CMN 3105: Reading #1 Sept 16th 2013
An Introduction to Ethical Decision Making
Ethics is argued s something you have, not something you do.
Thinking about ethics won’t make many of those choices easier, but with practice, your ethical decision
making can become moreconsist “Ethics then will become not something you have, but something you do.
This is the way I do it or This is is the way its always been done, this is what I should do. This is the action
that can be rationally justified. ▯ ethics in this sense is ought talk.
Duty and values
It is important here to distinguish between ethics which is a rational process founded on certain agreed on
principle and morals which are in the realm of religion.
Concept of ethics comes from the Greeks who divided the philosophical world into three parts.
Aesthetics study of the beautiful and how a person could analyze beauty without relying only on subjective
Epistemology was the study of knowing debates about what constitutes learning and what is knowable to
the human mind.
Ethics was the study of what is good both for the individual and society root of the word means custom of
Greeks were concerned with the individual virtues of fortitude, justice, temperance and wisdom as well as
with societal virtues such as freedom.
Rationality is the key word here
Moral systems are not synonymous with ethics. Ethics being when elements within a moral system conflict.
Ethics is less about the conflict between equally compelling or equally unattractive values and the choices
that must be made between them.
Sissela Bok says working professional can learn to make good ethical decision and that maintaining social
trust is a fundamental goal.
Bok’s model attempt to hold a public ethical dialogue. Guidelines for making ethical decisions:
Since the days of ancient Greece, philosophers have tried to draft a series of rules or guidelines
governing how to make ethical choices.
Aristotle’s Golden Mean:
Aristotle, teaching in the 4th century BC believed that happiness which some scholars translate as
flourishing was the ultimate human good. By flourishing, Aristotle meant to exercise practical reason in the
conduct f any particular activity through the setting of high standards
phrenemos or person of practical wisdom, was that human being who demonstrated ethical excellence
through daily activity.
This notion of flourishing led Aristotle to assert that people and thir acts not particular set of rules are the
moral basis of activity. His ethical system resulted in the creation of what is not called virtue ethics.
1. you must know through the exercise of practical reasoning what you are doing
2. you must select the act for its own sake in order to flourish
3. the act itself must spring from a firm and unchanging character.
Aristotle’s philosophy is often reduced to the somewhat simplistic golden mean which is often phased like
this: virtue lies at the mean between two extremes of excess and deficiency.
It is a range of behaviors that varies individually while avoiding undesirable extremes.
A virtue theory of ethics is not outcome oriented. Instead, it is agent oriented and right actions in a virtue
theory of ethics are a result of an agent seeking virtue and accomplishing it.
Despite the call for virtue, we live in an age of moral relativism. According to the dominant school of moral
philosophy, the skepticism engendered by the Enlightenment has reduced all ideas of right and wrong to
matters of personal taste, emotional preference or cultural choice… Against this moral relativism, advocates
of the ethics of virtue argue that some personal choices are morally superior to others.
Kant’s Catergorical Imperative:
Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative assets that an individual should act on the premise that the
choices one makes for oneself could become universal law.
He states that you should act so that you treat humanity always as an end and never as a means only.
Font’s ethical theory is based on the notion that it is the act itself, rather than khe person who acts; in which
moral force resides. The act itself People could act morally from a sense of duty even though their character might incline them to act
Two sorts of duties:
Strict duties were generally negative: not to murder, not to break promises not to lie. The meritorious duties
were more positive to aid others, to develop ones talents, to show gratitude.
The consequences of that act are not important
Moral worth of an action does not depend on its consequences. This framing of Kantian principles allows us
to learn from our mistakes.
The framing of Kantian principles allows us to learn from our mistakes.
The original articulation of utilitarianism by Jeremy Bentham and later John Stuart Mill in the 19th century
introduced what was then a novel notion into ethics discussions the consequences of actions are important
in deciding whether they are ethical.
In utilitarian view, it may be considered ethical to harm one person for the benefit of the larger group. This
approach si the ethical justification for investigative reporting, in the results of which may harm individuals
even as they are printed or broadcast in the hope of providing a greater societal good.
Philosopher Known for Popularly known Emphasized
Aristotle Golden Mean Virtue lies between The actor
Kant Categorical Imperative Act so your choices The action
could be universal law;
treat humanity as an,
never as a means only
Mill Utility principle An act’s rightness is The outcome
determined by its
contribution to a
With its focus on the consequences of an action, utilitarianism completes a cycle that begun with Aristotle.
Aristotle in the developing the golden mean focused on the actor.
Kant in his categorical imperative focused on the action Mill in his utilitarian philosophy focused on the outcome.
Utilitarianism has been condensed to the ethical philosophy of the greatest good for the greatest number
Mill wrote the following the changes of the Enlightenment. The principle of democracy was fresh and
untried, and the thought of the average person should be able to speak his mind to those in power was
Utilitarianism as mill conceived of it was a profoundly social ethic; Mill was among the first to acknowledge
that the good of an entire society has a place in ethical reasoning.
Valuational hedonist he argued that pleasure and the absence of pain was the only intrinsic moral end.
Act utilitarianism when the methods of obtaining information are ethical, investigative journalism can be
justified because it contributes more to human happiness than it extracts in the pain it causes some
Rule utilitarianism when balancing the societal good against the societal harm, the rule utilitarian might
well conclude that while the practice of advertising certain substances such as alcohol – should be
regulated. Utilitarian theory does allow the sort of ethical reasoning that approves of particular activities
while rejecting specific acts.
Pluralistic Theory of Value:
Philosopher William David Ross (1930) based his ethical theory on the belief that there is often more than
one ethical value simultaneously competing for preeminence in our ethical decision making.
The right and the Good the latter term refers to an objective, if indefinable, quality present in all acts. It is
something seen, not done. Right on the other hand, refers to actions. A right action is something
undertaken by persons motivated by the correct reasons and on careful reflection. Not all right actions
however wil be productive of the good.
Proposed these types of duties:
Duties of fidelity, duties of reparation, duties of gratitude, duties of justice, duties of beneficence, duties of
self improvement, negative duty: the duty of not injuring others.
Two additional duties: duty to tell the truth veracity, duty to nurture.
Like Kant, Ross divided his duties into two kinds:
prima facie duties are those duties that seem to be right because of the nature of the act itself. Duty Proper,
sometimes called actual duties are those duties that are paramount given specific circumstances morally
relevant differences. It helps explain why eve the good consequences that might come from a failure to tell the truth or keep a
promise do not always seem to us to justify the lie or break of confidence.
Classical ethical theory places its dominant intellectual emphasis on the individual and individual acts by
emphasizing concepts such as character, choice, liberty and duty.
Communitarianism which has its roots in political theory seeks to provide ethical guidance when confronting
the sort of society wide issues that mark current political and business activity.
Communitarianism focuses on the outcome of individual ethical decisions, understood not as disconnected
choices but analyzed as the impact of the sum of the choices on society.
Communitarianism asserts that social justices is the predominant moral value.
While communitarians recognize the value of the process, they are just as concerned with outcomes. They
formally acknowledge one of history’s more difficult lessons that the good process for example, democratic
elections or the writing of constitutions can produce bad outcomes.
Communitarians measure individual acts against the normative standard of their impact in creating a more
Communitarian thinking allows ethical discussion to include values such as altruism and benevolence on an
equal footing with more traditional questions such as truth telling and loyalty.
Communitarian philosophy suffers from a lack of succinct summation of its general propositions.
Amitai Etzioni, one of the movements leaders, suggests that communitarianism emphasizes responsibilities
to the conditions and elements we all share to the community.
Communitarian community resembles family more than it resembles town.
We believe that communitarianism is most helpful in discussing ethical issues that revolve around the
Communitarian thinking makes it possible to ask whether current practice provides a good mechanism for a
community to discover itself, learn about itself and ultimately transform itself into a more just and cohesive
entity. Communitarian reasoning allows journalists to understand their institutional role and to evaluate their
performance against shared societal values.
Communitarian thinking can provide journalists with an effective justification for sometimes placing family
before work for including mobilizing information in a story about the local rape crisis center, or for inviting
viewrs and readers to help determine the sort of political stories in which they are most interested and the
providing ample coverage of them. The Science of Ethics:
Life in the21rst century has changed how most people think about issues, such as what constitutes a fact
and what does or does not influence moral certainty.
Part of the reason people have become concerned with ethics is that they seek the answer to ethical
dilemmas in the same way they seek the answer in science.
Science and certainty are not synonymous, despite our tendency to blue the two.
Contrast these fundamental changes in the scientific worldview with the developments of moral theory.
Aristotle’s writing more than 200 years old and with no fundamental changes, still has much to recommend
it to the modern era, although of course there will continue to be new interpretations. From this viewpoint
there is only continuity in thinking about ethics that is lacking in the development of scientific thought.
Further, thinking about ethics in a global way uncovers some striking areas of agreement.
We would like to suggest that such characterizations arise from a short term view of the history of science
In our view, ethics as a field has at leas as much continuity of thought as developments in science. And
while it cannot often be quantified, it has the rigor, the systematic quality and the relationship to reality that
moderns too often characterize as the exclusive domain of scientific thinking. CMN 3105: Reading #1 Sept 16 2013
Information Ethics: A profession Seeks the Truth
Each of the traditional professions has laid claims to one of the central tenets of philosophy. Law, ideally is
equated with justice; medicine with the duty to render aid.
Journalism too has a lofty ideal: the communication of truth.
Compounding the modern problem of the shifting nature of truth is the changing media audiences.
Ideas that were once readily accepted are open to debate. The whole concept of telling the truth becomes
not merely a matter of possessing good moral character but something that requires learning how to
recognize truth and how to convey it in the least distorted manner possible.
A changing view of Truth: