Computers, Information Technology, the Internet, Ethics, Society and Human Values
Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.
Queensborough Community College, CUNY
Chapter 3 Ethics
The Basis for Morality
How are we to behave toward one another? Morality is a social phenomenon. Think about this. If a person is alone on some deserted island would anything that person did be moral or immoral? That person may do things that increase or decrease the chance for survival or rescue but would those acts be moral or immoral? Most of what we are concerned with in Ethics is related to the situation in which humans are living with others. Humans are social animals. Society contributes to making humans what they are. For humans there arises the question of how are humans to behave toward one another.
What are the rules to be?
How are we to learn of them? Why
do we need them?
WHY BE MORAL?
Consider what the world would be like if there were no traffic rules at all. Would people be able to travel by automobiles, buses and other vehicles on the roadways if there were no traffic regulations? The answer should be obvious to all rational members of the human species. Without basic rules, no matter how much some would like to avoid them or break them, there would be chaos. The fact that some people break the rules is quite clearly and obviously not sufficient to do away with the rules. The rules are needed for transportation to take place.
Why are moral rules needed?
For example, why do humans need rules about keeping promises,
telling the truth and private property?
This answer should be fairly obvious.
Without such rules people would not be able to live amongst other
humans. People could not make
plans, could not leave their belongings behind them wherever they went.
We would not know who to trust and what to expect from others.
Civilized, social life would not be possible.
So, the question is : Why
should humans care about being moral?
There are several answers.
Sociological: Without morality social life is nearly impossible.
People care about what others think of them. Reputation and social censure
Some people care about doing the right thing. Conscience
Some people care about what will happen after death, to their soul or
spirit. For many religions
there is an afterlife that involves a person’s being rewarded or
punished for what they have done.
So, that is out of the way. We know that we should be moral and so should others and without some sense of morality it would be very difficult if not impossible for large numbers of humans to be living with one another. Now to the questions that deal with the rules of morality and all the rules which govern human behavior. First, some terms need to be clarified.
Mores- customs and rules of conduct
Etiquette – rules of conduct concerning matters of relatively minor importance but which do contribute to the quality of life. Violations of such rules may bring social censure. Etiquette deals with rules concerning dress and table manners and deal with politeness. Violations would bring denunciations for being, RUDE or CRUDE or GROSS. Friendships would not likely break up over violations of these rules as they would for violating rules of morality, e.g., lies and broken promises! These rules are not just “made up by a bunch of old British broads” as one student once volunteered in class. But they are made up by people to encourage a better life. In each society there are authorities on these matters and there are collections of such rules. Many books are sold each year to prospective brides who want to observe the proper rules of decorum and etiquette. There are newspapers that have regular features with questions and answers concerning these matters.
This deals with matters such as when do you place the napkin on your lap when you sit at a dining table? How long do you wait on HOLD on a telephone call with someone with call waiting? Should you use a cell phone at the dining table? Should you have a beeper on or a cell phone on in class? In a movie theatre?
(check on the answers to these questions-Hint-There are books on etiquette and now you can also surf the internet – the answers are out there!)
When the behavior considered undesirable rises to a level of seriousness and concern the behavior may be deemed immoral rather than simply rude or impolite or poor etiquette. What might cause the behavior to be deemed immoral rather than just impolite? If there is a universal moral sense that is hardwired in all humans as a result of the evolution of the species that is a social species it may be a sense of harm to others. Thus when behavior appears in some way to be harmful it becomes a candidate for review as being moral or not moral rather than simply being impolite or improper etiquette..
of right conduct concerning matters of greater importance than the rules
Violations of such can bring disturbance to individual conscience
and social sanctions as well as changes in personal relationships.
Law- rules which are enforced by society. Violations may bring a loss of or reduction in freedom and possessions.
What is the relation of law to morality?
They are NOT the same. You
can NOT equate the two. Just
because something is immoral does not make it illegal and just because
something is illegal it does not make it immoral.
You can probable think of many examples to support
this view once you think about it.
Things that are illegal but are thought to be
moral (for many)!
Drinking under age.
Driving over the speed limit.
Cheating on a tax return.
Splitting a cable signal to send it to more than one
People do not think of themselves or of others as being immoral for breaking these laws.
Can you think of other examples??
Things that are immoral (for many) but are not
Cheating on your spouse.
Breaking a promise to a friend.
Using abortion as a birth control measure.
People can not be arrested or punished with imprisonment or fines for doing these things.
Can you think of other examples??
What is the relation of morality to law? Well, when enough people think that something is immoral they will work to have a law that will forbid it and punish those that do it.
When enough people think that something is moral, they will work to have a law that forbids it and punishes those that do it repealed or, in other words, if there is a law that says doing X is wrong and illegal and enough people no longer agree with that then those people will work to change that law.
Philosophy to understand and to justify moral principles
Ethics to establish principles of the GOOD and those of right behavior Ethics deals with the basic principles that serve as the basis for moral rules. Different principles will produce different rules.
Meta Ethics- discussion of ethical theories and language
So, ethics and morality are not the same
things! A person is moral if
that person follows the moral rules.
A person is immoral if that person breaks the moral rules.
A person is amoral if that person does not know about or care about
the moral rules.
A person is ethical if that person is aware of the basic principles governing moral conduct and acts in a manner consistent with those principles. If the person does not do so they are unethical.
Here is a good general definition
and an overview of ETHICS.
Here is a glossary of general terms in ethics.
if not available try the
glossary put together by
-Tad Dunne,PhD. Siena Heights University. 2010) who informs us that: "Many of these definitions are drawn, at least in part, from two generally available Internet sources. The first is from the University of San Diego (http://ethics.sandiego.edu/LMH/E2/Glossary.asp, Retrieved on April 2, 2009). The second is part of a site designed to meet the needs EDECEL Foundations’ London Examinations re “Religion in Relation to Philosophy, Ethics and Morality” (www.rsweb.org.uk/ ethics/glossary.html Paper 4, Unit D1). I have shortened or amplified some of these definitions. Others I have composed based on my own studies. Terms from certain other sources are indicated in the endnotes. "
Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution. firstname.lastname@example.org @copyright 2006 Philip A. Pecorino
Last updated 8-2006 Return to Table of Contents