We all face difficult ethical decisions during our lifetime. I know I personally often wish that someone would just tell me the right choice. Thankfully many people throughout history have been willing to do just that. Thanks to a new class on Ethical Dilemmas and Decision Making in Criminal Justice that I recently started I’ve learned new fancy terms for the ethical systems that have developed over time. Some of the book example are impractical to my life. To understand it better I’d like to apply some of these systems to an ethical dilemma I find particularly troubling. Should I eat ice cream for dinner? Let’s see what ethics thinks:
Ethics of Virtue
According to this system if I’m a virtuous person I’ll basically do the right thing because of my virtuousness. I’m not sure that I’m bursting with virtue so that’s not super helpful. With a little more work I found what constitues “good” virtues. One of the virtues Aristotle discussed was temperance which is the balance between self indulgence and asceticism. Ice cream for dinner probably constitutes self indulgence so no ice cream for me under this code of ethics.
Natural Law Ethics
This system believes that morals are inherent in nature (not human made) and can be discovered by reason. I’m not entirely a fan of this form of ethics because it’s often used for stupid reasons. For example people argue that because we have traditionally had heterosexual relationships it’s more natural and we shouldn’t have same-sex marriage. Which isn’t super factual anyways and homosexuality is all over nature. Hello, watch some animal porn… I mean planet, Animal Planet. But I can work the system just as well as anyone. Ice cream is natural because it’s produced with things found in nature and my natural instinct is to eat the ice cream so clearly that’s the right thing to do.
Ethics based upon religion. This is a tough one since there are a lot of different religions. I’m betting Buddha would be okay with my eating the ice cream (have you seen his statue?). Under Hinduism it probably depends on my karma levels at the moment. I’m pretty confident what Christian ethics would say though because I found this on the internet.
Clearly God (and Ben Franklin) want me to eat the ice cream. I can’t ignore obvious guidance from religious texts. Let’s call religious ethics a tie because I can probably find religions for and against ice cream.
Good stuff is only good if done with good intentions. If I’m eating the ice cream because I expect something from it, that’s wrong. However if I’m eating the ice cream for altruistic reasons then I’m in the clear. Personally I eat ice cream so that it isn’t around to tempt other people. Clearly an altruistic reason. I’m eating the ice cream.
The right act is whatever results in the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people. I’m nice when I eat ice cream, so that would benefit a lot of people. However other people are happy when they eat ice cream so maybe the must utilitarian idea would be to share the ice cream. But then people could get fat and become unhappy. I don’t know what to do! Maybe I don’t eat the ice cream and then my roommate opens the freezer and it falls on her head at a strange angle and puts her in a coma. That’d be pretty tragic and then I’d feel crappy about not doing the most utilitarian action and eating the killer ice cream. Without a crystal ball this system seems pretty useless. I don’t know what benefits the most amount of people.
Ethics of Care
Good comes from meeting other people’s needs and fostering good relationships. So I think I’ll have to share the ice cream. I’m okay with sharing. Though I’m planning on eating straight out of the container so we might share some germs too.
Egoism (that’s the Ayn Rand one)
Pursuing self-interest is moral. I’m eating the ice cream. All of the world’s ice cream. And I’m not sharing any with you. If eating all of the ice cream is in your self-interest that’ll be good for capitalism or we can have a war about it. Whatevs. It’s all good as long as I’m happily snacking on my ice cream.
Morally correct actions differ from culture to culture. American culture loves ice cream. College culture loves unhealthy food. Female culture loves chocolate (of course my ice cream is chocolate, let’s be real). I’m so eating that ice cream.
Universal truths exist but sometimes situations call for different actions. So I can eat the ice cream for dinner if I had a healthy breakfast and lunch and go for a run. That’s definitely a situation where ice cream eating is chill.
Hopefully breaking these ethics down will help next time you have a difficult decision. I’m still unsure what I want to do so I’m going to make my ice cream choice based on the coin ethics system. That features picking heads or tails and going with what fate and physics decides.
P.S. For other ice cream related dilemmas feel free to check out what the wise Elephant and Piggie have to say on the topic. These are awesome Children’s books.