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Family Ethics

Personal Ethics Reflection Paper



My personal ethical system is not completely developed, but I would consider it based upon several existing ethical systems. These systems are ethical egoism, utilitarianism, and Kantian ethics. Though they may at first seem an unlikely combination and liable to clash constantly, they work together well. Since my actions cannot fully be explained by any one system, a different system may be used to explain actions in different situations.

If I had to choose one ethics system, it would likely be ethical egoism in a broad sense. Like most people, I naturally tend to my own interests whenever they do not clash with those of another. I believe I am responsible for my own course of action in life and must make decisions to care for myself. I further believe that the things I do have a definite effect on what happens to me, and I depend almost solely upon myself. The example of not wanting someone to love me for my sake but for theirs makes sense to me, and I would agree that others should look to their own interests in love and other matters and not suffer for my sake. However I do not always serve my own interests and this explains the need for other theories.

The second most-often-employed theory in my personal ethics system is utilitarianism. Normally when I decide not to serve my own interests it is because making an alternate choice will serve the interests of multiple other people. I view putting myself at a disadvantage in order to advantage several other people to be a virtue. In situations where two sides disagree and are in an argument, I advocate majority rule - thus making the most people happy. If one person disagrees with me I will defend myself, but if two or more disagree I am likely to concede if it is not important, since it will please more people than just myself. Occasionally a situation will arise where I will not concede to majority rule.

In such a situation I would likely be practicing Kantian ethics. I believe in the value of a sense of duty. My definition for "duty" would be "something that must be done in a given situation and is right no matter what the circumstances." In some situations that I feel strongly about, my ethical system would force me to do what I feel is right even if it does not serve my interests or the interests of multiple others. The rationality of the Kantian system as well as the unchangeable system of morality appeal to me most, since without an anchor, ethical systems tend to drift from one extreme to the other.

A number of ethical beliefs direct my decisions and interaction with others. To state them all would take several volumes of writing, but I will state the most basic principles. I believe that there exists a fixed system of morality, and that there exists right and wrong though we often see only gray areas. I believe that there is a God who by His very nature is right and has created morality and our ability to discern it. I believe it is inherently wrong to kill because life is precious and to be cherished. I believe that happiness is important and to be sought after constantly. I believe that it is virtuous to put aside your own interests for the happiness of the majority. I believe there are certain things you must do simply because God expects it of you and it is inherently right. I believe that no matter how right you believe your ethical system may be, you have no right to impose it upon others unless their practice endangers others.

My ethical system has changed greatly, first strongly effected by my family, and then by personal life experiences. I believe the ethical system of my family is mainly in keeping with that of divine command ethics. This then, is the ethical system I was taught from childhood on, and took many years and experiences to make me reconsider my perspective. When I first was old enough to consider ethics and understand right and wrong, I thought of the Bible as being the law of the United States, and anything immoral was also illegal. It took me several years to finally realize that there were things you could do legally that were biblically immoral, such as adultery, pre-marital sex, smoking and drugs.

Upon realizing that not everyone obeyed the same set of ethical rules, I entered into the second stage of evolving my own ethical system. I began to look upon others who disobeyed the Bible with horror, wondering how they could be so evil and disobey God and their parents. Now that I was old enough, my family could further explain to me things they took a strong ethical stance against, such as abortion, euthanasia, and "safe sex." I considered the beliefs of myself and my parents to be the same, and took every word and argument from their mouth and my church community to be the truth.

Finally my parents and I had a major disagreement on an issue not covered by the church specifically. For the first time I began questioning all of my parents beliefs, since I realized I had been adopting them blindly. I now believe that it is not wise to blindly accept anything. Although I do believe in the Holiness of Scripture and seek to follow it, I do not completely trust any interpretation or belief held by humans, who are inherently sinful. It is the responsibility of everyone to develop their own moral system and justification. It is also their responsibility to respect the belief systems of others and practice tolerance.

© Robert H. Harrison