Taking Ethics Seriously

Book description

This book develops an intellectual framework for analyzing ethical dilemmas that is both grounded in theory and versatile enough to deal rigorously with real-world issues. It sees ethics as a necessary foundation for the social infrastructure that makes modern life possible, much as engineering is a foundation for physical infrastructure. It is not wedded to any particular ethical philosophy but draws from several traditions to construct a unified and principled approach to ethical reasoning. Rather than follow the common academic practice of seeking a reflective equilibrium of moral intuitions and principles, it builds on a few bedrock principles of rational thought that serve as criteria for valid argumentation. It develops the ideas from the ground up, without presupposing any background in ethics or philosophy.

Epistemologically, the book views ethics as parallel to mathematics, in that it relies on generally accepted proof techniques to establish results. Whereas mathematics rests on such proof paradigms as mathematical induction and proof by contradiction, ethics can be seen as relying on proof by applying consistency tests, such as generalizability and respect for autonomy. Utilitarianism also plays a key role, but it is reconceived as a deontological criterion. This approach obviously requires that these criteria be formulated more rigorously than is normally the case. To accomplish this, the book begins with the classical idea that an action is distinguishable from mere behavior by virtue of its having a coherent rationale, where coherence requires passing certain consistency tests such as generalizability. An action is therefore inseparable from its rationale, and generalizability is defined in terms of consistency with the rationale. A utilitarian criterion receives a similar treatment with respect to a means-end rationale. Respect for autonomy is grounded in a carefully developed action theory that takes into account such concepts as joint autonomy, implied consent, and the permissibility of interference with unethical behavior. It provides an account of responsibility that is both practical and theoretically satisfying, and it yields a novel solution of the much-discussed trolley car dilemmas.

The book is written for a general audience and strives to be as readable and engaging as possible, while maintaining rigor. It begins by dispelling a raft of misconceptions that trivialize ethics and block its development as an essential tool of modern life, such as the notion that ethics is just a matter of opinion without rational foundation. After presenting the ethical principles just described, along with many examples, it provides several chapters that analyze real-life dilemmas, many obtained from the author’s students and professional workshop participants. One cannot understand physics or chemistry without seeing how their principles are applied to real problems, and the same is true of ethics. These chapters demonstrate that a unified normative theory can deal with a wide range of real cases while achieving a reasonable level of objectivity and rigor.

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright Page
  5. Table of Contents
  6. Preface
  7. Author
  8. Chapter 1 The Central Role of Ethics
    1. Reaching Agreement
    2. Why We Are Sometimes Unethical
    3. Doing Ethics with Our Brains
    4. What Is in the Book
  9. Chapter 2 Myths and Misconceptions
    1. Why We Have Ethics
    2. The Role of Religion
    3. Ethics and Self-Interest
    4. Moral Development
    5. Just a Matter of Opinion
    6. The Limits of Reason
  10. Chapter 3 The Generalization Principle
    1. What to Expect
    2. The Basic Argument
    3. Cheating and Free Riding
    4. Identifying the Reasons
  11. Chapter 4 The Utilitarian Principle
    1. The Concept of Utility
    2. Maximizing Utility
    3. Deontic Utilitarianism
    4. Justifying the Means
    5. The Demands of Utilitarianism
    6. Causing versus Allowing
    7. Utilitarianism and Fairness
    8. Utilitarianism and Lifestyle
    9. Utilitarianism and Careers
    10. Responsibility for the Choices of Others
    11. The Population Puzzle
    12. Present versus Future Utility
  12. Chapter 5 Everyday Dilemmas
    1. Boarding the Plane
    2. The Ambulance
    3. Taking a Short Cut
    4. The Damaged Car
    5. The Cashier’s Error
    6. Finding Money
    7. Surprise Birthday Party
    8. The Boss’s Travel Expenses
    9. Blocked Traffic Lane
    10. Last Will and Testament
    11. Reclining the Airline Seat
  13. Chapter 6 Moral Agency and Autonomy
    1. Moral Agency
    2. Dispensing with Blame
    3. Habit and Emotion
    4. Respecting Autonomy
    5. Destruction of Agency
    6. Coercion
    7. Paternalism
    8. Imposing Values on Others
    9. Joint Autonomy
    10. Informed Consent
    11. Overkill
    12. Killing in Defense of Self or Others
    13. Trolley Car Dilemmas
  14. Chapter 7 Virtue Ethics
    1. Obligation versus Excellence
    2. Loyalty as Obligation
    3. Naturalistic Ethics
    4. Moral Epistemology
  15. Chapter 8 Buying and Selling
    1. Damaged Rental Skis
    2. Supermarket Ethics
    3. An Ethical Smartphone?
    4. On Sale Next Week
    5. A Pizza Puzzle
    6. Celebrity Endorsement
    7. Cheap Stuffing
    8. Subprime Mortgage Lending
    9. Marketing Prozac
  16. Chapter 9 Ethics in Education
    1. Exam Information for a Friend
    2. Reporting Cheaters
    3. When Everyone Else Is Cheating
    4. Using Study Drugs
    5. Sponsored Student Seeks Another Job
    6. Unmentioned Plans
    7. Teaching for Fraud
  17. Chapter 10 Job Search Ethics
    1. Sharing Interview Questions
    2. Reneging on the Employment Contract
    3. Inventing a Job Offer
    4. Padding the Resume
  18. Chapter 11 Ethics on the Job
    1. Accepting Free Tickets
    2. Sexual Harassment
    3. Confidential Salary Information
    4. Spy or Customer?
    5. Misleading Numbers
  19. Chapter 12 Organizational Policy
    1. Exploding Gas Tanks
    2. Surge Pricing
    3. Low-Wage Suppliers
    4. Online Privacy
    5. Offensive Cartoons
    6. Online Self-Censorship
  20. Chapter 13 Medical Ethics
    1. Refusing Measles Vaccine
    2. Withholding Information
    3. No Heroics
    4. Allowing Death to Come
    5. Euthanasia
    6. Allocating Medical Resources
  21. Chapter 14 Ethics of Artificial Intelligence
    1. Autonomous Machines
    2. Duties to Machines
    3. Responsibility
    4. Building Autonomous Machines
    5. Machines That Share Our Preferences
  22. Index

Product information

  • Title: Taking Ethics Seriously
  • Author(s): John Hooker
  • Release date: April 2018
  • Publisher(s): Productivity Press
  • ISBN: 9781351578677