miniatureguidetoethicalreasoning

miniatureguidetoethicalreasoning - The Miniature Guide to...

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Unformatted text preview: The Miniature Guide to Understanding the Foundations of Ethical Reasoning By Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder Based on Critical Thinking Concepts & Principles The Foundation for Critical Thinking MW 777 "if Why a Mini-Guide on Ethical Reasoning? The development of ethical reasoning abilities is vitally important—both for living an ethical life and creating an ethical world. In this miniature guide, we set out the foundations of ethical reasoning. Our aim is to introduce the intellectual tools and understandings necessary for reasoning through ethical issues and problems in an insightful manner. Unfortunately, most people confuse ethics with behaving in accordance with social conventions, religious beliefs, and the law. Most people do not see ethics as a domain unto itself, a set of concepts and principles that guide us in determining what behavior helps or harms sentient creatures. Most peo- ple do not recognize that ethical concepts and principles are universally defined, through such documents as the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and that these concepts and principles are transcultural and trans-religious. One need not appeal to a religious belief or cultural convention to recog- nize that slavery, genocide, torture, sexism, racism, murder, assault, fraud, deceit, and intimidation are all ethically wrong. Whenever we base ethical conclusions on religious or cultural standards, we separate ourselves from those who hold contrary religious or cultural beliefs. It is critical, therefore, that we use shared ethical concepts and principles as guides in reasoning through common ethical issues. We can find a wide array of important ethical concepts by reviewing the terms available for ethical discourse in virtually every natural language. All spoken languages contain synonyms for desirable ethical traits such as being kind, open-minded, impartial, truthful, honest, compassionate, considerate, and honorable. They also contain hundreds of negative ethical traits such as being selfish, greedy, egotistical, callous, deceitful, hypocritical, disingenu— ous, prejudiced, bigoted, spiteful, vindictive, cruel, brutal, and oppressive. The essential meanings of these terms are not dependent on either theology or social convention. Living an ethical life emerges from the fact that people are capable of either helping or harming others, of contributing to or dam- aging the quality of their lives. In addition to the ability to distinguish purely ethical terms from those that are theological or conventional, skilled ethical reasoning presupposes the same range of intellectual skills and traits required in other domains. One must be skilled in breaking reasoning down into its component parts. One must be proficient in assessing reasoning for its clarity, accuracy, relevance, depth, breadth, and logicalness. One must be intellectually humble, intellec- tually perseverant, and intellectually empathic. This mini—guide will not automatically make anyone an ethical person. But it does provide an essential foundation, without which ethical discussion will often end in hopeless disputation or discouraging contradiction and misun— derstanding. Developing as an insightful ethical reasoner and person takes time and much practice. No one can do this work for us. Sincerely, Richard Paul Linda Elder a Miniature Guide to Ethical Reasoning The Function of Ethics—and Its Main Impediment "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line divid— ing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being." Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago The proper role of ethical reasoning is to highlight acts of two kinds: those which enhance the well—being of others—that warrant our praise—and those that harm or diminish the well-being of others—and thus warrant our criticism. Developing one’s ethical reasoning abilities is crucial because there is in human nature a strong ten— dency toward egotism, prejudice, self~justification, and self—deception. These tenden- cies are exacerbated by powerful sociocentric cultural influences that shape our lives—not least of which is the mass media. These tendencies can be actively combat— ed only through the systematic cultivation of fair-mindedness, honesty, integrity, self- knowledge, and deep concern for the welfare of others. We can never eliminate our egocentric tendencies absolutely and finally. But we can actively combat them as we learn to develop as ethical persons. The ultimate basis for ethics is clear: Human behavior has consequences for the wel- fare of others. We are capable of acting toward others in such a way as to increase or decrease the quality of their lives. We are capable of helping or harming. What is more, we are theoretically capable of understanding when we are doing the one and when the other. This is so because we have the capacity to put ourselves imaginative- ly in the place of others and recognize how we would be affected if someone were to act toward us as we are acting toward others. Thus nearly everyone gives at least lip service to a common core of general ethical principles—for example, that it is morally wrong to cheat, deceive, exploit, abuse, harm, or steal from others, that everyone has an ethical responsibility to respect the rights of others, including their freedom and well-being, to help those most in need of help, to seek the common good and not merely their own self-interest and ego— centric pleasures, to strive in some way to make the world more just and humane. Even young children have some idea of what it is to help or harm others. Unfortunately, children (like adults) tend to have a much clearer awareness of the harm done to them than of the harm they do to others: "That's not fair! He got more than I did!” "She won’t let me have any of the toys!” "He hit me and I didn’t do anything to him. He’s mean!” "She promised me. Now she won’t give me my doll back!" "Cheater! Cheater!” "It’s my turn now. You had your turn. That’s not fair. " Ethical Decisions Require Depth of Understanding Unfortunately, mere verbal agreement on ethical principles alone will not accomplish important moral ends nor change the world for the better. Ethical principles mean something only when manifested in behavior. They have force only when embodied in action. Yet to put them into action requires intellectual skills as well as ethical insights. © 2005 Foundation for Critical Thinking www.criticalthinkingorg n Miniature Guide to Ethical Reasoning Egocentrism as a Fundamental Barrier to Ethical Reasoning The human tendency to judge the world from a narrow, self—serving perspective is powerful. Humans are typically masterful at self-deception and rationalization. We often maintain beliefs that fly in the face of the evidence. We often engage in acts that blatantly violate ethical principles. What is more, we feel perfectly confident in our righteousness. In other words, humans naturally develop into narrow—minded, self-centered thinkers. In a way, this makes perfect sense. We feel our own pain; we don’t feel the pain of others. We think our own thoughts; we do not think the thoughts of others. And as we age, we unfortunately do not naturally develop the ability to empathize with others, to consider points of view that conflict with our own. Consequently, we are often unable to reason from a genuinely ethical perspective. Nevertheless, it is possible to learn to think critically through ethical issues. With practice and sound instruction, we can acquire the disposition and skills required to analyze and evaluate situations from opposing ethical perspectives. At the root of virtually every unethical act lies some form and degree of self-delu- sion. And at the root of every self-delusion lies some flaw in thinking. For instance, Hitler confidently believed he was doing the right thing in carrying out egregious acts against the Jews. His actions were a product of the erroneous beliefs that Jews were inferior to the Aryan race, and that they were the cause of Germany’s prob- lems. ln ridding Germany of the Jews, he believed himself to be doing what was in the best interest of his Germany. He therefore considered his actions to be ethically justified. His deeply flawed reasoning resulted in untold human harm and suffering. We cannot develop as ethical persons if we are unwilling to face the fact that every one of us is prone to egotism, prejudice, self-justification, and self-deception and that these flaws in human thinking are the cause of much human suffering. Only the systematic cultivation of fair-mindedness, honesty, integrity, self—knowledge, and deep concern for the welfare of others can provide foundations for sound ethical reasoning. Ethical reasoning entails doing what is right even in the face of powerful selfish desires, To live an ethical life, then, is to develop command over our native egocen- tric tendencies. It is not enough to advocate living an ethical life. It is not enough to be able to do the right thing when we ourselves have nothing to lose. We must be willing to fulfill our ethical obligations at the expense of our selfish desires and vested interests. RATIONAI. THINKING if EGOCENTRIC THINKING Strives to j Strives to Considers . . . w A . . Strives to gain its : ' ~ validate its the rights see thin S selfish ‘ current way and needs g as they are of others interests : ' " of thinking © 2005 Foundation for Critical Thinking www.critica/thinkingorg m Miniature Guide to Ethical Reasoning Fundamental Ethical Concepts Embedded in Natural Languages To reason well through an ethical question or issue requires that we identify and apply the ethical concepts relevant to it. But where do we find these concepts? They are inherent in all natural languages.2 To identify them, we need only refer to a good dictionary. in this section we list some ethical concepts. Refer to the glossary for a more detailed list. Doing ethical good involves: promoting kindness, compassion, understanding, open- mindedness, forbearance, tolerance, forgiveness, mercy, benevolence, thoughtful- ness, considerateness, civility, respect, generosity, charity, empathy, justice, impartiali— ty, evenhandedness, integrity, and fair-play. Doing harm involves: thoughtlessness, egotism, egocentrlcity, cruelty, injustice, greed, domination, selfishness, disrespect, prejudice, narrow—mindedness, inconsiderateness, hypocrisy, unkindness, insensitivity, meanness, brutality, malice, hatred, spite, vindic- tiveness, mercilessness, avarice, bigotry, discrimination, chauvinism, small—mindedness, duplicity, insincerity, callousness, heartlessness, viciousness, ruthlessness, intolerance, unfairness, favoritism, pettiness, trivial-mindedness, dishonesty, cunning, deception, fraudulence, deceit, fanaticism, disingenuousness, violence, sadism, cheating, and lying. To act ethically we must understand and become sensitive to ideas, such as those above, that shed light on the difference between acting in an ethical or unethical manner. If we are to act so as to do good and avoid doing harm to others, we must learn to monitor and assess our own thoughts, feelings, dispositions, and actions. We must become skilled in identifying when we are being egocentric or acting within a self-serving and/or self—deceptive perspective. We must recognize how common it is for humans to act without respect for the rights and needs of others. We must recog- nize how often we behave like those we condemn. We must come to see the "good" in our enemies and the "evil" in ourselves. As William Graham Sumner has said "That we are good and others evil is never true.” Each of us is a mixture of both. 2We use the expression "natural language” to contrast with "technical language." German, French, Japanese, and English are "natural" languages. The languages of physics, chemistry, and math are "technical" languages. Natural languages are in use in everyday life and enable us to use its terms to think in an unlimited multiplicity of ways, including, for example, in a religious, social, political, ethical, or personal way. © 2005 Foundation for Critical Thinking www.criticalthinkingorg Miniature Guide to Ethical Reasoning a Basic Ethical Principles Emerge From Ethical Concepts Ethical principles are implicit in ethical concepts. They should be a guiding force in ethi- cal reasoning. To become skilled in any domain of reasoning we must understand the principles that define that domain. To be skilled in mathematical reasoning, we must understand fundamental mathematical principles. To be skilled in scientific reasoning, we must understand fundamental scientific principles (principles of physics, of chemistry, of astronomy, and so on). in like manner, to be skilled in ethical reasoning, we must understand fundamental ethical principles. Of course, in many cases identification and application of ethical principles is simple. In some cases it is not. Consider some simple cases. Lying about, misrepresenting, or distorting the facts to gain a material advantage over others is clearly a violation of the basic principle implied by the concept of honesty. Expecting others to live up to standards that we ourselves rou— tinely violate is clearly a violation of the basic principle implied by the concept of integrity. Treating others as if they were worth less than we take ourselves to be worth is a violation of the principles implied by the concepts of integrity, justice, and equality. it is unethical to kill people to get their money or to torture people because we think they are guilty and ought to confess. Complicated ethical questions arise when conflicting ethical principles seemingly apply to the same case and we are in a dilemma as to which should be given precedence. in those cases we should engage in dialogical reasoning between conflicting ethical per— spectives. We should judge the reasoning used by each perspective as we would in any other multi-logical question open to reasonable debate. Of course, whether or not a question is or is not multi-logical may itself be a matter of dispute. Most importantly, we must approach complex cases with intellectual humility, avoiding the tendency toward self—righteousness in applying ethical principles. Universal Ethical Principles As we have said. ethical principles, are inherent in ethical concepts. Most ethical princi- ples are clear, though their application to complicated cases may not be. Among the most clear-cut ethical principles are the following: that it is ethically wrong to cheat, deceive, exploit, abuse, harm, or steal from others, that we have an ethical responsibility to respect the rights of others, including their freedom and well-being, to help those most in need of help, to seek the common good and not merely our own self-interest and egocentric pleasures, and to strive to make the world more just and humane. There is no nation, no religion, and no ethnic group that openly argues for the right to cheat, deceive, exploit, abuse, harm, or steal from others. Neither is there anyone who publicly attempts to justify slavery, genocide, torture, terrorism, denial of due process, politically motivated imprisonment, sexism, racism, murder, assault, rape, fraud, deceit, or intimidation. Of course, all groups violate some (if not many) of these principles, cov— ering up such violations with misleading uses of language. All groups are skilled in telling their story in self-serving and self-justifying ways. The problem, then, is not that we lack ethical principles. The problem is that we are naturally adept at hiding our own violations of them. For example, the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights, established on December 10, 1948 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, articulates universal ethical principles. Every nation without exception has signed it. It globally defines the domain of ethics. It consists of a preamble, a general proclamation, and 30 detailing articles. Here is the proclamation and part of the preamble: © 2005 Foundation for Critical Thinking www.criticalthinkingorg ——_—_——— ...
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This note was uploaded on 01/11/2012 for the course BUSINESS 10 section taught by Professor Byronlilly during the Winter '12 term at DeAnza College.

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miniatureguidetoethicalreasoning - The Miniature Guide to...

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