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The relationship between human practices and the effects on the environment is and always has been cyclical in nature. This relationship can be traced back to individual values and how these values affect choices made on a personal level as well as an interpersonal level. Regarding interpersonal relations, these values have slowly become monetary rather than moral, making the world market a very complex and controversial environment when it comes to ethics. This, according to Sandel, is a very troubling thought. Despite debate amongst ethicists, what we as humans deem “good” or “pure” in terms of human nature should not be assigned a monetary value for the sake of our own personal values and interests. This obstruction will be investigated and elaborated upon, evaluating our values as humans and how money cannot buy us a healthy world or lifestyle.
In Michael Sandel’s argument, he explains that economic investigation cannot compensate for lack of humanitarian value. Those who believe money to be a source of power are indubitably corrupted, but painfully correct. However, Sandel explains that the marketing systems and political success cannot be present without values to guide them. Also, throughout his argument, he briefly analyzes causal externalities in which the environment suffers due to transactional decision making. Perhaps the most important in Sandel’s argument is his recognition of money being a “fee for punishment—128.” This shows how freedoms regarding life are restricted financially, making a strong argument for how failures have cost. This can be both a positive and negative influence as a fee for littering can either serve as a guideline to keep our environment clean and healthy but can also be a simple cover for clean-up costs from a third party. This concept is made crucial with regards to the Chinese government and it’s restrictions on population, but the proceeding of mass production at the expense of the atmospheric composition deteriorating, making it clear that changes in human thinking can be inherited given the right circumstances and culture. Finally, Sandel touches on nuclear waste and its effect on both the market and the environment. This study is quite shocking considering nuclear waste was more greatly accepted when residents of Switzerland were not offered monetary compensation rather than when they were. This may point out the goodness in society, or how money affects our decision making by the presence of doubt and uneasiness with regards to the environmental effects and mechanisms in play. The summation of his essay can be displayed as the “more economic thinking extends its reach into social and civic life, the more market reasoning becomes inseparable from moral reasoning – 138.” With the complexities associated with today’s market system, the entanglement of said system with moral problem solving is inevitable.
In opposition to Sandel’s argument are both Jason Brennan and Peter Jaworski. Their arguments are in complacency with Sandel’s but emphasize that what is sold is not as important as how it is sold in a marketing environment. The main notable difference in the article, however, is that anti-commodification writers often exaggerate the circumstances of which morals are applicable, providing examples of utility theory to back their narrative that the solution to these immoral markets is expansion prior to perfection. This is applicable in many scenarios as the ethos is the corruption throughout the activity, where the solution is articulated such that the ends justify the means. This is a prime example of Machiavellian ethics as his standpoints reside mainly in the action itself rather than the motivation for the particular action to be performed. It is also necessary to note that their arguments rely heavily on framing, or their ability to arrange arguments and vernacular to dispute rather than focusing on the issue itself. This is made prevalent by their saying that “’commodification’ is a pejorative word for putting something up for sale—358,” and that their arguments focus too much on the sophisticated nature of politics rather than in regard to the moral nature of the situation. This feeds into their more general argument that if “it can be done for free, it can be done for money—359.” This makes their argument weaker as their morals are then connected to simple possession or utilization of things they claim to be invaluable in the first place. This discourages the experimentation of application of certain mechanisms to life and leaves out the vital piece of their Machiavellian theories and philosophies highlighted throughout the article. This can be compared to the current issue of gun control and the argument that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people” is flawed because of the presence of constitutional right. This is also highlighting the irrelevancy of action rather than deeming the object itself an immoral commodity. This type of framing is utilized once again in their section regarding exploitation of life and other applicable subjects. Though their example resides in human trafficking, clarifying the subject as “vulnerable” and incapable of defense, it can be more vastly applied to environmental ethics as human action cannot be dictated by response from nature. This argument fails to be applied as marketing does not often consider how the exploitation of the environment is unjust due to the lack of immediate response. The authors then briefly summarize their argument by saying that “it is not the ‘what’ but the ‘how’—365,” making it clear to anti-commodification theorists that the “what” can indeed be as important as the “how” in the explanation of how economic motives are affected by personable moral applications. This provides a very small scope and another example of framing, looking at the smaller details of the sales of a product to justify the consumption of the product. These limitations are the main hindrance in their argument as well as the evidence as to why their argument is weaker than Sandel’s.
Threats to humanity tend to bring out qualities which make us human. For example, the ongoing pandemic has affected nearly everyone on this earth, forcing a greater understanding of how money and marketplaces affect our everyday life. The responses to these events are like that of the great depression, where government choices were utilitarian in nature; the risk now being exposure to the deadly virus, or death due to lack of essential supplies. These two events show an interconnectedness of the marketplace and life itself as human lives were lost in the great depression, but now being paired with fear of funding for life to assume its regular nature. This dilemma, in terms of ethics, is not so different from those outlined by Sandel, Brennan, and Jaworski. Most humans would agree that death by virus is an overall negative experience. This should represent the ends of the argument. The means would be whether the cause of death is the responsibility of the government or not. The presentation of this moral dilemma has taken many forms throughout human history. Sandel might argue that the fault of the deaths is the choices which lead to the virus spreading through a nation; whereas, Brennan and Jaworski may argue that nobody could be at fault due to the deadly nature of the virus. Sandel would succeed in this argument as moral character is defined as what is pious and beneficial through all stages of the pandemic. Brennan and Jaworski might argue a more Machiavellian platform, stating that if humanity survives, governmental choices should not matter in the long run. This ideology can be used to explain human relationship with nature as well. The environment is vulnerable in many ways; however, the vast resources it provides for society should give it the value necessary to be seen as an equal essence of importance. Knowing this, humans respect the sanctity of the environment only when there is a chance of higher monetary gain. Although, in support of Sandel’s argument, the internal value of the environment to the human race makes it incapable of being monetized.
Another recent example of Sandel’s argument in action would be Joaquin Phoenix’s recent academy award speech around the idea of veganism. To summarize, Phoenix points out that not only is the livestock industry corrupt and harmful to the environment, but it is a weakness of humanity. This brings many virtuous environmental ethics theories into play. He argues that milk from the mother cow is intended for its baby, rather than products for human consumption. This brings the fact that humans have lost touch with their own humanity at the expense of advancement in livestock. While hunting has provided many positive opportunities in many situations, such as population control, breeding animals both is against our nature as living beings and releases copious amounts of waste daily. This example brings us back to what Brennan and Jaworski mention in their article regarding the “what” rather than the “how”. Phoenix argues that humans are smarter than the exploitation of breeding animals for human consumption, and that these practices are a step back rather than a step forward. This is an argument Sandel would agree with as the belief that humans are inherently good because of our intelligence and sense of morality.
While all the authors mentioned have excellent points utilizing environmental ethics, it seems as though Sandel’s argument regarding marketing morals are most applicable in a variety of philosophical topics. Framing an argument, as Brennan and Jaworski have done, provides truth, but at the same time hinders the overall applicability to a variety of perspectives. Sandel encompasses the idea of virtue and how utilitarianism may not always be the answer when investigating virtue both in marketing systems, and the self. Kantian and Machiavellian ethics considered, environmental ethics exist to protect both our earth, and the nature of humanity. All authors mentioned believe that money cannot buy everything, but commodification will never be applicable to what we deem to be right when it comes to human nature. For this reason, we, as humans, should strive to protect all systems without taking shortcuts for the sake of timeliness, difficulty, or thirst for power. Virtue, as a whole, is an irreplaceable characteristic that shall always exist in humanity and the environment surrounding them.
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