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The Effect of Bias in Moral Decision Making

The Effect of Bias in Moral Decision Making

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Recognize the effects of bias in moral decision making

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Hello. I'm Glen. And this ethics tutorial is on the effect of bias in moral decision making. We have a couple of things to keep in mind as we go through this tutorial. The definition of bias, how ethics does seek to systematically and objectively evaluate all potential actions, and how the elimination of bias and developing a consistent set of ethical beliefs is essential.

In this tutorial, we will be considering the effect of bias in moral decision-making, specifically in relationship of bias and truth and then the relationship of bias and truth to consistency.

First, let's have a brief statement about bias and truth. It is clear that when ethical analysis is considered, this does require us to be truthful. What's the point if we're not going to be? We need to truthfully answer why an act is permissible or impermissible. We can't give subversive reasons, we can't engage in deceptive reasoning.

We need an ethical analysis to be accurate, honest, and disciplined in this process. If, perhaps, we give different answers to the question of what is permissible or impermissible, then we are not being truthful, and we are being inconsistent and unreliable.

It almost seems like this wouldn't need to be said, but we need to say it because this is part of the lesson. We need to be truthful. OK? Fundamental. OK, let's move on now.

There are a couple of issues that arise from bias and inconsistency and how bias leads to inconsistency. One is that personal bias will clearly lead to inconsistent moral beliefs. Generally one starts with what one already believes or wants. This is our natural starting place. However, if I start with what I need or want, I tend, if I'm going to operate under bias to then justify it in any way that I can. And in doing so in this justification, I will minimize considerations that are against what I want to believe, and I will maximize considerations that are in favor of what I want or believe.

Let's look at a couple of examples of these. One would be, let's say, I lobbied against abortion because it violates my belief in the inherent worth of human life. However, let's say I lobby equally for capital punishment. And the reason is, I say that criminals should be punished. I'm changing the belief system on that, right? And I'm not sticking to being consistent on the inherent worth of human life, and I'm making an exception based upon what I think is justifiable.

Second example. I could argue against marriage equality for the reason that it violates the inherent sanctity of marriage, and then personally, file my for my fifth divorce. I would be being inconsistent in my belief system on the inherent sanctity of marriage if I'm now filing for my fifth divorce.

Another consistency issue that arises is that inconsistent moral beliefs are really not ethical beliefs at all. And the reason for this is because they are self-serving. Inconsistent moral beliefs that rely upon personal bias are really just expressions of my own feelings. They reinforce my own beliefs without being objective and without being subject to ethical evaluation. A couple of examples of these are the following.

If I lobby against abortion, but not the death penalty, going back to our prior example, then I'm saying that death row inmates have no worth as humans, because I think they don't. There's no ethical reasoning here. I'm just expressing my feelings.

Second, going back to marriage equality, if I argue against marriage equality because it violates the inherent value of marriage, but I file divorce, then I'm not applying the sanctity of marriage to my own marriages. I'm not abiding by my own standard. I'm simply reinforcing my own bias about other people, rather than myself.

In this tutorial, we have looked at the effect of bias in moral decision-making, specifically in the relationship of truth and bias, and then in bias with consistency of beliefs.