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Ethical Decisions - How Do We Make The Right Ones?

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Ethical Decisions - How do we make the right ones?

CSS 330--Critical Thinking and Logic

Charles Bocage

12 April 2004

Ethical Decisions - How do we make the right ones?

What does it mean to be ethical? Or, what does it mean to make an ethical decision? These two questions can be hard to answer. Many people tend to associate ethics with a feeling. Things people do that feel right must be ethical, right?. Things people feel bad for doing must be ethically wrong. People, though, can act on a feeling even if it is right or wrong. Other people may associate ethics with law. Laws are usually based on ethical beliefs or standards. But like feelings, these standards are not always correct. The United States slavery laws of the early 1800's, for example. While they were laws passed by the government, they were not ethical correct. Other people may conjoin religion and ethics. While religion promotes an ethical way of life, it still related to religious beliefs or believers. Meaning, ethics is not just limited to an individual who has religious beliefs opposed to one who does not. Still yet, other people may believe that ethics are based on whatever society says is right or wrong. This is not always the case as well. Nazi Germany for example, was ethically and morally wrong. The Germany society as a whole was brainwashed in believing it was morally and ethically okay or the right to commit ethnic cleansing of the Jews ("What is Ethics?" 2004).

If all these ideas of ethics and ethical decisions are not correct, what really is ethics then? Sociologist Raymond Baumhart defines ethics as:

well based standards of right and wrong that prescribe what humans ought to do, usually in terms of rights, obligations, benefits to society, fairness, or specific virtues. Ethics, for example, refers to those standards that impose the reasonable obligations to refrain from rape, stealing, murder, assault, slander, and fraud. Ethical standards also include those that enjoin virtues of honesty, compassion, and loyalty. And, ethical standards include standards relating to rights, such as the right to life, the right to freedom from injury, and the right to privacy ("What is Ethics?" 2004).

Basing this definition of ethics we can now apply it to how we make ethical decisions in life. Obviously, decisions should be made on facts. Facts along do not get us to the right answer though. We have to combine the facts with find the right answer based on ethics and morals ("What is Ethics?" 2004).

Philosophers have devised five approaches to assist in making decisions when dealing with ethical or moral decisions. The first is the Utilitarian Approach. This approach was created by Jeremy Bentham and John Mill in the 19th Century. "Ethical actions are those that provide the greatest balance of good and evil" is stated by both, Bentham and Mill. This thinking is based on the theory that decisions should be made for the common good of the many, even if by sacrificing a few. Military decisions are based on this idea more often then not. For example, the decision to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, August 6, 1945. This decision was based on the idea that killing 70,000 Japans would save millions if the war were to continue (Andre et al, 2004).

A second approach is the Rights Approach. This approach is based on the rights of individuals. A person has the right to make decisions freely that affects their lives. As well, a person has the right to



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