Ch.3-Ethics and Moral Reasoning
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Moral Reasoning

Systematic approach

Structure we follow to arrive at our ethical judgments

Beauty lies in the journey, not the destination

2 people can use sound moral reasoning, but arrive at different ethical conclusion

Key is being able to defend our judgments against criticism

Moral Reasoning

Moral Context

Philosophical Foundations

Critical Thinking

Moral Context

Must understand


Facts of the situation

Values, principles and moral duties involved

Philosophical Foundations

Greek Philosophers

Judeo-Christian Ethic

Immanuel Kant and Moral Duty




Greek Philosophers

Moral absolutes and knowledge

Discovered by intellectual and persistent curiosity

Or, we are not born with virtue we must work hard to achieve it

Greek Philosophers


Virtue can be identified and practiced

Anyone can arrive at moral rules for life with careful reflection

Plato (Socrates’ student)

Moral conduct based on

Experience/knowledge of the world

Moderate behavior


Greek Philosophers

Aristotle (Plato’s student)

Moral virtue attainable

Tough choice must be made

Ends do not justify the means

Golden mean

Virtue lies somewhere between two extremes of excess and deficiency

Judeo-Christian Ethic

Love they neighbor as thyself

All moral decisions are based on respect for human dignity

Respect should be the foundation for all ethical decisions

Journalist’s that investigate private lives

TV movies that exploit (Amy Fisher)

Kant and Moral Duty

German philosopher

Categorical imperative

Can you apply your underlying ethical principles to all situations?

Live up to standards of conduct because they are good, not b/c of consequences

Duty-based moral philosophy

Duty to tell truth even if it harms


John Stuart Mill

Creating the greatest happiness for the greatest number

Other utilitarianists argued other values besides happiness were important

Concerned with Consequences of ethical judgment (all agree)

Hidden cameras, deceptive practices used for the greater good (consequence)


All should be treated equally in terms of rights and opportunities

Veil of ignorance (John Rawls-A Theory of Justice)

Temporarily deprive self of knowledge that might influence judgments in your favor (race, sex, social standing)

Goal is to protect weaker party and minimize harm


Bertrand Russell and John Dewey

a.k.a. Progressivism

Relative values

What is right or good for one person may not be for another, even under similar circumstances

I’ll decide what’s right for me, you decide what’s right for you

Ethical Theories

Deontological (Duty-Based)

Teleological (Consequence-Based)

Virtue (Aristotle’s Golden Mean)



Act on principle, don’t worry about consequence


Categorical imperative (apply to all)

Moral agent’s motives are important

Don’t use foul means to achieve positive ends



Less pressure on moral agents to predict outcomes

Will be regarded as truthful (predictable)



Difficult time resolving moral standoff (Heintz dilemma)

General rules don’t always fit special circumstances


Consequentialists say the right decision is the one that produces best outcome



Out for number ONE!

Maximize good things for self


J.S. Mill

Promote greatest good for the greatest #

Provides definite blueprint for choices


Minimize harm to others is a key aspect of teleological theories that is often overlooked



Reliance on unknown and predictive powers of moral agents

Overlooks special obligations to minority populations

Virtue Theories

Concerned with character building

Aristotle’s Golden Mean

Moderate solution in cases of extreme positions

Mean does not have to be in the middle of two positions

May need to lean to one side or the other to correct an injustice

More pay to certain workers to make up for past

Critical Thinking

The engine that drives moral reasoning

Three-step process

Must possess/acquire knowledge of subject and understand context of ethical dilemma in order to make an evaluation

Identify ethical issues and consider ethical alternatives (synthesize relevant info)

Make a decision

SAD Model of Moral Reasoning

Situation Definition

Describe facts, identify principles and values, state ethical issue or question


Weigh competing principles

Consider external factors

Examine duties to others

Apply ethical theories

SAD Model of Moral Reasoning


Render a decision

Defend the decision based on moral theory

B.L. Yates 2000