An examination of the place of reason in ethics

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In contrast, recent writers focus on persuasive techniques that advertisers use. Some of these are alleged to cross the line into manipulation. It is difficult to define manipulation precisely, though many attempts have been made see, e. For our purposes, manipulative advertising can be understood as advertising that attempts to persuade consumers, often but not necessarily using non-rational means, to make irrational or suboptimal choices, given their own needs and desires see and cf. Associative advertising is often held up as an example of manipulative advertising.

In associative advertising, the advertiser tries to associate a product with a positive belief, feeling, attitude, or activity which usually has little to do with the product itself. Thus many television commercials for trucks in the U. Commercials for body fragrances associate those products with sex between beautiful people.

The suggestion is that if you are a certain sort of person e. Crisp argues that this sort of advertising attempts to create desires in people by circumventing their faculty of conscious choice, and in so doing subverts their autonomy cf. Arrington ; Phillips Lippke argues that it makes people desire the wrong things, encouraging us to try to satisfy our non-market desires e.

How seriously we take these criticisms may depend on how effective we think associative and other forms of persuasive advertising are. Our judgments on this issue may be context-sensitive. Paine Paine et al. But children, she argues, do not have the capacity for making wise consumer choices see also E. Moore Thus advertising directed at children—as opposed to advertising of products for children directed at adults—constitutes a form of objectionable exploitation. Other populations who may be similarly vulnerable are the senile, the ignorant, and the bereaved.

Ethics may require not a total ban on marketing to them but special care in how they are marketed to Brenkert Sales are central to business. Perhaps surprisingly, business ethicists have said little directly about sales. But much of what is said about advertising also applies to sales. Salespeople are, in a sense, the final advertisers of products to consumers. They provide benefits to consumers in much the same way as advertisers and have the same ability to deceive or manipulate consumers. Carson works out a detailed theory of ethics for salespeople. Carson justifies 1 — 4 by appealing to the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated.

He identifies two other duties that salespeople might have he is agnostic : 5 do not sell customers products that you the salesperson think are unsuitable for them, given their needs and desires, without telling customers why you think this; and 6 do not sell customers poor quality or defective products, without telling them why you think this. For the most part, 1 — 4 ask the salesperson not to harm the customer; 5 and 6 ask the salesperson to help the customer, in particular, help her not to make foolish mistakes. Whether salespeople should help customers in this way may depend on how adversarial their relationship should be.

The broader issue here is one of disclosure. But there is no consensus on what information is relevant to a purchasing decision, or what reasonable people want to know. For many products bought and sold in markets, sellers offer an item at a certain price, and buyers take or leave that price. But in some cases there is negotiation over price and other aspects of the transaction. The locus classicus for this debate is Carr According to him, bluffing in negotiations is permissible because business has its own special set of rules and bluffing is permissible according to these rules.

Carson agrees that bluffing is permissible in business, though in a more limited range of cases than Carr. If you have good reason to believe that your adversary in a negotiation is misstating her bargaining position, then you are permitted to misstate yours. A requirement to tell the truth in these circumstances would put you at a significant disadvantage relative to your adversary, which you are not required to suffer.

Account Options

That is, the prices of goods and services are set by the aggregate forces of supply and demand; no individual is able to buy or sell a good for anything other than the market price. In reality, things are different. Sellers of goods have some flexibility about how to price goods. Most business ethicists would accept that, in most cases, the prices at which products should be sold is a matter for private individuals to decide.

This view has been defended on grounds of property rights. Some claim that if I have a right to X , then I am free to transfer it to you on whatever terms that I propose and you accept Boatright It has also been defended on grounds of welfare. Prices set by the voluntary exchanges of individuals reveal valuable information about the relative demand for and supply of goods, allowing resources to flow to their most productive uses Hayek Despite this, most business ethicists recognize some limits on prices.

One issue that has received attention recently is price discrimination. This is widely regarded as wrong. Economists tend to think that price discrimination is valuable insofar as it enables firms to increase output. But the moral status of it is less clear.

When it was revealed that Staples and other online retailers were charging consumers in different zip codes different prices for the same products at the same time, consumers were outraged. But some writers argue that this practice is no worse than movie theaters giving discounts to children Elegido ; Marcoux The problem may be that Staples and others engaged in this practice without disclosing it. Another issue of pricing ethics is price gouging.

Price gouging can be understood as a sharp increase in the price of a necessary good in the wake of an emergency which renders that good scarce. In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in , for example, many retailers charged very high prices for water and gasoline. Many jurisdictions have laws against price gouging, and it is widely regarded as unethical Snyder But some theorists defend price gouging. While granting that sales of items in circumstances like these are exploitative, they note that they are mutually beneficial.

Both the seller and buyer prefer to engage in the transaction rather than not engage in it. Moreover, when items are sold at inflated prices, this attracts more sellers into the market. Permitting price gouging may thus be the fastest way of eliminating it Zwolinski For further discussion, see the entry on exploitation. Most contemporary scholars believe that sellers have wide, though not unlimited, discretion in how much they charge for goods and services. Business ethicists have written much about the relationship between employers and employees.

Most of this writing has inquired into the obligations that employers owe to employees. This may be because employers usually have more power than employees, and so have greater discretion in how they treat employees, than employees have in how they treat employers. Another important topic in this area is privacy. For space reasons this topic will not be discussed, but see the entries on privacy and privacy and information technology. Ethical issues in hiring and firing tend to focus on the question: What criteria should employers use, or not use, in employment decisions?

The question of what criteria employers should not use is addressed in discussions of discrimination. While there is some debate about whether discrimination in employment should be legally prohibited see Epstein , almost everyone agrees that it is morally wrong Hellman ; Lippert-Rasmussen Discussion has focused on two questions. First, when does the use of a certain criterion in an employment decision count as discriminatory? It seems wrong for Wal-Mart to exclude white applicants for a job in their marketing department, but not wrong for the Hovey Players a theater troupe to exclude white applicants for a production of A Raisin in the Sun.

We might say that whether a hiring practice is discriminatory depends on whether the criterion used is job-relevant. Suppose that white diners prefer to be served by white waiters rather than black waiters. In this case race seems job-relevant, but it also seems wrong for employers to take race into account Mason Another question that has received considerable attention is: What makes discrimination wrong? Some argue that discrimination is wrong because of its effects on those who are discriminated against Lippert-Rasmussen ; others think that it is wrong because of what it expresses to them Hellman For further discussion, see the entry on discrimination.

According to them, employers have a duty to hire the most qualified applicant. Some justify this duty by appealing to considerations of desert D. Miller ; others justify it by appealing to equal opportunity Mason The standard challenge to this view appeals to property rights Kershnar A job offer typically implies a promise to pay the job-taker a sum of your money for performing certain tasks.

While we might think that excluding some ways you can dispose of your property e. In support of this, we might think that a small business owner does nothing wrong when she hires her daughter for a part-time job as opposed to a more qualified stranger. Many of the same ethical issues that attend hiring also attend firing. There has been a robust discussion of the ethics of firing in the business ethics literature. Most would say that it is wrong for an employer to terminate an employee for some reasons, e. Thus the debate is between those who think that employers should be able to terminate employees for any reason with some exceptions , and those who think that employers should be able to terminate employees only for certain reasons.

Arguments for at will employment appeal to freedom or macroeconomic effects. Business organizations generate revenue, and some of this revenue is distributed to their employees in the form of pay. Since the demand for pay typically exceeds the supply, the question of how pay should be distributed is naturally analyzed as a problem of justice.

Two general theories of justice in pay have attracted attention. This view is sometimes justified in terms of property rights. Employees own their labor, and employers own their capital, and they are free, within broad limits, to dispose of it as they please Boatright According to it, the just wage for a worker is the wage that reflects her contribution to the firm.

This view comes in two versions. On the absolute version, workers should receive an amount of pay that equals the value of their contributions to the firm D. On the comparative version, workers should receive an amount of pay that reflects the relative value of their contributions to the firm, given what others in the firm contribute and are paid Sternberg The contribution view strikes some as normatively basic, a view for which no further argument can be given D. The pay of any employee in a firm can be evaluated from a moral point of view, using the two theories sketched above. But business ethicists have paid particular attention to the pay of certain groups of employees, viz.

There has been a robust debate about whether CEOs are paid too much Moriarty a , with scholars falling roughly into two camps. Reiff There has also been a robust debate about whether workers in sweatshops are paid too little. They say that sweatshops wages, while low by our standards, are not low by the standards of the countries in which the sweatshops are located. This explains why people choose to work in a sweatshop: it is the best offer they have.

Efforts to increase artificially the wages of sweatshop workers, according to these writers, is misguided on two counts. First, it is an interference with the autonomous choices of employers and workers. Second, it is likely to make workers worse off, since employers will respond by either moving operations to a new location or employing fewer workers in that location.

Other writers challenge these claims. While granting that workers choose to work in sweatshops, they deny that their choices are voluntary D. Given their very low wages, this suggests that sweatshop workers are exploited. Moreover, some argue, appealing to a Kantian duty of beneficence, that firms can and should do more for sweatshop workers Snyder Smith [] famously observed that a detailed division of labor greatly increases the productivity of manufacturing processes. To use his example: if one worker performs all of the tasks required to make a pin himself, he can make just a few pins per day.

However, if the worker specializes in one or two of these tasks, and combines his efforts with other workers who specialize in one or two of the other tasks, then together they can make thousands of pins per day. But there is human cost, according to Smith, to the detailed division of labor. Instead, it is a call for labor processes to be arranged so that work is interesting, requires skill, and gives workers substantial decision-making power Arneson ; Michaelson et al.

In response, it has been argued that there is a market for labor, and if workers wanted meaningful work, then employers would have an incentive to provide it Maitland ; Nozick This argument assumes, of course, that workers have the financial ability to trade wages for meaningfulness. The above argument treats meaningful work as a matter of preference: as a job amenity that employers can decline to offer or that workers can trade away.

Others resist this understanding. According to Schwartz , employers are required to offer employees meaningful work, and employees are required to perform it, out of respect for autonomy. The thought is: the autonomous persons makes choices for herself; she does not mindlessly follow others' directions. A difficulty for this argument is that respect for autonomy does not seem to require that we make all choices for ourselves. A person might, it seems, autonomously choose to allow important decisions to be made for her in certain spheres of her life, e.

A call for meaningful work may thus be understood as a call for workplaces to be arranged so that this deterioration does not occur Arneson ; S. Arnold In addition to Smith, Marx [] was clearly concerned about the effects of work on human flourishing. Formative arguments face two difficulties.

On the Ethics of Medical Tourism: An Examination of Patients’ Perspectives

One is establishing the connection between meaningless work and autonomous choice or another intellectual faculty. They assume that it is better for people to have fully developed faculties of autonomous choice etc. Both assumptions may be challenged.

Neutralists in political philosophy think that the state should not promote the good, at least when there is reasonable disagreement about what is good see, e. Suppose you discover that your firm is paying bribes to government officials to win contracts. While different theorists give different definitions of whistleblowing see, e.

In the above example, you would be a whistleblower because you are 1 an employee 2 who discloses non-public information 3 about illegal activity in a firm 4 to people outside of it 5 in an effort to stop that activity. Debate about whistleblowing tends to focus on the question of when whistleblowing is justified—in the sense of when it is permissible, or when it is required. This debate assumes that whistleblowing requires justification, or is wrong, other things equal. Many business ethicists make this assumption on the grounds that employees have a pro tanto duty of loyalty to their firms see, e.

Against this, some argue that the relationship between the firm and the employee is purely transactional—an exchange of money for labor Duska —and so is not normatively robust enough to ground a duty of loyalty. For a discussion of this issue, see the entry on loyalty. One prominent justification of whistleblowing is due to DeGeorge According to him, it is permissible for an employee to blow the whistle when his doing so will prevent harm to society.

In a similar account, Brenkert [] says that the duty to blow the whistle derives from a duty to prevent wrongdoing. The duty to prevent harm has more weight than the duty of loyalty. To determine whether whistleblowing is not simply permissible but required, DeGeorge says, we must take into account the likely success of the whistleblowing and its effects on the whistleblower himself. Humans are tribal creatures, and whistleblowers are often treated badly by their colleagues. So if whistleblowing is unlikely to succeed, then it need not be attempted.

Another account of whistleblowing is given by Davis Like Brenkert and unlike DeGeorge , Davis focuses on the wrongdoing that the firm engages in not the harm it causes. Whistleblowing picks out a real and important phenomenon. But it does not seem morally distinctive, in the sense that the values and duties involved in it are familiar. Loyalty to an individual or group may require that we give preference to her or their interests, to an extent. And yet, in general, we should avoid complicity in immoral behavior, and should also make an effort to prevent harm and wrongdoing, especially when our efforts are likely to succeed and are not personally very costly.

On the accounts given above, whistleblowing is simply the attempt to act in accordance with these values, and discharge these duties, in the context of the workplace. Businesses as a whole command enormous resources, and as a result can have an enormous impact on society.

Code of Ethics Examination

One way that businesses impact society, of course, is by producing goods and services and by providing jobs. A famous example of CSR involves the pharmaceutical company Merck. In the late s, Merck was developing a drug to treat parasites in livestock, and it was discovered that a version of the drug might be used treat River Blindness, a disease that causes debilitating itching, pain, and eventually blindness. The problem was that the drug would cost millions of dollars to develop, and would generate little or no revenue for Merck, since the people afflicted with River Blindness—millions of sub-Saharan Africans—were too poor to afford it.

In the end, Merck decided to develop the drug. As expected, it was effective in treating River Blindness, but Merck made no money from it. As of this writing in , Merck, now in concert with several nongovernmental organizations, continues to manufacture and distribute the drug for free throughout the developing world.

The scholarly literature on CSR is dominated by social scientists. Their question is typically whether, when, and how socially responsible actions benefit firms financially. That is, it is not clear whether prosocial behavior by firms causes them to be rewarded financially e. Since our concern is with normative questions, we will focus on moral reasons for and against CSR.

Some writers connect the debate about CSR with the debate about the ends of corporate governance. Thus Friedman objects to CSR, saying that managers should be maximizing shareholder wealth instead. Stakeholder theory is thought to be more accommodating of prosocial activity by firms, since it permits firms to do things other than increase shareholder wealth. But we do not need to see the debate about CSR as arguments about the proper ends of corporate governance.

We can see it as a debate about the means to those ends, with some arguing, and others denying, that certain acts of prosocial behavior are required no matter what ends a firm pursues. Many writers give broadly consequentialist reasons for CSR. The arguments tend to go as follows: 1 there are serious problems in the world, such as poverty, conflict, environmental degradation, and so on; 2 any agent with the resources and knowledge necessary to ameliorate these problems has a moral responsibility to do so, assuming the costs they incur on themselves are not great; 3 firms have the resources and knowledge necessary to ameliorate these problems without incurring great costs; therefore, 4 firms should ameliorate these problems.

Not only is there an opportunity to increase social welfare by alleviating suffering, suffering people may also have a right to assistance. The controversial issue is who should do something to help, and how much they should do. Thus defenders of the above argument focus most of their attention on establishing that firms have these duties, against those who say that these duties are properly assigned to states or individuals. Strudler legitimates altruistic behavior by firms by undermining the claim that shareholders own them, and so are owed their surplus wealth.

Hsieh says that, even if we concede that firms do not have social obligations, individuals have them, and the best way for many individuals to discharge them is through the activities of their firms see also McMahon Debates about CSR are not just debates about whether specific social ills should be addressed by specific corporations.

They are also debates about what sort of society we want to live in. While acknowledging that firms benefit society through CSR, Brenkert b thinks it is a mistake for people to encourage firms to engage in CSR as a practice. When we do so, he says, we cede a portion of the public sphere to private actors.

Instead of deciding together how we want to ameliorate social ills affecting our fellow community members, we leave it up to private organizations to decide what to do. Instead of sharpening our skills of democracy through deliberation, and reaffirming social bonds through mutual aid, we allow our skills and bonds to atrophy through disuse. Many businesses are active participants in the political arena.

They support candidates for election, defend positions on issues in public debate, lobby government officials, and more see Stark What does business ethics say about these activities? This research focuses on such questions as: What forms does CPA take? What are the antecedents of CPA? What are its consequences? CPA raises many normative questions as well. One question is whether firms are the right type of entities to engage in political activity.

In large states, citizens often find it useful to join associations of like-minded others, the purpose of which is to represent their views in political decision-making. But while organizations like the Republican Party and the Sierra Club are suitable participants in the political arena, it is not clear that organizations like Merck or Wal-Mart are.

Some have criticized the U. Alternatively, we might see firms as legitimate speakers on behalf of certain points of view Stark Scholars have also raised questions about the goals of CPA. One thing a firm might do when it engages in CPA is provide valuable information to government officials. Society has an interest in knowing how proposed economic policies will affect firms; firms themselves are a good source of information on these questions.

Questions have been raised about the nature and permissibility of rent-seeking. According to standard definitions, rent-seeking is socially wasteful economic activity intended to secure benefits from the state rather than from the market. But there is disagreement about what counts as waste. A related issue is whether firms are permitted to engage in rent-seeking behavior. For example, when the Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh in , killing more than garment industry workers, new building codes and systems of enforcement were put into place.

But they were put into place by the multinational corporations that are supplied by factories in Bangladesh, not by the government of Bangladesh. Scherer and Palazzo , are major contributors to this debate. There is little doubt that firms can benefit society through political CSR. The building codes put into place by Western multinationals may well save the lives of many Bangladeshi garment workers. Unless new forms of corporate governance can be devised, however, these benefits may come at a cost to democratic self-rule. A still more subtle way that firms can engage in political activity is through the exercise of their property rights Christiano A firm might move out of a state in response to the passage of a law it does not favor, or it may threaten to move out of a state if such a law is passed.

As with certain cases of political CSR, we may applaud the results of this kind of political activity.


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Many applauded when the state of Indiana revised its law permitting discrimination against members of the LGBT community on grounds of religious liberty in response to claims by powerful firms, such as Salesforce. But it is unclear whether such behavior by firms should be encouraged. We may wish to draw a distinction between private individuals influencing political decision-making by exercising their property rights and firms doing the same thing. Many businesses operate across societal, including national, boundaries. Operating internationally heightens the salience of a number of the ethical issues discussed above, such as CSR, but it also raises new issues, such as relativism and divestment.

Two issues often discussed in connection with international business are not treated in this section. One is wages and working conditions in overseas factories, often called sweatshops. This literature is briefly discussed in section 6. The second issue is corruption. For discussion of this issue, see the entry on corruption.

Whether and to what extent firms have a duty to perform socially responsible actions is a question that can and has been asked about firms in a domestic context. But this question has seemed especially pressing in international contexts, and many of the most famous examples of CSR—including the case of Merck and River Blindness discussed in section 7. There are two reasons for this. One is that social problems, including poverty and environmental degradation, are often worse in the developing world than in the developed world.

The second is that firms are relatively more powerful actors in the developing world than in the developed world. International agencies have also created codes of ethics for business. Perhaps the most famous of these is the United Nations Global Compact, membership in which requires organizations to adhere to a variety of rules in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption. Wettstein A striking fact about much of this research is that, while it is focused on international business, and sometimes promulgated by international agencies, the conclusions reached do not apply specifically to firms doing business across national boundaries.

The duty to, e. It is simply that the international context is the one in which this duty seems most important to discharge, and in which firms are one of the few agents who can do so. There are issues, however, that arise specifically for firms doing business internationally. Every introductory ethics student learns that different cultures have different moral codes. This is typically an invitation to think about whether or not morality is relative to culture. For the businessperson, it presents a more immediate challenge: How should cultural differences in moral codes be managed?

Donaldson is a leading voice on this question, in work done independently , and with Dunfee Much of this criticism has focused on the nature of hypernorms. A complication for the debate about whether to apply home country standards in host countries is that multinational corporations engage in business across national boundaries in different ways. Some MNCs directly employ workers in multiple countries, while others contract with suppliers in multiple countries. Nike, for example, does not directly employ workers to make shoes.

Rather, Nike designs shoes, and hires firms in other countries to make them. Our views about whether an MNC should apply home country standards in a host country may depend on whether the MNC is applying them to its own workers or to those of other firms. The same goes for accountability.

Nike was subject to sharp criticism for the labor practices of its suppliers in the s Hartman et al. She may decide that the right course of action is to not do business in the country at all, and if she is invested in the country, to divest from it. The issue of divestment received substantial attention in the s and s as MNCs were deciding whether or not to divest from South Africa under its Apartheid regime. It may attract renewed attention in the coming years as firms and other organizations contemplate divestment from the fossil fuel industry. Common reasons to divest from a morally problematic society or industry are to avoid complicity in immoral practices, and to put pressure on the society or industry to change its practices.

Some believe that it is better for firms to stay engaged with the society or industry and try to bring about change from within. The field of business ethics, in its current form, grew out of research that moral and political philosophers did in the s and s. It is not hard to see why moral and political philosophers might be interested in business. Business activity raises a host of interesting philosophical issues: of agency, truth, manipulation, exploitation, justice, and more.

After a surge of activity 30 years ago, however, philosophers seem to be retreating from the field. There are hardly any philosophy Ph. This is a missed opportunity. Many businesspeople care about business ethics: they see themselves as good people who want to do the right thing at work. As philosophers have retreated from the field, business schools have turned to management scholars to fill the void. Given their training in the social sciences, management scholars treat ethics largely as a descriptive enterprise, i.

This is an important enterprise, to be sure, but it is no substitute for normative reflection on what is ethical in business. I hope this entry helps to inform philosophers about the richness and value of business ethics, and in doing so, excite greater interest in the field. Sison, and Chris Surprenant. Thanks also to David Jacobs and especially an anonymous reviewer for the Stanford Encyclopedia for detailed and thoughtful comments on a draft of the entry. Thanks finally to Northeastern University for providing a hospitable environment in which to work on this entry. Business Ethics First published Thu Nov 17, Varieties of business ethics 2.

Corporate moral agency 3. The ends and means of corporate governance 3. Popular frameworks for business ethics 5. Firms and consumers 5. Firms and workers 6. The firm in society 7. Varieties of business ethics Many people engaged in business activity, including accountants and lawyers, are professionals. Corporate moral agency One way to think about business ethics is in terms of the moral obligations of agents engaged in business activity.

The ends and means of corporate governance There is significant debate about the ends and means of corporate governance, i. Popular frameworks for business ethics Business ethicists seek to understand the ethical contours of, and devise principles of right action for, business activity. Firms and consumers The main way that firms interact with consumers is by selling, or attempting to sell, products and services to them.

Firms and workers Business ethicists have written much about the relationship between employers and employees. The firm in society Businesses as a whole command enormous resources, and as a result can have an enormous impact on society. The status of business ethics The field of business ethics, in its current form, grew out of research that moral and political philosophers did in the s and s.

Bibliography Alzola, M. Anderson, E. Arneson, R. Arnold, D. Arnold, S. Arrington, R. Attas, D. Bainbridge, S. Bazerman, M. Beadle, R. Beauchamp, T. Bebchuk, L. Bishop, J. Boatright, J. Beauchamp eds. Brenkert, G. Brennan, J. Carr, A. Carson, T. Child, J. Christiano, T. Cohen, J. Coons, C. Weber eds. Copp, D. Crane, A. Crisp, R.

Dahl, R. Davis, M. LaFollette ed. DeBow, M. But given that all human beings experience pain and pleasure, Locke needs to explain how it is that certain people are virtuous, having followed the experience of dissatisfaction to arrive at the knowledge of God, and other people are vicious, who seek pleasure and avoid pain for no reason other than their own hedonic sensations.

In any discussion of ethics, it is important not only to determine what, exactly, counts as virtuous and vicious behavior, but also the extent to which we are in control of our actions. This is important because we want to be able to adequately connect behavior to agents in order to attribute praise or blame, reward or punishment to an agent, we need to be able to see the way in which she is the causal source of her own actions. It is worth noting here that this chapter of the Essay underwent major revisions throughout the five editions of the Essay and in particular between the first and second edition.

Finite objects are changed as a result of interactions with other finite objects for example fire melts gold and we notice that our own ideas change either as a result of external stimulus for example the noise of a jackhammer interrupts the contemplation of a logic problem or as a result of our own desires for example hunger interrupts the contemplation of a logic problem.

The idea of power always includes some kind of relation to action or change. The passive side of power entails the ability to be changed and the active side of power entails the ability to make change. Our observation of almost all sensible things furnishes us with the idea of passive power. This is because sensible things appear to be in almost constant flux—they are changed by their interaction with other sensible things, with heat, cold, rain, and time.

However, when it comes to active powers, Locke states that the clearest and most distinct idea of active power comes to us from the observation of the operations of our own minds. He elaborates by stating that there are two kinds of activities with which we are familiar: thinking and motion. When we consider body in general, Locke states that it is obvious that we receive no idea of thinking, which only comes from a contemplation of the operations of our own minds.

But neither does body provide the idea of the beginning of motion, only of the continuation or transfer of motion. So, it seems, the operation of our minds, in particular the connection between one kind of thought, willing , and a change in either the content of our minds or the orientation of our bodies, provides us with the idea of an active power. The power to stop, start, or continue an action of the mind or of the body is what Locke calls the will.

When the power of the will is exercised, a volition or willing occurs. Any action or forbearance of action that follows volition is considered voluntary. The power of the will is coupled with the power of the understanding. This latter power is defined as the power of perceiving ideas and their agreement or disagreement with one another. The understanding, then, provides ideas to the mind and the will, depending on the content of these ideas, prefers certain courses of action to others.

The technical term that Locke uses to describe that which determines the will is uneasiness. So, any pain or discomfort of the mind or body is a motive for the will to command a change of state so as to move from unease to ease. Locke notes that it is a common fact of life that we often experience multiple uneasinesses at one time, all pressing on us and demanding relief. But, he says, when we ask the question of what determines the will at any one moment, the answer is the most pressing uneasiness Essay , II.

This means that no matter how much you want to stay at the library to study, if hunger comes to be the more pressing than the desire to pass the exam, hunger will determine the will to act, commanding the action that will result in the procurement of food. While a desire is suspended, Locke says, our mind, being temporarily freed from the discomfort of the want for the thing desired, has the opportunity to consider the relative worth of that thing.

The idea here is that with appropriate deliberation about the value of the desired thing we will come to see which things are really worth pursuing and which are better left alone. And, Locke states, the conclusion at which we arrive after this intellectual endeavor of consideration and examination will indicate what, exactly, we take to be part of our happiness.

And, in turn, by a mechanism that Locke does not describe in any detail, our uneasiness and desire for that thing will change to reflect whether we concluded that the thing does, indeed, play a role in our happiness or not Essay , II. The problem is that there is no clear explanation for how, exactly, the power to suspend works. Despite this, Locke nowhere indicates that suspension is an action of the mind that is determined by anything other than volition of the will.

We know that Locke takes all acts of the will to be determined by uneasiness. So, suspending our desires must be the result of uneasiness for something. Investigating how Locke understands human freedom and judgment will allow us to see what, exactly, we are uneasy for when we are determined to suspend our desires. The reason why this question is important is because we want to see how autonomously the will can act.

Typically, the question takes the form of: is the will free? Locke unequivocally denies that the will is free, implying, in fact, that it is a category mistake to ask the question at all. This is because, on his view, both the will and freedom are powers of agents, and it is a mistake to think that one power the will can have as a property a second power freedom Essay , II. Instead, Locke thinks that the right question to pose is whether the agent is free. He defines freedom in the following way:. So, Locke considers that an agent is free in acting when her action is connected to her volition in the right kind of way.

That is, when her action or forbearance of action follows from her volition, she is free. Notice here that Locke takes an agent to be free in acting when she acts according to her preference—this means that her actions are determined by her preference. This plainly shows that Locke does not endorse a kind of freedom of indifference, according to which the will can choose to command an action other than the thing most preferred at a given moment.

This is the kind of freedom most often associated with indeterminism. Freedom, then, for Locke, is no more than the ability to execute the action that is taken to result in the most pleasure at a given moment. The problem with this way of defining freedom is that it seems unable to account for the kinds of actions we typically take to be emblematic of virtuous or vicious behavior. This is because we tend to think that the power of freedom is a power that allows us to avoid vicious actions, perhaps especially those that are pleasurable, in order to pursue a righteous path instead.

For instance, on the traditional Christian picture, when we wonder about why God would allow Adam to sin, the response given is that Adam was created as a free being. While God could have created beings that, like automata, unfailingly followed the good and the true, He saw that it was all things considered better to create beings that were free to choose their own actions. This decision was made despite the fact that God foresaw the sinful use to which this freedom would be put. So, in the moment where he was tempted to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, he knew it was the wrong thing to do, but did it anyway.

This is because, the story goes, and in that moment he was free to decide whether to follow the commandment or to give in to temptation. Of his own free choice, Adam decided to follow temptation. Given his definition of freedom, it is difficult, at least prima facie, to see how Adam could be blamed for choosing the fruit over the commandment.

For, according to Locke, an agent acts freely when her actions are determined by her volitions. But, on this understanding of freedom, it is difficult to see how, exactly, Adam can be morally blamed for eating the fruit. In other words, was it possible for Adam to alter the intensity of his desire for the fruit?

And, in certain passages of the Essay , Locke implies that suspending desires and freedom are linked, suggesting that while agents are acting freely whenever their volitions and actions are linked in the right kind of way, there is, perhaps, a proper use of the power to act freely. In other words, the more we are determined by true happiness, the more we will to suspend our desires for lesser things.

This suggests that Locke takes there to be a right way to use our power of freedom. Locke indicates that there are instances where it is impossible to resist a particular desire—when a violent passion strikes, for instance. He also states, however, that aside from these kinds of violent passions, we are always able to suspend our desire for any thing in order to give ourselves the time and the emotional distance from the thing desired in which to consider the worth of thing relative to our general goal: true happiness.

In other words, true good is something like the Beatific Vision. Now, Locke admits that it is a common experience to be carried by our wills towards things that we know do not play a role in our overall and true happiness. The central thing to note here is that Locke is drawing a distinction between immediate and remote goods. The difference between these two kinds of goods is temporal. For instance, acting to obtain the pleasure of intoxication is to pursue an immediate good while acting to obtain the pleasure of health is to pursue a remote good.

So, we can suppose here that Locke is suggesting that forgoing immediate goods and privileging remote goods is characteristic of the right use of liberty but see Rickless for an alternative interpretation. If this is so, it is certainly not a difficult suggestion to accept. Indeed, it is fairly straightforwardly clear that many immediate pleasures do not, in the end, contribute to overall and long-lasting happiness. Locke gives two answers. First, bad luck can account for people not pursuing their true happiness.

For instance, someone who is afflicted with an illness, injury, or tragedy is consumed by her pain and is thus unable to adequately focus on remote pleasures. Here Locke states that our own faulty judgment is to blame for our preferring the worse to the better. This is because, on his view, the uneasiness we have for any given object is directly proportional to the judgments we make about the merit of the things to which we are attracted.

So, if we are most uneasy for immediate pleasures, it is our own fault because we have judged these things to be best for us. In this way, Locke makes room in his system for praiseworthiness and blameworthiness with respect to our desires: absent illness, injury, or tragedy, we ourselves are responsible for endorsing, through judgment, our uneasinesses.

Acknowledgement

He continues, stating that the major reason why we often misjudge the value of things for our true happiness is that our current state fools us into thinking that we are, in fact, truly happy. Because it is difficult for us to consider the state of true, eternal happiness, we tend to think that in those moments when we enjoy pleasure and feel no uneasiness, we are truly happy. But such thoughts are mistaken on his view.

Indeed, as Locke says, the greatest reason why so few people are moved to pursue the greatest, remote good is that most people are convinced that they can be truly happy without it. The cause of our mistaken judgments is the fact that it is very difficult for us to compare present and immediate pleasures and pains with future or remote pleasures and pains. In fact, Locke likens this difficulty to the trouble we typically experience in correctly estimating the size of distant objects.

When objects are close to us, it is easy to determine their size. When they are far away, it is much more difficult. Likewise, he says, for pleasures and pains. He notes that if every sip of alcohol were accompanied by headache and nausea, no one would ever drink. The condition of our minds makes it easy for us to think that there could be no greater good than the relief of being unburdened of a present pain.

The suggestion is that contemplation and deliberation alone may be sufficient to correct our problem of considering all immediate pleasures and pains to be greater than any future ones. And, if that does not work, practice and habit can also correct this problem. By practice and exposure, we can, according to Locke, change the agreeableness or disagreeableness of things. It seems, then, that the power to suspend desire must be the power to reject immediate pleasures in favor of the pursuit of remote or future pleasures. However, it seems that in order to suspend in this way, we must already have judged that these immediate pleasures are not representative of the true good.

For, without this kind of prior judgment, it seems that we would not be in a position to suspend in the way that is required. This is because absent the prior judgment, there would be no reason for the uneasiness we felt for the perceived good to not determine the will. The question to resolve now is how to get ourselves into a position where we are uneasy for the remote, true good and can suspend our desires for immediate pleasures. In other words, we must determine how we can come to seriously judge immediate pleasures to not have a part in our true happiness.

So, it seems, we need to cultivate the uneasiness for the infinite joys of heaven. But if, as Locke suggests, the human condition is such that our minds, in their weak and narrow states, judge immediate pleasures to be representative of the greatest good, it is difficult to see how, exactly, we can circumvent this weakened state in order to suspend our more terrestrial desires and thus have the space to correctly judge which things will lead to our true happiness.

While in the Essay Locke does not say as much as we might like on this topic, elsewhere in his writings we can get a sense for how he might respond to this question. In , Locke was asked by his friend Edward Clarke, for advice about raising and educating his children. This text provides insight into the importance that Locke places on the connection between the pursuit of true happiness and early childhood education in general.

Locke begins his discussion by noting that happiness is crucially dependent on the existence of both a sound mind and a sound body. He adds that it sometimes happens that by a great stroke of luck, someone is born whose constitution is so strong that they do not need help from others to direct their minds towards the things that will make them happy. But this is an extraordinarily rare occurrence. He observes that the minds of young children are easily distracted by all kinds of sensory stimuli and notes that the first step to developing a mind that is focused on the right kind of things is to ensure that the body is healthy.

The latter, however, are created. So, in order to live the moral life and listen to reason over passions, it seems that we need to have had the benefit of conscientious care-givers in our infancy and youth see also Government , II.

Communication Ethics - Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication

For, if she had the bad moral luck of unthinking or careless parents and teachers, it seems difficult to see how she could be blamed for failing to follow a virtuous path. One way of approaching this difficulty is to recall that Locke takes the content of law of nature, the moral law decreed by God, to be the preservation both of ourselves and of the other people in our communities in order to glorify God Law , IV.

The dictate to help to preserve the other people in our community shifts some of the moral burden from the individual onto the community. In this way, children will develop the habit of suspending their desires for terrestrial pleasures and focusing their efforts on attaining the true happiness that results from acting to secure remote goods. Julie Walsh Email: julie.

Locke: Ethics The major writings of John Locke — are among the most important texts for understanding some of the central currents in epistemology, metaphysics, politics, religion, and pedagogy in the late 17 th and early 18 th century in Western Europe. Introduction While Locke did not write a treatise devoted to a discussion of ethics, there are strands of discussion of morality that weave through many, if not most, of his works.

The Good a. Pleasure and Pain The thread of moral discussion that weaves most consistently throughout the Essay is the subject of happiness. Happiness Locke is very clear—we all constantly desire happiness. The Law of Nature a. Content Locke suggests that there are two ways to determine the content of the law of nature: by the light of nature and by sense experience.

Authority Once we have knowledge of the content of the law of nature, we must determine from where it derives its authority. Power, Freedom, and Suspending Desire a. Passive and Active Powers In any discussion of ethics, it is important not only to determine what, exactly, counts as virtuous and vicious behavior, but also the extent to which we are in control of our actions.

The Will The power to stop, start, or continue an action of the mind or of the body is what Locke calls the will. References and Further Reading a. Edited by Peter H. Oxford: Clarendon Press, The text also includes a comprehensive forward by Nidditch. In the citations from this text in particular, all emphases, capitalization, and odd spelling are original to Locke. Essays on the Laws of Nature. Edited and translated by W. This edition includes both the original Latin and the English translation of the essays. Political Essays.

Edited by Mark Goldie. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Edited by E. De Beer. Oxford: Clarendon Press, — London: Rivington, Paul's Epistles vol. John Locke. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Colman, John. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, Darwall, Stephen. The British Moralists and the Internal 'Ought': — Locke is one among several central figures under discussion.

Lolordo, Antonia. Mabbot, J. London: Macmillan Press, Schouls, Peter A. Reasoned Freedom: John Locke and Enlightenment. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, This is a defense of the view that Locke was a great influence on enlightenment thought, in particular in the domains of reason and freedom. Yaffe, Gideon. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, Secondary Sources: Articles Chappell, Vere. Chappell, Vere. Edited by G. Rogers, — In these articles, Chappell advances the interpretation that changes made in the fifth edition of the Essay indicate that Locke changed his view about human freedom.

Edited by Donald Rutherford, — Glauser, Richard. Magri, Tito. Mathewson, Mark D. Rickless, Samuel. In these papers, Rickless argues that Locke holds one and only one definition of freedom: the ability to act according to our volitions. According to Rickless, Locke holds the same definition of freedom as Hobbes. Schneewind, J. Edited by Vere Chappell. Walsh, Julie. Author Information Julie Walsh Email: julie. An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.


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