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Covenant Philosophy Conference Draft 2

Covenant Philosophy Conference Draft 2

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Published by Brandon Jones

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Published by: Brandon Jones on Oct 12, 2012
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I want to preface this whole paper with something which I am sure is true of anyone who majorsin philosophy, which is that I love philosophy and I find it extremely fascinating! I also see a lot of benefit to philosophy in that it teaches people to think critically, to construct solid arguments andidentify weak ones, and that among all of its other great uses it can be used as an alternative to thestatus quo of moral ideas that we find in religious and cultural institutions. Currently, my real area of interest philosophically is Eudaimonia, specifically what human flourishing is and how it might beobtained for all people in a way that the ends justify the means. With all of this being said, somethingthat has bothered me for a long time is that we have all of these really wonderful moral aphorisms fromsome of the greatest philosophical thinkers who ever lived and yet, for all of our various moralarguments, maxims and proposed moral paradigms most people in America
don’
t seem to really beliving by them on any sort of consistent basis. I find this to be a real tragedy, because while I may not beable to define in full what all of the facets of Eudaimonia are, it is my belief that consistent moralbehavior of some kind must be a part of it, and I suspect most people would agree with this even if wedisagree on what constitutes moral behavior. All of this has lead me to question why this is, and Ibelieve the really over simpl
ified “in
-a-
nutshell”
answer to this to be that we have created a bad moralenvironment that does not allow for good moral decision making on a consistent basis, that our currentenvironment forces us to inevitably make bad moral decisions, often with the best of intentions behindthem, and often without even realizing some of these immoral decisions are immoral at all as some of them are a central part of our way of life. The idea of environment is very important here because itmeans that the problem of people not living morally
doesn’t lie
with people themselves, rather it lies inhow they are being nurtured by the institutions and policies of the era, things like education, theeconomy, the government, and health care, which establish our socioeconomic environment and in turnhighly influence our actions, be they moral or otherwise. While it would be impossible for me to outlineall of the ways and intricacies in which our socioeconomic environment is inhibiting good moral decisionmaking in this brief paper, I would like to give a couple of high level examples of what I mean.
In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics he lays out his argument for human virtues. He tells us that tolive virtuously requires us “to do things at the right time, about the right thin
gs, towards the right
people, for the right end, and in the right way.”
Personally, I like the idea of achieving consistent moral
living through virtue as opposed to a unified theory of morality because I think it’s really difficult for
unified theories of morality to hold true in every conceivable
situation. I don’t say this to spark a debate
but rather to show that I find real value in virtue ethics and see them as one of many good tools forliving a consistent moral life because they allow us to take stock of situations and moral dilemmasmoment by moment, individually, as they arise. However, y
ou don’t have to look far in our current
socio-economic environment to find impossible moral dilemmas which would cause even the mostvirtuous of people to betray some of their virtues.A good example of an impossible moral situation is the problem of Walmart. A lot of people find
Walmart’s business practices to be unethical and immoral, and for good reason. Walmart has a track
record of treating its employee
’s badly, undercutting their suppliers to the point that they hardly make
any profit, contributing to abhorrent factory conditions in third world countries, harming theenvironment, eliminating small businesses, and so on and so forth. And so many people, coming from a
 
wide range of fields and backgrounds, have made good arguments stating that we need to stopshopping at Walmart because to shop there is to directly contribute to immoral business practices. I am
one of those people who doesn’t shop there,
as I too find Walmart to be immoral and reprehensible, allin all against my virtues.
And that’s all well and good, but we have to realize that there are reasons,
good reasons,
that we tolerate Walmart’s
existence and that millions and millions of people shop there
every single day. Here’s a good one,
many
of their customers are poor and they can’t afford to shop
anywhere else, and this is the bottom line of their motivation. This makes a lot of sense, especiallywhen you consider that in America roughl
y one in every two people is now classified as being either ‘inpoverty’ or ‘near poor’
by the American
government. To be fair, “
only” 
49 million Americans are
actually ‘in poverty’ and 97 million Americans are ‘near poor’ making for a total of 146 millio
n people,
which is close to half of our country’s combined population.
Now, I feel confident that at least some of the hundreds of millions of Walmart customersrealize that it is a highly immoral business, maybe even a few of them regret having to shop there, but
it’s really rather hard to beat Walmart’s prices when every dollar counts. Walmart is also extremelyconvenient, they’re in almost every populated area of the country and the locations truly embody theidea of a “one stop shop” where you can find nearly everything you need in one place. These aren’t
necessarily immoral people lacking in virtues shopping at Walmart, these are people trying to do theright thing in what I believe is an impossible moral circumstance, specifically supporting their families ona shoe string budget a
lot of times, and in an economic environment that doesn’t allow for a better
option they would be derelict in their duties to their families if they shopped somewhere else. Here wecan see people failing to live up to Ar
istotle’s moral maxim in that they are doing the wrong thing with
regard to the sweatshop workers manufacturing clothes for Walmart and other various afflicted partiesby giving their patronage to this business, but they are doing the right thing with regard to their family.While I know the utilitarianists listening to this are probably shuttering at the thought of doing anythingother than the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people
, doing right by one’s family
over the greater good of other people is something we instill in most American citizens from birth and Ithink we can admit that even the most ardent utilitarian would find it at least difficult to consistentlyneglect the wants and needs of their family by choosing to shop at more expensive markets with lessselection on moral principle while living in poverty, although it never seemed to bother Karl Marx. Atany rate, it is my suspicion that this is something most of us understand at a fundamental level. Itstands to reason then, that if we want people to be more moral about their shopping habits asconsumers then we have to enable them to be by creating an alternative to Walmart, and a successfulalternative would, at a minimum, have to find a way to make groceries even easier and cheaper to
obtain than Walmart’s way, and do so in a more moral way.This is a tall order when you consider that Walmart’s only real crime is doing exceedingly well at
living up to the creed of capitalism, namely buying low and selling high in the pursuit of the greatestamount of profit. Walmart does a nearly flawless job of this, as it is motivated by capitalism and thiseconomic paradigm does not ask us to consider the negative effects of our business practices on theenvironment or even the people who work within it unless this examination serves to further maximizeprofit. I have a lot of doubt as to whether it is even possible to offer a better working, more moral
 
alternative to Walmart in the capitalist paradigm because to do so would be going against theaforementioned maxim of capitalism, and as we have just seen monetary concerns, which by extensionare concerns of our survival and comfort as they relate to the consumption of goods and services, tendto trump the ethical implications of the means by which we obtain the end of our subsistence. This isnot really a surprise, but I think where I differ from many people is in what I interpret this to mean wemust do. Where others see this as meaning it is futile to try a moral alternative to Walmart and thuspassively except its perpetual reign of injustice, and others still want to continue repeating the sameineffective solutions like continue to press individuals without much money to influence the business
practices of one of the world’s richest corporations
with their dollars, I see it as a demand to make
changes to our socioeconomic paradigm in the interests of allowing a more moral world. I don’t intend
to make any grand allusions to what those changes should be, but I do think it is clear that whatever
they might be, if we’re to overcome this moral dilemma
, we must improve on our current environmentwhich not only allows for but encourages these impossible moral situations.While I am not generally impressed by the idea of the one size fits all approach of unified moraltheories, there is a moral maxim which I value as much, if not more, than virtue ethics. This would be
Kant’s maxim from his “Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals” where he argues that we should, “
actin such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never
merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”
For as much truth as I see in thisidea, I assert th
at to consistently live by this standard in America’s current socioeconomic environment
is extremely difficult if not impossible, and if I am hesitant in saying that it is impossible it is only because
I’m sure the argument could be made that it is possibl
e to not treat people as a means to an end withinour current environment but only by suggesting a completely radical life style that few in America wouldever be prone to adopt. In my mind this is simultaneously the most controversial and most apparenta
rgument I can make on this matter and it’s also what I meant earlier on in this essay when I said that
we often tend to make immoral decisions without realizing it.A good example of what makes this amazing maxim so difficult a standard to live up to on anysort of consistent basis is going out to dinner at a restaurant. You order some food, it arrives, you enjoyyour dinner, you pay (making sure to include a nice monetary tip) and then you leave. Even in this
seemingly benign act you have failed Kant’s
 
maxim, but how? It’s simple, you treated the employees of 
the restaurant, from the waiter who took and delivered your order to the various staff who cooked yourmeal, as a means to an end as opposed to treating them as an end unto themselves. Now, before youlet incredulity get the better of you, think of it this way, regardless of how much humanity you gave tothese workers in your mind or how much you thought you were helping that waiter by leaving him orher a tip, in your treatment of them you made them into tools, objects which you used as the means toobtain your end, in this case it was dinner. But it gets worse, for how did you afford your dinner? If 
you’re like most Americans you went to work that day, and regardless of your job satisfaction
, howmuch money you made, or how you felt about working, you too were treated as a means to someone
else’s end. What we have is an entire society operating consistently and perpetually against the idea of 
valuing people as an end unto themselves, opting instead to value people for what they can contribute.

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