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Seriously playing

September 23, 2010

Playing around with language, seriously. Spurious profundity. Rhetorical dogma. Binary oppositions. If you’ve studied language, you probably know what these phrases mean. You probably know that language shapes our world.

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Ethics: Where are you? part 11

July 2, 2010

Both deontological theories and utilitarian theories contribute to virtue ethics because “virtue ethics and theories of right action complement each other” but “virtue ethics emphasizes right being over right action” (Boss, 2008, p. 400). Kant explains “the importance of good will” in his Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (p. 405). Mill believed that reflection and cultivation of a “benevolent disposition” led to virtue (p. 405).

The main points of a critique of virtue ethics are that it is incomplete so it cannot be used as a guide for moral decisions. Also, virtue ethics is criticized for not fully incorporating justice and impartiality, for “challenging us to rise above ordinary moral demands,” and that a “virtuous character is essential to the concept of the good life and the good society” ( p. 439).  I do not agree with the two critiques that I have placed in quotes. The challenge to rise above seems to be almost altruistic and that would benefit the most people so I do not believe that is bad. I feel the same way about the second quoted critique – if everyone cultivated a virtuous character I believe the world would be a different place. So many people seem to be looking out for their own self-interests no matter if someone else’s best interests become displaced – or worse.

Feminist care ethics is part of virtue ethics because feminist care ethics “emphasizes the virtue of caring within the context of actual relationships over considerations of abstract duties and universal moral principles” (p. 419). Nell Noddings believes that “sympathy and caring are the most important virtues” (p. 421).

Virtues are transcultural – it is the degree of importance that may differ from culture to culture. Some of the differences in the importance of a virtue may be relative to social status and gender within the culture (pp. 427-429).

Hume argued for both the importance of sentiment and sympathy as a virtue in the study of ethical behavior and ethical being because he felt sentiment and sympathy move us to act virtuously while “reason or reflection can only tell us what is right or wrong” (p. 416). He stated that reason and sentiment work together.

The main points about virtue that Aristotle makes in his excerpt from Nicomachean Ethics are that virtues are of two kinds: intellectual and moral (p. 407). “In a virtuous person, reason is in charge of the nonrational elements. Therefore, wisdom is the greatest virtue and ignorance is the greatest vice” (p. 439).

The importance of moral education, according to Boss, is that it helps people become virtuous. “This requires both practicing virtuous behavior and cultivating the good will” (p. 437). Aristotle and Confucian ethics argue that “virtue is not inborn but must be developed through habituation” (p. 437) which is different from the Buddhist belief on how to educate for morality which states that “to overcome suffering, we need to cultivate wisdom as well as the virtues of giving and love” (p. 409).

Confucius and Aristotle agree about the “doctrine of the mean” which states that “virtue, in general, entails moderation or seeking the middle path” (p. 440). Both Confucius and Aristotle state that the doctrine of the mean applies to virtues and “not to our positions on moral issues” (p. 412).

Human nature is virtuous in the view of Nietzsche who stated that “moral virtues are a manifestation of the will to power” (p. 430). Nietzsche used Jesus as an example of Ubermensch: “a person of integrity and self-mastery who is able to rise above the morality of the crowd and exercise the ‘will to power,’ which entails self-mastery and human nobility” (p. 430).

The public school system should include instruction on moral and ethical thinking and behavior through the development of a curriculum that includes the differences between right and wrong. Critical thinking and decision making skills should be a part of public school curriculum starting at a young age. School age children should learn the process of reflection – reviewing their actions and feelings – rather than simply following orders/rules. The importance of autonomy and self-realization should be stressed in the curriculum. Aquinas stated that moral education “is not so much a matter of cultivating children’s natural moral sense as of imposing morality upon them” (p. 434).

Aristotle believed it was never too late to begin a moral education but that “it is generally easier for people to be virtuous if their early childhood education reinforced virtuous behavior” (p. 436). Boss states that “knowledge or wisdom alone is not sufficient for moral virtue; practice or habituation is also necessary” (p. 402). Education and the greater society have a responsibility for creating and maintaining the most ethical society and individuals possible because a civilized world needs to be peopled by those who know the difference between right and wrong and the importance of right actions.

Virtue ethics is the theory that having a right essence is more important than acting right – a person must believe and know what is right, not simply follow rules/laws. Aristotle believed in two kinds of virtue: the rational and non-rational and that rational virtue was the better of the two; ignorance is a vice. Artistotle and Confucius believed that there were polar opposites to virtues and that people should strive to choose a virtue that was most beneficial/least harmful. They were not advocating a sitting on the fence type of virtue ethic.

David Hume believed that sentiments and feelings were more important to virtues than reason because actions result from feelings. Nell Noddings describes feminist care ethics as the virtues of sympathy and caring. Virtues overlap and are transcultural. The degrees of overlap differ from culture to culture and are relative to social status and gender within the culture. Virtue unites moral ethics in that virtuous people have moral integrity which they use for the benefit of all.

According to Boss (2008), many philosophers believe that the basis for virtue lies in an “emphasis rather than an either/or situation” between reason and sentiment (p. 414). Western philosophers David Hume and Immanuel Kant had opposing arguments relative to the basis of virtue. Hume “argued that sentiment is more important than reason in motivating us to act morally” (Boss, 2008, p. 415). Kant argued that reason is the foundation of morality that is universal and transcultural. Kant has the stronger position in the two arguments because without reason one would not recognize right from wrong. Compelling, logical consistency is the foundation of universal morals, while sentiment is the motivating factor for moral action.


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Ethics: Where are you? part 10

July 2, 2010

Rights ethics are human rights that emerged during the writing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen as a stand against absolute sovereignty. “In theory, these documents recognized the equal right of all humans, but this was not the case in actual practice” (Boss, 2008, p. 357) which is why the Women’s Rights Movement and the UN Declaration of Human Rights were formed. Social activists wanted the Bill of Rights to be more than the paper on which the laws were written.

John Locke and Thomas Hobbes were both proponents of natural rights and believed that “the primary purpose of government is to protect humans in the exercise of their equal rights” (p. 364). John Locke argued that the rights inherent in our state of human nature and our relationship to property included “the rights to life, liberty, and property” (p. 365). Locke believed a democracy was the best form of government to protect our natural rights.

Like Locke, Ayn Rand believed that “moral rights define and protect our freedoms without imposing obligations on anyone else” (p. 369). Unlike Locke, Rand believed in laissez-faire capitalism. Annette Baier approached the issue of natural rights as a contemporary ethicist through her theory that natural rights liberalism “does not take into account the limitations placed upon marginalized groups by traditional societal roles” (p. 369). She was referring to marginalized groups such as women and children.

The Marxist critique of natural rights ethics is that people in power use this theory to justify that fact that those who can afford to own property and businesses remain in power because even though everyone has the right to own property and businesses, not everyone can afford to do so. Marxists believe the government should provide all the things we have rights to. Marx believed in “communal ownership of property and the means of production rather than individual ownership” (p. 373). Liberation ethics, according to Gutierrez, supports “the rights of those who have been oppressed and plundered by the world” (p. 375).

Liberation ethics emerged historically because of the “natural rights emphasis on abstract concepts of equality and democracy” that were not being put into practice (p. 375).

Duty-based rights ethics are “not granted but are rather something to which we are entitled” and “Others have a duty to honor our rights” (p. 376). Natural rights do not necessarily “create a duty on the part of others to honor or fulfill that right” (p. 376). Jeremy Bentham did not support natural rights which he felt were not inalienable because rights came from the principle of utility. Kant believed that “God has provided the bounty of nature, but dividing up the goods has been left to humans” (p. 378). The Catholic church believes in the duties rights theory of natural rights.

Buddhists see rights, especially rights for all living creatures, not just humans, as a rights ethics in which there exists an “interdependence [between] all living beings” and that it is “our duty not to harm other living beings” (p. 398).

“Most philosophers consider rights to be prima facie rather than absolute” (p. 398). I believe that we are socialized to naturally believe and act on rights in our culture because there are different theories of the rights in a democracy and the rights in a capitalist society. Depending on which type of society a person lived in, that society’s moral values would be the basis for the individual’s rights theory.

Rights ethics is the theory that people are entitled to rights as members of society. Rights ethics emerged in the form of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and later in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights initiated by citizens to counteract the absolute sovereignty of kings. John Locke supported natural rights ethics and that rights were a part of human nature independent of duties. Locke was against absolute sovereignty. Karl Marx was a critic of natural rights ethics. Marx believed that rights were not an abstract idea, but came along with being a member of society. He also believed that just because people had a right did not mean they had the power or tools to exercise that right (such as owning land). We are entitled to duty-based rights.

Natural rights do not always have a corresponding duty. Buddhist rights ethics weaves an interdependence between humans, nonhuman animals, and all other beings and the most important duty of a human is to not cause harm. The two types of moral rights are liberty (negative rights) and welfare (positive rights). Liberty rights give us the freedom to pursue our interests without interfering with others’ rights to do the same. Welfare rights give us the right to have what we need to live. Rights belong only to those in the moral community. Most philosophers believe that rights are important, but it is the origin and nature of the rights on which they differ.

“Abduction Charges Against U.S. Missionaries in Haiti Spark Controversy” from

In summary, this article is about a group of Idaho missionaries who were in Haiti to offer their help after the earthquake and who “tried to round up children they presumed to be orphans, but had no training or paperwork.” The missionaries were arrested and detained on child abduction charges. At least one of the missionaries had been forewarned, but had not shared that information with the other missionaries, not to take the children out of the country without going through the proper channels and getting the necessary paperwork. In this scenario, the missionary who had been forewarned, but then went ahead and took the children anyway, may have been acting as an autonomous moral agent, “a self-determining person who looks to his or her own reason for moral guidance” (Boss, 2008, p. G-1).

Also, the missionary, by ignoring the warning, was guilty of civil disobedience, which is “the refusal on moral grounds, to obey certain government laws, for the purpose of trying to bring about a change in legislation or government policy” (Boss, p. G-1). Perhaps the original intention of the missionary was not to change a policy, but in order to rescue the orphans, the missionary was willing to take actions to make it possible to get the orphans out of the country. The missionary may have been experiencing a helper’s high which Boss describes as “the moral sentiment or positive effect we experience when helping others” (p. G-3).

The moral dilemma is whether or not the missionaries can be prosecuted for wanting to help the orphans but not going through the proper channels to help them. “Supporters of the missionaries have expressed outrage that their motives have been questioned.” The group of missionaries may have felt it was their moral duty to rescue the orphans, an example of deontology. Since the missionaries were part of two church groups, it is possible that they were influenced by the divine command theory which is “a type of ethical relativism that states that morality is relative to or dependent on God’s will” (Boss, G-2). The group may have felt that it was God’s will for them to rescue the children from the devastated island of Haiti. The group may also have been acting out the idea of nonmaleficence which is “the moral principle that we should do no harm” – if they had left the children in Haiti without homes and without food, that would have been harmful (Boss, G-3).

Should the motives and religious beliefs of the missionaries matter in a “court of law or court of public opinion?” Will people stop making donations to the Haiti earthquake relief because of this incident and the manner in which the missionaries were arrested and detained? Apparently not all of the children rescued by the missionaries were orphans and the parents of some of the alleged orphans had lost everything in the earthquake and had let the missionaries take their children to give the children “a better life.” It is unclear if the desperate parents understood the situation. Can the good will intention of the missionaries be proven in court? Boss states that good will is “a will that always acts from a sense of duty and reverence for moral law, without regard for consequences or for immediate inclinations” (p. G-2). This whole dilemma as to whether or not the missionary who was forewarned not to take the children was in the right or in the wrong when she took the children anyway is a good example of prima facie duty – the missionary should have followed the law, but because she did not want harm to come to the children, her moral duty to their well-being became more important than her legal duty.


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Ethics: Where are you? part 9

July 2, 2010

Boss says that deontology is one of the most popular approaches to ethics because moral laws are based on duties in which we do not need to consider the consequences. I think deontology is popular because if everyone is acting on moral duties, and it is implied that the moral duties are all right, then no one would be hurting anyone else and would, at the same time, be fulfilling their duties. Deontology is also popular because the theory of duty-based morality is part of Confucianism, Hinduism, and other Western ethics (Boss, 2008, p. 311).

Confucius’s ethical theory “emphasizes our duties, as a member of a family and the community” (p. 314). Confucius’s ethical theory is deontological by its emphasis on duties, although it “emphasizes community responsibility over individual autonomy” (p. 354).

Kant’s ethical theory was founded on “why we ought to behave morally” and that morality is based on reason (p. 354). Kant’s notion of the categorical imperative is that the individual must “universalize moral maxims” and that one individual should not use another individual as a “means to an end” (p. 354). Kant’s notion of good will stems from the belief that only rational beings – humans – have moral worth. Rational beings are autonomous and “a person of good will acts out of an autonomous sense of duty” which comes from the ability to reason (p. 355).

The contemporary philosopher, Bok, outlined an ethical theory on lying in which it is okay to lie in certain circumstances. Bok states that “in some circumstances lying may be the only way to avert danger” (p. 335). Bok is acting as a deontologist because she knows that we have a duty not to lie, but she also feels that the consequences of lying or not lying should be considered. Bok has three criteria that should be used when deciding if a lie is justified or not and Ross has seven prima facie duties.

Prima facie duties are moral duties that are not absolute which means that there are exceptions to these duties and that they “may be overridden on occasion by stronger moral claims” (p. 355). Ross did not believe that moral duties could be absolute. Ross believed that good and right are two different things. We ought not to lie, but it may be right to lie “if lying seems the only way to save someone’s life” (p. 339).

The “duty” of justice refers to the equality of each individual. Distributive justice is the “fair distribution of benefits and burdens in a society” and requires impartiality, need, and merit (p. 345). Retributive justice refers to punishment for wrongdoing; it is not the same as revenge. It is the “most controversial moral duty” (p. 349).

In terms of “means” versus “ends,” utilitarianism and deontology are exact opposites of each other because in utilitarianism, morality is a means to an end, whereas in deontology moral duty is performed for duty’s sake. The ends do sometimes justify the means. How and why I do something may be more important than the results.

In deontology, moral law is an end in itself; consequences are not considered, but the right intention is important. Confucianism is concerned with our duties as members of society more than our individual duties and states that our moral duties can formulate public policy. The Analects of Confucius covers the importance of moral development, specifically wisdom, compassion, and courage. Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative states that the consequences are not as important as acting on our moral duties. In Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Ethics, Kant writes about good will, universal morals, the importance of rational thought, and the absoluteness of morals (no exceptions). When a person acts out of good will, the basis for action is the moral law itself and not the consequence of the action. Self-esteem is tied to good will in that as one strives to act on one’s moral duties for the sake of morality and not consequence, one’s self-esteem increases. Kant believes that we have a moral duty not to lie, without exception. Sissela Bok, on the other hand, believes that situations may arise in which – prima facie – lying is acceptable if it prevents a harmful situation. Prima facie deontology notes that moral dilemmas occur in which one must choose an action that causes the least harm. John Rawl’s theory of justice has its basis in the social contract between those in need and those who have what they need. Rawls believes that primary social goods should be distributed to those in need. Critiques of Kant’s deontology include that it is heavy on individual autonomy and does not consider sentiments.


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Ethics: Where are you? part 8

July 2, 2010

The theory of utilitarianism is universal and states that everyone wants to be happy. People seek pleasure, not pain. Sympathy is innate and people work to help others feel happy. The path to happiness is not as important as arriving at happiness. Actions are morally right if the result is happiness. The moral community is composed of all beings with feelings. Utilitarianism is used by Boss as an ethical theory to show how moral dilemmas can be resolved such as in the debate over GM food, particularly Bt corn. In weighing the pros and cons of growing Bt corn, one must decide if the risks (safety/danger) outweigh the benefits (starvation/happiness).

Rule-utilitarianism is about following the rule that brings the most happiness to the most people. Act-utilitarianism is about judging the morality of an action’s consequences (p. 310). Rule-utilitarianism is concerned with rules “such as stealing and keeping promises” (p. 274). Act-utilitarianism is concerned with consequences of actions and does not judge the act itself even if the act is “lying, stealing, torturing, or killing” (p. 275). Mo Tzu’s notion of utilitarianism differs from the standard Western version in that Mo Tzu “emphasized the importance of actively working toward reform and a better society rather than just talking about theory” (p. 293).

Jeremy Bentham’s philosophy of utilitarianism is that it is a tool of social reform and it states that all pleasures are equal. Bentham’s calculus is a formula he came up with that has seven factors that can calculate the amount of pain and pleasure generated by an action. These seven factors are “intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity, fecundity, purity, and extent” (p. 309). The ethical implications of his theory may help us make decisions about both individual and social (collective) action because of its “secure, scientific foundation for developing social policy and legislation and for critiquing the existing legal system” (p. 280).

John Stuart Mill’s philosophy of utilitarianism is that the morality of an action is based not only on pleasure, but the primary basis of “ensuring happiness is to respect the dignity and personal autonomy of others” (p. 289). The principle of nonmaleficence was more important than happiness resulting from an action. Mill’s belief in pleasure having more moral value in educated humans than non-humans or the mentally disabled may help us make decisions about both individual and social (collective) action when it comes to deciding whether those beings could be used in medical experiments.

Criticisms of utilitarianism include the idea of justice being impartial and not including “individual integrity and personal responsibility” (p. 310). Another criticism is that utilitarianism has a naturalistic fallacy in its theory because it goes from stating what pleasure and pain are to stating what the principle of utility ought to be. I use utilitarianism in my daily life each time I calculate if an action I take will result in happiness and whether it will affect mine or anyone else’s integrity.

Utilitarianism is used in our culture and society such as when politicians give speeches that urge citizens to vote a certain way because a piece of legislation will do the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Limitations of utilitarianism as an ethical guidepost or calculus include doing things for the greater good that have the potential to harm even one being or a small group. For example, to learn more about a disease, would scientists be right to purposely infect a small group of people in order to study the disease? What about war – we say that we go to war because we expect the result to benefit a great number of people, but what about the collateral damage – innocent civilians killed during the war?

Utilitarianism is the theory that humans want to be happy and actions that bring happiness are morally right. The principle of utility is aka the greatest happiness principle. The principle of utility states that an action is proportionally right to the amount of happiness it brings and vice versa, an action is proportionally wrong to the reverse amount of happiness.

English jurist, philosopher, and social reformer Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) believed that utilitarianism is a social reform tool. Bentham stated that the principle of utility could be used to decide laws and legal issues. He devised a utilitarian calculus to determine the strength of the pain or pleasure resulting from an action. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) studied utilitarianism with Bentham and then devised his own version. Mill believed in the principle of utility, but he also believed that happiness should not be our only goal and our goals should include human dignity and integrity. Mill also thought the principle of maleficence was more important that the goal of happiness.

Mo Tzu (c470 BCE- 391 BCE) thought that utilitarianism was not about bringing happiness to just the individual but rather that the result of actions should be happiness or universal love to everyone regardless of social status.

Utilitarianism states the moral community includes all beings with senses and that all beings are equal. Prejudices come from ignorance and tradition and have no basis in rational thought. Utilitarianism has been used in deciding public policy but it has its critics. Euthanasia committed on humans is legally wrong, but is it morally wrong? The deciding factor, according to utilitarianism, is whether the person’s life is worth prolonging? In answering that question, one must also answer whether that person’s loved ones will suffer from the death of their loved one.

Criticisms of utilitarianism include the fact that in determining which action results in the greatest good for the greatest number of people, we are devaluing the worth of the people who will be harmed by such an action. Utilitarianism is driven by feelings of happiness and pain and not rational thought.

“The Infrastructure of Harassment: Bullying and Social Media” from

This article by Rushworth M. Kidder is about how bullying has been around for a long time, but in today’s digital world “bullies can punch their victims nonstop, 24/7, with taunts, insults, and threats.” Various reasons are given for the bullying, which include ego, control, envy, and attention. Bullying can be seen as a form of cultural relativism in which “morality is created collectively by groups and differs from society to society” (Boss, 2008, p. 9). Bullies pick on victims who they feel are not the same as the main group. What bullies lack is autonomy and self-realization. Instead, bullies do not think for themselves and depend on the opinions of others.

Kidder states that victims sometimes stood up to their bullies and learned moral courage. Victims must learn defense mechanisms to protect themselves from bullies, mechanisms which are “psychological tools for coping with difficult situations” (Boss, 2008, p. 40). Sometimes the victims walked away, but today with all the different ways we can communicate, bullies have lots of ways to get at their victims: “twenty-first-century style … emails, tweets, texts, YouTube postings, Facebook comments, and MySpace messages” (Kidder).

Known victims of social media bullies include teen-agers Phoebe Prince and Megan Meier who committed suicide as a way to avoid the bullying. Social reform and legislation can help the victims of bullies. States are developing anti-bullying laws, but will the laws make bullying go away? Boss describes ethical subjectivism as the theory that “people can never be mistaken about what is morally right or wrong because there are no objective or universal moral standards or truths … there are only opinions” (p. 77). Does ethical subjectivism describe the ethics of bullies? Social media makes methods of harassment easier for bullies to throw a digital punch, work in groups, and know what their victims are doing at all times so the victim cannot escape from those punches.

Social media on the one hand is useful because of its reach in communications, but on the other hand, social media is a powerful weapon when misused. Because social media is used by businesses, prohibiting social media use by school kids would “stifle their ability to join the working world after they graduate,” according to Kidder. That is why legislation without education will not solve the bullying problem. How do we change the moral and ethical culture in which bullying exists? Kidder states that “we need to so marginalize bullying that nobody, at any age, thinks it’s cool.” Are bullies followers of social Darwinism – survival of the fittest? (Boss, 2008, p. 110).

Education needs to take place in school, but also in the home and the community. Research on the cell phone use of 8- to 18-year-olds shows they send about 118 text messages a day. When those text messages fall into the realm of bullying, it is done “underground and out of sight” (Kidder). Parents need to be proactive in teaching social values when allowing children to have cell phones. Similarly, adults in the community ought to be models – both in action and words – of these social values in which respect is a highly valued virtue. Boss states that cultural relativism is the theory that “public opinion determines what is right or wrong” (p. 100). Cultural relativism does not excuse cultural practices such as slavery, and I think it does not excuse bullying.


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Moral Obligations and Global Warming

June 30, 2010

Moral Obligations and Global Warming

Denise Scammon

Global Ethics

Professor Hammer

June 29, 2010

There are two sides to the global warming issue: on one side are people who believe global warming is occurring and that we need to change our activities that contribute to global warming, and on the other side are people who believe global warming is not occurring and that it is a myth. Boss uses global warming as an example of a prescriptive statement which is deduced from a descriptive statement. The descriptive statement is about an increase in temperature over a specific period of time – this is a statement based on empirical fact. From the descriptive statement, after critical analysis one can deduce a prescriptive statement which is a statement that expresses a value in the form of what ought to be. There are several immature defense mechanisms that people may use as the basis for why they do not believe that global warming is taking place on this planet. One of these immature defense mechanisms is ignorance, a form of resistance, which may stem from several sources: lack of available knowledge or avoidance of available knowledge. Boss (2008) states that ignoring global warming will not make it go away, but will cause it “to get worse” (p. 42).

Cynics doubt that there is truth in the science of global warming and reject scientific facts that support the reality of global warming. According to Boss (2008), “Cynicism is a means of resisting philosophical thought because it hinders analysis” (p. 15). By rejecting the evidence that supports global warming, non-believers feel that they do not have a moral obligation to reduce their activities that contribute to global warming. Suggestions for helping to reduce the speed at which global warming is occurring have been widely publicized for many years and include activities that reduce, reuse, and recycle; driving a low gas mileage car; insulating buildings better; and using environmentally-friendly light bulbs. These suggestions are not extreme by most standards, and the consequences of following these suggestions would benefit the entire planet. The idea of looking at the consequences of actions is known as utilitarianism which is a consequentialist theory. Boss (2008) states that, “An action is right or wrong depending on the consequences of that action. The happiness of the community is the proper goal of our actions” (p. 309).

A utilitarian might implement public policy directed at global warming. Boss (2008) notes that, “British philosopher Jeremy Bentham advocated utilitarianism primarily as a tool of social reform” (p. 309). John Stuart Mill included in his theory of utilitarianism the idea that the principle of nonmaleficence did not allow people and governments to prevent others from actions except if those actions resulted in harm. Global warming is harming our planet, and so the principle of nonmaleficence is a good foundation for public policy against actions that are known to have global warming effects. Harmful human activities which cause global warming are opposed by Confucian ethics. Boss (2008) notes that, “The Confucian emphasis on universal harmony includes the duty to act in harmony with nature” (p. 317). Confucian ethics stresses that our moral duties are relative to our family and our community and that our moral duties “could be used to formulate public policy and to provide people with a stable and harmonious social order” (Boss, 2008, p. 314). In Asia, environmentalists have created the Green Confucian movement for the social reform of actions that cause global warming. These Asian environmentalists of the Green Confucian movement apply their moral values to their actions in order to do what is right.

I think that global warming is a real phenomenon because a lot of empirical data exists to support the case for it. People can look at the scientific evidence that supports the occurrence of global warming and come to the logical conclusion that it is real – prescriptive and descriptive statements. I have to wonder what people think is to be gained by making up evidence that supports global warming or any other claim. Ignorance and cynicism have not made global warming go away. I believe that followers of consequentialism and Confucian ethics are the people who will most help in creating public policy aimed at reducing global warming. I feel that weighing the pros and cons of reducing human activities that contribute to global warming can only lead to one conclusion which is that global warming is occurring and there are things we can do to slow it down. Thus, public policy should be implemented to reduce global warming.


Boss, J. (2008). Ethics for life: A text with readings. (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.


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Are Vaccinations Safe?

June 30, 2010

Are Vaccinations Safe?

Denise Scammon

Global Ethics

Professor Hammer

June 15, 2010

Federal law mandates that all U.S. citizens be fully vaccinated per federal guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control’s National Vaccine Program office. The purpose of vaccinations is to prevent diseases that carry the risk of disability or death and/or that are contagious. The CDC (2010) claims on its website that, “Health may have been one of the things Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he drafted the phrase, ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ for the Declaration of Independence.” The CDC’s website mixes fact with fallacy in regards to the origin of vaccinations. I find that the CDC’s use of Thomas Jefferson’s intention in drafting the Declaration of Independence is an inappropriate link to vaccinations because it contains an informal fallacy – an appeal to inappropriate authority. Boss (2008) states that, “The assumption that someone who is an authority in one field must also be knowledgeable in all other fields is sometimes called the ‘halo effect’” (p. 58). The basis for immunizations to be legally required ought to be based on moral truths and unbiased scientific research.

Vaccines carry a risk to the health of the receiver, yet society expects its members to take this risk for the benefit of a greater number of people. Parents face a moral dilemma when it comes to vaccines, particularly if their child has had a severe reaction to a vaccine early in the immunization schedule. On one hand, parents want to protect their child’s health by having the vaccine administered, and on the other hand, parents want to protect their child’s health from the damage a severe reaction to a vaccine can cause. Society places less value on the individual than it places on the group when it comes to vaccinations which is evident by its laws requiring all children attending public schools to be vaccinated. Society is applying the theory of cultural relativism, which is described by Boss (2008) as a morality that “is created collectively by groups and differs from society to society” (p. 9) and also that “public opinion, rather than private opinion, determines what is right and wrong” (p. 100).

In my experience at my children’s immunization visits, the children’s pediatrician briefly

discussed generic vaccination reactions with me, but that discussion did not mention the dangers of the vaccines. The pediatrician merely suggested that some children have reactions such as redness at the site of the shot, irritability, and crying. Research on vaccinations at this time was limited.

When the DPT vaccine was administered, I was told that if the baby cried for a long period of time, I was to call the doctor. The solution, according to the pediatrician, would be to not give the P part of the vaccine at the next scheduled appointment. There was never any mention of the serious side effects that could occur. My first child did not experience a noticeable reaction, but my second child did experience redness and prolonged crying and so his next two DPT vaccinations did not include the P. My first child did not experience a reaction to the MMR vaccine, but my second child, at the age of 18 months, did experience a reaction and it was a severe reaction. My second child had a febrile seizure 10 days after administration of the MMR vaccine. I called 9-1-1 for an ambulance to bring my child to the hospital because I thought my child was dying. At the hospital, my child was seen by the emergency doctor who looked him over and said he appeared fine and that perhaps he had a virus. It was suggested that I call the child’s pediatrician as soon as possible for a check-up. At that follow-up check-up with my child’s pediatrician, I was told that febrile seizures were common. I was reassured that my son was fine.

When my second child was almost five years old, he had another febrile seizure. Again, he went to the hospital via ambulance. At the time, chicken pox was going around, and the emergency doctor thought the febrile seizure may have been caused by a virus. But, this time, the emergency doctor asked if my child had a recent vaccine. My child had not recently received a vaccine, but I thought back to his first febrile seizure and how it had occurred within the reaction period for that vaccine – 10 to 14 days. Coincidentally, at the time of his second febrile seizure, an article about the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 was published in the local paper. I learned a lot about

the dangers of vaccines from the article, so this time, when my son went to see his pediatrician as a

follow-up to the emergency room visit, I asked the pediatrician more detailed questions about the safety of vaccines and I found his answers to be evasive.

The NCVIA basically was created as a clearinghouse for lawsuits against doctors and pharmaceutical companies in which all blame is removed. A portion of the cost of a vaccine goes to the clearinghouse to pay for damages inflicted by the vaccines as determined via lawsuits. I contacted a local law firm to represent my son and determine whether or not there was any basis for him to receive any compensation. The law firm I chose happened to have a lawyer working at the firm who once worked for the NCVIA. My lawyer asked that I contact my child’s pediatrician and request his medical records be sent to the law firm. I called and the secretary told me that the pediatrician was busy and so I told her I needed my son’s records sent to the law firm.

One night shortly after my request for my child’s medical records, I received a call from the pediatrician. He wanted to know why I had requested the medical records. I explained that I had read about the NCVIA and that I wanted to know if my son fit the criteria for compensation because of the febrile seizures. The pediatrician tried to make me feel guilty about seeking compensation. He stated that it is parents like me who cause the price of medicine to go up. I told him I had every right to seek compensation if the law felt it was due my son. He stated that my lawyer was acting as if she was on the TV show “Law & Order” and since he played golf with her boss, he would make sure her boss prevented her from carrying on with my inquiries. He further stated that I would not win my case anyway and he wanted to know if I knew what happened to mothers who brought such frivolous cases to court. He said that I would be found an unfit mother because I did not bring my child in to see him immediately and that I risked having my child taken away from me.

The day after that phone call, I found a different pediatrician for my children. I also went forward with having the lawyer look into the vaccine injury law. The lawyer discovered that my son

did not meet the criteria for a vaccine injury which was to have more than one febrile seizure within

one year’s time. I knew the doctor’s argument contained several informal fallacies such as the appeal to force, which Boss (2008) describes as times “when we use or threaten to use force … in an attempt to coerce another person to accept our conclusion” (p. 56). The doctor tried to scare me from pursuing my investigation by stating I might lose custody of my child. He also tried to intimidate me by telling me that he had the power to control my lawsuit because he golfed with the law firm partner. By stating that I would be found an unfit mother because my child did not see him before going to the emergency room, the doctor was committing the abusive fallacy.

I refused to have a second MMR vaccine administered to my second child in order for him to attend school. In my case, I am applying ethical subjectivism, which according to Boss (2008) states that, “moral right or wrong is relative to the individual” (p. 9). My moral reasoning on the subject of whether or not to have my child receive a second dose of the MMR vaccine began with the experience of the first vaccine, a period of interpreting the available information on vaccines, and a period of analyzing the information in the form of praxis (Boss, 2008, p. 33). I approached the situation with wonder, curiosity, and skepticism as to the safety of the vaccines required because of my child’s experience. Children are allowed to attend school without having all the required vaccines, but their parents have to request in writing that their child be allowed to do so knowing the risks to their child if an outbreak of an immunizable disease should occur in school. Schools may require that the child stay home from school during such an outbreak.

I feel that the solution to administering potentially harmful vaccines administered in order for children to attend public schools continues to devalue the individual and places greater emphasis on social Darwinism and the theory of cultural relativism. Social Darwinism is a theory of survival of the fittest and someone disabled by a vaccination may not be able to contribute to society as well as someone not afflicted. The belief that disabled people cannot contribute to society as well as people who are not disabled appears to be prevalent in all areas of life since society has to make accommodations for disabilities if the money is available and if there is enough of a demand. The connection between cultural relativism and social Darwinism comes from the widespread moral standards and values placed on those who can contribute to society. Requiring vaccinations even with the knowledge that some people will have severe reactions is a way of stating that the fittest will survive the vaccines which is a culturally relative belief. Today, research about the pros and cons of vaccinations ought to be distributed to children in school, beginning in high school, prior to becoming parents and being responsible for the health of their own children. I feel that this disbursement of information is important because it allows people to act autonomously, which is described by Boss (2008) as “independent, self-governing [thinking]” (p. 12).


Boss, J. (2008). Ethics for life: A text with readings. (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Vaccine Program Office. (2010, June). Immunization laws. Retrieved June 13, 2010, from


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