Ethical Truths Essays Examples
A question has been raised in ethics about right and wrong or ethical and unethical. How do we know the ethical merit or otherwise of an act? Ethical theories attempt to answer this question with the help of reason or general principles applicable to individual cases. For instance, Kant attempts to answer it with the help of what he calls “Categorical Imperatives” or rational principles. Utilitarianism answers this question with the help of the maxim, “Greatest good of the greatest number”. However, reason is not the source of basic ethical truth as demonstrated by a number of experiments in Psychology. Bruce Waller (2011), for instance, claims that social psychologists have consistently found that subtle situational factors profoundly impact our choices and behavior in comparison to underlying character.
The conflict between reason and feelings is nearly as old as human civilization. It is rooted in the religious traditions in nearly every religion. Jewish religious tradition speaks of Divine law. The Christian tradition has enough room for compassion and kindness. This tradition believes in helping the less fortunate. The Confucian belief in natural goodness of human beings stems from an innate compassion.
On the contrary, Thomas Hobbes claims that the natural state of humanity is one of strife and conflict, while life is “brutish, nasty and short”. In other words, there is no universal consensus on the nature of man, much less on the appropriate ethical standards to guide the human behavior.
One may then enquire, what is the source of our ethics? Is ethics rooted in Reason or in the Heart? Do we need to overcome feelings and sentiments so as to follow rational moral principles? Or, Follow Your Reason or Follow Your Heart?
The dilemma of Reason and Heart continues to be debated. After all, compassion and kindness do not have their source in Reason. It can be easily argued that neither Reason nor Heart can truly guide our moral behavior. On the contrary, some theorists would argue that the basic truths of ethics can be accessed from intuition. However, intuition too like reason and sentiment poses a lot of questions difficult to answer.
How do we know, our intuition is intuition, not feelings? Do we have different types of intuitions? It is claimed that intuition has its source in nature or God. It is self evident. There is no universally accepted answer to the questions on intuitions including how intuition can be distinguished from feelings. Intuitionists claim that you know when you experience it. These theorists also claim it to be the source of our ethical knowledge. However, if intuitionism could guide humanity, everyone would come to the same moral conclusion, which they don’t because there is no objective moral truth. In addition, what may seem to be right is not necessarily what is right.
Yet, when we begin to examine the merits of reason, feelings and intuition, it is plainly evident that intuition is by far the best guide to take us on the path of morality. Neither reason, nor feelings are directly apprehended as against intuition. For Hume, sentiments are our best moral guides but it is pretty much evident that sentiments do not have their source in God. Hume rejects all objective ethical standards in favor of sentiments that can guide us to the moral behavior. Kant on the other hand has his ethical system based on pure reason.
In conclusion, it is pretty much evident that Pascal is referring to intuition or conscience in the phrase “The heart has its reasons which reason does not know”. It is also pretty much evident that no ethical theory can claim to make a universal appeal. However, intuition with its claim for direct, immediate and unobstructed source may possibly inform us of the best course of ethical action.
Waller, B. (2011). Consider Ethics: Theory, Readings, and Contemporary Issues (3rd ed.) New York, NY: Pearson Longman