Ethics is a complicated issue. For centuries it was the object of loud disputes and heated debates. The changes in the contemporary society require changes in ethical norms and standards. Many contemporary specialists in the field of ethics propose their own systems which take into considerations the changes in the contemporary society. Different philosophers propose their own views of what it means – to have a good life. In this paper I would like to compare ethical views of two philosophers. I would like to compare ethical and moral views of the American scientist Leon Kass with the views of Susan Wolf.
Leon Kass is an American scientist, physician and philosopher. Bioethics became the main sphere of his interest. He applied ethics to medicine and he is best known as an active proponent of ban on cloning, euthanasia, and embryo research. Kass expressed sharp critics of unrestrained technical progress. He counts on ethical arguments in order to support his position. Kass supports a ban on cloning. He strongly believes that cloning threats human dignity and morality. Leon Kass proposes three arguments against human cloning. It deals with reproduction and sexuality. He believes that if cloning is applied people will loose their natural ability to reproduction. Kass believes that these functions will be hurt if people turn to cloning. Kass believes that clones will never be able to have a unique life. They will always stay only the clones of somebody. This way human dignity will suffer. Kass believes that people should possess feeling of right and wrong and they should be disguised by cloning. They should feel cloning to be deeply wrong. From the other side if we are disguised by something does not necessarily mean that it is wrong. Kass’s vies may be opposed to utilitarian approach.
Utilitarian believe in the necessity to be happy. According to their opinion everything which makes people happier can me morally justified.
Susan Wolf, another prominent contemporary philosopher, belongs to compatibalism. According to this ethical and philosophical trend people should act in accordance with Reason. In their actions they should be guided by True and Good. Susan Wolf is a defender of compatibilism who argues that free will consists of acting in accordance with Reason, with full knowledge of the True and the Good. Wolf gives own argument, which she called the Asymmetry of Reason views. According to this asymmetry people possess free will when they do good things. When they do something wrong, they are guided by passions and desires and thus partially loose their free will. Wolf states that human responsibility is defined by ability to act in accordance with True and Good. Wolf points out that in many cases Good things are not considered moral and vice versa. According to her many things that are good for people are not considered to be moral and things which are moral do not seem to be good for many people. Wolf states that there is a big category of good things which would not be suitable for moral saints. Under moral saints she understands people who follow all moral norms and regulations. There is a long list of things which are not morally bad but they are not morally good either. Such habitual actions as fishing, watching sports, watching entertainment channels would be rejected by moral saints only because they do not possess moral value. Using this approach doing only morally good things people will loose many opportunities in life. As a result she proposes to judge human character but not human actions. Such an approach allows to define truly moral personalities even when they do things which are rather good than moral.
If we compare ethical positions of Susan Wolf and Leon Kass we will notice that they center on different aspects of ethics. Leon Kass is mainly preoccupied with bioethics. He dedicated his research to the influence of technological progress on contemporary human life. He became active opponent of cloning and used moral reasons to prove his position. Free will and desire to save human dignity are among his main arguments. Susan Wolf explores the idea of free will as well. She refers to categories of Good and True to define the limits of freedom of the individual. She explains the difference between good and moral and proves that often these notions may be very different.
Things which are good are not necessary moral and vice versa.
It is hard to compare views of Kass and Wolf since they work on different fields of ethics. At the same time I believe that the problem illuminated by Kass is really burning in the contemporary society. Cloning and euthanasia, as well as experiments with embryos are doubtful moral issues and I believe that ethical position expressed by Kass is logical and reasonable. His ethical views should be considered by those who make the decisions on such important things as cloning or euthanasia.
Ethics has important meaning in our life. It influences different fields of human life. Even such parts of our life as medicine and technological progress became the reason of ethical arguments. Kass and Wolf express different but very interesting ideas about the ethics in contemporary life.
Pojman, Louis P., Ethical Theory : Classical and Contemporary Readings, Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2006.