EXPLORING VALUES, RULES AND PRINCIPLES.
Danney UrseryYour values (beliefs or attitudes about what is good, right, desirable, worthwhile, etc.) and your value system (the ways you organize, rank, prioritize and make decisions based on your values) provide the foundation from which you make your personal and professional judgments and choices. They are your beliefs about what is important in life. Some values refer to how one should act (for example, to be honest, self-disciplined, kind). Other values refer to what one wants to accomplish or obtain in life (for example, to want a lot of money, security, fame, health, salvation, wisdom).
Your values exist as a complex set of interweaving personal policies or priorities that serve as a guide for decision-making. Values may be based on knowledge, aesthetic considerations, practicality, moral grounds, or on a combination of these. Much of what we value is not concerned with our sense of morality or ethics, so not all values can be called moral ones. Most of us value money, status, personal fulfillment, and freedom, and while these are not immoral values, they are not necessarily moral values. For the sake of our discussions, we will call these nonmoral or instrumental values. There are several general categories of values, but listed below are probably the major four. Our discussions will be concerned directly with number four, morals-based values, and indirectly with immoral and nonmoral values.
¨ Knowledge-based value: I value philosophy because it gives me great insight into life.
¨ Aesthetic-based value: I prefer classical music because it sounds much
¨ Instrumental value: I must have a job because it allows me to achieve certain extrinsic
¨ Moral value: I believe it is wrong to lie because lying shows disrespect
Notice this last sentence involves both a moral judgment and a moral rule. This is important. "I believe it is wrong to lie" is a moral judgment, and to support this judgment, a reason could be "because lying shows disrespect for other people." All moral judgments must be grounded in a moral rule-this is the final section of the Discovery Essay.
Value conflict occurs when an individual experiences uncertainty about what he or she really believes or wants or when it is not clear how to rank his or her values. When moral-based values conflict, then a moral dilemma arises-one is, metaphorically speaking, between a rock and a hard spot. A person cannot "have it all" or "be all things." When values conflict, choices must be made. Ranking or prioritizing must be established since this is one of the best ways to help decide what our primary value is and to assist in making a moral judgment. Those values which you consistently rank higher than others are called your core values. Courses in moral reasoning will help you think better about moral dilemmas, value conflicts, and what your core values might be.
In this course you are asked to analyze the values involved in your moral dilemma, moral rule, or moral judgment, while in other courses you may be asked to analyze the values of the different parties involved in the moral controversy you are researching. Remember, in both cases you are looking at a moral dilemma rather than simply a social or cultural issue. Be careful not to confuse the two. The values involved in a moral dilemma are usually both good moral values in which you believe, but both, in a particular case, cannot be ranked the highest value.
Your moral values are your beliefs about what is important in life. Some values refer to how one should act (be honest, altruistic, self-disciplined) while other values refer to what one wants to accomplish or obtain in life (a lot of money, fame, a family, friendships, world peace). Because a person cannot "have it all" or "be all things," priorities must be set and choices made. Setting your priorities often leads to value conflicts. You may want to be successful in your career, but you may also want a more relaxing lifestyle and more time to spend with friends and family. Here, the value of success may come into conflict with the value of family. This is just one example. Stop reading for a moment, think about and then write down an important value conflict you are experiencing in your life right now. Some examples of moral values are: integrity, respect, caring, justice, civic virtue, and openness. There are many, many moral values; thus, these represent only a very few.
Very simply put, to understand and solve a moral dilemma, you must figure out which values are involved in the conflict, prioritize them, and act upon the primary value. The act must be grounded in a moral rule, and the moral rule justified or defended using normative ethical principles that are part of a normative ethical theory.
To direct you in creating your moral rule and, later, in justifying the rule, consider the following. What is the difference between a moral rule and an ethical principle? An example of a moral rule is "one should not lie," whereas an ethical principle could be "one should respect other people." Ethical principles, such as those found in the theories of Kant and Mill, help us justify or defend our moral rules, as well as decide between conflicting moral rules. A moral rule is very specific; it is action guiding. It tells you what to do in a specific situation. A moral rule doesn't tell you anything about why, in a particular situation, it applies instead of another moral rule. Our moral rules are often the outcome of our religion, social mores, our politics, or our culture.
Ethical principles, on the other hand, do tell you how to decide among competing moral rules, mores, and values, and these types of principles are found in normative ethical theories. Most ethicists maintain that these principles are not relative, but objective; they are universal though not necessarily always absolute (i.e., unchanging). The justification essay investigates which ethical principles justify the moral judgment that guided your proposal in the discovery essay. An ethical principle, e.g, the Categorical Imperative or the Principle of Utility, is much more general than a moral rule so that it can be used in many different situations to help decide which rule to act on in a specific situation. It isn't general for the purpose of being vague. If you are unclear about what ethical principles are and how they differ from moral rules, please review this with your instructor or raise the question in class. It is important you are clear about this distinction.
In some cases, instead of a moral rule, people offer a value statement. A value
statement does not express an "ought" or a "should." A value
statement conveys that something has merit or worth, but it doesn't say what
should be done; that is, it is not prescriptive or normative. (For example,
"human life is sacred" is a value statement and "life" and
"sacred" are values for most people.) Moral rules are quite
specific about what should be done. Value statements are not specific
about what should be done. Values are general beliefs or attitudes about something
we desire or like. Our values very often underlie our moral rules. If my moral
rule is "always be honest," then my value is "honesty."
Values only express what it is that we believe has value. As in the above case,
however, moral judgments and moral rules are often contained within the same
sentence. Thus, sentences are often both descriptive (I believe. . .) and prescriptive
or normative (you ought to do . . .). An ethical principle is part of
an ethical theory and it is usually an objective, universal statement.
Even though people regularly mix up values, moral rules and ethical principles, we have tried to emphasize the difference. Being a moral person is more than following accepted codes of conduct, whether business, religious, political, or simply holding a belief in the importance of ethics. It requires our knowing how to make good moral decisions by using ethical standards and critical thinking and to be sensitive to the implications of our decisions. The study of ethics requires the ability to do in-depth critical thinking, the ability to evaluate ambiguous and incomplete information, and to have sufficient intellectual skills to implement our moral decisions. Morality has a price and sometimes we must choose between what we want to be and what we want or desire. Very often what we have the right to do is not identical with what the right thing to do is. There is not one single decision making procedure which works. All we can do it offer strategy or a methodology which can help guide us.