Friday, April 18, 2008

Societal Ethics

In my approach to ethics and their implications on politics of a pluralistic society, it is necessary to reveal my background that serves as the basis of these ideas. My philosophy is influenced, but hopefully not blinded, by my Christian faith. My experiences with diversity and pluralism is from basic education of world religions and sociology, along with experiences abroad and in my own communities, I will apply my understanding of these experiences in my perception of the human state, the natural ethical implications of that, and then the political implications for American citizens.

I believe that all of humanity can be found in a certain state. There exists one absolute truth that holds the definition of right and wrong. This form of moderate realism suggests that only in the mind of God can this normative understanding of a “common good” exist. It is impossible to be defined by humans, existing outside humanity. Humans have an instinct of what is good as a natural moral sense. As stated in natural law theory, there is a basic understanding of right and wrong found in human nature that can be discovered through reason. I believe there is evidence to this natural moral sense in history and psychology. Humans naturally understand good and bad although they may not always act accordingly. The relationship between God and humanity does much to explain this natural understanding. People were created in the image of God and God is described as love. Therefore, in so much as humans are like God, they are able to recognize the absolute right and wrong. Yet, humanity is in a fallen state, unable to completely define and comply with our instinctive moral sense. People are always distracted by another natural sense, selfishness. Because humans are separate from God, they are susceptible to distractions from the “common good”. These distractions have been termed sin in the religious world and are driven by selfishness and pride. The latter being the first sin, the source of all other sins, and the worst of sins. Pride led to the fall of Lucifer, (Isaiah 14:12–15) perfect in beauty, (Ezekiel 28:12–15) and the fall of humanity to our current state. According to Thomas Aquinas, pride is an "excessive desire for one's own excellence which rejects subjection to God." It is the worst sin, Aquinas argues, because it is in its very nature an aversion to God and His commandments, something that is indirectly or consequently true of all sins.

So, within each person are two conflicting senses, one which reveals the right and good way of love and the other which seeks out self interest. Reason is the capability to decipher and choose between the two. I believe that all humans have the ability to reason. Rational people will reason to do what is right. Through historical evidence we know that people do things that seem blatantly wrong. These people are not reasoning rationally, using their natural instinct of good. They have been distracted, either for selfish reasons, like power, or by a misunderstanding. By misunderstanding I mean the person has been misled through something like abuse to believe they have a good purpose for their actions. Overall, I believe that through reasoning, humans are able to recognize ethical responses from within their basic instinct of right.

Given the above understanding of humanity, ethical implications can be made. The natural moral sense of absolute truth contains two things, love and empathy. The natural instinct for love is evidenced in human’s dependency on relationships, including parent-child relationships, marriage and friendship. Humans yearn to be known and loved by others. Empathy for others implicates that rational people should not harm innocent people and also that rational people should help those less fortunate than themselves. Love and empathy then impose ethical standards on living. Humans have an ethical responsibility for reciprocity. The natural instinct for the “common good” of love, peace and respect creates a thin understanding of the good life, allowing humans to pursue it in different by protecting liberty of all. To practice the natural moral sense of empathy and love means pursuing equality. Humans have the responsibility to uphold mutual respect of each others basic rights. Empathy and love are inherent ethical standards that should govern individual reason within society.

The American society is greatly diverse in the views of the good life held by its citizens. Different religions, ethnicities, cultures, and economic levels exist under a single government that has pledged freedom for all. I believe with the instinctive understanding of good described above, all humans have the ethical responsibility to show empathy to their fellow citizens. Basic rights and equality are two examples of empathy’s governance in politics.

Protecting basic rights of all citizens is a form of liberalism that addresses individual and minority freedoms in a democratic society. All citizens have basic rights, such as a right to basic resources (food, shelter, etc), freedom to pursue happiness, and self-rule through a democratic government. In order to assure these basis rights, citizens have the responsibility for involvement in government as an action promoting justice. It is unethical for citizens to ignore this means for helping others with their instinctive understandings of love and empathy. Citizens have the responsibility to vote so as to protect the liberty we gained with blood or it will be lost with words. People should not force their specific understanding of the good life upon others. Plurality can not be denied; therefore, under the ethic standards already developed, equality can be pursued. This means that citizens with very different backgrounds ought to respect each other’s views for the sake of equality, an empathic and loving standard. Their vote and other means of political involvement must aim protecting rights of those within the society, encompassing their personal moral or metaphysical beliefs.

In addition to basic rights, responsibility to empathy within politics obligates citizens to recognize and act against injustice. Citizens must be in dialogue with others in order to develop a greater understanding of others and to avoid the dangerous tendency to stereotype and marginal those who are different than themselves. Education should incorporate multicultural studies along with national history and English literature. This dialogue allows citizens greater awareness of injustices within the political structure. Again, a citizen ethically has the responsibility to involve oneself in the governmental process of change. Injustice must be recognized as inherent with certain minorities. It is not ethical for a reasonable person to recognize the inequalities inherent to a certain minority or individual and at some level not stand against it.

It is out of a natural sense of good that citizens of a government must seek out equal basic rights. Ethics should be judged according to the state of humanity, divided between an instinctive understanding of good and selfish desires, but with the ability to reason. Empathy summons reasonable citizens to require equality and basic rights within a pluralistic society.