Moral judgments, ideas of peace, and views on ethical behavior are highly subject to change in society. This is part one of a sample essay that discusses the importance of changing norms regarding moral judgments and analyses three major works that discuss the role and impact of history, ethnicity, and gender. This sample essay from Ultius provides an example of the benefits and features the company offers.
Challenges to moral judgments
Common ethical themes of the three works selected include the fallacy of considered moral judgments, notions of justice, and reflective equilibrium to reconsider our prior moral judgments, notions of justice. The tool is reflective equilibrium; the substance is communication. Throughout each of the three works, miscommunication seems to be the problem the solution is more information. This miscommunication is evidenced by cultural ethnicity and gender discrimination.
Through actual experiences, new information is acquired altering the understanding of reality. When this happens considered moral judgments must be reconsidered to attain reflective equilibrium. This is a worthy cause because the best ethical decisions are made when the most information is gathered. This essay analyzes the challenges to considered moral judgments and how those are changed through experience. This essay begins by defining essential ethical.
Defining moral judgment
Defining our terms, considered moral judgments are notions of morality that are present in our conscience predicting how we understand values and virtues. Based on considered moral judgments we have developed a form of normative values that are expectations for how people may act in accord with their understanding of virtues or values (their considered moral judgments). For example, consider meeting a person who obviously looks of Indian decent based on our own experience with Indian people.
We have a prediction that this person will speak with an “Indian” accent and be Hindi. Through communication, we learn that this person has a southern accent, is Christian, and is the Republican Governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal. This is an example of a considered prior judgment, a bias, a presumption. A considered moral judgment is more concerned with the belief that he is Hindi rather than Christian because this spiritual belief would likely influence moral deliberation as would his political ideology identifying as a Republican.
Changes to preconceived notions based on new information
Our considered moral judgment is proved wrong as we meet this person, so we must augment our consideration. This is done using the practice of reflective equilibrium where we restore balance between our own theoretical world of normative values and reconcile that with the actual world that we meet. The result of this reflective process may be a change in our understanding of normative values, accommodation of value pluralism (different values may exist simultaneously and be equally correct), or a stiffening in the notion of what is good and bad.
Many fictional accounts of racism and inequality are evident in literature. It’s important to explain these concepts as we will apply them to each of the two books:
- Seasons of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih
- Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
- As well as the popular film Monsters, Inc.
Common themes in each of these works include the profound power of cultural bias, racism, and sexism, generating a normative value system derived from prior considered moral judgments that is shown throughout the works to be false or incomplete. The justification for these moral judgments becomes suspect considering the new experience and new information therefore through the process of reflective equilibrium and liberalism the moral judgments are reconsidered considering the new information.
The result could be greater cultural understanding or hardening a stance because accommodating value pluralism could be just too much to bear. Experiences and new information present new information that challenges the validity of these considered moral judgments and the normative value system is challenged.
Ethical theories of justice and utilitarianism in literature
Our normative value system may be most concerned with ethical theories of justice which come in the forms of utilitarianism and desert. J.S. Mills and John Rawls discuss justice extensively, for purposes of this paper we will use Rawls’ ideas as they marry well with our other discussion regarding reflective equilibrium (credited to Rawls). In each of the works we evaluate, the notion of just desert and utility at the expense of others. These notions of justice are used to rationalize certain actions.
Season of Migration to the North: Sudanese people as a moral judgment case study
First, this paper will discuss Season of Migration to the North. In this work, an unnamed narrator returns to his hometown in northern Sudan after studying in London. Upon his return, he meets a man named Mustafa Sa’eed who greatly intrigues him. The narrator learns a great deal about Mustafa, but eventually, upon his death, finds out a very secret side to his life that severely alters the narrator’s understanding.
Miscommunication is prevalent in the work when discussions on eastern and western cultures occur. On Western culture, the narrator writes:
“I preferred not to say the rest that had come to my mind: that just like us [the Europeans] are born and die, and in the journey from the cradle to the grave they dream dreams some of which come true and some of which are frustrated; that they fear the unknown, search for love and seek contentment in wife and child; that some are strong and some are weak; that some have been given more than they deserve by life, while others have been deprived by it, but that the differences are narrowing and most of the weak are no longer weak.” (Salih, 5).
Here the narrative discusses that westerners are essentially the same as the Sudanese, with the same aspirations and desires. They are not extraordinarily privileged and like the Sudanese, some are just better off than others.
The narrator makes it clear that he identifies as Sudanese, “Over there is like here, neither better nor worse. But I am from here, just as the date palm standing in the courtyard of our house has grown in our house and not in anyone else’s” (Salih, 41).
Personal identity and human nature
A large portion of the book is about personal identity, how it is shaped by ethnic roots, cultural experiences, and interactions with others. Although the narrator was educated abroad, he was born Sudanese and through contemplation arrives at the conclusion that he is personally Sudanese. The course of the book is his journey to ultimately accept this identity while he was certainly given a choice.
This was not without struggle though as the narrator sees many parallels to Mustafa, “I feel hatred and seek revenge; my adversary is within and I needs must confront him … I begin from where Mustafa Sa’eed had left off. Yet he at least made a choice, while I have chosen nothing” (Salih, 111).
Here the narrator acknowledges his internal struggle for identity and individualistic meaning of life, and he is disturbed by the choices. They do not reconcile with his desires, but they are his realities. Ultimately, the choice drives him to attempt suicide by drowning himself in the Nile. However, he reconsiders and accepts his identity. Although a main theme of this work is miscommunication, the more important moral theme is that of reconciling oneself with their internal truths.
The narrator is a born Sudanese with an English upbringing, he felt separate from both cultures, in a limbo. He didn’t like certain facets of either identity, but couldn’t pick and choose, and ultimately surrendered to his Sudanese nature realizing it was not perfect, but accepting that perfection is an illusion.
Interpreter of Maladies: Preconceived notions impact on moral judgments
Cultural limbo continues in the next work examined where communication is a major theme in the short story Interpreter of Maladies. The fully Americanized Das family is in India visiting relatives on a semi-annual sojourn. The story surrounds their interaction with a driver in India, Mr. Kapsi. Throughout the course of the trip, Mr. Kapsi becomes highly engaged in a fantasy about the Das family, specifically Mrs. Das. Mr. Kapsi’s job, when he is not driving a cab is working as a translator in a doctor’s office. Mrs. Das finds this entertaining and asks for some anecdotes.
Although the Das family look Indian, they are clearly not from India, “The family looked Indian but dressed as foreigners did, the children in stiff, brightly colored clothing and caps with translucent visors” (Lahiri, 5).
The challenge for the family was not that they struggled with their ethnic identity, it was that they had trouble communicating with their children. Further, the presence of Mr. Kapsi presents a man who speaks many languages so is adept at communication, however, is missing out on a life he would prefer, that of a scholar of languages. He replaces his self-willed shame of his job as an interpreter at a doctor’s office with the fantasy that he could have fantastic correspondence with Mrs. Das.
Whenever anyone in this story makes a judgment about someone else, they turn out to be wrong and the results harmful. Both Mrs. Das and Mr. Kapsi misjudge and prefer the world of their fantasies disassociated with reality. And while abandoning reality, the themes of miscommunication and concern over identity are also exemplified in the film, “Monsters, Inc.”
Monsters, Inc:: Prejudice portrayed in children’s films
Monsters. Inc. is a film about an alternative world where monsters live. Their city is powered by the screams of children. Every night, the monsters frighten the children collecting their screams to provide power to the city. Ironically, as monsters are supposed to scare the children, the monsters themselves are deathly afraid of children considering them to be toxic. One evening one sneaks into the monsters’ world and then is concealed by Sulley.
It is intentionally unknown exactly where the bias against children as toxic came from in the film. It is the stuff of legends, and that is the point. Biases can come from evidence, or they can come from folklore passed down through the ages as just is, and no one questions it. That is the case in Monsters, Inc. Ultimately it is realized that children are not toxic. This revelation disturbs the symbiotic relationship between monsters and children.
Changing moral judgments based on status quo
Children are supposed to be scared of monsters and vice versa, it is revealed that monsters are scared of children the entire system comes crashing down. Notions of identity fall apart. For this fiction, the farce must maintain to promote comity among the cultures. This film is an example of cultural bias passed down for generations where entire worlds are built around the lie.
The question was raised on how these works tie into the American experience in the United States. The main themes we have explored in this work include; miscommunication, prejudice and bias based on historic interpretation, and cultural identity crises. In each work, we saw Sudanese, Indians, and monsters, struggle with their identity. All of these themes are present in the current United States.
U.S. national identity and impact on citizens’ preconceived notions
Since the United States is such a heterogeneous country with nearly every ethnicity represented in our populace, the notion of national identity is a constant concern. Many people immigrate to the United States searching for the freedom to self-identify. They bring their ethnic culture with them, but they have a choice on how to express it. Like the narrator in our first story, he was torn between two identities and ultimately chose his native one.
For all those who overcome the challenges to immigration, they are possibly going through the same experiment and will most assuredly be required at some point to decide what their identity is. Interestingly, the common practice is to call oneself an “Indian-American,” “African-American,” or “Irish-American.” Each of these monikers includes the original ethnicity but adds America, because for so many, coming to American is a dream come true. Although individuals may be asked to make an identity choice they do not have to abandon the heritage of their past to do so.
America is always seeking an identity and there seem to be two moral paths American’s can take. One is the path of dissatisfaction that the United States is not inclusive or sensitive enough to other cultures. Another choicCe is that America is the most tolerant country in the world where everyone is invited to express their heritage. Both are true, the latter more so, but that does not in any way suggest the path to assimilation and tolerance is easy.
Over the course of the American experiment, the government has been faced with hard choices in reactionary politics to the uprising of the people demanding fair treatment. The government, like a large sailing vessel, is hard to turn. Ultimately it does because people are willing to fight for it, without that fight, the ship would never turn.
Moral judgments in American culture
Miscommunication in the United States like in each of these works usually results in disaster. Presuming to know something when there is more information to gain is a common habit of American’s and one that should be broken. In ethics, proper decisions are made when all the necessary evidence and information is attained. Maintaining a bias without exploring its veracity is committing a moral error. Perpetuating a bias in this fashion is moral treason. It must be the commitment of the willing moral agent to seek out as much information as possible on other cultures.
This practice has never been more important than the period after the September 11th terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, United States. Again, the United States reacts to a military attack by determining the whole of an entire race of people are at fault. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, American Japanese were placed in concentration camps (that’s what they were and that’s what they should be called) because of their birth they were automatically assumed to be agents of the Empire of Japan. This is illogical and immoral.
America’s views on Islam too broad and biased
Post-September 11, Islam is to blame and any Islamic person is now a potential terrorist. In both these instances, some of a certain ethnic group killed many Americans, but the sword of the United States swings broadly and swiftly. These are only a couple of examples. The optimistic outlook for the United States and its cultural awareness is one of slow deliberate progress. With each generation more tolerance is accepted, there is more questioning.
Like the characters in each of the works, we analyzed eventually each of the characters goes through a transformation to ultimately rely on the truth. Considered prior judgments the United States can be a place of narrow-minded focus. Muslims in America can attest to the moral judgments made against them on a daily basis. And in observing politics, the divide between the major parties seems vast. These divides unlike the books analyzed are based on considered prior judgments of the other side’s reaction to certain ideas.
Partisanship in American politics is only partly representative of the nation as a whole. The disdain for the other side is profound and based on presumptions sustained against individuals. One problem with this is that as politicians, they are playing a role and not engaged with their authentic selves. In the works analyzed in this paper, each character had to undergo a self-reevaluation. The information gathered in this reevaluation provided fodder for reconsidering their considered prior judgments.
Judicial ideology in the United States
Notions of justice are prevalent in the United States as well as the struggle between economic classes rages on. Socrates views on justice is that each person should have equal right and access to the whole of the social system and that the least among a society should be raised up. This is in contrast with Nietzsche who believed that the best should be exalted. Regardless, the current state of affairs in the United States seems to favor Rawls.
This mood shift occurred when so many people suffered individual paradigm shifts when the economy crashed in 2008. People who felt secure in their jobs found themselves taking government payments to support their families facing retraining for a job half way through their careers. The effect of the economy was devastating and a moral shift occurred. This moral shift opened the minds of all American’s into embracing other possibilities. This is the same process all the characters in the analyzed works had to undergo.
For the visiting Indians, they had to face reality that although they looked the part, they were not culturally attuned to the part of being Indian. The greatest struggle was that of the narrator in Seasons of Migration to the North who was undergoing a powerful existential crisis. Continuing in Monsters, Inc., where the idea of children not being toxic was challenged once they met a child (an unheard of thing). Each of these changes caused a reconsideration of considered moral judgments in a manner consistent with reflective equilibrium.
This is the process that any contemplative person will undergo when faced with new facts that challenge a considered moral judgment. Sometimes the information will present itself, other times it must be sought, however, the best moral decisions are made when all the relevant particulars of the moral decision are fully understood. Since the United States encourages diversity as much as it does, it is the world’s melting pot.
Throughout this essay, we have used the tools of communication to affect reflective equilibrium regarding cultural and ethnic biases derived through considered moral judgments. In each of our works, the normative value systems of the characters have changed with the addition of new information. These changes are exemplified in the ever-evolving mood of the United States of America, the ultimate melting pot of moral thought. Few other countries face the moral questions the United States does. Expanding the tools of ethics in this regard is a good thing as it is good for America.
Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of maladies. London: HarperCollins, 2000. Print.
Monsters, Inc. Dir. Pete Docter. Perf. John Goodman and Billy Crystal. Disney Enterprises Inc. :, 2002. Film.
Salih, Tayeb. Season of migration to the North. Oxford England: Heinemann, 1991. Print.