What Would Ethics Do? or Should I Eat Ice Cream for Dinner?

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.

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Apparently I have poor American values

I completed my patriotic obligations yesterday and watched fireworks explode in the sky. I was feeling pretty American and full of goodwill. I don’t usually subscribe much to extreme patriotism because the fact that I was born in the United States was actually none of my doing. In keeping with my American spirit, I read a few articles about the Fourth of July. One of them was an editorial entitled “What Are American Values These Days?” that appeared on Time.com.

The article contains the opinions of a Republican strategist and a Democratic pollster on American values today. Apparently sports and religion are what make this country so great. What? That’s ridiculous. I’m not particularly fond of either custom.  Mark Penn, a democratic pollster, started the process of thoroughly annoying me by proposing we spend the Fourth of July reviving our sports values.

Then he cited this information found in a survey on American values conducted by the Atlantic/Aspen Institute. (Check out more information found in the survey).

Americans found the use of performance enhancing drugs by athletes to be the least morally acceptable behavior in a list that included prostitution, underage drinking, human cloning, and illegal drug use.

As a country the actions we most clearly agree are morally objectionable (89% of Americans fell this way) are the use of performance enhancing drugs by athletes and using illegal drugs (other than marijuana). Maybe the D.A.R.E. program wasn’t as big a failure as believed.  I’m glad American isn’t this united against other options on the survey such as homosexuality and the use of contraceptives. However, it’s upsetting when 89% of people care about this issue but no where near that many people agree on issues of great importance. That many people don’t agree that the government should ensure Americans have access to food or a basic high school education. Food and education are essential. I don’t care at all if some sports player uses performance enhancing drugs. Maybe I’d find sports less boring that way. But I care immensely that other people have food and education. If this survey was a test, I don’t think we did very well.

Other fun facts the poll reveals include that more Americans find premarital sex morally objectionable (39%) than capital punishment (36%). Also 15% of Americans feel interracial marriage is morally objectionable. What? I don’t understand why gay marriage is an issue and can’t believe people still aren’t on board with interracial marriage. Sure it’s only 15%, but 15% of America is a big deal. Especially since we tend to embrace our free speech rights to shout out our opinions. Now that I’ve condemned sports and upset probably everyone, I’m going to go on a rant about religion.

Karen Hughes, the Republican strategist, also bases her sentiments on the American Values Survey. The fact she decided to pinpoint was that 89% of American believe in a big g Go. I picture the 89% who morally object to athletes using performance enhancing drugs also pray to God about the issue. Some sentiment along the lines of “I’ll go to church more if you don’t let whatever team get away with their dang steroid use!” Hughes talks about God-fearing people and how that leads to a moral responsibility which condemns actions like murder or theft. I don’t need threats of hell or Zeus smiting me with lightning bolts to abstain from murdering people. Historically a belief in God has done a terrible job of keeping people from murdering other people.

Maybe I’m crazy and America needs a good old sermon followed by a round of baseball. Yet I feel America would benefit more from a giant group hug. More competition and rules won’t fix anything. Both religion and sports pit people onto teams. It’s time to bring people together. Maybe I’m a crazy idealist, but my idea of American values is turning America into a country where everyone is free to be themselves. If anyone agrees and wants to get in on the group hug, let me know.

Best of Luck,

Caitlin