One of his ideas about ethics is that good people do ethical things, and bad people do unethical things.
It was the idea of the “virtuous person.” He believed that if we taught people to be virtuous, we could minimize ethical problems. This is sometimes called intutionism, the idea that we will “just kind of know” the right thing to do.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), our third president, recommended an ethical short-cut that is sometimes called transparency. If everyone was watching your ethical action, and you feel embarrassed, wrong, or guilty, then the ethical action was wrong.
If you made the ethical choice, did the ethical act, and everyone thought you were a good person, then the ethical decision was the right choice. ” Usually, everybody means “the people like us” or “the people I know.” If truly, the whole world were watching you make an ethical decision, you would have a wide variety of opinions on your action.
So, the short-cut here is to say, when faced with a questionable act, what would a good person do? There’s no end to Aristotle’s influence on human society, so I don’t mean to question him. While its true that being aware of our own feelings, beliefs, and values will give us a clearer picture, the idea that our gut will somehow be the best decision-maker will not always cut the mustard.
But the reality is that sometimes good people do bad things (and vice versa). Making choices is always a highly emotional event for humans, and emotions can sometimes lead us down the wrong path.
The idea is that the best course of action is one that harms no one. This is an old short-cut, dating back to Hippocrates and the ancient Greeks.
Second, the idea of “benefit” is a troublesomely ambiguous concept.Take whichever action will do the most good for the most people.While this is a good idea in theory, its difficult to put into practice.What kind of benefit, and who actually gets that benefit have been problematic questions to answer.When considering whether an act is ethical or not, this short-cut suggests that we imagine what it would be like if everyone in the world did that act.It’s similar to the people in organizations who say “everybody says….” Usually these people aren’t being willfully dishonest.They just mean, “Everybody that I’ve talked to about this topic in the last day or two says…” It may be only a couple people, but its “everybody.” Sort of.Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a big supporter of this idea.It’s an interesting short-cut, and it works for some issues.If everyone committed murder, then civilization wouldn’t survive, so therefore murder is ethically wrong. If everyone in the world played golf, then no one would be around to farm the land or police the streets. We uphold the intrinsic worth of people, no matter what.Human dignity should transcend rules, laws, and regulations.