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Ethics in Philosophy: Discussing Theories, Evaluating Key Concepts. In Search for the Truth Essay

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Updated: Dec 26th, 2018

Introduction: The Complex Issues of Ethics in Philosophy

It is hard to overestimate the significance of ethics in philosophy. Since the latter often poses a number of moral dilemmas to solve, it is important that there should be certain standards that a philosopher could live up to or at least base his/her judgments on (Rachels 651).

Although not all philosophical movements might actually follow the basic principles of ethics, each philosophy still uses these principles as the guidance in defining the good and the evil, which means that ethical principles should be considered the building blocks for a specific philosophical movement (Shafer-Landau 444).

Taking a closer look at the existing philosophical movements will help define the role of ethics in philosophy and at the same time observe the ways in which ethical principles manifest themselves in specific philosophical movements.

A. J. Ayer and His Defense of the Form of Compatibilism: Explanation Point

Since the dawn of times, people have been trying to figure out whether the future has been predetermined by some sort of the highest creature, whether it is God, Allah, the providence, or any other creature of the highest authority, or whether there are millions of options, and by making their choice, people work their way into the future on their own. However, before compatibilists offered their interpretation of future, no one had ever thought of combining the two approaches.

Adding determinism to free will, Ayer broke completely new grounds in philosophy by stating that there are three conditions that are required for making a choice fully based on the principle of free will in the light of the determinist theory postulates (Stace 224). As it has already been mentioned, Ayer considered that free will was possible in the determinist environment as long as three key conditions were met (Pereboom 204). According to Ayer, tone must draw the line between the notions of free will and responsibility.

Therefore, the first condition of free will that Ayer considers necessary is that as long as one has to act in a specific way due to the specific circumstances, it cannot be considered as taking responsibilities. Hence, the first condition is that the circumstances should not shape one’s course of actions; otherwise, these actions are not going to be based on free will in the sense that determinism presupposes (Stace 223).

Taking the case of two states starting a war, one can possibly consider the practical application of Ayer’s theory. In the situation described above, both parties should make a decision based on their strengths and weaknesses.

However, if one of the states makes political or military decisions based on what is being dictated by the patronizing country, the condition is not fulfilled, since the actions of the state in question are shaped by the patronizing state. Another condition clarified by Ayer concerns the reconciliation of determinism with free will.

In other words, according to Ayer, it is necessary to make sure that what an individual is certain of is true. For example, after a child steals a toy from his friend, one can persuade the child to give the toy back, yet as long as the child fails to understand his fault, his actions (giving the toy back to its owner) cannot be regarded as the action of free will. Finally, the third condition demands that an individual should have the right to be true and not to act under constraint.

For example, when facing a choice between either solving the conflict with his/her friends or relatives or breaking the relationships, it is essential that the individual should understand that there is no wrong choice in this situation. Finally, it is crucial that the course of actions should not be chosen under the pressure of any third party. Once these conditions are met, Ayer assures, a choice based on free will becomes possible in the determinist setting.

Concerning the Arguments Against Free Will in Determinism: What Chisholm Has to Say

Chisholm has made it clear that there are two basic kinds of causation, i.e., the transeunt and immanent one. The former stated that determinism denies any possibility of one being responsible for his/her actions due to the interference of a specific event that causes another event, while the latter presupposed that a man cannot be possibly responsible for his actions, since it is always a specific agent causing a specific event.

Hence, Chisholm’s key point was that people are unable to make a decision and, therefore, change something in the course of events due to the interference of agents or events. Therefore, it can be considered that Chisholm’s argument against the possibility of free will in determinism setting is based on the idea that events and agents other than people shape the outcome of any event, while people can only follow the trail blazed according to the determinist principles.

Frankfurt and His Counterargument in Ayer’s Support: The Key Difference between People and Animals

It is noteworthy, however, that Ayer’s arguments are rater debatable. As it has been stated above, Chisholm argues that Ayer is wrong, since a person would have done otherwise if (s)he could, but (s)he cannot, since various agents or events do not allow a person to make a choice on his/her own. In his turn, Frankfurt argues back, claiming that Chisholm never explains an important point concerning the basic difference between people and animals in terms of free will (Rachels 95).

Frankfurt’s key argument against Chisholm’s theory concerning people’s inability to take actions in accordance with their own needs and wants is based on the fact that these are not people, but external factors that shape the further events (Rachels and Rachels 303). Frankfurt, however, made it clear that, in contrast to animals, people have intellectual capacity and, therefore, can decide what is best for them; therefore, they have the privilege to enjoy free will.

My Own Opinion: Where the Line between Free Will and Determinism Lies

Both philosophers offer a plethora of arguments and very profound ideas to support their points of view and prove their opinion. Therefore, making the choice between the two concepts basing solely on the arguments that Chisholm and Ayer have to say is very hard.

Therefore, it will be necessary to incorporate my vision of the universe as well too come up with a conclusion concerning the veracity of each theory and choose the one that fits my vision of the world best. Personally, I think I would select the theory that presupposes at least some elements of free will; i.e., I would follow the concepts suggested y Ayer.

Even though Chisholm also has a very valid point, it seems that his idea of causation concerns the recognition of necessity rather than stripping the concept of free will to one doing whatever one wants. Having the ability to think and analyze, people, therefore, recognize the existing options, choosing the one that seem the most reasonable in the given setting. Once a person recognizes the necessity to act in a specific way, though there are other possible options, a person makes a choice based on what (s)he considers the best choice.

Hence, a person is free to choose between the existing options. An animal, on the contrary, follows its instincts, which offer only one possible way of acting. Hence, people can enjoy free will in determinist settings, since recognizing the wrong option and making a conscious choice already means that a person acts according to his/her common sense instead of instincts.

Conclusion: Philosophical Concept of Ethics as a Thing in Itself

Hence, it can be concluded that ethics not only works in the realm of philosophy as a single unit, but can also exist on its own as moral philosophy.

However, that does not mean that ethics can be viewed from different aspects and, therefore, its key tenets can be bent according to the specifics of a certain philosophical movement. On the contrary, ethics seems to be both an integral part of every philosophical movement and at the same time the element that cannot be changed or bent according to the key postulates of these movements.

Ethics poses a number of questions, and answering these questions is never easy; to make the matters worse, often it seems that it is impossible to find the only correct answer; every option will necessarily have its downsides and positive aspects, satisfying either one or another side of the argument. That being said, one must admit that ethical issues remain some of the most disputable elements of philosophy.

Works Cited

Pereboom, Deck. “A Defense of Free Will.” The Elements of Philosophy. Ed. Tamar Szabṓ Gendel, Susanna Siegel and Steven M. Cahn. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008. 203–221. Print.

Rachels, James. “Active and Passive Euthanasia.” The Elements of Philosophy. Ed. Tamar Szabṓ Gendel, Susanna Siegel and Steven M. Cahn. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008. 650–653. Print.

Rachels, James and Stuart Rachels. “The Debate over Utilitarianism.” The Elements of Philosophy. Ed. Tamar Szabṓ Gendel, Susanna Siegel and Steven M. Cahn. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008. 302–315. Print.

Rachels, James. “The case Against Free Will.” The Elements of Philosophy. Ed. Tamar Szabṓ Gendel, Susanna Siegel and Steven M. Cahn. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008. 94–124. Print.

Shafer-Landau, Russ. “Ethical Relativism.” The Elements of Philosophy. Ed. Tamar Szabṓ Gendel, Susanna Siegel and Steven M. Cahn. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008. 443–449. Print.

Stace, Walter Terence. “Compatibilism Defined.” Ed. Tamar Szabṓ Gendel, Susanna Siegel and Steven M. Cahn. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008. 222–228. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2018) 'Ethics in Philosophy: Discussing Theories, Evaluating Key Concepts. In Search for the Truth'. 26 December.

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