MAKING ETHICAL DECISIONS
Ethics is founded in truth; therefore, ethical decisions usually are a matter of simply adhering to the truth. In fact, if truth is not an issue, the problem usually is not an ethical one but one concerning personal values, and your decision will be based on those values. You and only you are responsible for that decision, so you must be sure that you are making a decision that you can live with. Forever. If truth is at issue, then you are faced with making an ethical decision. That decision requires that you handle the situation honestly, and endeavor to do no harm to not only the people involved but humanity generally. However, such a decision may require ‘whistle-blowing,’ so you may run the risk of offending others. It’s important to remember that if this is the case, it’s their problem, not yours. If you’re not willing to run that risk, you may not make an ethical decision, in which case it becomes your problem. Being ethical may not always be easy, but it’s simple if you adhere to simple rules. But you must make sure that you don’t redefine ethics to suit a particular situation. Situational ethics is not ethics at all; it’s unethical.
You may be familiar with a rather classic problem presented in ethics seminars: You are in command of a loaded life raft with room for only one more person–more than one and you’ll sink. You come upon four other survivors clinging to a floating plank in water of temperature about 45-degrees. You can take only one, so three people will certainly perish unless additional help comes quickly. How do you choose? The problem sometimes includes variables such as descriptions of the four persons—one may be young, another old, one a Senator or a priest, or some other concern. No matter—the answer is the same: it is NOT an ethical problem. Why? TRUTH is not involved. The decision becomes a matter of judgment and choice for which YOU are responsible and must answer. Tough, huh? BUT it simplifies the ethical dilemma.
Another: During a routine inspection of prefabricated roof trusses you find that several have been improperly welded and could possibly be unsafe. Upon checking you find that they have already been cleared by your immediate supervisor who has slated them for shipment and subsequent installation. The supervisor tells you to let them go as is because replacement or repair would jeopardize both the budget and schedule; you get the distinct impression that rejecting them would embarrass your supervisor and possibly jeopardize your job. Upon further consideration you consider the possibility that they might not fail at all. What do you do? First: Is it an ethical decision? Well, it involves TRUTH… so the answer should be obvious.
AND ONE FOR THE ROAD:
You are president of a local service agency matching single-parent children with volunteer adults who spend four to six hours per week with the child. Each volunteer adult is thoroughly screened by agency professionals to prevent anyone who may harm the kids being paired with the adults. You did not have any say in the screening process. A friend of many years with a fine reputation in the business community has applied to become a volunteer. He has passed all screening procedures, but you know that many years ago he had a drinking problem that caused him to become violent and abusive. Moreover you had seen him abuse his nephews at a family function. Should you let the past be the past, or interfere in the screening process and warn the agency staff of this person’s past history? This intrusion possibly would harm a much-needed match, and perhaps a friendship. Your call…
Both United, but Both Ethical? No.
The United States was created in the late 18th Century by a dedicated group of enlightened patriots. Our Republic was shaped by the two major forms of government historically extant in the West, those being a strong central government (as in France) and the more local, less bureaucratic, sort as typified by England. The most important criterion was the primacy of the rule of law over the rule of men, a concept not entirely in global vogue either then, or today. Ethics was built-in.
The founders’ intentions were clearly defined in our Constitution which distributes power between federal and state governments, vesting power to interpret that Constitution and enforce the law of the land in a Supreme Court, which remains independent of the legislative and executive branches. Our written federal Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Our nation “of the people, by the people, and for the people” is unique in the world, and remains the high-water mark of society. Our founders were, to a man, God-fearing people; bold, risk-taking individualists of high ethical and moral fiber who were not at all timid about their reliance on a Supreme Being in their actions. Most were members of established orthodox churches, some in fact Christian. It is accurate (if not politically expedient) to say that the Christian worldview was the foundation on which the founders built our Republic. Their intentions were plainly and unmistakably fleshed out in the Federalist Papers and written into the Declaration of Independence, all a matter of historical record.
The foregoing facts are indisputable. The United States was the state-of-the-art in 1776, and remains so today. Our history clearly establishes it as the ethical standard of the world.
The United Nations is an international organization comprised of nearly 200 member states (countries), founded in 1945 (and succeeding the failed League of Nations) to facilitate cooperation in international law and security, global development, social progress and human rights, and to promote world peace. Many of its members, all equally represented in the General Assembly, do not have a written constitution or even a representative government. The World Court, based in The Hague (Belgium) is the UN’s primary judicial organ. Its laws are different from the laws of the US. Its function is to advise in international affairs and settle legal disputes between the members. Its rules and agendas are determined by the member states. Any member state may be on this court at any given time. It goes without saying that the member states include governments of widely-varying types. Few member states have governments as supportive of individual rights as that of the United States, and most are considerably less so. Ethics is not an issue. Nevertheless, all have equal representation in UN activities. The politics of the UN is complex. In its striving for the equality of nations, the UN is subject to input from member states including monarchies, totalitarian governments, and more enlightened societies. The danger is that less-developed nations with individual agendas can have a disproportionate effect on UN operations.
An example of this tendency is the formation of the UN’s IPCC (International Panel of Climate Control) with the clear agenda to collect climate data favoring only the predisposed goal of controlling man’s effect on global climate (this statement is based in historical record, not supposition). This of course assumed that mankind has a measurable effect on global climate and weather conditions, a presumption with no scientific basis in fact. An example of misguided UN predictions is the UNEP (Environmental Program)’s 2005 predictions of “fifty million climate refugees by 2010”, a prediction factually demonstrated in 2011 to be not even remotely realistic. Many of the locales predicted to be detrimentally affected today are “among the fastest growing regions of the world.”
While the United States does not have the ethical right to forcibly impose its standards on other nations, neither should it be expected to compromise those standards at the whim of others. Ours, the most advanced society in the world, should be employed to improve the overall quality of life on our planet, not be subject to diminution by others. The UN needs the US far more than the reverse. This fact should govern our ethical (and leadership) role as well as our continued participation in making the world a better place for all.
“If there is a form of government, then, whose principle and foundation is virtue (read: ethics), will not every sober man acknowledge it better calculated to promote the general happiness than any other form?” John Adams, 1776.
ETHICS DEFINED: UNIVERSAL MORAL PRINCIPLE
UNIVERSAL Any time, anywhere
MORAL Pertaining to Rules of Right Conduct
PRINCIPLE A Fundamental Truth
Being Ethical: Doing the Right Thing, Anywhere, Every Time
Impossible? Not really, but certainly challenging. Unless you’re honest. And what’s honesty? Simply – Applied Truth. Truth is the operative word. It’s all about truth.
Truth is the principal principle, an absolute. Everything (even a lie) starts in Truth.
Then why is there so much disagreement about truth, and about what’s ethical and what’s not? Because nowadays “everybody’s entitled to his own opinion.” And besides, who decides what’s ‘right?’ Taking the last first: What’s right is what will work to the ultimate benefit of everyone, everywhere, at all times. It may take some thought… And finally, ethics isn’t subject to opinion. It’s absolute; something either is ethical or it’s not. And there you have it. Universal Moral Principle – doing the right thing, anywhere, every time. But this sounds suspiciously like perfection, and isn’t it true that nobody’s perfect? Yes, it is, but that doesn’t invalidate the goal. AIM HIGH! Make a difference!! QUESTIONS? COMMENTS? CONCERNS? You’re encouraged to explore the site for details. Or contact us directly… Or read the book > > >
ETHICS, PERFECTION and the UNPROVEN
The atheist claims that God does not exist because God can’t be proven. I posit that proof is not necessary. We accept certain truths to be self-evident—basic hypotheses that can’t be proven—as fact. Why not one more? All that’s required is to define what we mean by God.
Whatever God may be is not physical but supernatural— before nature; therefore it can’t be nature (or reality, as some would have it). Others equate it with consciousness, which takes the supernatural into consideration. While the concept seems valid, I prefer perfection. Simply stated, nobody (no body)’s perfect—admittedly oversimplified, but it makes the point that whatever it is, is superior to man and conceptual rather than physical.
That we live on Earth is fact, but that we are physically connected to it is assumed to be proven fact. It is not. I refer of course to gravity, which is only an idea and not proven. We know it by experience and can even measure it, but we do so in terms of Earth—not universally or beyond. That it exists universally is known, but what and why it is remains unproven. Yet we accept it unconditionally. This is known as an act of faith. We all have faith—it comes with our humanity.
If gravity’s not enough, consider electromagnetism (EM) and the electromagnetic spectrum. The EM field is made up of waves (not mass). Frequencies range from very long (the length of the Universe?) to very short (we don’t know that limit—it’s assumed to be infinitesimal). Actually, the longest wave might not be the size of the Universe at all—there may be longer waves for all we know. The point is that EM can’t be proven, although we can measure (parts of) it and our very being depends on it.
But EM represents conditions responsible for almost all phenomena encountered in daily life (including the obvious sight and hearing), with the exception of gravity(?).
Here we have two basic phenomena without which we couldn’t exist, yet they can’t be proven, but we (including the atheist) have faith in them, and we’re reasonably certain that something(?) existed prior to the Universe, call it what you will…
We know as well that the Higgs field (enabled by the Higgs boson) exists even though it can’t be quantified, and that when certain massless particles pass through it they gain the property of mass. Some thing from nothing? Sounds like creation to me… Modern (post-classical) physics supports this, as it does more than the four dimensions that we deal with daily.
Is God present as gravity? Or is the EM field a manifestation? Or the Higgs? Whatever the reason for the Universe, all of these powerful but invisible phenomena are part of it and have been since at least its beginning.
It’s true (and therefore ethical) that there is a power greater than man and the Universe itself; some call it God. I call it perfection. If the atheist can come up with another answer (other than ‘no’), I’ll listen.
Previous posts on this subject:
ETHICAL ISSUES: POLITICS & the PARETO PRINCIPLE
The field of ethics has changed remarkably over the years. In the 2000 years from Plato to The Enlightenment (was it really?), ethics (originally conceived as an antidote to politics) was correctly identified with virtue. It seems that Plato (and Aristotle) had issues with politicians even then. Things haven’t changed much in the ensuing years. To diverge, but not really…
The Pareto Principle, commonly known as the 80/20 rule, is an amazingly consistent ratio that holds true in most cases of all types (and this is not an exaggeration). For example: 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people; 80% of the money is owned by 20% of the people; 20% of one’s effort generates 80% of the results; 20% of the defects cause 80% of the problems (and 20% of the work causes 80% of the problems); etc. ad infinitum. Applied to politics, let’s say that 20% of politicians may be ethical while at least 80% are not. How else to explain the wealth of politicians whose salaries are not sufficient to generate that wealth? How else to explain why politicians exempt themselves in many cases from the rules they impose on the electorate?
After 2500 years politics is still in need of virtuous men. Since the 18th Century the ‘enlightened’ (are they really?) have slowly eroded the original idea of virtue to the point where tradition itself was thrown under the bus and the very idea of ethics became increasingly incoherent. Today, a ‘nice’ person with ‘good intentions’ may believe himself to be ethical. Know this: Making it easier to be ethical by changing the definition of ethics is fraudulent and unethical in itself.
Since Socrates, truth remains the root of ethics. ‘Good intentions’ do not necessarily lead to ethical decisions. Ethics is not about feeling or even doing, it is about being, about character. Ignoring the concept of virtue does not make it go away; the fact that it may be out of fashion does not negate it. Virtue remains a function of ethics; forming character its goal.
But the virtuous politician is an endangered species. In fact, subterfuge is built into the very definition of politics: “…the art of political government; political methods and maneuvers; use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control;” and playing politics: “to take advantage…to exploit…to deal with people in an opportunistic or devious way…” etc.
Is it any wonder we have the situation we have today? Read the news and see that the politician with the biggest war chest is almost guaranteed to win. What has this to do with character? Virtue? Trustworthiness? We have an attorney general reprimanded by Congress (News flash: Pot Calls Kettle Black!) for stonewalling its investigation of government-sponsored activities, and being supported in his efforts by the President himself. There are innumerable other examples of ethical lapses(?) in government, but all three branches are rife with current examples beside the ones just described. It may be noted that all three branches are largely populated by lawyers…
Governmental ethics is a contradiction in terms, legal ethics an oxymoron, business ethics a joke and environmental ethics a laughingstock. Virtue—propriety, prudence (what’s that?), temperance (and that?), courage, honesty—is largely absent from politics (and bureaucratic life in general). What’s to be done?
Truth and honesty, that’s what. And it starts with you, the individual. Be honest and demand honesty. Anybody can do it, but anybody must have the courage to do so (in other words, be ethical himself). Too much effort? Well, you see the results of that attitude—”All that’s required is for good men to do nothing.”
ExtremeEthics is bucking the tide, but it’s a worthy cause. How about coming on board? The Pareto Principle holds here as well—the honest 20% of us can dominate 80% of whatever it is we choose to dominate. If 20% of politicians were honest and did their job, we wouldn’t have these problems. That means that there aren’t even 20% of politicians who can be relied on! Twenty percent is all we need, and that’s within our reach if we decide to insist on it.
Start With Truth. EXTREMEEthics is committed to it. You should be, too.