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Ethics applies primarily to human situations

  1. Apr 3, 2007 #1

    baywax

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    The use of the word ethics applies primarily to human situations, actions and conditions. Ethics described:

    http://www.iep.utm.edu/e/ethics.htm

    Along with this explaination of the word ethics I wanted to explore whether the word also applied to mechanical systems. Can a mechanical system like a solar system or perhaps a transmission be described as ethical because of its good working order? If this were true then we could begin to answer the above question "where (do) our ethical principles come from, and what (do) they mean(?) Are they merely social inventions? Do they involve more than expressions of our individual emotions?

    If the concept of ethics can be applied to mechanical structure as well as (or including) social, emotional and cultural structures then we can say that ethics is not just a human overlay on nature but a reflection of nature being used to help perpetuate and harmonize the human species.

    What do you think?

    Natural Ethics?

    )

    A Physiological Basis for Ethics
    Reviewed Work(s):
    The Ethics of Hercules. A Study of Man's Body as the Sole Determinant of Ethical Values by Robert Chenault Givler
    Review author: H. M. Parshley
    Journal of Social Forces, Vol. 2, No. 5 (Nov., 1924), pp. 786-789

    http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=1532-1282(192411)2:5<786:APBFE>2.0.CO;2-4&size=LARGE

    the 2nd link does a fair job of describing what I'm trying to point out. It is a study of the "mechanical ethics" or what is termed as the "physiological basis for Ethics" driving the ethical (or less-ethical) behavior of humans.

    Since basically human ethics are solely dependent upon physical conditions that support survival there seems to be a direct link to the mechanistic universe and the mechanism of ethics. Any comments are appreciated.

    While googling I found this thread with the same title on PF:

    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=5253

    You'll find that many of the discussions touch on what I've brought up here.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2017
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  3. Apr 3, 2007 #2

    russ_watters

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    I wouldn't call a machine ethical, but I do think you are on the right track in looking for a scientific or logical basis for ethics/morality.
     
  4. Apr 4, 2007 #3
    Ethics are just vices that people put on each other.

    Supply an argument to my follow up.
    How does "good" nature come about at all? How does "bad" nature come about?
    I personally think that it was all just trial and error. We could never really rid our selves of "deconstructive" thinking because degenerate thinking patterns were always evident in any "fruitful" thinking patterns.
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2007
  5. Apr 4, 2007 #4
    Of course I could never argue this point unless someone agreed with me - The human mind is actually a flaw. It was useful for things like advancement in modern technology. But what good is that? Furthering of the human life span? mindsets? vacations?
    You should never incorporate someone else's feelings into your own decision it just seems useless. You could say that faith/religion are the father of scare tactics - It was easier to deal with people if they were "good" natured rather then having them be unruly.
    If you agree, religion could be the ultimate vice over freewill?
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2007
  6. Apr 4, 2007 #5
    If you were to say that a machine is ethical.. Would base your analysis of this machine by weather it worked properly or not? If the machine did exactly what it was designed to do, then you could say the machine is perfect. Its deemed perfect because it meets every standard that its expected to meet.

    If you agree with that you could compare a machine to a human being (the human race) -
    1. A human being has no specific plan.
    I could go down the list of what I think is wrong with the world but the religion idea is sufficient. If we have no idea what we are working for why are we working? Since there is no way to explain that.. all ethics seem void.
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2007
  7. Apr 4, 2007 #6

    baywax

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    Of course humans and their societies can be compared to machinery. Each person provides a component of society. Each component is necessary in the workings of a society. Without people there is no society. Without the components of a machine there is no machine.

    When one or more people perform anti-social actions, society as a whole is challenged and progress is somewhat diverted. When a component of a machine is misaligned or faulty, the whole machine is challenged and its progress or the nature of its work is diverted and often halted.

    Ethics, in the human sense of the term, provide guidelines for the individual that help that individual avoid reprisals and the general break down of relationships with in a group of individuals.

    In the case of mechanical relationships the same is true. I'm not using a metaphore when I apply the term "ethics" to biological and physical structures. I'm only stating the obvious which is to say that ethics has everything to do with relationships. It may be the relationships between gravity, the sun and asteroids and it may be the relationships between commanders, followers and Dissenters. We see ethics as a set of rules imposed upon society by authority when it is the other way around. Ethics, in this sense, is a manifestation of the laws of nature that is impossible to escape.
     
  8. Apr 4, 2007 #7
    What is the human race doing for the rest of nature? There are far more creatures on the planet than human beings. They really dont have a say in anything we do. The only "benefit" that they could recieve from a human is if a human took the creature's needs or welfare into consideration. At the same time you will never know if they want our help or not.
    I believe that the human race are parasites. The reason why we burn fossil fuels - why not burn them? If you dont agree, give a list of the things that we did for the earth that made it more liveable for every creature.
     
  9. Apr 4, 2007 #8

    baywax

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    Before the agri-cultures and the domestication of animals, humans and animals had a fairly ethical relationship. Humans only took what they needed because they somehow understood that dicking with natural order would come back to haunt them later on. Today that sensitivity has been lost and we act more like parasites as you say.

    But, you could ask the same question of Grizzly bears. What have Grizzly's done to make the earth more livable? What have mosquitos done to make things better? What have Elks done or even Bald Eagles? Nothing.

    By your standards all creatures of the earth are parasites. I'd say that singles you out as having an unethical psychological attitude toward most living things. If you believe you are a parasite, better get out the Calamine Lotion.
     
  10. Apr 4, 2007 #9

    baywax

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    Since ethics is a study of relationships we see that the term is being used today to describe the relationship between humans and the environment. There are ethical methods of farming, mining, power generation to name a few. This tends to underscore what I'm saying about the objective use of the idea of ethics rather than the purely anthropocentric, emotional and sometimes religious overtones involved with the use of the term.

    The environmental use of the term ethics led me to believe that ethics is more of a mechanical term than a strictly humanistic idea. For example, if it is ethical to avoid the contamination of a stream during a mining procedure because it spares the destruction of a habitat for field mice, then this sort of the use of the term highlights my point. Ethics here is used to describe the quality of our mechanical actions with the rest of our environment. It doesn't necessarily involve relationships between people. It involves the relationship of our actions with the environment and everything that entails, including a community of field mice, bladder warts and the quality of non-living things like water.

    But, one could argue that the use of ethical methods of production etc, ultimately spares human lives in that the environment is preserved for further human generations.
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2007
  11. Apr 5, 2007 #10
    Let me put it this way. Ethics is simply the scinece of trying to know what is the right way that people ought to behave and should behave. THAT is obtain usually by trying to see what is best for the main stream population however some in some extreme case such as nagel, we should not try to do so since we can't allow us to help 500 and allow 2 to suffer!
     
  12. Apr 10, 2007 #11
    But have all of these grizzley bears and misquitos fired up their machines and culitvated the lands of fossil fuels? I am not going to argue that animals have pretty much done nothing for the earth. But thats the point I think you already agree..? Human beings have done something for the earth and its only been harmful.
     
  13. Apr 10, 2007 #12
    You can't justify anything you do ethically.. You can justify your actions in the eyes of some. Claming your noble doesnt mean you are noble. If a group of people agree that you are noble and respect you as a noble then you could be given the title "nobleman". But that nobleman title only applies to that group of people that refer to you as that. The only thing that exists is opinion. If you arent aware that ethics are only opinion - goodjob its something that I wish I couldnt see.
     
  14. Apr 10, 2007 #13

    russ_watters

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    Animals do nothing for/to the earth? Animals eat and crap, don't they...?

    The way I see the environmentalist logic, if it is applied evenly, all animals only do negative things to the earth. It appears to me, though, that environmentalists view actions by animals as neutral and the same actions by humans as negatives.
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2007
  15. Apr 10, 2007 #14

    baywax

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    Consider ethics as a human way of describing balance between relationships and consequences. In nature balance is a given. If a rock leans to far off balance, it falls. If a grizzly eats all the fish in one season, it starves during the next or starts eating livestock. Humans are a natural occurance and so we are governed by the same need for balance in the natural order of things. Ethics is our way of mimicing the natural order. We have placed values on ways of balancing our actions within our societies. We have observed the consequences of irrational acts, over fishing, pollution and many other "off" balance activities. When we try to regulate these actions it gets called ethical treatment of the environment. But what it really is is an ethical treatment of ourselves because we are directly effected by the actions we take that effect the environment.

    You may be correct to say that many people don't see the connection between our actions and the failing quality of drinking water, air, food, living conditions, animal habitats, oceans, soil and everything. But, ultimately we are experiencing the consequence of ignoring the need for a balanced approach to living within the limits of our ecosphere.

    People also appear mystified by how the lack of ethics in human relationships winds up breeding dissenters, insurgents and others who simply tend to mimic the violent role models they see every day on the street or on the television.
     
  16. Apr 10, 2007 #15

    russ_watters

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    I'm with you up to this point...
    When it comes to environmentalism, I see ethics as superceding the natural order. A bear does what it wants without considering ethics and accepts the consequences. Why can't we do the same thing?
    Well, maybe we do agree - it gets called ethical treatment, but it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with ethics. If we restrict fishing for the sake of ensuring we have fish to catch next year, that's pragmatism. If we do it so we don't cause them to go extinct, that's ethics.

    In reality, people are not much more pragmatic than bears when it comes to planning ahead - fishing restrictions get a mixed response even though we know for certain that the seas are overfished right now.

    People sometimes think of PETA when it comes to ethics in environmentalism due to the name, but PETA's view of ethics holds that the value of an animal life is exactly equal to a human life. This view is clearly not self-consistent since humans are unique if for nothing else than having the capability to examine the question!
     
  17. Apr 10, 2007 #16

    baywax

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    This is what interests me about ethics as it has evolved today. Ethics used to be all about humans and human interactions. It was synonymous with morals and human relationships. Today it is leaning more toward the respect for all life.

    The ultimate end product is that we cover our a** and it doesn't get bitten somewhere down the road because we were stupid enough to wipe out a species (which, unbeknownst to us was part of our life support system).

    You're completely right to say that as an intellectually fueled consciencious species we are unique in that (some of us) give a damn about our actions (beyond how much immediate profit comes out of them).

    As far as grizzlys go, I don't know if their sense of "ethics" is innate or if the very fact that if they or their food source gets out of balance they are either shot by us or are naturally relegated to extinction. And, apparently, grizzly's are not the only species open to this sort of consequence.
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2007
  18. Apr 10, 2007 #17

    russ_watters

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    Here's a question: since animals are not ethical (that bear has absolutely no respect for the life of that fish), does that justify punishing them all with death...?
     
  19. Apr 11, 2007 #18

    baywax

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    Let me answer your question in a round about fashion (like a philosopher!).

    The bear has no respect and no regard for the life or even the species of fish it eats. Lets say they are salmon.

    Lets say the bear's population grows to a large number because they apparently have lost control and are gorging like "bears gone wild".

    Now the size of the population and the disregard for the lives of the specific species of salmon completely wipes out that fish population. And to top it all off, there is nothing else to eat.

    All the bears die of starvation.

    Is that punishment?

    Or is that consequence?

    I'm not positive about this but:

    Ethics really has nothing to do with punishment. It has to do with relationships, actions and consequences.
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2007
  20. Apr 11, 2007 #19

    russ_watters

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    Ethics is doing what is right because it is right. That's the definition of the word. Consequences are just action-reaction. Drop a rock and it falls to the ground. That isn't ethics, it's gravity. If you do something because of consequences to you (or don't do something out of fear of punishment), that isn't ethics. Your last sentence there is self-contradictory on that point because punishment is a consequence.

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ethics

    I think this may be why you are wrongly associating ethics with machinery. It doesn't have anything to do with action-reaction. It is all about right and wrong. Otherwise, I could shoot you and say it was ethical because the gun fuctioned exactly as designed!
     
  21. Apr 11, 2007 #20

    russ_watters

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    Bears do not have a sense of ethics, innat or otherwise. They do not selectively hunt or breed to avoid starvation. They simply do what they do and some bears do starve or die in turf fights over food and breeding. That's the downward pressure on population that forces the equilibirum.
     
  22. Apr 11, 2007 #21

    baywax

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    This appears to be true according to the dictionary. But the dictionary doesn't mention ethical treatment of animals or ethical mining/farming/etc.
    According to the dictionary the right actions and the wrong actions are defined by how much the action supports or detracts from human activity.

    Is ethical treatment of animals a new concept?

    How does handling a crayfish with care and dignity help or hinder human activity? I'm sure it does help us live better lives in someway but I can't put my finger on how.

    My apparently misguided impression was that if we go about our mining and farming unethically, the consequences (what could be have been thought of as punishment) could quite possibly be the spread of ecoli by tainted lettuce or a town caving into the ground because of a poorly engineered mine.

    Both of these scenarios involve mechanical requirements that have not been met. In the case of the unethical farmer, he didn't pay his workers well or on time and he treated them poorly (so they retaliated in an unsanitary way on his crop). The unethical farmer ends up loosing profit and possibly loosing the farm. Just because he couldn't muster the intellectual and organizational strength to treat his workers ethically.

    In the case of the unethical mine, proper engineering was required to meet an ethical standard that - in as far as the town folk were concerned - was not. This resulted in a very unethical treatment of the citizens and properties of the township. And again, the consequence could range from money lost to repairing the township to the loss of the mining company entirely.
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2007
  23. Apr 11, 2007 #22

    baywax

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    Your gun would be working ethically but how you used it would go against the ethical and orderly, co-operative and rather mechanical functions of society. The punishing consequences wouldn't be pleasant.

    I think what I'm looking for is a reason that we humans have been able to come up with ethics in the first place. We must have observed either in our nature or in nature itself the "right" and the "wrong" way to act and the consequences of both.

    Another definition of ethics from Britannica Concise Encyclopedia.

    http://www.answers.com/topic/ethics-legal-term

    Maybe what I'm talking about here is a form of metaethics.:bugeye:
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2007
  24. Apr 12, 2007 #23
    ethics equals opinion, opinion equals human concept, human concept exists because humans exist
     
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2007
  25. Apr 12, 2007 #24

    baywax

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    My current opinion is undecided at this time. I am prejudicially leaning toward "ethics" as being a human description of "natural balance" or "natural law".

    You say ethics is "...your way of justifying weather things are right or not."

    Does this include when we judge whether the weather is "right" for sailing?

    Does an ethical judgment include when we tighten a bolt "right" or "wrong"?

    These judgements are made with the well being of humans in mind but, how can we separate any action whatsoever that we make from any other action?

    Judging from the nature of our environment, including space, any action we make has the potential of upsetting a balance that we depend on to survive.

    I suppose this is why ethics is applied to areas like bio-ethics, ethical-stocks, ethical treatment of the earth and of its inhabitants.

    Generally I think that if humans learn to treat all life ethically, they are less likely to damage the environment they require for survival and are more likely to treat each other ethically.

    At first it may appear that ethics was invented soley to serve humans. If you look closer, its serves to maintain a balance that was established long ago and that has been disturbed by us.

    By the standards of some bio-ethics it would be ethical for humans to either become completely harmonized and self sufficient with the environment or for humans to be exterminated before they completely compromise all forms of life on planet earth and, possibly, beyond.
     
  26. Apr 12, 2007 #25

    baywax

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    If my interpretation of ethics (being that it describes the rules of relationships) is correct, it can be applied to any relationship.

    Let's return to Russ's gun for a moment. There are working individual components inside a gun. Each of the individual components of the gun work in relationship to each other to make the gun work "right".

    A chamber holds ammunition. A barrel delivers the ammunition and has to withstand pressures up to 50,000 pounds per sq in. The barrel and associated components also have to withstand temperatures up to 3500 F during a thousandth of a second. A firing pin causes an explosion in the ammunition and a trigger releases the firing pin to strike the ammunition. Etc.

    I'm using this general and inaccurate way of describing the components of a gun and how they work together to give an example of how many relationships exist within a mechanical system. If there is one of the components that is set "wrongly" or isn't "right" there can be one or many dire consequences. And this, to me, can be construed as mechanical ethics since it is really a study of relationships and there are right and wrong results which depend on the conduct and efficiency of any one component.
     
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