OVERVIEW OF VALUES
The following pages will assist you in your study of moral reasoning and ethics. Part of our goal at St. Edward's University is to help you recognize and respond morally to issues which you might encounter in both your private and professional lives. Many people approach the study of values and ethics with a lot of doubt. "I always try to do the best, I do nothing wrong." "What's wrong with my ethics?" "I attend church regularly," "Why do I need to study philosophy and ethics?" These are good questions or observations and asking someone to study ethics is not saying they are unethical. Our values, both moral and nonmoral, were acquired along with our basic language and socialized behaviors when we were young children and come from some very strong traditions that are part of our societies and our cultures. Law, religion, our family and peer group all tell us what we ought to do, but following these more traditional oughts does not necessary constitute a moral life. A great number of people, however, do live long and useful lives without ever consciously defining or systematically considering the values or moral rules that guide their social, personal, and work lives. During most of our lives we simply decided what was right and did it. Our moral decision were often little more than the proverbial coin toss. Decision and action, however, is the core of moral decision making and so most of us already have some practice at it. Being moral is like any art, the more the practice and understanding the better we become.
Sometimes, however, we have difficulty deciding what's right and what's wrong. Perhaps our own experience and knowledge is not enough. Perhaps we sometimes don't recognize issues as being moral in nature. Sometimes we recognize moral issues but we don't have sufficient insight into our value system or sufficient information to make a reasoned, informed decision. Sometimes we have conflicting values and have difficulty deciding which is more important. And as difficult as it can be when we're trying to define right and wrong for ourselves, it become more difficult when we have to work with other people and their beliefs about right and wrong. Any good artist or craftsperson has tools and this course attempts to give you the tools to better understand your own moral attitudes and how you make moral decisions as well as how to work more effectively with others. Ethics may or may not make you a better person, but I think it can help you think better about moral and ethical issues. Thinking better about morality and ethics is your goal. After you have read and understood the above, please continue with the essay on Exploring Values.
Value = what we choose or believe to be worthwhile or have merit. Values should be freely and thoughtfully chosen.
Moral Rule = a specific guideline for action. It is what justifies our moral judgments and actions in our everyday lives.
Ethical Principle = a principle which is part of a normative theory, which justifies or defends moral rules and/or moral judgments.