Assessment 2 Making a Moral Decision
Write 4–6 pages in which you invent a practical circumstance that illuminates differences between the three approaches to normative theory.
There may be times in life where doing your duty might cause lasting harm or where caring about people requires breaking the rules.
By successfully completing this assessment, you will demonstrate your proficiency in the following course competencies and assessment criteria:
- Competency 1: Explain the nature of ethical issues.
- Describe a concrete situation that calls for making an ethical decision.
- Competency 2: Critically examine the contributions of key thinkers from the history of ethics.
- Apply traditional theories of normative ethics to a concrete situation.
- Competency 3: Engage in ethical debate.
- Describe the advantages and disadvantages of each approach to ethical theory.
- Competency 4: Develop a position on a contemporary ethical issue.
- Defend a coherent personal conviction about the best foundation for ethical conduct.
- Competency 5: Communicate effectively in the context of personal and professional moral discourse.
- Communicate in a manner that is scholarly, professional, and consistent with expectations for professional communities.
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The three approaches to normative theory—virtue ethics, deontological ethics, and teleological ethics—have unique advantages and disadvantages.
Virtue ethics has some obvious benefits. By emphasizing character traits instead of particular actions, this approach encourages us to see ourselves as making progress toward the goal of becoming better, even if we occasionally make mistakes. In this view, it is easy to see how moral education contributes to the development of virtue, by promoting the formation of good habits of thinking and acting. Above all, virtue ethics makes it plain that respect for ourselves and for each other is at the very heart of ethical thought.
But there are some difficulties, too. It is not always clear how the commitment to virtue guides conduct in particular circumstances. How, exactly, does who you are entail what you should do? More seriously, if you aim at your own happiness, it might be easy to let that devolve into an egoistic pursuit of your selfish interests, which is bound to clash with other people’s virtuous goals for themselves. The success of this approach to ethical theory depends upon our ability to resolve problems of this sort.
Deontological ethics claims to provide perfect certainty about what we should do in every circumstance—there is nothing to calculate or predict; we just do what the rules prescribe. It relieves us of any responsibility for the results of our actions, since those outcomes are not relevant to the moral worth of what we do. Deontologists usually hold that we have a right to demand that other people live up to their duties with respect to us.
The nice thing about consequentialism is that it keeps us focused on the fact that what we do really does have consequences for the world as a whole. Since those outcomes can be recognized by everyone, this kind of theory promises to provide a public basis upon which to assess ethical action objectively. In addition, this theory offers some flexibility in making decisions with an eye toward how our actions will turn out in the long run.
There are problems, too, of course. Because we cannot simply fall back on formal rules here, the consequentialist approach demands that we calculate the likely effects of our actions with great care. This is not an easy task, since we sometimes cannot predict with any confidence exactly what outcomes will be produced by our actions. In fact, since we do not know for sure what is going to happen, this theory seems to imply that we will not know whether or not we did the right thing until later on, when all of the relevant information has come in.
But these features give rise to corresponding difficulties with the deontological approach. Such theories have trouble explaining what we should do about conflicting duties, cases in which our rules do not agree with each other. Nor does this view make it easy to allow for the possibility that some actions are more wrong than others. Most crucially, by ignoring the results of our actions, deontology implies that our actions in obedience to the rules may sometimes have disastrous consequences.
- Virtue ethics gives full voice to our intuition that personal growth toward greater moral perfection is a vital aim in life. The choices we make and the actions we perform contribute to who we are.
- Deontological ethics seems rather rigid in its adherence to strict moral rules, but it nicely captures our sense that what is simply right is right for everyone.
- Although the practical value of a teleological approach can generate questions, we often rely upon utilitarian considerations as we debate matters of public policy.
- Toggle Drawer
Questions to Consider
To deepen your understanding, you are encouraged to consider the questions below and discuss them with a fellow learner, a work associate, an interested friend, or a member of the business community.
- How do you understand the questions of relativism, a neutral moral understanding, or the imposition of basic and universal human rights for all people? Why do many philosophers believe that there should be some basic rights for all people? And what right would you impose by force, if necessary, to the rest of the world?
- People who advocate virtue ethics often draw a distinction between what it means to be a virtuous human being and what it means to be virtuous within one of the many roles that we play in our lives (such as parents, employees, employers, soldiers, or politicians). What kinds of virtues and character traits do you believe that all humans should have? What character traits should a politician or a businessperson have, in order to be a virtuous politician or businessperson?
- Toggle Drawer
The following optional resources are provided to support you in completing the assessment or to provide a helpful context. For additional resources, refer to the Research Resources and Supplemental Resources in the left navigation menu of your courseroom.
Click the links provided below to view the following multimedia pieces:
The following e-books or articles from the Capella University Library are linked directly in this course:
- Aristotle, & Henry-Lewes, G. (1890). The ethics of Aristotle: With
introductory essay by George Henry Lewes (the Nicomachean ethics) (D. P.
Chase, Trans.). London, GBR: Walter Scott Publishing Company.
- Brabeck, M. M. (Ed.). (2000). Practicing feminist ethics in psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
- May, H. (2010). Aristotle’s ethics. London, GBR: Continuum International.
- Stephens, W. O. (2007). Stoic ethics. London, GBR: Continuum International.
- Epictetus. (1996). The enchiridion, or manual (J. Fieser, Ed., & E. Carter, Trans.). South Bend, IN: Infoomotions, Inc.
- Babcock, W. S. (1988). Focus on Augustine’s ethics: Introduction. Journal of Religious Ethics, 16(1), 3–9.
- Callahan, J. C. (1995). Reproduction, ethics and the law: Feminist perspectives. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Course Library Guide
A Capella University library guide has been created specifically for your use in this course. You are encouraged to refer to the resources in the PHI-FP2000 – Ethics Library Guide to help direct your research.
Access the following resources by clicking the links provided. Please note that URLs change frequently. Permissions for the following links have been either granted or deemed appropriate for educational use at the time of course publication.
- Kemerling, G. (2011). Aristotle: Ethics and the virtues. The
Philosophy Pages. Retrieved from http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/2s.htm
- Kemerling, G. (2011). Hellenistic philosophy. The Philosophy Pages. Retrieved from http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/2w.htm
- Kemerling, G. (2011). Medieval philosophy. The Philosophy Pages. Retrieved from http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/3b.htm#morality
- Gowans, C. (2008, December 9). Moral relativism. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-relativism/
- Hursthouse, R. (2012, March 8). Virtue ethics. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ethics-virtue/
- Kraut, R. (2014, April 21). Aristotle’s ethics. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-ethics/
- Graver, M. (2013, February 19). Epictetus. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epictetus/
- Tong, R. (2009, May 4). Feminist ethics. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved fromhttp://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-ethics/
- Ethics Updates. (2012, February 18). Aristotle and virtue ethics. Retrieved from http://ethics.sandiego.edu/theories/Aristotle/index.asp
- Ethics Updates. (2010, November 2). Gender and ethical theory. Retrieved from http://ethics.sandiego.edu/theories/Gender/index.asp
The resources listed below are relevant to the topics and assessments in this course and are not required. Unless noted otherwise, these materials are available for purchase from the Capella University Bookstore. When searching the bookstore, be sure to look for the Course ID with the specific –FP (FlexPath) course designation.
- Rachels, J., & Rachels, S. (2015). The elements of
moral philosophy (8th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
- Chapter 2, “The Challenge of Cultural Relativism.”
- Chapter 3, “Subjectivism in Ethics.”
- Chapter 11, “Feminism and the Ethics of Care.”
- Chapter 12, “Virtue Ethics.”
- Assessment Instructions
For this assessment, you will invent a practical circumstance of your own choosing that illuminates differences among the three approaches to normative theory; a circumstance in which the duties, consequences, and virtues do not align with each other. It does not need to be a grand, controversial social issue; an everyday moral dilemma will make the conflict clearer. Just look for an example where doing your duty might cause lasting harm, or where caring about people requires breaking the rules.
Write a paper addressing this topic, supporting your statements with credible research on the three approaches to normative theory. You may begin your research with the Suggested Resources for this unit, but you are also expected to conduct your own independent research into the scholarly and professional resources of the field.
Begin by describing a concrete situation that calls for someone to make an ethical decision about what to do. Choosing your example carefully will make it easier to draw an interesting contrast between the theoretical applications. Be sure to describe the situation with enough detail to provide adequate information for arriving at a responsible choice. You are welcome to choose a case in which you are personally involved, but you may find it easier to think objectively with a little detachment.
Next, think about the kinds of normative theory that could be applied to the situation you have chosen. If we are not to surrender to ethical relativism, what should guide our decision here—duties, outcomes, or virtue? You should select the approaches in a way that heightens the dilemma of deciding on a course of action that would be right or wrong. Support your presentation by considering alternative ways of applying each theory to the case. Use your example to compare and contrast the theoretical approaches in practical terms.
Finally, discuss the advantages and disadvantages of these normative theories as methods for making moral decisions in practical cases. Use what you have written about the application of each theory to your example as evidence of the merits of each way of thinking about everyday choices. What makes the most sense, and how would you decide yourself? State your own position on which normative theory works best, and defend that position with clear arguments in its support.
- Written communication: Written communication
should be free of errors that detract from the overall message.
- APA formatting: Include a title page and a references page, formatted according to APA (6th edition) style and formatting.
- References: A typical paper will include support from a minimum of 3–5 references. You may use some of the materials recommended in the Resources, but you should also include support from your independent research of scholarly or professional materials.
- Length: A typical paper will be 4–6 typed, double-spaced pages in length.
- Font and font size: Times New Roman, 12-point.
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