(A review written in August 2005 of a book suggested by the Philosopher’s Café group I used to attend. This review, while not that enthralling, is referenced in a later and better blog I wrote on torture. Both are creepily pertinent to today’s issues)
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7) What are human beings really like: selfish and greedy or generous and kind?
By “really like” I presume the question asks what would people be like if they were allowed to mature without distorting outside influences. Under that presumption, I think people would be a mix, but would lean towards generosity and kindness, because in the long run it feels better.
We are, after all, social animals. If you’re selfish and greedy enough, no one will want to be around you or share with you, and you’ll end up bitter and alone. If you’re generous and kind, studies have shown you’ll experience beneficial, enjoyable chemical changes within your body. Thus, not only will others prefer your company and share with you, but you’ll feel better about life and yourself.
8) Are some people “better” at morality than others, or is everyone equally capable of being good?
I think everyone can be moral, given the opportunity and some personal introspection. It’s a form of behavior which can be trained, after all. If we can teach autistic children how to get by in society, surely we can teach morality as well.
9) Are there good ways of teaching children to behave morally?
Of course. Ways of teaching which encourage and reward moral action, and which emphasize human dignity, are to be preferred over painful correction applied by the self-righteous. As R. S. Surtees noted, “More people are flattered into virtue than bullied out of vice.”
10) Does anyone have the right to tell anyone else what goodness and wickedness are?
If we are speaking of adults and not children, then I see a difference between “tell” as in control the actions of another, and “tell” as in a gentle reminder. If what the question means involves the former definition, then no — no one has an absolute right to define goodness and wickedness for others. That way lies tyranny.
On the other hand, I don’t have a problem with someone who, upon seeing me about to do something wrong, quietly murmuring to me, “Are you sure you want to do that? Won’t it hurt someone else if you do?” I feel this way because I know I may not have all the facts, and I don’t really want to hurt anyone else without reason.
A gentle reminder, however, is as far as it goes for me. I feel people must make up their own minds. Once they have the facts, it’s their duty as well as their responsibility to make their own choices, and live with the consequences of those actions.
The sole exception for me is the case of children. In order to protect children, adults have to control their [the children’s] actions until they [the children] can make good decisions for themselves. However, even there I think the smart adult will do their best to allow the child to search out the facts and learn to make those good decisions themselves.
That was interesting! Hope it was of some use to you all. If you should care to comment regarding your answers to the above ten ethics questions, I would love to read them. Enjoy! ;)