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Ethical Thinking

Frameworks for making decisions

To answer a question using ethical thinking you must use logic, just as you would in science.  However ethical decisions involve value judgements and are not based on reason alone. It is often impossible to reach a single, unambiguous conclusion.

The ethical framework within which a conclusion is reached is likely to influence the final decision.  However, using ethical frameworks can only guide a person's thinking, it cannot decide for them. When you make your choice, it will come down to which option that you value most from those available.

There are two commonly used frameworks. A consequentialist framework (looking only at the likely consequences of a decision) may lead to a different result from a deontological ethical framework which considers certain actions right or wrong whatever the consequences. 

Reason cannot be used to decide between the two frameworks.  It is necessary to choose an ethical framework and then use it clearly and consistently.

Reaching a conclusion

 Ethical conclusions are considered valid if:

  1. they are based on reason,
  2. they are based on a well-established ethical framework and
  3. they rest on a reasonable level of consensus arising from genuine debate.

(Revd Prof  Michael Reiss  2003)

Next: Duty?

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A government agency is planning new measures against terrorism.  They want to intercept mobile phone messages in certain areas.

A deontologist will point to the Human Right to privacy.  How will a consequentialist look at the issue?