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OUGD501 - Lecture 5 - Ethics - What Is Good?

First things first manifesto:

We, the undersigned, are graphic designers, art directors and visual communicators who have been raised in a world in which the techniques and apparatus of advertising have persistently been presented to us as the most lucrative, effective and desirable use of our talents. Many design teachers and mentors promote this belief; the market rewards it; a tide of books and publications reinforces it.

Encouraged in this direction, designers then apply their skill and imagination to sell dog biscuits, designer coffee, diamonds, detergents, hair gel, cigarettes, credit cards, sneakers, butt toners, light beer and heavy-duty recreational vehicles. Commercial work has always paid the bills, but many graphic designers have now let it become, in large measure, what graphic designers do. This, in turn, is how the world perceives design. The profession’s time and energy is used up manufacturing demand for things that are inessential at best.

Many of us have grown increasingly uncomfortable with this view of design. Designers who devote their efforts primarily to advertising, marketing and brand development are supporting, and implicitly endorsing, a mental environment so saturated with commercial messages that it is changing the very way citizen-consumers speak, think, feel, respond and interact.

There are pursuits more worthy of our problem-solving skills. Unprecedented environmental, social and cultural crises demand our attention. Many cultural interventions, social marketing campaigns, books, magazines, exhibitions, educational tools, television programmes, films, charitable causes and other information design projects urgently require our expertise and help.

We propose a reversal of priorities in favour of more useful, lasting and democratic forms of communication – a mindshift away from product marketing and toward the exploration and production of a new kind of meaning. The scope of debate is shrinking; it must expand. Consumerism is running uncontested; it must be challenged by other perspectives expressed, in part, through the visual languages and resources of design.
In 1964, 22 visual communicators signed the original call for our skills to be put to worthwhile use. With the explosive growth of global commercial culture, their message has only grown more urgent. Today, we renew their manifesto in expectation that no more decades will pass before it is taken to heart.

Adbusters & Culture Jamming:

“A meme (rhymes with dream) is a unit of information (a catchphrase, a concept, a tune, a belief) that leaps from brain to brain to brain. Memes compete with one another for replication, and are passed down through a population much the same way genes pass through a species. Potent memes can change minds, alter behavior, catalyze collective mindshifts, and transform cultures. Which is why meme warfare has become the geopolitical battle of our information age. Whoever has the memes has the power.”

Victor Papanek:

Most things are designed not for the needs of the people but for the needs of manufacturers to sell to people’ (Papanek, 1983:46).

Ethical Theories:
Subjective Relativism:

There are no universal moral norms of right and wrong.
All persons decide right and wrong for themselves.

Cultural Relativism:

The ethical theory that whats right or wrong depends on place and/or time.


Divine Command Theory:

Good actions are aligned with the will of God.
Bad actions are contrary to the will of God.
The holy book helps make the decisions.
Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) a German philosopher.
Peoples wills should be based on moral rules.
Therefore its important that our actions are based on appropriate moral rules.
To determine when a moral rule is appropriate Kant proposed two Categorical Imperatives.
Two formulations of the categorical imperative:
Act only from moral rules that you can at the same time universalize.
If you act on a moral rule that would cause problems if everyone followed it then your actions are not moral.
Act so that you always treat both yourself and other people as ends in themselves, and never only as a means to an end.
If you use people for your own benefit that is not moral.
Principle of Utility:

(Also known as Greatest Happiness Principle)
An action is right to the extent that it increases the total happiness of the affected parties.
An action is wrong to the extent that it decreases the total happiness of the affected parties.
Happiness may have many definitions such as: advantage, benefit, good, or pleasure.
Rules are based on the Principle of Utility.
A rule is right to the extent that it increases the total happiness of the affected parties.
The Greatest Happiness Principle is applied to moral rules.
Similar to Kantianism – both pertain to rules.
But Kantianism uses the Categorical Imperative to decide which rules to follow.
Social Contract Theory:
Thomas Hobbes (1603-1679) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)
An agreement between individuals held together by common interest.
Avoids society degenerating into the ‘state of nature’ or the ‘war of all against all’ (Hobbes)
Morality consists in the set of rules, governing how people are to treat one another, that rational people will agree to accept, for their mutual benefit, on the condition that others follow those rules as well.
We trade some of our liberty for a stable society.
Morality Vs Legal:
Are all legal acts also moral?
Difficult to determine because many immoral acts are not addressed by the law are all illegal acts immoral?
Social Contract Theory: Yes, we are obligated to follow the law.
Kantianism: Yes, by the two Categorical Imperatives.
Rule Utilitarianism: Yes, because rules are broken.
Act Utilitarianism: Depends on the situation. Sometimes more good comes from breaking a law.
Toolbox of Moral/Ethical Theories:
Whether presented with problems that are easy or difficult to solve, the four workable ethical theories, Kantianism, Act Utilitarianism, Rule Utilitarianism, Social Contract Theory could provide us with possible solutions to many of the problems that are raised by the ‘First Things First’ manifesto.
Criteria for a Workable Ethical Theory:
Moral decisions and rules:

Based on logical reasoning.
Come from facts and commonly held or shared values.
Culturally neutral.
Treat everyone equally.

The assets of the worlds top three billionaires are greater than those of the poorest 600 million on the planet
More than a third of the worlds population (2.8 billion)live on less than two dollars a day
1.2 billion live on less than one dollar a day
In 2002 34.6 million Americans lived below the official poverty line (8.5 million of those had jobs!) Black American Poverty double that of whites
Per capita income in sub-Saharan Africa =$490
Per capita subsidy for European cows = $913

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