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Fuzzy Ethics?

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aleph_0
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I got into an argument with some fellow students today over ethics, and it was part comical and part sad. There was, in the room, a ubiquitous and unchallenged assumption that all ethics is painful, grudging, unhappy work--to have a meaningful ethical code, [almost] everybody must fail to live up to its standards. People were shocked when I said that I live up to my code of ethics the vast majority of the time.

But I want to debate a point that I find at least somewhat slippery. One guy was arguing that he himself morally fails, but that he can still blame others for moral failures. I suspect that something in this is wrong, but I'm not certain what. So I am going to argue for that view and see where it gets me. Any challengers?

Some of my assertions, then, are:

It is, in principle, possible to be perfectly ethical (for some extremely demanding code of ethics).

It is so difficult that almost nobody succeeds.

I do not succeed all the time.

I can still blame others and criticize others for moral failures.

Even though I do wrong, I criticize myself for it and believe that I can and should do better.

Where's the contradiction, if there is one?

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No contradiction, it is a logical fallacy to rebut an argument with 'you don't even stand up to X either, so I shouldn't have to' because the character of the person arguing does not discount any of his points. It is perfectly fine to be imperfect and tell others that they are also imperfect and how you see they can improve -if- they ask for such advice (don't go round telling people their faults when they don't ask).

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Ethics are only needed because humans are fallible beings. That means that everyone will fail at one time or another; it does not mean that everyone is hopelessly immoral. To maintain integrity in ethics one must judge one's self and take corrective action when needed. This is only painful, demanding, unhappy work for those who are new to it. The more one engages in this work, the easier it is.

Judging others is not necessarily inconsistent with the idea that humans are fallible. In fact, it can be helpful in remaining honest.

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But I want to debate a point that I find at least somewhat slippery. One guy was arguing that he himself morally fails, but that he can still blame others for moral failures. I suspect that something in this is wrong, but I'm not certain what. So I am going to argue for that view and see where it gets me. Any challengers?

What does he mean by "blame"? What do you mean by "wrong"?

Are you saying that person X's moral failings somehow prevent him from understanding the reality of another person's moral failings? Or, are you saying that because person X has moral failings, he does not 'deserve' to criticize other people for their moral failings?

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You should give up. It is possible to act ethically, it is difficult to do so, I admit that I make mistakes. I can criticize others for their moral failures, and I can correctly assign moral responsibility (when the facts are known). I can even correctly assign moral responsibility to myself for my actions and recognize when I have made an error. I would suggest that you move on to the more important topic of what to actually do when one recognises an error. The true vice of hypocrisy lies in accepting contradictory standards, and not in criticizing one man's failure at something that you yourself fail to accomplish.

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Ethics are only needed because humans are fallible beings. That means that everyone will fail at one time or another; it does not mean that everyone is hopelessly immoral.

No it doesn't! The fact that something *can* fail does not in any way, shape, or form mean that it *will* fail.

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Isn't the possibility of being ethical reduced by some ethical codes? Take altruism, you can not live up to the "ethical ideal" self-sacrifice for the common good whenever and wherever of altruism and exist as a man, :. it that ethical code makes it impossible to live up to its own ideal.

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Isn't the possibility of being ethical reduced by some ethical codes? Take altruism, you can not live up to the "ethical ideal" self-sacrifice for the common good whenever and wherever of altruism and exist as a man, :. it that ethical code makes it impossible to live up to its own ideal.

That's certainly true, and I think this is what leads to the misconception of an ethical code being necessarily unattainable - that's how deeply ingrained altruism is. Ethics are supposed to be a standard you can never quite live up to, in Christianity living a virtuous life basically means constantly striving for a standard that you can't ever acheive (until you get to Heaven where, since the rules of logic don't apply, everyone will be a perfect altruist and also, of course, perfectly happy!)

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Ethics are only needed because humans are fallible beings.

Sorry for going back to this but I've been trying to fully understand the is/ought dichotomy and this ties into it...I think.

I thought that man requires ethics because he is a living, thinking, conscious being and that is demands that he ought to seek out and pursue those things which further those facts of existence, i.e. ethical decisions based on the ultimate value of life. The decisions a man makes to create his life can therefore be seen as ethical in as far as they further his existence as a living rational conscious being or unethical, for those that are opposed to it.

Thus, in Objectivism the question of ethics is removed from the realm of supernatural sacrifice or altruistic sacrifice and replaced with the individual responsibility to pursue the rational actions that further ones life.

NB. This insistence that the ethical is the individual pursuit of that which enhances ones life leads the others (outside of

Objectivism) to construct those much loved :lol: lifeboat scenarios, in order to attempt to prove that the Objectivist ethics necessarily leads to predatory mayhem as each man pursues his own self-interest.

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An infallible being would avolitionally act to promote it's life. We wouldn't need to discover and follow an ethical code if we were infallible. Your explaination, Zip, is correct and more comprehensive.

Zip, I'm curious; have you seen

from Paul McKeever? It's similar to what I argued in one of the beloved lifeboat threads. What do you think? Feel free to reply in a PM so as not to hiijack the thread.
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An infallible being would avolitionally act to promote it's life. We wouldn't need to discover and follow an ethical code if we were infallible. Your explaination, Zip, is correct and more comprehensive.

Zip, I'm curious; have you seen

from Paul McKeever? It's similar to what I argued in one of the beloved lifeboat threads. What do you think? Feel free to reply in a PM so as not to hiijack the thread.

I like McKeever's point about the permanence of ethics in lifeboat scenarios. I'd like to think that I could live up to it...

On the other hand the chances are that I'd be in a lifeboat with a subjectivist or intrinsacist and that they would try to kill and eat me thereby freeing me up to protect myself and subsequently and rationally get a meal in the process :) :)

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But I want to debate a point that I find at least somewhat slippery. One guy was arguing that he himself morally fails, but that he can still blame others for moral failures. I suspect that something in this is wrong, but I'm not certain what. So I am going to argue for that view and see where it gets me. Any challengers?

Some of my assertions, then, are:

It is, in principle, possible to be perfectly ethical (for some extremely demanding code of ethics).

It is so difficult that almost nobody succeeds.

I do not succeed all the time.

I can still blame others and criticize others for moral failures.

Even though I do wrong, I criticize myself for it and believe that I can and should do better.

Where's the contradiction, if there is one?

The most obvious problem with this is that this sort of thinking is the opposite of thinking in principles. If something is wrong, it is wrong not just for one person, but for all people. If one person is justified in making a mistake under certain conditions, then so are all other men.

What this guy tries to do is to say "it's justified if I make a mistake/ fail morally, but it is not justified for other people." It buys him a very convenient status of moral superiority while not having to work too hard to be good.

As for the second part of your post:

There was, in the room, a ubiquitous and unchallenged assumption that all ethics is painful, grudging, unhappy work--to have a meaningful ethical code, [almost] everybody must fail to live up to its standards.

If it wasn't for guilt (induced by the ethical code they have partially accepted), they could have stolen without feeling bad. this is probably why they see ethics as painful. If they could just get rid of the guilt, or get rid of the ethical code, stealing would serve their self-interest, so they think. When you don't accept ethics, you get to keep a pile of gold (which you stole). When you accept ethics, you don't get to have the pile of gold.

Or to give a different example: you can sit on your butt and let somebody else do the dishes/ take out the trash. It is unfair that the people living with you have to do all the work. But if you could just get rid of the guilt, get rid of the voice in your head telling you that you are acting immorally, you get to sit on your butt, watch T.V. , have somebody else take out the dirty trash and have a much better life.

Obviously, it is better off without the ethical code. No? So what is the error here? What is the loss in getting rid of ethics?

The error is that when you do what is ethical you are acting in your best, long term interest. Dishes won't clean themselves, and human beings cannot exist as your slaves. Acting against it is acting against reality. It makes you dependent on the destruction of others - on the extent to which they are willing to let you ride on their back. You become a dependent leach. Now it's time to say nice goodbye to your self esteem and start finding flaws in others to make you feel better (which accidentally, or not so accidentally brings us back to the first half of my post).

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  • 7 months later...
People were shocked when I said that I live up to my code of ethics the vast majority of the time.

What they don't know is that you're probably not living up to the same code of ethics they're trying to live up to. You're living up to a more Objective set of ethics, which leads to happiness, rather than the sacrifice and suffering their ethics leads to. Unless the "students" you refer to are students of Objectivism. Either way, I'd say their ethics aren't very Objective if they bring them suffering for adhering to them.

One guy was arguing that he himself morally fails, but that he can still blame others for moral failures.

If he is failing at the same moral code that the others are failing at, or at any moral code at all really, I'd say he should be blaming himself too if he doesn't want to be a hypocrite.

Edited by Amaroq
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