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The Central Questions of EthicsParis Exposition Library of Congress LC-USZ62-120153

Abstract: The essential questions which frame this course are discussed with some examples. An outline of the contributing, necessary, and sufficient conditions of a good life are outlined.

I. The central questions raised in this course in ethics are (1) What is the nature of the life of excellence?, (2) What is the ultimate worth of the goals you seek?, and (3) What specific courses of conduct, in keeping with these goals, will help lead to the life of excellence?

 

A. What is the nature of the life of excellence?

 

 

1. The Greek notion of areté-- virtue, good, excellence, happiness. Senses of the word include:

 

 

 

a. The goodness of a thing; that at which a thing excels.

 

 

 

b. The functioning excellence of a thing. (It performs its function well and is virtuous in that respect.)

 

 

 

 

E.g., a pair of Snap-On sockets will do the job in virtue of the fact of their design and construction.

 

 

 

c. When something performs with excellence the function it is designed to perform, then it has areté.

 

 

2. The areté of human beings will be found in that which they can do uniquely.

 

 

3. Given this notion, then we can ask what are the contributing, necessary, and sufficient conditions for obtaining excellence in our lives.

 

 

 

a. Contributing condition: a factor that is usually present but is neither necessary nor sufficient for the occurrence of a state of affairs. The factor is only a help.

 

 

 

 

(1) Several contributing conditions might compose together a compound sufficient condition as having four U.S. quarters are sufficient for having a U.S. dollar.

 

 

 

 

(2) Having a penny or a nickel in your pocket is a contributing condition to having a dollar in your pocket, but it is neither necessary nor sufficient to have a penny or a nickel to have a dollar.

 

 

 

 

(3) Having a steering wheel or having gasoline (but not fuel) is a contributing condition to having the automobile operate.

 

 

 

 

(4) The following have been suggested as contributing conditions to a life of excellence. Do you think any of these might not be contributing, but are necessary?

 

 

 

 

 

Good health, money, possessions, friends, books, and a home.

 

 

 

b. Necessary condition: a factor that must have occurred if a specifiable state of affairs has occurred. It is indispensable for something else.

 

 

 

 

(1) Having some money in your packet is a necessary condition for having a dollar in your pocket. (Itís not necessary to have a penny or a nickel.)

 

 

 

 

(2) Having wheels or having fuel in your automobile is necessary for the automobile to run properly.

 

 

 

 

(3) The following have been suggested as necessary conditions for a life of excellence. Do you think any of these might not be necessary, but are contributing or perhaps even sufficient?

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom, pleasure, existence, choice, and peace of mind.

 

 

 

c. Sufficient condition: a factor which, if present, is always followed by a specifiable state of affairs. Subjunctively, if factor P should occur, factor Q would also.

 

 

 

 

(1) Having ten dimes in your pocket is a sufficient condition for having a dollar in your pocket.

 

 

 

 

(2) Having your automobile run properly is a sufficient condition for there being fuel in the tank. It would be very difficult to specify the sufficient condition for having your automobile run properly.

 

 

 

 

(3) The following conditions have been suggested as sufficient for having a life of excellence. These conditions are somewhat controversial.

 

 

 

 

 

Happiness, self-realization, pleasure, honor, and peace of mind.

 

B. What is the ultimate worth of the goals you seek? (Once you obtain the goal, so what?)

 

 

1. One way to view this question is raise the question of the relation between ends and means.

 

 

 

a. Do the "ends justify the means"? Is all fair in love and war?

 

 

 

b. Do the ends sometimes justify the means?

 

 

2. Goals of human beings have often been classified in three categoriesó(not necessarily distinct categories).

 

 

 

a. Internal goals: e.g., happiness, peace of mind, self-realization, acceptance of oneself.

 

 

 

b. External goals: e.g., helping others, money, contributing to society, success in a particular field.

 

 

 

c. Transcendent goals: (those beyond and distinct from the bounds of the experience in this world) e.g., nirvana, salvation, spirituality.

 

C. What specific courses of conduct, in keeping with the goals you seek, will help lead to a life of excellence? Possible answers include (but are not limited to):

 

 

1. Search for pleasure.

 

 

2. Self-realization: being all that you can be.

 

 

3. Duty: distinguishing between those things in our power and those things outside of our power.

 

 

4. Utility: seeking to help or be useful to others.

 

 

5. Goodness: doing only the right things as defined by a particular system of ethics.

 

 

6. Rejection of society: going it alone since other people corrupt (the idea of pioneers, settlers, drop-outs, and the "self-sufficient" person).

 

 

7. Biological nature of people: look at mankindís natural characteristics to develop and improve.

 

 

8. Justice: seek to be fair in all dealings with others.

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