Philo 171
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 PEREZ Questions for the Third Exam

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PostSubject: PEREZ Questions for the Third Exam   PEREZ Questions for the Third Exam Icon_minitimeSun Mar 29, 2009 11:32 pm

1. In bio-medical ethics and in both “beginning-of-life and end-of-life issues/dilemmas, the concept of human dignity often figures in. Do a conceptual analysis of the concept of “human dignity”. How is this concept understood in different contexts or with reference to different issues (give examples)? How do you think should this concept be understood?

2. The formulation number 1 of the categorical perspective in Kantian ethics states that “we should act in such a way that we can will the maxim of our act to be at the same time a universal moral law.” As a universality, or universalizability, test this mandates that the maxim of an act, for such act to be deemed moral, be universalizable. That is, it is moral IF it is something that everyone can adopt as their own maxim. Isn't this a utilitarian way of thinking and as such an inherent contradiction in Kantian ethics which emphasizes the inherent/innate “value” of an act?

3. After careful considerations of the various ethical theories/views we discussed, what “personal moral system or code” can you come up with and which you can adopt? Be sure to talk about the values, precepts/ideas, and other elements that should comprise this “personal moral system or code”. Include your conception of freedom and accountability in this given moral system and your view of what it means to be a moral individual.
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bryan perez

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PostSubject: Re: PEREZ Questions for the Third Exam   PEREZ Questions for the Third Exam Icon_minitimeMon Mar 30, 2009 9:55 pm

1. Human dignity is an ambiguous term. It could mean different thing to different groups of people. For instance, in most Arab countries there is a difference in the level of respect given to a man and a woman, thus, it could be assumed that the perceive level of dignity attributed to a man and a woman is also unequal.
Aside from being an ambiguous and vague term, human dignity is also one of those terms that do not have concrete evidence of existence. It’s not something you can measure or formulate to prove its existence. Nonetheless, there is an agreement in modern societies that it does exist. That’s why several universal declarations and treaties have been created to protect and preserve everyone’s dignity.

This is an attempt to conceptualize human dignity. Let’s start with what constitute as humans. It is quite obvious who would fall under this category. The physical difference alone of humans to other living creatures is clear enough to be able separate human from non-human. The closest resemblance of humans in the animal kingdom is the primates (apes, monkeys). And I’m sure it’s hard to be confused to who is who and what is what.

The real challenge of defining human is where something begins to exist and be considered human. Can a fetus be considered a human? Or does someone need to come out of his/her mother’s womb first before being considered as human? I believe in those who argue that fetus should already be considered as a human. Fetus’ very close resemblance to a newborn is hard to deny. Furthermore, fetus is a connected phase of human life. A fetus, if it survives, will eventually become a human. There is a direct and linear relationship between a fetus and a human that is hard to miss.

Now let’s define dignity. Dignity is the state of being worthy of esteem or respect. It is the value of something living. The qualifier here is the word living. Obviously, non-living things can’t appreciate respect, thus, they don’t need it. And the value of something not living is different with living creatures. For instance, the value of a diamond can be measured and is relative to its physical attribute. On the other hand, the value of living creatures, i.e. human beings, is absolute. No matter what skin color, sex, age, size or any physical attribute a human being have, his/her dignity is the same with other human beings.

Human dignity therefore is the absolute value of those who we qualified as human. However, human dignity has become a relative concept because of cultural differences. There are cultures which reduce the value of women to mere properties of men. And there are societies which allow abortion because they have ruled the fetus as non-human entity.

Human dignity should be considered as an absolute concept. The equality of every individual should be giver great importance. If we are to allow relative interpretation of human dignity, this could eventually foster racial superiority ideas. And we could go back to barbaric ages where race and sex is the basis of one’s value.

2. Utilitarianism as an ethical theory adheres to the “greatest happiness principle”. It claims that human beings have only one ultimate end that is happiness. By this, utilitarians mean that all actions are directly or indirectly in pursuit of happiness. Every action is valued as a mean to achieve happiness. This line of thought is where utilitarians built the foundation of their moral standards.

In a utilitarian point of view, the “good” is described as those which promote pleasure and suppress pain. This idea of proliferation of pleasure is central to the moral standard proposed by utilitarianism. It is in this light that they argue that the goodness of an action should be based on its result. Its moral value should be based on the consequence. That is why, in utilitarianism, sacrificing is not good in itself. Its righteousness is recognized only if it increases happiness. In this sense, utilitarianism put no value on the motive of an action. Sacrifice, then, done with the purest intention would still fail to qualify as “good” if it does not increase happiness.

In Kant's categorical imperative, on the other hand, the most logical and rational thing we can do in terms of acting correctly is to think about how our actions will affect those around us, and to only do those things that will not impinge on other people's right to live their own life. This theory defines the good as those which can be universal rules without being contradictory to itself. If we conclude that what we are about to do is not going to impinge on the liberty of others to freely live their life, and it is something that everyone else can do, then we have a duty to do it. If not, or if we are doing something for personal gain, then we do not. This is why Kant said that the categorical imperative will never lead to do something we ought not to do.

Kant formulated the universalizabilty test to be able to assess if an action would be moral. Universalizing an action does not mean that Kant adheres to the “greatest happiness principle” of utilitarianism. For instance, in the issue of stealing the wealth of nation, Kantian ethics would deem this immoral because if every government official would be allowed to steal the resources of the state, it will create a chaotic world. Imagine a state where public accountability is non-existent. There would be no sense of security and public trust.

On the other hand, Utilitarianism would deem such action as immoral base on the consequences of the action. If a government official stole the tax revenues it will increase the level of his personal happiness, however, if we sum up the pain and displeasure the citizens would feel, it will greatly outweigh the personal happiness of the government official. Clearly, such action would only promote pain and displeasure while suppressing the greatest happiness on the greatest number of people.

Kant formulated the universalizabilty test in order to assess the innate value of an action and not its consequences as utilitarians would have done.

3. Considering the ethical theories we have discussed I think the Divine Command theory would best fit my pre-existing beliefs and the life I am living. Having been from a Catholic family and having spent 12 years in a Catholic school, it is not a surprising to know that I believe in the Divine Command theories and the existence of God. But this belief is not based solely on years of imposed knowledge from a Catholic school. Four years here in UP has opened me to several intellectual explanations of our existence and the moral codes that go with it. However, I still can’t abandon the belief that God sets the moral standards. My atheist friends would often argue that I have been pre-conditioned for years to believe in such existence that’s why I haven’t been receptive in those intellectual ideas.

The reality is that I am able to reconcile those theories with my pre-existing beliefs. I realize that Kantian ethics, utilitarianism and other ethical theories are means for us to be able to identify the moral standards set by God. It caters to our rational nature. Since the Bible can not possibly tell what we should have done in every situation, these theories could help us where the Bible has no explicit answer. But of the following ethical theories I think I am inclined to be a Utilitarian. I always consider the consequences of my actions. However, I seldom consider the happiness of others except those whom I value. But I think this is still consistent with Utilitarianism of JS Mills. As he states it, personal happiness could ultimately result to the happiness of the greater number of people.

This kind of thinking would seem to impede my freedom because I depend so much on God. In a sense it does, but I can not be fully restricted because human beings are naturally free willed. I can always choose not to follow this.
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