Moral Goodness Through Ethical Principles
The ability to interpret the morally correct (morally good) resolution to a moral, when confronted by a moral dilemma, can be a very difficult task. Ethics is the search for universal objective principles for evaluating human behavior, good or bad. In societies, ethics are developed by their religious beliefs, government, and through experience. Social ethics serve as the premise for morality. Humans through ethics create morality, a personal or social code of conduct. The principles for one’s morality are founded by the ethical standards of their society. Through experience, education, religion, and morality humans develop morals based on social and religious ethics. Morals give humans the ability to distinguish the morally right/good decision to make when confronted with a moral dilemma. However, in some instances we are confronted with a morally problematic situation in which it is difficult to distinguish the morally correct solution. For example, we’ll consider the morally problematic situation faced by the Smith’s. The Smith family is like any average, American, middle-class family of Catholic faith. One night Jim, the Smith’s eldest son who had jus graduated from college, went out to a bar for a friend’s birthday. Later, in the morning hours, Jim decides that he should go home. Jim decides to drive home even though he was very intoxicated. On his way home Jim runs a red light proceeding to smash into a car, instantly killing the driver. Jim leaves the scene, of which there were no witnesses, and hurries home. His parents tell him to stay at the house while they attempt to resolve and analyze the situation. The next day, a couple of police officers arrive at the house and question Jim’s parents about Jim and his whereabouts, who was a suspect for vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of a crime. What is the morally correct decision for the Jim’s parents to make in this situation? Should they protect their son from prosecution or hand him over to the proper authorities? Jim’s parents must decide which of their options is morally correct, and then choose that option. The ethical principles of divine moral authority and utilitarianism can be used to help a person distinguish the morally correct decision, when confronted with a morally problematic situation. In the Smith’s case, the two principles can be applied to their dilemma in order find the solution that is morally correct. However, the Smith’s through their examination raises another question. Why should we be moral? The morally correct solution to the Smith’s situation varies depending on the ethical principle that is applied. After analyzing the situation using the principles, one learns why we should be moral.
Robert C. Mortimer, a philosopher during the 1950s, developed the ethical principle of divine moral authority. The principles of divine moral authority are established primarily by the ethical principles of Catholicism. Mortimer states that, according to moral authority, “man’s ownership and use of the material world is not absolute, but subject to the law of God. (pg. 267).” In order to make a morally correct judgment, we must assure that the judgment coincides with natural moral law, the laws established by our God. Natural moral law, in accordance with Mortimer, states that nature has intrinsic goals (without irregularities) and purposes, in which the lower goals must be subordinate to higher goals. According to Mortimer, the Smith’s must analyze their situation according to natural moral law. Jim has killed a person, which violates one of most sacred laws of God, eve though he did not kill the person intentionally. Although Jim is their son, Jim’s parents must acknowledge that Jim has violated a moral law of the society and the law of God. Though Jim’s parents do not want their son to be taken away from them bad prosecuted, they must realize the severity of the situation. If Jim’s parents decided to elude the police and continue to protect Jim, they too would be violating moral and ethical laws established by society and their God. Mortimer would argue that Jim’s parents must rely on reason and not their feelings because “to make the body obey the reason (mind) is in harmony with nature. (pg. 268).” Through reason, without being contaminated by the functions of the body, Jim’s parents are able to justifiably acknowledge the morally correct solution to their situation. What if the parents are unable to distinguish the morally correct decision? Mortimer says that, when we are unable to make a morally correct decision, our conscience will provide the morally correct answer. Ultimately, it is our conscience that allows us to decipher the morally good from the morally wrong. According to Mortimer, if the solution “is contrary to a man’s own conscientious judgment there is a higher obligation . . . to obey one’s own conscience. (Pg 272)” Through our conscience we establish the right/moral solution to a situation. After analyzing the Smith’s morally problematic situation, Mortimer would argue that society and God morally obligate Jim’s parents, to turn him over to the authorities. Jim’s parents must look beyond their sensations and realize that Jim has committed a serious crime and that it is God’s will for him not to be punished, but corrected. However, the ethical principle of utilitarianism provides Jim’s parents with a different situation.
John Stuart Mill developed the ethical principle of utilitarianism in the 1860s. Utilitarianism states that moral good is that action, which brings about the greatest happiness and least pain for the greatest number affected by that act because humans, naturally, desire happiness and avoid unhappiness. Again, Jim’s parents are confronted with another dilemma. Jim’s parents would, according to their desire for happiness, conclude that it is morally correct for them to elude the police and continue to conceal the whereabouts of their son. However, Jim’s parents must also take into account how their decision affects society. Does the Smith’s decision to protect Jim bring the greatest amount of happiness to everyone affected by Jim’s actions? What about the family of the person that Jim killed? If the police did not find Jim, then the greatest amount of happiness would not be experienced in the aspect of the victim’s family. Furthermore, justice would not be served which would not bring happiness to the society who demand justice is served. Mill would argue that, in spite of Jim’s parent’s feelings, turning Jim in would be the morally correct thing for Jim’s parents to do even though happiness is not being brought to his parents.
In this situation Jim has violated laws established by our society and our God. Jim drove his car while he was intoxicated, ran a red light, fled the scene of a crime, and he committed the greatest sin when he killed a person. I realize that Jim did not mean to kill the person. Nevertheless, since he made the morally incorrect decision to drive while he was intoxicated he is responsible for murdering that person. Would the accident have taken place if Jim weren’t intoxicated? Probably not. Therefore, Jim is responsible for his own actions and ultimately responsible for the death of that person. I would argue that it is of moral good for Jim’s parents to turn him over to the police and allow him to be judged by society. Jim’s parents must realize that Jim has to be corrected by society for his actions, because it is for his moral good and the moral good of the society. I also realize that Jim’s parents do not want to “lose” their son. But, they cannot rely on their feelings and must listen to what their conscience tells them. Ultimately, I think that the only, morally right, choice that Jim’s parents can make is too allow him to be prosecuted by society and their God for his actions. Why should Jim’s parents be moral? They should be moral because being moral is in accordance with the laws established by our God. Furthermore, we are all driven by our conscience and soul to do what is morally right. Without morals there would be no justice or ethics. Our society is built from moral standards and ethics. Without ethics and morals there would be no society. Everything that exists today would not be present without ethics and morals; there would be no concept of good and bad. Morals and ethics make it possible for us to live in a society as a community with laws and regulations.
The ethical principles of Mortimer and Mill raise many questions towards the morally problematic situation faced by the Smith’s. Although the Smith’s don’t want to lose their son, it seen through both of the principles that the only morally correct solution for the Smith’s situation is for them to turn their son over to the police. Morals make us who we are as an individual and as a society. In order to have a prosperous society we must do what is morally good, in any instance. If we did not follow what was morally good, then our society would be filled with anarchy due to the lack of laws.
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