Some thoughts on ethics

On another forum, I am engaged in a conversation regarding ethics, which came about as a result of a conversation around the ethics of cheating in a monogamous relationship (or by violating the agreed-upon terms of a polyamorous relationship).

A surprising (to me, anyway) number of the people involved in that conversation hold that ethical constraints apply only to first-order consequences of one’s actions, but not to indirect or second-order consequences; for example, it is not ethical to cheat on a partner, but if you are the person a cheater has sex with, your actions are not unethical, because you are not violating any agreements with the cheated-upon person.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the nature of ethics and responsibility as a result of that conversation, and I’ve put together a series of questions designed to examine a person’s ethical system, and look for contradictions in that system.

The first four questions concern the ethics of lies of commission and lies of omission. The next three questions concern being the active participant in a series of actions covering a very large range of common moral perception. The next six questions re-visit those situations from the perspective of a passive beneficiary of those actions and of an active beneficiary of those actions; that is, does one’s ethical responsibility vary if a person benefits from an action after the fact, or if the person receives the same benefit by creating the situation before the fact? The last two address something I’ve seen commonly: people often find that their assessment of the ethics of an action changes with their assessment of whether or not an injured party is a “good person” or a “bad person.”

I’m interested in seeing the results of many people’s answers to these questions. So, onward!