Ethical Systems

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Ethical Systems Without puporting to have any panacea solutions, this paper briefly explores the intersection of two related questions that seem to appear as subtext throughout the ethics literature for our class: to what extent can individuals holding differing ethical conceptions maintain a fruitful dialogue; and under what circumstances, if any, may an individual claim that a given ethical system embraced by another person is wrong? I will first outline the proposed problems individually and then compare them to one another in order to highlight their relationship. My intention is to show that an informed understanding of both questions will help expose an unproductive line of reasoning that initially held sway over this author. To begin with our first question, "To what extent can individuals holding differing ethical conceptions maintain a fruitful dialogue?", let us first clearly explain what this asks. If two individuals disagree over a fundamental tenent of ethics (such as the choice between consequentialism and nonconsequentialism), whether or not this is obvious at the outset, extended discussion involving justification for their respective ideologies will eventually make this point clear. One participant will claim that an action under a specified set of circumstances has a particular moral value and the other participant will disagree; conference ensues. The discussion usually ends when one participant claims that s/he disagrees on a certain point and that nothing more can be said about the matter. Does this constitiute fruitful dialogue? As this story has been told, no. It leaves the members of the discussion in the negative position of affirming their ethics at the cost of declaring the other member's ... ... middle of paper ... ...cism. Since ethical criticism is little more than self-righteousness without potentially altering others' behavior, it stands in need of a public reference for justification. Desired outcomes can easily serve this role. While this may not totally resolve interpersonal ethical disagreement (many times desired outcomes differ, offering no solution), it does ground justification for ethical criticism in a framework-neutral environment: one can now criticize an ethical framework on the basis of its unproductive social implications. If one group's ethical program entails a future world unsatisfactory to the majority of citizens, regardless of respective frameworks, then moral condemnation serves the purpose of uniting concerned parties to forge a majority solution based on ethical coextension. Simply put, declaring something wrong helps to get people to put things right.

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