Ethics Module 1 - Morals And Norms Throughout this course...

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Morals And Norms Throughout this course, we will be addressing issues of theory by means of scenarios or cases, but we need a common language about ethics. (For a common language about critical thinking, see the booklet by Elder and Paul.) We are trying to keep things simple. What we are going to do in this course is not repeat characterizations of "‘ethics" or "morals", etc. We want to develop a working understanding of distinctions that is sufficient for supporting a thoughtful discussion of scenarios and ethical deliberation. Morals express norms: they tell us something about what people in their behaviors and in the relations they maintain take to be important and ought to do; they give guidelines or provide standards, rather than state facts. But morals express norms implicitly, prereflectively. They do not require that people try to justify what they prereflectively take to be right or good. ETHICS We will take ethics to be a reflection about morals. This makes ethics a second-order discipline. If there are no individuals behaving in accordance to implicit norms, there is no ethics. The second-order reflection takes the form of justification. Justification is a process by which one offers support for a position through the means of rational argumentation. For further points on standards of rationality, see Elder and Paul, The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking, p. 15: Intellectual Autonomy, Intellectual Integrity, Confidence in Reason, and Fairmindedness. MORAL ISSUES By a moral issue, we will mean an issue subject to ethical reflection. Ethical reflection tends to focus on matters that are vital to the well-being of individuals and the development or maintenance of relations among individuals. In the opening story, the well-being of individuals and their interrelations was indeed at stake, and in a highly significant way: their very capability to make a living was involved, and the matter had significant consequences for all members of society.
Note that what is "vital" and what constitutes "well-being" are matters that can require judgment. But in this situation, where people’s survival was at stake, that the issue was vital is of little doubt. The issue in our opening story has to do with the ethics of responses to disaster and disaster relief. But there are sure to be other issues. What other issues can you identify? ETHICAL REFLECTION Ethical reflection incorporates ethical claims. Ethical claims are normative and are open to justification. The process of justification is meant to be open to all. If you can think, you can join in the process. You are not limited by the geographical location in which you live, or any other characteristic, notably whether you have religious beliefs or not. Criticism of ethical claims is usually based on grounds that the reasoning is defective in some way or that some relevant consideration or category of individuals has been omitted. (Again, please keep in mind some of the standards of rationality outlined on page 15 of The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking )

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