I previously posted a blog about Being vs. Doing. It was dealing with how people looked at the world and weather a “being” philosophy has a higher status than a “doing” philosophy, or vice-versa. I think this would also apply to the realm of ethics. I’ll talk about abortion, capital punishment, and gay marriage.
With abortion: Pro-lifers point out that the being involved is important because of what it is (namely, “human”). The biological entity isn’t just any being but a special kind of being and because this being has special status, we should give it consideration (rather than other types of beings like rocks, chairs, pens, etc.). Pro-choicers will argue back that the being doesn’t matter; it’s the traits that matters morally. In other words, what is it doing? Rocks, chairs, and pens don’t matter morally because they aren’t doing anything that qualifies them to have a special moral status. The same applies to a fetus: it doesn’t have any traits (in other words, it isn’t doing anything morally) that we would consider having moral status. So the question comes back: is being or doing more important?
With capital punishment: People who are for capital punishment focus on the doing. This person did something that we must consider morally. It’s an atrocious act, a capital crime and that person must be punished accordingly. People against capital punishment have used a being argument. For example: The convicted rapist Matias Reye had a horrible childhood. When he was 2 years old, his mother sold him to his father for $400. At age 7, two older boys sexually abused him and threw him in a river. By age 17, he was living alone on the street of New York, scratching for money as an East Harlem delicatessen clerk and sleeping in a van outside of the store. People who use a being argument suggest that it really wasn’t his fault for being like this. His upbringing made him into this type of being and he shouldn’t be blamed for this. (I know that there are those arguments that argue against capital punishment based on traits rather than being, but most anti-capital punishment arguments do focus on being rather than doing.)
Finally, gay marriage: People against gay marriage say that the relationship isn’t the proper kind. In other words, the being of the relationship isn’t the right kind of being and so they cannot get the full sanctity of a marriage. People for gay marriage say that the being doesn’t matter. It’s the doings of the relationship. The argument is that their marriage isn’t harming anyone, thus they should be allowed to get married.
I’m sure many more applications could be used here but I’m wondering if all ethics could be reduced to a “being” vs. “doing” dichotomy.