Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Theories of Ethics

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was a Roman Catholic nun of Albanian origin. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her work with the poor and dying, primarily in India. Her humanitarian organistaion, the Missionaries of Charity, continues to expand, and at the time of her death it was operating 610 missions in 123 countries, including hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, soup kitchens, children's and family counseling programmes, orphanages, and schools.

She has been praised by many individuals, governments and organizations and was considered a "living saint" before her death in 1997. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2002, following varification by the Vatican that a number of miracles could be attributed to prayers to her.

We have discussed five theories for the existence of ethics:
  • Moral relativism
  • Religion
  • Duty
  • Self-interest
  • Utilitarianism
Few people, until recently, would have doubted that Mother Teresa was motivated by strong religious ethics and a sense of duty. However, it has been suggested that close to her death she experienced doubts concerning her faith. She has also faced critisism of the focus of her work and it has been suggested she was motivated by self-interest.

One of her most vociferous detractors is the British (now American) journalist Christopher Hitchens, well known for playing 'devils advocate'. Interestingly, this phrase was originally used to describe a lawyer who gave evidence against a person's beatification, and Hitchens was called by the Vatican in this role in the case of Mother Teresa's. In his book, The Missionary Position, he critises her work, including baptisms of the dying, her strong anti-contraception and anti-abortion stance, and her belief in the spiritual goodness of poverty. Several medical journals have also criticised the standard of medical care in her hospices and concerns have been raised about the nature in which donated money was received and spent.

In the following documentary Hitchens develops his arguments. Please note that this piece is very one-sided and I'd encourage researching other sources on Mother Teresa's work in order to develop a more balanced viewpoint. Take note of the references to ethics.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Lost language revived

Dharug was one of the dominant Aboriginal dialects in the Sydney region of Australia when British settlers arrived in 1788, but became extinct after the British colonisation. Details of its death are sketchy but it appears the last of the traditional Dharug speakers died in the late 19th Century, and it survived (if that word can be used) only because of written records. However, the language has been revived by school teachers and students in Sydney. It is being seen as a way for aboriginal people to reclaim part of their lost heritage, but courses are also open to non-aboriginals.

When the British ships arrived, there were about 270 different Aboriginal languages in Australia. Today, only about 60 or 70 are spoken on a daily basis. Of these, roughly half a dozen are considered to be strong and are being passed from adults to their children. Do you think languages should be allowed to die if they begin to outlive their usefulness? Is language really intimately linked to culture?
You can read the whole story from the BBC here.