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Unformatted text preview: Criminal Justice ETHICS AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE An Overview of Moral and Ethical Systems AN OVERVIEW OF MORALITY AND ETHICAL SYSTEMS "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made" (Immanuel Kant) What is morality? A good definition is provided by Gert (1998) who says that " morality is an informal public system applying to all rational persons, governing behavior that affects others, and has the lessening of evil or harm as its goal ." The two essential parts of this definition are that morality applies to all rational persons and that morality provides a system of governing behavior, which is also called a code of conduct. The object of morality being good over evil is NOT an essential part of the definition, although some (e.g. Warnock 1971 and theologians in general) would disagree and argue that the object, or purpose of morality always matters. When you attach an ultimate object or purpose to morality, you have entered the realm of APPLIED ETHICS. Criminal justice ethics is an applied ethics (as well as a professional ethics), and in criminal justice ethics, we often substitute the words "right and wrong" for "good and evil." With an applied ethics, we are usually concerned with the outcomes of decision-making or judgments that incorporate some pre-given duties or values (Pollock 2004). With ethics in general (I hesitate to call it pure ethics), we suspend judgment about the ultimate purpose of morality to better get at the role of morality in formulating ethical systems. THE NORMATIVE APPROACH TO ETHICS Again, the important parts of the definition are that morality is public and morality affects others . This idea that morality is public and applies to all rational persons is called the "normative" (as opposed to the descriptive) approach. You may or may not remember that the word "normative" derives from the sociological term "norm," and "norms" are those parts of our culture which contain the mostly unspoken, yet commonly shared expectations about appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Norms are the building blocks of social group formation (and what a sociologist might say holds society together), since, within limits, norms define the boundaries of what constitutes conformity and what constitutes deviance. Remember, norms are expectations not behaviors. Norms are the mental expectations that people share about the acceptable range of behaviors, not the behaviors themselves. The normative approach to morality is also called MORAL SKEPTICISM, which denies that there is an objective basis to truth, honest differences of opinion are possible, and there are multiple ethical theories each deserving of separate study. If you make too much out of the part of this which says that there is no truth (and nothing is inherently wrong), then that is called MORAL NIHILISM. No academic expert that I know of advocates moral nihilism. Skepticism is a less extreme position than nihilism, and in many ways, skepticism is just keeping an open mind. For those interested in extreme position than nihilism, and in many ways, skepticism is just keeping an open mind....
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This note was uploaded on 02/25/2012 for the course CJ 2350 taught by Professor Todd during the Fall '08 term at Texas State.
- Fall '08
- Criminal Justice