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The Concept of Ethics and The Pursuit of Happiness

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The Concept of Ethics and The Pursuit of Happiness essay

Ethics Section

According to Aristotle, the highest good, or the one thing that everything is supposed to lead to is Eudaimonia. Eudaimonia is a Greek word that means happiness or welfare. So, the highest good in Aristotle’s eyes is happiness. Happiness is something that has intrinsic value, meaning it is desired for its own sake. This raises the question, how do we get to this highest good of happiness? Aristotle says the way to the highest good is through virtue. He lists the cardinal virtues, which are courage, prudence, temperance, and justice. Through these cardinal virtues, we can be led to the highest good. Furthermore, there are two other kinds of virtues: moral and intellectual. Intellectual virtues are acquired through teaching and learning. Moral virtues, on the other hand, are acquired through habit and practice. All in all, virtue comes through knowledge, choice, will to do so, and taking pleasure with the virtue. Finally, Aristotle mentions that virtues are a “happy medium” of sorts. Reaching a specific virtue means not being on either end of the extreme. For example, having too much courage is considered being cocky, a negative virtue, while having too little is considered being a coward, which is also a negative virtue. Overall, finding the happy medium of cardinal virtues, practicing moral virtues, and acquiring intellectual virtues are the ways to get to the final goal of the highest good, or happiness.

One of the trolley problems we talked about was the lever problem. The example states there is a trolley barreling down the tracks, and you are sitting at a lever. The track forks, and on the current path there is five people, and on the other path there is one. The moral problem is whether or not you pull the lever. If you pull the lever, the one person dies and you save five. If you do not, the five people die and you save one. On the one hand, if you pull it, you are saving five lives instead of one. A lot of people’s moral intuition leans toward this one, because it seems like an easy decision to save more lives. However, on the other side, it gets more complicated. Those whose moral intuitions decide to not pull the lever and let five people die, is because when you pull the lever you are actively killing someone. There is a situation not under your control, as you did not put the trolley on the tracks. Therefore, you are not committing murder if you let the five people die. It is a horrific accident. The patient problem is where there is five people, who each have a separate issue with a separate organ. Someone healthy is an exact match for all five organs. The question is do we kill the one person to save the five sick people? Most people’s intuitions are no, it has nothing to do with them, so we should not kill them. The other side is yes, we should maim him and take all his organs, just to save the five people. The thought experiments are showing that intuitions are not universal. They can be shifted. My intuitions are conflicting, as I would pull the lever, but I would not kill the one healthy person. There is no clear solution to this, as there are always more cases with conflicting intuitions.

Practical section

The original position describes an agreement in which everyone would agree to. For a group a people were going to set up a political system, it would be agreed upon to make it so nobody knew their futures. Nobody knows their gender, identity, social class, race, or anything. They live through specific principles, which everybody agrees to. This is because the initial situation is completely and utterly fair. After all of these things, justice as fairness is reached. That is the original position. The veil of ignorance is a theoretical barrier to justice as fairness. It blocks the average person from reaching this level of fairness. It is the barrier between real society and the theory of justice. To set up a just society, there needs to be a couple definitions. The basic structure of the society needs to be defined, and the concept of justice needs to be defined. It also needs to have principles that free, rational people would voluntarily accept. These include both social and individual aspects. There are two principles that Rawls thinks a society would agree on in a fair and just society. One is each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberty compatible with similar liberty for others. The other is social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both reasonably expected to be to everyone’s advantage, as well as attached to positions and offices open to all.

Singer’s assumptions that everyone will agree with are simple. He assumes that suffering from the lack of basic necessities is a bad thing. These basic necessities are food, shelter, water, and medicine. He also says that if we can prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything of comparable importance, then we should do so. We shouldn’t sacrifice anything of comparable importance because if we do, then we will need help, which doesn’t fix the initial issue. The conclusion that Singer draws from these assumptions is that the reaction of people in affluent countries to other people’s suffering is not morally justified. He is saying that everyone should have equal aid. In other words, everyone should help other people so we’re all at an even playing field. To achieve this, we need motivation on the individual level to help others. He thinks we have an issue with our moral compasses, because the motivation for even the bare minimum aid isn’t there. He claims that it is hard to change our current way of living to help others, and that could be an explanation to this moral compass issue. An objection to this argument is that distance and relationship to people change our perception of moral choices. Singer would say to this that it doesn’t change what we should do morally. Care ethicists, on the other hand, would say that we would be more likely to help people closer in distance and relation to us.

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