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Ethics

The Bumps Along the Road of Ethical Development – Derek

Morality and ethics, as I view it, are both collections of precedents, trial and error, and simple learning. When we think of ethics, many of us will think in terms of a set of rules. Set out by some incomprehensible facet of humanity. Some might even think that because we are humans, we have ethics. That we have ethics, morals, and concepts of right and wrong, however, is not simply the result of us being humans and the ability to reason and think and even “feel”.

Our environment or the nurture side of our development surely has a profound impact on the way we view the world and how we perceive right and wrong, ethical and unethical. We see this in our differences from hemisphere to hemisphere, east to west, and north to south. We can observe clear differences in the values of society between Canada, a highly developed country, and other more impoverished and underdeveloped nations. Hot topic issues such as the weeding of female infants, or the owning of slaves show the stark contrast between our worlds and notably our contexts.

If we move back in time along the proverbial continuum of our ethical development as a global society, we can guess how the first ethical rules or concepts began. Hypothetically consider a group of humans at the outset of our intelligent life. There is no denying that, at a fundamental level, the goal of primitive life was to ensure its posterity. In this vein, when the first group of humans chanced upon each other, they noticed that surviving in the company of others made survival relatively easier.

To further outline my view, consider again the primitive tribe. Having learned about collective security, the individuals notice one member that has been compromised and is unable to contribute to the group. Able to think about this issue and come to a conclusion, the group cuts the injured member loose thereby ensuring the survival of the collective and its posterity. We can now look at this and say the favorable outcomes of the group’s decisions has reinforced similar decisions in the future, a set of rules to follow if you will. This brings us back to Ethics.

In our modern society, our context has changed immeasurably compared to our primitive ancestors. What does this change mean for the rules drawn up by those ancestors? The simply answer is that their rules do not apply. Considering the same examples, but in our context, there would be almost no benefit to cutting off the weak and sickly in our society. There simply would not be a point. Our survival and well-being are not hindered noticeably by the presence of the elderly.

Now that we can see that the changes in our environment do, in time, alter our ethics and concept of right and wrong, we can look at other issues that have arisen from the development of new and problematic outcomes of technology.

As I read through some internet articles various developments in the world, I came across a piece on a growing trend around the world: E-Cigarettes. Invented back in 2001, the E-Cigarette has recently caused much concern over its effects on individual health. In this issue, the users themselves are the stakeholders or the ones the government’s rulings will affect. The E-Cigarette boasts a non-combustive vapor of nicotine which admittedly does not contain the harmful carcinogens and smoke of traditional cigarettes adding more grey to the ban on tobacco advertisement on television.

The main ethical question that has been revived through the advent of this E-Cigarette is virtually the same as that of its dangerous burning cousin. I see the E-Cigarette as another means with which self-harm can be inflicted. Does this fall within the jurisdiction of the government and law? Should it?

More recent studies conducted by the University of Athens conclude that although a level of damage reduction is present, the E-Cigarette still damages the user’s lungs. Now that we know that the E-Cigarette is far from the “safe” alternative it is held to be, we come back to the same question. Should the wellbeing of an individual be ensured against him/herself?

Large lobby groups for both sides on this E issue have made their points clear. For some it restricts personal freedom and choice, yet others say it is for the wellbeing of society as a whole. The literal issue being argued through heated online anonymous debates and various other mediums is whether the E-Cigarette should be allowed to advertise through television and radio. That the E-Cigarette does not contain any trace of tobacco excludes it from laws against tobacco products. The harmful effects of even the Nicotine vapor, however, cannot be ignored.

Personally, the advertisement of even this reduced version of cigarettes would be a lapse in judgment and a negative projection to the youth of this generation. The fact that the Nicotine in these electronic devices is not only addictive but also dangerous to health should be enough to keep it from influencing the youth of the day. Simply pointing out that the E-Cigarette is less harmful than a fuming counterpart is not any indicator of safety.

Coming back to the main hatchet, I believe that the area of personal freedom of choice will not ever be approvingly or definitively nailed down, akin to all the other ethical questions worth discussing. When the presentation of the choices is concerned, however, I whole heartedly assert that each choice be made clear to the stakeholder. The knowledge of what a decision can do to oneself is one thing that I believe the government and law should give unto the stakeholder.

Finally, we can look back on how other philosophers have taken to this topic. Before we can understand the arguments of noted philosopher John Stuart Mill, we must understand the terms they use. Paternalism is according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “behavior, by a person, organization or state, which limits some person or group’s liberty or autonomy.” The term is further split into soft and hard paternalism. Soft paternalism refers to restrictive measure being placed on a person’s actions which are deemed not sufficiently voluntary to be genuinely theirs. Hard paternalism on the other hand deals with restrictive measure placed on actions which are voluntary enough to be considered genuinely theirs. John Stuart Mill, however, would care less about these distinctions because he disagrees with paternalism altogether. Mill claims that the idea of paternalism is grounded in the assumption that the government or external regulator possesses better judgment of the individual than the individual does himself, which, in his view, is a clear error in judgment and reason.  Though he does not make clear whether his view is exclusive of some oddball cases or not, his view does raise a cogent point. Appealing to common sense always ga

 

As we see, the intricate tangles of ethics have grown as the context in which we operate has thrived into a thicket in which there is always more than one path. Accompanying our ethical progress are problems which do not seem to have a clear answer. Amongst those problems are such things as Paternalism and Autonomy which still hold, as many heavy ethical questions do, relevance today. rners some attention and support. Concerning Mill, however, I would only agree so long as the individual has sufficient information about the decision he or she is about to make. In our modern context, it is not always clear to the decision maker the outcomes of each path.

 

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Discussion

4 thoughts on “The Bumps Along the Road of Ethical Development – Derek

  1. Wow, Derek – this is an articulate and thorough look at the ethical questions surrounding this newest incarnation of humans’ affection for tobacco, or seemingly, nicotine and the act of smoking itself. You do a great job at framing the issue within the context of an ongoing discussion of ethics, and the state’s role to create a public sphere that abides by (hopefully) democratically agreed-upon morals and laws. Where E-Cigarrette’s find themselves is indeed a tangled intersection of ethics, specifically concerning government responsibility to provide for its populace and personal liberty.

    The first question is easy enough for most people to answer: Should people be allowed to commit acts which harm no one but themselves? Many people (in the ‘rugged individualistic’ West) would likely say, “Sure.”

    But what of the extra drain on our collective resources that these people cause? Smokers, even E-smokers it seems, would likely draw on more than ‘their share’ of healthcare spending, making their ‘self-harm’ more of a collective wound.

    It seems natural that perhaps government should outlaw things such as this, or put more of a premium on healthcare costs for individuals that choose to engage in risky behaviour. But as Mill points out, this also puts us in a difficult spot where we must abide by the “assumption that the government or external regulator possesses better judgment of the individual than the individual does himself.” While many might agree in this particular case that the government should have the right to make this judgement, I doubt this ready acceptance would transfer to other areas of life. In the end, the discussion of where we as a society believe we should draw this line is the best way to ensure a collective answer that represents our best intentions.

    Not that any of this gets us any closer to a definitive solution, but you’ve raised the question in a thoroughly illuminating fashion here that offers much opportunity for reflection, to be sure.

    Nice work!

    Posted by Mr. J | December 11, 2012, 5:24 pm
    • Thanks!

      I do agree that the dilemma revolving around the e-cigarette is taken from different points of view as you move from place to place. Ideologies, however they have developed, help determine, often decisively, the outcome of these decisions.

      You also raise an interesting point concerning the long-run impact on not only the smoker (or e-smoker) but also on the society he is a part of. In my opinion having health care premiums would indeed make sense in the same way higher insurance rates for certain cars would. Certain cars like the Cadillac Escalade EXT, and the Mitsubishi Lancer have significantly higher insurance rates due to the amount of annual losses to insurance companies. In the same vein, however, what If the driver of an Escalade or Lancer was a safe driver? Although there are safe driving benefits, there is no such thing as “safe smoking”. The problem is that there is no way for smokers to ensure their safety, for this reason if any measures were to be taken, they would have to be all encompassing. Personally, I believe that premiums or at least a tax should be placed on the nicotine liquid that fuels e-cigarettes. A problem that arises, unfortunately, from the addictive properties nicotine, is that e-cigarettes and similar products do not abide by the law of demand which is “holding all else equal, as the price of the good rises, the quantity demanded falls”. The addictive qualities of these products render it a rather inelastic good and thereby reduce any attempts made to deter consumers.

      Finally, the decisions reached on each ethical issue seem to remain discreet from any other issue no matter how similar. Although precedents can be forwarded there is often different variables and points to consider for each ethical issue. That each ethical issue is accompanied by different circumstances, contexts, and stakeholders, prevents extrapolation from each decision. This makes it difficult to form a solid base from which we can answer different ethical sources because the cases from which we would ideally construct a base from are so eclectic.

      Cool points!

      Posted by DerekW | December 12, 2012, 7:30 pm
      • Somewhere, Mr. Lloyd is smiling about the conversation reaching this point:

        “A problem that arises, unfortunately, from the addictive properties nicotine, is that e-cigarettes and similar products do not abide by the law of demand which is “holding all else equal, as the price of the good rises, the quantity demanded falls”. The addictive qualities of these products render it a rather inelastic good and thereby reduce any attempts made to deter consumers.”

        Personally, the last point you make in your comment here is particularly salient:

        “…the decisions reached on each ethical issue seem to remain discreet from any other issue no matter how similar. Although precedents can be forwarded there is often different variables and points to consider for each ethical issue. That each ethical issue is accompanied by different circumstances, contexts, and stakeholders, prevents extrapolation from each decision. This makes it difficult to form a solid base from which we can answer different ethical sources because the cases from which we would ideally construct a base from are so eclectic.”

        Which is why so many of the conversations from the blog have made their way into class, and then back to the blog – probably even in a few cases into lunch or the debate team meetings: precedents might help us establish our first reaction to the problem, however, each situation is unique unto itself, and must be unpacked and decoded as such. I think you stated this really well.

        Nicely done.

        Posted by Mr. J | December 12, 2012, 10:23 pm
  2. The idea you seem to be getting at, with the defense of anti cigarette advertisement laws and Mr.jackson’s comment as to health care spending, is a morality and ethics justified by what is eventually better for people and society in the end. The question this posed in my mind is, though, perhaps it would be justified to allow the advertisement of this e-cigarette so that a more harmful thing – normal smoking – is reduced, though it still causes some harm itself. Advertising it would likely lead to an uptake in its use by normal cigarette users, which we can probably agree would be better than the status quo. Does the potential for good results justify the propagation of something that is still inherently bad for people?

    Posted by liamthesaint | December 13, 2012, 4:19 am

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