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    Posted December 29, 2013 by

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    My Little Philosophical Quest

    I guess this is really my first philosophical quest. I've put my hands on a philosophy-related book, which I thought would never happen to me just a few months ago. But reading "From Socrates To Sartre: The Philosophic Quest" by T.Z. Lavine really gave me the time to think about things, which is rarely given to me as a busy student living in Korea. Today I tried to define ethics, but it didn't turn out the way I expected. The term was just impossible to define.
    When we see a person ruthlessly killing another man, we say that this action is immoral, inhumane, and unethical. But rather than looking just at the action, if we examine the motive for the murder some questions may be raised. What if that murderer had to endure watching his mother being beaten up every night by his alcoholic dad, or what if he was a victim of sexual molestation? Now there is more to the situation which makes it hard to state that the act was unethical in nature. It is convincing that considering the circumstances the murder is justified. But at the same time, it is still ambiguous if murder itself can be regarded as ethical. Seeing the complexity which follows the word, “ethics,” it even seems like an easier option to say that ethics does not exist. But as long as Korean schools have “ethics” as one of the main subjects in the curriculum, it is hard to deny the whole existence of ethics.
    Then in what form does ethics exist in our lives? Is there an “absolute morality” which helps us judge the rights and wrongs in every situation? I was convinced for a short moment that this could be true, as there seemed to be a somewhat consistent standard of judging in trials. However, as the sentence differs for every person according to their motives and methods, I was determined that ethics and morality are relative. The problem with believing that morality is one absolute yardstick which is applicable to every situation is that there are too many variables to be covered under one big blanket. For example, in the murder example above, the crime itself may be seen as unethical, but it is dangerous in that the society neglects the real cause of the murder and it can be even deemed inhumane for the rest of the world to just judge solely based on one yardstick. On the other hand, there are some risks to being a moral relativist. The problems may include having a wishy-washy stance and a very flexible sense of morality which devalues ethics. However, it is better to be flexible than to be rigid when dealing with the problems which occur among people. While a lot of pressure breaks a stiff stick, the flexible one bends with ease.
    This nicely leads into the question of what exactly is doing the good. Most famously, Socrates presented his rationalistic moral view, arguing that to know the good is to do the good. But I can easily think of five different situations in which this does not necessarily apply. When someone desperately needs help after she has been severely abused, I personally believe that one of the worst things to do next to actually committing the crime is to be an ignorant bystander. Knowing that something is bad and doing the good are two different things. It is wrong to expect an actual good to spark in a dark situation just because one has the knowledge of morality. Although people are educated that cheating and stealing are bad from the embryonic stages of life, we still see countless crimes being committed. This is sufficient enough to prove that just because you know the good doesn’t mean you are doing it.
    As I am writing this report, I found out that unconsciously I conceded to the assumption that ethics can be defined in a certain way, and that people follow that definition as members of the same society. When we are born, we are highly influenced by our parents, teachers, and everyone surrounding us. Under their parenting and teaching, we naturally gain a sense of morality which was already pre-set by other people. According to certain researches, we nurture this sense of ethics since a very young age. When introduced to a situation where A hits B, the children, although never educated in a proper ethics class, felt sympathy towards B and anger towards A. Like this, a sense of good and bad seems to be systemized under the influence of other people who are closely connected to oneself. But unlike these obvious sets of rights and wrongs where the judgment can be made in just a few seconds, when it comes to those questions with multiple interpretations the current education system is not sufficient. Although it is hard to figure out a “good way” to teach ethics, it can be said that there are still some methods available to teach simple ethics.
    After judging that someone has been unethical or immoral in their actions, one has to decide whether to blame the individual person or to find fault in his/her background and biology. I believe it is unfair to put all responsibility on the hands of the individuals, recognizing the fact that they might not have had the choice to choose their actions in the first place. Their history of abuse might have made them aggressive and blind towards ethics, or simply genetically they might have been unable to make the rational decision. There are so many factors to consider when judging these situations which seem to make this whole process obscure and unclear at the end of the day.
    Ethics seems to be a very difficult term to define. It can be one thing in this situation but another in other cases. While the society has agreed on the fact that a certain set of promises called ethics was established at some point of history and is to be actively kept and protected, I doubt that there is someone who can actually provide an accurate definition which everyone can agree on. As fickle it may seem, ethics is still one of the pillars of our society which stimulates us to be better human beings. The form and method of preserving morality may differ according to the circumstances, but the fact that it exists will not change even in the distant future.

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