Tag Archives: The Ethics Incompleteness Principle

Review: Ethics Alarms Concepts And Special Terms

Recently updating the Ethics Alarms list of concepts and frequently used terms reminded me that I had been meaning to post them for review and assistance to those relatively new here. Of course, the link has always been right there at the top of the home page, but I have this sneaking suspicion that it isn’t visited very often.  Here, then, is the up-to-date list.

CONCEPTS

Non-Ethical Considerations: Defined above, non-ethical considerations are important because they are often the powerful impediments to ethical conduct, and the cause of many conflicts of interest. Non-ethical considerations are many and diverse, and include:

  • The need and desire for shelter, health, wealth, fame, security, self-esteem, reputation, power, professional advancement, comfort, love, sex, praise, credit, appreciation, affection, or satisfaction
  • The desire for the health, comfort, safety, welfare and happiness for one’s family, loved ones, friends, colleagues, an co-workers
  • The pursuit of vengeance or retribution
  • Hunger, lust, pain, ambition, prejudice, bias, hatred, laziness, fatigue, disgust, anger, fear
  • …and many more

Ethical Dilemma: This is an ethical problem in which the ethical choice involves ignoring a powerful non-ethical consideration. Do the right thing, but lose your job, a friend, a lover, or an opportunity for advancement. A non-ethical consideration can be powerful and important enough to justify choosing it over the strict ethical action.

Ethical Conflict: When two ethical principles demand opposite results in the same situation, this is an ethical conflict. Solving ethical conflicts may require establishing a hierarchy or priority of ethical principles, or examining the situation through another ethical system.

Ethical Gray Area: Gray areas are situations and problems that don’t fit neatly into any existing mode of ethical analysis. In some cases, there may even be a dispute regarding whether ethics is involved.

Reciprocity: The ethical system embodied by The Golden Rule, and given slightly different form in other religions and philosophies. It is a straight-forward way of judging conduct affecting others by putting oneself in the position of those affected. Reciprocity should always be available in any ethical analysis, but it is frequently too simple to be helpful in complex ethical situations with multiple competing interests.

Absolutism: Absolutist systems do not permit any exception to certain ethical principles. The champion of all absolutists, philosopher Immanuel Kant, declared that the ethical act was one that the actor was willing to have stand as a universal principle.

One principle of absolutism is that human beings can never be harmed for any objective, no matter how otherwise worthwhile. Absolutism has the advantage of making tough ethical calls seem easy, and the disadvantage of making debate impossible. One sees absolutism reflected today in the controversies over war, torture, abortion, cloning, and capital punishment.

Utilitarianism: Utilitarianism accepts the existence of ethical conflicts and the legitimacy of some ethical dilemmas, and proposes ethical analysis based on the question, “Which act will result in the greatest good for the greatest number of people?’ It entails the balancing of greater and lesser goods, and is useful for unraveling complex ethical problems. Its drawback, or trap, is that utilitarianism can slide into “The ends justify the means” without some application of absolutist and reciprocity principles.

Consequentialism: In formal ethics, utilitarian schools of philosophy are sometimes lumped together as “consequentialism,” in that the ethical decision-making is based on seeking the best result. Here we just uses the above term, utilitarianism.  Consequentialsm, in contrast, is the flawed belief that the rightness or wrongness, or even wisdom, of chosen conduct is measures by its actual results rather than its intended results. If “if all worked out for the best,” in other words, the conduct that created the desirable result most have been ethical, whatever its intent or however the conduct was determined to be necessary or desirable. This is a fallacy.

Cognitive Dissonance:
Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon first identified by Leon Festinger. It occurs when there is a discrepancy between what a person believes, knows and values, and persuasive information that calls these into question. The discrepancy causes psychological discomfort, and the mind adjusts to reduce the discrepancy. In ethics, cognitive dissonance is important in its ability to alter values, such as when an admired celebrity embraces behavior that his or her admirers deplore. Their dissonance will often result in changing their attitudes toward the behavior. Dissonance also leads to rationalizations of unethical conduct, as when the appeal and potential benefits of a large amount of money makes unethical actions to acquire it seem less objectionable than if they were applied to smaller amounts.

Moral Luck: The common situation where an unethical act is only discovered, noticed, or deemed worthy of condemnation due to unpredictable occurrences that come as a result of the act or that affect its consequences. Moral luck is the difference, for example, between two mildly intoxicated drivers, one of whom arrives home without incident, while the other has an unwary child dash in front of his automobile, leading to a fatal accident that he couldn’t have avoided if completely sober. Yet the unlucky driver will be a pariah in the community, while the more fortunate driver goes on with his life.

SPECIAL TERMS USED ON ETHICS ALARMS

Continue reading

14 Comments

Filed under Ethics Train Wrecks, Jumbo, Kaboom!, language

The Michigan High School Ethics Bowl

More than 100 high school students from across lower Michigan will gather February 17-18 at the University of Michigan for the fifth annual Michigan High School Ethics Bowl. The winner  will represent Michigan in the National High School Ethics Bowl held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in April. The Ethics Bowl is organized by A2Ethics, the University of Michigan  Department of Philosophy Outreach Program and the high school faculty coaches in the High School Ethics Bowl League. During the two-day competition, judges  evaluate teams’ responses to case studies written by local community members.

See? There is hope!

Here are the case studies the students will analyze, fifteen of them. I may do posts on a few of them suggestions are welcome. One of them, #2, I have discussed in several legal ethics seminars:

The Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct forbid lawyers from revealing information received in confidence (information protected by the “lawyer-client privilege” of a client), and similarly from using that confidential information for the advantage of a third person, unless the client consents.

You are a lawyer whose practice is focused almost exclusively on criminal defense. You have been active in the criminal defense bar association for several years, and you represent criminal defendants at both the trial and appellate (appeals court) levels.

One of your clients, Gilbert, age forty, is in prison for murdering a woman named Alice. You represent Gilbert in the appeal of his conviction and life-without-parole sentence. During confidential meetings with Gilbert, he confesses to you that he also murdered Bob, and he acted alone when he did. Although you were not involved with the case of Bob’s murder, you are somewhat familiar with it and know that a man named Enrique was convicted of Bob’s murder and is consequently serving a sentence of life without parole. Enrique’s conviction and sentence were recently reaffirmed after a thorough, years-long appeals process. Unless new evidence comes to light, he will not be able to appeal again.

After you are unsuccessful in challenging Gilbert’s conviction and sentence for Alice’s murder, you speak with him about Bob’s murder. He repeats his confession, this time in more detail, but refuses to consent to your request to reveal the confession on Enrique’s behalf.

Continue reading

13 Comments

Filed under Character, Education, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions

From “The Ethics Incompleteness Principle” Files: Memphis, Tennessee’s Confederate Statues

A better application of the Ethics Incompleteness Principle would be difficult to find than the decision by Memphis, Tennessee to remove a huge monument to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and an even larger heroic equestrian statue (above) of Nathan Bedford Forrest, swashbuckling Confederate general and (allegedly) the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan,  from two public parks.

As we have discussed here in great detail, I am unalterably opposed to the current mania among our Left-leaning friends and neighbors  of tearing down statues, monuments and memorials honoring  past historical figures because their lives, beliefs and character do not comport with current day standards or political norms.  This primitive exercise in historical censorship has been especially focused on famous and notable figures from the Confederacy, although recent efforts have targeted George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and even Theodore Roosevelt. Of the attacks on memorials to Confederate figures, I wrote,

[ Union veterans]  didn’t think of the former Confederates as traitors, or racists, or slavery advocates. They, like the Union veterans, were just men of their times, caught up in a great political and human rights conflict that came too fast and too furiously for any of them to manage. They were caught in the same, violent maelstrom, and knew it even 50 years earlier. Soldiers on both side wrote how they admired the courage of the enemy combatants they were killing, because they knew they were, in all the ways that mattered, just like them. It was the Golden Rule.  After the war, these soldiers who had faced death at the hands of these same generals, officers and troops, did not begrudge them the honor of their statues and memorials, nor their families pride in the bravery of their loved ones.

Yet now,  self-righteous social justice censors who never took up arms for any cause and in many cases never would, employ their pitifully inadequate knowledge of history to proclaim all the Civil War’s combatants on the losing side as racists and traitors, and decree that they should be hidden from future generations in shame. We have honored men and women for the good that they represent, not the mistakes, sins and misconduct that are usually the product of the times and values in which they lived. In doing so, we leave clues, memories, controversies, differing views, and stories for new generations to consider and better understand their own culture and society, and how it came to be what it is.

Those who want to tear down monuments to the imperfect, whether they know it or not, are impeding knowledge, perspective, wisdom, and understanding. They want only one view of history, because they will only tolerate one that advances their ideology and values—just as the Americans of the past believed in their values. Foolishly, I suppose, they trusted future generations to act on their own ethical enlightenment without corrupting the historical record.

I feel strongly about this, as the tone of that post, far from my first on the subject, shows.

But… Continue reading

93 Comments

Filed under Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 8/26/17

Good Morning!

(My Dad was from Kentucky. He couldn’t stand Tom T. Hall…or Mitch McConnell)

1. I have been working on a legal ethics seminar for lawyers who represent seniors (I was told that the politically correct term among the groups was “older clients.” Older than what?) It is one of those areas of the law in which the usual ethics rules don’t work very well, or sometimes not at all. This anomaly requires a lawyer practicing in the field to be ready to embrace the Ethics Incompleteness Principle: to violate the letter of the professional ethics rules in the best interests of the client. For example, what does a lawyer do whose aging client lives with a son or daughter, and the lawyers sees signs of elder abuse? When the lawyer asks the client, he makes various excuses for his caretakers, and finally says that while he has been abused, it’s not serious and will only get worse if the lawyer says or does anything in response to it. Now what? The fact of the abuse, under the usual construction of the rules, is a confidence controlled by the client.

The emerging consensus is that the lawyer can ethically use the exception to confidentiality that allows an attorney to reveal a client confidence to prevent death or serious bodily injury to a “third party,” the client becoming “the third party” for his own protection.

2. A federal lawsuit was filed last week alleging that a Tennessee judge and sheriff violated inmates’ constitutional rights by instituting a program offering reduced jail time for criminals who agree to undergo vasectomies or get contraceptive implants. The suit claims the White County program amounted to “eugenics with a twist.” I don’t think it’s much of a twist; I’d say it’s eugenics, straight up. I’d assume CBS will love it: after all, eliminating criminal types is even better than eradicating Down Syndrome babies. Isn’t it?

3. Lots of people sent me this horrible story, about the cheerleader camp at a Denver area high school where young girls were being forced to do splits (it hurts me even thinking about doing splits) , with the camp’s instructor shown in a leaked video pushing down on the shoulders of a 13-year-old as she screamed for him to stop.

Boy, there is a lot of child abuse out there.

The Denver Board of Education said in a statement: “As the elected representatives for Denver Public Schools — and as the moms, dads and family members of D.P.S. students ourselves — we are deeply disturbed by the videos of cheer practices at East High School that came to our attention yesterday.”

Gee, it’s good to know that you are all disturbed that children are being tortured at schools that you are supposed to be overseeing.. This must mean you are competently doing your jobs. No, actually it doesn’t

“As the investigation continues,’’ it states, “our focus must be entirely on our students, families and educators.”

The school superintendent also said: “We have sent notification to our athletic directors emphasizing that D.P.S. does not allow the use of ‘forced splits’ or any other activity that puts a student’s physical or mental health at risk, or in which a student is forced to perform an exercise beyond the point at which they express their desire to stop.”

An Ethics Alarms note to that school system: Any athletic directors who have to be reminded that abusing children in their care, and continuing to make them perform painful acts after they have said that they don’t want to, is not something they should be doing shouldn’t be employed in the first place. Continue reading

17 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Bioethics, Childhood and children, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Professions

From “The Ethics Incompleteness Principle” Files: Anomalies And The Boston Red Sox Uniform Number Retirement Standards

The Ethics Incompleteness Principle argues that no rule works in all circumstances, so you have to be alert to when making exceptions is appropriate. The concept is illustrated by how the Boston Red Sox retire uniform numbers.

I will explain…

Major League Baseball teams retire the uniform numbers of players who they want to honor in perpetuity. The number is displayed somewhere in the ballpark, and no player on that team can ever wear it again.

Doing this requires standards, however, or else the honor becomes diluted and the retired numbers include those that seem increasingly strange and arbitrary as time goes by. The New York Yankees have retired so many uniform numbers that no single digit will ever again grace the back of a Yankee star. Moreover, several of the individuals who sanctified those numbers include players who never were and never will be called “great,” like Bernie Williams, who led the league in exactly one category, once, in his entire career, and whose Similarity Score index contains all very good but not great outfielders, the most similar being Paul O’Neil, a former Yankee star whose uniform is not retired. Another retired Yankee uniform number is that of Roger Maris, who only played for the Yankees for six years, many of them unremarkable. Having one’s uniform retired in the Bronx along with those of Babe, Lou, Mickey and Joe appears to mean “Somebody in charge really liked him.”

Well, at least that’s a standard that is easy to maintain.

The Boston Red Sox, in contrast, were not going to have a retired uniform glut. The franchise established an iron set of criteria for the honor, with three prongs:

1. The player must be an inarguable Red Sox great who played at least 10 years with the team.

2. The player must be an elected member of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

3. The player must retire as a member of the Red Sox.

Today the Red Sox are retiring the number of David Ortiz, who retired himself at the end of last season. While he might well be voted into the Hall of Fame, he may not, for complex and controversial reasons. The Red Sox, who could reasonably argue that Ortiz has been the most popular and important player in the team’s history (though Ted Williams was the best) rightly concluded that to delegate to the  Hall of Fame voters the determination of whether Ortiz’s #34 would be retired with lesser Boston heroes made no sense. Thus his uniform number will momentarily obliterate that second prong, which had already been waived once. In that case, the beneficiary was Johnny Pesky, a classic anomaly and line-blurrer. Continue reading

11 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, History, Sports

Ethics Quiz: Martina Navratilova’s “Open Letter”

Court the tennis icon (right); Court the anti-gay rights advocate (left)

Martina Navratilova, the 18-time tennis Grand Slam champion, wrote an “open letter”  to the Margaret Court Arena at Melbourne Park (Do arenas read letters? I did not know that!) as the Australian Open, always played there, looms in January. Navratilova, a feminist and gay rights activists, argued for removing Court’s name from the venue, despite her undeniable status as a ground-breaking female tennis star, because of Court’s recent statements  hostile to gay marriage, lesbians, and the transgendered.

In the letter, which is as diplomatic and mild as such a letter could possibly be (and Martina has always been an excellent writer), Navratilova says that her position is not based on Court’s “headline-grabbing comments in 1990 when she said I was a bad role model because I was a lesbian.” However, Navratilova focused on Court’s “statements she made in the ’70s about apartheid in South Africa,” in which she opined that ” South Africa dealt with the “situation” (meaning people of colour) much better than anywhere else in the world, particularly the US,”  and, more recently, her anti-gay, anti-trans positions. The 74-year-old  Court had said she would boycott Qantas airline “where possible” in response to its support of same-sex marriage, saying, “I believe in marriage as a union between a man and a woman as stated in the Bible.” This week, interviewed on  a Christian radio station, Court said “tennis is full of lesbians” and that older players lure younger ones into gay sex. Court also said that transgender children are the work of “the devil.”

Concludes Martina’s open letter to the arena:

It is now clear exactly who Court is: an amazing tennis player, and a racist and a homophobe. Her vitriol is not just an opinion. She is actively trying to keep LGBT people from getting equal rights (note to Court: we are human beings, too). She is demonising trans kids and trans adults everywhere….How much blood will be on Margaret’s hands because kids will continue to get beaten for being different? This is not OK. Too many will die by suicide because of this kind of intolerance, this kind of bashing and yes, this kind of bullying. This is not OK.

We celebrate free speech, but that doesn’t mean it is free of consequences – not punishment, but consequences. We should not be celebrating this kind of behaviour, this kind of philosophy. The platform people like Margaret Court use needs to be made smaller, not bigger.

Which is why I think it’s time to change your name.

This is as well-argued a case for one side of the issue as anyone could make.

Here’s the other side: Margaret Court’s name was placed on the arena because she was a great tennis player and a pioneer in her sport, not to honor her political and social views. She still was a great tennis player. That hasn’t changed.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Do Margaret Court’s political views and anti-LGTBQ statements create an ethical obligation to remove her name from Margaret Court Arena?

Continue reading

21 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Business & Commercial, Character, Gender and Sex, Quizzes, Race, Religion and Philosophy, Sports

Ethical Quote Of The Month: Sgt. Shane Ortega

Trans Military Service Member

“You have to exercise patience with people, but people are not going to understand the subject overnight.”

—-Sgt. Shane Ortega, helicopter crew chief in the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, speaking to the Washington Post about his legal battle with the U.S. military, which continues to classify him as a woman despite his transition to a man.

The reason we say that “hard cases make bad law” is that the toughest cases fall between the cracks in rules and regulations, and they all have cracks. The law seeks consistent precedents, so anomalous fact patterns threaten the integrity and efficiency of otherwise effective laws and rules that work well in the vast majority of situations. Yet those hard cases usually indicate flaws in policies, rules and laws, and sometimes point to the need for change.

Often, an organization, especially a bureaucratic one like the military, will deal with such disruptive cases by simply looking past the actual facts, and treating them “by the book.” Ortega represents a particularly glaring instance of this phenomenon, which in his case not only harms his career, but also makes the military appear rigid to the point of absurdity.

Yet, as his Ethical Quote of the Month indicates, he understands. Change is painful, and it takes time. Continue reading

84 Comments

Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Quotes, Gender and Sex, Health and Medicine, Leadership, War and the Military, Workplace