Friday, August 04, 2006

Am i Ethical - Part 2

What happens when ethics collide? How to handle this? Before answering this, let me move on to a different but related concept of virtue and being virtuous. Is being virtuous mean being ethical?

Virtue is the sole good, in so far as it is, considered in itself, happiness for the man. Hence virtue should be desired as a virtue and not for the sum of pleasures which can be derived from it. Virtue is an end in itself and not a means to attaining the good. This mean, being virtuous is a conscious decsion which leads to being happy very much what being ethical tries to arrive at. On the contrary, Ethics are more stricter by definition. They do not necessarily talk about the happiness of the individual but about the happiness of environment(or more so people) surrounding the man. Being virtuous may lead to being ethical but the reverse is necessarily not true.

I have grown up in this school of thought that anything which is virtuous but not vice is evil. For instance, gaining a lot of money may give me happiness but if it is done at the cost of other's then it is not vice. Why are children then taught to be virtuous? Well, the stoic philosophy gives a good explanation for this.Atleast this explanation is something i found useful. But just what did the Stoics mean by virtue and vice? Virtue signifies living according to reason. Since reason tells us that all that happens must happen and that it happens, virtue consists not only in not desiring anything except what happens, but in accepting with eagerness anything that does happen. For the Stoic anything which cannot be reasoned represent the irrational, because they tend to turn away reason from that which indeed must happen. In this opposition vice consists. Vice, hence, is everything that tends to oppose itself to reason, every desire or emotion which opposes itself to the natural development of nature. It is in this complete domination of reason over the passions and the emotions that Stoic apathy consists. In a word, the Stoic must be like a god who, closed up in his reason, passes among men without a care for all that happens. Hence, virtue should always be directed towards a reason and not the other way around. This precisely complements my earlier arguement on the fact that virtue may lead to being ethical but not the other way around. More so, when ethics depend on "stoic irrational" concepts like passions and emotions. This also throws another view point that ethics also come by from emotional aspects which need not necessarily be reasoned. This is true for values also. This again reinstances that ethics cannot be universal and so cannot be values.

Before we understand the collision of ethics and values, let us understand what happens if our values themselves collide. How do we react to such situations. It has been found that we internally build a system of values in which different values are ranked. At any point in time, our decisions in situations as above are based on what priority or ranking we have for these values. Let me try to explain this better. Our values are what we prize and our values system is the order in which we prize them. Because they rank our likes and dislikes, our values determine how we will behave in certain situations. Yet values often conflict. For example, the desire for personal independence may run counter to our desire for intimacy. Our desire to be honest may clash with the desire to be rich, prestigious or kind to others. In such cases, we resort to our values system. The values we consistently rank higher than others are our core values, which define character and personality.

Are we in a position to answer the first question now about ethics and values colliding? Well yes, but as my friend says I would reserve that discuss
for later as i am currently tired to write more :). But the next post on this topic shall definitely answer that question.