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Assessment of personal or group choices is a vital social process that determines the norms of behavior in a certain environment. Depending on the ethical model a judgment of an action is based upon, a different verdict may emerge. There could be an endless debate about whether it is right or wrong to judge other people’s actions but this process runs almost for as long as society exists. Self-assessment is also an important feature that helps determine the right course of action. Therefore, there is a need to research different ethical systems to be able to predict a reaction to a certain deed or plan an action in a certain environment.
According to Locke, there are action-based ethical theories that determine the goodness or badness of the decision or action instead of focusing on the actors themselves (109). Here, the two major approaches can be identified. Deontological ethics is based upon measuring the inherent morality of an action. Deontology is a word of Greek origin that denotes “duty” or “rule” (Paquette et al. 31). For example, Immanuel Kant, who is considered to have established a basis for deontological ethics, believed that people should act under the guidance of a moral code that has a characteristic of law. He argued that there is not a lot of things in the world that can be named inherently good. He also considered that person’s actions should not be judged based on their consequences. Instead, they should be evaluated by the nature of the reason or drive behind an action (Kant 21). A good person acts according to the law of morale, and sometimes this law dictates what he or she must do.
The teleological model of ethics or consequentialism theory derives the goodness or badness of the action from its consequences. The famous saying “the end justifies the means” is a good summary of a consequentialist model. This approach to ethics is not monolithic, and there are different followers who developed their own view of consequentialism. Among the major consequentialist theories, there are utilitarianism, ethical egoism, rule consequentialism, and negative consequentialism. Utilitarianism doctrine is based on the belief that people’s actions are driven by pain and pleasure. The actions that bring pain to others are considered as evil deeds and are socially intolerable while the actions that bring happiness to as many people as possible are good deeds. Utilitarianism, thus, prioritizes the common good as a universal criterion for evaluation.
Ethical egoism, on the other hand, puts personal benefit ahead of everything else. Here, actions are divided into those that are beneficial, neutral or harmful to society. Advocates of that theory believe that egoism benefits society to a certain degree. Thus, if people concern themselves with the achievement of personal happiness, society yields benefit in the form of more positively-attuned people. However, such a pursuit of happiness must not entail harm to others.
Rule consequentialism lies at the conflux of deontological and teleological theories stating that an appropriate behavior stems from a presence of a certain moral code. The judgment of such behavior is established upon the consequences that the choice of the rules brings.
Negative consequentialism is based on the promotion of certain attitudes or behaviors that focus on reducing suffering or negativity in society. In contrast to this model, positive consequentialism advocates for propagating actions and behaviors that are moral, just, and increase pleasure. Negative consequentialism seems to be a more reserved set of beliefs as the choice of positive responses could be a topic for lengthy debate.
To my mind, the teleological model seems to be a more sound ethical choice. We live in a globalized world where societies can be comprised of diverse people with various moral codes and beliefs. Thus, their understanding of inherent good or evil can be different. What can be allowed and encouraged in one culture could be banned in another? Based on this notion, a valid ethical choice would be to evaluate actions by their effect on society. If a behavior does not offend most people, then it can be considered good or at least normal. However, it can be debated what to consider a socially beneficial outcome as not every choice’s consequences are vivid, and their effect cannot always be calculated instantly. Nonetheless, the consequentialist theory seems to be fitting a contemporary society, as it is not based on any set moral code.
Another set of approaches to ethics is based on evaluating different aspects of the person’s nature instead of his actions. Three major theoretical branches can be identified here including virtue ethics, relational responsibility, or ethics of care.
Advocates of virtue ethics argue that a person can be deemed good if he possesses certain attributes of character such as honesty, generosity, or sympathy that enable him or her to act properly. Virtue ethics also values having practical wisdom as a capacity to choose the right response in a variety of circumstances. It is focused on creating a better individual through the establishment of core competencies of an ideal “good person.” Criticizers of virtue ethics state that there can be no universally acknowledged set of virtues that every person should possess and that such an approach is, therefore, flawed.
Relational responsibility is a model that nurtures a practical approach to social connections. It shifts from developing various codes, standards or guidelines of behaviors that are more or less acceptable. Instead, the rational responsibility model focuses on the context and mutual and continuous creation of meanings (Hall 330). Ideally, a certain group of people regardless of their size develops awareness and acknowledgment of each persons’ differences and focuses its attention on the process of conversation that is acceptable to every engaged party. The key here is that what is good or bad is never pronounced or set in stone (Way 3). Instead, the understanding of the acceptability of a certain behavior becomes self-evident from the context of social engagement.
Ethics of care (EoC) prioritize choosing an adequate emotional or verbal response to action instead of evaluating it from the standpoint of strict codes (Noddings 53). In other words, ethics focus on the acceptability of reactions instead of questioning their morality. Interpersonal relationships are the key sphere in with this model operates. In contrast to deontological or teleological models, it does not uphold any standards, as each person possesses a unique set of features that may manifest as good or bad depending on the situation. Therefore, the context is crucial in determining the right response. Refraining from direct judgment is another key element of care ethics.
EoC and relational responsibility are extremely alike models that I, personally, favor. They both emphasize the context and the situation while abstaining from direct branding and defining good and evil. The awareness of relativity of these concepts helps understand the conversation partner thus creating stronger interpersonal ties that bind society. As for me, not defining codes of behavior and letting people understand what is right and wrong for themselves is a more mature approach that the current stage of development of civil society permits.
Ethics and Morale
Ethics and morale are similar in purpose, yet different in their source. Ethics is often a pronounced code that serves as guidance for behavior in a certain society whereas morale is an inner set of principles developed naturally and individually in the course of life. However, ethics can be a basis for the development of a personal moral code. In this case, a set of general rules should be enough, while understanding the details is situational and deeply personal. When ethics is concerned, absolutist models try to define every detail that can invoke problematic situations and offer a resolution in the form of a response guideline. An example of such a guideline is the Bible.
The Absolutist approach offers relative ease of conduct in a majority of situations and lifts a burden of responsibility for one’s actions. However, such an approach lacks flexibility as the society develops and changes rapidly and old standards may not always apply. The relativist approach serves as a more up-to-date method of choosing a reaction. It does not uphold rigid standards, instead, offering guidance on what items need attention. Indeed, each action and reaction could only be judged when a full context is known. Since it is extremely hard to achieve such a well-round and complete understanding, it seems better to abstain from critique.
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All things considered, the closest ethical model to me is ethics of care, which proclaims a non-judgmental and relativist approach to each individual and their actions. In modern and diverse society, it is crucial to remain open-minded and able to form an appropriate and non-offensive response. That is why I believe that EoC is better than other models.
Hall, Lisa. “Developing an Ethics of Relational Responsibility – Locating the Researcher within the Research and Allowing Connection, Encounter and Collective Concern to Shape the Intercultural Research Space.” Ethics and Education, vol. 9, no. 3, 2014, pp. 329–39.
Kant, Immanuel. The Metaphysical Elements of Ethics. Translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott, Arc Manor, 2008.
Locke, Terry, et al. “Ethical Issues in Collaborative Action Research.” Educational Action Research, vol. 21, no. 1, 2013, pp. 107–23.
Noddings, Nel. “The Language of Care Ethics.” Knowledge Quest, vol. 40, no. 5, 2012, 52-56.
Paquette, Michael, et al. “Do the Ends Justify the Means? Dialogue, Development Communication, and Deontological Ethics.” Public Relations Review, vol. 41, no. 1, 2015, pp. 30-39.
Way, Jonathan. “Two Accounts of the Normativity of Rationality.” Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, vol. 4, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1-9.