why is it important to act ethically
Hey, David. Thanks for an engaging post, for inviting responses and for interacting so thoughtfully with those whoÁve replied. ItÁs all been a delight to read. I linked here from Thought Catalog (and am glad I did, because now IÁve discovered Raptitude). ThatÁs why my comment comes years after everyone elseÁs. I think you rightly point out that the proverbial ÁshouldÁ adults offer children without any supporting warrant is insufficient to establish what ÁshouldÁ implies: namely, that we have objective moral duties, things we ÁshouldÁ do independently of our feelings toward them (e. g. , a duty to share a fire truck even when youÁd rather not). You capture the difficulty Hume had in deriving a prescriptive ÁoughtÁ (your Áshould,Á I think) from a descriptive Áis. Á (I. e. , this is the way things are, but why ought I act in one way rather than another? )
You go on to say, ÁThe only reason to behave ethically is to discover its real value to the quality of your life,Á and I agree that in many cases acting ÁethicallyÁÁhelping/not hurting othersÁwill help you reap personal benefits, but I have some serious concerns about using self-interest as a foundation for ethics. IÁll outline two. First, it seems to remove from the picture the value your ethical actions provide others, at least in any sense aside from personal investment, thereby rendering instances of self-sacrifice or altruism, behaviors traditionally held in the highest ethical esteem, worthless.
If, for example, a mother living in a combat zone dives on a stray grenade to save the lives of her children, has she done something morally praiseworthy? Regarding self-interest it seems that any good feeling she gets knowing her children might be spared is fleeting and only outweighed by terrible pain and the obliteration of her own life. If her primary concern is self-interest, then this is about the worst thing she can do. (BTW, what do you think of KohlbergÁs stages of moral development? ) Second, self-interest provides a basis not only for ethical behavior, but for behavior most would deem unethical, like theft. I grant most ÁunethicalÁ behavior will reap negative personal consequences in the long run, but for the sake of argument letÁs say it can be managed socially. Imagine an extreme case: A sadist tortures little children for fun. HeÁs never caught and the enjoyment he gets from it only increases the quality of his life. Is this acceptable, ethical, or at very least ethically neutral, behavior? One might point out I seem to be assuming a sort of overarching moral standard, as if we can speak meaningfully of morality/ethics totally apart from our own interests or subjective ideas about it, as if those ÁshouldsÁ pounded into me as a child have piled up and IÁve come to actually believe themÁand I am. For you note adultsÁ difficulty in providing reasons for their shoulds and say, ÁIt isnÁt always clear where they came from.
Any given should is most likely just a memory of a memory of something an imposing adult said to you when you were a child. Á But is that true, or is it possible there are real reasons behind the shoulds, even if they escaped our teachers? I think the answer hinges on whether or not human life is intrinsically valuable. If each person has real, objective worthÁi. e. , worth that holds regardless of whether anyone recognizes it or notÁthen using that as a starting point we can reason our way to a moral system in which we find equally real, objective moral duties imposing themselves on us, and I should act in accord with them because, in a very genuine sense, everyone elseÁs life is just as important as my own. However, if human life is merely the by-product of a morally indifferent universe and it has no more or less value than we give it, then we find ourselves with no objective ÁoughtsÁ and ethics is only a sort of cause/effect system wherein I add a certain input in order to obtain the desired output. For instance, I may treat others well in hopes that it yields positive consequences for me, but thereÁs nothing morally praise- or blameworthy about it. IÁve skipped hundreds of years and a few million pages of moral philosophy here, and I may be leaving out gradations between the two alternatives, but you get the gist.
So then the question becomes, Does or can human life possess intrinsic value? and from its answer will follow whether or not there is any reason to do the right thing other than what it can do for you. I personally believe we should behave ethically because God, whose very nature constitutes good and grounds our moral duties, has made us each with inextricable moral worth reflective of his own essence and, as an authority capable of issuing moral directives, asked us to treat others as we wish to be treated, even when it conflicts with our own self-interest. IÁd love to hear what you think! Please pardon any typos. Ethics involve people from different walks of life, different countries and different cultures all agreeing on some basic principles of how to conduct themselves. Since business transactions in our increasingly global economy involve businesses with employees and owners who come from different backgrounds interacting with each other on a regular basis, business ethics provide a common ground everyone can agree upon. For example, accountants from different backgrounds may all prescribe to the same system of accounting standards such as GAAP, or General Accepted Accounting Principles. By everyone adhering to the same standards, investors and other groups can assess the financial performance of one company using the same methods it uses to evaluate another company.
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