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ETHICS & MORAL DECISION-MAKING The aim of this tutorial is to help you learn to identify and employ ethical approaches to morality and reasoning.
Moral and ethical reasoning Perhaps in no other area are people so prone to engage in rhetoric and resistance as in debates over controversial moral issues. Skills in critical thinking can help us to evaluate moral issues from multiple perspectives as well as break through patterns of resistance. 2 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
What is moral reasoning? We engage in moral reasoning when we make a decision about what we ought or ought not to do, or about what is the most reasonable or just position or policy regarding a particular issue. Effective moral decision-making depends on good critical-thinking skills, familiarity with basic moral values, and the motivating force of moral sentiments. 3 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Moral values and happiness The association of morality with happiness and a sense of well-being is found in moral philosophies throughout the world. Studies support the claim that people who put moral values above nonmoral concerns are happier and more self-fulfilled. Moral values are those that benefit yourself and others and are worthwhile for their own sake. They include altruism, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, and justice. 4 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Nonmoral, or instrumental, values Nonmoral values are goal-oriented. They are a means to an end we wish to achieve. Nonmoral values include independence, prestige, fame, popularity, and wealth. Although many Americans regard nonmoral values such as career success, financial prosperity, and flashy materialism as the means to happiness, there is in fact little correlation between prosperity and happiness, except at the very lowest levels of income. 5 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Moral tragedy When we fail to take appropriate moral action or make a decision we later regret, we commit what is called a moral tragedy. These failures can be avoided through development of critical thinking skills that enhance our moral reasoning. 6 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Conscience A well-developed conscience provides us with knowledge about what is right and wrong. Like language, whose basic structure is innate, our conscience is nurtured/neglected, and shaped by our family, religion, and culture. Conscience has an affective (emotional) element that motivates us to act on this knowledge of right and wrong. Effective moral reasoning involves listening to the affective side of our conscience, as well as the cognitive/reasoning side. 7 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Moral sentiments Moral sentiments are emotions that alert us to moral situations and motivate us to do what is right. They include, among others, “helper’s high,” empathy and sympathy, compassion, moral outrage, resentment, and guilt. 8 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
“Helper’s high”; empathy and sympathy; and compassion “Helper’s high” occurs when you experience an endorphin rush after helping others. It aids in promoting relaxation, and enhances self-esteem. Empathy or sympathy is the capacity for and inclination to imagine the feelings of others. Compassion is sympathy in action, and involves taking steps to relieve others’ unhappiness. 9 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Moral outrage, resentment, and guilt Moral outrage, also known as moral indignation, occurs when we witness an injustice or violation of moral decency. Moral outrage motivates us to correct unjust situations through demands for justice. Resentment, a type of moral outrage, occurs when we ourselves are treated unjustly. Guilt both alerts us to and motivates us to correct a wrong. 10 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Guilt and shame Guilt is often broadly defined to include shame. However, the two are different. Guilt results when we commit a moral wrong or violate a moral principle. Shame, on the other hand, occurs as a result of the violation of a social norm, or as a result of failure to live up to other’s expectations. As good critical thinkers, we must learn to distinguish between the two, and employ other skills such as good listening and problem-solving to assist in moral decision-making. 11 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Development of moral reasoning Psychologists such as Harvard scholar Lawrence Kohlberg ( ) argue that human beings advance through distinct stages in their moral reasoning development. These stages are transcultural and represent increased proficiency in critical thinking skills. Research has identified three levels of moral development: Preconventional Conventional Post-conventional These levels each contain two distinct stages. 12 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Preconventional moral development In the first two stages of moral development, or the preconventional level, morality is defined egotistically in terms of oneself. People at this level expect others to treat them morally, but generally do not reciprocate unless they derive benefit. Most people outgrow these two stages of moral reasoning by high school. 13 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Conventional moral development In the next two stages of moral development, or the conventional level, people look to others for moral guidance and self-affirmation. People at Stage 1 conform to peer group norms, and believe there are right and wrong answers and that those in authority know the right answers. Most college freshmen are at this stage. By substituting wider norms and laws for peer group culture, a process known as cultural relativism, people move to the second conventional stage. Most Americans are at this stage of moral development, which involves adopting prevailing views rather than thinking through moral decisions. 14 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Postconventional moral development In the final two stages, or postconventional level, of moral development, people recognize that social conventions need to be justified. Moral decisions should be based on universal moral principles and on concerns such as justice, compassion, and mutual respect, rather than popularity and legality. Unfortunately, less than 10 percent of American adults ever reach the postconventional level of moral reasoning. 15 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Moral reasoning in women Psychologist Carol Gilligan argued that women’s moral development proceeds differently from men. Men, she said, tend to be duty- and principle-oriented, an approach she called the “justice perspective.” Women, in contrast, are more context-oriented and view the world in terms of relationships and caring, called the “care perspective.” Research has reached no consensus on Gilligan’s claims. 16 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Moral theories Moral theories provide frameworks for understanding and explaining what makes a certain action right or wrong. They also help us clarify, critically analyze, and rank the moral concerns raised by moral issues in our lives. Our everyday moral decisions and level of reasoning are informed by the moral theory we accept as true, even though we may never have consciously articulated that theory. 17 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Two types of moral theory There are two basic types of moral theories: Those that claim morality is relative Those that claim morality is universal Moral relativists claim that people create reality and that there are no universal or shared moral principles that apply to all. Moral universalists, on the other hand, maintain that there are universal moral principles that apply to all. 18 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Morality is relative: ethical subjectivism and cultural realism According to ethical subjectivists, morality is nothing more than personal opinion or feelings. What feels right for you is right for you at any particular moment. Ethical subjectivism is one of the weakest moral theories. Cultural relativism, the second form of moral relativism, looks to public opinion and customs rather than to private opinion for moral standards. For cultural relativists, morality is nothing more than socially approved customs. Cultural relativism, like ethical relativism, can be used to support discrimination. 19 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Morality is universal Moral universalists maintain that there are universal moral principles that apply to all. Most philosophers accept this principle. The following slides examine four different universal moral theories; utilitarianism (consequence-based ethics), deontology (duty-based ethics), rights-based ethics, and virtue ethics. 20 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Morality is universal: utilitarianism In utilitarianism, actions are evaluated based on their consequences. According to utilitarians, actions that bring the most happiness to the greatest number of people reflect the principle of utility, or the greatest happiness principle. In the nineteenth century, Jeremy Bentham developed the utilitarian calculus as a means of determining which actions or policies are morally preferable. 21 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Utilitarian calculus According to the utilitarian calculus, there are seven factors to take into consideration in determining the most moral action or decision: Intensity: strength of the pleasure/pain Duration: length of time the pleasure/pain lasts Certainty: level of probability the pleasure/pain occurs Propinquity: how soon the pleasure/pain will occur Fecundity: extent to which pleasure will produce more pleasure Purity: the pleasure does not cause concurrent pain Extent: the number of sentient beings affected by action 22 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Morality is universal: deontology (duty-based ethics) Deontology claims that duty is the foundation of morality. Some acts are morally obligatory regardless of their consequences. Moral principles or duties apply to everyone regardless of a person’s feelings or culture. A famous example of this is the Golden Rule, or the principle of reciprocity, which exists in every major world religion and ethical value system. 23 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
The categorical imperative German philosopher Immanuel Kant ( ) devised the categorical imperative, which states: “Act only on that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” Scottish philosopher W.D. Ross ( ) came up with a list of seven duties derived from the categorical imperative. Ross argued these duties are prima facie (latin for “at first view”), that is they are morally binding unless overridden by a more compelling moral duty. 24 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Seven prima facie duties There are three types of prima facie duties; future- looking duties, duties based on past obligations, and ongoing duties. Future-looking duties: Beneficence: The duty to do good acts and promote happiness Nonmaleficence: The duty to do no harm and prevent harm 25 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Duties based on past obligations Duties based on past obligations: Fidelity/loyalty: Duties arising from past commitments and promises. Reparation: Duties that stem from past harm to others Gratitude: Duties based on past favors and unearned services 26 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Ongoing duties Ongoing duties: Self-improvement: The duty to improve our knowledge (wisdom) and virtue; this duty is the basis of virtue ethics. Justice: The duty to treat all people with dignity and to give each person equal consideration 27 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Morality is universal: rights-based ethics In rights-based ethics, moral rights are not identical to legal rights, as they are in cultural relativism. The right to pursue our interests without interference from others is limited to our legitimate interests; that is, those interests that do not harm other people by violating their similar and equal interests. Moral rights are generally divided into two areas: welfare rights and liberty rights. 28 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Welfare rights and liberty rights Welfare rights entail rights to receive certain social goods, such as education, emergency medical care, and police/fire protection. They are important, for without them we cannot pursue our legitimate interests. Liberty rights entail the right to be left alone to pursue our legitimate interests. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to choose career paths, the right to privacy, and the right to own property are all liberty rights. 29 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Morality is universal: virtue ethics Virtue ethics emphasizes character over right actions. A virtue is an admirable character trait or disposition to habitually act in a manner that benefits ourselves and others. Compassion, courage, generosity, loyalty, and honesty are all examples of virtues. Virtue ethics goes hand in hand with other universal moral theories. Being virtuous entails cultivating moral sensitivity. Moral sensitivity is the awareness of how our actions affect others and involves good communication skills and the ability to empathize. 30 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Moral arguments Moral theories provide the foundation for moral arguments and their application to real-life situations. In making a moral argument, the point is not to prove that you are morally superior to others, but come to a conclusion that leads to an action or policy that is reasonable and most consistent with moral values. 31 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Moral dilemmas Moral dilemmas are situations where there is a conflict between moral values. Solutions to moral dilemmas are not right or wrong, only better or worse. Ideally, the best resolution to a moral dilemma is the one that honors as many moral values as possible. 32 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Resolving moral dilemmas When evaluating and resolving moral dilemmas, you should follow several steps. Describe the facts. List relevant moral principles and concerns. List and evaluate possible courses of action. Devise a plan of action. Carry out the plan of action. 33 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Conclusions Being able to recognize moral arguments and developing skills to evaluate moral reasoning are important factors in critical thinking. There is a positive correlation between level of moral reasoning and critical thinking ability. Effective critical thinking requires not only that we be aware of our own moral values, but also that we be open- minded and willing to respect the concerns and values of others. 34 © 2010, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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