Ethics – a worked example

When discussing ethics, someone remembered a soap or a film they had seen where a married man was having an affair with a single woman, and the single woman claimed that she was doing nothing wrong.  So where do we go?

Rules

As a religious person the Bible might be thought to help here, but the definition of adultery in the Bible is of a married person having sex with someone else, so no offence there.

In criminal law adultery was a crime until 1857, but is no longer so.

Thus it is difficult to find an externally defined rule to say that it is wrong.

Consequences

There are all sorts of possible consequences, from regret on the part of the participants to possible divorce, but it is difficult to find a clear cut consequence that would be accepted by the participants, as if there were then perhaps they would not continue.

This was the point at which our group ran out of time, and that left me feeling dissatisfied – surely this cannot be right?

It would be possible to argue that society has an interest in this, as if this behaviour were commonplace and caused the breakdown of relationships then society would suffer, but if the behaviour didn’t cause the breakdown of relationship…

Values

This is the point at which the turtles come into play again!  What are the underlying values of the people involved?

Most religions, and many other people would subscribe to the “Golden Rule” as something beneath the turtles, but not everyone would.

Even for someone subscribing to the Golden Rule there is a get out, as if you wouldn’t mind your spouse having sex with someone else then …

But if you don’t subscribe to the Golden Rule, but instead see your desires as more important than others…

Implications

So, is this ethical behaviour or not?  Do we allow individuals to determine their own ethics from their own values?  Or do we as society insist on an ethic beyond individual belief?

I suspect that this is a cause of conflict between generations, as stereotypically older generations would believe that there is some societal norm to which people should adhere, whereas younger generations believe that each person can choose their own norm.

However, it will come back to values.  My values might mean that I don’t like it, but others values will say that it is OK – and there is nothing externally to say that my values are right, or better.

(This is not a defence of the behaviour – rather an investigation into how it might be evaluated ethically).

Alan

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