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Virtue Ethics and International Relations  

Kirsten Ainley

Virtue Ethics (VE) is a way of thinking about how to behave well which focuses on the character of moral agents and the nature of the good life. This contrasts with dominant approaches to international ethics which prioritize the identification or development of moral rules or duties (deontological approaches) or the consequences of actions (consequentialist approaches). The relevance of virtue ethics to international affairs is established by setting out the critique of the dominant law-based approaches offered by VE and then exploring the positive contribution VE can make. Virtue ethicists argue that character and a concrete conception of the human good are central to ethics—that the right question to ask when working out what it means to be ethical is not “what should I do” but “what sort of person should I be?” The three central concepts in VE—virtue, practical wisdom, and flourishing—have not been applied systematically qua VE in international political theory or international relations, but their appearance in various guises in recent scholarship suggests avenues for future research. Four such avenues are identified, ranging from the moderate to the radical, which offer innovative ways to confront key ethical dilemmas faced in international affairs.

Article

Ethics for Climate Change Communicators  

Michael Lamb

Over the last decade, scholars have devoted significant attention to making climate change communication more effective but less attention to ensuring that it is ethical. This neglect risks blurring the distinction between persuasion and manipulation, generating distrust among audiences, and obscuring the conceptual resources needed to guide communicators. Three prevailing approaches to moral philosophy can illuminate various ethical considerations involved in communicating climate change. Consequentialism, which evaluates actions as morally right or wrong according to their consequences, is the implicit moral framework shared by many social scientists and policymakers interested in climate change. While consequentialism rightly emphasizes the consequences of communication, its exclusive focus on the effectiveness of communication tends to obscure other moral considerations, such as what communicators owe to audiences as a matter of duty or respect. Deontology better captures these duties and provides grounds for communicating in ways that respect the rights of citizens to deliberate and decide how to act. But because deontology tends to cast ethics as an abstract set of universalizable principles, it often downplays the virtues of character needed to motivate action and apply principles across a variety of contexts. Virtue ethics seeks to overcome the limits of both consequentialism and deontology by focusing on the virtues that individuals and communities need to flourish. While virtue ethics is often criticized for failing to provide a concrete blueprint for action, its conception of moral development and thick vocabulary of virtues and vices offer a robust set of practical and conceptual resources for guiding the actions, attitudes, and relationships that characterize climate change communication. Ultimately, all three approaches highlight moral considerations that should inform the ethics of communicating climate change.

Article

The Neoclassical Decision-Making Paradigm and Environmental Valuation: An Environmental Ethics Perspective  

Gregory Cooper

The relationship between environmental ethics and the application of economic values to the environment has followed two main paths: (1) blocking attempts to value the environment economically by extending the concept of moral standing to elements of the natural world, and (2) attempting a pragmatic reconciliation that harnesses the efficacy of economic motivation while avoiding the excesses of an exclusively economic perspective. The pragmatic reconciliation must still come to grips with several ethical issues that confront environmental valuation. The fact that economics is grounded in a utilitarian consequentialism renders it susceptible to some long-standing deontological challenges having to do with rights and justice. Other challenges include a reluctance to embrace value pluralism, overly ambitious attempts at pricing, failure to incorporate deeper value commitments that do not take the form of preferences, and the inadequacies of a preference-satisfaction account of well-being.

Article

Digital Media Ethics  

Charles Ess

Since the early 2000s, Digital Media Ethics (DME) has emerged as a relatively stable subdomain of applied ethics. DME seeks nothing less than to address the ethical issues evoked by computing technologies and digital media more broadly, such as cameras, mobile and smartphones, GPS navigation systems, biometric health monitoring devices, and, eventually, “the Internet of things,” as these have developed and diffused into more or less every corner of our lives in the (so-called) developed countries. DME can be characterized as demotic—of the people—in three important ways. One, in contrast with specialist domains such as Information and Computing Ethics (ICE), it is intended as an ethics for the rest of us—namely, all of us who use digital media technologies in our everyday lives. Two, these manifold contexts of use dramatically expand the range of ethical issues computing technologies evoke, well beyond the comparatively narrow circle of issues confronting professionals working in ICE. Three, while drawing on the expertise of philosophers and applied ethics, DME likewise relies on the ethical insights and sensibilities of additional communities, including (a), the multiple communities of those whose technical expertise comes into play in the design, development, and deployment of information and communication technology (ICT); and (b), the people and communities who use digital media in their everyday lives. DME further employs both ancient ethical philosophies, such as virtue ethics, and modern frameworks of utilitarianism and deontology, as well as feminist ethics and ethics of care: DME may also take, for example, Confucian and Buddhist approaches, as well as norms and customs from relevant indigenous traditions where appropriate. The global distribution and interconnection of these devices means, finally, that DME must also take on board often profound differences between basic ethical norms, practices, and related assumptions as these shift from culture to culture. What counts as “privacy” or “pornography,” to begin with, varies widely—as do the more fundamental assumptions regarding the nature of the person that we take up as a moral agent and patient, rights-holder, and so on. Of first importance here is how far we emphasize the more individual vis-à-vis the more relational dimensions of selfhood—with the further complication that these emphases appear to be changing locally and globally. Nonetheless, DME can now map out clear approaches to early concerns with privacy, copyright, and pornography that help establish a relatively stable and accepted set of ethical responses and practices. By comparison, violent content (e.g., in games) and violent behavior (cyber-bullying, hate speech) are less well resolved. Nonetheless, as with the somewhat more recent issues of online friendship and citizen journalism, an emerging body of literature and analysis points to initial guidelines and resolutions that may become relatively stable. Such resolutions must be pluralistic, allowing for diverse application and interpretations in different cultural settings, so as to preserve and foster cultural identity and difference. Of course, still more recent issues and challenges are in the earliest stages of analysis and efforts at forging resolutions. Primary issues include “death online” (including suicide web-sites and online memorial sites, evoking questions of censorship, the right to be forgotten, and so on); “Big Data” issues such as pre-emptive policing and “ethical hacking” as counter-responses; and autonomous vehicles and robots, ranging from Lethal Autonomous Weapons to carebots and sexbots. Clearly, not every ethical issue will be quickly or easily resolved. But the emergence of relatively stable and widespread resolutions to the early challenges of privacy, copyright, and pornography, coupled with developing analyses and emerging resolutions vis-à-vis more recent topics, can ground cautious optimism that, in the long run, DME will be able to take up the ethical challenges of digital media in ways reasonably accessible and applicable for the rest of us.