If you’ve ever wondered what the world might look like during the zombie apocalypse, I invite you to watch an episode of the new AMC series “The Walking Dead”. My roommates and I have created out own cult this year on Sunday evenings at nine to examine the places where the human mind will travel when humanity is lost. In this post, I would like to examine the complexity of normative ethics.
This season’s finale ends with the murder of one of the main characters by the hero of the story. After continual threatening by the murdered, the hero finds himself led into a field at gunpoint to be killed by the man who would be murdered -a situation he has been in time and time again with this same man, and had succeeded in talking the man down. Though this time the outcome would be different. The hero, who had maintained a virtuous ethical position throughout the story now found himself in a position where he was unable to deny the danger of allowing this man to go on living. Ultimately, he decides to forgo virtue ethics in exchange for utilitarian ethics, choosing to kill the man instead.
This poses an interesting question: is there no such functional thing as an absolute ethical stance? If one permanently operates under a totalitarian code of ethics, individuals will be done injustice, though if virtue is employed, at times greater harm may be done to the larger group.
This is where ethics and morality differ. While normative ethics, being the framework under which decisions must be made, may be exchanged to produce the best outcome, morality simply is itself. One can justify the death of three to save ninety-seven, but one cannot reasonably argue that the death of those three was a good thing. War may at times be the most practical solution, though it can never be a desirable solution. We all know the glory of the U.S. involvement in WW2; it was a great thing that we moved to end the conquest of the Third Reich, though we seldom consider the lives of the millions of German men who were drafted into the Nazi army to die for their country.
I will continue this discussion in my next post.