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Philosophy 302: Ethics
Case Study:  Moral Judgments

Abstract:  This case study illustrates the difficulty of making moral judgments as well as what can be inferred about our ability to do so.  A universal moral law is seen to be a complex hierarchy of ceteris paribus principles.

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Your group is requested to do four things:

  • Carefully read the situations in paragraphs A through E below. 
  • Rate the actions described in A through E from best to worst according to your personal ethics. 
  • Rate the actions described from best to worst according to your group as a whole. 
  • Justify why you rated the actions the way you did.

Situations: (Adapted from John Hospers, Human Conduct (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1972), 24.

[A] Former California Republican Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham is serving an eight-year prison sentence for accepting $2.4 million in bribes, while two former staffers of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay have pleaded guilty to corruption in another scandal centered around former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

On the Democratic side, Louisiana Rep.William Jefferson is under investigation for taking bribes in a Nigerian telecommunications venture, while West Virginia Rep. Alan Mollohan recently stepped down from the ethics committee amid questions about his real-estate holdings. Because of graft and corruption among high officials in the city government, city taxes have to be raised 35 per cent. [Reuters 05.03.06 "House Passes Ethics-Reform Bill]

[B] The ambulance brings to the hospital a man bleeding to death. The hospital, being a free city hospital, does not admit him. "We donít have room," the man at the receiving desk says falsely. "Take him to the other city hospital." At the other city hospital he is also refused, on exactly the same grounds. So he is returned to the first hospital, but by that time he is dead.

[C] A recent study by Princeton sociologists found that blacks were far less successful than were equally qualified whites and Latinos in gaining employment at the bottom end of the New York City labor market. It concluded that discrimination "continues to represent a major barrier to economic self-sufficiency for those at the low end of the labor market hierarchy." [Jeff Maskovsky, "Culutre and the Fate of the Black Man," New York Times, 05.02.06]

[D] Evangelical Christians form one of the most potent forces in American politics and society. They are people who place their faith, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, above everything else in their lives and hope to spread that Gospel to the world. An estimated 70 million Americans call themselves evangelicals, and their beliefs have already reshaped American politics. ... [I]n a country that is home to millions of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Christians who believe otherwise, such exclusivity can take on the appearance of extremism, especially when you add politics and patriotism to the gospels."  60 Minutes, "Rise of the Righteous Army," 02.08.04}

[E] The communist youth turns in his parents to the Secret Police for suspected activity hostile to the aims of the Party.

Rating and Justification:
















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Recommended Sources

Ethical Relativism and Ethical AbsolutismThe concepts necessary for understanding how to rate and justify the above cases are explored.

To see how this case study reflects the existence of an internal ethical standard, take a look at the Solution for Moral Judgments.

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