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Thoughts on fairness and morality.

I recently submitted this essay as part of my Uni coursework, so I thought I’d share it 🙂

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In this paper, my main argument that I will justify will be that Utilitarian ethics leads to more fairness than Deontology will. I will also assess Kant’s ‘Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals’ and Rawls’s teachings to support my conclusion. I will begin by briefly explaining the philosophy of utilitarianism for the sake of clarity. I will then offer a justification as to why utilitarianism leads to fairness and will then progress by revising my thesis by taking some objections of it and other philosophies into consideration. This essay will focus mainly on explaining why deontology and Rawls’s theory fail as a substitute for utilitarianism.

One assumption I will be making in this essay is that morality and fairness are the same thing. Fairness is doing what you consider moral, however relative that may be. My definition of morality will be explored in this essay. So in summary: I use fairness to be a part of the fundamental criterion for morality, for the same reasons as Fredrik Bendz does in this article here.

My view is that an action is deemed moral if it is for the greater good of the greatest number of people. This is a core principle of utilitarianism. My belief is that following the utilitarian doctrine will lead to a fairer society. An example would be that, in the case of having to give away one hundred pounds and either choosing between splitting the money between five people or just giving to one. Utilitarianism dictates splitting the money because it leads to more happiness from the greater number of people. Another more extreme case would be where a psychopathic axe murderer knocked on your door with the intention of murdering the innocent child in your care. In this case, you are morally obligated to protect that child because doing otherwise would lead to greater pain and suffering. I find these examples are convincing enough to support the conclusion that utilitarianism is a fair system, particularly considering the deontological[1] response to the problems. In response to the first problem, it is difficult to apply deontological philosophy to it. In recognition of the second example, deontologists would argue that you are morally obligated to reveal the location of the innocent child in your care to the psychopathic axe murderer, and thus to put her in harm’s way.

It also seems to be a rather counter intuitive and unfair action. You could argue that if it seems unfair, then it probably is. I can justify this because the action itself does not lead the greater good of anything or anyone, and an action for the benefit of someone is what is widely considered to be fair. In this case, the deontological response of surrendering to the axe murderer does not fit the criteria of leading to the greater good of anything, and is, therefore, unfair.

Briefly, I will convey the argument that makes deontologists reach this conclusion before explaining how utilitarianism earns the title of fairness. How Deontologists like Kant define morality and fairness is doing your duty for the sake of duty. This means that you should abide by the Laws if they are universally binding[2]. A more analytical reading of this philosophy highlights many of its flaws. One fault is that it cannot be a legitimate system because of Hegel’s non-contradiction theory[3], meaning that statements cannot be simultaneously true and false at one given moment. Hegel bases this on Kant’s argument that it is contradictory to universalise acts that are considered ‘perfect duties’[4]. Acts including murder and lying should be considered wrong because they cannot be universalised without it being a contradiction. For example, if I were to kill someone else, then it would be justifiable (by this logic) for someone to kill me, and this progresses until there is no one left to kill, meaning everyone would be dead. Whilst I agree with the premise that murder and lying should be considered immoral and unfair, I am persuaded by Hegel’s point that there is nothing contradictory about absence. In this case where everyone might be dead if murder were universalised, then the act of murder would no longer exist. To summarise my point, Kant’s point that murder and lying is wrong is justifiable, but his means of achieving that conclusion is faulty.

Utilitarianism fits the concept that what is done for the greater good of the majority and for the benefit of the people is fair. I am in favour of utilitarianism because it avoids the problems deontology raises.

Another Kantian perspective on ethics is Rawls’s ‘Veil of Ignorance’ theory. I will outline this argument in detail and then I will give reasons as to why this theory is not as strong as a utilitarian one. What the ‘Veil of Ignorance’ essentially does is strip people of identity and then allowing them to hypothetically form their ideal version of society. This runs on the presumption that people will create a just society that is fair for all. There is a lot of emphasis on the use of justice here because Rawls’s theory relies on the idea that ethics should be based on justice, which is Kantian in its essence.

The first issue I take with it is that you cannot practically apply this to the real world. What I mean by this is that it is impossible to achieve the complete ignorance, as Rawls describes, to foster the best environment to create a just society. There is no possible method of enforcing a system where everyone is completely ignorant of identity. One counterargument to this is the idea that the situation could be entirely hypothetical, but this also fails how to rule out implicit bias. It is impossible to determine whether a person truly is ignorant in this situation.

But even if could, how do you know that people would not take risks? One example would be a case where three-quarters of the population could be “the masters” and the rest had to be “the slaves”, and had no freedom whatsoever. It is undeniable that at least a small percentage of people would take that risk based on the likelihood that they’ll be one of the lucky 75%. My point here is that Rawls fails to consider human nature, and therefore this leaves a flaw in his theory. Based on these two problems, I reject Rawls’s theory as a substitute for utilitarianism as a means of achieving fairness and equality.

Following a review of the counter-arguments of Kant and Rawls, as well as measuring Utilitarianism, I can conclude that a fair and moral act should always be done for the greater good of the larger number of people. I, therefore, add that Utilitarianism does not lead to unfairness.

 

 

[1] Deontologists tend to agree that obedience to objective law is what should be regarded as moral.

[2] What I mean by this is that they work in favour of humanity.

[3] Boer K. ‘Hegel’s Account Of Contradiction In The Science Of Logic Reconsidered’. 1st ed. Gronigen; 2017:347. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/3686796/Hegels_Account_of_Contradiction_in_the_Science_of_Logic_Reconsidered?auto=download. Accessed May 8, 2017.

[4] This is defined as any act that is blameworthy if they are not met. Honesty may be considered as an example. This is opposed to ‘perfect duties’, where this encourages you to cultivate a particular talent or skill you have, such as painting.

Further reading on the subject:

  • Boer K. ‘Hegel’s Account Of Contradiction In The Science Of Logic Reconsidered’. 1st ed. Gronigen; 2017: 347.
  • Kant I, Paton H. ‘Groundwork Of The Metaphysic Of Morals’. 1st ed. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Thought; 2009.
  • Pyle A. Utilitarianism. London: Routledge/Thoemmes Press; 1998.
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René Descartes and Methodological Scepticism (a very brief guide).

René Descartes was a 17th-century French philosopher and is widely considered to be the father of modern philosophy. He was also a Rationalist. This means that he was more inclined to depend on reason and logic as the best guide for belief and action.

Methodological Scepticism:

He dedicated a lot of his life to establish the fundamental knowledge about the universe: differentiating the truth from what isn’t. To do this, he disregarded anything he knew to be true until he could prove otherwise. He failed miserably at doing so.

It is impossible for us to know anything, and be able to prove it, because what we think we know is composed entirely of varying levels of belief. Essentially, we cannot prove that anything exists because we rely on our senses to tell us things. Our senses are unreliable because it distorts the truth. For instance, objects may appear different underwater, but in reality, we know it to be different.

Descartes did, however, manage to prove that without a shadow of a doubt that he existed.

This is where his famous “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think therefore I am”) argument comes in. What he means by this is that if for him to be asking questions about nature’s existence, then there must exist something to be asked about.

He simplified this explanation of the “ontological argument” by using axioms of geometry. For instance, it would be impossible to argue that a square does not have four sides because doing so would defy logic. Descartes argued that the definition of the square necessitates the existence of the square. In the same way, Descartes then went on to prove the existence of supernatural beings (i.e. God), because, using the same argument, the definition of god necessitates the existence of god.

Cartesian Dualism:

This means that there are two main foundations to existence: the mental and the body. His philosophy states that the mental cannot exist outside of the body, and the body cannot think.

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Also interesting by Descartes:

(Method of doubts – people are often confused about the ‘big’ questions in life, for instance, “what’s the meaning of life?”, because they do not break the questions down to understandable amounts and go through each individual matter at a time. Thus, a philosopher’s job would, in theory, would be to sort through these “like separating good and bad apples”, which would ultimately lead to solving the question.)

René Descartes wrote a lot during his lifetime. Here are some that are recommended:

  • The Description of the Human Body
  • Dioptrique
  • Discourse on the Method
  • Meditations and other Metaphysical Writings
  • Passions of the Soul
  • Principles of Philosophy

On The Ground with The Good Earth

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My name is Shannon and I am currently an ‘on the ground promoter’ working on Motherlode’s The Good Earth. That means that I am helping to spread the word to as many people as possible about this show which tours Wales in September.

Motherlode’s tagline is Tireless New Theatre, Made in Wales.  I saw the last run of rehearsals for ‘The Good Earth’ at Park & Dare Theatre in Treorchy last week. I feel extremely lucky to be working to engage people in the Cardiff area and to have got the chance to watch the performance just before it went on tour to New York. I’m delighted to help spread the word about this production; the themes that it touches on evokes awareness on what has affected Wales as a country in the past and its reaction to moments of hardship. It is an important message of strength and unity, especially during a time when we seem to be so divided.

The Good Earth’ echoes concerns over the threat to the Welsh identity and community with its close relation to the Aberfan and Tryweryn tragedies. The play made me feel nostalgic about situations I’ve never personally experienced, and empathetic for the characters’ cause to maintain the integrity of their way of life. It reminded me of Wales’s role in modern Britain, and how drastically that has developed over the years. It was the backlash against apathetic and unjust authorities that helped to fuel the surge of Welsh nationalism that we see today.

The singing, though not appearing to be its fundamental feature, significantly intensified the mood of the play. It had a meditative effect. Kudos to the actors for managing to convey the emotions of deeply relevant issues in many Welsh communities. I am so excited to see the show alongside a Welsh audience when it returns from NYC.

Further information on The Good Earth 2016

Welsh Values – What does it mean to be Welsh.

Spineless Liberal

March 1st. Dydd Gwyl Dewi. St. David’s Day. The patron saint of Wales. The sun is shining. What a great day to be Welsh.

Even Google is getting in on the act.

In fact, what better day to ask a question – What is ‘Welsh’.

What is it that makes me inherently (and if you’ve ever met me, obviously) Welsh, and not English or British or whatever?

I’d like to first set out my biases – I’m Welsh, I was born in Wales (in St. Asaph/Llanelwy) and raised in Wales (Rhyl). I was taught through the Welsh language, from the age of 2 at Ysgol Dewi Sant in Rhyl, until graduating from the excellent Ysgol Uwchradd Glan Clwyd in Llanelwy at the age of 18. I am a proud and passionate Welshman.

I have no idea what it means to be Welsh.

I don’t want to distinguish myself in terms…

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The Interactionist labelling theory/Y damcaniaeth labelu Rhyngweithiol (En/Cy)

English version/fersiwn Saesneg:

The labelling theory belongs to the Interactionists. They believe that nobody is naturally deviant (an idea that conflicts with the New Right), but become deviant when labelled as such, and whatever label this may be has a profound influence on the individual’s actions. Interactionists focus on the individual’s response to their label(s); this is what distinguishes them from other social theorists, such as the Functionalists, who tend to focus their attention on what leads the individual to deviance in the first place.

Lemert developed the labelling theory. The argued that deviance could be split into two separate groups – primary and secondary. The former is referenced to deviance which does not gain the attention of the public, and therefore does not receive a label. The latter, on the other hand, means actions which does receive a label from society, similarly, Howard Becker puts forth the notion that the term deviance does not actually exist, “Deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label”, and, “an act only becomes deviant when people define it as such”. He therefore implies that an action has to be labelled as deviant for it to actually become one, because the term itself is socially constructed.

As it is socially constructed, the environment surrounding the situation, including where, when and for which reasons it has occurred, decide if the action is deviant. Often times, the proses of stigmatisation will occur if something is considered deviant, and the action itself will be thereby associated with a bad label. Sometimes the label works like the ‘master status’, which takes over every other label. Examples of this include thieves, prostitutes and homosexuals (this is considered deviant in many cultures).  All the negative connotations of that label are usually thrusted onto the individual. The Interactionist Jock Young supports Becker’s work through his research into Hippy culture. Smoking weed was not considered to be a priority for these groups, until the negative attention from the public and the police.

According to Cooley and his “looking glass self” theory, people tend to see themselves how other people perceive and react to them. The label works as a self-fulfilling prophecy to control people; often, they will start to act to live up to the label, and thus starting a ‘deviant career’, meaning that certain individuals will start to revolve their lives around deviance and/or crime. The activity, therefore, will turn into a social role.

The Sociologist Stan Cohen pointed out in his ‘moral panic’ thesis on the subject of the labelling theory, that subcultures are the most exposed to this process. To start, Cohen suggested that the public would take notice of an activity taking place. An example would be, according to his study, the Mods and Rockers of 1960’s England. As a result of this, agencies of formal and informal control would react to it. The media often amplifies deviance and exaggerates a particular event to make the story more newsworthy, and thus selling more newspapers and generating more profit, although this has negative effects on society. Members of society would start to be wary of specific symbols and icons, and view them as troublemakers. Then, they would overstate the situation by expecting more trouble, and thereby redefining the issue by creating moral panic as a reaction to deviance. Additionally, this may necessitate police officers to target specific groups, meaning that the labelling theory would rotate once again.

To reiterate, the labelling theory plays a significant role within society if we take into account its effect on individuals. Labels may have a positive and negative effect on individuals, and is completely dependent on the situation, or even if the action is labelled by society in the first place.

Welsh version/fersiwn Cymraeg:

Mae’r theori labelu yn perthyn i’r Rhyngweithwyr. Credon nhw fod neb yn wyrdroëdig yn naturiol, ond yn wydredig o dan label, a’r label sy’n ddylanwad mawr ar ymddygiad unigolyn (mae hyn yn gwrthddweud credoau’r Dde Newydd). Mae’r Rhyngweithwyr yn ffocysu ar ymateb yr unigolyn i’r label, ac i’r gwrthwyneb, lle mae’r Swyddogaethwyr yn ffocysu ar beth sy’n arwain at yr unigolyn i fod yn wydredig yn y lle cyntaf.

Datblygwyd y syniad o label gan Lemert. Mae gwyredd yn rhannu i ddau grŵp gwahanol, sef gwyredd cynradd ac eilradd. Mae gwyredd cynradd yn cyfeirio at wyredd nad sy’n derbyn sylw’r cyhoedd ac felly nid oes ganddo label. Mae gwyredd eilradd, ar y llaw arall, yn golygu gweithred sy’n derbyn label gan y gymdeithas. Yn debyg, soniodd Howard Becker nad yw’r term gwyredd yn bodoli, “Deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label”, ac, “an act only becomes deviant when people define it as such”. Awgrymir felly, rhaid i weithred cael ei enwi’n gwyredd er mwyn iddo fod yn wyredd, gan fod y term ei hun yn enghraifft o luniad cymdeithasol.

Gan ei fod yn lluniad cymdeithasol, mae’r amgylchiadau o gwmpas y sefyllfa, megis ble, pryd, ac am ba resymau, yn penderfynu os yw gweithred yn gwyredig. Yn aml bydd y proses o stigmateiddio yn digwydd os caiff rhywbeth ei labelu’n gwyredig, a chysylltwyd y weithred â label gwael. Weithiau bydd y label yn gweithio fel “Statws Meistr” ac yn cymryd dros bob label arall, megis lleidr, person hoyw, person ag iselder a llofruddwr. Cysylltwyd yr holl dermau negyddol sy’n perthyn i’r label i’r unigolyn. Mae’r Rhyngweithwyr Jock Young yn atgyfnerthu gwaith Becker trwy eu astudiaeth o ‘Hippies’ pwy oedd yn ysmygu cyffuriau. Nid oedd y gweithgaredd hyn yn arwyddocâd iddynt nes i’r cyfryngau a’r heddlu targedu nhw.

Yn ôl Cooley, yn ei ddamcaniaeth “through the looking-glass self”, mae pobl yn gweld eu hunain yn y ffordd mae pobl eraill yn ymateb iddynt. Mae’r label yn gweithio fel proffwydoliaeth hunan gyflawni i reoli’r unigolyn – byddent yn ddechrau ymddwyn fel y label, fel arfer, a dechrau gyrfa gwyredig, sy’n golygu bydd pobl yn ddechrau byw eu bywydau yn uniongyrchol i droseddu. Bydd y gweithgaredd, felly, yn troi i mewn i rôl gymdeithasol.

Sonnir Stanley Cohen yn ei damcaniaeth o banig moesol ynglŷn â’r theori label, yn bennaf ymysg isddiwylliannau. I ddechrau, bu’r cyhoedd yn cymryd sylw o’r gweithgaredd, ac esiampl o hyn yw’r Mods a Rockers y chwedegau. Fel canlyniad o hyn, bydder asiantaethau yn ymateb i’r gweithgaredd, megis y cyfryngau. Bydd y cyhoedd yn aml yn helaethu gwyredd i werthu papurau, sydd yn creu ganlyniadau gwael ar y gymdeithas. Bydd y gymdeithas yn gweld symbolau penodol fel eiconau o achoswyr trwbl. Yna, byddent yn gorliwio’r sefyllfa ac yn rhagweld mwy o drwbl, a chrëwyd panig moesol fel ymateb i’r gwyredd, sy’n ailddiffinio’r broblem. Hefyd, efallai bydd hyn yn achosi i’r heddlu i orymateb a thargedu grwpiau penodol o bobl, a bydd y theori label yn cylchdroi eto.

I grynhoi, mae’r theori labelu yn chwarae rôl hanfodol o fewn y gymdeithas, gan ystyried ei ddylanwad ar yr unigolyn. Gall y label effeithio person yn negyddol ac mewn ffordd cadarnhaol, sy’n hollol ddibynnol ar y sefyllfa, neu hyd yn oed os yw’r gweithred yn cael ei labelu gan y gymdeithas yn y lle cyntaf.