Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Brief Observation on Ethics & Hypocrisy

In our age, numerous factors combine against traditional moral values and ethical imperatives. As we have become a far more secular society, many have lost the ability to think rationally and systematically about ethics. And so we witness perpetual liberal accusations of hypocrisy heaped upon social conservatives:
  • "How can you defend war, and the inevitable civilian casualties, and oppose abortion on the basis that it's wrong to kill an innocent human being?"
  • "How can you oppose same-sex marriage because you say children are an essential part of marriage but allow infertile couples and older couples to get married?"
  • "How can you be against abortion and in favour of the death penalty?"
  • "How can you be pro-life and not support universal health care/increased welfare entitlements/foreign aid?"
Now, for the record, I support universal health care, oppose the death penalty, and take a skeptical approach to the utility of military intervention. Yet these questions expose a very basic moral illiteracy in our society. The distinctions between the innocent and the guilty, between intended acts and unintended consequences, between natural inability and unfortunate deprivation, between the logically required and the prudential judgement are all lost to many of our fellows. Alas, this does not lead to any reflection on what principles underlie ethics, nor an examination of moral intuitions, nor even a prudential determination to shrink back from moral boundaries that one cannot locate. Instead, people without a way to analyze ethical claims merely give up on ethics entirely. These supposed conundrums are deemed proof of the foolishness of any ethical reasoning whatsoever. And thus it is that we live in an age of eroding moral understanding and practice.


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