PCP: ForNick Yang - 1A Math
Posted on: October 7, 2016
To begin, let us define what “Ethically Good” is. It is action with respect to certain principles, be they divine, unknowable, or some principle that is a property of the physical world as existence is to matter. To collect all views from every perspective of what is good is far beyond my capabilities and word limit for this article, so I’ll simply assume the absence of well-defined absolute truths about morality. In this sense, I can only argue in favour of skirting laws under general circumstances. With this in mind, let us continue.
Legality is not equivalent to the morality; it is legal to wear socks with sandals and also to be nude (in some places). But the fact is that the law is not some omnipotent and perfect code; it is a rather fractured collection of punishments that activate when someone catches you. It’s a system that allows Trump not to pay taxes, and for millions of children to be in indentured slavery. The law is imperfect and contains the ideals of those that created them, and relies upon imperfect actors that enforce them. However the law is also a reflection of your nations’ customs and is formed from the collective wisdom of society over a long period of time. So, perhaps the spirit of the law is more important than the written law? But by violating the written law you potentially deprive yourself of your liberty, so the practically sound option would be to simply go to another country, and operate in the spirit of the law guilt free and above the exception of taking advantage of loopholes in laws. Is skirting laws by going to another country strictly an ethically good thing? No – there’s more dimension then that. A law can cohere with ethical principles, just not always.
Imagine a person who, while walking, accidentally trips on a rock into a small hamster, killing it instantly. Is the man evil? “No!” we say, because he did not intend for that to happen. What if a person who likes to fall on hamsters performs the same action on purpose? We say “yes!”, the other person is evil, because of their intent and conscious decision to do so! Could we then not say that humans are ethically bad for the ethically bad actions they intend and strive for, and that humans are ethically good for the ethically good actions they intend and strive for? This surely seems reasonable.
So the argument so far is: legality is not necessarily equivalent to ethically good, and intent and conscious choice are the prime indicators of the moral implications of ones actions. So, as long as you cause the Second World War and the Holocaust thinking it’s the ethically good thing to do, is it then ethically good? This is an issue. Clearly defining “ethical good” in the bounds of individual choice is far too restrictive. The Holocaust was (as almost all would consider) very ethically bad, and while things may be subjective in our day and age, such as cannibalism of the elderly (search it up if you don’t believe me), there appears to be some sort of —admittedly generic—collective principles that define what ethically good exactly is.
Thankfully, I do not need to define those laws to prove my point. It’s advisable and ethically good to dodge the law intentionally and for the sake of preforming some action ladled as ethically good by humanity’s generic principles of morality. But, unfortunately, there is still a blind spot. If an individual attempts to save a person from dying from heart attack via CPR, but does not do due diligence and fails to take notice of a defibrillator nearby, then the helper is not able to revive the victim. The rescuer will feel over whelming guilt, despite not breaking the law, and act in accordance to humanity’s generic ethical principles. While it’s not entirely the rescuer’s fault that the victim died, the catastrophic event could have been avoided if they had just exercised some wisdom at the right moment.
It is not enough to do an action intentionally and consciously in accordance to ethical principles. One must also do it with wisdom; that is, with a reasonable amount of foresight and efficacy. It is irresponsible to do so otherwise, and somewhat of a lazy man’s approach to morality if we rely strictly on ethical principle.
Have we finally narrowed it down? I suppose so, for now. To be ethically good is to act intentionally and consciously in accordance with ethical principle with a reasonable amount of foresight and efficacy. So, whether skirting laws by going to other countries is acceptable or not should be easy right? Right?!
Imagine your company wants to test this new drug that has a 0.001% of curing cancer forever, but needs 100 live humans to be painfully experimented on (imagine being burned alive) to operate. This is the only method that will be known for the next 1000 years. Would you move to a country where slavery is allowed and buy some people to support it? Here, when we try to apply our definition, we see that although the intentional effects of our actions are coherent with ethical principles (potentially saving millions), the actual methods are not. Through foresight and efficacy, we can only choose to buy dying slaves and paralyze most of their body with drugs; this eliminates some issues, but not all, and certainly doesn’t eliminate the horribleness of sending over a hundred people to their deaths. Or perhaps it does? Is it better to kill hundreds to save millions, disregarding the morals of your homeland? After all, even though it may not be perfect, the result is at least pretty close to the ethical principles we’ve been talking about. Or maybe you’re a pragmatist and the single fact that this is even possible warrants you to kill. It depends on what you value: the process or the effect. But which one is the best to value?
At the end of the day we still must choose, and the choice will still be hard. Whether something is right or not can’t always be solved with some sort of equation or definition. There are almost always exceptions to the example. But we can prove that as long as something is not too ambiguous, it is ethically good to go intentionally and consciously to other countries in order to skirt laws, so long as it is in accordance with ethical principle and done with a reasonable amount of foresight and efficacy.