Modernity and the Notions of Public Interest, Ethics and Law

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This paper examines the meaning of modernity and the relations between the notions of public interest, ethics and law. By giving an example that raises this issue further, the realm of morality, professional ethics and law is discussed and whether their spheres of jurisdiction would overlap. It also explores the meanings and definitions of the key terms that are of most concern for this topic, and how they relate or differ from each other. A Singaporean example is also shown as evidence to support the discussion. Finally, a counter argument is provided with a reasonable response that follows with this argument.

While scholars and philosophers have defined modernity in different ways, the emergence of modernity is also a very important aspect of the term. Before modernity came into prominence, there were the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. “The essence of modernity can be seen in humanity’s freeing itself from the bonds of the Middle Ages in that it frees itself to itself” (Heidegger, Young, & Haynes, 2002). Modernity refers to human beings starting to rationalize and think for themselves, rather than the traditional way of living life by the rules and teachings of their religion. In simpler terms, it is a shift from religious beliefs to scientific knowledge, as in man thinking by his own free will for himself. The stronghold of the Christian church decreased over the people and science began to be more accepted. The criticism of modernity is that it actually imprisons rather than liberates. Modernity gives rise to people’s opinion and free speech. Therefore, with free speech, restrictions are put into place to protect the freedom of the public.

The term modernization refers to the increasing use of science and new technologies, and the political, social and cultural changes that followed through from these developments of modernization (Mann, 2010). Hence modern society is considered modern because of rapid change which is the essence of modern society (Nester, 2010). Today’s society and way of thinking all flourished from modernity. The use of science and technology, the need to understand all things in life through scientific study and experimentation are all traits of what makes modern society ‘modern.’ Therefore, it promotes a more rational, scientific worldview as religion, superstition and tradition lost their hold over everyday life.

With modern thinking, public interest, ethics, law and so on, all of which were taking priority among people in their everyday life and also professionals so that everyone can live in harmony in a liberal democratic society. Public interest is what is justified toward the public which may be against some immediate individual person’s interest” (Downs, 1962). A general explanation for ethics would be that it is concerned with doing the right thing in a moral sense. Fieser (2001) described ethics as systematizing, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong behaviour, while Spence (2005) said that it is a set of rules and virtues of character that guides interpersonal conduct (Breit, 2007). The Law is a set of rules for society, to protect people’s basic rights and freedoms and to treat them fairly (OrganizationOfAmericanStates, 2007).

Certain situations that are of the public’s concern can also be an ethical and legal matter, such as illegal abortions. Abortions are illegal in most countries and even so, some women still require it for the sake of their own well-being. Thus, doctors have to face their own code of ethics in dealing with these issues. This matter is also of public interest because this issue has been an ongoing debate and the public are always concerned about it.

In the Singapore context, the case of the ex-MOE scholar, Jonathan Wong having sexual relations with a minor makes a good example that raises this topic. The scholar from the Ministry of Education was at first charged with possessing child pornography in Britain which lead to...
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