For example, if one believes that the Earth is flat, it does not mean that the belief is true. Many people confuse ethical objectivism with ethnocentrism meaning the dogmatic supposition of the fact that a moral code reflects the truth. The contention for ethical objectivists is that unless there is an independent ethical basis for norms, there is not general duty to abide by it. From this, it follows that unless a person identifies the significance of universal moral law, there is no firm basis to justify the reasons for acting against unjust laws. Hence a power struggle may annul ethically motivated disobedience and validity of law. There are certain principles which are required to live a good life in a flourishing community of human beings. Such principles are not made at random, but are needed to promote personal well being, social cohesion and a successful society. It is true that diverse situations need diverse moral rankings. However moral plasticity does not mean moral relativism but simple identifies that society may determine the rules which are required for a human community to flourish and grow. For example, in matters concerning sexual conduct, a society having the availability of birth control measures may have different rules than one which does not have this technology. However, this does not prevent the existence of an essential objectivity ethics.
King, James. “Hume and ethical monism”. History of Philosophy Quarterly, 5.2(1988): 157 – 171.
McHoskey, John W. “Relativism, nihilism, and quest”. Journal of Social Behaviour and Personality, 14.3(1999): 445 – 462. Print.