A down-to-earth guide to ethical decision-making
This book is designed to provide you, the reader heading into the 21st century, with an introduction to ethical decision-making. It can apply readily to both your personal and professional life--if such a dichotomy can be established in connection with ethics and morality in one's life pattern. In the final analysis, of course, everything is "personal."
Any new book being recommended for use by a great many people needs solid justification. In Who Knows What's Right Anymore?, I believe strongly that an excellent case can be made for use of this basic, multi-phased (1-2-3-4) approach to ethical decision- making offered here. Faced with the prevailing "ethical chaos" of the late 20th century--and keeping firmly in mind the vital need to preserve our individual freedom and civil liberties-- it starts in a relatively simple fashion in Phase One--the three steps that might actually "do it" for you (and for me!) in most situations! Then it moves progressively and sequentially through Phases Two, Three, and Four that are assuredly desirable, but optional.
Although I say "optional," it is true that they could serve to confirm or negate your Phase-One decision. Interestingly, and importantly nevertheless, all four phases of this approach to ethical decision-making can be carried out successfully by a reasonably intelligent layperson. (Phase Four, a case method technique, can presumably be pursued best in a group discussion of the issue at hand by those concerned.)
Basically, I argue here, for several basic reasons, that the child and young person in society today is initially missing out completely on a sound "experiential" introduction to ethics and morality. This is true whether we are referring to that which typically takes place in the home, the school system, or the church--actually an experience that doesn't take place adequately!. In fact, the truth is that typically no systematic instruction in this most important subject is offered at any time. (And I refuse to accept the often-heard "osmosis stance"--i.e., that such knowledge is "better caught than taught!".)
Throughout this book you will be exhorted to develop what Ayn Rand (1960, p. 36) called an "intellectual roadbed," a competency that is needed for ethical decision-making. As you approach this subject, I want to make very clear, also, my personal belief about how vitally important it is for a person to learn to make rational ethical decisions.
As an essential complement in the effort to do this effectively, I recommend also an implicit/explicit experiential approach that means--stated simply--we learn by doing!
Rand offered us her interesting analysis of what occurs in the life of a young person before any semblance of a rational philosophy develops. Western world religions often impress on the young child the idea that God is "watching over" him or her, and that He (She?) knows and makes note of every misdeed through some sort of supernatural recorder.
Rand's reaction to this and her subsequent personal explanation were that she regarded this as a myth. However, she explained that interestingly this myth is true, not existentially, but from a psychological standpoint!
This "psychological recorder," she argued, is truly the integrating mechanism of the young person's subconscious. She called this the individual's "sense of life" and described it as "a pre-conceptual equivalent of metaphysics, an emotional, subconsciously integrated appraisal of man and existence. It sets the nature of a man's emotional responses and the essence of his character" (p. 31). Thus, this human being is making choices, is forming value judgments, is experiencing emotions, and in a great many ways is acquiring an implicit view of life. All of this young person's conclusions or evasions about or from life, she explained, represent an implicit metaphysics.
It is important for us at the outset, also, to take a few moments to consider how a child's personality typically develops in early life prior to maturity. This same child as a maturing person subsequently gets a further opportunity through formal and informal education to develop his or her rationality. The hope is, of course, that such reasoning power will enable the individual to make sound ethical decisions as problems of this nature present themselves in daily life.
All people should be interested in the entire educational process, of course, our own and that of others with whom we might come into contact. Our hope is that young people will have the chance to develop their rational powers. If this occurs, reason can then act as the programmer of the individual's "emotional computer." The "hoped-for" outcome is that the earlier "sense of life" will develop into a reasonably logical philosophy. If not--that is, if the maturing child does not have the opportunity to develop a considerable degree of rationality, or somehow evades the opportunity--then unfortunately chance takes over.
What is society faced with then? We have a person who has matured chronologically, but who is "integrating blindly, incongruously, and at random" (p. 33). (And don't we all know people where this seems to be occurring daily--and often to the extreme?) Thus, we can see how really important it is that in the process of developing a fully integrated personality the young person's sense of life matches his or her conscious, rationalized convictions?
As individuals we can either drive this powerful integrating mechanism that we inherently possess--or be driven by it! Accordingly, we should inquire assiduously as to the role of philosophy in our lives, asking ourselves how a sound philosophy can help in the formation of a fully integrated personality. Truly, can we deny that the goal of education should be an individual whose mind and emotions are in harmony, thereby enabling the maturing person to develop his or her potential and accordingly achieve maximum effectiveness in life?
Taking the matter of the individual's development one step further, we need to keep in mind that we are dealing with a social animal, a person who in all probability will need sound and consistent help to bridge the gap from an early sense of life, where embryonic, plastic value integrations occur, to the making of ethical decisions in life's many activities of both a personal and professional nature. We should be helping this young person to develop conscious convictions in which the mind leads and the emotions follow.
To put it another way, the developing IQ (intelligence quotient) ought to assist what Goleman (1995) calls the developing EQ (emotional quotient) to function optimally. In the process the embryonic, steadily adapting MI (moral "intelligence") of the growing child, to coin a term based on the work of Coles (1997), should enable the young person to relate to the values and moral norms that prevail in society.
Keeping in mind the difficulty of defining the term "good," adequately and satisfactorily, the key concept in the formation of a person's sense of life may well be the term "important." Rand argued that in this context "important" is a metaphysical term that serves as a bridge between metaphysics* and ethics while the young, immature person is learning what values are important individually and socially. In summary, "the integrated sum of a person's basic values is that person's sense of life" (p. 35). Then, during the period of adolescence, a certain amount of rebellion occurs typically. At this point parents are apt to encounter a situation characterized by often quite frantic irrationality on the part of the young person as he or she is confronted by a set of adult-imposed values and norms.
As was said above, what the young person truly needs in his or her development is "an intellectual roadbed for one's course of life" (p. 36) in which both emotional intelligence and moral intelligence are integrated as well. The eventual goal, we trust, will be a fully integrated personality, a person whose mind and emotions are in harmony a great deal of the time. When this occurs, we have helped to create a situation where the individual's sense of life matches that person's conscious convictions.
In this struggle that takes place to a greater or lesser extent in each person's life, a sound philosophical approach can help in the setting of criteria of "emotional" and "moral" integrations. If the young person's view of reality has been carefully defined and is logically consistent throughout, the result should be a gradual, but steady, growth and development from implicit, emotionally based reactions to life's many problems and issues to reactions that are truly explicit, conceptually derived value-judgments.
Such, then, is undoubtedly the goal for which we must strive both as mature individuals directing and guiding our own lives, as well as for those times when we are guiding others either as offspring or as young people in our charge when we are serving in
a professional capacity. Now we can move ahead to the topic at hand--the making of ethical decisions.
Coles, R. (1997). The moral intelligence of children. NY: Random House.
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. NY: Bantam. Rand, A. (1960). The romantic manifesto. NY & Cleveland: