The March Philosophy Book of the Month is Final Notice by Van Fleisher. Discuss Final Notice now.

The April Philosophy Book of the Month is The Unbound Soul by Richard L. Haight. Discuss The Unbound Soul Now

The May Philosophy Book of the Month is Misreading Judas by Robert Wahler.

Ethical Decisions - Will I learn how to make them or just to point out flaws?

Discuss morality and ethics in this message board.
Featured Article: Philosophical Analysis of Abortion, The Right to Life, and Murder
Post Reply
User avatar
EthicsQuestions
New Trial Member
Posts: 10
Joined: June 10th, 2019, 2:44 am

Ethical Decisions - Will I learn how to make them or just to point out flaws?

Post by EthicsQuestions » June 10th, 2019, 3:22 am

Hi Guys,

I am really new to Ethics. I am not undertaking any University study in this area, I just thought that learning about ethics could be really useful - but probably not particularly interesting.

As it happens, I have found the opposite - what I am learning is interesting, but does not seem to be useful to me. I am wondering, if I keep learning about Ethics, am I eventually going to learn something that I can apply to making decisions?

At the moment I have learned a lot about Deontological and Teleological theories. While this is interesting, it has basically left me with the impression that there is not going to be a text that begins: "Here is how to make an ethical decision". There might be a "Here is how to make a decision from a teleological standpoint" - but there seems to be flaws with the teleological approach and obviously people don't agree that this is the right approach.

If people cannot agree on the best approach to ethics, than how can you really make a decision that is ethically correct?

If I am an employer and an employee has stolen money from the till, how can I use ethics to help me make a decision about whether to fire the employee? I could say that "stealing is bad" and fire the employee - but the teleologist will say that I am wrong to do that because the employee with not be able to feed their family... If I don't fire the employee the deontologist will say "your employee stole from you, the ethical thing to do is to fire them".

So, it would seem that every possible outcome has an argument in favour and an argument against - so it is unclear how this is any more helpful than flipping a coin?

My main question is this, if I am interested in making ethical decisions, is it worth my time in continuing to learn about ethics? Will I eventually learn things that have some applicability? Or am I going to only learn about how to critique others decisions?

Thanks for your help guys.

Thomyum2
Posts: 43
Joined: June 10th, 2019, 4:21 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Wittgenstein

Re: Ethical Decisions - Will I learn how to make them or just to point out flaws?

Post by Thomyum2 » June 13th, 2019, 5:23 pm

I'm currently working my way through Michael Sandel's book Justice and would recommend giving that a look if you haven't already. He's a well known professor of philosophy at Harvard (you can also watch his lecture series on YouTube that parallels the topics he introduces in the book). Ethics is not my strong point in philosophy (so far, I've focused more on metaphysics and aesthetics) but I've found this a good introduction because he explores the topic in a simple and clear step-by-step method and, rather than trying to draw you into particular way of deciding what it 'right' or 'wrong', shows how to look the ways that way approach ethical questions, with a view to understanding the kinds of assumptions we bring with us to these problems, and how those assumptions formulate the way we make our ethical choices. So I don't know if this will be useful to you, but it has been to me because I think it brings a self-awareness of how we think about ethics, and gives tools for understanding that an ethical choice doesn't exist in a vacuum, but comes out of an underlying set of values. It is an introductory work and you may already be beyond that point, but I think it's a good straightforward overview and source of food for thought on this topic.

User avatar
LuckyR
Moderator
Posts: 3495
Joined: January 18th, 2015, 1:16 am

Re: Ethical Decisions - Will I learn how to make them or just to point out flaws?

Post by LuckyR » June 14th, 2019, 1:08 am

EthicsQuestions wrote:
June 10th, 2019, 3:22 am
Hi Guys,

I am really new to Ethics. I am not undertaking any University study in this area, I just thought that learning about ethics could be really useful - but probably not particularly interesting.

As it happens, I have found the opposite - what I am learning is interesting, but does not seem to be useful to me. I am wondering, if I keep learning about Ethics, am I eventually going to learn something that I can apply to making decisions?

At the moment I have learned a lot about Deontological and Teleological theories. While this is interesting, it has basically left me with the impression that there is not going to be a text that begins: "Here is how to make an ethical decision". There might be a "Here is how to make a decision from a teleological standpoint" - but there seems to be flaws with the teleological approach and obviously people don't agree that this is the right approach.

If people cannot agree on the best approach to ethics, than how can you really make a decision that is ethically correct?

If I am an employer and an employee has stolen money from the till, how can I use ethics to help me make a decision about whether to fire the employee? I could say that "stealing is bad" and fire the employee - but the teleologist will say that I am wrong to do that because the employee with not be able to feed their family... If I don't fire the employee the deontologist will say "your employee stole from you, the ethical thing to do is to fire them".

So, it would seem that every possible outcome has an argument in favour and an argument against - so it is unclear how this is any more helpful than flipping a coin?

My main question is this, if I am interested in making ethical decisions, is it worth my time in continuing to learn about ethics? Will I eventually learn things that have some applicability? Or am I going to only learn about how to critique others decisions?

Thanks for your help guys.
You can (and should) have an understanding of the basics of ethics, but if I understand you correctly, you are seeking guidance in morality. Familiarity with ethics (including the history of ethics) should assist you in thst quest.
"As usual... it depends."

User avatar
EthicsQuestions
New Trial Member
Posts: 10
Joined: June 10th, 2019, 2:44 am

Re: Ethical Decisions - Will I learn how to make them or just to point out flaws?

Post by EthicsQuestions » June 14th, 2019, 4:05 am

Thomyum2 wrote:
June 13th, 2019, 5:23 pm
I'm currently working my way through Michael Sandel's book Justice and would recommend giving that a look if you haven't already. He's a well known professor of philosophy at Harvard (you can also watch his lecture series on YouTube that parallels the topics he introduces in the book).
Thanks for your reply. I have looked this up on Youtube, this is exactly what I am looking for! I am going to look at buying the book. I am very much at the introductory stage.
You can (and should) have an understanding of the basics of ethics, but if I understand you correctly, you are seeking guidance in morality. Familiarity with ethics (including the history of ethics) should assist you in thst quest.
Thanks, I am going to keep on learning.

User avatar
h_k_s
Posts: 527
Joined: November 25th, 2018, 12:09 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Aristotle
Location: Rocky Mountains

Re: Ethical Decisions - Will I learn how to make them or just to point out flaws?

Post by h_k_s » June 19th, 2019, 3:51 pm

EthicsQuestions wrote:
June 10th, 2019, 3:22 am
Hi Guys,

I am really new to Ethics. I am not undertaking any University study in this area, I just thought that learning about ethics could be really useful - but probably not particularly interesting.

As it happens, I have found the opposite - what I am learning is interesting, but does not seem to be useful to me. I am wondering, if I keep learning about Ethics, am I eventually going to learn something that I can apply to making decisions?

At the moment I have learned a lot about Deontological and Teleological theories. While this is interesting, it has basically left me with the impression that there is not going to be a text that begins: "Here is how to make an ethical decision". There might be a "Here is how to make a decision from a teleological standpoint" - but there seems to be flaws with the teleological approach and obviously people don't agree that this is the right approach.

If people cannot agree on the best approach to ethics, than how can you really make a decision that is ethically correct?

If I am an employer and an employee has stolen money from the till, how can I use ethics to help me make a decision about whether to fire the employee? I could say that "stealing is bad" and fire the employee - but the teleologist will say that I am wrong to do that because the employee with not be able to feed their family... If I don't fire the employee the deontologist will say "your employee stole from you, the ethical thing to do is to fire them".

So, it would seem that every possible outcome has an argument in favour and an argument against - so it is unclear how this is any more helpful than flipping a coin?

My main question is this, if I am interested in making ethical decisions, is it worth my time in continuing to learn about ethics? Will I eventually learn things that have some applicability? Or am I going to only learn about how to critique others decisions?

Thanks for your help guys.
Immanuel Kant's famous fundamental ethics rule is to imagine if everyone always did what you were considering? What then would be the outcome?

User avatar
Newme
Posts: 1228
Joined: December 13th, 2011, 1:21 am

Re: Ethical Decisions - Will I learn how to make them or just to point out flaws?

Post by Newme » June 19th, 2019, 10:15 pm

How useful any philosophy is depends on how you apply it, which implies your own hierarchy of values. The examples given of different ethical considerations varied based on 1) valuing indirect family of the thief and related assumptions (they may be hungry etc), and 2) valuing justice for breaking laws (if everyone was allowed to steal, it would eventually ruin the company, hurting many & their families).

Besides values, scope of consequences helps determine what would likely be best in a given situation. Adjusting ideals in light of new information &/or independent thought, rather than blindly accepting others’ values - is intelligent. Legality and tradition do not necessarily mean ethical. Lastly, each situation you come across is unique - and nobody perfectly lives up to ideals, no matter what value system’s used. Yet, the more aware you are of the options and related consequences (immediately and in the bigger picture) the better, more ethical decisions you’ll make.
“Empty is the argument of the philosopher which does not relieve any human suffering.” - Epicurus

Alias
Posts: 2702
Joined: November 26th, 2011, 8:10 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Terry Pratchett

Re: Ethical Decisions - Will I learn how to make them or just to point out flaws?

Post by Alias » June 21st, 2019, 12:45 pm

EthicsQuestions wrote:
June 10th, 2019, 3:22 am
As it happens, I have found the opposite - what I am learning is interesting, but does not seem to be useful to me. I am wondering, if I keep learning about Ethics, am I eventually going to learn something that I can apply to making decisions?
You can apply any approach to any problem. The question is: which method works for you? That is: How does your mind most efficiently process information and compare data for the best application in each case.
it has basically left me with the impression that there is not going to be a text that begins: "Here is how to make an ethical decision".
For that, you go to religion. Any canon will be happy to tell you what's correct to believe, what your values ought to be and how you should choose your path to elicit that particular god's approval.
No philosophy can tell you what to think; all they can show you are different ways to think.
Of course people don't agree: the same approach can't work for every kind of mind, every world-view, every culture. All of your decision-making takes place in a context that is familiar to you, but completely unknown to the 18th century French, or -4the century Greek who wrote a book about the modes of thought in his own context.
It doesn't matter about the flaws: you're not following a recipe for fish soup; you're adapting another person's method to your own need.
If people cannot agree on the best approach to ethics, than how can you really make a decision that is ethically correct?
Look to the result.
You presumably have a system of values - a sense of what's good and bad, what's important and trivial, what takes precedence, what should be preserved, what should not happen. If you haven't got that sorted out, nobody can help you make a decision of any kind.
If I am an employer and an employee has stolen money from the till, how can I use ethics to help me make a decision about whether to fire the employee? I could say that "stealing is bad" and fire the employee - but the teleologist will say that I am wrong to do that because the employee with not be able to feed their family... If I don't fire the employee the deontologist will say "your employee stole from you, the ethical thing to do is to fire them".
If that's how you choose, you're too immature to be in charge of a potted plant, let alone other people's livelihood.
So, it would seem that every possible outcome has an argument in favour and an argument against - so it is unclear how this is any more helpful than flipping a coin?
If that's the depth of your insight, flipping a coin is as viable an options as any.
My main question is this, if I am interested in making ethical decisions, is it worth my time in continuing to learn about ethics? Will I eventually learn things that have some applicability? Or am I going to only learn about how to critique others decisions?
That depends entirely on how well you understand what you're reading. If you can explain why you disagree with a point of view, you've already learned something from it. If you want to consider ways to organize relevant data and project outcomes which can be measured against your value standard, keep reading.
If you want a how-to manual, get one of the thousands of self-help books for business managers.
Or go to a church.

User avatar
EthicsQuestions
New Trial Member
Posts: 10
Joined: June 10th, 2019, 2:44 am

Re: Ethical Decisions - Will I learn how to make them or just to point out flaws?

Post by EthicsQuestions » June 22nd, 2019, 8:49 am

If people cannot agree on the best approach to ethics, than how can you really make a decision that is ethically correct?
Look to the result.
You presumably have a system of values - a sense of what's good and bad, what's important and trivial, what takes precedence, what should be preserved, what should not happen. If you haven't got that sorted out, nobody can help you make a decision of any kind.
I do have a system of values, and I am quite capable of using them to help me made good decisions. I was hoping ethics was going to help me in situations where the best way of applying those values was unclear.
If I am an employer and an employee has stolen money from the till, how can I use ethics to help me make a decision about whether to fire the employee? I could say that "stealing is bad" and fire the employee - but the teleologist will say that I am wrong to do that because the employee with not be able to feed their family... If I don't fire the employee the deontologist will say "your employee stole from you, the ethical thing to do is to fire them".
If that's how you choose, you're too immature to be in charge of a potted plant, let alone other people's livelihood.
That was my attempt to show that I am struggling to understand how Ethics is used. It is not how I made decisions. Was that really unclear to you?
So, it would seem that every possible outcome has an argument in favour and an argument against - so it is unclear how this is any more helpful than flipping a coin?
If that's the depth of your insight, flipping a coin is as viable an options as any.
That is the depth of my insight i'm afraid. That is why I have come here - to learn.

Alias
Posts: 2702
Joined: November 26th, 2011, 8:10 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Terry Pratchett

Re: Ethical Decisions - Will I learn how to make them or just to point out flaws?

Post by Alias » June 23rd, 2019, 2:02 am

EthicsQuestions wrote:
June 22nd, 2019, 8:49 am
it would seem that every possible outcome has an argument in favour and an argument against - so it is unclear how this is any more helpful than flipping a coin?
That is the depth of my insight i'm afraid. That is why I have come here - to learn.
You won't learn insight here.
You'll have to go out into the world and see people in their environments; see the circumstances in which they live, what they're up against, what their options are, what motivates them, what limits them and what enables them. Reading helps, but you needn't confine it to textbooks: try literature - the kind that endures more than a decade. Just for perspective.
If you have set of durable values, you don't need anyone to teach you ethics.
Just try to do the least possible amount of harm.

Post Reply