The very term “ethics” has a great number of definitions, naturally, it is not necessary to present all of them, but overall we can single out two definitions, which seem to be the most appropriate. First, ethics is a branch of philosophy, which studies the moral value of human behavior and the rules that regulate it (it is often called moral philosophy). Secondly, ethics is a religious, social, or civil code of human behavior that is considered correct or appropriate in society or perhaps in some group (MacKinnon, 12). It also must be taken into consideration that the notion of ethics has always been a changeable one due to its subjective and abstract nature.
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There are many ethical theories and each of them has its peculiarities and field of application. For instance, if we ask ourselves whether it is permissible to drive after having one drink we may easily see that this issue is quite disputable if we look at it from different points of view. Thus, in this essay, we will summarize some major ethical theories and try to find their application to a problem that we are discussing.
The first ethical theory that we would like to discuss is Utilitarianism. Among the most prominent representatives of this theory, we can single out Jeremy Bentham and John Mill. Overall, it can be defined as the belief that the action can be moral or immoral only depending on its contribution to the utility in other words to the well-being of the society. Utilitarianism follows the Machiavellian principle according to which the end justifies the means.
According to this ethical theory, a person who has to make a choice must first consider the consequences of his actions. As far as adherence to the rules is concerned, we may say that any rule must be followed if it is not detrimental to the society, otherwise, it can be broken (Lyons, 103). However, this theory has always been a subject of heated debate, because there can be different circumstances, and each rule depends on it. For example, one of the Ten Commandments says, “You shall not murder” but what if it is an act of self-defense.
If we apply this ethical theory to the dilemma, that we are discussing, we can say that driving after having a drink can be morally permissible under the indispensable that the consequences of your action will not cause any harm to the well-being of society.
The next ethical theory we are going to discuss is Kantian ethics, according to which the motive, which is behind the action is of utmost importance. First, speaking about Kantian ethics, it is worth mentioning that in Kants view a person must possess free will so that he could be morally accountable. The prominent philosopher was convinced that there were the so-called categorical imperatives or maxims, which are obligatory under every circumstance. According to Kants formulation, a person must act in such a way that his actions will not adversely affect other people.
Moreover, Kant believed that action should consider as moral if it is its motive is the sense of duty. Thus, the morality or immorality of any act depends on the feeling that the person may experience while doing it.
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Probably it would be much more prudent to illustrate this point. For example, if a person helps an old lady to cross the street just because he wants to seem polite this act cannot be a moral one, or if he does it just out of pity for this woman it is also not a moral act. However, if it is done just because a person feels that it is his moral duty, not an obligation or some rule imposed on him, only in this case it is a moral act (Alison, 88)
We must also take into account that Kantian ethics has often come in for criticism because it completely disregards some very important issues. First, it is the consequences of any act. The road to hell is laid with good intentions. If a person is morally corrupt and what if his motives are not good or perhaps this person is very mistaken in his judgment.
Thus, if we try to solve our dilemma using Kantian ethical imperatives or perhaps try to apply them we can say that such an act is morally impermissible because it violates the first imperative, which means that a persons actions may have a detrimental effect on other people. The main message that Kant attempts to convey is that we should be able to place ourselves into the position of other people. Besides, according to Kant, we must always think of what would have happened if everyone had driven after having a drink. The only possible answer is that the roads would have become a nightmare.
Our controversy can also be discussed in terms of natural law theory, but first, we should define the so-called natural law because this term has often been misunderstood and it can take many forms. For example, ancient Greeks believed that the universe is governed by some eternal and rational law. Subsequently, Christians incorporated this theory with the Law of God.
Christian philosophers also believed that this law could be understood by human beings. Then the question arises of how a person can distinguish between the natural and unnatural and whether it is possible at all. Overall, it is quite possible to say that the Christian version of the natural low is formulated in the Gospel according to St. Mathew:” Love thy neighbor as thyself”
According to the Dutch jurist, Hugo Grotius a rule can be considered a natural one if it is dictated by reason and if it allows people to live in harmony with one another. Thus, we may conclude that the natural law is something, which is established by reality itself, not by human beings (Lyons, 99). Moreover, it is some unchanging pattern or rule, which can be discovered by any rational human being. It is also worth mentioning that a person must make a clear distinction between the social law and the natural law because social rules can be established by morally corrupt people.
If we look at our dilemma from the standpoint of the natural law theory, the only possible conclusion we can arrive at is that driving in the state of intoxication is entirely unacceptable because it breaks the maxim “Love thy neighbor as thyself”. Naturally, we would not like everyone to drive after having a drink. Thus, we can conclude that Kantian and natural law ethics have some common features.
As far as virtue ethics is concerned, we can say that it is extremely difficult to define it because the very word virtue is a subjective notion, which can be misunderstood and misinterpreted. In general, it is the quality or practice of moral excellence or righteousness.
The main components of virtue ethics are virtue itself, practical wisdom, and eudemonia (happiness, which results from a rational active life). Undoubtedly, these three concepts need to be discussed. First, it is of crucial importance to mention that all these notions are subjectively determined and it is next to impossible to give their definition. Mostly due to this fact virtue, ethics meets so many objections (MacKinnon, 77). People from different cultures may have strikingly different opinions as to the main constituent parts of virtue. Besides virtue has ever-changing nature. Naturally, the adherents of this ethical theory may say that people must find the so-called golden mean. Nevertheless, is it so easy to do it?
Thus, we can say that it is not so easy to solve our dilemma if we take as a guide virtue ethics due to the subjective notion of the word “virtue”. However, if we take for instance Christian virtues we can say that this action is impermissible, just because it may be in contrast with such cardinal virtue as, for instance, prudence. Moreover, according to virtue ethics, the main aim of society is to achieve the state of eudemonia, which means happiness. Thus such action may have an adverse on someone elses well-being.
Unlike Kantian or utilitarian ethics, the so-called ethics of care focuses attention on the significance of relationships and mutual benefit. It emphasizes the fact that all individuals are interdependent; they cannot achieve their goals separately. According to this ethical theory, a person must always take into consideration details of the situation (Held, 33).
Thus, we can draw parallels between Kantian ethics and the ethics of care. Because they both emphasize the idea of interdependence and according to them, driving after having a drink is not permissible because we would not like everyone to do such a thing,
The last ethical theory that we are going to discuss is symptomology or bioethical decision-making guide, which is based on the so-called social agreement. In other words, this theory means that a person will not act against other people or violate some social rule because every member of society agreed to follow these rules. There may be some objections to this theory; some members of the society maybe not be familiar with the terms of this social agreement.
According to symptomology, it is immoral to drive in the state of alcoholic intoxication because this is a violation of the social agreement which everyone must closely adhere to. After all, otherwise, such actions will create havoc. Such ethical theory can be applied not only to our controversy but also to every social and moral issue.
As far as I am concerned, I believe that under some circumstances, a person can drive after having a drink but he must always take into consideration the effects of his actions. It seems that Utilitarian ethics is the most convenient to me because I assign primary importance to the consequences of one’s action.
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In this essay, we have attempted to analyze different approaches to such notions as ethics and morals and it is quite possible to say that the basis of all these models is the principle of interdependence, which compels us to follow the established rules.
Allison Henry. “Kant’s theory of freedom” Cambridge University Press 1990.
Held, Virginia. “The Ethics of Care”. Oxford University Press, 2005.
Lyons, David, “Forms and Limits of Utilitarianism”. Oxford University Press, 1965.
MacKinnon Barbara. “Ethics: Theory and Contemporary Issues.” Cengage Learning, 2008.