Leonard Wheeler, NFL on Communication Ethics

February 7, 2011 | By | Reply More

When examining communication ethics and the boundaries of morality, it is common thought to question what is the model that makes right, “right” and what makes wrong, “wrong.” If there is an answer it swims in a confusing sea of conflicting moral and social values between individuals, communities, states and cultures.  No single theory has proven to be “right” or “wrong” and we often find ourselves asking if we perform in a superior certain way, will we achieve the intended result? The answer is “most certainly” according to Aristotle, the Greek philosopher taught by Plato, who lived from 384 B.C, to 322 B.C. and a teacher of Alexander the Great.  (Green, 1991) Though today, many flaws in the Aristotle model of ethics have been exposed, the great teacher of “character” personally portrays the result of “goodness” with his action by later despising Alexander the Great at the end of his (Aristotle’s) life.  Aristotle counseled Alexander to be a leader of the Greeks and the oppressor of barbarian rulers. (Green 1991) however, Alexander became a barbarian in spite of Aristotle’s teaching.  Many times moral philosophies begin with practical doubts and many doubts have been created in the theories of Aristotle, by Kant, Wolf and Hegel; all criticized this method of virtue ethics, which places the value and emphasis on the character of the decision maker and his potential rather than the “results” of the decision maker.  All further modern theories driven from Plato’s teaching (he did not write) and Aristotle’s refinement and treatise writing from Plato’s philosophy have found common ground in a dual polarity of thought, how one should think about moral thought, and how “right” is achieved; potentiality and actuality, cause and effect and intrinsic versus external.

Aristotle dealt with the concept of “goodness.”  Aristotle attempted to write about this concept for the benefit of society, determine the qualifications and teach the virtue for the betterment of mankind.  What is good and what is not?  This question is so incredibly ambiguous in our day that there has been much confusion in the interpretation of the Aristotltarianism.  If a person believed that thinking and morality in 2010 was the equivalent as thinking and morality in 325 B. C. it would be unconventional and it would be dangerous.  However, the pinnacle that makes the Aristotle model of ethical guidance a superior model is an overlooked fact that a person should consider to make an application in the thinking model of 325 B.C. appropriate to 2010.  Aristotle was exposed heavily to Plato who taught that “being” was a state of point and reference from which all thought begins.  This means that as Aristotle refers to “character’ in moral decision making, he refers to the time and space concept of the moment and not necessarily to the decisions makers standing as another point of “resume” or reference such as the “past.”  In the moment, of good character, the decision maker has actuality and potentiality.  From this point the “right” decision is made and the results are achieved if the actor acts in a position beginning with good moral character and goodness.  Looking at the negative playing the devils advocate or taking the practical doubt side of this philosophy one would ask, without good moral character in the moment of decision, how can good or “right” be achieved? It is this morality of character that creates “duty” and not “duty” that creates character.

By using the method of finding flaw or taking the negative side a person can make judgment to justify or not justify a theory.  On September 24, 2010 the Iranian president Ahmadinejad spoke to the United Nations General Assembly.  Ahmadinejad strolled into New York City in spite of protest, knowingly unwelcome, yet prepared for the controversy and inspired to create more controversy.  Comments like, “Everyone is free to do or say as they wish in Iran” and “Sanctions aren’t going to work and we are ready to negotiate if we are respected” drew the results of more controversy and unrest as the Israeli, United States and some other diplomats walked out.  Understanding the terrorizing nature of Ahmadinejad and the Iranian government under his direction a reasonable person would conclude that the character of Ahmadinejad is going to impose little to none on the obligations that this actor compels to moral or civil duty as a political figure.  On that day at the United Nations, Ahmadinejad portrayed Iran as a “peace loving” nation while responding to his personal conviction that the US caused the 911 tragedy, that the imprisoning hikers as spies and that stoning adulterous women was a long standing tradition not based in cruelty, but rather in Islamic law.  He has also that the Jewish Holocaust was a figment of imagination.  He concluded by bellowing, “I propose 2011 to be a year of nuclear disarmament for all and a year of nuclear power acquisition for all.” (Hooman Hjad, 2010)

While not even the citizens of Iran agree with their president, we all must deal with the renegade president.  Nonetheless, in reality only one decision or opinion matters.  President Obama must make decisions on “behalf” of the American people and country.  As we watch we realize that dealing with Ahmadinejad is dealing with a moral time bomb and now as President Obama experiences and comprehends morality he should not underestimate the fact that his comments own comments on morality will bleed into politics.  “It was offensive,” Obama said in an interview with the Persian service of the BBC that was to be broadcast to the Iranian people. “It was hateful.”  “And particularly for him to make the statement here in Manhattan, just a little north of ground zero, where families lost their loved ones, people of all faiths, all ethnicities who see this as the seminal tragedy of this generation, for him to make a statement like that was inexcusable,” Obama said. (Matthew Lee, 2010).

Leading to the assumption that “well” (as put by Aristotle) citizens desire “goodness”, their opinions and actions in decision making will follow their character.   A survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project in 2006 found that majorities of Muslims in Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan said they did not believe groups of Arabs carried out the Sept. 11 terrorists’ attacks. The survey also found that just over half the Muslims in Great Britain held similar opinions, as did almost a fifth of Muslims in the U.S..  These citizens stated that they were aware that the bad character of Ahmadinejad was inexcusable and due to that, no citizens expect to would ever see a response of duty, moral reason or ethics, simply because Ahmadinejad has no goodness or dutiful bound character.

Now as we follow the situation, it is prudent to question, according to what ethics model did President Obama react?  He reacted with good character by condemning the statements of the hated president with his first comments.  It was a secondary comment that left many feeling the condemnation comment was not genuine and rather for political reasons.  Commentators on major news outlets seem to think that other issues of morality may be a source of conflict for President Obama’s ethical model of thinking.    His first response, “Right now what the Iranian government has said is, it’s more important for us to defy the international community, engage in a covert nuclear weapons program, than it is to make sure that our people are prospering,” he told the BBC. “And the international community I don’t think prefers the choice that has been taken.”  Then he added one more second statement revealing his moral thinking style, “However, the door to negotiations remains open.”

This statement shows President Obama’s, cause and effect or Kant type Categorical Imperative thinking.  With a duty and respect for Moral Law and a last bid to avoid physical conflict, President Obama opens negotiation as a possible solution to war.  Many who do not comprehend or think about ethical cause and effect relationships view this as a sign of weakness by the President.  It shows that President Obama reasons out “goodness and dutiful character” in Ahmadinejad and interprets the only response to one that creates the “right” result and that is an offering of “peaceful” negotiations.  If President Obama were to reason with Aristotle moral reasoning, he would “not” respond realizing that goodness cannot be achieved because the empirical character of the actor is flawed and therefore no desirable resolution could be achieved and further, if continuing in this manner could “ever” be achieved.

The Aristotle model of moral justification is correct here.  No potentiality exists without material actuality.  The character of Ahmadinejad is established in the moment of his comment in material actuality to be a resident of evil and terrorism, which is the result of action continuing by “being” according to Aristotle.  All human beings are actuality and potentiality and this creates cause and effect just as it does create material and form.  If Aristotle ethics were to be applied, the Obama response would be, “Since there is no material fact as to what is being said by Mr. Ahmadinejad, I will condemn these hateful words on behalf of the American people and accept nothing less than apology and cooperation, which would show a change in the state of the character, Mr. Ahmadinejad.

In the metaphysical order, with the Aristotle line of thinking, to confuse the issue or justify the issue is merely to complicate the problem.  Here the model of being is extremely applicable and superior when responding to Ahmadinejad.  This last concluding comment of President Obama concerning “negotiation” is an attempt to use Kant and Ross model thinking, or cause and effect reasoning.  In Aristotle moral reasoning, unless the ideas have some contact with things, they are not in a state of being or actuality and therefore have no potential for “goodness.”  With an actor like Ahmadinejad one can clearly see and feel that there is no relationship of the character with a glimmer of anything happy, positive or “well” and therefore no relationship to duty or honor exists.  This model is driven from Aristotle’s interpretation of Plato’s teaching of being. (Tony Karon, 2010)

The Aristotle model of “cause”, which takes place in four forms, presents a last important examination.  It is a difficult concept, but it is the result of whose presence that something comes into being.

  1. Material Cause – describes the material of which something is composed.
  2. Formal Cause – describes the particular type of thing.
  3. Efficient Cause – describes the thing that brings something about.
  4. Final Cause – describes the purpose, aim or goal.

Aristotle examined these causes in a metaphysical way to determine “what causes change.”  (Andrea Falcon, 2008)  This is Aristotle’s explanation as to desires, beliefs and intentions.  It is his teleological or telos process, meaning how the end process is achieved.  This is Aristotle’s contention of natural process and agent of explanation of how something gets to the end by following the course of nature. (Ibid) This is a critical difference in the Kant model that claims that the natural world is totally free from the psychological process.  Explaining Ahmadenijad’s thinking, he freely thinks with natural law without regard or concern of consequence attempting to create change through cause; regarding Mr. Obama’s last comment, he on the other hand, uses a cause and effect rationale for the possible notion creating cause for of a final desired outcome of war avoidance.

To employ thinking for the benefit of society such as Utilitarianism would be a futile attempt to better society.  Political decisions are undeniably complicated and materially convoluted with self-cause so much so that reasoning for the benefit of most of humanity or society could not even be explained with logical thought.  Each “character” has his personal internal moral compass for the desired results.  Unless a political actor is honorably bound in character, no duty or obligation to “goodness” will exist as in the case of the Iranian president.

According to Aristotle, God never leaves the eternal response in which his blessedness exists.  Since matter, motion and time are eternal, and they compose the world, the world is therefore eternal.  Regardless of the name of the religion or the name of the God, Ahmadinejad is called to an eternal world of cause.  Aristotle type thinking is the foundation for much of Islamic thinking. Aristotle sought to achieve “The Golden Mean” or the middle between two extremes, as did Confucius and Socrates, however that philosophy must have a starting point.  If the starting point is a place of being in evil, the results achieved will follow the course of natural science according to Aristotle.  If the Iranian president were to negotiate, it would only be from a point of evil to begin with.  This is inherently why President Obama would benefit by understanding the models of thinking.  For Aristotle, explaining the metaphysics of moral decision-making may be difficult to explain or understand, but it no doubt exists.

Peter Green, Alexander of Macedon, 1991 University of California Press, Ltd. Oxford, England. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data, p.58–59

Hooman Hjad, The Ahmadinejad Circus, September 24, 2010, retrieved from The Daily Beast, http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-09-24/ahmadinejad-un-speech-and-visit/

Matthew Lee, Associated Press, Obama, Ahmadinejad trade barbs ofer 9/11, September 24, 2010, retrieved from http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_us_iran

Tony Karon, The Method Behind Ahmadinejad’s U.N. Trash Talk, Time Magazine, September 27, 2010, retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2021608,00.html

Andrea Falcon, Aristotle on Causality, Four Causes, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2008.  Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-causality/#FouCau

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Category: Communications