What are ethics? When we hear of ethics, we automatically think of etiquette, how we dress, how we interact professionally with those around us and how we communicate with others. Yes, those do apply to ethics but Hobbes considers these views to be “small morals” (Gert & Gert, 2017). Ethics is a much deeper concept than just the manner in which an individual interacts with others. When we refer to ethics, we tend to think of morality. Morality can be viewed in two perspectives, descriptive and normative. In this essay I will be focusing on the descriptive sense of morality where morality “refers to the most important code of conduct put forward and accepted by any group or by an individual” (Gert & Gert, 2017).
The descriptive sense of morality allows for the view that morality is obtained from a group’s or an individual’s religious beliefs. Sometimes, the moral conduct of a group or an individual may be acquired from their religion because a religion may discourage certain behaviors or require actions to live morally. “Religion can also provide an explanation and justification for acting in a certain way” (Gert & Gert, 2017). Morality can be viewed as both responsibility and character (Noddings, 2002). How does an individual know what is ethically appropriate or not? We face these ethical decisions throughout our daily lives.
How should we treat others when we are confronted with an ethical dilemma? When we speak about etiquette, we are referring to the descriptive sense of morality. Strikes and Soltis said, “Moral decision regarding choice and action require moral sensitivity, rationality, and the development of moral theory for which the primary evidence is our moral intuitions”. So in order for us to act morally, we have to be sensitive to what we believe in and use feelings to provide motivation for our correct conduct. With all that being said, there have been many ethical theories that try to explain why individuals should act morally. In this essay, I will explain how non-consequentialism, rule-deontology, and moral obligation relate to my ethical beliefs with ethical egoism in opposition.
Ethical Theories and the View They Maintain
Non-consequentialism. The topic of ethics is not a new phenomenon. It dates from the times of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Bible. The Greeks and the Romans battled with the idea of reasoning, human thought process, and ethical conduct. From then on, philosophers have developed ethical theories to aid in understanding the reason behind an individual’s moral conduct. One of these philosophers was Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) who initiated the non-consequentialism theory. Immanuel Kant did not believe that ethics had to do with happiness but instead with “moral law of duty.” He disagreed with Jeremy Bentham’s consequentialist point of view which focused on happiness and benefit of maximization. He believed that morality ought to be regarded as a sense of duty (Shotsberger, 2018).
Non-consequentialism places an emphasis on equal respect for others with the Golden Rule as an example. The Golden Rule states, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (NIV, Matthew 7:12). According to Kant, the Golden Rule says that we are obligated to act in ways that exhibit equal respect for everyone because they are equally moral agents. The principle for equal respect for others obliges us to treat individuals as ends rather than means and to regard them as free, rational, responsible moral agents. This means that we must respect others’ freedom of choice even though we do not agree with it. Most importantly, “we have to view everyone as having equal value and equal importance” (Strike & Soltis, 2009, p. 15).
Rule-deontology. Next we have deontological theories which are situational ethics. When we speak in terms of deontological theories, the most important question for us to ask is how to determine what is morally correct for ourselves and for others. Rule-deontology, another aspect of deontological ethics, holds that the standard of conduct consists of specific rules one must follow. One has an obligation to follow the rules, for example, keeping secrets, being honest, and not cheating. An example of rule-deontology is the divine command theory. It claims that “the standard of right and wrong is the will and law of God” (Shotsberger, 2018). In other words, what justifies our actions and what makes them correct or incorrect is their being commanded or prohibited by God (Shotsberger, 2018).
Moral obligation. Then there is normative thinking and judgement. Normative thinking provides us with guidelines for ethical behavior. One kind of normative judgement is moral obligation. When we speak in terms of moral obligation, we are referring to a sense of “I must” do something. No matter what the circumstances are, we are obligated to do what is morally upright. Moral judgement tells us what our duties are and what we should and should not do, and these judgements tend to be of personal preference (Strike & Soltis, 2009).
Ethical egoism. In contrast to the previously mentioned ethical theories, ethical egoism is a theory that was introduced by Henry Sidgwick. It states, “morality requires us to balance our own interests against the interest of others” (Rachel, 2007, p. 193). This means that in any given situation an individual has the duty to place his or her own interests over that of others. The individual’s only duty is to promote his or her own self-interest. We have to comprehend that ethical egoism does not voice that we should not aid others because “our own interests may coincide with the interest of others” (Rachel, 2007, p. 194). In other words, in helping yourself, you may potentially aid others or create some benefit for yourself (Rachel, 2007). All these ethical theories appear to be morally oriented and focused, but that is not always the case. Each of them does not always execute what is morally appropriate and each have their faults.
Plato, a Greek philosopher, formulated the thinking of “idealism.” This says that what is real must be based on something that is unchanging and that is the world of reason and ideas. The Bible in contrast said that God was not part of nature. He was the Creator of nature and was a personal God who is holy and righteous. Because He is holy and righteous, He expects mankind to act the same way (Keaton, 2018). The Bible is what linked ethics to religion. The Bible is a great example of ethics being put into practice. We can find a good example in the Old Testament when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments as a code of conduct that the Israelites were to follow. They knew what was right and what was wrong because God told them. Many times through the Bible God gave examples of how one should live and act morally. It is from this viewpoint that I chose to live my life after I had become a Christian.
My Ethical Point of View and Beliefs
Cultural background and religion. I believe that my ethical beliefs are made up of my cultural background and religion. I say culture because my environment influences what I decide is ethically moral and what is not. Being raised in a Christian family has really helped shape my thoughts of how I should treat others and have a relationship with them. I consider non-consequentialism as part of my moral beliefs because whenever I ponder on doing something, I tend to put myself in the shoes of others. I find myself asking these questions, “Would they like it if I did that to them?” and “How would I feel if they did that to me?” I would not want to do something hurtful to others while knowing that I would not appreciate it if they treated me in the same manner.
Difficult situations. What influences my ethical beliefs is the difficult situations that I have endured, for example, being transitioned from a life in Haiti to a new life in America. The school setting was very different in Haiti. As an elementary school child, I did not have a safe environment that cared about my needs. I seemed to fail and never succeed in anything that I achieved. I would never receive praise. When I came to the United States, my mother became my primary teacher. She loved me even when I failed and taught me how to love others by simply watching her care for my siblings. I would receive praises from her even when I achieved something very small. Receiving these praises have helped me gain confidence in myself, have boosted my self-esteem, and have helped me to believe that I am valuable. Not only that, but I am accepted for who I am even with my failures.
My paternal grandparents and serving. My grandparents are a big influence in my moral upbringing. Whenever I am going through a difficult time, they always direct me straight to the Bible. They encourage me to make godly choices and to pray about the difficult situations that I am going through. After all, the Bible is the book of ethics and moral codes that Christians should live by. Something else that changed and shaped my ethical beliefs is serving others. I teach Sunday school, tutor, have worked in orphanages, and am seeing what it is like to care for others and not to focus on myself. Traveling to different countries and working in orphanages I would say is what really shaped who I am and what I believe in today. I could relate to the children. I knew what hardships they were going through. Being able to relate to them helped me to love and value them. Having not received an emotional support as a young child helps me to appreciate and cherish the friendships that I have now as a young adult.
Rule-deontology. I also consider rule-deontology as a part of my ethical beliefs because I tend to set moral codes and rules to follow that would protect me and guide my conduct. The rules are more like boundaries that I have set for myself. If I follow them, I assure myself that my environment will be safe and if I do not, there will be consequences that could potentially harm me or the relationships that I have with others. For example, if I set a rule to never lie to my parents and one day I decided to lie about something that was very important, that could harm me and my relationship with them. I appreciate rules. I view them as a mechanism for protection and for structure. Being able to know what is right and wrong is very important to me. I also believe that moral obligation relates to my ethical beliefs because I strive to do what is right. As a Christian, I have the obligation to live a godly life. In Colossians 3:17 Paul said, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (NIV, Bible). Now of course I do not always do what is right. I sometimes do things that would benefit me over what is best for everyone one else and that is when egoism enters the picture.
Ethical egoism. Although sometimes I may choose to accomplish the desires of my own selfish interests, I do not consider ethical egoism as part of my ethical beliefs. Ethical egoism “requires that each person ought to pursue his or her own self-interest exclusively” (Rachel, 2007, p. 194). As an individual who subscribes to divine command theory, ethical egoism is contrary to God’s command. In Philippians 2:3 Paul said, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (NIV, Bible). Again in 1 Corinthians 10:24 God’s command says, “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others” (NIV, Bible). I also subscribe to moral obligation which suggest that I should balance my own interest with that of the interests of others. In contrast, ethical egoism “advocates that we divide the world into two types of people, ourselves and the rest” with our interest being the most important (Rachel, 2007, p. 199). As a Christian and as a future educator, my desire and goal is to care for others and that includes their interests.
Applying My Beliefs to the Classroom
Now, how will my ethical beliefs apply to my future classroom? These ethical beliefs are what shapes who I am, what develops my character, and what I believe to be the best conduct for myself. As part of the Christian ethic of care, I am required to engage in habits of moral and ethical integrity. I am expected to demonstrate equality in interactions with my students and to portray a nurturing and caring attitude towards them (Shotsberger, 2018). I can apply non-consequentialism to my classroom by treating my students with equal respect, no matter who they are. As a future educator, my goal is to foster appropriate moral actions in my students. One way I can do that is by making it “both possible and desirable for students to be good” (Noddings, 2002, p. 85). I will consistently be surrounded by the children; they will see how I act toward them and will learn how to interact with their peers by how I interact with them. It is crucial for me to act ethically towards them.
Even though I cannot speak about God or share my faith in my classroom, my actions will testify to these children what it means to be cared for. They will learn how to care for others. Noddings said, “we are partly responsible for the behavior of others whose lives we affect” (p. 9). She also stated that “we are partly accountable for the moral development of each person we encounter” (p. 9). To show an ethical caring towards my students, I have to be motivated by the feelings I have for them. It is essential that children have good models of moral behavior and be instructed on how to be good moral agents when they grow up (Noddings, 2002). It is also important for me to form strong relationships with my students in the classroom. Noddings said that according to Aristotle, friendship is “central in moral life” (p. 97). So it is important for me to form friendships with the children.
Ethical egoism will not be applied to my future classroom even though sometimes I may be tempted to act in manners that satisfy my personal interest. As a future educator, I should promote the interests of others and not just my own personal interest. The reason for that is because I care about my own interest and therefore, the interest of others should matter to me. I cannot care for my students if I am blinded by my selfish desires. If I do what benefits me every time, my students are not going to learn how to care for others. I should learn to care about others’ needs.