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Moral Decision Making - An Analysis - Moral Decision Making...

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Moral Decision Making -- An Analysis Chris MacDonald, Ph.D. Revised June 6, 2002 1.0 What is Morality? Generally, morality is a system of rules that modifies our behaviour in social situations. It's about the doing of good instead of harm, and it sets some standard of virtuous conduct. 1.1 Where Does Morality Come From? When asked about morality, many people respond like this: "Oh, that's all just a matter of personal opinion anyway, right?" But if you look at the way in which moral values actually work in our everyday lives, you'll see that this is not the case. Personal intuitions are important, of course. But morality generally comes into play when people interact with each other. This suggests that morality is a system of "shared" values which "justify" actions. As such, morality is about deciding on best courses of action in all situations. As you'll see, there are quotation marks around the words "shared" and "justify" for a reason. 1.1.1 "Shared" Values Moral values are generally shared values. If we did not have an values in common, it would be exceedingly difficult to agree on any one course of action. But since there is often disagreement as to what is the right thing to do in any situation, we can see that in fact, various values are shared to a greater or lesser extent. On some values there will be nearly unanimous agreement. On others, there may be considerable disagreement. 1.1.2 Points of Agreement There are a number of moral values on which there is extremely wide agreement. For example, all cultures that I know of place value on truth-telling, and place strong restrictions on lying. As another example, all cultures of which I am aware have rules against doing unnecessary harm to other people (although they vary regarding what constitutes "unnecessary harm"). Other such shared values include (among many others) loyalty, justice, and promise- keeping. 1.1.3 Room for Disagreement Of course, if everyone agreed on the importance of these values, there would be no problem. However, even if we all agree on which values are important, we may still disagree over the relative importance of the various values. For example, you and I may both agree that telling the truth and avoiding harming others are important. But which is more important, when these conflict? For example, if faced with lying to protect someone's feelings, which value should take priority? It is on questions like this that we are most likely to differ. Why not just agree to differ,
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then? Well, as suggested above, morality is in some sense social . As a result, we are going to need to justify our actions to each other. 1.2 The Meaning of Moral "Justification" The word "justification" is commonly used in two different senses, one positive and the other negative. The negative sense is the one which is typically accompanied by an accusation that the justifier is being insincere. It is in this sense that fast-talkers are sometimes accused of being able to "justify" anything and everything. This use is typified by statements like, "Justify your behaviour however you want...it's still wrong!" It suggests that the "justifier" is merely coming up with
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