Friday, 24 October 2014

Morality 1: Introduction

Higher RMPS Podcast
What is Morality?

This is available as an MP3 or to download as a podcast through iTunes
for Desktop and Apple devices, as well as PodcastHD for Android Devices.

Like a game of Cat and Mouse, albeit a one with significant more collateral damage, Batman and The Joker have been at it for decades.  The story would play out the same every time – the Joker would escape Arkham Asylum…Batman would pursue.  Whilst free The Joker would invariable destroy, maim, and at times kill, innocents.  Batman, owing to The Joker’s lack of mental stability, would outwit our villain, stopping his master plan and saving Gotham.  Batman, now with The Joker disabled is faced with a decision – kill or save.  It’s not a false dilemma, it’s a genuine one; he can either kill The Joker or take him back to Arkham…doing nothing is not an option.  Every time Batman follows the same code: he catches him, and he takes him back.  The cycle then repeats itself with more innocent people being put in harm’s way.  So we, as readers, must ask…why?  Why does he do this?  Why not just kill him?  Surely the death of one villain, albeit a supervillain, it nothing when weighed up alongside the death of countless civilians?  Batman makes a decision, a moral decision.  What goes through his mind when he makes it?  What, in his life or otherwise, influences his decision?

This unit is not about comics…but it is about heroes and villains.  Within the unit we will first look at the nature of morality – what do we mean by terms like right and wrong?  How do we, as mere humans, make moral decisions?  We will then explore where do our ideas of right and wrong come from; do does God decide what is right or wrong?  If it is God, then how does Religion guide our moral decisions?  Philosophers have been asking these questions for 3,000 years – developing detailed theories to better understand right and wrong.  We will look at two distinct ethical theories: Utilitarianism and Kantian Ethics.

After we understand what is meant by right and wrong we will then look at specific moral dilemma: Crime & Punishment.  What causes crime in a society?  Scotland is a developed nation, why then do people still commit crimes?  Why do we punish people?  Is it so we feel better or does it have a grander purpose?  How do we punish people in Scotland?  Is the current method of punishment working?  We then need to fold what we know back into the first section applying both religious and secular views on punishment.

Finally we explore Capital Punishment.  Does society have the right to execute the guilty?  What do we do with serial killers, child murders?  Those whose crimes have been proven beyond reasonable doubt and show no remorse for what they have done.  Those who can never be released from prison because of what they have done.  How do other countries execute the guilty?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of their approach?  Again we then need to fold what we know back into the first section applying both religious and secular views on punishment.

For more than 3,000 years philosophers have been asking questions about what is right and what is wrong.  When we read the newspaper stories we often remark “that’s morally wrong!”, but what do we actually mean by this?  The word Morality derives from the Latin word moralitas meaning "proper behaviour".  Morality is the study of right and wrong.  This is a huge area that raised many questions.  How do we decide?  Who decides?  This whole unit considers morality and it all comes down to two little words: right and wrong.

We often see the term ethical when looking at food or business practices and it is generally understood as meaning good.  However, in Moral Philosophy it means something quite specific.  Ethics are the rules, or guidelines, that we have to help us decide what is right and what is wrong.  They are a set of principles that allow us to navigate the choices we are faced with every day. 

You walk past an open till and the shopkeeper is through the back; you notice a £20 note sticking out the corner.  If we networked all of the computers in the world together the still wouldn’t come close to being as quick as your brain.  You brain considers the money and you admit to yourself that having an extra £20 would be great.  You weigh up the variables: if you get caught you might get a criminal record, someone might see you, you might get a bad reputation, and the list goes on.  Then the benefits: you’ll have twenty more pounds to spend.  Like a balancing scale you brain will ask itself – is it worth it?

Let’s say, for example, that there is no risk to taking the £20.  The benefits far outweigh the risks.  So why don’t you simply take it?  This is where your ethics come into the decision making process.  Something inside you tells you that stealing is wrong and your brain guides you towards the right choice.  Why then do people steal?  Simple, they either don’t have this ethical subroutine in their brain or something (like you need the money or you may die) has put so much weight on the other side of the scales that your brain tells you to take the £20.  Ethics and Morality are therefore intertwined.  Our morality is the framework in ourselves that lays out right and wrong, good and bad; Ethics are the principles that determine which actions are good and which are bad.  This forces the question – where do our ethics come from?  If ethics are guidelines then who makes these guidelines?  There are two theories we will consider – God and mankind. 

Religious followers use their holy scriptures to help them make moral choices.  Their scriptures, they believe, are inspired by God.  Therefore God decides what is right and what is wrongAtheists reject the idea that there is a God and instead consider ethics manmade.  Right and wrong, they believe, are concepts created by humans, influenced by humans, and can be understood by humans.  Atheists believe that we as a society decided acts such as murder were morally wrong.  This is influenced by our own personal experiences, family background, and our cultures history.  This unit will consider both.

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