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Sources of Value in Ethical Decisions

Sources of Value in Ethical Decisions

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Determine the source of value for various actions based on different ways of evaluating an action

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Hello. I'm Glenn. And this ethics tutorial is on these sources of value in ethical decisions. This time we don't have anything to keep in mind and no key terms. So let's get directly into the content and the tutorial.

In this tutorial, we will be doing a review of consequentialism, deontology, and character ethics. And character ethics is another way of stating virtue-based ethics. And then we will be determining the sources of value for each of these.

So let's do a review of a few of the normative ethical theories that we've considered overall in this introduction to ethics. First, consequentialism-- consequences here are the basis for ethical valuation. For consequentialists, ethics is all about the results.

Deontology, let us remember, is where something intrinsic to the action itself is the basis for the ethical valuation. There's something within the act, something contained within it where we look for ethical evaluation. Most typically, this has to do with finding the intent. And then virtue-based ethics, or character ethics, is where the character trait that is exhibited or manifested in the action is the basis for the ethical valuation. Ethics is therefore all about character.

These three, it is important to note, are not necessarily distinct. They are distinct theories. However, they are not necessarily distinct in practice. In fact, oftentimes in our daily lives, especially more than one of them is at play at once. And sometimes all of them are and others as well.

Lives are messy. Our daily lives and decision makings are multifaceted. And so it's not surprising that more than one ethical theory might be involved in our decision-making process.

For example, I could intend to achieve good consequences and, therefore, achieve good consequences by acting out of good character. So there is an intent involved. There's the anticipation of the results of my action involved. And there's the desire to be of good character. So three in one are involved in this particular decision.

In determining the sources of value for understanding ethical decision making in specific circumstances, it's best to look at a couple of different situations and see how each of the ethical theories we've considered so far plays out in them. So first, we'll look at the situation of lying being wrong. OK. Consequentialism will say that, yeah, lying is wrong because it will have a negative overall effect. It will have an overall sense of negative total consequences.

Deontology-- yeah, lying is wrong because telling something that is not true with the intent to deceive is the motivation for this. And this is going to violate the formulation of universal law, which was given to us by Kant. And then character ethics-- yep, this is going to be wrong.

Lying is wrong. Why? Because it cultivates the vice of dishonesty.

Here's another example. How about animal abuse? Let's say we have the statement that animal abuse is wrong.

Consequentialism would say animal abuse, yeah, is wrong because it causes overall negative consequences of pain. However, it could be used in terms of it being permissible because what if the animal cruelty was in the context of medical testing for eventual use on humans? It could be justified because of the overall consequences, especially when they're focused on humans, would be of a net gain of happiness but not entirely clear.

Deontology would probably say, yes, animal cruelty is wrong but not directly. Remember for deontologists and Kant in particular, we have no direct duties towards animals because they are not rational. We do have direct duties towards people to be kind and good and not cruel. So indirectly, yeah, we should be avoiding animal cruelty because it does indicate how we will generally treat other people as well.

And then for character ethics, yes. Definitely, animal cruelty and animal abuse is wrong because it indicates a malicious character. And that is a vice that we wish to avoid.

And then finally, going back to my reliable example about food hoarding, what would these three say about that one? Well, consequentialism will say that, yeah, food hoarding is wrong. And it's wrong because it will be diminishing the food resources for others. And that diminishes overall positive consequences. It will be diminishing overall utility.

Deontology-- yep, food hoarding is wrong because the intent is incompatible with the foundation for universal law. In other words, not everyone will be able to hoard food. I can't acknowledge that this is a good intent for everyone to work under.

And then character ethics-- virtue-based ethics says yes. This is a wrong thing to do because it's a manifestation of a vice, specifically the vice of greed. So that's how the three ethical theories of consequentialism, deontology, and character ethics would view these particular issues.

So looking back at this tutorial, what we've covered is a review of consequentialism, deontology, and character ethics. And we've also determined the sources of value that arise from each of these as it regards three specific situations.