There was a question on ethics for my critical thinking class today that went something like this:
“You are driving at a slightly faster speed than normal because you were late. As you reach for your phone, you take your eyes off the road for one second and suddenly hit a person. This triggered a chain reaction; other cars started to brake and hit each other overall causing a catastrophe on the road.
As you get down to examine the person, you realise that he/she most definitely died on the spot. Suddenly, a woman came towards you in hysterics and started crying. You ask her what’s wrong and she looked at you in confusion. She then wailed, telling you that she’d accidentally hit the person dead.
You stand there, now with the opportunity to place the blame on her. There is a good chance that the police would take action against her, and you would get away jail-free. However, if they find out that it was you, you might be serving an even bigger penance for covering the crime up.”
i) What would you do?
ii) Why did you decide on your answer?
iii) How well did your decision adhere to your standards?
Ethics. Morality. Principles. Values.
Components that affect human beings in making decisions. People’s actions are guided and determined by what they believe in, which are influenced by external factors; things that were taught to them, values instilled in them at a young age – and personal deductions; their abilities to judge and weigh different possibilities and outcomes of a given situation.
The last question piqued my interest. “How well did your decision adhere to your standards?” implying to my ethical perspective. How do I consider the rightness and wrongness of something? Granted, given a situation like this, it’s fairly easy and obvious.
But still. If given the fact that there was no chance I could get caught, then maybe I would’ve let the lady think she was to blame. I wouldn’t have said anything, actually. She came to her own conclusion and assumed it was her fault. Assumptions are frightening in a time of crisis – she should know better. It was her fault for thinking it was her fault. Whatever the circumstance, it can be twisted and warped into any way that fits my values. I value my freedom, I don’t value her innocence.
I don’t care enough to empathise. She means nothing to me – and will probably never step foot into my peripherals if we hadn’t gotten into this mess. We are two strangers who just so happen to be in the same situation.
As you can see, my morality is not exactly virtuous. I don’t pretend to strive to be utilitarian, because I’m way too selfish for that. My moral conduct is a neutral line divided by the constraints of what society has ruled out for us, and what I personally believe in. Because society already governs the degree of rightness and wrongness. And hey, I adhere to the bare minimum of that.
So to answer the last question; it’s not a matter of how well my decision bodes to my standards, it is only a matter of deciding on an action that which reflects me as a human being with a conscience. I would never have let her take the blame because it was my mistake. My fault, so my responsibility. Someone else will not bear the outcome of a careless mistake that I made, because I can’t live with the psychological consequences otherwise.
In ethics, there is a perspective called Universal Consequentialism; that the consequences of a person’s conduct holds the basis for any judgement on the rightness or wrongness of that conduct (thx wiki). And what I found interesting is that for me, it’s not about eagerly wanting to do the right thing, or having a heart for some total stranger. It’s about avoiding the consequences that I could possibly face should I violate any form of set ethics. Because even though I’m about to face punishment for what I did, my conscience will be clear. I won’t have anymore guilty bones in my body knowing that I’ve spoken the truth – and yes, the truth will ultimately set you free.
But that’s ethics. Ethics and morality are simple enough to follow because it is societal and to a certain extent, governmental. But things like values and principles are a little trickier to discern. You can’t really cop a person out as bad just because their values don’t align with yours, or if their principles are looser than yours.
Assikin brought up a super interesting scenario. She says she’s afraid of going to jail because she claims that every principle she’d set for herself was slowly broken over time. And I can understand how that’s damaging to a person. Maybe not mentally, but the gist of how you tether yourself around life’s precariousness is through your principles.
She’s afraid that because her values now don’t mean as much to her anymore, then what’s to stop her from killing off her morality, one action at a time?
I suppose that’s a radical way of taking the scenario. I don’t think it’s that easy; you’d have to go through a whole lot to get there – but the fear is rational. Having principles keep you grounded and sure of your personal values. If most of them are weak and easily broken, then do you actually know what you want? What you strive for?
This is the part where I struggle the most, too. It’s understandably difficult to find the right balance when it comes to setting your principles.
If you value your relationship with religion, then you won’t drink or have pre-marital sex. But what if this value is less important to you than, say, trying to own a company.
Would this mean that you can set a looser principle for yourself? Say, you’ll only drink until you’re 25 and then stop once you’ve had your fun. Or you’ll only have sex when you’re in a serious relationship – no hookups.
Where do you draw the line? The good news – and also bad news – is that it’s entirely up to you, which makes it a little daunting. But I think over time, the key is to understand yourself first. That sounded way less corny as I’m typing this out but whatever. Anyway, point being – figure your shit out before you decide to do something. If you do decide to drink, figure out where religion stands in your life, figure out the reason why you’d want to start drinking, figure out whether this is long-term or short term, whether you’ll be able to face the guilt of doing something that is clearly forbidden or whether the matter is not as important to you.
If you’ve already thought it through, then by all means.
I mean you don’t have to analyse every decision you make – but it’s good to train your conscience to accept or reject your actions. Because it’s going to be difficult to get out of a rut when you know you fucked up over something. I’d rather not live with that kind of shit.
With all that being said, I think it’s time for me to do some self-reflection. Tonight’s musing: To be or not to be…