Now that schools everywhere are back in session, I will continue with my remedial history lectures. Today we will be discussing ancient history. All the way back to the last century, the 1900’s. For the millennials out there, most of you won’t have any first hand experience with today’s subject, ethics, because ethical standards of behavior were quietly disposed of before the turn of the century. Here’s a great explanation of the concept of ethics as it was known in the last century…
Schools of ethics in Western philosophy can be divided, very roughly, into three sorts. The first holds that the virtues (such as justice, charity, and generosity) are dispositions to act in ways that benefit both the person possessing them and that person’s society. The second makes the concept of duty central to morality: humans are bound, from knowledge of their duty as rational beings, to obey the categorical imperative to respect other rational beings. Thirdly, utilitarianism asserts that the guiding principle of conduct should be the greatest happiness or benefit of the greatest number. Courtesy of the Oxford Dictionary.
The central theme of each of these definitions is universality, what is good for one should be good for all. This is why ethics had to end before the 21st century could fully realize its potential in making the needs of the individual superior to all others. Ethics was proven to be diametrically opposed to our current cult of personality. No one wants to be limited in their individual pursuit of happiness by the meager needs of others who are less fortunate. Thus, we now have unlimited potential to achieve any amount of fame or fortune without the least bit of consideration for the plight of other humans. Happy days aren’t they? Clearly, the ethical virtues of justice, charity and generosity were holding us back and who wants to be bound by an imperative to respect other rational beings. The cult of personality gives us idols to worship and emulate in our quest for more of everything.
Now we just have one more pesky little tradition to get rid of so that all individuals can fully achieve the greatness they deserve. There is this thing called Conflict of Interest that pops up all the time in accounting, the practice of law, healthcare and finance but hardly ever in government. Here’s the dictionary definition of that. A conflict of interest is a situation in which a person or organization is involved in multiple interests, financial interest, or otherwise, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation of the individual or organization. Now that’s a problem, corruption has some very negative connotations. That means that some people could become criminals if they had multiple interests that conflicted with their duties as say… politicians. Now that I think about it, politicians always have multiple interests and all of them are financial. They have to get lots of people to support their campaigns with donations and then when they get into office they have to decide who gets what from our tax dollars. And all the while they have to make sure they stay in office so they can perpetuate their successful lifestyles. That must be hard for them. Without Conflict of Interest, their lives would be so much better and their supporters would be happier too.
Ethics make everything harder for everybody… well maybe not everybody. In fact, most regular people just behave ethically every day of their lives because it makes sense to treat others the same way you want to be treated. That’s funny, it seems like I’ve heard that before. Oh right, Jesus said that 2000 years ago. But that’s really ancient history, so maybe we should forget about everything he said too. That will make it easier to succeed. Let me know how that works out.
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