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Establishing a Consistent Value System

Establishing a Consistent Value System

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Choose which course of action must be taken in a given situation in order to establish a consistent value system

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Hello, I'm Glenn, and this ethics tutorial is on establishing a consistent value system. We do not have anything to keep in mind for this tutorial, nor key terms. So let's get directly to the content and the tutorial. In this tutorial, we will be looking at what it means to act according to a belief. And also we will be modeling a consistent belief system. That is, showing the challenges of holding up to a belief system and being consistent with it.

Regarding actions and beliefs, ethics seeks to systematically and objectively evaluate all potential actions. And this means that we come to seek truth in answering why a particular action has moral worth and what is the relationship of that action to a belief. So let's look at three examples of how acting according to a belief is related to that belief about what is ethical.

First, donating blood-- let's say I donate blood whenever I am able to do so out of a belief in the value of helping to save lives when it's in one's power to do so. That's the reason I donate the blood, and ethics evaluates it in the relationship of the action to the belief.

Second, alerting a cashier that he has given me too much change for my purchase. Why do I do this? Because I believe that it would be stealing to take the extra change, and that stealing is in fact wrong.

Third example-- I show up for a meeting even if I think the other participants won't be there. That's my action. And the ethical belief behind it is because I think that keeping my word is important. It's a good sign of character.

Now when we want to examine modeling a consistent value system, there is a couple aspects to this. We need to show the relationship of beliefs, of actions, the ethical foundation for them and evaluation. And all of this can play out in the following manner. And something to keep in the back of our minds is that being ethically good does often involve a degree of personal sacrifice, especially when we want to be consistent.

It is maybe convenient to be ethically good according to our beliefs when it's in an ease of doing so, but we need to be doing it all the time if we're going to be consistent. So being good isn't necessarily always fun, but we want to be consistent according to our belief system. So what we're going to do is we're going to look at two examples of arriving at ethical principles based upon what type of actions they would require.

So we're going to look at a belief, the source of the belief, the connection of that belief to one of those big three ethical theories, and then the actions that would be dictated if we're going to be consistent based upon those beliefs. Now a reminder, if I don't commit these actions, or if I go against them, or if I don't want to do them, and then therefore avoid them, then I'm being inconsistent, probably self-serving, and definitely engaging in bias.

So here they are. First example, let's say the belief-- I believe in being generous when it's in my power to do so and not to do so to excess so that I would become destitute. The source of this is that I want to be a person of good character, so that means this belief is connected to the ethical perspective of character ethics and most likely-- character ethics and also consequentialism.

Now abiding by this means that I will engage in the following actions. I will regularly give money to charity. I will regularly donate my time to a cause. And I will work as a volunteer tutor for inner city students. All of these actions are consistent with acting on this particular belief.

Second example-- I believe in not stealing because I think stealing is inherently wrong. The source of this is deontological. Kantian ethics, especially when we look at the foundation for universal law, states that stealing is an inherently immoral action. So if I'm going to remain consistent with this, the actions that I will follow based upon this belief are I won't take any food no matter what it is, no matter how small it is from the kitchen where I work as a cook.

I will always make sure that I get the correct change from a cashier and return any excess immediately. And I won't use my roommate's shampoo and conditioner even if I don't have any and my only alternative is either regular soap or nothing at all. All of these would be instances of stealing, and to avoid them or to engage them would be inconsistent and acting upon bias.

Now these examples may seem a little trivial and maybe even a little extreme. But if we're going to be ethically good, then we need to be consistent. And if we're going to say that we abide by our beliefs, then we need to do that.

In this tutorial, we have looked at what it means to act in accordance to a belief. And we've also seen how modeling a consistent belief system works-- going from a belief to the ethical evaluation of it and formulation of it, to the actions that would keep it being consistent.