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Applied ethics and social problems

Applied ethics and social problems: Moral questions of birth, society and death

Tony Fitzpatrick
Copyright Date: 2008
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  • Book Info
    Applied ethics and social problems
    Book Description:

    Designed to address practical questions, applied ethics is one of the most exciting areas in contemporary philosophy. Yet the relevance of ethical theories to social policy has been under-explored. Until now. In Applied ethics and social problems Tony Fitzpatrick presents introductions to the three most influential moral philosophies: Consequentialism, Kantianism and Virtue Ethics. He then relates these to some of the most urgent questions in contemporary public debates about the future of welfare services. These include taxing unhealthy habits, drug legalisation, parental choice in education, abortion, euthanasia and migration & cultural diversity. In each case he asks a perennial question: what are the legitimate boundaries of state action and individual liberty? Never before has there been such a rigorous overview of the topic offered to social policy students, academics and professionals, as well as those interested in public policy, politics and social science. A user-friendly intervention into these key debates Applied ethics and social problems will set the agenda for years to come.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-350-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iii)
  3. List of tables and figures
    (pp. iv-iv)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. v-v)
  5. Acronyms
    (pp. vi-vi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    The dog I had as a kid, Snoopy, had a talent for football and for chewing my stuff. This included assaulting my refractor telescope at regular intervals, though poor Snoopy was typically the loser in those battles. In truth, suburban Liverpool was not the greatest place for amateur astronomy and I was driven to observe other objects of heavenly beauty (God bless you, Mrs Mills, at no. 23) and develop interests that didn’t depend on cloudless night skies. In reading about the history of science, my heroes became Kepler, Galileo and Einstein, figures whose bodies ate, slept and stumbled but...

  7. ONE Foundations
    (pp. 9-28)

    Given some of the points made in the Introduction, it may seem indulgent to spend time on the foundations of moral philosophy. Yet at critical junctures throughout the book, we will sometimes have to bear such foundations in mind, particularly the set of ideas I will define and defend as ‘social humanism’. To what extent are we obliged to protect people from themselves? Are we primarily sovereign agents or immersed in social relations? Does life begin at conception or later? Should we respect life per se or the person whose life that is? All ethical foundations help provide answers to...

  8. TWO Consequence
    (pp. 29-44)

    We will draw on the discussions of ‘ethical foundations’ in chapters to come as we now turn more to normative issues. In this and the following two chapters, we will review the three most influential theories of moral philosophy. These will inevitably be succinct as our aim is simply to equip ourselves with the basic tools necessary for the debates in applied ethics that follow. These chapters will therefore introduce the key dimensions and ideas of each theory, outline their main strengths and weaknesses and indicate what each contributes to applied ethics. Nothing systematic will be said about addressing social...

  9. THREE Right
    (pp. 45-64)

    Consequentialism is typically contrasted with ‘deontology’ where the moral obligation to perform an act is thought to come from principles that make little or no reference to consequences. Deontology therefore departs from the ‘teleological’ character of consequentialism: the latter is concerned with the ends of action, the former with rules and principles that ‘precede’ actions. In this chapter, we will run through the classic expression of deontological thinking (Kant), look at recent Kantian ‘contractualists’ and then develop our understanding of applied ethics.

    Although complex, the basics of Kant’s ethics are fairly well known (O’Neill, 1989; Baron, 1995).

    Seventy-five years before...

  10. FOUR Virtue
    (pp. 65-84)

    Although consequentialism and Kantianism recommend how toactmorally, some allege that they do not necessarily encourage us tobecomemoral beings. Virtue ethicists (hereafter known as ‘virtuists’) regard moral action as intimately woven with the notion of moral character. Unless we imagine thatdoingis somehow separate frombeing, the question ‘What should I do?’ links to the broader question ‘Who am I?’. Your inquiry after my health means more to me if you are genuinely concerned than if you are simply trying to produce beneficial effects or are inquiring from a rationalistic sense of duty. If virtuism is...

  11. FIVE Applications
    (pp. 85-96)

    This chapter begins by summarising our three moral philosophies.

    Consequentialism is concerned primarily with acts and judges them according to their effects in promoting some ‘pre-moral’ property such as happiness or preferences. We do not necessarily have to assess each and every individual action, since we can formulate and apply rules likely to produce beneficial results, but actsarethe ultimate reference point for consequentialism. And although we should not treat consequentialists as synonymous with utilitarians — the latter recommend the maximisation of utility whereas the former may be less strident about the meaning of utility and whether its maximisation must...

  12. SIX Protecting
    (pp. 97-116)

    Chapters Six to Ten deal with the boundaries of free choice. Selfdetermination and self–ownership are crucial to modern conceptions of the person, but what these terms mean, and what kind of social organisation they imply, is obviously contentious. The idea that liberty requires a cloak of paternalism is accepted by all but the most uncompromising libertarians and anarchists, and is a crucial principle of social welfare. But how thick should that cloak be and what is its appropriate design? How self–determining and self–owning are we really? How should we balance paternalism with liberty, security with autonomy? How...

  13. SEVEN Choosing
    (pp. 117-138)

    We have now introduced a social critique into our discussion of autonomy and paternalism.

    So far it has been proposed that the marketisation of society and social risks is important because, by engendering economic and cultural fragmentation, contemporary social policies are characterised less by interventions intended to reduce structural inequalities and more by a pre–emptive management of agency, the latter being a kind of ‘situational engineering’ through which the environmental possibilities of action are manipulated. According to this prevailing logic, if we can neither eliminate those fragments (there supposedly being ‘no alternative’ to free markets), nor pacify them, the...

  14. EIGHT Relating
    (pp. 139-158)

    This chapter carries forward the general themes already discussed into debates about family and familial responsibilities. If ‘environmental paternalism’ captures the idea that autonomy and paternalism are most reasonably aligned when we concentrate on creating fair social conditions, what does this imply for such debates? I have so far referred to individuals as the pertinent agents. But what of families? Does the principle of autonomy become less relevant because it seems somehow facile to portray family members as autonomous towards one another? Do paternalistic arguments strengthen or weaken when we consider interventions for, and into, families? What should we even...

  15. NINE Becoming
    (pp. 159-180)

    We now relate the themes of previous chapters — free choice, familial attachment, personal responsibility and possible harm — to two extremely controversial debates. This chapter deals with the first of these, abortion.

    Despite the controversy that surrounds abortion, the aim of the chapter is to identify what can be termed a ‘pragmatic consensus’, or a broad field of opinion in which most of those who think about the issue probably stand. It is this that has arguably enabled abortion to become embedded as an accepted practice in many countries and which therefore deserves consideration for that reason if no other. To...

  16. TEN Dying
    (pp. 181-202)

    This chapter completes and complements the life-and-death debate begun in our analysis of abortion. Euthanasia has hovered on the outskirts of social policy’s radar, with most governments reluctant to focus on such a controversial subject. As degenerative conditions become more prevalent and average life spans creep upwards, however, it seems likely that euthanasia will become more and more crucial to social policy debates in the 21st century.

    This chapter will therefore be mainly concerned with the following question:

    First of all, what do we mean by euthanasia? The term implies deliberately assisting someone to die in order to benefit that...

  17. ELEVEN Sharing
    (pp. 203-228)

    In the last five chapters, we have explored some weighty and controversial subjects. At no point, however, have we addressed the existence of state welfare or the underlying assumptions of modern social policies. What if the affluence on which advanced welfare systems depend is in some way immoral? What if it derives from historical injustices and/or contemporary exploitation? What if the price of our affluence is a world in which malnutrition and premature death is rampant? What if we (continue to) fail to do anything about this deplorable state of affairs? And what if our lassitude is due not only...

  18. Epilogue
    (pp. 229-232)

    This book essentially turns on three basic claims.

    The first is that while attention to the foundations of moral deliberation, insight and analysis is important, we do not yet possess a firm, comprehensive theory. The belief that God is the foundation of morality is only satisfying if you leave various awkward questions to one side; and although it seems that a naturalistic approach is the way to go, such naturalism is only credible if it takes proper account of humanity’s socialised being and does not merely reduce the sociocultural to the natural. So although the book’s aim is not to...

  19. References
    (pp. 233-262)
  20. Index
    (pp. 263-270)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 271-274)