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Social & Ethical Issues - Essay Example

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Ethics deals with "the social rules that govern and limit our conduct, especially the ultimate rules concerning right and wrong, which we call morality". (Shaw, 1999) Philosophers have grappled with the question of what constitutes morality, and the basis for defining an ethical action, so that the principles of justice can be unambiguously applied in our life…
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Social & Ethical Issues
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Download file to see previous pages Kant formulated the categorical imperative as a foundation for ethical action. Two aspects of the categorical imperative are that a person should act such that he1 can also will that the maxim of his action should become a universal law, and he should act such that he treats humanity-both in own and another's person-as an end and never as a means. Kant's theory thus defines ethics on the nature of actions, and not on their outcome (Kay, 1997) The morality of an action depends on intention only. A moral action may cause distress rather than happiness to the one who acts. But morality is more important than happiness. Moral action will ultimately lead to peace of mind (happiness) at having done the right thing. The motive for a moral action should not be the fact that it could lead to happiness, but that the action is moral in itself. Kant maintains that this principle does not recognize any exceptions. Utilitarianism states that the ethicality of an action depends solely on whether it increases utility or not. Therefore the morality of an action depends on its outcome, and on nothing else. Utility is happiness or pleasure, and suffering is disutility.
How do these conflicting dicta help us in deciding ethical courses of action, in today's confusing times Let us look at euthanasia. The word euthanasia means "a happy death" and refers to legally sanctioned death. Although some countries have legalized euthanasia (E g Netherlands), there are several ethical issues that arise in its application. First of all, there is the very definition of death. Now that life can be prolonged by sophisticated machines, it gets difficult to decide whether the life that is kept artificially going has really gone beyond a point, where it cannot be brought out of its vegetative state. There have been cases when machines have been switched off, and bodies that were expected to cease, continued in a coma.
With the rapid pace at which medical science has been progressing, conditions which were considered untreatable yesterday, can be dealt with today. Therefore, should we not wait before euthanasia is carried out in any instance, as tomorrow may bring a cure Can it be done even if a person while in a healthy state of body and mind has willed that he should be administered euthanasia in case he slips into an irretrievable state of death Is suicide okay Should doctors assist in suicide Then how about unborn children Is abortion permissible Do we have the right to decide on the ending of any life-that of an unborn child, as well The questions are numerous. But evidently there are no clear-cut answers to these.
Mill talks about competing utilities. He says that all we need to do is to compute the utility that would be generated by opposing course of actions, and choose that set of actions that generates a higher utility. This is easier said than done. How does one compute utility What is the objective standard to measure this Since utility is based on feelings, how does one measure the strength of feelings If maximizing utility were the only concern, we would be led to bizarre and dangerous conclusions on ethical issues. If morality consisted merely in promoting the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers, then the majority rules, and the minority suffers. Let's look at the ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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