Chapter Four

Which Ethical System Do You Admire Most?

Arntzenius (University of Southern California): Utili-tarianism, mainly because you can distinguish between rights based attitudes and procedural based systems and happiness based systems. I'm more interested in happiness based systems because it seems to me that no matter what your rights based system is, according to it, it is always possible to find some situation which is justified [by rights based systems], e.g., where half of the world is starving and you just can't see that it is. I can't accept a moral theory that in some circumstances it is okay that people in the world are starving; it seems to me that roughly speaking the thing that I really care about is unhappiness of people, because it is clear that people who are starving are not happy. The ultimate standard of a just society is how happy the people are in it.

Beckman (Harvey Mudd): Aristotle's; it avoids Christian moralizing by preceding it and it addresses the concept of living well in a general and well balanced way.

Blake (Loyola Marymount University): It's funny to talk about ethical systems as being admirable. I'm not quite sure how I'd answer that question, whether there is one I find most admirable. Aristotelian philosophy strikes me as profoundly common-sensible. . . I find that very admirable.

Churchland, Paul (U.C. San Diego): I find the ethical views of Aristotle most admirable. Aristotle felt that to become a morally good person is to become practically wise, wise in the affairs of interacting with other people. I think becoming wise is a matter of learning to get along with your friends; learning to take care of your family; learning to help others to thrive; learning to depend or lean on others when you are in trouble; and it is part of a flourishing community and that is something that you cannot write down in a basic set of laws of what the universe is and where mankind comes from. I think that we will do better if we can disengage these things to a certain degree. Religion isn't the only institution that engages in this question. The legislature in any given state or the House of Representatives in this country, or the Parliament in England, these are the bodies designed to address moral and political questions, trying to lay down rules that we are all supposed to follow. And we have some happy traditions there. I think the English history and the American history are positive and encouraging history. I think the English common law and the English legislative system similarly with the American have done rather better than some of the world's major religions in coming up with the system of rules by which to live. Whoever does it, religion or political bodies or clubs or universities, it has to be done, pursuit of moral questions is entirely consistent to the pursuit of science. I think the two will be with us for a long time. An interesting moral question and an interesting theoretical question are entirely compatible.

Cohon (Stanford University): Well, I don't think any one system has the whole story right when it comes to the moral life. I like certain aspects of Kant's ethics and certain aspects of Aristotelian ethics, if we update them. But how can these be made compatible? I also believe that there are such things as moral rights, although I am not a complete Lockean about them.

Copp (U.C. Davis): Kant. I admire the sentiment behind the ends-in- itself formulation of the categorical imperative.

Davis (Claremont Scripps College): I have always liked Kant's ethical system. [However] I don't think it's without difficulties; I think it can be criticized.

Dreyfus (U.C. Berkeley): I find Aristotle admirable who thought that ethics isn't a theory or system, but it's learning how to behave skillfully so you can do the appropriate thing in your culture which means in effect to do whatever makes you and other people lead fulfilled lives. It is the only kind of skill that you get gradually as you live; make choices, make mistakes, and have courage to learn from them. So, as Aristotle says, if you want to know what is right and wrong don't try to find a theory (he doesn't say that but he means that). He says ask a wise old man; it's people like Plato and Kant who try to have an ethical theory and I don't think that any ethical theory which tries to give you universal pictures for acting holds up. You have to learn to do in every particular situation what's appropriate in that situation and that's the kind of skill you can't derive from a theory.

Dumont (Mt. Saint Mary's College): It's not really a system, but what has inspired me the most in the last few years and led me to a better understanding of the ethical domain and the problem solving is the work of Carol Gilligan.

Fischer (U.C. Riverside): That is hard because I see problems with everything. I would probably have to say Kant's system because the importance of dignity and respect are owed to individuals on their own free will.

Friedman (U..C. Davis): Spinoza's naturalistic ethics and Mill's utilitarianism.

Griesemer (U.C. Davis): I don't know anything about ethics so I don't admire any ethical systems.

Jolley (U.C. San Diego): I am attracted by Spinoza's moral theory. For one thing I share Spinoza's implicit view that morality is a system of hypothetical imperatives. I am also attracted by the central role that Spinoza gives in his philosophy to the analysis of the emotions.

Jubien (U.C. Davis): I believe that some sophisticated version of utilitarianism has the best chance of ultimately winning the ethical systems sweepstakes. The most sophisticated effort to date that I am aware of is presented in Fred Feldman's Doing the Best We Can.

Kaplan (U.C. Los Angeles): I would call myself a secular humanist. I have no theistic view. I am Jewish so I am strongly culturally identified with Judaism as a cultural thing. I am not religious in the sense of having theistic beliefs and so on. I think of myself as being very humanistic; as my teacher used to say, everyone has the obligation to try to develop their own gifts to the maximum degree possible. I think we have obligations to ourselves, our families. Critics of secular humanism claim that it is a very relativistic point of view, without absolute ethical principles. [Nevertheless] we must realize our own potential.

Lloyd (U.C. Berkeley): I guess I would find virtue ethics the most admirable. Well, because I think being a good person is its own reward. And I think that ontological views rely too heavily on guilt to really work well. And utilitarian views tend to be heartless.

Matson (U.C. Berkeley): The Aristotle/Spinoza idea of self- realization. Its concept of the Good is the right one, and it is free of "moralic acid" (Nietzsche).

McCann (University of Southern California): I think the Kantian view, or some version of it, is the most promising theory. Utilitarianism has, in my view, insufferable problems dealing with questions of justice, personal integrity, and so on, whereas virtue theories do not provide enough in the way of philosophical foundations for morality. The Kantians, however, have a tough set of problems in making their views intuitive and plausible, and getting rid of the daunting metaphysics Kant connected to the view. Still, it is the one I would most like to be true.

Needleman (San Francisco State): Christianity.

Ring (C.S.U. Fullerton): I'm not terribly pleased with any system, especially of ethics. But if I had to answer, I would say Aristotle. He sees a moral life as embedded in a community and not as something transcendental or as individualistic.

Rosenberg (U.C. Riverside): I admire utilitarianism, because I believe it's practically implacable and provides the most morally balanced, reasonable conclusion.

Ross (Claremont Scripps College): Socratic, because it doesn't leave much out. Never repay harm with harm, and don't just say it--you argue it, etc. Scott-Kakures (Claremont Scripps College): I'm going to assume admirable doesn't mean defensible. So, the one I find most admirable is one which may not turn out to be an ethical system or theory at all--it's virtue. That is what Aristotle makes fundamental: not what I could do, but what sort of person should I be. As I say, that may not even turn out to be an ethical theory.

Shalinsky (U.C. San Diego): I don't happen to be interested in ethics, and I find meta-ethics particularly tiresome. I must also say that I find the use of the word "admirable" even less reasonable in this context than I did with the respect to the other question which used the term. The choice of an ethical system, it seems to me, ought to be guided by distinctly philosophical considerations: the "best" one ought to be the one which is the simplest, the most intuitive, the most coherent, and so on. It ought not, I think, be the most "admirable." Use of this word suggests that one should have some sort of attitude toward the system with regards to that which is most plausibly based on philosophical grounds. This just strikes me as wrong. Having said all of this, I guess I would have to answer the question simply by saying the best ethical system, whatever it is, should be the one that best allows us to feed, flee, fight, and reproduce. [I hope this doesn't sound really flip; it's as much a reflection of the despair I've always felt canvassing (what I regard as) the various implausible ethical systems that abound.]

Smart (U.C. Santa Barbara): Christianity and Buddhism both speak of love and compassion. Those should be the guiding attitudes. Negatively I believe, as do the Buddhists, that we as humans have deficiencies we must address: greed, hatred, and delusion. An example of greed would be cutting down on the money for the homeless and poor. Hatred is seen daily expressed through issues between groups, be it whites against blacks, blacks against hispanics. By delusion, I think our vision is clouded.

Suppes (Stanford University): Well, I am sympathetic to utilitarianism but I am pluralistic. I think utilitarianism has difficulty accommodating everything. [Utilitarians] do a good job for social questions, association of goods, handling of what are called public goods, theory of the market, but not as good when it comes to rights. And I think it's possible to work a theory of rights in utilitarianism but it may very well be that ultimately we will think of that as a separate system.

Wollheim (U.C. Davis): I do not believe that anything systematically written about ethics is really admirable. I believe that what philosophers talk about in "ethics" is partly an invention of philosophers cobbled up out of certain fragmentary attitudes we have, which are part benign, part malign. The moral philosophers I most like to read are: Montaigne, John Stuart Mill, Nietzsche, F.H. Bradley.

Woodruff (U.C. Irvine): Well, I don't think of the question in that way. I think of it as, "What is right?" I'm not an ethicist and I can't claim to have views on that subject quite the way I do on some other things we've talked about. My general views about ethics go back to those of Wilfred Sellars, as so many of my views do. . . .