Ethical Views of Five Philosophers

Augustine was a Romanized Berber theologian and philosopher who lived around the middle of the 4th century. Augustine lived a hedonistic life when he was younger yet throughout the remainder of his life, he wrote several books glorifying the grace of Christ and clarified Christian issues and concepts like those of the Original Sin. His philosophy later on became one of the foundations of the Christian Church in the West.

Intentionalism and Just War. Augustines ethics mainly focuses on intention, which means that responsibility for a certain act rests upon whether a person has willed the act or not. It is the intention, suggestion or consent, and not the action or its consequences that Augustine considers sinful. In his De civitate Dei, Augustine argues that one who owes a duty of obedience to the giver of the command does not himself kill he is merely an instrument, a sword in its users hand (Augustine).  Augustine clearly points out here that people who are just made by others to commit violence and murder are themselves not responsible for it. Augustine maintains that anyone who kills a human being, whether himself or anyone else, is guilty of murder (Augustine) but he makes exceptions in cases of lawful executions and soldiers fighting just wars.

On the whole, Augustines intentionalist views on Just War are very sound in that they establish the idea of personal responsibility and the foundations of criminal law. Soldiers and executioners who kill others for a higher purpose of good are therefore spared from blame.

However, Augustines full exoneration of the person who has killed someone out of a mere obedience to someone elses order is quite unreasonable. In real life, accomplices and hired criminals, though may be blameless in the name of Augustinian morality, are still held answerable to the law.

Perspectives on Lust. Augustine admits in the Confessions that he personally struggled with lust throughout his entire life before his conversion. Augustine attributes sexual desire with the original sin of Adam and considers it sinful despite the fact that lust is a part of human nature. According to Augustine, the evil of lust is not in the sexual act itself but rather in the emotions that one has when under its spell. He also says that lust is the impulse of ones mind to enjoy oneself and ones neighbor and any corporeal thing not on account of God (Exploring the Middle Ages). Augustine asserts that the biggest difference between love and lust is that the former regards God as the object of his enjoyment while the latter excludes Him. With these views, Augustine considers lust to be one of the most grievous of sins and one of the most serious obstacles to a life of virtue.

Personally, I believe Augustines ideas on lust are quite impractical in that he defines the evil of lust not in the act itself but in the emotions behind it. This Augustinian doctrine on morality, I believe, gives a good excuse for criminals and anyone who commit lustful acts in the name of a higher purpose or intention. Although Augustine considers the emotions that accompany lust to be evil, I still believe that the sexual acts of lust, whether or not lustful emotions warrant their sinfulness, are still to be considered evil. In real life, sexual criminals should be apprehended not only on the basis of their emotions but especially on the basis of commission of the sexual act itself.

Descartes was a 17th century French philosopher and mathematician who championed and glorified the role of reason from metaphysics to politics to ethics. Cartesian ethics focuses mostly on how reason brings about happiness in the individual.

Moral Rationalism. Cartesian ethics is based on reason, for only reason makes man moral. Descartes starts by pointing out that every man has an intellect whose purpose is to direct the will in doing what should be done. What then should be done Or what are the requisites of being morally upright according to the ethics of Descartes

A good mental health comes first. This predicates freedom from doubt and deception, which are both considered mental diseases. A good mental health also means the proper use of reason in surviving all sorts of emotional pain. Aside form a good mental health, Descartes also emphasized the contemplation of the truth. Through this, we can preserve our health, conduct our acts, and achieve happiness (Discourse on the Method). The contemplation of the truth will forever free us from tendencies to live in emotional fantasy and to accept the hard facts of life such as death and not wasting our efforts to control it (Descartes Ethics).

The Provisional Moral Code. In Part Three of Descartes Discourse on the Method, he provided a clear fourfold method on how to go about his ethics in real life. The four maxims are the following (1) to obey the laws and customs of my country (2) to be as firm and decisive in my actions as much as I could (3) to try to master myself rather than the world and (4) to devote my whole life to cultivating reason and advancing my knowledge of the truth (Discourse on the Method). The discovery of such truths, Descartes claims, brings him extremely pure and sweet contentment.

Core Ideas of Cartesian Ethics. With reason as the backbone of Descartes moral philosophy, there are two core ideas in his ethics. The first one is the notion of virtue, which is the disposition of the will to choose in accordance with reasons judgments about the good (Discourse on the Method). The first core idea is synonymous to the cultivation and proper use of reason. The second core idea is the notion of happiness which is a state of mental well-being that is achieved through the practice of virtue (Discourse on the Method). This happiness, which is the result of virtuous acts or rational acts, is likened by Descartes to tranquility.

Cartesian ethics is largely a philosophy on the glorification of the role of reason in the attainment of the greatest happiness. Reason is indeed a very good and practical basis for morality for its main goal is not only happiness but also survival. The decision to run away from the object of ones fear is mostly due to reason. However, Descartes may have failed to consider the role of emotions, or passion, in cultivating virtues of equal importance to reason such as goodness and justice, which are essentials of all ethics. If reason alone should direct the passions, and considering that reason may primarily aim for ones survival, the ideas of true kindness and benevolence have no part in Descartes stoical ethics. For Descartes, it will seem that I am being kind for it is rational, and that I love someone based on the calculations of my reason, and not based on my mere passion.

Soren Kierkegaard was a 19th century Danish philosopher and theologian who put the individual and concrete human reality before abstract formalities of the philosophies of his predecessors. His practical philosophy also sought to humanize the doctrines of the Christian Church.

Individualism and Subjectivity of Truth. The entirety of Kierkegaards ethics is centered on the individual. He has repudiated Hegels ethics for the latters focus on the objective world. According to Kierkegaard, ethics should be directed upon the individual for he believes that the true purpose of ethics is to deal with man directly and not with the universals.

Kierkegaard also contends that truth is subjective and that the most important truths are personal. He also believes that these subjective truths are usually not fit for theoretical discussions but should be discussed with intense passion and sincerity. Kierkegaard argues that this subjective truth, like the truth of you drowning at the moment, is different from and certainly much more important than the reasoned truth of Descartes and Hegel, like the truth that five plus two equals seven or that the water you are in is actually composed of hydrogen and oxygen atoms. This is existential ethics.

Kierkegaard, therefore, emphasized the value of the individual before anything else. He even said that every man thought his happiness lay outside him only to realize in the end that the source was within him (Quid est Veritas).

The Three Different Stages of Life and the Leap of Faith. Kierkegaard believed that life existed in three different forms the aesthetic stage, the ethical stage, and the religious stage. The term stage, as used by Kierkegaard, implies that one can live in either of the two lower stages  aesthetic or ethical  and then make that leap of faith to the higher, or religious, stage.

The aesthetic stage is about living for the moment and grasping every single opportunity of enjoyment. This somehow corresponds to physical and emotional pleasure and satisfaction. The ethical stage, on the other hand, is characterized by seriousness and consistent moral choices. This stage, however, corresponds to austerity and duty, and requires that one should always choose a stand on whether one thing is precisely right or wrong. Both the aesthetic and the ethical stages are, according to Kierkegaard, unstable. Thus, in order to reach the highest stage in life, a leap of faith or a jump into the abyss of the seventy thousand fathoms of Faith is needed.

The Religious Stage. The religious stage, according to Kierkegaard, is the only path to redemption. Kierkegaards religious stage was Christianity. It is however different from the typical Christianity that most Christians know as Kierkegaard pointed out that what matters is not whether Christianity is true, but whether it is true for you. This religious stage is a stage where Kierkegaards ethics combines with religion  a stage where personal faith matters more than anything else.

Kierkegaards ethical ideas stripped philosophy to its bare essentials. Of what importance are the various abstractions if the life of the individual is reduced to mere theory Truly Kierkegaards ethics speak for its own practicality and usefulness. His leap of faith concept shows us one very important thing  that life is not to be lived passively and that every man should be responsible for his own existence. The religious stage never just follows the two other stages in the course of time. Man should responsible enough to make a choice to take that leap of faith with all his heart and mind.

David Hume was an 18th century Scottish philosopher, historian and economist who were one of the advocates of British Empiricism. Humes ethics speaks mostly of the vital role of passion or sentiment in the formulation of morals.

Moral Philosophy. Hume argued that reason was not enough to motivate the individual to action but rather passion, or sentiment. According to Hume, reason is only a slave of the passions (Hume Morality and Religion). True liberty, Hume said, was the power of acting or not acting according to the determinations of the will, and not of the reason. Hume even argued that it was not reason but our feelings that provide a natural guide to moral conduct and serve as the basis of moral judgment.

Benevolence and Justice. Hume also believed that our benevolent sentiments are not identical with self-enjoyment. According to Hume, benevolence is useful to the majority as it would make us feel good to do so and is useful especially in social welfare and in the cultivation of the social virtue called justice. However, Hume makes a distinction between the nature of benevolence and that of justice in that the former is an original and natural human principle but the latter is not a universal and exists only under conditions of relative scarcity, and is therefore not as important. (David Hume).

David Humes ethics sound sane and sensible in that it gives due credence to the role of passion in morality. If, for example, one gives alms to the poor, it means that it is his passion that drove him to do such a charitable act. Humes ethics also tried to emphasize the possibility of pure altruism by stating that we commit acts of benevolence not necessarily because it makes us happy but because we think it is important to the whole. Yet it can serve as a caveat in that one may do something good to you but not necessarily because he likes it.

The only weakness of Humes morals is that it is based on sentiment, which means that it would be moral to kill just because ones passion dictated so.

Martin Heidegger was a 19th century German philosopher who pioneered existentialism in his philosophy by echoing the tenets of Kierkegaard and by emphasizing self-responsibility when it comes to ones existential existence.

Dasein. Heideggers existentialist ethics is filled with several German terminologies, one of the most prominent of which is Dasein. Just like Kierkegaard, Heidegger focused on the individual, which he called human being and this human being is made up of four components, and Dasein, or existence, is being there in essence, or fully embodying these four components as well as the choices and resulting actions that further define the self.

The four components of the human being are Sorge, or concern, which is ones ability to care about the self in relation to phenomena. The second is Sein zum Tode, or Being-toward-death, which represents lifes finite nature. The third is Existenz, or Existence, which represents knowing one is and is changing. The fourth and last one is Stimmungen, or moods, which refer to reactions to other beings that allow one to further define himself (Martin Heidegger).

Dasein Sorge. Dasien Sorge is the term assigned by Heidegger to concern and caring about the self and its existence, or just simply, care. Anxiety and dread are but natural feelings in the individual when he is confronted with the world and other beings, thus the human being must care for himself as there is no one else who can or will. This is Dasein Sorge (Martin Heidegger).

When an individual takes care of his self, he recognizes the fact that there are dangers in the universe. This mere recognizing, which is another aspect of Dasein, demonstrates a human beings understanding of the physical self. This existence of a physical body, as what Heidegger contended, preceded the essence of the self (Martin Heidegger).

Heideggers ethics, like Kierkegaards, focuses solely on a human beings personal existence and on mans personal responsibility towards his own existence and essence. Heidegger, however, put a strong emphasis on the urgency of such responsibility, which means that one has to take care of oneself and protect oneself, first of all, against succumbing to societys pressures. For Heidegger, one has died if one has stopped caring about ones existence and making conscious choices about oneself. How many young people today have called themselves independent-minded but have decided to look all the same as each other If one stops making his own choices and decisions, then one has ceased existing. Heidegger taught responsibility at the purest level of being.


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