what is ethics???
December 24, 2006 2:15pm CST
There are two main strands of thought attempting to explain what ethical values and claims are actually about. One strand are commonly termed 'non-realist', because they suggest moral values are creations, dependent on people's feelings and goals regarding themselves and others (emotivism or prescriptivism) or on their belief systems (cultural or individual relativism). Despite the name 'non-realist', such theories may see reality as important in shaping the human choice of ethical values (indirectly by, for example, the evolutionary or developmental shaping of human psychology, or directly through, for example, people assessing and debating the likely consequences of their actions). Another group of 'realist' theories, by contrast, hold that moral value is somehow an intrinsic property of the world and that ethical principles are discovered or intuited. In this view, the ethical values held by people can at best reflect an independent Truth, by which their validity must be judged. These theories may be derived from theology or naturalism. Some philosophers rely on descriptive ethics and choices made and unchallenged by a society or culture to derive categories, which typically vary by context. This leads to situational ethics and situated ethics. These philosophers often view aesthetics, etiquette, and arbitration as more fundamental, percolating "bottom up" to imply, rather than explicitly state, theories of value or of conduct. In these views ethics is not derived from a top-down a priori "philosophy" (many would reject that word) but rather is strictly derived from observations of actual choices made in practice: * Ethical codes applied by various groups. Some consider aesthetics itself the basis of ethics – and a personal moral core developed through art and storytelling as very influential in one's later ethical choices. * Informal theories of etiquette which tend to be less rigorous and more situational. Some consider etiquette a simple negative ethics, i.e. where can one evade an uncomfortable truth without doing wrong? One notable advocate of this view is Judith Martin ("Miss Manners"). In this view, ethics is more a summary of common sense social decisions. * Practices in arbitration and law,e.g. the claim that ethics itself is a matter of balancing "right versus right," i.e. putting priorities on two things that are both right, but which must be traded off carefully in each situation. This view many consider to have potential to reform ethics as a practice, but it is not as widely held as the 'aesthetic' or 'common sense' views listed above. * Observed choices made by ordinary people, without expert aid or advice, who vote, buy, and decide what is worth fighting about. This is a major concern of sociology, political science, and economics. Those who embrace such descriptive approaches tend to reject overtly normative ones. There are exceptions, such as the movement to more moral purchasing.