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Discussion No.

2
SENTIMENTS, REASON, AND IMPARTIALITY

Since the beginning of the course, you were already told that our minimum
conception of morality lies on the two important requirements: REASON and
IMPARTIALITY. It is argued that a sound moral judgment is always based on the
dictates of reason. However, we come to acknowledge that a substantial part of our
humanity is contained in our capacity to feel. At the end of the day, we realize that no
matter how ideal/rational our plans and decisions, our emotions may cause little to
major changes in our decisions. Thus, it is but proper that we also analyze how
emotions play in our moral decision making process.

I. David Hume, Emotions and Sentiments as foundation of Morality

Emotions – that is to say feelings and intuitions – play a major role in most of the
ethical decisions people make. Most people do not realize how much their emotions
direct their moral choices. But experts think it is impossible to make any important moral
judgments without emotions.

Inner-directed negative emotions like guilt, embarrassment, and shame often


motivate people to act ethically. Outer-directed negative emotions, on the other hand,
aim to discipline or punish. For example, people often direct anger, disgust, or contempt
at those who have acted unethically. This discourages others from behaving the same
way.

Positive emotions like gratitude and admiration, which people may feel when they
see another acting with compassion or kindness, can prompt people to help others.
Emotions evoked by suffering, such as sympathy and empathy, often lead people to act
ethically toward others. Indeed, empathy is the central moral emotion that most
commonly motivates prosocial activity such as altruism, cooperation, and generosity.

So, while we may believe that our moral decisions are influenced most by our
philosophy or religious values, in truth our emotions play a significant role in our ethical
decision-making.

David Hume, a philosopher coming from the empirical (knowledge is based on


experience) tradition, argued that morality is determined by sentiments. Virtue is
whatever mental action or quality gives to a spectator the pleasing sentiment of
approbation; and vice the contrary:
Virtue = pleasing to others. There is a sense of approval.
Vice = unpleasing to others. There is a sense of disapproval/disgust.

Reason for Hume is ought to be the slave of the passions.


HUME’S ARGUMENT:

P1) Reason cannot tell us what we value


P2) Reason can help us pursue what we value
P3) What we value is based on our sentiments & passions
SP1) We are naturally endowed with empathy – “fellow human feelings”
Sp2) We find virtue beautiful and vice hateful
P4) Morality is based on what we value
C) Morality must be based on our sentiments & passions

For Hume:

 Reason alone might override those “common fellow feelings” and permit
inhumane acts
 Role of compassion is directly linked to one’s conscience & to the ability to feel
disgust at vice and approbation towards virtue; with reason alone, “men become
totally indifferent toward these distinctions.”

The Moral Sentiments

Approval (approbation) is a pleasure, and disapproval (disapprobation) a pain or


uneasiness.

“The moral sentiments are types of pleasure and uneasiness that are associated with
the passions of pride and humility, love and hatred: when we feel moral approval for
another we tend to love or esteem her, and when we approve a trait of our own we are
proud of it.” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Sympathy and Moral Judgment

Sympathy can be evoked by the outward expression of another which conveys


their passions to us, through an association with our own passions, we come to identify
their feelings with our own. Sympathy or pakikiramay in Filipino or pannakipagrikna in
Ilocano means nakikita at nararamdaman mo yung pinagdadaanan ng isang tao.
Marahil ay naranasan mo na dati ang kanyang dinadamdam o di naman kaya pareho
kayo ng dinaramdam sa panahon na iyon.

Sympathy can also be evoked through an observation of outward causes of our


own passions and associating them with another via the inference that what causes us
to suffer would also cause another to suffer: “…if we contemplate the instruments
laid out for another's surgery, even someone unknown to us, they evoke ideas in us of
fear and pain.”
Three Players:
 Moral agent: the person who performs an action
 Receiver: the person affected by that action
 Spectator: the person observing the action and its
consequences and who approves or disapproves of
the agent’s actions.

“…if you as the agent give food to a starving person, then the receiver will
experience an immediately agreeable feeling from your act. Also, the receiver may see
the usefulness of your food donation, insofar as eating food will improve his health.
When considering the usefulness of your food donation, then, the receiver will receive
another agreeable feeling from your act. Finally, I, as a spectator, observe these
agreeable feelings that the receiver experiences. I, then, will sympathetically experience
agreeable feelings along with the receiver. These sympathetic feelings of pleasure
constitute my moral approval of the original act of charity that you, the agent, perform.
By sympathetically experiencing this pleasure, I thereby pronounce your motivating
character trait to be a virtue….” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

The Role of Emotions in the Trolley Problem

The Trolley Problem: A Classic


Philosophical Dilemma
Version 1:
Philippa Foot in 1967 at Oxford University first proposed the test scenario. ... “A
runaway streetcar is hurtling towards five unsuspecting workers. Do you pull a switch to
divert the trolley onto another track, where only one man works alone? Or do you do
nothing?”

Version 2:
Judith Thomson, a philosopher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
coined the term “trolley problem” and created what would become its second most
famous variant, the “footbridge” …. “In the “footbridge” scenario (also known as “fat
man”), the streetcar is heading towards five workers, but this time you’re on a footbridge
over the track. Standing precariously close to the edge of the bridge next to you is a
very large man, who, if he happened to topple onto the track below, could stop the
trolley before it reaches the five. Do you push him?”

Joshua Greene, (then a graduate student at Princeton) decided to slide people


into an fMRI machine to glimpse what happened in their brains when faced with
different trolley-problem scenarios. He ultimately found that the answers people
gave correlated with how emotionally engaged they felt with the dilemma. The
decision to pull the switch was related to activity in the prefrontal cortex (associated with
cool, conscious deliberation), while the decision not to push the fat man involved areas
like the amygdala, associated with strong emotional reactivity.”
“Morality may be innate to the human brain. This review examines the
neurobiological evidence from research involving functional magnetic resonance
imaging of normal subjects, developmental sociopathy, acquired sociopathy from brain
lesions, and frontotemporal dementia. These studies indicate a “neuromoral” network
for responding to moral dilemmas centered in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and its
connections, particularly on the right. The neurobiological evidence indicates the
existence of automatic “prosocial” mechanisms for identification with others that are part
of the moral brain. Patients with disorders involving this moral network have attenuated
emotional reactions to the possibility of harming others and may perform sociopathic
acts.”

SOME PROBLEMS WITH SYMPATHY


Inequality of Sympathy
 Our capacity to associate with the suffering of others is governed and perhaps
limited at least in part by our own experiences
 Just as different people feel different levels of suffering so too would different
people feel different levels of sympathy
 Some people seem to be easier to sympathize with than others – this is driven by
how well we can associate ourselves with them
 If the circumstances are too alien or the people too different, we could be
ignorant of their suffering entirely

Failure to account for unsympathetic behaviour:


 What of people whose sentiments are not stirred by the suffering or joy of
others?
 What of those people whose feelings of pleasure are given rise by another’s
suffering?

Hume argued that “a false relish may be corrected by argument and


reflection” i.e. “some education by way of instruction and/or experience must
occur in order to develop the natural sympathies” (Enquiry, 178)
 Can mean people be corrected by education?
 How can Hume distinguish between proper and false relish without reference to
some concept of objective truth?

SHOULD EMOTIONS BE THE BASIS OF MORALITY? IS IT ENOUGH TO SAY THAT


AN ACTION IS MORAL JUST BECAUSE PEOPLE APPROVE, SENTIMENTALLY
SPEAKING?

WHAT IF MAJORITY OF PEOPLE APPROVE CHEATING JUST BECAUSE IT


ENSURES MASS PROMOTION? WILL THAT MAKE CHEATING AN ETHICAL ACT?
II. THE REQUIREMENTS OF REASON AND IMPARTIALITY

We maintain that moral judgments must be backed by good reasons without


necessarily discarding the role of our emotions in decision making. Morality requires the
impartial consideration of each individual’s interests.

 We cannot rely on our feelings, no matter how powerful they might be.
 Our feelings may be irrational and may be nothing but products of prejudice,
selfishness, or cultural conditioning.
 Our decisions must be guided as much as possible by reason.
 The morally right thing to do is always the thing best supported by arguments.

How can we tell if an argument is really good?


 Get the facts straight.
 Bring moral principles into play. Are they justified, and are they being correctly
applied?

The Requirement of Impartiality


 Each individual’s interests are equally important, and no one should get special
treatment.
 If there is no good reason for treating people differently, then discrimination is
unacceptably arbitrary.

Morality is, at the very least, the effort to guide one’s conduct by reason—that is, to
do what there are the best reasons for doing—while giving equal weight to the interests
of each individual affected by one’s decision. (Rachels)

The Conscientious Moral Agent. . .


 Is concerned impartially with the interests of everyone affected by what he or she
does.
 Carefully sifts facts and examines their implications.
 Accepts principles of conduct only after scrutinizing them to make sure they are
justified.
 Is willing to “listen to reason” even when it means revising prior convictions.
 Is willing to act on the results of this deliberation.
FRAMEWORK FOR MORAL REASONING

I. SORTING OUT ETHICAL ISSUE


A. Types Of Issues
1) Issues for Individuals (Micro-level/Personal)
 The young engineer, her supervisor
 Others in the work group
 An individual's conflict of interest
 Problem keeping a promise to a colleague.
2) Professional Ethical Issues (Meso-level/Organizational)
 Professional Standards that apply
 A professional act or task governed by standards, e.g. writing a report,
keeping lab notebook
3) Institutional Issues (Meso-level/Organizational)
 Relate to organizational structure, practices and climate
 How they bear on whether individuals behave responsibly, eg. barriers
between departments of a company, policies about individual dissent.
4) Social/Environmental Policy Issues (Macro-level)
 Contractualization of Workers
 Joint Explorations on Philippine Marine Territories

B. Identifying Ethical Issues

1) What is the problem?


 Someone /more than one person is bothered. What's troubling him/her.
2) What makes it an ethical problem?
 Violations of a moral code are at stake.
 There is a threat of harm that may be unjustifiable.
 Code provision is violated
3) Who is affected?
 Important because we have to know whose interests must be taken into
account.
 Helps to get a clearer idea about the ethical problem.
 Eg. Once we identify persons or constituency who may be injured, we
may bet a better grip on the ethical issue.
4) Is the situation legal?
 Might a violation of law be involved?
 Eg. Legal requirement for asking consent of next of kin for a certain
medical procedure.
5) Are professional standards or codes at issue?
 Breach of Confidentiality
 Engineers entrusted with proprietary
 Law with clients confidences
 Medicine with patient's records.

6) Is there a violation of an organizational policy or code?


 General Electric's stated policy that prohibits price fixing

7) Having surveyed 1-6, what's at stake?

8) Does it now seem that we can describe the ethical problem in various
ways?
 Usually alternate descriptions of the actors, the situation or action in
question.
 Rationalizations exploit that different descriptions of action, situation,
agent, allow different formulations of ethical problems.

9) Wrestling with the issue of alternative descriptions, considering
thoroughly who are affected parties may show that there is more then one
problem, or that different people in the situation have their distinctive ethical
problems.

II. AGREED UPON STANDARDS

For assessing a situation, options for action, deciding what in the end to do.

You need and there are standards.

Rules of morality - even wide agreement on justified violations, eg. killing in


self-defense

How to interpret - agreeing on how to interpret rules in situations may produce


disagreements.
There are justifiable exceptions with reasons for exception agreed upon.
Is this such a situation?

Professional Codes
Engineers, physicians, lawyers, architects, chemists, physicists, not
managers.
There may be a provision on point, students are often relieved to find relevant
provisions.
Why do these provisions exist? Some previous experience in the professions
led to adoption of the provision.
III. SEVEN STEP GUIDE TO MORAL DECISION MAKING PROCESS

1. State problem (e.g. "Do I have a conflict of interest? or even "This makes me
uncomfortable").

2. Check facts (some problems disappear upon closer examination of the


situation; others change radically).

3. Identify relevant factors


 Who is affected by the decision? An individual, several individuals? An
organization?
 What are the consequences for the affected parties?
 Do any laws, professional codes exist that should be considered?
 Are there any practical considerations (under $200, in fifteen minutes, procedural
constraints, etc.)

4. Develop list of at least five options (be imaginative, try to avoid "dilemma"
-not "yes" or "no" but who to go to, what to say).
5. Test options, using such tests as the following:
 Harm test - does this option do less harm than any alternative?
 Publicity test - would I want my choice of this option published in the
newspaper?
 Defensibility test - could I defend my choice of this option before a
Congressional committee, a committee of my peers, or my parents
 Reversibility test - would I still think the choice of this option good if I were
one of those adversely affected by it?
 Virtue test - what would I become if I chose this option often?
 Professional test - what might my profession's ethics committee say about
this option?
 Business test - what do my colleagues day when I describe my problem and
suggest this option as my solution?
 Organization test - what does the organization's ethics officer or legal
counsel say about this option?

6. Make a tentative choice based on steps 1-5


7. Review steps 1-6: What could make it less likely you would have to make
such a decision again?
 What precautions can you take as an individual (announce policy on the
question, change job, etc.)?
 What can you do to have more support next time (e.g., seek future allies on this
issue)?
 What can you do to change the organization (e.g., suggest policy change at next
departmental meeting)?

You may also the Kantian Model for Ethical Issues Management discussed in
our introduction.
MORAL COURAGE

Moral courage is the commitment to standing up for and acting upon one’s ethical
beliefs (Miller, 2005). Morally courageous individuals act upon their ethical values to
help others during difficult ethical dilemmas, despite the adversity they may face in
doing so. To be morally courageous means standing up for what you believe even when
it means that you do so alone (Murray, 2015).

Critical Checkpoints in using Moral Courage for Ethical Decision Making

Step Checkpoint
1 Evaluate the circumstances to establish whether moral courage is needed in the
situation
2 Determine what moral values and ethical principles are at risk or in question of
being compromised
3 Ascertain what principles need to be expressed and defended in the situation –
focus on one or two of the more critical values
4 Consider the possible adverse consequences/risks associated with taking action
5 Assess whether or not the adversity can be endured – determine what
support/resources are available
6 Avoid stumbling blocks that might restrain moral courage, such as apprehension
or over reflection leading to reasoning oneself out of being morally courageous in
the situation
7 Continue to develop moral courage through education, training, and practice