Using web based research, find an environmental-based ethical dilemma from the past five years online.
(You can use a news story, an internet article, a law case, or anything from a governmental database for this assignment.)
Then, using this story as a foundation for your dilemma:
1.Create a 2-4 paragraph “dilemma” similar to the other dilemmas you have been solving throughout this term.
2.Solve the dilemma using Kant’s ethics (Categorical Imperative).
3.Solve the dilemma using any other method we have discussed to date (with which you agree.)
4.State which resolution (Kant’s or the other one you chose) you prefer and why.
(It is possible that one or more of these dilemmas you write may become future exam questions for this course, so keep that in mind while you write the dilemma.)
This assignment should be about two typed pages, double-spaced. You MUST provide the source of the dilemma, and thus this paper will require at least one “work cited.” Use APA format in citing the source
Duties and Obligations to Ourselves and the Greater World Around Us | Our Ethical Rights and Obligations | Rights and Ethics | Ethics and Our Duty | Natural Rights | The Categorical Imperative of Duty | Categorical Leadership Ethics | Rights in Environmental Ethics | Summary Points
Duties and Obligations to Ourselves and the Greater World Around Us Back to Top
Speaking about the rights of human beings connects directly with discussion of that reciprocal mixture of human rights and human obligations that make up the commonwealth that Locke presented last week: the Social Contract, within which self-interested people live cooperatively for the protection of their own self-interest.
Such a discussion logically extends beyond humanity to the arena of the whole world, that environment in which we live and move and have our being and in which all else has its place. This is the complex field of environmental ethics. Beyond the need to protect the physical environment of the earth from pollution and destruction, the issue arises of the status of all other life forms and whether they also enjoy rights. Or do only human being rights? Beyond that question comes another in which we inquire whether non-human animals have rights–rights to be protected from the kind of cruelty that the Social Contract protects humans from receiving from one another. That question raises the topics of animal husbandry and slaughter for food; use of animals for research and hunting, and sports purposes; selective breeding; and so many more. Might sentient animals rightly enjoy protection in a way that nonsentient animals do not? And what about the protection of endangered species?
Our Ethical Rights and Obligations Back to Top
Continuing our thoughts from the Social Contract theories of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke brings us to the ethics involved in the practical application of the social contract–in a sense, into the ethics of political living. For those who live within a socially contractual system, what rights do they have and what obligations are attached to their status?
Rights and duties are co-relational; they come as a set and interact together. Moreover, they interact under the constitutional arrangement that governs wherever such people live and go about their lives.
There are many nations and jurisdictions in this world, and each has its ways of dealing with the rights and obligations of those within its boundaries. This can bring up the special difficulties of travelers, people with citizenship in one country who find themselves involved in legal issues of the country where they are located at the time. Travelers may get into legal trouble and discover that their usual civil rights at home do not apply where they are. Visitors may gain legal status and rights that they would not enjoy in their home countries. Beyond those circumstances are the special situations of refugees.
Rights and Ethics Back to Top
Every nation has its own history, and the rights, obligations, and legal status of residents reflect that history–under what circumstances those rights were specified and how they have been applied over time. Families and tribes also have their history, and in that history are folkways, mores, and traditions about the “right” way to do things. These ideas of law and custom are culturally driven; that is, they are enduring products of history and circumstance. Our readings about Hobbes and Locke in previous weeks show well how both systems and authors are created out of need and perception.
In the last three centuries, the kind of ideas of rights and obligations associated with the Social Contract have been articulated in written form in national constitutions, the Constitution of the United States of 1787 being a prime example. Beyond the question of where rights originate is the founding of government–and all that governing implies–by the mutual consent of those who are governed.
But whence do those rights originate? Answers vary, and the answers often fail to accommodate each other. Some will say that the rights are God-given, either directly or by deriving from the natural order of the world. Some will say that the rights of people are absolute and beyond violation. Some will say that rights are won through conflict or bloody revolution. Some take an intuitive approach and say without a specific foundation that “there ought to be a law…” And yet others will simply appeal to a notion of what “makes good sense.”
People in general perceive a claimed right to be treated by other people and their government in an equitable way with due process and a modicum of personal honor and dignity.
Ethics and Our Duty Back to Top
Ethics of duty are called Deontological ethics, and they are the type of ethics introduced in the first week as principles-based or rules-based theories. That word “deontological” comes from the Greek word deon, which means “duty.”
Duty is a sense of ethical obligation, and it is a foundational concept in ethics. Obligations, however they originate, call ethical people to action apart from any desire for the actions or any anticipated consequences and benefits of the actions. Often duties generate resentment and even hostility because people will find that their obligations conflict with what they really want. There is little joy in being obligated.
Generally duty applies in our relationships with other people or with our culture and government.
– The term Perfect Duty applies to those items that are binding in all cases: to not harm, kill, or steal from others, to respect the inherent dignity of all people as our equal peers, and to promote the general welfare of our community of neighbors.
– Imperfect Duty is a general duty that does not apply in each and every case, such as to help other people when we can and to keep our word to others.
Perfect Duty, also called Absolute Duty, applies in each and every case. Imperfect Duty, also called Conditional Duty, does not apply in every case–there is a sense that there is a greater need than anybody can meet with imperfect duties. There is an imperfect duty to help others, but one can be selective about whom to help and when. There is always more help needed than can be given as a practical matter.
Natural Rights Back to Top
Although John Locke lived in the late 17th century and did not travel to the American colonies, his impact on the development of western democracies was profound. He wrote that the laws of nature require that no harm be done to the rights of other people; with that claim he became the major proponent of Rights Theory. People are naturally free and equal, and from that point societies and governments rightly operate through a social contract in which they freely transfer some rights in exchange for stability and free enjoyment of their lives, liberties, and private property.
John Locke’s voice echoes through the Declaration of Independence and Constitution
The Declaration of Independence (Jefferson, 1776) includes these ideas within the Preamble. The italics are added for emphasis.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Not unlike the natural law and natural law concepts of Thomas Aquinas, divine authority is invoked to guarantee that these rights are beyond negotiation or withdrawal. They are:
Underlying all this thought is that people have a right to give or withhold their consent through a principle of majority rule for both the validity of their governance and to what becomes of them individually.
Nobody was asked at birth whether they wanted to join the social contract. Few people have ever actually consented to their governance, with the possible exception of naturalized citizens. People live under a kind of tacit consent where their agreement is actually a passive one.
Locke’s work has been far-reaching. It underlies what is given in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
The Categorical Imperative of Duty Back to Top
The perplexities of life, compounding of difficult decisions, and dilemmas of ethics are difficult–true enough! So are thought processes. The Three Primary Schools all seek to bring order to ethical chaos by proposing a single criterion for making ethical decisions.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) proposed such a single criterion: the criterion of duty. Ethical duty can be profoundly demanding, but knowing one’s duty can help one make progress.
Duty comes in two forms:
There is only one Categorical Imperative, but it is commonly expressed in two formulations.
The Categorical Imperative of Duty–One Imperative Expressed in Two Formulations
Applying this to ethical leadership:
Applying this to ethical leadership:
These formulations are the classical, standardized expressions of the Categorical Imperative in the English language and are worth memorizing.
Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804)
Categorical Leadership Ethics Back to Top
Bringing ethics to our own lives and vocations, they apply directly to daily activities. There are leadership principles that can apply directly to relationships both at home and at work.
Corresponding to the First formulation:
Corresponding to the Second formulation:
Rights in Environmental Ethics Back to Top
Beyond human interaction, ethical dilemmas arise in issues related to the environment we share and the non-human elements of it. By a process of logical extension, human responsibility is seen to extend in a derived way to issues of the physical environment of the world and all that is in it.
Questions arise about non-human rights–whether they exist beyond the human rights enumerated in constitutional documents. Among these issues are the rights of animal species as groups and as individual animals; protection of animal species and especially endangered species; use of animals for experimental purposes in science and medicine; vivisection of living organisms, management of natural resources for mining, energy, food supplies, and forests; hunting and fishing for sport; environmental manipulation for agriculture. Issues arise about ecosystems, climate changes, and the anticipated needs of coming generations.
In our age, a major ethical question is what should and should not be used as energy-producing fuels to power 21st century activity. Within that discussion is the question of which fuels are polluting or not and which fuels are renewable or not. Those discussions ask what sources of energy are depleted or not depleted through their use. A related issue is whether recycling some products to produce fuel leaves behind polluting waste. Agriculturally produced biofuels that can be grown but yet produce emissions when consumed are controversial. The production of heat through the decay of waste products in landfill dumps produces usable energy but is not renewable because it can be used only once.
A logical and critical issue is presented whenever rights are enumerated beyond what constitutions require because extending rights to new and unexplored situations invites unexamined assumptions and the making of unfounded inferences. Environmental rights, an issue arising centuries after the life of John Locke and his work on rights theories, brings up questions that often struggle with the nature of the constitutional documents that enumerate those rights; that is, whether such constitutional documents enumerate minimal rights upon which to build and expand over time or a maximal list of rights which are to be guaranteed, with later developments to be restricted and minimized beyond what the constitutions specify and guarantee. Constitutional rights–what rights do and do not exist–are a source of ongoing discussion for both law and ethics, and the relationship between law and ethics presented in the Week 1 lecture and discussions has never been settled.
The primary agency in the United States Government dealing with these matters is the Environmental Protection Agency. Among their primary activities is the crafting of legislation to establish regulatory governing authority in issues of environmental ethics, safety, law, and policy. These ethical issues are characterized by continuing efforts to determine what is happening in the planetary environment and then what should be done about it.
It gets complicated, but the availability of a single criterion for making decisions is a doorway to the thought processes that yield ethical decisions. Deontological ethics through Kant’s Categorical Imperative offer such a single criterion. There will be others in weeks to come.
Summary Points Back to Top
A progression from the social contract theories of Hobbes and Locke yielded political applications of the social contract–the most obvious example being the independence movement in the United States in the late 18th century and the development of the Constitution.
Locke understood human rights as divinely granted in the natural systems of the world; their universal applicability to all persons being not governed by religion but deeply ingrained in the way the world works.
Deontological ethics of duty is one of several attempts to define a single criterion for deciding ethical dilemmas. The Categorical Imperative as given by Immanuel Kant is the most important example and presents the classical language for deontological ethics.
Most environmental ethics concerns are articulated in a deontological form, which allows them to apply globally and apart from political jurisdiction.
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