My Ethical Beliefs in the Light of Popular Ethical Theories
It is certainly of convenience to meditate on one’s ethical beliefs in the light of popular ethical theories such as the awesome Divine Command Theory, which grounds my ethical principles in godly thought; the simplistic Ethical Egoism Theory, which allows my (Freudian) Id-based, self-interests to dictate my behavior in all situations; and the Utilitarian Theory, which compels me to rethink in terms of the long-term good of all people in connection with my personal and/or pontential business practices. I believe that my ethical concerns rest on a variety of ethical theories. This belief is founded on the assumption that man’s mind and intentions are perhaps too complex to be understood by means of one ethical theory alone.
This is the reason why philosophers have established an entire discipline to study the mind and intentions of man. The ethical-philosophical area that fascinates me most, however, is one of ‘reason.’ I trust my ethical concerns to rest on reason. Apart from the above mentioned theories, therefore, I have observed myself trusting in the Categorical Imperative Theory of Kant at times, the Rights Theory at other times, and the Virtue Theory to boot – but, all in different situations concerned with ethical thought. Is it possible for man to ever do away with ethics? And, do I consciously choose which theory of ethics to apply in situations that call for my ethical principles to suddenly become a focus of attention?
I believe that ethics are a component of virtually all situations of man, not just ethical issues that are manifest to all. From sustainable food consumption to the culture of clothing – ethical theories apply in almost all human situations. Only when the individual is deep asleep in bed, or in deep meditation perhaps, do ethical concerns comfortably vanish into thin air. Which ethical theories do I trust at the time I wake up each day? Although I have varied reasons to believe in the ethical theories mentioned above, the only theory that never leaves my mind is that of applying reason to all situations that require my ethical concerns to come in the light of my mind.
Reason appears before I decide whether God would approve of a certain action of mine, or whether smoking another cigarette with my friends would truly serve my interests, etc. No doubt, all ethical theories call for reason to be applied before the theories themselves can be applied by an individual. The theory that I could apply most easily to all my situations, but only after applying reason, is the Divine Command Theory. I believe that this particular theory incorporates the remaining ethical theories mentioned in this paper as well.
God’s commands are often synonymous to all that should be ‘good’ in our world. Based on an interpretation of the Bible, my own interests should be God’s interests, and the interests of my brothers and sisters (all people) should also be my short term and long term interests. Moreover, God’s commands automatically include the concept of ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ I must be wishing my business associates and other, well. I must be ‘loving my neighbor as I love myself.’
The Rights Theory and the Virtue Theory must needs be incorporated as well into the Divine Command Theory, seeing that God calls for His vicegerents to protect His sheep (that is, the government should protect the rights of the people, as in the Rights Theory); and He also calls for the teaching of virtues to all people, young and old, and these virtues consist of justice, honesty, goodness, etc. The virtues taught by the Divine Command Theory also incorporate kindness, compassion, love, and mercy – concepts that are essential to ‘being human,’ but are not touched upon by most ethical theories outside the realm of God.
The question that automatically emerges is: What are God’s commands? Do they depend upon our whims, or are they based upon a single holy book? The answers to these questions are complicated in my case, given that I believe in various interpretations of divine commands that may or may not be mainstream Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu. I have learned more from books than from family and my community, which happen to be the main sources of socialization for most people. This sociological theory has important underpinnings in ethical beliefs, seeing that we learn ethics and principles from the sources of information that exist around us. I also believe that we learn from a personal source of information, the God of Aristotle and Sir Thomas Aquinas, and therefore, it is important to know books of revelation to learn God’s commands and apply reason to apply the commands of God from myriad scriptures.
Now, of course, there are a huge number of scriptures that may be called forth to understand the commands of God. Are the illustrious Ten Commandments the only commands, or should I also believe in the New Testament and the Qur’an? Did Buddha leave any godly commands in the form of scriptures? Such are the questions I have had to answer in my evolving understanding of God’s commands, even though there is a deep source of information that still exists and tells me what is right and wrong from the Highest Source. Call it conscience – I believe that morality is ‘knowing right from wrong,’ in the view of everybody including myself and God. What pleases God and also pleases society must certainly please me.
What else are my beliefs in light of the Divine Command Theory, which, in my opinion, should incorporate the remainder of the ethical theories mentioned in this paper, and many more theories like so. I believe that God is a synonym for the ‘Good’ that Plato had referred to. At the same time, it is quite possible that my interpretation of the Divine Command Theory would be different from the interpretation of another soul. After all, my understanding of God and His commands is different from the understanding of another soul. I believe in many scriptures at the same time; additionally, I feel confident that they come from the same Source. I have learned about God in a separate way altogether. I do not necessarily trust all people’s doctrines. Moreover, I do not compel anybody else to believe in what I believe in.
Does this mean that I could easily run into ethical conflicts with people? – Yes. However, it does not bother me, provided that I understand that their ethical principles are different from mine, and based on separate ethical theories altogether. Once again, reason comes to the rescue. Without reason, I, too, would perhaps become as intolerant as the racists and the terrorists (extreme racists) who cannot tolerate the differences in beliefs among people. I know that God calls for such tolerance among the children of Adam.
Therefore, when extremism (or, extreme racism) leads to bloodshed among people, and those that are responsible for the chaos throw the responsibility back on God by saying that such acts were committed ‘in the name of God’ – it is extremely sad and funny at the same time. It is sad because the intolerant folks have not understood God’s message of love and tolerance, even if they think that they are killing in the name of God, who is Love.
On the other hand, it is funny because they are doing the direct opposite of what they intend to do. That is why it is of central importance to understand one’s ethical principles, and keep on understanding and improving upon them throughout one’s lifetime. Furthermore, it is essential to align one’s behavior with one’s ethical principles. By saying one thing and doing something else, people can prove to be quite inconsistent and unreliable, if not dangerous to the extent of terrorism and other forms of psychopathy.
I believe that ethics call for tolerance and good citizenship, and wherever God’s name is mentioned, as in the U.S. Constitution, there should be peace. For the state, therefore, the Divine Command Theory mandates peace. For business in general, and for the economy at large, the Divine Command Theory entails distribution of wealth with a focus on income generation, economic growth, and prosperous living. In personal life, I have found this theory to be most appropriate because it does not limit me to one theory.
Nevertheless, I have one God, like the Christians and the Jews. In addition, it is advantageous to me that I do not always have to think about myself and my own interests when the responsibility or the task at hand demands me to sacrifice my interests, at times, for the benefit of society in general. Ultimately, I may realize that by serving society at the expense of sacrificing my own interests at times, I serve myself better. I may become a happier person by serving society, and I may also increase in wealth. God would be pleased with me. What is most important, still, is the fact that I would be a peaceful person by being aligned with the interests of God, society, and myself.
Naturally, in order to align my activities and behavior with the interests of God, society, and myself; I have to think before I leap. It is of the essence for me to meditate on information that I gather from a huge variety of sources, including books, my professors, friends, parents, etc. After absorbing the information thus gathered, I enjoy applying the Divine Command Theory to get to the depths of situations that often get me to think in terms of the other ethical theories as well.
There are times when self-interests rule my ethical principles, or I think only in terms of the virtues of justice, integrity, trustworthiness, etc. However, if I were to base my activities solely on the Id-based Ethical Egoism Theory, for example, I would perhaps indulge in misleading thinking, which would eventually be responsible for behavior on my part that is misleading unto others. I am confident that the ethics of bribery in business rest in the appropriate or inappropriate use of the Ethical Egoism Theory. The CEO of Enron, and many other corrupt businessmen in modern times, have equally shown extreme self-interest in their business situations. In my case, such extreme use of the Ethical Egoism Theory would never occur because I rest my principles on divine commands. Honesty, in my case, is a virtue of necessity.
Thus, I would only apply the Ethical Egoism Theory within the framework of the Divine Command Theory when the situation calls for nothing else except self-interest as a driving force for ethical behavior. Also, in my case, self-interest would also translate into the good pleasure of God; the long term interests of society (as in the Utilitarian Theory); Kant’s Categorical Imperative or ‘doing unto others as I want others do unto me;’ obedience to the government in return for which I receive protection of my rights, as in the Rights Theory; and honesty, justice, etc., in light of the theory of Virtue.
In the ‘Kingdom of God’ – or the businessman who applies the Divine Command Theory to rule his ethical behavior – the Rights Theory occupies a very interesting place, indeed. The Rights Theory asks for the government to protect my rights. In return for this favor, I show obedience to the government by following the laws in general. The businessperson who follows the same laws of the government would not cheat the government as did the Enron CEO. Neither would such a businessperson return the favor of the government by cheating the investors of his or her company.
If a former U.S. Senator were to accept a Rolex from a constituent, the Divine Command Theory would not call this behavior unethical if the Rolex were a gift. If the former CEO of Tyco were to use company bonuses to host a lavish party for his wife, I would consider it unethical under the Divine Command Theory, seeing that God never asked us to usurp the rights of many people in favor of a few. Lifting verbatim a news report and presenting it as one’s own is similarly unethical. Being messaged the answers to exam questions during an examination is unethical to boot.
As far as downloading music without paying a fee is concerned, I would not consider it unethical so long as it serves the interests of society in the long run. I do not believe that downloading free music off the Internet serves to put the music industry down. There are countless people around the world who still do download free music off the Internet, because they do not enjoy the quality of that music as compared to hardy CD’s that music shops would like to sell. Besides, they do not appreciate yet the technology behind free music and the IPod. So, even though this ethical issue appears complicated to a huge number of people, I believe that it is simple to understand in the light of Divine Command Theory.
I do not think that God would like students to suffer financial hardships because of their love of music. Hence, it is perfectly ethical, in my opinion, to enjoy free music off the Internet on IPod’s – for those who would like to miss out on the quality of CD’s from BMG, Sony, etc. Likewise, choosing between ethical theories is always a sacrifice. Hence, I apply reason to believe that the Divine Command Theory must incorporate all necessary ethical theories for me to conduct myself as a good human being, businessperson, and citizen of my nation. This theory does not confuse me at times that call for my ethical ‘instincts’ to show up. I believe in God, and in service to humanity.
Additionally, I do not discriminate between black or white, Chinese or Hindu. At times when people are engaging in what I believe to be incorrect behaviors, I do not intervene unless my self-interests as well as the pleasure of God are at sacrifice. At all times, however, I have kept to ‘reason’ as the force that leads me to apply the Divine Command Theory, which I believe to be most trustworthy.