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Ethics: Where are you? part 2

June 24, 2010

The three levels of thinking about a topic that Boss shares are experience, interpretation, and analysis (Boss, 2008, p. 33).

Experience: I feel happy when I eat ice cream.

Interpretation: Eating ice cream makes me happy.

Analysis: Is eating ice cream something I do when I am happy? Is it a coincidence that I am happy when I eat ice cream? Do I ever eat ice cream when I’m sad? If I eat ice cream when I’m sad, do I then become happy?

A paradigm shift is a change in a way of thinking. (p. 34). Kuhn argues that paradigm shifts occur when new facts or revelations become widely accepted causing an alteration or dismissal of prior beliefs ( A major paradigm shift occurred when people stopped believing that the earth was the center of the universe and began believing that the sun was the center of the universe.

Paradigm shifts are difficult because people think of a paradigm as “fact rather than an interpretation of experience” and “may use a type of defense mechanism known as resistance” to avoid the shift (p. 40). We can truly change our minds. I believe that happens over a period of time because first, the new belief needs time to reach everyone, and second, newer and more scientific evidence that supports the new belief will outdate and outlast the older belief – until the next new evidence is discovered.

Sheila Mullett describes three areas of moral analysis: moral sensitivity, ontological shock, and praxis (p. 73). Boss says the connection between our moral analyses and praxis is that analysis is “most productive when it is done collectively” and yet “we cannot simply accept other people’s interpretations … at face value” (p. 35). Collective analysis, according to Boss, is “more effective for promoting moral growth” than individual analysis (p. 35). A consensus allows individuals to add their unique experiences to a collective belief.

Defense mechanisms help us hold on to particular world views or “paradigms,” even if our world views are wrong, through coping and resistance. Coping is a healthy defense mechanism and includes “logical analysis, objectivity, tolerance of ambiguity, empathy and suppression of harmful emotional responses” (p. 40). Immature defense mechanisms – resistance – include ignorance, avoidance, denial, anger, cliches, conformity/ superficial tolerance, “I’m struggling,” and distractions. Everyone may use defense mechanisms “at times to keep from feeling overwhelmed” such as child abuse victims.

These victims resort to rationalization in which they try to place the blame on themselves for the abuse rather than on the abuser. The victim tries to find a reason for why the abuse was okay (p. 40). An example of denial is when someone does not think about the consequences of their actions even if the consequences should be obvious. Why do people continue to rape, kill, have extramarital affairs, etc.? Why do people think they are the “one” who will get away with the crime?

An example of avoidance is when one co-worker avoids another co-worker because of a difference of opinion, but then neither co-worker can present a unified project to the boss because of that avoidance. It is an immature defense response. Another immature defense mechanism is conformity/superficial tolerance which comes into play when one person agrees to something rather than face a challenge. For example, one co-worker might say, “It’s my professional opinion that we should use type A. We’re not leaving this room until we have a consensus.” Anyone who feels intimidated by this co-worker may choose to conform rather than argue or debate the validity of type A.

Descriptive: I ate a whole bag of Munchos for breakfast.

Prescriptive: It is selfish to eat a whole bag of Munchos for breakfast and not leave any for hubby’s lunch.

The descriptive statement simply describes a situation. The prescriptive statement expresses a moral value.

The role of logic in moral arguments is a tool to analyze the merits/validity of a moral argument.

Starting premise: It is really hot in my house because the temperature was 100 degrees today.

Inference: If we stay in the house, we will roast to death.

Conclusion: Therefore, we need to turn on the fans.

Informal versus formal fallacies:


Editor: I think we should use a serif font like Times New Roman.

Designer: That font has been around for a hundred years. It’s old. The new look is sans serif. That’s what the real designers are using.

Editor: Well, I did some research on what fonts are easy to read and every single study says that serif fonts are easier to read because the “feet” move the eye along the line of text.

Designer: That’s old research. I think you’ll find that the latest studies show something different.

Editor: Actually, the latest study was dated 2009.

Designer: Show me the study.

Begging the question:

If someone in a coma is being kept alive with machines, then that person is really brain dead and it is morally okay to unplug the machines.

Hasty generalization:

An 80-year-old woman caused an accident when she was driving on the turnpike. All people over the age of 60 should have their driver’s licenses taken away from them because they are dangerous drivers

Informal fallacies use anecdotal, irrelevant, or no evidence to support a claim. Informal fallacies are ambiguous and unclear. An informal fallacy could use emotions to persuade, but not offer factual evidence.

Formal fallacies have a premise that is valid, but the conclusion is invalid; or vice versa.

Midgley argues that we can easily solve moral dilemmas through reflective judgements. She says that judgements are “comprehensive,” “rational,” “cognitive,” and “accountable.”

The steps given for arriving at a solution to a moral dilemma:

“Describe the facts. List relevant morals. Evaluate courses of action. Make a plan of action. Carry out plan of action” (p. 70).

There are three levels of thinking: experience, interpretation, and analysis. Moral analysis begins with questioning our assumptions and is most effective when done collectively. After analysis, a person can return to the experience with informed social action, or praxis. An example of overcoming resistance is when a paradigm shift occurs. Healthy defense mechanisms allow us to cope while adjusting to change. Immature defense mechanisms are used as inappropriate resistance to change and prevent critical analysis. Buddhism teaches that a clear mind is the first step to moral wisdom. Descriptive statements tell us what is, they state facts. Prescriptive statements are abstract and tell us what ought to be. We use logic to study the correct and incorrect reasoning of moral arguments. An argument is composed of a proposition, an inference, and a conclusion. An informal fallacy is more apt to be used when we are not sure about the facts and so the best way to avoid informal fallacies is to know the facts. Resolve moral dilemmas in the same manner as constructing an argument, by collecting facts, moral principles, and arriving at a conclusion.

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