The Advantages and Disadvantages of Generalism in Ethics

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Generalism works best with identical beings in a stable environment.
Generalism works best with identical beings in a stable environment. (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

There are two main schools of thought regarding ethical communication and relations between people. Particularism insists on the need to assess all situations individually and come up with unique, appropriate solutions for each. Generalism seeks to identify moral codes and universally apply them to determine appropriate actions, responses, communication and situations. Generalism, in particular, has distinct advantages and disadvantages, both in principle and application.

History of Generalism

The term Generalism has only been used in discussions of ethics since Sean McKeever and Michael Ridge published their academically renowned "Principled Ethics: Generalism as a Regulative Ideal" in 2006. The same idealistic view of perfectly correlated universal cause and effect for similar events was previously referred to as Utilitarianism. This view has been highly unpopular with traditional religious and liberal social groups for denying upward social mobility to citizens and disregarding minority interests. Generalism is popular with animal rights and globalism supporters.

Advantages of Generalism

Animal rights and globalist activists, among other generalists, argue that all sentient beings have equal value and should be considered equally any time a decision is made or action is taken. Generalism allows for all statistical accounting, manipulation and experimentation of populations, be they exclusively human or all-inclusive, to determine ethics. This makes humanitarian, social and other issues quantifiable and allows for quick, justified action. Institutions and social systems can be simplified to meet universal needs. Generalism eliminates arguments based on priority or status by making all beings and situations equal.

Disadvantages of Generalism

Historically, civil rights activists and libertarians have opposed the principles of Generalism. By ignoring details specific to unique situations and events, generalist ideals can often be proven incorrect when cases defy preconceptions. Killing in self-defense, for example, defies Generalism's opposition to murder. Specific groups may be offended or neglected by campaigns that take no consideration of minorities.

Case-specific Ethics

For specific business, political social or other human interaction it may be more appropriate for decision makers to favor Generalism, Particularism or some combination of the two. In medical situations where individuals may have aversions to certain treatments, as well as court cases on which lives depend and circumstances may be sensitive, Particularism seems fit. For advertising and other mass applications, Generalism is appropriate.

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