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The Nature and Significance of Ethics Importance of Ethical Decision-making in emerging scientific technologies: Biotechnology Information Technology Ethical (moral) vs. scientific or empirical discourse: Facts vs. Values Some examples: 1A. You are walking passed me in a crowded room, and you accidentally trip on my foot. 1B. I put my foot out on purpose to trip you. 2A. A town gets decimated because of an earthquake. 2B. A town gets decimated because of a bomb. Facts vs. Values: Physical Facts: Scientifically measurable by physical operations and instruments. Facts are value-neutral. Values: issues of of moral rights and wrongs, good and bad, moral responsibility, rights, obligations; questions of moral ideals: Not scientifically measurable. They must be understood by philosophical analysis and reflection. Facts vs. Values: Factual Statement: We created and used the atomic bomb. Value Statement: Creating and using the atomic bomb was morally right (morally wrong). Factual statement: someday we will have the technology to clone human beings. Value statement: It is morally acceptable (unacceptable) to clone human beings Facts vs. Values: Factual Statement: scientists often perform painful experiments on animals. Value Statement: it is morally acceptable (morally required, morally wrong) for us to perform painful experiments on animals. Making Moral Decisions--Some Inappropriate Ways: Appeal to Authority Appeal to Law Appeal exclusively to self-interest Making Moral Decisions—One Problematic Way: Appeal to conscience as a faculty of moral perception Some Guidelines for Making Ethical Decisions: 1. Choose correct moral language. 2. Be as clear as you can about the facts, both empirical and philosophical 3. Consider the relevant moral principles and rules, and make your best judgment. Some Guidelines for Making Ethical Decisions: Choose Correct Moral Language: Often, the way in which you initially conceptualize a situation will affect what moral conclusions you will make. Some Guidelines for Making Ethical Decisions: Be as clear as you can about the facts, both empirical and philosophical. Stem Cell Research: Relevant Empirical Facts: The embryos which provide the source of the stem cells are at the blastocyst stage; they are a clump of 150 cells, 7 days after conception. Stem cell research promises to provide cures for serious diseases. Stem Cell Research—Relevant philosophical facts. Differing views: The 7 day-old 150 cell embryo is (choose one): a) a person b) a potential person c) a blueprint for a person d) none of the above since it can still split into two persons (twins) Some Guidelines for Making Ethical Decisions: 3. Consider the relevant moral principles and rules, and make your best judgment Classical Ethical Theories: Utilitarianism Deontology Virtue Ethics Others: Ethics of Care, casuistic ethics, etc. Utilitarianism: An action is right if and only if it achieves the greatest good for the greatest number. Deontology: (Greek: deon-duty; logos-science) An action is right if it is an action of a certain kind; if it is your duty to perform. An action is wrong if it is your duty not to perform. For example, always wrong to torture, rape, enslave someone, no matter what the consequences are. Deontology—some examples: The Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, covet they neighbor’s wife. The Golden Rule: “Do unto others what you would have others do unto you.” Deontology—some examples: The Categorical Imperative (Immanuel Kant): Everyone should be treated with equal fairness and respect, regardless of the consequences. Virtue (Character) Ethics: I should decide what actions I should perform based on my idea of what it is to be a good person. A good person, for example, lives up to the ideals of integrity, courage, loyalty, trustworthiness, generosity. Example--Animal Experimentation: Utilitarianism—Pro: The greatest good (at least for humans) is achieved if we do animal experiments without spending effort to protect the animals Deontology--Con: We have no right to do whatever we want to animals. It is wrong to abuse them for our own benefit. Example--Animal Experimentation: Virtue (Character) Ethics—Con: To cause pain to animals is below the threshold of what my ideal is for being human. I think it’s wrong to be that kind of person. Example--Genetically Modified Foods: Utilitarianism—Pro: We are able to increase the nutritional benefits and yield of crops, using genetic modification. Utilitarianism—Con: “The greatest good for the greatest number” includes future generations. We are obligated to protect future generations from dangerous genetic modifications. Example--Genetically Modified Foods: Deontology—Con: It’s wrong in the sense of unnatural to have the genes from one species inserted into another. Humans have no right to “play God” Final Guidelines for Ethical Reasoning: Stay open-minded. Challenge your own views. It’s not enough just to hold a position, you must be able to support it with good reasons. Challenge the views of others if you disagree with them, but do so respectfully and considerately. Final Guidelines for Ethical Reasoning: Philosophical discussion loses most of its value if it’s used as a place to dominate or show off. Philosophical discussion is best done as a community enterprise, where all the discussants work together to get closer to the truth.
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