AN EMPIRICAL APPROACH TO MORALITY Essay Research — страница 6

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rehabilitation. 3. Applications In section 2 we gave premises and arguments for the adoption of an empirical approach to morality. We concluded that moral rules should be choices made by society (note 3) to promote happiness, and that these choices will depend upon both innate factors and conditions in the society in which the choices are made. While it is not the aim of this paper to determine the content of the moral rules which would be chosen, we shall conclude by illustrating how an empirical moralist would approach some contemporary social problems. For this purpose we consider the issues of sexual relations, abortion, and distributive justice. It is useful to divide a discussion of sexual relations into premarital and postmarital phases. With exceptions for peculiar

circumstances, consensual sex is a pleasurable activity. Thus it is in the prima facie self-interest of the persons involved. Is it in their overall self-interest? How does such activity affect other members of the society? In a society in which premarital sex is strongly condemned, the adverse effects of discovery would lead some individuals to conclude that such activity was not in their overall self-interest. This appears to have been a majority opinion in the United States before World War II. In recent decades there has been both an increase in premarital sex and a decrease in its moral condemnation suggesting an interplay between such activity and society’s attitude towards it. In the absence of moral condemnation what is the long term effect of premarital sex on

happiness? Here our empirical knowledge is inadequate. Literature about the Victorian period in England suggests that their negative attitude toward sex caused considerable unhappiness. Current literature presents a mixed picture of the results of sexual freedom on individual happiness. Other members of society are affected when premarital sex leads to pregnancy. It is especially clear at present that the quality of care which children receive has a major effect on them and on their relations with other members of society. There is strong evidence that children conceived in premarital relationships receive poorer care on the average than those produced after marriage. Thus it is in the self-interest of society to adopt policies to reduce the incidence of premarital sex leading to

childbirth. Two divergent approaches can be proposed. One approach would attempt to strengthen the moral condemnation of premarital sex in order to reduce its frequency and associated accidental pregnancies. The other approach would concentrate on preventing accidental pregnancy by improving sex education and access to contraceptives. The moral rule in a society taking the latter approach would condemn the production of children who would not be well cared for. After marriage, fidelity to one’s spouse is an important moral issue. The orthodox moral view in Western societies has always strongly condemned adultery. However, the degree to which many members of a society have subscribed to this view has varied in different societies at different times. The degree of condemnation

has also differed with gender. As in the case of premarital sex, adulterous relations have flourished because they give intense short term gratification. What are the long term consequences? The current evidence is that infidelity is frequently discovered leading to adverse effects on overall self-interest. Because it exposes a serious violation of marital trust, discovery generally causes the betrayed partner severe unhappiness. The degree of unhappiness may be sufficient to lead to divorce; even if it does not, there are strong negative effects on the marriage relationship. When there are children, they too are frequently adversely affected. What approaches could society take to promote the overall self-interest of its members? One approach is to attempt to strengthen the moral

condemnation of extramarital sexual relations with the aim of reducing the incidence of infidelity and the resulting stresses on marriage. As a hypothetical alternative, a society might choose not to condemn extramarital relations while urging marriage partners to consider the long term effects of such activity. (As with premarital relations, accidental pregnancies would continue to be condemned.) Could marriage stability be separated from sexual fidelity, and would this be in the overall self-interest of the members of such a society? Since that approach to sexual morality has not been used, no empirical answer to these questions can be given. The historical record shows that independent of a society’s moral system unwanted pregnancies occur. A rational society will adopt