Read/review the following resources for this activity:
- Textbook: Chapter 1, 2
- Minimum of 1 scholarly source (in addition to the textbook)
Initial Post Instructions
The study of ethics and philosophy is one that brings many different kinds of “thinkers” together. One person’s philosophy on ethics is another person’s philosophy on evil. We will be working this term on constructing personal ethical bases and understanding how ethical codes (both personal and professional) are created and followed.
To start us thinking about the different areas of philosophy and ethics, and how we fit into the different molds or world views, let’s imagine the following scenario:
It is 2019. The federal law banning female circumcision is still under appeal in the courts. You are a nurse assisting a plastic surgeon at a local hospital. The plastic surgeon comes from a country where they practice “female circumcision”. This practice is also sometimes called “female genital mutilation”.
Fire Eyes: Female Circumcision, Written by Soraya Mire, Directed by Soraya Mire, Ethnographer Soraya Mire, Narrated by Carol Christiansen (New York, NY: Filmakers Library, 1995), 57 minutes
You are not a member of the doctor’s culture, but reside in a state where this practice is still legal. The plastic surgeon has agreed to perform this practice on a young girl, the daughter of a friend of the surgeon. The friend has authorized the procedure. The girl only knows this is a custom. You did not know that today you would be asked to assist in this procedure. You can refuse to participate (your job may be on the line in the future due to that decision). Or, you can assist the surgeon. What ought you to do? We now want to examine the ethical issues involved. To do this, let’s look at the role of relativism, moral truths, and other issues.
Initial Post Instructions
For the initial post, address the following questions:
- What would a subjective moral relativist say about what this doctor is doing? Do you agree with the subjective moral relativist? Why or why not?
- Examine what a cultural moral relativist would say here. Do you agree with the cultural relativist? Why or why not?
- Name and evaluate general criticisms of cultural relativism as being the wrong moral approach.
- Is there an objective moral truth about any of the possible actions by the nurse and/or doctor in this case? Why or why not?
Follow-Up Post Instructions
Respond to at least one peer. Further the dialogue by providing more information and clarification.
- Minimum of 2 posts (1 initial & 1 follow-up)
- Minimum of 2 sources cited (assigned readings/online lessons and an outside scholarly source)
- APA format for in-text citations and list of references
My culture and cultural practises being not that of the Doctors I would have to decline my participation in the procedure. I believe a subjective moral relativist would also decline if it goes against their own principal position on the matter and own moral code. I would agree that the subjective relativist can do what they feel is right given the circumstances especially if this is not a function of their cultural background. Another fact when debating the moral grounds of this operation, the patient is a child. She has no choice in the matter, the choice has been made for her. After reading about baby Theresa and considering the debate about her autonomy, would this violate this young girls autonomy? With that being said does it matter if the choice of female circumcision is in line with her cultural relativism. I understand that cultural relativism can be summed up as “different strokes for different folks” and that the moral code of a society determines what is right within that society; so, if a society says that a certain action is right, then that action is right, at least in that society (Rachels & Rachels, 2019). I believe a cultural relativist would say that it is in line with their cultural practises and that we cannot say the practice is either correct or incorrect. Naturally I do not agree with the cultural relativist but that is because I am partial in believing this is mutilation and a form of control. A general criticism would be the lack of forward progress. We often think of the concept of cultural relativism as progression, but it isn’t necessarily that way. When you remove the ability to judge one standard from another, then the comparative process of placing a current society or culture against a past one is removed as well (Gaille, 2017). Is there no progress without judgement? While trying to remain impartial to an answer of whether this is right or wrong it is hard to find any definite place to stand. In this doctors culture and in their current society they live in where this practice is legal they are doing nothing wrong. In the assistant culture this is mutilation and a huge disadvantage to not only women but from a human rights standpoint. There is no objective moral truth, there is only subjective relativism.
Hello Class and Professor,
To start off, I just have to say that watching that video made it very difficult for me to listen. Being a female, I had almost every muscle in my body tightened while my stomach turned upside down, and I actually almost got sick. I couldn’t ever imagine going through what those women did!
A subjective moral relativist in that time of day would agree that this needs to be done for the female to make her ready for marriage and future endeavors. Although in this time of age now, that would never in a million years be acceptable in the United States, it may still be happening in the areas it originated from because the lack of healthcare. I absolutely do not agree that this is right. Women and men are born just the way they are for many reasons. Although it is more acceptable for men to get circumcized than women, I still believe we are made the way God intended us to be made and for that, we should keep every nook and cranny on our bodies. But if it came to a woman or man having to do this, AT LEAST put them under anesthesia so they cant feel anything, give them proper medications and after care!
I believe a cultural relativist here would also agree this is right. Because that is the culture that they all grew up in and knew, it was morally right. They also believe that the person should do what they believe is right to do. Although the women in the beginning who was being held to the ground screaming, she probably knew it was going to happen and how, but the pain was so high and the sounds, she was screaming for that reason, not the reason of knowing women circumcision’s is wrong. I agree with the cultural relativist that if that was the way they knew growing up, that it would have to be done. But the woman part of me who lives in the United States and never heard such a thing before or watched videos on it, that woman in me screams in pain for the woman who experienced this!
Cultural Relativism being wrong can be the selling of women, rape, beating women and children, and hate speech to women. These acts often happen in other countries everyday! Even our own under the radar.
I believe the Dr or Nurse should not allow this procedure. As I stated earlier, men and women are born and made with rights and ways we are supposed to cherish. Putting a child through this torture is morally wrong and should not be taken to action. I believe modern medicine needs to be in place and know this procedure is not in modern times and making that decision for a child is not a parents call. If I was asked to be a nurse during this procedure and my job was on the line, Id walk right our of that room, and start fixing up my resume.
Ethics & Netiquette
Welcome to ETHC445 Principles of Ethics. The material you will be studying in this class may be new to you. That does not mean it is difficult. Whether you realize it or not, you have already intuitively grasped some of the ideas we will talk about. Probably, you have already used them or discussed them at school, work, or in other spheres of your life. No one can avoid ethical issues in their lives. Every day we make decisions that demand our concentration and express our values.
Ethics is about making decisions among possible choices; we can only take action after deciding. The person making the decision can be the actor (the person doing the deciding and acting), the acted upon (the person impacted by the action), or even a witness (an observer).
Clear and precise judgment is required in determining whether an action or behavior is ethical. In our analysis of all the possibilities we have when making a choice, if we decide that one choice is best for some reason, then we are also deciding that we should make that choice and take action based on the choice we have made. It is important to learn right from the start of this course that ethical choices are best identified by the words “should” or “ought to,” which we can treat as synonyms. When you see those words, take notice that an ethical choice is being made. There are other ways to express ethical activity, but tune your ears to “should” and “ought” in what you hear and say. You will be amazed how often you hear and say these key words.
If the issues, decisions, and actions of life were clear and easy, life would be easy as well. Clearly, life is not often easy! We would not be studying ethics if it was always easy to make decisions; we often struggle with difficult decisions and do our best to muddle through. Is that enough, that we muddle through just because we must get through difficulties? Have we no skills and tools to steer us? Is there nothing left in the confusion but to follow our preferences, desires, and even lusts?
The language we use reveals to us the difficulties we endure in everyday decision making, and our desire for support when making these decisions. Listen to everyday conversation and you will hear others say (or say yourself) the following:
- “Is it right…?”
- “Is it justified…?”
- “Should I do this…or that?”
Those words “should” and “ought” tell the story that somebody is in a dilemma and is struggling. Ethical thought is operating whenever someone has a choice to make between more than one option, and the choices can often be very painful, with many consequences that are not known. Making decisions is at the very heart of ethics, but beyond decisions, there is the whole difficult business of taking action on those choices. We have all been in that situation. Even without specialized study, all of us have been working practical ethics all our lives.
We deal with ethics at three levels of discussion and usage. When we work with concepts of where ethics originate, and the principles that follow, we are working in metaethics. When we speak of the more practical aspects of ethical standards, regulations, consequences and what constitutes right and wrong, we are working with normative ethics This is the largest portion of our course. When we tackle the great controversial issues of our culture–and there are many all the time–we are working in applied ethics.
Our course objectives bring together difficult cases with a set of theories that help us sort out confusing possibilities and find our way through them. There is a lot going on whenever we work through ethics, so with our minds clear and prepared to think critically and analytically, let’s get to it!
Working at the level of metaethics involves many different sources for where we get our ethics: personal preference, ancient customs, revealed religious claims, cultural values, emotions, desires, and more.
James Rachels sought a simple and direct way to construct good ethical arguments and avoid bad ones. In recent years, Rachels wrote of a Minimum Conception of Morality.
Reaching all the way back to the Greeks, the first requirements are the use of reason in ethical discussion and the supporting of all claims with good reasons. Without regard to what is claimed by anybody as a position, a general requirement is that all in the discussion endeavor to think logically and rationally. Not all reasons given for a claim will be particularly good ones, but they need to be presented – both by those who propose something and those who oppose it. The outcome is to remove emotion and emotional reaction from the discussion.
A second requirement is that of impartiality: the notion that all individuals’ interests are equally important. This means that none are discriminated against and also that none are privileged. The welfare of all is equally important.
There are two ways to test a moral approach. Rachel’s Minimum Conception of Morality presents a two-point test, and it calls on ethical discussion to pass both testing criteria (p. 13):
- Morality attempts to guide conduct through reason, including the presenting of good reasons for deciding something.
- Equal status is to be provided for the interest of every individual who has an interest and impact in decisions.
We are not here talking about Einstein. We are talking about Ethics. Moral relativism comes in two varieties: subjective moral relativism and cultural relativism. Subjective moral relativism (also at times known as political correctness) says that only the actor can determine whether his or her behavior is “right” or “wrong.” In other words, whatever an individual says is moral is moral just because they said it is. Thus, if person x says that stealing is moral, then stealing is moral. If person y says stealing is immoral, then stealing is immoral.
Many say that this approach is the opposite of ethics and not a valid ethical theory. Ultimately, subjective moral relativism is to the study of ethics what atheism is to the study of religion. It is an attempt to reduce ethics to nothing more than personal belief. As subjective moral relativism claims that no choice is any better than another, it becomes impossible to say that something is right and best; that is, that it should be chosen. It follows that if no measure of ethics is possible then no ethical activity is worth the time and investment.
Cultural moral relativism says that whatever some society says is moral, is moral. For example, if a society says that child sacrifice to the gods is moral, then it is moral. This means that one is expected to adhere to the customs and views of a larger group than oneself. If someone said child sacrifice to the gods is wrong, the cultural relativist would disagree. They would say that the individual’s beliefs do not trump the cultural stance.
Living in a Multicultural Society
Let’s watch the following video on multiculturalism in the classroom:
We exist in a society where people or their ancestors came from various parts of the world bringing with them various religious, ethical, cultural, and historical, ideas. Heck – even within a shared cultural/religious/historical/familial space, we see conflict. Thus the adage about not bringing up politics or religion at the holiday dinner table. So if ethics can get messy even within the same family, can you imagine the layers of complications added as that circle expands to include people outside of our homes, neighborhoods, states, etc.?
We cannot remain indifferent to difference. We are called upon to judge others at times. We are also called upon to tolerate and respect those who disagree with us. Maintaining peace in a multicultural society can be difficult. We do not want disagreements about ideas to lead to violence. Many believe that cultural relativism is the key to such peaceful relations. However, cultural relativism can also include potentially tolerating the intolerable. We only need look back to Nazi Germany for an example.
This class includes students of various genders, religions, ethnicities, and other features. We should always try to disagree respectfully about moral issues. We should strive to try to understand the moral reasoning the other provides for their view. We should try to provide logical reasons for disagreeing. We should try to use rationality instead of emotion. We may just find that we agree more than we disagree.
We’ve looked at multiculturalism in the classroom. Let’s now turn our attention to diversity in the workplace:
Let’s wrap things up! Ethics is the study of right and wrong behavior, and there are many views regarding which constitutes which, particularly amongst various cultures. You will get some practice applying what we have learned in the assignment activities for this week.
Rachels, J. (2003). The Elements of Moral Philosophy. New York, McGraw-Hill Higher Education.