Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ethics for Pussies

The key question in ethics today isn't even an ethical question, its psychological. Utilitarianism is obviously right in every case, so why does virtue ethics appeal to us so much?

Here's my theory: people are naturally pussies and virtue ethics makes us feel better about it.

This article from some British newspaper sums it up, while discussing the trolly problem:
If you refuse to flip the switch five people who would otherwise be alive are dead. You are responsible for their deaths. And, arguably, you are blameworthy because it would not have been any skin off your nose to flip that switch. You didn't because you wanted to keep your own hands clean, to evade responsibility through non-action. [emphasis mine]
Everyone "gets" utilitarianism when someone else is doing the killing. People "get" valor. The greatest generation went to Europe to kill a lot of people--they came with guns, tanks, and bombs, what else did they plan to do with them?--and people call that valor. They understand that killing 1,000,000 people is a lot better than watching 3,000,000 people get killed.

But valor is hard.

We respect courage because few people have much of it.

So we take the easy[1] road and pretend that virtue doesn't exist. Interestingly enough, the theory that it doesn't exist goes by "virtue ethics." I prefer "ethics for pussies."

[1] - and self-justifying, I should add. Taking the easy road is easy, but that's ok because in virtue ethics, the suffering you will cause isn't a bad thing.

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