Weekend reflections

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24 Responses to Weekend reflections

  1. vee says:

    The morality thread made me think, what is the difference between morals and ethics?

    Any ideas?

    Morals to me thus far comes from all that religious tomfoolery and ethics comes from rational logical and emotional logical hullabaloo.

  2. Rafe Champion says:

    I don’t usually bother to split them but if pushed I would suggest that ethics are not quite so deep. So we have professional ethics to regulate some aspects of the way we work and if challenged we would defend them by reference to one or more moral principles.

  3. whyisitso says:

    The SMH’s main story this morning features an “exclusive” leak on Mr Agius’ final submission to the AWB commision of enquiry.

    The Herald buried this paragraph in its “continuation” on page 2:

    “Mr Agius argues in his final submission that the senior AWB officers responsible for the elaborate kickbacks scheme “intentionally and dishonestly” deceived both the Department of Foreign Affairs and the UN over the kickbacks, and describes the department as an “innocent agency” in helping to perpetuate the deception with the UN”

    If the leak is correct, and if Commissioner Cole adopts his counsel’s assessment, this is an explosive development. If DFAT is innocent, then so are Downer and Vaille. Caroline Overington’s hysterical “exposes” in The Australian earlier this year will be rendered as dust.

    Or maybe Mr Agius has simply been brain-washed by the likes of Tim Blair et al?

  4. I like the word ‘ethics’ and don’t much care for ‘morals’. The associations of ‘morals’ are religious and even if not, they suggest someone ‘moralising’. It’s etymology is Latin – manners or custom. The etymology of ‘ethics’ is Greek and ‘ethos’ in Greek means ‘habit’ too.

    This doesn’t get one far, but it leads me to reflect on how subtle language is, and how the associations of words can flavour them and make two words very different even if dictionary definitions are not that far apart.

  5. Ian says:

    FWIW, for myself, I’ve always thought of morals as the way I aspire to live my own life, which may or may not suit someone else; whereas ethics is more the way we live/regulate our life as a community, so that all our various “moralities” don’t cause too much friction.

  6. Richard Phillipps says:

    “Ethics” as the term is used at least in Australia, the UK and the US, seems to me to refer to sets of codified and deliberately constructed rules, usually to govern the behaviour of a particular sub-group, and especially an occupational group. Medical ethics. Legal ethics. Journalistic ethics. You learn ethics in a formal way.

    “Morals” on the other hand, are seen as inherent, organic, and derived from the nature of the world, altough sometimes training is regarded as important, which is why parents are regarded as moral tutors.

    Morals and ethics are not coextensive. Behaviour that is immoral will usually be unethical (stealing your patient’s watch is probably unprofessional behaviour).

    Behaviour that is unethical is not always immoral. For example, the legal ethical rule that used to forbid a barrister acting for a client unless a solicitor had intervened – in other words forbidding direct interraction between barrister and client. For example, it is unethical for a doctor to have sex with a patient, even if they are both mature, both intelligent, and the doctor was only prescribing a flu injection. It is hard to say that such interraction is always immoral.

    Similarly, law and morality do not always (and need not always) coincide.

    It is unhelpful, really, to agonise as someone did this week about whether there are moral facts. There are strong, deep, binding, moral assumptions, and that is, for most of the time, all we need. We assume that it is wrong to kill, steal, or rape, and act as though that was as solid, concrete, and verifiable assumption. And that works, and works well, and we enforce those views. This is not very different from assuming a table is solid even though we know that it has great expanses of inter-molecular space, or from assuming that it is a Newtonian universe when, say, we drive our car, or play snooker.

    We get into confusion when different moral assumptions collide, as in the issue of covering the faces of Islamic women. (But, interestingly, that particular issue only seems to become a problem when for no apparent rational reason the likes of Jack Straw or, in australia, louts, challenge the right of women to cover their faces. They don’t, by and large, challenge the right of women to cover their breasts.)

    Over the top of all this come discourses such as law, manners, and custom.

    Here’s a test: which of the ten commandments is a statement of morality? Which is an ethical statement?
    Which is just s sensible rule for cooperative behaviour to avoid friction in a community?

    My top of the head is that not murder/not steal are moral statements, the covetting ones are about avoiding friction, and the honour thy god/no graven image are more like ethical statements.

  7. whyisitso says:

    “For example, the legal ethical rule that used to forbid a barrister acting for a client unless a solicitor had intervened”

    That may be called ethics but that’s a misuse of plain English. It’s nothing but an in-house regulation.

    “it is unethical for a doctor to have sex with a patient, even if they are both mature, both intelligent, and the doctor was only prescribing a flu injection. It is hard to say that such interraction is always immoral”. It is both unethical and immoral because the doctor is misusing his position vis-s-vis the patient.

    As far as face covering is concerned, I don’t have a problem with it as long as the face-coverer doesn’t have a problem with the coveree’s refusal to communicate with her while she’s face-covered. I think that’s what Jack Straw is referring to. Tit for tat, to use an appalling response to Richard’s referral to breasts.

  8. Richard Phillipps says:

    for the record.

    the doctor patient example I constructed was one in which there was no real inequality. To say “doctor is misusing his position vis-s-vis the patient” (why “his” by the way?) is to confuse and conflate two separate issues. Misuse of position, if it occurs, is to do with the doctor-patient relationship and the possibility of oppression arising out of that relationship. It is unethical to do so, even if, morally, as in my example, there has been no undue influence, oppression, or the like. (If it makes it easier, the patient has medical qualifications, has legal and accounting qualifications, is an expert in medico-legal issues, and the doctor is a one year out gp.) Whether it is immoral is a different question.

    To say the barrister/solicitor example is “an in-house regulation” is, I think, to play a semantic game, but if that’s what you want to do, ok: most ethical rules are in-house regulations because they are formal rules that govern a particular occupational group. If the “an in-house regulation” statement is meant to suggest that the old barrister/solicitor rule had no basis, then you need to get someone to explain the different roles (then) of barristers and solicitors, and the value (to the court, the client, the community) of having independent and objective barristers, who have less risk of being “captured” by the client. Again, the rule does not track contemporary morality.

    If the examples I chose are too complex, then here’s an easy one. Journalists, who are willing to disclose all sorts of embarrassing personal secrets, assert an ethical duty to conceal the identity of their sources. Clearly, this is an ethical rule – an in-house regulation – that does not track morality.

    Here’s another one. Legal professional privilege does a lot of useful things, but it may obscure the truth, lengthen proceedings, and distort the process of dispute resolution. It is an ethical rule, but not a moral one.

    I am offended by the “tit for tat” remark, and I don’t see how it advances anyone’s understanding of the issues.

    I don’t see why someone who, for religious reasons, doesn’t wish to expose their face (or some other part of their body) should be forced to just because Mr Straw wants, in effect, to look at that part of the body. And I object very strongly to the inference that this clash is somehow the fault of the veil wearer.

    But the veil issue gets traction because it becomes a point where a deeply held moral assumption which is held by some English and some Australians is challenged. This suggests that, although “moral” principles seem eternal and inherent, they may be in fact driven by cultural forces.

    What about the ten commmandments?

  9. Richard,

    I reaslise that ‘ethics’ has the connotations you refer to in professions – ‘professional ethics’. And in this sense it seems to me that Whyisitso is getting at something worthwhile calling it ‘in house regulation’ though many of the regulations often have something to do with ‘ethical behaviour’ – though often ethical behaviour between professionals rather than ethical behaviour towards the client.

    (I’m thinking of the difficulty I have getting ‘second opinions’ from accountants. They always tell me that they need to send an ‘ethical letter’ to my accountant to tell them they’re taking over my business. I tell them they’re not doing that – that I want them to sell me some services and leave my business with other accountants alone. They don’t like that and often refuse at that point.)

    In any event I think the idea of business or politics being ‘applied ethics’ is an interesting one. The claim is not that these areas are very ‘moral’, but that ethical issues arise constantly, and that modes of behaviour must emerge for dealing with them in a practical way. Here we see some connection between the word ethics and the word ‘ethos’.

    (I realise these comments are somewhat vague – I’d try to do better but I’m on the fly I’m afraid.)

  10. whyisitso says:

    A lot of what professionals call “ethics” are nothing more than restrictive trade practices. The ACCC is well off the ball in their regulation of them.

    “(why “his”

  11. Richard Phillipps says:

    One of the themes that has been running this week has been that of compulsory values. This arose with the celebration of libertarians on the blog, and of course the defining feature of libertarians is because they relate it all to individual urges they have no moral compass and you cannot read off from their position which way they will run on any particular issue. Which is why there are right and left libertarians.

    The theme also arose with the idea of morals, usefully contrasted by Nick Gruen with ethics, and with the issue of how a very powerful person with no morals would treat inferiors.

    The issue then arose again with the Lancet thing on the number of dead in Iraq, which is, tragically, about a number of groups (conservative Americans, conservative Shiites and Sunnis, Kurds and the international ragtag cotw) all trying to impose and consolidate supposedly universal moral imperatives.

    And it was all overlain with the idea of how values/morals invade language. Having thoroughly depressed myself reading the Woodward book I am now trending towards suicide by reading a book called “Talk Right….[impossibly long name]” about how conservatives in the US managed to colonise words like “liberal”, “values”, “populist” and “elite” to, in effect, starve the MOR and the left of rhetorical oxygen. If anyone’s interested I could do a brief review of the thing when I’ve finished it.

    The thing that often gets missed is the role of courtesy, restraint, and respect in lubricating human affairs. It is tragic that we have degraded to the extent that we despise each other so much and that we are so selfish that governments have to enact laws about road rage, for example.

    Nick is right about professionals and professional ethics; any brief sociology of the professions will show that the rise of the “professions” and many of the rules are about erecting barriers to competition. There was a good brief bit in “Lawyers” a book by DIsney, Basten and Ross. I always take the view that doctors, lawyers and accountants are the same as plumbers or electricians only less useful. This is not a view that endears me to all my colleagues in the legal profession, or to my gp.

    what about the ten commmandments?

  12. WIIS,

    I think you overreacted a tad in your most recent comments. I wonder about the use of the word ‘precious’. Do you mean thin skinned? If so shouldn’t you show us a slighly thicker hide yourself.

  13. Chris Lloyd says:

    OK. Here is my classification of the 10 comandments.

    You shall have no other gods before Me. God being a wanker. Not worth classifying.

    You shall not make for yourself any graven image (idol). Superstitious nonsense. Not worth classifying.

    Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain. God being a wanker. Not worth classifying.

    Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. God being a wanker. Not worth classifying.

    Honour your father and your mother. Ethical principle.

    You shall not murder. Moral principle.

    You shall not commit adultery. Ethical principle.

    You shall not steal. Ethical, moral and friction reducing principle.

    You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. Moral principle.

    You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife. Friction reducing principle.

    You shall not covet your neighbour’s oxen. Friction reducing principle – though my neighbour has a really cute looking Hereford that I can’t get out of my head.

  14. whyisitso says:

    Moses was a real great leader and a real canny guy. He was in charge of all these unruly Israelites and had to do something real quick because the situation was getting outa hand.

    Fortunately the tribe found themselves near Mt Sinai so he excused himself and said he’d be back in short order after communing with the Lord. He disappeared up the mountain.

    When he came back he produced these two finely engraved tablets that looked real authentic.

    Being canny, he knew he couldn’t order the mob about using his own authority which in any case was pretty fragile. But he attributed the commandments on the tablets to the Lord Almighty. That’s the reason for the commandments referring to God. Had to look authentic. Canny eh?

    Then he got down to the real law and order business, starting with the damn kids (the most unruly of the lot) and the one about honouring parents. Murder, theft – no doubt about that. Adultery – well women were property weren’t they, so this was probably really a sub-commandment about theft. I’m sure it didn’t apply to blokes, although to appease the politically correct among the Israelites it appeared at first glance as if it did.

    Not lying. Yeah we’ll throw that in too.

    The coveting things – thought crimes really. In other words “don’t even think about it!”

  15. whyisitso says:

    Billal and Hakim!!!! No, no, put that beheading knife down. Chris meant it’s the Jewish and Christian God that’s a wanker. He has the deepest respect for Allah (and the Prophet too!).

    Phew! That’s better.

    Just be careful next time, Chris, please. Phew!

  16. Commanding not to ‘covet’ something is a big ask non? Not to help yourself to it yes. But as someone once said, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

    Interesting that not killing and stealing is ‘moral’ and no adultery is ‘ethical’. As someone (else) once said ‘please explain’.

    All this reminds me of a Jewish joke. . . .

    Moses is up on the mountain WAY longer than they thought he would be – days and days. He gets back down eventually looking pretty tuckered out. The Israelites come to him and ask him

    “How did it go?”

    Moses shrugs and says “Well I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that I got him down to ten.”

    The Israelites say “Well, what is the bad news? And why were you up there for so long?”

    Moses replies “Well, the bad news is that adultery is still out”

  17. Richard Phillipps says:

    Say, 50 years ago, most of the audience would have said that every one of those commands encapsulated a moral principle.

    Now many of them do not even seem to make sense.

    I expect that “covet” may have had stronger connotations then. The couple of dictionary defs I can find are about having a wrongful or inordinate or regardless of the rights of others desire. Not just saying gee I’d like an ox like that, but saying I want that particular ox.

    The bits of the Bible I remember (I’m a lapsed Anglican, which many cruel people say is a logical impossibility) talk about the Old Testament God as a “jealous god”.

    I expect that in a matrilinear society which places great store on being born into the group, issues of adultery may have been more important.

    Herefords are nice. Nicer than, say, Anguses or Shorthorns. Mind you, Brahmans have a certain something. I don’t covet any though.

  18. observa says:

    “Moses was a real great leader and a real canny guy.”

    Well not quite as canny as Darwin and Co who worked out that once upon a time there was this big bang and some life forms appeared in water ready to crawl out onto land and evolve and work out what morals and ethics were. The moral to this story is we’re all equally evolved which is why there’s so much agreement on morals and ethics these days.

  19. Rafe Champion says:

    Herefords? You have got to be joking.

    Perhaps I am biased because my strong, capable farmer’s hands once fondled the breasts of dozens, scores or even hundreds of pedigree Jersey cows.

    Strictly in the line of business to run a wet rag over the teats before putting the milking cups in place.

    And you city folk probably think milk comes out of small cardboard boxes.

    Some history.

    More nitty gritty with diagrams.

  20. Actually Rafe, there are a few varieties of milk. You can get milk that comes from carboard boxes and milk that comes from plastic bottles. In the past you used to be able to get milk that came from glass bottles. However, the glass bottle species of milk seems to be fairly rare these days. I have not seen any glass bottle milk in some time!!! See, us city folk are a tad more sophisticated than you give us credit for!!! ;)



  21. vee says:

    A friction reducing principle seems to be an ethical principle to me based on what Chris Lloyd has said.

    Not bearing false witness against a neighbour he has classified as moral principle but if it was to help another neighbour out, under my premise wouldn’t that be a friction reducing principle and thus an ethical one?

    Aside: Damien, I like your blog. Moreso I like the fact that you don’t use the left/right dichotomy.

  22. Chris Lloyd says:

    I gotta say I didn’t cogtate too long on my classification. I was hoping the first four might give an indication of the seriousness of my thinking! But here goes – I was thinking of moral principles as describing basics of human nature, the divine spirit within us – Jesus am I conflicted!? Adultery doesn’t seem to fall in this category. Mormons actually reckon it is quite OK. I probably tossed bearing false witness in as a moral principle because it relates to violating truth, an abstract universal quality rather than just a code of behaviour.

  23. James Farrell says:

    To the extent that there is any difference, ethics govern professional conduct and are generally codified. That is, there is a list of clearly defined prohibitions and obligations relevant to that particular line of work. Most of them are related to deeper moral rules – don’t cheat, steal, lie – but ethics spell out the implications of these principles in the context of that profession. And as Richard points out above, sometimes ethics direct us to follow a code of conduct simply in order to uphold the code itself, even when the specific action isn’t immoral. A teacher sleeping with his student would still be unethical even if the teacher satisfied himself in his own mind that the relatoionship wasn’t doing the student any harm or giving her an unfair advantage over other students.

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