e-book Theory and Practice of Ethics and Morals: A rational, secular and definitive approach

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It conveys the idea that with moral awareness and moral education we develop good habits and thus behave ethically towards one another, i. In philosophy ethics is the study of moral philosophy. It has spawned several ethical theories, the most established of which are deontology, utilitarianism, consequentialism, and virtue ethics. The word deontology derives from the notion of duty. This was a central concern of the nineteenth century founders of utilitarianism — Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill and Henry Sidgwick — who sought, following Aristotle, to develop the idea that the criterion of goodness in any given action is that it produces the greatest possible amount of pleasure.

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This ethical hedonism — love of pleasure, however, is not confined to the self, i. Aristotle had concerned himself with promoting ideas about morality which would lead to the ultimate end of promoting human flourishing.

Kant & Categorical Imperatives: Crash Course Philosophy #35

Utilitarians retain the principle that nobody should act in such a way as to destroy their own happiness, in Aristotelian terms, to prevent their own flourishing. However, G. Aristotelian ethics fell by the way as Western philosophers sought to find rational grounds for morality and became increasingly tied to liberal notions of individual autonomy and free choice.

But recently there has been a revival of interest in Aristotle who is most strongly associated with virtue ethics. It is to a fuller examination of these ethical theories that we now turn. The ethical approaches most commonly referred to in social work values and ethics texts come from the dominant moral theories in Western philosophy mentioned above. These can be divided into naturalistic theories, i. Non-naturalistic ethical theories Non-naturalistic ethical theories see ethics as transcendental and objective, i.

The most influential theory in this mode for social work comes from Kantian deontology in terms of which ethics involves acting out of a sense of duty or obligation. The professions have tended to follow this approach which is why so much attention is paid within social work to its role — purpose or mission — in society. Once this is decided then codes of ethics are devised comprising professional obligations, rules and principles which all social workers are duty bound to follow.

As we will see in the opening section on professional perspectives, respect for persons and individual autonomy expressed in the principle of self-determination are central to social work, and flow from a particular deontological and Kantian view of the individual as possessing rationality or the ability to reason and make their own choices. The social worker tries to create an accepting context so that clients can exercise their own judgement and initiative whenever and wherever practicable. In Western society, the right to self-determination expresses the conviction that people should be in control of their own destinies.

This right to self-determination is the key to other rights and privileges, such as confidentiality, informed consent, freedom from interference, and privacy. Since clients have the right to self-determination, the implication is that they should be encouraged to exercize this right, that they are responsible for their actions and for the realization of their desired goals. In fact, in social work decisiveness is applauded and indecision is frowned upon.

However, the notion of self-determination is not without controversy. For Spicker , self-determination is impossible to reconcile with what social workers actually do. Although social workers try to be non- directive, in reality they cannot avoid influencing their clients. However, in the real world this is not always so.

There is considerable agreement that social workers invariably exercize implicit or explicit control over their clients. Nevertheless, social workers constantly search for ways to avoid a heavy-handed approach and to reconcile themselves to the use of their professional authority. The social work literature can leave you more confused than enlightened about the meaning of self-determination. Those authors who try to understand self-determination in relation to what social workers actually do in practice, fail to acknowledge that because practitioners are not guided by their values this does not discount the importance of holding such values.

The fact that our values seem to bear little direct relevance to social work in practice does not negate their importance. A moral stance which proposes that people ought to be allowed the freedom to choose is better than one which says that social workers have the right to manipulate and control clients in accordance with their professional knowledge, understanding and expertise in dealing with human problems. Without these guiding values people would become objects prey to the whims and fancies of social workers.

It is precisely because social workers occupy positions of power and status that they need values which prevent them from exploiting clients. Understanding about the nature of their authority can help social workers appreciate the degree of influence which they have and values can guide them to use this influence in a moral rather than a paternalistic and manipulative way Timms, As we will see in Chapter 1, in terms of existing ethical codes, social workers are responsible to society, to employers, to the profession, to their peers or colleagues, to clients, and to themselves.

Potential problems and dilemmas arise when responsibilities, interests and demands conflict. The profession exerts powerful pressures towards social conformity.

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Jeremy Bentham

The social worker is expected to act responsibly by respecting relevant social and professional norms. In reality, professional autonomy denotes freedom to move within the boundaries of conduct legitimated by the profession and society, as shown in Chapter 3. Manipulation denotes a heavy-handed use of authority whereby clients are unwittingly led in certain ways by social workers who may believe that they are acting in their best interests.

Ultimately, then, self-determination is a safeguard against the inappropriate manipulation of clients. Self-determination typifies the strongly individualistic bias in social work values, which are often assessed in terms of their utility. The profession favours values that can be operationalized, i. Less emphasis is placed upon developing moral sensitivity and understanding.

Both worked alongside politics, which was concerned with the kind of society needed for human flourishing. Teleological ethics hold that all things are designed for or directed toward a final result, i. As in a democracy, majority interests count.


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Consequentialism is usually understood as distinct from deontology, in that deontology derives the rightness or wrongness of an act from the character of the act itself rather than the outcomes of the action, and from virtue ethics, which focuses on the character of the agent rather than on the nature or consequences of the action itself. Virtue ethics comes from the philosophy of Aristotle in terms of which morality stems from human character which is built by following the virtues.

In terms of Aristotelian ethics, moral education is important and, through emulating the virtues, we can inculcate good habits into the young. In virtue ethics, a good act is one that ensues from the good intentions of the actor, i. However, Aristotle, the founder of virtue ethics, saw reason as the primary intellectual virtue and believed that it was in our nature to have the ability to use our faculty of reasoning to discern a way of life in accordance with our human nature.

For him, morality works with human nature, not against it, so he does not focus on the idea of free will, so important in Christian and Kantian ethics. He does not talk, e. For him, morality was not about devising and conforming to rules, but more about learning to cultivate a moral life. For Aristotle virtues are fixed character states: we could be trained to see in a moral way, to be sensitive to and aware of morality and its overriding importance.

Virtue theorists, following Aristotle, suggest that philosophers should concentrate more in what makes good people and good societies A neo-Aristotelian ethics is focused very much on examining the kind of society needed for people to live full and meaningful lives. It flows from a focus on fundamental human interests and needs. This naturalistic ethics then asks what kind of structures and institutions are needed in society for people to realize, fulfill or actualize their potential. For example, a consequentialist may argue that lying is wrong because of the negative consequences produced by lying though a consequentialist may allow that certain foreseeable consequences might make lying acceptable.

Why are ethical considerations important to social work? A book on ethics and value perspectives in social work is inevitably also a book about morality. We know that there are very different and competing ideas about the moral condition of humanity. For example, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it was believed that moral agency consisted in being subject to a divine natural law and carrying out duties imposed by such law.

God was the moral legislator. Rights were only regarded as derivative being a mere means to the fulfilment of celestial duties Haakonssen, By the beginning of the nineteenth century this perspective had been chipped away at with a subjective theory of rights gradually emerging. The morally autonomous individual, with rights, has risen from the vestiges of these competing ideas. Today, for many, it is the modern State and the individual conscience that are the joint moral legislators.

1. Descriptive definitions of “morality”

Morality has expanded its frontiers through its deployment in social work and has, to a large extent, claimed sovereignty over certain corners of social work discourse. Indeed, we can confidently claim that the moral life of individuals and societies has preoccupied the history of social work and is likely to continue to do so.

True to its characteristically critical function, social work never rests content with an acceptance of prevailing norms and standards for values. It seeks to scrutinize these norms, to examine whether they are consistent and coherent, and to see how far they can be rationally justified. Social work is intimately concerned with what is considered to be good and evil, right and wrong.

What is the relationship between the ethical principles we are encouraged to adopt in social work and personal values or self-interest? What connection is there, if any, between how we ought to behave as professional practitioners and how society regards individual morality? These are some of the fundamental issues with which social workers have been characteristically concerned and will continue to remain so. But how did social work get involved in all of this talk about ethics, morality and values?

Ancient civilizations to the end of the 19th century

In other words, it has a history and one that reflects the changing nature of the history of moral philosophy and the societies in which it is articulated. We can locate the preoccupation with ethics in British social work to the mid s in the early pioneering work of the Charity Organization Society. Social work in late nineteenth century Victorian England was fashioned distinctively against the background of moral, scientific and aesthetic outlooks.

If morality is historically shaped it is likely to produce fashions and trends as well as orthodoxies. It constructs a normative ethical order and tries to establish a self- evident set of moral dispositions. To give a starker example, it is unlikely that you will come across a social worker who openly admits to adopting Machiavellian tactics in her work with service users. Values are created, some are legitimated and authorized, and others are repudiated with some remaining silent. If morality changes over time there is also something that is stubbornly persistent about certain assumptions made in relation to the values it endorses, for example, the idea that a life worth living is one that necessarily involves self-reflection and critical scrutiny.