Saturday, October 19, 2013

Two Sides of an Issue

I used to teach a class in the ethics of technology. One of the biggest challenges in teaching ethics is convincing students that ethics in particular and morality in general is not a matter of right and wrong. It is a matter of competing interests. So, while many people see the goal in ethics as being able to convince somebody else of your opinion, it is not. The goal is see other people’s opinions as well and then come to a balanced and reasoned conclusion. “When you make an ethical decision,” I would tell them, “and you feel good about it, you probably didn’t fully understand the decision.” In every ethical decision there are winners and losers. And every ethical decision involves picking the winners and snubbing the losers. I will come back to this idea later. But, for now, I wish to return to the idea of ethics as multiple competing perspectives.

I would tell students, who were quite often very convinced of their ethical positions along with all the supporting talking points, “If you cannot argue at least two sides to an argument, then you have no right to an opinion.” The reason for this is that if you cannot argue at least two sides of an issue you just repeating what somebody else said and don’t really have an opinion. I will take up this issue again in a future post.

Nonetheless, considered opinions require you to evaluate all sides of an issue and come to a conclusion. If you cannot offer even the most rudimentary arguments from opposing sides then clearly you haven’t considered them. And if you haven’t considered them, then you really don’t have an opinion. You are just parroting something that somebody else said.   

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