The “ism”s That Shape An Ethical Debate – Ethics Essay

The “ism”s That Shape An Ethical Debate – Ethics Essay
Absolutism, relativism, and pluralism are all “ism”s that can contribute to an ethical debate. Absolutism refers to the concept that if some concept or argument can be applied in one case, then it is relevant for every single person in every single case forever. A simple example is lying; is lying ethical just because it can be considered ethical in some cases?

Relativism is the idea that nothing can be absolute; each case must be considered in its own time, culture, and situation. There are many different kinds of relativists, as the text described, and relativists can differ even amongst themselves as to how to apply their principle. Pluralism is the notion that because we live in such a diverse world, we must consider many different views on a matter before deciding a case, and we must take into account the equality of each point of view.

The role of language is important in ethical reasoning. As we saw in reading the news story about the woman who attempted to kill her terminally ill son, language can have an effect on ethical arguments through bias. Depending on how you state a case, you could be swaying an undecided person to your point of view if you emphasize certain issues and not others. This is especially true in euthanasia cases; by emphasizing the torture the patient is going through, or the supremacy of individual choice, one can present this as a cut-and-dry ethical case to someone who did not have all the facts.

The greatest happiness principle is one defined by John Stuart Mill in order to support his theory of utilitarianism. This principle states that we ought to make decisions whose outcomes will produce the greatest amount of pleasure for the greatest number of people. The problem with this principle is that it does not take into account the weakest members of society or the minority in society, which could include up to 49.9 % of the population.

Rachels argued that he would rather be a dissatisfied human than a satisfied pig in order to combat utilitarianism. He meant that pleasure is not necessarily the best basis for ethical arguments in determining what is right, because whatever produces the most pleasure or happiness may not be the best choice in a matter. He felt that by basing ethics on pleasure, human beings would bring themselves down to the level of animals and lose their inherent intellectual superiority.

Kant’s universalization rule states that whatever is right in one situation ought to pertain to everyone else is that exact situation forever more. If I argue that I slept through a Core midterm because I was up late the night before studying and should be allowed to take it later, then every other person who sleeps too late because they were up late studying also ought to be allowed to take the exam later. This is a little different from absolutism because it takes into account the individual situation and circumstances.

Kant’s motive of duty is based on the idea that we ought to act out of a sense of duty rather than out of selfish motivations. Duty is defined as that which we ought to do based not only on our own inclinations but also on what is best for society as we have understood it. He wants us to act ethically out of our own volition, but he also believes that we have an obligation to act morally; hence, the term duty.

Aristotle believed that virtue is a mean between two extremes, between excess and deficiency. He thought that we should act not out of rashness, but also not overthink things to the point where we do not act. Virtue is defined by him as the middle ground between the two extremes in a reaction to something, whether emotional or an action. Only by rational thought can we arrive at such a conclusion, according to him.

Habits are those automatic actions that Aristotle believed we would develop from both watching others perform them and from intuition. Habits are to be taught by example by virtuous teachers and ought to be ingrained by nature. These habits are the good habits of character; they both define you as a good person and make you a good person.

Rawls’s veil of ignorance is what you put on when you are making an ethical judgment. This veil is designed to blind you to what you can gain or lose by a judgment, and to make you ignorant of your place in the argument. By using this veil of ignorance, one can, according to Rawls, make the most ethical decision because one will no longer be motivated by what one can gain or lose; it is also important to note that with a veil of ignorance, one forgets other people’s places in society and what they can gain or lose. Thus, it is the most equal and impartial method of making an ethical judgment.

Rawls’s original position theory is based on how people behaved before society imposed its inequities and prejudices on humans. It states that when faced with an ethical dilemma, we ought to remove ourselves from society and put ourselves back in that state of nature in which we were all equal, without social standing or consequence, and without considerations of money and other modern inconveniences. This theory ties in with his veil of ignorance to make decisions based on the most impartial method possible.


1. Purpose: To determine whether Claire Conroy should be taken off her feeding tube and allowed to die.

2. Key ethical question: Is it ethical to allow a person who is not in a persistent vegetative state but who is clearly not living a good life to die through passive euthanasia?

3. The facts: Claire is older, and she is not living a healthy, comfortable life as far as we know how life is for people in such states. She is not n a persistent vegetative state, but neither is she able to interact fully with those around her. Her nephew, who is her legal guardian, visits her regularly. He requested that she be taken off the feeding tube and allowed to die.
What we don’t know: What are the motives for the nephew’s decision? Does she have money that he wants, or is he truly acting on her best interest? How did he become her legal guardian? Did she appoint him as such? Does she have a living will or some other statement saying her wishes in such a case?

4. Rawls would want more information in this matter, because in his view, the most important piece of information is missing, which is Claire’s wishes because she is the weakest member of this argument. He would want to know whether Claire had ever stated her feelings in the matter, and he would want to know what those feelings were. Barring this knowledge, he would probably argue that she be kept alive in the absence of knowing her wishes.

Mill would argue from the utilitarian standpoint that it would be best for all those involved to take out the feeding tube because it would reduce her suffering, her nephew’s suffering, and relieve the stress of medical payments on her nephew.

Kant would want more information as well, arguing that we do not know the intentions of the nephew; are his intentions good? Does he really have Claire’s best interests at heart, or are his best interests the deciding factor? And even if the nephew does have good intentions, is it right to let Claire die? Shouldn’t we preserve life at all costs, because that is the ultimate preservation of dignity? Also, what is her quality of life? And how much longer do the doctors believe she will live in such a state?

5. My first response would be to let Claire die with as little pain as possible. I am sure that seeing her in such a state for some time would have a great effect on her nephew, and I would agree with the nephew to let her go. I believe that the relieving of suffering is probably the most important point from which to view this matter. Claire’s life is not one that I can imagine is very fulfilling or happy. Whether she is fully aware or not that her nephew visits her regularly, is this enough to sustain her? While I do not necessarily believe in Hardwig’s Duty to Die, I do believe that in cases like this, it is ethical to make a decision to let someone die, although I agree with Quill’s thoughts that sometimes passive euthanasia is not necessarily the most humane; sometimes active euthanasia is necessary to relieve pain and to let someone die with dignity. Which would cause her the most pain, to live with a feeding tube and in such pain, or to die from starvation? I basically believe that euthanasia is ethically acceptable.

6. This sounds a lot like Debbie’s case from the text to me. Her personal choice was not necessarily known, since “Let’s get this over with” is debatable in its meaning. And while she was also in an obviously painful state, as Claire is now in terms of both physical pain from the incontinence and the fact that she is constantly curled up in the fetal position and mental anguish from the dementia, it is not clear whether she wanted to go naturally or immediately. Also, the doctor’s attitude towards Debbie is unclear, just as Claire’s nephew’s attitude towards her is unclear. We do not know for sure whether that doctor just wanted to go back to sleep, or whether the nephew just wants to go back to a normal life. Furthermore, this sounds like a case where Hardwig would argue that Claire has a duty to die; she is causing her nephew money and emotional pain. But does she really have that duty to die? I do not believe so. Her nephew must do what is best for her; thus I agree with Rawls’s position on this issue. What do the doctors think? Have they given her a prognosis? How much longer can she survive in such a state? Do they have an idea of what pain she is in? After knowing this, perhaps a decision could be arrived at more easily. I cannot imagine that the nurses are very happy with her situation; they are the ones that see her every day in this state, and that must be very hard emotionally to deal with. It seems that most of these points of view point to letting her go.

7. The most reasonable answer to Claire’s dilemma would be to take her off the feeding tube. It is more humane to let her die than to keep her alive in such an undignified and uncomfortable life. Although I believe it would be preferable to do what Debbie’s doctor did and provide Claire with enough medication to ease the pain and to effectively kill her than to make her suffer more through starvation, this is not necessarily allowed today. Keeping her alive would only prolong her suffering, something that I believe all parties involved would want to avoid.

8. If taken off the tube, Claire will die. She may take a few days to do so, as Teri Schiavo did, but at least that will end her pain and confusion and suffering. Her nephew will be able to move on with his life, and while depending on his beliefs he may have a pang of conscience when he thinks of his aunt, at least he can know that he shortened her pain. The nurses and doctors can know that they did not kill her, and that they were only following Claire’s legal guardian’s orders; thus they cannot be held responsible for their actions (logically speaking; of course, some may). And that opens up another room in a nursing home that may have a waiting list for people who need that care. In all, it seems that the most suffering is Claire’s, and that through passive euthanasia, that suffering can be shortened enough to warrant removing the feeding tube.