Humanists discuss moral decision-making processes

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Photo by Ashley Ross |

University alumni, students and local members of the community talk about the moral judgments of carving names into a tree Wednesday night at the Student Activities Center on the College Avenue campus. They related the issue to ideas of consequentialism and virtue ethics.


The University Humanist Chaplaincy held a meeting Wednesday night at the Student Activities Center on the College Avenue campus, to grapple over moral decisions and ethics.

A group of University alumni, students and other local members debated about whether carving a person's initials into a tree is morally permissible to explore the issues of consequentialism and virtue ethics.

"Consequentialism is the notion that a moral judgment should be based on the effect on the conscious beings, so it's good if it has good consequences, and it's bad if it has bad consequences," University Chaplain Barry Klassel said. "Virtue ethics, which is that you should cultivate a set of virtues in yourself, like loyalty, honesty and truthfulness."

Some said such carvings are immoral because they can negatively affect trees.

"If the carvings opened the bark up to disease pests, it's going to inevitably cause the tree to die," said Lisa Ridge, organizer of the New Jersey Humanist Network.

Others expressed that a tree should be valued despite the consequences a carving may or may not have on a tree.

"Trees should be honored for their tree-ness," said Ron Rothman, resident of Ringoes, N.J. "Trees are for a whole bunch of things, for admiring or for whatever biological function it serves, but they're not for carving initials in."

John Zerillo of Hamilton, N.J., thought putting initials in a tree is an artistic expression and makes trees look

more attractive.

"Being someone who has carved his initials in a tree, I think the tree would be safe from dying," Zerillo said. "It might have some aesthetic value putting initials in

the tree."

Gary Brill, campus coordinator of the Human Chaplaincy, said it is important to take into consideration why people make the moral decisions they make.

"We have to live together and relate to one another and act toward one another on the basis of our understandings and our mutual interests," he said. "It is important to know other people's thinking, so we can negotiate a satisfactory resolution to conflict."

Another moral decision discussed was whether one should bring a child into the world.

The factors that affected the group's discussion were whether a person was psychologically or financially capable of having a child.

"I think we take on a big burden of responsibility to think about having a child, to take everything into consideration," said Kenny Rowc, a resident of Phillipsburg, N.J. "I would ask myself, ‘Can I clothe myself, feed myself, and do I

have shelter?'"

Klassel said having discussions about morals and ethics helps people evaluate their own ideas and perspectives.

"One thing about human beings is that they can contemplate," he said. "It's important for people to sit and talk about these things, so they can reflect on their own prejudiced ideas and see if they are correct or if there's a better way to think about more effective ways to think things they thought

they knew."

Rowc thinks one's environment affects what they perceive as moral.

"I don't think our decisions are our decisions," he said. "I think influences play such a big role in whether something is more moral or not."


Yashmin Patel

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