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Ethics for Professionals in a Multicultural Worldby David E Cooper
This book is designed to serve those who find themselves in an intermediate position between the professional ethicist and the student studying for a career in a profession. It is an unfortunate fact of modern academic life that the books with the best ethical theories are couched in an academic jargon that makes them almost inaccessible to the average member of society. This is not necessarily an oversight, because the moral philosophers at the leading edge of our discipline are writing for people with Ph.D.'s in moral philosophy. But, a moral theory that cannot function in the lives of ordinary citizens is a moral theory that is not quite doing its job on the practical level. Thus, this text tries to make the concepts and moral theories of philosophers such as Kant, Mill, Rawls, Habermas, and their postmodern and feminist critics, accessible to those who are not professional philosophers.
The book has an interdisciplinary flavor, since I rely on my research in social science, child development, and clinical psychology to support some of my points. Over all, it is a philosophy teacher's response to the phenomenon of the "banality of evil" and other forms of administrative evil that occur when citizens with good motives make "professional" decisions that are ill conceived from the moral point of view. Wayward professionals are often bewildered about how they could have fallen so far off the moral track. When asked to speculate on this kind of issue, students sometimes claim that there is no moral track. Others say they are confused by the plurality of ethical and moral beliefs that now occupy the public sphere. Some adopt a postmodern skepticism about the possibility that there could ever be a justifiable universal consensus about moral fundamentals. Others seek comfort by focusing narrowly on a select code of ethics without worrying about whether or not the code is compatible with a broader philosophical vision for a just society. I believe these options contribute to moral drift and banal choices in situations of cross-cultural conflict, where a more sophisticated moral outlook is needed.
Contemporary life requires professionals as well as ordinary citizens to solve conflicts that cross religious, cultural, and technological boundaries within their own society as well as at the global level. Globalization is a complex phenomenon that is a source of hope for some and terror for others (Pensky, 2001, pp. vii-viii). On the one hand, it promises an increased growth of cross-cultural interrelationships that will help people transcend xenophobic ethnocentrism; on the other hand, it offers the threat of global markets devastating the political infrastructure of nation-states, leading to social and ecological crises and increased disparities in wealth. On the one hand, it promises that media contacts will cross hostile boundaries and shine a light on oppressive practices; on the other hand, it threatens to homogenize cultures and eradicate the source of unique individual cultural identities. On the one hand, it promises a growth in global political democratization that will move mankind away from totalitarianisms; on the other hand, it threatens the end of democracy because the rise of market-driven expert bureaucracies will dispense with direct citizen participation. All of this is very confusing. What these developments mean for codes of ethics and the practice of professionals is not yet clear.
Twenty-first-century citizens will need to develop a moral point of view that can adequately respond to these pressures. Given that professionals have a proven ability to master the esoteric knowledge of their field, the increasing need to develop sophisticated cross-cultural ways of relating will require them to take a leadership role in adjusting to the increased complexity of modern life. Because they will have to apply their intellectual skills to moral problems at both global and local levels, they are going to have to figure out how to locate professional codes of ethics in the broader milieu of an increasingly multicultural world. If they can master this task, their example will help the rest of us see how to approach conflicts from a point of view that has cross-cultural moral integrity. The main argument in this book is that there is a philosophically justified (i.e., rational) moral point of view that can serve to regulate (a) the evolution of codes of ethics for professions and (b) the adaptations that twenty-first-century citizens will have to make to their worldview in order to accommodate the growing complexity in our postmetaphysical, multicultural, and transnational world.
Over the years, I have used all the standard approaches to teaching ethics. Many of them simply increase the confusion students feel in the face of a smorgasbord of moral options. In particular, it is a mistake to present students with a bewildering array of alternative philosophical theories and/or cases that imply morality is about irresolvable moral dilemmas. Students need to be shown that pluralism does not have to remain a cause for bewilderment. A rational adjustment to pluralism can lead to what Habermas calls transcendence from within, leading to the moral point of view favored by most philosophers. I argue that "the moral point of view" is an ongoing developing perspective that is not only rationally justifiable, but is also a necessary practical accommodation to the forces evolving in the twenty-first century. Adopting this point of view with its practical implications for professional practice can diminish the possibility that we will drift into practices that promote what Hannah Arndt referred to as the "banality of evil."
Since Habermas is one of the leading moral philosophers of the age, I have worked his insights into every chapter of the book. I also feature Habermas's discourse ethics as one of the best contemporary responses to the postmodern angst over false universalization. The book discusses the friendly dispute between Rawls and Habermas, and argues that a proper interpretation of Rawls's veil of ignorance supports the virtue of rational moral empathy and democratic procedural rationality, both of which guide Habermas's discourse ethics at the application level.
Since this material is difficult to comprehend, students need to be eased into the complexity, rather than be bombarded with it all at once. To facilitate the transition, the text starts by introducing some fundamental distinctions that will be needed for later complex analysis. Accordingly, Chapter One is the longest chapter because it moves slowly from concrete to abstract issues, and introduces vocabulary and concepts that will be needed throughout the book to understand how the moral point of view ought to guide practical decisions. Some of the discussion about the relationship between rules, principles, and theory may seem too elementary, but I choose to err on the side of simplicity in the initial chapters.
A secondary goal of the book is to introduce a vocabulary that can help people think philosophically, so there is technical vocabulary in each chapter. However, the first time a technical term is used, it is cited in bold italics, and accompanied by its definition, also in italics. Because students have complained that they sometimes forget the meaning of a word and then are confused when they see it later in the book, I have added an alphabetical listing of key terms with their definitions in a glossary. Readers can quickly check the meaning of a term when they encounter it later in the book.
To make the book seem less intimidating, I have integrated illustrative anecdotes throughout the chapters. For example, in Chapter Three I use my graduate 'school encounter with a logical positivist logic teacher to show how moral muddle can lead even a man with a Ph.D. into adopting a naive metaethical theory like emotivism. Since these anecdotes represent an informal philosophical interpretation of personal experience, they are flagged by a For Instance each time one of them is inserted. This kind of informality will not suit the tastes of all readers, but together with occasional illustrations, they help clarify abstract analytic points by giving readers a concrete image of the concepts being discussed.
Since students in pluralistic cultures do not necessarily share a background foundation of common life experiences, it is important to create a body of shared events that can serve to facilitate discussion. I use descriptions of a number of famous social psychology experiments and investigative reports to illustrate abstract and theoretical points, for example, the Zimbardo Prison Experiment, the Milgram Yale Authority Experiment, the Amnesty International study of Greek torturers, Lifton's study of Nazi doctors, etc. These illustrations are discussed with enough detail that together they begin to serve as a body of shared events to facilitate later discussion and comparisons.
I assume that before dealing with deep controversy people need to develop a body of philosophical concepts that can help them work through controversial issues. So my aim is to introduce key concepts early, but in a way that avoids the risk of causing premature personal discomfort that might be distracting. To accomplish this I use the case of the autistic genius Temple Grandin to illustrate how difficult it can be for a child who lacks normal procedural understanding to learn the meaning of a simple moral command such as "Be gentle with the cat." I also use other illustrations in a similar manner; for instance, the famous case of Phineas Gage is used to show how rational moral understanding depends on the normal human ability to integrate abstract knowledge with emotional commitment. These kinds of real life examples are fascinating in their own right, but they also help illustrate both the virtues and deficits to be found in any moral community. Throughout the text, there is a continuous emphasis on clarifying the virtues that are needed to function as a responsible moral agent who adopts the recommended point of view.
Since the final goal is to help people apply theory to real-life situations, the second chapter introduces a standard decision procedure from applied ethics, which recommends approaching cases by developing a "background" analysis, an analysis of "ideal theory," and an "implementation" strategy. This structure is used throughout the text to create a common framework for discussions. Since the entire book uses the model, the early chapters are devoted to backgrounding, the middle chapters to ideal theory, and the last chapter to theory of implementation. Thus, Chapters One through Three explore the background context of contemporary applied ethics by discussing the structure of moral inquiry, a normative definition of professional practice, and some common moral failures committed by professionals. These chapters call our attention to the need for a more sophisticated approach to ethics. Chapters Four and Five explore background empirical research on moral development, gender differences, and the way voice alters one's moral point of view. Next, ideal theories of rationality are explored in Chapters Six and Seven, and consequentialist and nonconsequentialist ideal theories are discussed in Chapters Eight and Nine. Finally, Chapter Ten discusses theory of implementation by illustrating how the ideal theories can be applied to actual cases. Because the book uses more empirical research than is standard in philosophical texts, the reader who wants a more traditional philosophical emphasis should read the book in the following order: Chapters One and Two to lay the conceptual groundwork for moral theory, Chapters Six and Seven to explore philosophical reasoning, Chapters Eight and Nine for the traditional Western theories of morality (including Habermas's discourse ethics), and Chapter Ten for illustrations on how to apply theory to practice.
This book is animated by my own beliefs about moral agency and professional life. The guiding assumption is that everyone can benefit from learning to use a theoretical perspective to judge practical value conflicts, especially in those contexts where our professional stations require us to intervene in the lives of "vulnerable" others in medicine, law, engineering, social work, teaching, parenting, and so forth. My faith in theory is based in part on personal experience. My own grasp of theory as well as my attempts to apply it to concrete cases continue to shape my behavior and add to the feeling of awe I have for the moral world. A theoretical orientation to values, of course, will not eliminate immorality from life, guarantee that we will always make the right decisions, or replace the importance of personal moral experience. But it can help diminish our human propensity to be ethically careless when we confront ethical dilemmas in our rapidly evolving pluralistic culture.
As every instructor knows, personal education accelerates once one begins to teach. I will end this lengthy preface by acknowledging my debt to all my students. Trying to teach them has taught me much more than I ever learned as a student, and, equally important, each semester their infectious enthusiasm adds to the quality of my life. I would also like to thank Northern Michigan University for the institutional support for the project, and Erin Schwiderson and Michelle Fish for the long hours and very competent help with editing and typing. I dedicate the text to the people who taught me about love and commitment, especially my children Katherine, Brian, Eliisa, Bill, and Nathan. My wife Mary deserves a special thank you for her patience and support.
Note To Students
There are certain reasoning strategies and conceptual tools that are not always explicitly taught but that are vital for success in the culture of higher education. Studies show that even though good students use the strategies, they cannot necessarily pass them on to other students because they are not always explicitly aware of their own skills (Elks, 1994). This makes learning seem mysterious to those who have not learned the strategies, but there is no mystery here. Strategies can be mastered, and once acquired they increase general competence. If you will make use of them, I can guarantee your journey into the culture of academic philosophy not only will be interesting but also will broaden the repertoire of skills that you have for solving problems in general.
There are many ways to get to the same place. If you have a system that works for you, continue to use it. What I am going to suggest is that you broaden your skills by adding some new strategies. Experience will teach you which tools are most useful for different contexts. One of the best learning strategies is active reading. Too often students say, "I read this chapter six times and it still makes no sense." The problem is often passive reading. They start with the first word and read to the last word and do very little in the middle. If you are doing something wrong, doing it six times will not make it better. Remember, reading academic material is not like reading a story. It requires thought and reflection. I have been reading philosophy for 40 years. I still read new material at a rate of about 15 pages an hour. You have to give yourself time to reflect while you read.
Enter into a dialogue with the text. Ask questions about every paragraph. "What is this paragraph supposed to tell me?" "If I was going to be asked a question about this paragraph, what question would I be asked?" "Do I know the answer?" At the top of each page, write out questions that the page should answer. At the end of each section, write out a question that the information in the section could answer. And always keep a "global" perspective. "What are the questions that this discipline tries to answer?" "How does this particular bit of material contribute to that overall task?"
There are several steps to active reading. First, don't keep reading when you get confused. Stop. Then try to explicitly idetify where you got confused. Second, try to formulate a question directed at your confusion; that is, a question that, when answered, will clear up your confusion or at least lead the way toward an investigation that will clear it up. Third, try to specify some plans for getting rid of the confusion. Take an active role in trying to generate a number of solutions to your questions. Fourth, try to evaluate which possible solution is the best and pay attention to how you came to your conclusion. Finally, internalize the whole process so that the steps used to clear up your confusion become part of your memory system. Write the steps down or visualize them in a familiar context.
This is the ideal time to think of questions that you can ask in class. Asking questions is crucial in becoming an active philosophy student. If students don't ask questions, the instructor is not getting feedback and may have a false idea about the students' understanding of the material. An academic blunder is apparent when the first test shows both the instructor and students that they have not been communicating.
One strategy for remembering new material is to make "maps" or schematic charts. Create charts that show how concepts are related. Keep the concepts from different theories on different maps so that you will not confuse the theories with one another. Then draw a master map that brings the smaller maps together so that you can compare theories. For example, you might draw a map for each moral theory, and then a larger one that highlights conceptual similarities and differences between the theories.
It is very hard to remember abstract terms because they are not usually tied to specific visual events. Maps can help us begin to visualize them in context. Why bother? Well, because visual memory seems to be almost inexhaustible. If you can attach abstract concepts to a visual image, you are far less likely to forget the terms. For example, "justice" is a very abstract concept often defined as "getting one's due" or "having one's rights respected." Students often have trouble remembering the definition (along with the hundred or so other abstract concepts they must remember). But when they visualize the definition, they report that it is much easier to remember. It does not matter how they visualize it, so long as they use their own memory system. Some students find it useful to visualize different rooms in their house, and then keep each philosophical theory in a different room. The individual terms of each theory can be attached to different objects in the room. For example you could remember "utility" by placing utilitarianism in the kitchen and associating "utility" with useful cooking utensils.
The strategies listed above are useful in any academic discipline. There are also strategies that have to be mastered in individual disciplines. Since each discipline focuses on questions and problems that are special to it, each has developed its own methods for trying to solve its particular problems. You increase your own ability to cope with the world when you master the problem-solving strategies of several different disciplines. Be sure to ask teachers or other experts for some guidance about what kind of skills are most useful for coming to terms with their discipline.
The author wishes to thank the following reviewers for their helpful suggestions: David Clarke, Southern Illinois University, and Christina M. Bellon, California State University Sacramento.
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