Guide Right and Wrong

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Because we rank our ethical values differently, what might be a dilemma for one person may not be for another.


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Gather the facts. What do you know and not know? Who will be affected? Identify competing ethical values. It helps you understand your dilemma. Weigh one value against the other. Either choice may be ethical.

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Do I vote for a bill that gives a short-term gain for my district or vote for one that hurts my district, but provides a long-term gain for the state? Analyze your options. Is there a third choice—a compromise position that holds true to your ethical principles? Choose a decision-making model that fits your ethical values and helps you solve your dilemma. The option may change, depending on the dilemma.

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Some include:. Make the decision. Seek counsel from a trusted adviser. Consult your peers, legislative leaders, family or friends—people you respect. Consider the consequences of your action or inaction and be prepared to justify it. This final step may be the most important. If you had it to do over again, would you make the same decision? Editorials Chronicle Editorial Board Newsom on wrong side of environmental bill. Editorials Chronicle Editorial Board Democrats should be conducting impeachment inquiry. Top of the News. Local By Carl Nolte The best 1.


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  • Danger zones for earthquakes, fires, floods. Over the past few years, evolutionary biologists, neuroscientists, and cognitive psychologists have been exploring these very questions. And they are making some startling discoveries. For example, using functional MRI fMRI scans of the brain, neuropsychologist Joshua Greene has found that different types of moral choices stimulate different areas of the brain.

    Teaching the Difference Between Right and Wrong

    His findings present an astonishing challenge to the way we usually approach moral decisions. Suppose you are the driver of a runaway trolley car that is approaching five men working on the track. As you speed down toward this tragedy, you realize you can divert the train to a side track and thereby kill only one person who is working on that other track. What do you do? Next to you is a fat person whose sheer bulk could stop the oncoming trolley.

    Most people say they would save the five lives in case one, but not in case two—and offer complicated reasons for their choices.

    Teaching the Difference Between Right and Wrong – Primrose Schools

    What Greene found in his research was that different parts of our brains are at work when we consider these two different scenarios. In the first case, the area associated with the emotions remains quiet—we are just calculating—but in the second case, which asks us to imagine actually killing someone up close and personally, albeit to save five other people, the emotional area of the brain lights up.

    Brain research of this kind underscores the claims of evolutionary psychologists who maintain that many of our moral attitudes are grounded in our genetic history. They suggest, as does Greene, that because we evolved in small groups, unaware of people living halfway around the world, we have stronger instinctive moral reactions to problems that affect us directly than to those that are more abstract.

    In this view, for example, evolutionary strategy dictates our preferences for kin over strangers, and makes us more likely to display altruism toward people we can see first-hand. Cognitive psychologists, for their part, are examining how moral decisions are formed—demonstrating, for example, how selective images, such as pictures of starving children, can alter and enlarge our sphere of empathy, and how social environments can either stultify or nurture compassion. They remind us that our pre-set inclinations—how we are—do not prescribe or justify how we ought to be.

    But this ongoing research is of vital importance to our understanding of ethics, and in particular, everyday ethics. Moreover, this research can be extremely helpful as we determine how best to teach ethics to our children. Indeed, studies of the brain and our genome might shed light on how it is that some individuals turn out decent and caring and others cold and obnoxious.

    Deep ethics: The long-term quest to decide right from wrong

    All this data cannot, however, answer our fundamental challenge: How should we act and what kind of people should we strive to be? Nor can we rely on our biological dispositions to point us toward the best ethical judgments. Rather, we have to confront the integrity of our character, our honed intuitions, our developed sense of fairness and honesty. And to see how these traits are exhibited, we need to see how they work in action. The articles in the rest of this issue do just that. This is how ethics gets played in the classroom, at work, at the supermarket, over the dinner table.


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