Today, we are going to do something new in this course: we are going to consider a series of what we'll call "flash issues." By this, we mean ethical issues that anyone might be confronted with at a given time. The first flash issue is inspired by a quote by Olivier Abel, a French philosopher who wrote, about 15 years ago or so, that "the various 'moralities' must each accept that they can have no 'virtuous effects' without also having perverse effects. And this is why a living society needs ethical debate, reciprocal correction among several ethical philosophies. In order to have virtues, moralities also have limits." Now, just to be clear, the word "morality" is to be understood as perfectly synonymous with "ethics." Moreover, when you read this quote, don't be confused by the use of the word "virtues," which you might associate with Aristotle. But here, in fact, the word "virtues" is used in the sense of qualities, i.e., positive qualities. The issue Abel is bringing up here is a consequence of the multiculturalism of our societies. We don't live in a mono-ethical society, where only one ethical system predominates, but in a multi-ethical society in which numerous traditions intersect, sometimes converging and other times opposing one another. And this leads to debate both within society and within ourselves. >> Let's start with Aristotle's eudemonistic ethics -- is Abel's contention, that other ethics are necessary to correct whatever is missing from eudemonism, true? For instance, might deontological ethics be able to correct certain aspects of Aristotle's ethics? The answer is yes, because Aristotle's ethics, as a matter of principle, does not view all individuals as equals; it is really addressed to free citizens, and completely neglects slaves and all those who work for a living, as well as women, whom Aristotle views more or less as failed men. So Aristotelian ethics has no strong concept of equality. Whereas utilitarianism takes people as they are, an eudemonistic ethics focuses on those it considers to be right-thinking people, i.e., those on the path of perfectionism. For an utilitarian, this is an unreasonable assumption; it's better to see people as they truly are than to define some of them as virtuous, or on the path to virtue. Utilitarianism, then, has a dimension of realism that is very much underdeveloped in eudemonism. Similarly, an utilitarian would say that his concept of the good is much more objective, since it is based on actual interests rather than any hypothetical definition of happiness. Now, the ethics of giving, as you know, places a strong value on otherness, on the differences that characterize the Other. Aristotle talks about friendship, but his brand of friendship is no more than an extension of myself. My friend is a reflection of myself, another version of myself. There is no true otherness, or alterity, in Aristotle's ethics -- -- friendship is defined in terms of reciprocity; it is a relation between two equals who fulfill each other's needs. This is precisely what the ethics of giving calls into question: this kind of reciprocal calculation featured in Aristotle's conception of friendship. Thus we see how other ethical doctrines can serve to rectify and supplement the areas in which Aristotle's ethics can be seen as lacking. Now, what of deontogical ethics? Does the same pattern apply? >> Yes, when you consider various brands of duty ethics, you are confronted with similar, though not identical, difficulties. For one, any deontological ethics is based on the idea that one's moral intent is the most important factor, and that we must, first and foremost, comply unconditionally with the inner moral law -- as we learned when we studied the work of Immanual Kant. These assumptions raise certain issues, the first of which is the denial of happiness. From the standpoint of eudemonism, or virtue ethics, a Kantian is someone who views humans as principled beings who are called to honor certain ethical requirements without allowing themselves any personal aspirations. Now, this kind of critique is arguably a little unfair to Kant, who never said that human happiness should be denied or neglected. In actuality, Kant insisted so strongly, in his <i>Fundamental Principles</i> <i>of <i>the Metaphysics of Morals</i> and <i>Critique of Practical Reason</i>, on the necessity of subordinating human happiness to moral duty, that many thinkers almost immediately attacked this part of his theory. And in fact, Kant amended his position in his later works to account for this criticism. Another problem with Kant's ethics is its its absolute insistence on truthfulness, or, to look at it another way, the absolute prohibition on lying. Imagine a doctor has just diagnosed a patient as very ill -- the patient could die at any moment from a heart attack. So the doctor tells the patient: "Ok, you're very sick, your condition is very serious. You could die at any moment, so make sure you keep your emotions under control." It's obvious that such a course of action would be disastrous; it is likely better not to tell the patient the truth so bluntly and directly. It may even be a good idea to withhold it from him a certain period of time, if you consider the "utility" of the patient. So the desire to remain moral by principle, without any consideration of consequences, can actually end up being harmful, and thus could ironically be considered immoral. Let's look at this same issue, the issue of truthfulness, from another angle. The argument for truthfulness at all costs is that trust is a necessary component of any human relationship, and in particular any moral community, which requires a general atmosphere of trust -- and therefore no one should ever lie. But what if you are before a tyrant, a dictator? Will you stick to your absolute duty to be truthful and reveal to him where his opposition -- dissidents, resistance fighters -- are hiding? Vladimir Jankelevitch wrote that there is sometimes a sacred duty to lie; that in certain situations, it is wholly immoral to stick to the truth uncritically and to eschew the duty of self-examination. Let's now turn to utilitarianism and discuss its strengths, and more importantly, its weaknesses. These weaknesses are perhaps more conspicuous, and we've already discussed several of them, including the tendency to sacrifice the innocent to the greater good. Clearly, here, duty ethics disagrees with utilitarianism, and argues that we cannot look only at the sum-total of happiness or well-being, but must also think of the way it is distributed among individuals. In other words, we need concern ourselves not merely with utility in the aggregate, but with distributive justice as well. Now, one might reply that rule-utilitarianism does just that, by reflecting on what makes rules just, rather than merely which actions will benefit the community's utility. But even then, a proponent of duty ethics will object that even if you obtain a factual consensus as to the right rule, this does not allow us to make individual rights contingent, since you are considering rights, not as sacred in and of themselves, but only insofar as they promote the common utility. Now, what might an eudemonist say about utilitarianism? He'll say that it takes a very bleak view of human life, of man's purpose and prospects for happiness; that happiness requires aspirations that go beyond the mere maximization of our well-being. He'll say that utilitarianism rests on a dismal, impoverished caricature of human destiny. As for the ethics of giving, it will right away criticize the mercantile, transactional nature of utilitarianism, its interpretation of human relationships as essentially a form of barter, and suggest that true giving, i.e., giving in a totally disinterested manner, is what makes us more human. So here again, the weak points of one current can be corrected by appealing to others. Now, what of the ethics of giving? How might other currents react to it? >> The ethics of giving is a little different in that it is elevates generosity to the highest value -- -- a generosity beyond all limits that signifies an openness to the Other devoid of any calculation or measuring. And in fact such an ethics seems to have something religious as its backdrop, in the sense that it calls upon the individual to transcend himself in the name of something greater. This does not mean, however, that the ethics of giving is not subject to criticism. From a duty ethics perspective, one might say that if someone comes to me and asks me for ten, the ethics of giving says I should give him fifteen. How wonderful! But then, where does justice fit in? A deontologist might worry that, from a very noble intention, you run the risk of creating imbalances and instability. In complex societies such as ours, if you give fifteen to whoever asks for ten, this may lead to a situation where others don't even have ten. The sense of measure and fairness, then, so dear to a deontologist, is very much missing in the ethics of giving. A proponent of eudemonism might also criticize the ethics of giving on the grounds that, ultimately, if you remove any conception of happiness from ethics, and thus ignore the fact that everyone, including the ethical subject, seeks his own happiness, you are creating a strange ethical universe in which the human condition, the struggle to find meaning and aspiration in our lives, seems to completely disappear from view. The human condition needs to be studied from an anthropological perspective, i.e., we need to identify and understand the true and profound aspirations of actual human beings. To simply give without measure, with no eye to consequences, is to risk creating severe imbalances. An utilitarian, too, might attack the ethics of giving. Rule-utilitarianism argues that our first concern should not be unfettered generosity but a conscious effort to determine how exactly society can best satisfy the needs and interests of its constituents. No society is homogenous -- there is always a diversity of situations, of needs and interests. So before we dive head-first into an outpouring of generosity, it is necessary to properly assess and measure the complexity of society so as to determine how best to proceed. So these are some of the objections aimed at the ethics of giving. The only conclusion we can come to, François, is that ultimately every ethical doctrine has its strengths and limitations -- and this is precisely what creates the possibility for fertile and stimulating intellectual debate. >> Yes, and our societies are indeed a reflection of such a debate. There is no reason to fear the fact that our societies, and ourselves, are often split between different positions. The main thing is to come to a consistent, coherent viewpoint, rather than merely take a piece of utilitarianism here, a piece of the ethics of giving there, as the case may be.