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RANA: Morality is needed now more than ever

With technological advancements growing, morality is increasingly important. – Photo by Alex Perê© /

The rapid advancement of technology has brought about a sense of increased interconnectedness. This can be seen, as people from around the world communicate extensively with each other, with more than 500 million tweets being sent out daily. This increasing level of interconnectedness requires a moral compass that is robust and universally applicable.

As German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche described morality, "a tablet of the good hangs over every people." In this sense, morality is seen as something that is considered to be "above" all people. No matter who we are, morality can be imposed on any one of us. It does not care about how we feel or what we desire.

Additionally, unlike many other things, morality can be thought of as pure, as it can not be tampered with by powerful people. For instance, a pharmaceutical investor with lots of money and fame might be able to deceive the general public in order to increase their wealth (perhaps by altering scientific research to promote their new product), and while they may be successful, they cannot escape the inherent moral scrutiny that their actions invite.

No amount of financial gain or public acclaim can alter the ethical evaluation of his actions. Thus, morality, in its essence, remains pure despite external influences.

The next logical question in this line of thinking is: What makes something moral? Is it the intention of the action, the results it produces and how it aligns with our conscience, or is it something else?

There are varying views on this topic, with commonly discussed ones being utilitarianism and deontology.

Utilitarianism is a form of consequentialism, meaning an action only has moral value based on its consequences. The goal of utilitarianism is to maximize happiness for the greatest number of people. Furthermore, each individual's welfare is equivalent. The happiness of a famous movie star is no more important than your own happiness or the happiness of a homeless orphan.

This seems like a great idea — it would clearly be beneficial to apply in areas like public health or policy making, where benefitting the greatest number of people is certainly correct. But there are cases where utilitarianism seems immoral.

For instance, consider a variation of the trolly problem known as the "fat man" scenario: A trolley is speeding down a track toward five people tied to the rails. You are standing next to a "fat man" on a footbridge above the track. If you push him on the track, his mass would stop the trolley, saving five people but killing him.

According to utilitarianism, pushing the man would be the right action, as it maximizes total happiness by saving five lives instead of one.

But this scenario also exposes a critical weakness in utilitarianism. There is very little concern about the method used to maximize utility. In this case, utilitarianism advocates for the sacrifice of an individual for the greater good. Needless to say, most people would intuitively challenge this as morally correct, instead declaring it to be morally unjustified.

Deontology, on the other hand, is all about rules and duties. If something is your duty, you do it, no matter the outcome. This black-and-white approach to morality can be very helpful when there are no clear moral choices.

Imagine you are a therapist at a mental health clinic. One day, a patient confides in you that they have recently driven while under the influence of alcohol several times. But they plead with you to keep this information confidential. The patient is remorseful and promises never to do it again. Should you report the patient to the correct authorities or maintain the patient's trust and privacy? 

The deontological approach to this scenario would consider the duties that you must follow. A foundational principle for all those involved in the health care field is maintaining patient privacy unless the patient is a clear threat to themselves or others. Using these principles, deontology would support confidentiality, as, despite the patient's past, they are not a clear threat to anyone.

Once again, there are some pitfalls in the moral philosophy of deontology. Let us look at John Cena's character "Peacemaker" in the film "The Suicide Squad."

Peacemaker has a moral commitment to keeping peace at any cost, even if it means using violence. In the movie, his readiness to kill teammates to keep the peace and prevent political embarrassment for the U.S. represents his commitment. This approach is clearly wrong and is shown in the movie as such, which, ultimately, makes Peacemaker a villain.

By looking at these two philosophical frameworks, it is clear that while morality hangs like a "tablet of good" over the rest of humanity, the interpretations of what is good can vary dramatically between different ethical systems. 

Utilitarians consider the outcomes of our actions, focusing on maximizing happiness for all people.

On the other hand, deontology values adherence to duty and rules, with moral integrity being a higher priority than consequences.

As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, discussions of moral dilemmas become more prominent. In order to have a meaningful discussion, one must critically consider what one values.

Prahalad Rana is a freshman in the School of Arts and Sciences majoring in Philosophy and minoring in Biology. Rana’s column, “The Third Eye,” runs on alternate Mondays.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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