In this post I asked how a materialist could apply for a position as a professional ethicist. I asked: “Why should I pay someone $68,584 to say there is no real ultimate ethical difference between one moral response and another because they must both lead ultimately to the same place – nothingness.”
My point is illustrated by this quotation from professional materialist ethicist Peter Singer:
Whatever the future holds, it is likely to prove impossible to restore in full the sanctity-of-life view. The philosophical foundations of this view have been knocked asunder. We can no longer base our ethics on the idea that human beings are a special form of creation made in the image of God, singled out from all other animals, and alone possessing an immortal soul. Our better understanding of our own nature has bridged the gulf that was once thought to lie between ourselves and other species, so should we believe that the mere fact that a being is a member of the species Homo Sapiens endows its life with some unique, almost infinite value?
Peter Singer, “Sanctity of Life or Quality of Life?” Pediatrics 72, no. 1 (July 1983): 128-29.
The question at the end of the quotation is fascinating, because it highlights the branch-sawing nature of Singer’s project. People have no more intrinsic worth than pigs. Indeed, there is no such thing as “intrinsic worth,” because “worth” implies the “good” and the “good” does not exist. Everything is ultimately meaningless. But if that is true – and here’s where the branch sawing comes in – why should anyone care what a particularly clever hairless ape who goes by the name of “Peter Singer” says about anything? Are not his pronouncements as ultimately meaningless as everything else? Isn’t his solution to ethics as arbitrary as any other solution?
Here Singer is part of a larger post-modern tradition that I call the “except me” tradition. The post modern literature is full of long books by deconstructionists like Jacques Derrida who insist that long books have no intrinsic meaning (except books written by Derrida apparently). Similarly Singer insists that concepts like “good” and “evil” have no intrinsic meaning, except, apparently, when he says something is good.
The absurdity of all of this is palpable and it is hard to believe that Singer and Derrida don’t know this. Nevertheless, Derrida wrote long books and Singer makes ethical pronouncements. I suppose it is easy enough to understand why. Derrida sold a lot of books and Singer sits in a lucrative, secure and comfy endowed chair at Princeton. What is truly baffling to me is why anyone with a modicum of intelligence would listen to their self-referentially incoherent branch-sawing rantings. It is a mystery.
This brings me to a comment to my prior post by Mark Frank
I suspect Barry’s OP is based on a faulty idea of what an ethicist does. I am sure it is not his/her job to tell medical staff, patients and families what is the right thing to do. That would be incredibly patronising and lead to terrible problems if their own principles were very different from the person they were advising. It would be like Richard Dawkins coming along and telling the pregnant mother she ought to have an abortion because the child is disabled. I am sure their job is to help the people involved decide what is the right thing to do by pointing out precedents, consequences, different ways of looking at things etc.
Well Mark, I do have an idea about what ethicists do, and I hope it is not, as you say, faulty. I suppose that ethicists such as Singer say things about ethics and the basis for ethics (or the lack thereof) such as the Singer quotation above. Singer is a “preference utilitiarian” and in Practical Ethics he wrote concerning killing: “. . . the wrong done to the person killed is merely one factor to be taken into account, and the preference of the victim could sometimes be outweighed by the preferences of others.” (p. 95) Mark, I presume that if he were to advise someone regarding an “ethical” decision, he would bring the view that human beings are merely clever animals with no more intrinsic value than other animals and the view that granny’s desire to live may be outweighed by your desire to kill her to that conversation. Am I wrong?
By the way, I suspect Singer would apply the “except me” concept to considerations of whether his preference to live should be outweighed by someone else’s preference to kill him. I would bet dollars to doughnuts that he is an absolutist concerning the value of his own life.
75 Replies to “Materialist Ethics and the “Except Me” Tradition”
How refreshingly blunt and honest Peter Singer is. Horrifying too, but blunt and honest nevertheless. In a world without objective morality only competing preferences matter. The strong prevail; the weak succumb.
On the next page Singer writes: “I am not convinced that the notion of a moral right is a helpful or meaningful one.” One can just imagine Singer standing in the crematorium at Auschwitz:
BTW, I suppose it should go without saying that I disagree with everything Singer says. I quote him not to show that what he says is true but to show that what he says is absurd. And if his conclusions are absurd, perhaps it is because they are based on absurd premises.
The morality problem was one of the main reasons I decided to become a theist again. Of what value is being a “good” person, or even trying, if it is only in accordance to one’s own whims or the ebbs and flows of popular views?
I can’t imagine the depth of self-deceit necessary to feel comfortable, much less satisfied, with such a facile concept of “good”. That sort of good seems to me to be the sort of “good” only a sociopath or mindless drone could accept.
It’s interesting because Singer’s views are a development of ideas that can be traced throughout the history of Princeton University. It was established originally as a school to train Christian clergy. In 1768, “Witherspoon thus believed morality was a science. It could be cultivated in his students or deduced through the development of the moral sense—an ethical compass instilled by God in all human beings and developed through education (Reid) or sociability (Hutcheson). Such an approach to morality owed more to the natural moral laws of the Enlightenment than traditional sources of Christian ethics.”
From that, the university eventually was secularized in the 1920s.
From a classic essay, Darwinian Dissonance?
I should have been more precise in my comment. When I wrote “ethicist” I meant medical or clinical ethicist as described in the link in your original OP. This, as I am sure you know, is a completely different job from that of a moral philosopher such as Peter Singer – although the term “ethicist” may confusingly be applied to both.
There is a small discussion on what clinical ethicists do in your OP. TO quote from the blog one who actually does the job:
Barry’s actually asking two different questions in this post. He’s asking how a materialist can apply for a job as an ethicist and also why anyone would hire a materialist for such a job.
The answer to the first question is simply, “Why not?” For one who holds that there are no objective moral wrongs, applying for a job where he pretty much just flies by the seat of his pants, ethically speaking, is no more wrong than painting his office beige rather than white.
The real mystery is the answer to the second question.
This is discussed at some length in the comments on the other OP.
All the evidence I can find is that a clinical ethicist’s job is not to judge what is right or wrong. Their role is to interpret the laws and rules of the institution and help all the parties involved come to a decision which they and the institution are as comfortable with as possible. Their own ethical views are not relevant. I would guess a moral relativist is more likely to succeed in doing this than someone who thinks they know what the objective moral truth is.
Mark Frank quotes from a clinical ethicist’s blog to establish what clinical ethicists do:
OK. Suppose a particular clinical ethicist is a materialist preference utilitarian heavily influenced by Peter Singer. We are back to the OP.
Dick @ 8:
Point taken. Singer is a good example of how to make millions spouting materialist nihilism dressed up in academic jargon.
Upon reflection, there is probably a good answer to that question too. Unsurprisingly, it involves money as well. See The Best Bioethicists That Money Can Buy. The opening sentence:
Man has discovered he’s closely related to other animals.
Thereore, man is not related to God.
What a massively huge non-sequitur.
One could only wish that there was some necessary connection between well-written and well-argued.
And how are we to know that isn’t a straw-man? When ever was our ethics based on that idea?
I wonder if Singer would not also assert:
We can no longer base our republic, our individual rights and liberties, on the idea that human beings are a special form of creation made in the image of God.
Where on earth do these people learn to reason? Or do they?
I suspect they had to go to university in order to forget how to reeason.
Alternatively, the existence of moral facts could mean that it is simply false that physics fixxeds all the facts.
Another massive non-sequitur.
It is interesting to remember what the ‘original sin’ was,,,
And it is also interesting to see Richard Dawkins exercising his knowledge of good and evil to condemn almighty God as evil,,,
At least Peter Singer, as Mr. Arrington quoted above, and Will Provine, in this following video, are somewhat more honest than Dawkins is about what an atheistic/materialistic worldview entails in the devaluing of humans and the loss of a guiding moral ethic,,
I hold that the evidence overwhelmingly backs up Dr. Provine’s assessment of the moral situation for atheist’s, not Dawkin’s,,,
But it also interesting to note that Theists also, like the atheist Dawkins currently does, often have a severely distorted view of God. ,,, I’m reminded of this reaction from Isaiah, when Isaiah, though he was ‘prophet of God’, saw God for the first time…
In other words, even though Theists do not deny the reality of an objective moral ethic that is based in God’s nature, many times Theists, no matter how close to God they may be percieved to be, still do not have the complete picture as to how holy God actually is.
This ‘set apart holiness’ of God is important to remember since people, myself included, are expert at ‘making god into their image’, so as to rationalize, or justify, some questional, i.e. unloving, action they have done against another human being.
If the ethicist’s job description demands that he become an unethical whore, then his primary responsibility is to dramatize the irony.
I guess that short excerpt is not clear enough. The point is that he does not see it as his job to decide what is right or wrong or to influence stakeholders to adopt his ethical views. It is about getting stakeholders to clarify their own values, finding a compromise between different stakeholders with conflicting values, and applying the laws and rules of the state and the institution. I don’t think Peter Singer would be particularly good at this but nor would anyone who was certain about they considered to be the moral truth.
This longer excerpt may help (my emphasis).
You are missing the point. I accept for the sake of discussion that everything you say about an ethicist’s job is accurate. The job cannot, by definition, be performed in an ethical vacuum, which the passage you quote supports:
“my philosophy of clinical ethics is to frame advice and solutions in a way that is ethically supportable and around which stakeholders may reach consensus”
He frames his advice to the participants in a way that is “ethically supportable.” If this means anything it means that some advice is “ethically supportable” and some is not. So I repeat my question (your dodging of which is on the record for everyone to see):
..”my philosophy of clinical ethics is to frame advice and solutions in a way that is ethically supportable and around which stakeholders may reach consensus”
In the United States, stakeholders once reached a consensus decision that that blacks may be marginalized. Now they have reached a consensus that that blacks may not be marginalized.
Which consensus decision was ethically supportable and which one was not? Why?
The “ethically supportable” phrase jumped out at me too. It is difficult to read it other than as, “able to be rationalized.”
As in: It would be financially convenient to sell massive amounts of this pharmaceutical, but it likely has some very harmful side-effects. How can we make this happen in a way that is ethically supportable?
Having a moral relativist to advise in these circumstances would, no doubt, be worth every bit of $68K.
StephenB: “In the United States, stakeholders once reached a consensus decision that that blacks may be marginalized. Now they have reached a consensus that that blacks may not be marginalized.
Which consensus decision was ethically supportable and which one was not? Why?”
What about the word stakeholder don’t you understand? Are you saying that blacks in the US aren’t stakeholders in decisions made that affect them? And what about the word consensus don’t you understand? Consensus does not mean majority rules. It means far more than that.
Just as the word implies, a stakeholder is anyone who has a stake in the outcome of a decision. Blacks were stakeholders then and they are stakeholders now.
In a small group context, a consensus decision is one that everyone can live with in an environment where no one is voted down. In a political context, a consensus decision is one that is arrived at by a majority where the minority is voted down.
Now, please answer my questions:
In the United States, stakeholders once reached a consensus decision that that blacks may be marginalized. Now they have reached a consensus decision that that blacks may not be marginalized.
Which consensus decision was ethically supportable and which one was not? Why?
Ok. We get it. A moral philosopher is not exactly the same as a clinical ethicist. MF continues to submit that Professor Singer “might not be good at it”, but look closely at the reason given:
But, a moral truth is a truth isn’t it? Does this mean that the only good clinical ethicist achieves that status by not knowing what is true? Hah! But I digress . . .
MF seems totally willing to believe that the actual training the ethicist would receive under the likes of Singer would have little to no effect in the ethicist’s job. (If he/she were good at it.) What a nice description of clinical ethicist Mark gave us. As we all get lulled asleep by what is nothing more than a description of the world’s best sounding board, I hope nobody missed the phrase, they should function as informers and guides about the case’s ethical dimensions
I have a feeling that MF would find a clinical ethicist who relied on Christian grounding concerning “ethical dimensions” to be at best incomplete or, more likely, just plain wrong-headed.
On to more important things: MF, all has been stipulated, just answer the stinkin’ question! Else, I shall foist another bit of doggerel on you. Awwww, I’ll do it anyway.
Consider now Frank’s five rules of posting.
(Raise all your glasses, and I’ll do the toasting.)
Dodge (Again) and you’ll thrive!”
No need to debate. Re-shift, and he’s coasting.
You are, of course, correct. Duck and dodge is on full display. In fairness Mark is not the only materialist who employs these tactics. Personally, I suspect it is part of their coping mechanisms for dealing with the dissonance caused by, on the one hand espousing a materialist metaphysics, and on the other hand living their everyday lives as if their core metaphysical beliefs are false. Just a guess.
As I said in my reply to Dick #8 above and said several times on the other OP, as I understand it there are two relevant parts to a clinical ethicist’s job:
* interpret the laws and rules of the institution
* help all the parties involved come to a decision which they and the institution are as comfortable with as possible.
Presumably “ethically supportable” refers to the first part. If he had meant – “what I believe to be right” then he would have written that. If he is acting as clinical ethicist then he will be employed by an institution. If he is doing the job as specified then “ethically supportable” will refer to the rules and values of the institution and quite probably the state.That is what he is paid to do. This may conflict with his own values and as a person he may decide he would be morally better to act in a different way but then he would be doing the job less well.
Don’t you think a moral relativist (which incidentally is not the same as a materialist) would find this easier to cope with than an objectivist?
Would Peter Singer be prepared to do the job well? I have no idea. I don’t the man.
Suppose you were employing a clinical ethicist. Would you want one that reflected your own values or one that was convinced they knew the moral truth and would do their best to conform to his values?
Amongst all the sarcasm I guess the question you wanted me to answer is this one?
The answer is I have no idea because I don’t know Peter Singer. If he did, he would be doing the job rather poorly.
Sarcasm aside, this is where we will part ways. You claim that Singer would be doing the job rather poorly. My point is that based on your own lengthy description of clinical ethicist in post #16, Singer would be doing the job quite well!
Here, I would ask that we stipulate Singer is an empathic, caring listener, and so on, but one that explained the ethical dimensions of the decision at hand according to his moral philosophy.
The only problem is practically nobody would hire him because very few are willing to extend his moral philosophy into their own lives. Come to think of it, he is not even willing to extend it into his own. I direct your attention to “Other Peoples’ Mothers”.
Anyway, thanks for answering the question.
As for your question to Barry in 24, it is like so many others, a false dilemma.
If the ethicist I employed reflected my own values, I would know that they knew the moral truth and I would expect them to conform to it.
It is the same for everybody.
I am saddened by Mark Frank’s refusal to acknowledge the obvious. He points to a lengthy description of a clinical ethicist’s description of his job and asks us to use that as the basis of our understanding of what clinical ethicists do. Fair enough. The description contains the following:
Mark then says that all this means is that the job of the ethicist is merely to “interpret the laws and rules of the institution.” Nonsense on a stick. Mark is intelligent enough to know that “ethical” is not subsumed by “legal,” and when he suggests otherwise we can be sure he is being dishonest. Sad.
A few weeks ago Mark and I had a discussion about the obvious things that materialists must deny. Add this to the list: Mark denies the obvious fact that his own example demonstrates that clinical ethicists advise people about what is ethical.
Why would Mark deny such an obvious fact? As I said in 23 above, my best guess is that it is part of his coping mechanisms to deal with the dissonance he feels living his everyday life as if his most deeply held metaphysical commitments were false. In this particular instance, if Mark acknowledged the obvious, he would have to answer the question I asked in the OP and re-asked in comments 10 and 17. Answering that question would make Mark very uncomfortable, and he would rather resort to absurd interpretations of the very text he himself proposed as the baseline than answer that question.
Mark proposes a question to me in 24. There is an obvious answer to the question, but I refuse to give him the courtesy of a straightforward answer to a simple question when he refuses to extend the same courtesy to me.
I said he would be doing the job rather poorly if he brought the ethical view you describe into his job. As one of my assumptions was that a clinical ethicist should not attempt to get others to adopt his ethical views this seems to follow.
Maybe I wasn’t clear. I was trying to say that for a clinical ethicist those ethical dimensions should be the ethical dimensions of his employer – not his own. Therefore Singer would have failed according to my criterion (unless his employer happened to share his rather unusual values).
(If the ethicist reflected your own values you would believe they knew the moral truth. I am assuming you are subject to error like all other human beings and therefore it is possible you made a mistake. Or are you perfect?)
However, the dilemma I posed was rather different. Again I apologise if I was not clear. When I said “someone who reflected your own values” I meant someone who effectively worked using your ethical values whether they believed in them or not. The alternative was someone who believed they knew the moral truth but these values were different from yours (you must admit this is possible) and attempted to work using his/her own values. There is I suppose a third possibility – someone who perversely reflected a different set of values from your own and did not believe in those values – I cannot imagine why anyone would do that. I think this is a pretty clear set of mutually exclusive alternatives and therefore presents a real dilemma.
Incidentally can you give me one or two examples of the many other false dilemmas you mention?
I have not explained my position as clearly as I should. I guess it is your legal training and not your Christian values that leads you to quickly jump to accusations of dishonesty. My answer to your repeated question was in comment #25 written several hours before your accusation of not answering it (note Tim thanked me for answering the question).
Anyhow here is my attempt to summarise my position as clearly and concisely as I can. I believe every word I write.I think the significant change is “laws and values” where before I wrote “laws and rules”.
The OP question Barry asked, in the context of a clinical ethicist, was: Why should I pay someone $68,584 to say there is no real ultimate ethical difference between one moral response and another because they must both lead ultimately to the same place – nothingness.
Barry doesn’t differentiate between materialist, atheist, moral subjectivist and moral relativist. Even if you think they imply each other, the fact is that these are different views. I am assuming that what Barry is really getting at is moral subjectivism – the view that there is no ultimate foundation for moral judgements (a view I happen to share).
I suggest a moral subjectivist is more likely to do the job well (and thus provide a reason for paying him) than someone who believes they know the objective truth about morality. I believe the argument holds even if you are a moral objectivist. This is not a dispute about whether moral subjectivism or objectivism is correct.
The argument is:
All the evidence I have read suggests a clinical ethicist’s job includes two relevant tasks (they certainly have to do many other things as well but they are not relevant).
1) Understand, interpret, and help people conform to, the laws and values of their employer, the state and other similar institutions.
2) Find a solution for difficult situations where stakeholders have conflicting ethical views which is as acceptable as possible for all stakeholders but also complies with (1 ). We have an example of such a difficult situation in the news in the UK at the moment.
How do objectivist and subjectivists match up against these two requirements?
1) Objectivists often disagree about what the objective moral truth is (sometimes violently). So there is no guarantee that their views will be the same as the employer, the state and other similar institutions. Most subjectivists also have strong moral views, but, on the whole, I think they are less likely to pursue them in opposition to their employer’s views. Of course ideally the employer finds someone who passionately shares their values – in which case an objectivist would probably pursue his values more strongly – but it is hard to be sure about a person’s values when they are being interviewed and values change.
2) Objectivists will necessarily believe that at least one of the parties in an ethical conflict is objectively wrong. They will therefore be less inclined to adopt a solution that incorporates that party’s views and so they have less options for finding a mutually acceptable solution. A subjectivist may find one or more of the parties’ views distasteful but on the whole they will be more inclined to accept alternative viewpoints and therefore will have more options for finding a mutually acceptable solution.
Note that in practice most employees, including no doubt clinical ethicists, are less than perfect employees and interpose their own moral views in opposition to those of their employer. In some cases this may be what most of us would accept as the right thing to do – but they would be less perfect employees as a result.
Peter Singer’s views seem to be an irrelevant distraction. I only have a vague idea of his beliefs but I get the impression he is a materialist but believes in objective moral truths – albeit ones that most people would not accept. Even if he is a subjectivist he is not typical in his subjective views or the strength with which he puts them forward.
No Mark. You did not answer the question @ 25. You dodged it. Don’t you see; the question is rhetorical. The answer is manifest. And denying the manifest answer is a dodge.
I do not charge dishonestly lightly. But you insist on clinging to your absurd “an ethicist does not bring his ethical viewpoint to the table” position. This forces me to conclude that you are either hopelessly stupid or being dishonest. I know you are not hopelessly stupid. Sadly, that leaves but one alternative.
Certainly if one of the parties is Peter Singer or someone influenced by him and suggests that granny’s preference to live may be outweighed by others’ preference to knock her in the head, the objectivist will believe one of the parties is objectively wrong. Nevertheless, your statement is wrong. Objectivists do not insist there are no difficult questions upon which reasonable people can disagree.
Yes, almost by definition objectivists will exclude objectively immoral options. Thus, objectively immoral solutions (let’s knock granny in the head) will be off the table. I can’t argue with that.
Only to someone who wants to avert his eyes from Singer’s refreshingly honest (albeit somewhat brutal) conclusions regarding the logical end of materialist metaphysics vis-à-vis ethics.
The second part of that sentence proves the first part. Singer is the last person in the world who would say there is such a thing as objective moral truth.
I will grant that. He is atypically honest about the logical consequences of materialist metaphysics.
Thank you for clarifying your position. I am struck by the following:
Uuh, doesn’t everybody believe this?
A simple example, “It is right and correct that MF send me all his money.” Does anybody think there are two sides to this story, that MF’s (assumed) inclination to retain his wallet is also correct. No?
MF, I am glad you are more of a subjectivist, and although you find it distasteful, I will find it much more tasteful to have your money — tens and twenties, please.
You asked “am I wrong?”. And now you tell me that the only answer that counts as answer as far as you are concerned is “no”. Is this a lawyer’s trick – to ask a question and then accuse some of not answering it because they didn’t give the answer you wanted?
I have answered sincerely and outlined my reason for my answer. (It is question about how someone would behave and I don’t know the person). You have not responded to my reason but simply asserted that my point of view is either stupid or dishonest.
Given the above I think the time has come to stop debating this issue. This is a shame because it is quite an interesting topic – but there has to be a minimum level of courtesy and reasonableness in the debate
A subjectivist may not believe that any of the parties is objectively wrong – because they don’t believe ethical issues are necessarily objective (although frequently they are based on objective facts). If X asserts “this film is funny” and Y asserts “this film is not funny” then that may simply be them expressing their different opinions and neither is wrong.
Mark F said:
One wonders if there can be a case where the rules and/or values of the institution the ethicist is employed by could be found, by the ethicist, to be unethical?
Let’s float a test case. The policy of a grocery store chain is to destroy all produce, bakery and deli items that do not sell in a day. A local manager instead donates all the food to a local food bank/shelter that gives food to the poor, homeless and hungry. The ethicist is brought in to make a determination of what the ethical thing is to do.
If it is the ethicist’s job, as described by Mark F, to simply interpret the rules and policies of the company and other stakeholders, such as the state and its laws, and there is no law against destroying the food and, for the sake of discussion, the food bank/shelter is solely liable if the food is bad, then how should the subjectivist rule?
Well, if his job is only to interpret the rules of stakeholders involved, the only rules present that matter are the company’s rules. So, he must find that it is unethical for the employee to distribute the food to the food bank instead of destroying it. He certainly cannot find that it is unethical for the company to destroy the food, even if there would be no legal liability whatsoever to donating that food to the food bank.
So the ethical thing to do, in this case, for the subjectivist, is to order the food destroyed and let those people go hungry. Because, after all, the company doesn’t have a rule or a policy to keep people from starving, and it’s the ethicist’s job to interpret the rules, not question the rules themselves.
Whereas, the objectivist has grounds to question those rules even if no overruling institutions, like the state, holds any law that would overturn store policy. The objectivist holds that destroying good food while others nearby go hungry is itself unethical whether or not there is any formal policy or law, and can instead advise the company that the employee is in the right, ethically speaking, and that they need a new policy about the perishable food.
MF: “I have answered sincerely . . .” OK. I will take you at your word and withdraw my charge of dishonesty. This leaves the other option I discussed above.
BTW, when you deny the obvious I will always call you on it. And as we have already observed in our previous discussion of “obvious things materialists must deny” you have to do that a lot.
WJM, you are taking Mark’s words at face value and that is a mistake. He took the position you ascribed to him only to maintain his absurd “an ethicist does not bring his ethical viewpoint to the table” position, and he took that position to in order to dodge the question I posed to him in the OP. And he dodged the question in the OP because the obvious answer to the question makes him very uncomfortable.
Absolutely. Both a subjectivist and an objectivist may find their employer’s policy not to be ethical. I had hoped I had made that clear. They just would not be doing what the company was paying them to do.
(Subjectivists do have reasons for their beliefs – just not ultimate reasons)
One of your favourite arguments is “I am obviously right therefore you are stupid or dishonest”. Once you get to that stage I can only assume you have no reasons to justify your position.
Mark F said:
On what grounds would a subjectivist find the grocery store’s policy unethical, if there is no superceding law or policy to consider (like, say, from the state).
Well, I never post for the benefit of those that deny the obvious. I post for the pote4ntial benefit of others watching who may only need to have the obvious pointed out to them.
MF @ 38. When you make absurd statements (e.g., an ethicist does not make ethical judgments) you are either stupid or dishonest. You insist you are not dishonest. OK.
WJM. I understand. But trying to get someone like Mark Frank to follow his own logic to where it must lead is like trying to nail jello to a wall.
Why does he do it? Again I can only speculate, but my “avoid dissonance at all costs; even at the cost of making myself look like an idiot” is the best I can come up with.
Mark’s personal morality
“It is ethically supportable if I feel like doing it”
Mark’s institutional morality (filtered through the ethicist)
“It is ethically supportable if we feel like doing it.”
Similar grounds to yourself I dare say – it is a waste, it is an opportunity to relieve suffering etc. I really don’t want to do the whole objective/subjective debate yet again. I have explained many times why a subjective view can be supported by reasons. So often I wrote it up in a document which you may have seen before.
Mark F said:
You’re mistaking an argument or a ruling with the grounds for the argument or ruling.
You have said that it is your job as a subjective ethicist to interpret the rules and laws of stakeholders, not bring your own subjective ethical views into the matter.
“Relieving the suffering of others” only became a matter up for consideration in this example because it is the manager’s personal ethical view and he holds it as superior to that of the company policy – the policy that supposedly grounds your ethical considerations. That is what you are paid to do, isn’t it? To interpret and make rulings according to the company’s policies and guidelines and not your own subjective views … right?
In our example, the people that hired you, and the laws of the state governing that company, in no way imply that it is the duty of the company to “relieve suffering”. Why would you argue that the company “should” relieve the suffering of others when it can when it is in no way mentioned in the policies you have been hired to interpret?
BTW, MF, the grounds for my ruling would be that ethics are rooted in natural law morality, and that some things are unethical regardless of laws or policies or personal beliefs otherwise. Relieving needless suffering when one can is a universal, objectively true ethical obligation.
Since you have no company policy or legal grounds for ruling in the manager’s favor, and you claim to not represent your own subjective ethical views, your only option would be to rule in favor of destroying the food.
I think there is a misunderstanding here. I thought you were asking why would a subjectivist as a person find the store’s policy unethical. Many people find aspects of their job unethical. But this is different from the ethical stance in their job description. In the most extreme example an SS officers job description would be deeply unethical to most people but to satisfy that description the officer would have to act in accordance with the values of the nazi party. Of course most hospitals etc have values which are far more acceptable to most people. But they may, probably will, differ from the ethicist’s principles to some extent, who then may either choose to do their job and give the employer good reason to pay them or follow their own principles.
My argument in this thread has always been about how the ethicist should behave to satisfy their job description and thus make it worth the employer’s while to pay them. I suggest a subjectivist might find this easier than an objectivist (on the whole).
Just read this one. Anyone (subjectivist or objectivist) would have to rule in favour of destroying the food if they were to satisfy the job description and justify their salary. I think we are missing each other’s point here.
Mark, very astute observation.
I have a question for Barry. Many hospitals in Canada perform vasectomies, tubal ligations, abortions, sex reassignment surgeries, stem cell research using material from aborted fetuses, etc. And in many cases these are covered by provincial health care. Is the job of the hospital employed ethicist to try to convince the patient that their choice to receive one of these procedures is morally and ethically wrong? I think that any hospital employed ethicist who tried to do this would be fired for cause and promptly escorted out the door. Yet, you have stated that only a theist could accept this job in good faith. How is this possible? If they accepted the position with the objective to get the hospital to refuse to offer these services (or convince the patients not to opt for any of these procedures), they would be accepting the position under false pretences, which, I have been told, is not ethical. Whereas if they accepted the position and performed it as directed by the job description, a theist (and especially a devout catholic) would be performing the job in bad faith.
Just for fun, can you tell me why the ethicist so bound by his job description is needed? Can you tell, in keeping with the spirit of the post, tell me why he should be paid for saying, “Amen?”
Meanwhile, I will now comment on your side story, which served well to distract from the main topic. Would a moral subjectivist find it easier to sell his soul for the money than a moral realist? Yes. No problem there.
So, essentially, you’re saying that an ethicist is really nothing more than an enforcer of company policy, correct?
StephenB, I agree, I don’t know why a grocery store would need an ethicist.
But this aside, many grocery stores do have a policy to destroy perishable food rather than give it to a food bank. Is this ethical? I would argue that it may be. Is it ethical to give food to people that you know is potentially hazardous?
The point is that no one needs an ethicist if the job description is as Mark describes.
AB to Barry:
That was before Mark introduced his whacked out definition of an ethicist.
StephenB: “That was before Mark introduced his whacked out definition of an ethicist.”
Fair enough. But I have not heard a reasonable alternate. Do you seriously think that a hospital (or whatever) would expect an ethicist, employed by them, to completely undermine the ethos/morals/ethics/mission statement/vision, that the employer has already established?
Yes, they should certainly have input to its evolution (don’t you just hate that word?) but if they aren’t willing to follow it, they should look for another job.
Mark put’s on his ethicist hat:
Just keep working on those qualifications and you might land the job!
You say that as if they OUGHT to have reasons for their beliefs.
Peter Singer will never quit his day job and put out a shingle that says “Clinical Ethicist, 5 cents” and here is why. He knows that either he won’t get hired if he sticks to his logically extended moral vision, applying it to ethical decisions that few institution can stomach or weather public reaction, or he would have to abandon his moral vision and become a yes-man to the . . . man. As far as I know Professor Singer, and that is not too far, he is no yes-man.
And, in the Canadian hospital example (A_B @49), the Christian looking for work as a clinical ethicist faces a parallel, but different, dilemma. He can’t work out his moral vision without being fired (I’m brushing in broad strokes here), but being a yes-man is equally repugnant.
All I draw from this is an indictment of Singer’s philosophy and featured aspects of Canadian health”care” that share in the culture of death.
It should come as no surprise that governmental bio-ethicists do not tolerate Christian ethics (or outspoken Christians) in their formulations (or as committee chairs). If all compromises continue to inch into darkness, what light can be tolerated?
I take it back. Should he desire to explore the wonders of ice-fishing, perhaps jobs await Professor Singer just north of our border . . .
If an institution has true moral leadership, it’s mission statement and its supportive strategies will also have a moral texture. Under these circumstances, the decision makers will not want “yes” men around them. On the contrary, they will search for someone who will hold them accountable. Truly moral people want to be evaluated and scrutinized because they understand that moral improvement can take place only in an environment where moral mistakes are identified and corrected. Thus, any such institution would reward an ethicist who calls them to account.
If, on the other hand, an institution lacks moral leadership, then its mission and its policies will reflect that same lack. In that case, the decision makers will not concern themselves with ethical subtleties. Seeking every advantage, they will hire a communications expert who will teach them how to appear ethical without actually being ethical. Immorality always hides from the searchlight of objective morality and will persecute anyone who tries to illuminate the environment. A true ethicist (one who promotes objective morality) would not be welcome in such a place.
Since secularists run most of the major institutions in the West, it is the second category that prevails. Accordingly, moral subjectivists do not begin each day asking how they can serve their clients. For them, the issue is, “how can we fool ’em’ today.” Fortunately, most small businesses are not like this. However, the secularists in the major institution are trying to destroy small businesses and it appears that they are going to succeed. The problem is and always has been the world view of the ruling class. Materialists destroy everything they touch.
StephenB, an employee’s job is not to hold the employer accountable, but I do agree that a good employer would seek input wherever they can get it.
Yes, part of an ethicist’s job is to make the employer aware of the various ethical issues. But, contrary to what Barry would have us believe, they are not black and white, objective. For example, what if a fundamental Islamic male came in as a patient and didn’t want to be cared for by single female nurses? As much as you and I may be offended by this, what should the hospital’s position be? Frankly, I don’t know the answer to this, but at some level the patient’s religion, however much we disagree with it, must be taken into account. This would be something that an ethicist woul be called on for a recommendation. In my mind, a non-theist would be better suited to make an unbiased recommendation in this situation than a theist would.
It seems to me that a Christian or Catholic Theist would be just as likely as a non-theist to question the morality of an Islamist who demands special treatment in the name of religion. Indeed, I suspect that the theist, who is grounded in objective morality, would be more qualified than the non-theist to differentiate between unreasonable religious extremism, which violates the natural moral law, and reasonable religious conviction, which doesn’t. The non-theist is reduced to relying on his personal preferences and feelings, which can provide no real direction.
Thank you. Some reasoned arguments about what the role of an ethicist would involve. I was thinking it would never rise above “I am obviously right. Therefore you are stupid or dishonest.”
It is a good point that an organisation should be prepared to listen to the ethical views of its employees. This is true of all its employees, although I guess a clinical ethicist might have more to say and have more credibility than most. To that extent I was wrong and my definition needs modifying.
Going back to Barry’s original question – why pay this guy? The organisation might well be paying him to advise them on what is ethical much as they would pay him to advise staff and patients. But I don’t think they would expect his advise to be based on his own personal view of what is right or wrong. They would expect reference to some broader legal context or agreement – plus possibly mixed with appeals to what they all accept as moral. The ethicist who told the board that abortion was wrong because he knew that to be true based on the natural moral law would not be doing what they were paying him to do and would very likely get the sack. The ethicist who told them abortion was in contravention of the principles of their Catholic founders or some such thing would be doing their job. As would the ethicist who pointed out consequences they had not considered.
Do we presume morals and ethics are unique to people of certain religions?
I only wonder why we rarely see cannibalism in the animal kingdom. Meat is meat so why not eat your relatives? Even “wild humans” seem to respect human lives more than animal lives. Strange.
This is a very interesting comment because it lends itself to a clarification of principles and away from unnecessary disputes.
I hold that the ethicist is accountable to everyone in the organization and even beyond. The quality of the relationship between the organization and its employees is always reflected in the quality of the relationship between the organization and its clients. If I know that a company has not been fair with its workers, then I also know that it will not be fair with me.
Thus, the first and most important job of the ethicist is to promote virtue within the organization, knowing that its effects will reverberate far beyond its borders. As we learn from tradition, there is no such thing as business ethics or legal ethics or medical ethics. There is only the ethic, the natural moral law that can bring everyone together in a spirit of unity precisely because it holds everyone accountable to the same standard.
Accordingly, there is not one standard of morality for privileged managers and another for new employees, not one standard for organizations linked to the government and another for small businessmen, not one standard for rich people and another for poor people–but rather one ethic that everyone can know, honor, and follow. It stands on the obvious truth that virtue and vice are real and that the former is always better than the latter.
As you know I do not agree that there is only one ethic. But even if there was – the question was not what is the right thing for the ethicist to do but why would I the employer pay him? You yourself write:
Assuming that is true, such institutions will not want to pay a theist to tell them if they are morally right or wrong based on his knowledge of the natural moral law. They might well want to pay someone to tell them where they are transgressing cultural and institutional norms; are likely to have ethical issues with clients, employees or other stakeholders; and help resolve these issues where they arise as well as possible. I see no reason why a subjectivist would perform this task any worse than an objectivist.
Well, you know my position. A subjectivist would fare better in an unjust organization, and a realist would fare better in a just organization.
As I argued, in the unjust organization, leaders will want to appear ethical while being unethical. So, they will not hire an ethicist, they will hire a corrupt expert in communication to help them fool the stakeholders.
In a just organization, leaders will want to be ethical and promote ethical standards and will, therefore, be more likely to hire an ethicist, who will encourage everyone to practice virtue and avoid vice.
So, I think Barry’s point holds. A materialist ethicist, who doesn’t believe in the existence of virtue, should not accept payment for his advice because he isn’t really an ethicist at all. He is an anti-ethical materialist.
That is a different from asking how well he will fit in. If an unjust organization mistakenly hires him, he will survive by saying “amen” to their immorality; if a just organization hires him, he will soon be fired.
That brings us full circle as to what an ethicist job really is. Is to provide moral guidance and hold people and organisations accountable based on his/her deep knowledge of what is really ethical (assuming he/she really does know and hasn’t made a mistake). Or is it a more pragmatic job to help people and organisations navigate their way through the many conflicting and ambiguous views of what is ethical that exist in the real world based on his/her deep knowledge of those views and their implications.
And now I must do some work ….
Exactly right. They’d want it based on something a bit more objective than that. That’s the point.
Please see my #67 which maybe explains my point a bit better.
But do you not see the problem in characterizing the objectivist’s advice as “based on his own personal view of what is right or wrong?” That’s like assuming what is at issue and then criticizing the objectivist based on the assumption.
I rephrased it in 67 to avoid that problem.
Assuming, of course, that the implications don’t actually include being objectively right or wrong.
If the blind leads the blind, how will they not both fall into the ditch?
Cabal #63: “I only wonder why we rarely see cannibalism in the animal kingdom. Meat is meat so why not eat your relatives? Even “wild humans” seem to respect human lives more than animal lives. Strange.”
Actually cannibalism is quite common in the animal kingdom. In some cases, it may better be described as scavenging. But in others it is a strategy that works well. For example, adult perch are too big to effectively prey on zooplankton. But their young is not. They broadcast thousands of baby perch to the environment, who can effectively feed on zooplankton. The adults then eat the baby fish. As long as enough survive, this strategy works well.
But with humans, baby eating is frowned upon.
I find myself actually agreeing with Acartia_bogart for once. Cannibalism is unfortunately common in the animal kingdom in my experience.
When I was young my family caught a young wild pig. We decided to keep it until it grew big enough to eat. Awhile later we caught most of a litter of much younger piglets. We went and put them in the same pen as the older piglet, only to discover that every few days one of the small piglets would go missing…
StephenA: “I find myself actually agreeing with Acartia_bogart for once. “
Please warn me before you do this. A man my age should not be shocked like this (unless I am being shocked by a paramedic).