Ethical Reasoning

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Fair-mindedness is the human tendency to reason in a self-serving or self-deluded manner. UNDERSTANDING ETHICAL REASONING:
Ethical principles are not a matter of subjective preference. All reasonable people are obligated to respect clear-cut ethical concepts and principles. To reason well through ethical issues, we must know how to apply ethical concepts and principles reasonably to those issues. Ethical concepts and principles should be distinguished from the norms and taboos of society and peer group, religious teachings, political ideologies, and the law. The most significant barriers to sound ethical reasoning are the egocentrism and sociocentrism of human beings. Following that discussion, we emphasize three essential components in sound ethical reasoning: (1) the principles upon which ethics is grounded, (2) the counterfeits to avoid, and (3) the pathology of the human mind. We must learn to check our thinking for egocentrism, sociocentrism, and self-deception. This, in turn, requires development of the intellectual dispositions described earlier in the book, including intellectual humility, intellectual integrity, and fair-mindedness. What these same people fear most is someone else's ethical perspective taught as the truth: conservatives afraid of liberals being in charge, liberals fearful of conservatives, theists of nontheists, nontheists of theists, and so on. These are the kinds of challenging ethical issues often ignored by the naïve and the good-hearted on the one hand, and the self-deceived and cynical on the other. Because ethical reasoning is often complex, we must learn strategies to deal with these complexities. The three intellectual tasks we believe to be the most important to ethical reasoning are: Mastering the most basic ethical concepts and the principles inherent in ethical issues. Learning to distinguish between ethics and other domains of thinking with which ethics is commonly confused. Learning to identify when native human egocentrism and sociocentrism are impeding one's ethical judgments (probably the most challenging task of the three). If any of these three foundations is missing in a person's ethical reasoning, that reasoning will likely be flawed. Let's consider these abilities in turn. To be skilled at ethical reasoning means to develop a conscience that is not subservient to unethical laws, or to fluctuating social conventions, or to controversial, theological systems of belief. But consistently sound ethical reasoning, like consistently sound complex reasoning of every type, presupposes practice in thinking-through ethical issues. As you face ethical problems in your life, the challenge will be in applying appropriate ethical principles to those problems. The more often you do so, the better you will become at ethical reasoning. At the root of every unethical act lies some form and degree of self-delusion. And at the root of every self-delusion lies some flaw in thinking. To become skilled at ethical reasoning, we must understand that ethical reasoning means doing what is right even in the face of powerful selfish desires. To live an ethical life is to develop command over our native egocentric tendencies. It is not enough to espouse the importance of living an ethical life. It is not enough to be able to do the right thing when we ourselves have nothing to lose. We must be willing to fulfill our ethical obligations at the expense of our selfish desires. Thus, having insight into our irrational drives is essential to living an ethical life. This means learning to identify and express ethical concepts and principles accurately. It means learning how to apply these principles to relevant ethical situations and learning to differentiate ethics from other modes of thinking that are traditionally confused with ethics. Finally, it means taking command, with intellectual humility, of one's...
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