Category Archives: Morality and Ethics

Comparing Versions of the Hippocratic Oath in Western Medicine

Hippocratic Oath: Classical Version

I swear by Apollo Physician and Asclepius and Hygieia and Panaceia and all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will fulfill according to my ability and judgment this oath and this covenant:

To hold him who has taught me this art as equal to my parents and to live my life in partnership with him, and if he is in need of money to give him a share of mine, and to regard his offspring as equal to my brothers in male lineage and to teach them this art—if they desire to learn it—without fee and covenant; to give a share of precepts and oral instruction and all the other learning to my sons and to the sons of him who has instructed me and to pupils who have signed the covenant and have taken an oath according to the medical law, but no one else.

I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.

I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.

I will not use the knife, not even on sufferers from stone, but will withdraw in favor of such men as are engaged in this work.

Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves.

What I may see or hear in the course of the treatment or even outside of the treatment in regard to the life of men, which on no account one must spread abroad, I will keep to myself, holding such things shameful to be spoken about.

If I fulfill this oath and do not violate it, may it be granted to me to enjoy life and art, being honored with fame among all men for all time to come; if I transgress it and swear falsely, may the opposite of all this be my lot.

Hippocratic Oath: Modern Version

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

A Fantastic Introduction to Philosophy Video!

I have show all of my 120+ students this semester this video. Luckily for those who don’t have the textbook yet (but better be getting it soon), this video covers most of the same vital information!

Some Closing Thoughts on Moral Complexity – Part 5 of 5

     Recall that my intention from the beginning was to construct a basic outline of the Dalai Lama, Andre Comte-Sponville, and Viktor Frankl’s moral systems based on excerpts of their respective works. Following the outline, I sought to point out some general objections to each moral system and analyze each one based on how well it can handle moral complexity.

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Moral Complexity and Viktor Frankl’s ‘Logotherapy’ – Part 4 of 5

This is the fourth part of a five-part essay comparing and contrasting the moral systems of the Dalai Lama, Andre Comte-Sponville, and Viktor Frankl with regard to how well (or poorly) their respective moral systems fare against morally complex situations.


Viktor Frankl’s Moral System (based on Logotherapy)

            As far as the deontological/consequentialist debate goes, Frankl’s moral system seems to straddle the middle. Frankl’s moral system is derived from aspects of his logotherapy, a specific school of thought within modern psychiatry. Frankl believes that logotherapy is a useful tool in that “the patient is actually confronted with and reoriented toward the meaning of his[/her/their] life” (104). This meaning is the primary drive motivating conscious human beings; it is future-oriented (towards some potentiality that is, as of yet, left undone), extremely subjective (as it changes from one individual to the next), and dependent upon the responsible care and efforts of the individual for its realization.

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Moral Complexity and Andre Comte-Sponville’s ‘Spiritual Atheism’ – Part 3 of 5

This is the third part of a five-part essay comparing and contrasting the moral systems of the Dalai Lama, Andre Comte-Sponville, and Viktor Frankl with regard to how well (or poorly) their respective moral systems fare against morally complex situations.


Andre Comte-Sponville’s Moral System (based on Spiritual Atheism)

     Comte-Sponville’s moral system, in contrast to the Dalai Lama’s is more consequentialist than deontological. His moral system is more concerned with states of affairs and consequences that affect them than purely motivation/intention. Take, for instance, the fact that he decries certain moral actions such as “rob[bery], rape, and murder” (42). He does this, presumably, because of the immensely harmful consequences that each one brings about. Robbery can shatter a person’s sense of security within their own home or environment. Rape forcefully objectifies a person’s existence, conflating the meaning of their life with the desirability of their physical traits. Murder almost inherently involves pain and suffering, not to mention its permanent duration. As a result, Comte-Sponville’s moral system is more consequentialist than deontological.

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Moral Complexity and the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan Buddhism – Part 2 of 5

This is the second part of a five-part essay comparing and contrasting the moral systems of the Dalai Lama, Andre Comte-Sponville, and Viktor Frankl with regard to how well (or poorly) their respective moral systems fare against morally complex situations.


The Dalai Lama’s Moral System (based on Tibetan Buddhism)

We can categorize the Dalai Lama’s moral system as one that is deontological in nature. Deontological ethics, recall, has two key interpretations. One interpretation defines deontological ethics as a method that helps us to understand what is morally required, forbidden, and permissible in a particular situation or event. Morally required actions, insofar as they are completed, are morally good; these are often referred to as obligations or duties. Morally forbidden actions, however, ought to be avoided and are morally bad. Morally permissible actions, then, are neither morally good nor morally bad; they are either morally void or morally neutral actions.

A second interpretation defines deontological ethics as a method that focuses on whether or not specific and explicit moral rules or principles were followed in completing a particular action or set of actions. Deontological ethics then uses these specific and explicit moral rules and principles to determine the moral worth of an action or set of actions (henceforth referred to as ‘set’). If the specific moral rule or principle is observed during the action or ‘set,’ then the action or ‘set’ can be said to be morally good. If the specific moral rule or principle is not observed during the action or ‘set,’ however, then the action or ‘set’ is morally bad.

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Making the Acquaintance of Moral Complexity – Part 1 of 5

This is the first part of a five-part essay comparing and contrasting the moral systems of the Dalai Lama, Andre Comte-Sponville, and Viktor Frankl with regard to how well (or poorly) their respective moral systems fare against morally complex situations.


     Moral complexity is both a fact of reality and an obstacle that persistently bedevils the formation and function of our moral systems. By moral systems, I mean the totality of methods, assumptions, principles, rules, and obligations that are meant to guide, regulate, and formalize our interactions with other living beings as well as with our environments. Moral systems come in a variety of different forms and can be either secular (natural, material) or sacred (religious, supernatural) in composition. They also have varying degrees or levels of comprehensiveness in content and scope. That is to say, some are more developed or nuanced than others. Examples of some moral systems include Divine Command Theory, the Golden Rule, Utilitarianism, Virtue Ethics, the 10 Nonvirtues of Tibetan Buddhism, and so on.

     Given that at least one purpose of moral systems is to guide, regulate, and formalize our interactions with other living beings as well as with our environments, we can assess the worth and utility of a moral system insofar as it is relatively more adept at handling complex moral situations than its competitors.

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Classical Views on Free Will

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Hard Determinism

In his work “The Delusion of Free Will”, Robert Blatchford argues that human free will is a delusion; all of our desires come from within (heredity/temperament) or from without (environment/training). Blatchford claims that even though we think we choose freely, we do not. When we are faced with different choices, our choice is selected by either our heredity, such as our personal preference of sweet over sour, or our environment, such as why it is acceptable to be individualistic as opposed to collective in terms of attitude. The heredity factor is influenced by our genetic makeup; the environment factor is influenced by the culture and society in which we live. Blatchford states that whichever one of these two forces is stronger, in a given situation, it will make our decisions for us.

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A Summary (of the first portion) of “Frontiers of Justice” by M. Nussbaum

     Martha Nussbaum sets out in “Frontiers of Justice” to challenge the Social Contract tradition, the current paradigm in political philosophy insofar as it relates to theories of justice, by defending her own approach which she refers to as the “capabilities approach.” She begins by describing the historical development of the Social Contract tradition, focusing on certain writings of philosophers such as Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Kant, and most recently, John Rawls.

After briefly describing how the Social Contract tradition has come to exist in its contemporary form following the influences of John Rawls, Nussbaum levels some very strong criticisms against this philosophical tradition. In particular Nussbaum focuses on how proponents of the Social Contract tradition have (not) responded to the needs and interests of disabled individuals, the global community/nationality, and non-human species.

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Contra Ainslie: Multi-variable Measures of Akrasia

Throughout his explanation of akrasia as hyperbolic discounting, Ainslie focuses on the temporal dimensions of the discounting process, noting that when the possibility of experiencing satisfaction from a particular reward is less delayed, then the agent is more likely to engage in akratic actions or be swayed by akratic behavioral dispositions.

Ainslie uses the term “imminent” to describe how strongly an agent may feel an internal pull towards a particular reward and its accompanying satisfaction (Ainslie 30). “Imminent,” when properly understood within hyperbolic discounting, includes but should not be limited to temporal considerations. Akratic actions involve internal calculations guided by desire or emotion with an emphasis on, or at least a preference for, the likelihood of certainty in obtaining satisfaction from a reward. This aspect of certainty is what some psychological experiments mentioned by Ainslie fail to properly take into account.

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