Life is characterized by many situations that require decision making, especially on moral grounds. The issue of what makes an action right and wrong has been studied for a lengthy period of time and several theories developed to address this issue. Socrates and Aristotle are some of the early philosophers who came up with theories about the rightness or wrongness of actions. As noted by Warnek (2005), Socrates considered self-knowledge as necessity of life and also, an important ingredient to success.
Socrates stated that every individual needs to attain self-knowledge which is acquired by studying every fact necessary for existence. Socrates believed that by possessing knowledge about what is right, individuals are most likely to perform good deeds and that the bad deeds in the society come from those who are ignorant of what is right and wrong. Socrates proposed that, by being aware of the spiritual and mental consequences of wrong actions, no individual would even consider engaging in such actions. According to Socrates, any individual who is aware of a truly right action will automatically choose it over the wrong one.
Aristotle on the other hand stated that all humans have physical, emotional and rational natures. Of the three, Aristotle considered the rational nature as not only being the most important of the three but also uniquely human and fundamental to philosophical self-awareness. Aristotle encouraged moderation and regarded extreme actions as being immoral and degrading. For instance, recklessness and cowardice are extreme virtues of courage. Therefore, According to Aristotle, humans should strive to live well by letting their actions be governed by moderate virtues.
He further stated that this way of life can be achieved by choosing the right things in life at the right time and place. The ethical theories associated with the modern era include consequentialism and deontology. Consequentialism is made up of moral theories that propose that the rightness or wrongness of an action is determined by the outcome or the consequences of the act (Darwall, 2003). Thus, from the perspective of a consequentialist, a morally right act is one that results in a positive or good outcome.
Consequentialist theories put a lot of weight on outcomes when assessing the rightness or wrongness of actions. Generally, according to consequentialists, consequences always outweigh all other considerations when determining right and wrong. Most of the consequentialist theories generally address issues like consequences considered as good, the main beneficiaries of moral actions, the mode or judging consequences, and who is to judge them. Consequentialism can be categorized according to the consequences that matter most.
For example, hedonistic utilitarianists propose that good or the right actions are those that result in increments of pleasure, and the best actions are those that result in the most pleasure. The other category is that of eudaimonic consequentialism, who believe that the right action is one that ultimately aims at making an individual achieve a flourishing and full life (Darwall, 2003). Similarly, the consequence that matters most to aesthetic consequentialists is beauty and there are numerous other consequentialist theories that regard different things to be of uttermost importance.
Deontologists differ from consequentialists in that, unlike consequentialists who examine the consequences when seeking to determine the rights and wrongs, deontologists examine the virtue of the act. Thus, according to deontologists, an act can be right even if it results in negative or bad consequences. Immanuel Kant is among the individuals who adopted the deontology when coming up with theories addressing righteousness and wrongness (Brooks & Dunn, 2009).
Kant argues that individuals must act according to their duties if their actions are to be considered right and also that it is the motives of the individual carrying out the act that are the primary determinants of the rightness or wrongness of their actions. Postmodern ethics however approaches this issue from a different perspective. According to postmodernists, the world is full of rationality and if one is to determine the rightness or wrongness of an action, the individual would first have to study the complex situations surrounding the action.
Thus, according to postmodernism, an idea cannot be simply regarded as right or wrong and there are no moral absolutes. For instance, if one were to find oneself in the Second World War, hiding a Jew in his or her house and a Nazi solder knocks on the individual’s door and asks the individual if he or she has any Jews in his or her house, would it be right or wrong to tell the truth knowing that his or her answer will determine if the Jew lives or not? Such an issue presents a complex moral dilemma given that it is wrong to tell a lie about the Jew being in the house but at the ame time, it is still wrong to let an innocent individual be killed when it can be prevented. For a long time now, individuals have utilized dilemmas like the one stated above to argue that there are no moral absolutes. The above situation is an example that one can use to argue that lying is not always wrong and that in such complex dilemmas, the right thing to do is determined by the act that results in a greater good. Most individuals in the world today embrace reality and argue that ethics is relative to individuals, time and the culture of the individuals.
It is with such arguments that the world today is presented with numerous disagreements about issues like abortion, the death sentence, pre-marital sex and gay rights, to mention but a few. Most individuals have different views when it comes to interpreting the rightness or wrongness of some controversial issues such as the above mentioned. What is truth? The definition of truth may be simple but its interpretation is complex and just like the question of what is right and wrong, varies from individual to individual.
A basic definition of truth is that it is that which is agrees with reality, actuality or simply, a fact (Rappaport, 1999). One way to approach the definition of truth is by considering that all the perspectives of approaching truth are equally valid and that truth is relative to an individual. This perspective that bases truth on realism is however faulty given the contradictions surrounding relativity. For instance, what is true to one person is not always true to another as shown by the contradiction between religious truths.
Christians believe that Jesus is the son of God and the Messiah; a view Muslims do not agree with. This is not to imply that there are no absolute truths. An example of a sentence of absolutely truth is that, ‘something cannot create itself. ’ Logically, the thing would first have to be present if it is to possess the ability to create and if it already exists, then how would it create itself? The above example is truth based on logic but there are truths that cannot be logically explained for instance, stating that an individual truly loves another.
It can be very difficult to use the theories of logic to explain the individual’s feelings. From the above examples, it can be concluded that truth is that which obeys the rules of logic and reality, or any of the two. Realism, to a certain degree agrees with logic and truth and therefore presents the best approach towards the determination of truth. To adopt a relative perspective however, individuals must be ready to acknowledge that a statement regarded as being true by one individual may not be acceptable by another.