Lecture: What is ethics?: Narrator: Listen to part of a lecture in a philosophy class. The professor is discussing ethics. Professor: So what is ethics? Well, ethics is the study of what's right and wrong, good and bad. The great ethical thinkers have concentrated on what makes an act right, what makes it wrong, and what are our duties, what are our obligations. These are the typical questions that you encountered in the study of ethics. So, Jean-Paul Sartre, the French philosopher. So it's pretty clear that after rejects most of the approaches to ethics in the history of western philosophy and approaches to ethics that try to ascertain the fundamental principles of morality. For example, an English philosopher John Stuart Mill in the 19 century did exactly that. He said what is the most basic and fundamental principle of L and he came up with his theory of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism claims that an act is right if it promotes the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. So if the way the person chooses to act is benefits as many people as possible, if no other action could benefit more people, then the person has acted rightly. So Mill's theory and other major teachings in western ethics seek to provide principles, rules we ought to follow, basic guidelines for humans' actions. And Sartre rejects this as this is a wrong rules. To explain why he gives an example that becomes very famous: a young French man during WWII is trying to figure out what to do. This young man lives alone with his mother and his mother relies on him, so he feels an obligation to take care of her. On the other hand, France is at war, so the man also feels the obligation to help to protect his country. What should he do? If he stays home, the benefit is pretty certain. He could continue to help his mother, but she is only one person. If he joins to the French resistance and help to defend his country, he could probably help more than one person. But then again, he might die in the first moment of the battle and in affect, help no one at all. Possibly he could help a lot people by joining the resistance, but not definitely. So Mill would tell this young man do what will promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number. But which of these two actions? Staying home or joining the resistance would promote the greatest happiness of greatest number? There is simply no way to answer the question. You could say, well, maybe there are some other rule or principle that would work here. What if I simply ought for my own gain? I'm going to do what in my best interest. Will that tell young French man what to do? So what is in his best interest? To help his mother, to help his country? Again, no way to answer the question based on principles alone. Sartre actually tried to answer this question using many different ethical principles. The welfare result in each case was that there are no ethical principles that will settle the issue for the young man. Finally, the man has just to decide and he must take the responsibility for his decision. That's the tough reality of it. Ethical philosophers from the beginning of western thought have offered these principles, but these principles don't give us real decision-making procedures and they don't the idea of taking responsibility for our actions and the consequences of our actions. Taking personal responsibility, being held accountable for what we do. This is the core concept in Sartre's philosophy. Student: But can we interpret those ethical theories that mean that they multiple choices, that are all equally good? Professor: Well, certainly you might claim that. In some cases it's ethically or morally indifferent what you do. Neither choices preferable, each one is permissible. But still what do I do? Knowing that an act is permissible is not telling to do it. I still have to choose, I have to pick one option over another. Of course, the case of the young French man is not in every experience, but it certainly tries to home Sartre's point. All of us are in the predicament of making decisions every day, and most of us might probably think there is a right and wrong, that are some ethical principles at there that will tell us what to do. But that sort of principle in itself doesn't give us much practical guidance. And Sartre would argue that this is true in all cases.