Critical Thinking and Ethics Today

Aristotle and the Question of Virtue: Why Bother Being Good?

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According to Aristotle, virtue is a center point located between two extremes. For example, virtue would be in the middle of an abundance of something and its deficiency (Roca & Schuh, 2017). This concept can describe not only the number of objects but also be a scale for measuring one’s personality. Thus, a person who is confident is neither narcissistic nor self-deprecating. The question of virtue is often at the center of ethical debates.

Ethical interpretations of events are based on various types of viewpoints. Amoralists believe that ethics do not exist (Roca & Schuh, 2017). Therefore, an action or a thought cannot be inherently right or wrong. Ethical skeptics have a similar ideology and think that a correct decision is possible but difficult to figure out. Furthermore, relativism states that all situations should be viewed separately because the choice and its correctness are relative to specific conditions and details. Such relativism can be cultural, religious, or descriptive. Different theories define right and wrong according to these and other approaches. Similarly, their connection to the goal of life also varies. Aristotle believed that happiness was the primary purpose of one’s existence. Thus, to achieve satisfaction, people have to act accordingly.

Consequences Matter—Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is a teleological theory that is more focused on consequences than on actions that are required to achieve them. Therefore, this approach argues that good acts are the ones that produce the most significant positive result. In utilitarianism, actions need to be chosen according to this factor alone, while other possible details can be discarded. A good outcome is tied to the concept of pleasure and pain, where a maximum amount of pleasure is considered durable. This is an approach of hedonism and is founded on the measurements of hedonic calculus, including the duration, intensity, propinquity, and certainty of every act. Similarly, the consequences are also measured to establish their effectiveness.

This theory is focused on finding the best action to achieve results that will have a stronger effect on more people for a longer amount of time than other variants. Thus, this approach often creates debates about the possibility to calculate such concepts as pleasure and pain (Piacquadio, 2017). Some critics believe that the quality of fulfilling acts is more important than their quantity because pain and happiness cannot be measured. It is argued that events that bring the pleasure of a higher quality result in more pleasure overall (Roca & Schuh, 2017). This theory does not account for the process of achieving results which may seem controversial by other theorists.

Continental Perspectives

Continental philosophy incorporates a variety of approaches that differ from analytic theories. For example, Nietzsche believed that morality is relative because the world has many moral systems that change and evolve. Therefore, such systems are created to enforce a particular idea in a society (Roca & Schuh, 2017). The philosopher also assumed that people cannot strive to achieve an equal distribution of rights because people are unequal in nature. Thus, such notions as slave and master morality are introduced, where weak people assume that all people deserve equality, and powerful people realize the differences and the need for inequality to be enforced.

Kierkegaard argues that believing in God and not requiring any explanations for one’s existence is the best way to face life’s questions. Jean-Paul Sartre, focusing on the concept of free will, thought that each human has the right to establish a personal morality. Simone de Beauvoir simply stated that people have no purpose to exist and one’s path is the way to define oneself. Camus concluded that people’s curiousness is absurd because they would never find an answer. These theories show how many different approaches to people’s purpose continue to exist.

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Piacquadio, P. G. (2017). A fairness justification of utilitarianism. Econometrica, 85(4), 1261-1276.

Roca, O., & Schuh, M. (2017). An examined life: Critical thinking and ethics today. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt.

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