Friday, December 29, 2006

My last day in stats class, we discussed decision making. In the stats class it was focused on research and conducting ethical research and reporting your results accordingly. I'm going to leave out the statistics that would bore people to death (which is why it will be relatively short), and I'm going to make some adaptations so I can say what I want to, but essentially, this is a college statistics lecture... Enjoy.

Decision making comes on three levels: legal, moral and ethical. Making decisions based only on the law is simple. Most people know the law or at least most of the really important laws. Legal decision making will generally keep you out of big trouble, but there are a lot of really bad ideas that aren't illegal. Moral decision making means that you follow the rules of the community you are in. Of course, we are all in many communities. We have a neighborhood, church, work, family and friend communities. Rules exist in these communities whether they are written or not. The rules in the different communities are also different, while it is well known that a fart is not welcome in church, it may be right at home watching the game with the guys. These rules are generally more strict than the laws of the land. I always considered ethical and moral to be synonyms, but I learned otherwise in stats class. Ethical decisions are those that follow the rules of your conscience... Those things that you "ought" to do. Ethical decisions will do the most good for the most people. Although not discussed in stats class, I would like to add that ethical decision should also do the most good for the environment because in the end what you do for the environment will be hugely beneficial to my kids and grand kids.

We discussed some interesting historical decisions in class. One that we spent some time on was Hitler. He made some decisions that affected a lot of people. Lets start by examining Hitler's perspective (however warped it may be). Hitler wrote, "I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.." He was trying to be the ultimate Christian (in his view). The Jews killed Christ, so Hitler was going to kill the Jews (and anyone else who wasn't "perfect"). This decision was not legal, moral or ethical.

My professor shared a story about visiting a hospital in Samoa. It was run down and barely had the room to serve those who needed it. And those who were receiving services were not receiving the highest quality available due to the condition of the facilities. As he looked out the window of this run-down building he saw a huge, beautiful building next door and he asked about it. Evidently the French had seen an opportunity to serve, so they put in a multi-million dollar orthopedic center in Samoa. This decision was certainly legal, and moral based on the service it rendered. Unfortunately this decision wasn't ethical (or at least not the most ethical) because in the entire country of Samoa there was not a single orthopedist. So this multi-million dollar building that was built off of legal and moral ideals, was sitting empty next door to a facility that needed to be updated. The French did not do the most good for the most people in their decision. Is building an orthopedic center a bad thing? No, but so much more good could have been done instead to serve more people.

As I make decisions I try to remember this. For example, when I get cut off or run off the road by a car, what action will do the most good for the most people? Yelling or vulgar gestures will certainly only make the driver mad and more aggressive toward other cyclists. Although legal, that's not the best action. I'm not sure what the best action is to deal with aggressive drivers, but I'm looking for ideas.


Vertigo said...

I think I see things a little differently. Let me know what you think.

I agree that making decisions based on the law is a good way to keep yourself out of legal trouble. You mentioned that there are a lot of bad ideas that aren't illegal (eating or drinking to excess comes to mind). There are also a number of bad ideas that are legal (abortion comes to mind). Legal decision-making is not necesarily morally wise. I think we agree on these things.

I see a difference in the way we see morality, or at least how you described morality.

Morals are objective standards of right and wrong. They are not based on what the community thinks is right and wrong. If they were based on community standards, then a whole lot of things that we take for granted in our culture do not make sense.

If morality is based on the community, then conflicting communities' senses of morality can not be judged as being better or worse than each other. If one community says that it is morally good to torture babies for fun, then a different community cannot criticize their morality.

Ethics refers to how well we live up to those objective standards of moral conduct.

If we base our decisions on only our own conscience, then we are left with no way to criticize any individual's actions.

Both of these ideas that you learned in your stats class are pure relativism.

Relativism cannot provide a meaningful basis for moral decision-making.

Let me know what you think.

sans auto said...

I agree with you... I think. The way moral decisions were set up, yes, they were completely relative. And it is that way in life, social rules are relative to your community. So based on the instructor's definition of morality it is relative to the community at that specific time and place. Since I attend at a religious university it is assumed that when we discuss ethical decisions it is assumed that our concience is the spirit of Christ and it will be the same for everyone if you are really listening. Thank you, I think you make an important point, relativism is a bad idea and it just doesn't work. I also believe that everyone is prompted at some level by the Spirit (some are really good at ignoring it) and if you listen, you can hear it.

Emily said...

I hope I make ethical decisions. Thank you for the educated writings. I enjoyed reading it!

Vertigo said...

Your response raises a couple questions for me.

You said that 'your conscience is the spirit of Christ'. When you say that, I understand that we were created with an innate sense of right and wrong. We were hardwired to know moral truth. Is that what you are thinking?

You also say, 'it will be the same for everyone if you are really listening.' This is a very popular idea in my faith community (protestant evangelical). Many people believe that we can learn to 'hear' the 'voice' of God. It seems to me that this leads to everyone being able to justify their actions based on their own personal communication from God (as Hitler did). I do not think that this line of reasoning provides a sound (or biblical) basis for morality.

Maybe I am being too picky here about language, but I have learned through living here in Japan that one person can be using words in one sense and another can be listening to the words but understand something totally different.

I think that moral discussions often lead to conflict because of different understandings of the same words.

Dennis Prager says that we should seek clarity before agreement. I agree with Prager, at least as I understand his point...