Moral Reasoning


These posts are not meant to tell anyone how to act or not act ethically and morally, but to make us aware of what goes into how we make decisions during this historical time. For the most part morality and ethical concepts are inner changeable in English, and to most people’s thinking.

Scientist tell us that moral, ethical thinking seems to be a complicated process in the brain. They say there is no single place in the brain that makes the decision but rather a network of regions that are involved in moral decisions.

As we move deeper into the pandemic of the COVID-9 virus it is important to recognize how we are going to be faced with moral and ethical decisions at a scale we haven’t had to consider for many years. Front line workers will be asked to perform tasks that will haunt them the rest of their lives. Families will be asked to make decisions, that will change the course of their life.

My stepfather was a survival in WWII of the Betaan death march. As a nurse he was the Japanese prisoner-of-war-camp medic. He had to make choices of who would receive medications and live. The lives of those lost remained burnt into his brain for the rest of his life. He rarely remembered those he saved. This is not too dissimilar from what our front-line medical people will be faced with.                                                                                                                                                                          Moral Reasoning uses critical evaluation to specific events to determine what is right or wrong, and what we ought to do in a particular situation. The simple decisions we make daily (like deciding what to wear or eat) is done in the same manner that we decide on a moral question such as to lie-or-not-to-lie. Our brain processes both in the same way.

Moral reasoning usually applies logic and moral theories, such as deontology, deciding according to rules, such as don’t lie; or utilitarianism, decisions based on out comes, the greater good, but because we cannot predict outcomes, it has limitations as does deontology. We use moral reasoning to specific situations or dilemmas.

People are not especially good at moral reasoning. Indeed, the term moral dumbfounding describes the fact that people often reach strong moral conclusions that they cannot logically defend. Moral dumbfounding happens when a person uses their emotions and intuition rather than approaching a specific situation rationally. Moral dumbfounding is apparent when we are faced with a situation we can’t answer. For instance, a situation such as birth control. Saying birth control is not right, but neither is supporting babies and mothers. This situation dumbfounds many when faced with it.  Evidence shows that the moral principle, ethics we choose to apply to a specific situation is more than often based on emotions, internal biases or outside pressures not logic. So many of our choices are based on our self-serving biases or the desire to conform to our group’s ideals.

During this time many of us will be faced with times our morality and ethics will need to be examined. C.S Lewis says that integrity “is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking.” When we grasp, accept and choose to live according to our principles, which includes honesty fairness, and decency we are exercising integrity. We are a person of integrity when we demonstrate we are a person free of corruption and hypocrisy.

We reveal our integrity when we act with virtue no matter the circumstances or consequences. The ability to act upon our moral and ethical biases is the critical connection to a society that is humane and empathic of all peoples. I recall a broadcast by a med worker in England who finished her shift crying because the shoppers had stripped the stores and she could not find food to feed her family. Are those hoarding acting with integrity?                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Moral Absolutism affirms that there are certain universal principles, by which all peoples can be judged. It is a form deontology (morality is based on societal rules). There are certain considerations by all people, but most societies have quite different views of what is moral and ethical. This is in contrast to moral pluralism and moral relativism. Moral relativism looks at each situation, and moral pluralism states we should be tolerant of all people’s morals. But beyond that, people from different countries may hold varying views about everything from the morality of abortion and capital punishment to discrimination and corruption.

Moral absolutism declares a common set of moral values, in reality, moral principles vary greatly among nations, cultures, and religions.

© Suzanne Deakins                                                                                                                        March 23, 2020


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