Is Ethical Theory Applicable to Practice?

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Is Ethical Theory Applicable to Practice?

Is ethical theory useful in day to day life? Do I use ethical theory to make a choice? I will use three philosophers, Alasdair MacIntyre, Jonathan Bennett, and Mary Midgley to assist me in answering these questions.

In her work "Trying Out One's New Sword" Midgley argues against moral isolationism. The notion that one can only fully understand our culture and that we should not attempt to judge other cultures because we simply don't understand them. She uses the example of a Japanese samurai trying out his new sword on someone of a lower caste than him to make sure that the sword will work in battle. In order to bring honor to his ancestors, emperor, and himself his sword has to bisect a person from the shoulder to the flank in one blow. The "guinea pig" used in this experiment has to suffer from one or more undoubtedly painful blows. According to Midgley, us Westerners should not be horrified by this custom, if we were to follow the moral isolationism perspective. To do something for the sheer sake of honor is so foreign to us that we can not judge this action by the ancient Japanese.

Midgley quickly rejects the notion of moral isolationism on several grounds. First, if we are unable to judge other cultures then we are incapable of either praising them or criticizing them. Second, if we can not judge other cultures then they should not be able to criticize our culture. Third, and most importantly, if we can not judge other cultures then we can not judge our own culture either. This is because we learn from other cultures, they give us a range of different actions that can be taken. Also our own "American" culture has so much variation that it can not be considered ...

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...see a view that I never thought about or questioned broken down to minute detail and then a conclusion that I never thought about appears. I see something that is the foundation for our legal system, something that will help it make it better, but I don't see myself, or anyone I know. I see a Pavarotti, a Jean-Pierre Rampal, and a Michael Jordan doing what they do best.

While we all struggle between what is right and what is wrong we each go about it a different way. That struggle is the foundation to our decisions, morality is merely a guideline for our decisions. Ethical theory is used, everyday by everyone, but it is merely an out-of-tune hum compared to a virtuoso like Bennett, MacIntyre, and Midgley.


Morality and Moral controversies fifth edition

by John Arthur 1999

Prentice Hall
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