Online College Courses for Credit

2 Tutorials that teach Actions and Events
Take your pick:
Actions and Events

Actions and Events

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Given a list of considerations, identify which are ethically relevant.

See More

Source: Image of Socrates, Creative Commons,

Video Transcription

Download PDF

Hello, I'm Glenn, and this is the ethics tutorial on actions and events. Let's look at a couple of things to keep in mind and then cover the content for this tutorial. In this tutorial, we will cover a distinction between actions and events in the context of ethics, then we will look at ethically relevant considerations specifically attached to actions. And we will look at a situation and extract ethically relevant considerations.

Key term to keep in mind is that an action is an event whose immediate cause is the decision of an agent. OK. Let's look at actions and events. A primary distinction can be seen in the following. Events are things that simply occur, situations, but we understand them as just happening.

Actions are distinct. They are specific events that are the result of a choice. Remember that an action is an event whose immediate cause is the decision of an agent. An agent is the person making the choice. And an action needs this element because we need to see it as the result of a decision.

Another way of distinguishing them is in terms of responsibility. I am not responsible for events. I am responsible for actions because they are the result of the decisions I make.

Let's go to a couple examples. Here are two examples of actions. I choose to run a red light, and I choose to eat a steak. Both of these are decisions, and I am responsible for the consequences of both of them.

Another example could be of an event, but it is not an action, because it is not the result of a decision. Sneezing, it's something I do, but I don't make the choice to do it.

And then we have an example of an event, but it is not an action, because it is not the immediate cause of a decision. If I gain type 2 diabetes because of the result of a sedentary lifestyle and over eating, that is the result of a series of choices I make over a long term, but it could also be the result of other factors as well. In other words, it is not the immediate result of a decision that I make.

Let's look at ethically relevant considerations. When we want to determine if an action is right or wrong, it is important to consider all of the facts, which are ethically relevant. This can be complex, and it does take effort. This means we will need to think about all the ways an action impacts any value we believe in or sense of well-being that we believe to be significant.

Here's a list of possibly ethically relevant considerations. We could consider the effects of the action on the agent that is the person making the decision and also others including strangers and people far away. We could consider not only who, but what is affected. The "what" could include animals, the environment, the economy, traditions, cultures, and so on.

We also may want to consider both the short and long term effects of the action, perhaps the effects to one's character-- the type of person one wishes to be in the short term or in the long term. So we can see that ethically relevant considerations often conflict with immediately desired results of an action. I may want to be seen in a particular way at this moment, but if we take all of the ethically relevant considerations into mind, we need to be cautious and thorough in our reflection so that we can consider the situation thoroughly. Let's look at a sample situation and consider the ethically relevant factors.

Here's a general situation, buying a car. An action involved in this would be choosing a particular car. An event occurring in this situation would be, it could be raining while I'm reading the sticker on the car. Two ethically relevant considerations involved in this situation could be one, is the car safe to drive? And two, how will this car impact the environment specifically in terms of gas mileage and emissions?

The situation can be contrasted with another situation where there are simply no ethically relevant considerations at work. For example, you're sitting on a beach and you wonder to yourself, should I have a grape or a lime popsicle? No ethical consideration here. In review, we can see that we have explored distinctions between actions and events in the context of ethics. We've considered ethically relevant considerations specifically oriented towards actions, and we examined the situation through different ethical considerations.

Terms to Know

An event whose immediate cause is the decision of an agent