Good and bad (or, evil) is as abstract an idea as happiness and sorrow or love and hate. Philosophers have created quite a name for themselves while devoting time to understanding the logic behind these abstract emotions. They have certainly tried even when there is no logic to speak of. Aristotle (350 B.C.E./1908) had gone to great lengths to explain the meaning and purpose of good. Unfortunately, this act of explanation seems more to have been an attempt to conceptualize ideas based on limited knowledge. After all, if we think something is good, then we thought it; therefore, it is a product of the mind and should be further thought about, or so philosophers would think. There is certainly a logical fallacy to many of Aristotle’s correlations. Aristotle describes the nature of man, “Now the mass of mankind are evidently quite slavish in their tastes, preferring a life suitable to beasts…” (Aristotle, 350 B.C.E./1908, p. 8). He continues, then, to juxtapose lower man with his sense of men of high regard, “…people of superior refinement … identify happiness with honour…” (Aristotle, 350 B.C.E./1908, p. 8). Although he continues to acknowledge the “superficial” (Aristotle, 350 B.C.E./1908, p. 8) quality of this comparison, it seems obvious that Aristotle is judging values based on an already prescribed value system. These fallacies, however, can be forgiven based on the underdeveloped states of these notions of value and virtue. Aristotle appears to have brought the abstract concept of good to light and available for many to contemplate. This, I believe, is good.
As Aristotle (350 B.C.E./1908) continues in his progression and digression of thoughts on virtues, he does seem to uncover a worthwhile virtue that is worthy in and of itself: happiness. Speaking in particular to Aristotle’s golden rule, or “a disposition to choose the mean” (Aristotle, 350 B.C.E./1908, p. 38), by maintaining a life devoid of excess and deficiency, one lives a virtuous life and strives towards attaining happiness. Aristotle also posits that, because of the nature of the mean between excess and deficiency, there can be no excess or deficiency of the mean.
As a health care provider, I see the effects of living a vicious life. Just a few hours ago, I responded to a woman suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She probably acquired this disease from years of smoking tobacco. As a smoker, I know from seeing these patients how deadly and devastating smoking tobacco products can be; however, I still smoke. I do value the education that has been circulating to help smokers to quit (American Heart Association, n.d.; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.). As the mantra goes, knowledge is power. As a libertarian, however, I do not appreciate government restricting my right to smoke in certain private establishments based only on the risk to myself and others that might choose to frequent such establishments (An Act Concerning Secondhand Smoke in Work Places, 2003). I also do not appreciate the extreme taxes that I have to pay, though I do understand the impact on the health care system and the necessity of covering the associated costs of treating patients with COPD, though health care costs would actually increase by 4 to 7% if every person in our society quit (Barendregt, Bonneux, & van der Maas, 1997). Having mentioned that, I would probably support any referendum that made tobacco illegal.
Social responsibility, by definition, means to act within the values of society. As a free society, this concept places burdens on social change. It would be irresponsible of us to change our society without considering the ramifications. What will this change mean for us? What will this change mean for our children? Our grandchildren? To me, social responsibility requires social change by education and example, not imparting change by force. To me, this is responsible social change. Responsible social change will provide a concrete vision for attainment instead of some abstract conceptual utopia that never seems attainable, anyway.
American Heart Association. (n.d.). Cigarette smoking and cardiovascular disease. Retrieved from http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4545
An Act Concerning Secondhand Smoke in Work Places. 2003 CT Public Acts 03-45. 23 May 2003.
Aristotle. (1908). Nichomachean ethics (W. D. Ross, Trans.). (Original work published in 350 B.C.E.). Retrieved from http://books.google.com
Barendregt, J. J., Bonneux, L., & van der Maas, P.J. (1997). The health care costs of smoking. New England Journal of Medicine, 337, 1052-1057. doi:10.1056/NEJM199710093371506
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Smoking & tobacco use. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/