Ethics: backwards or forwards?

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Here is a thought before going to bed: when thinking of the right action to take in a difficult ethical situation, do you think of the action first then reason backwards to why it would be right, or do you think of your reasons first then come to a conclusion?

If a friend tells you something after you’ve agreed to keep a secret, but the secret might hurt someone else – do you tell?

If we are a good little Virtue Ethicist (like in my previous post) we presumably will instinctively choose the ‘right thing’ and be able to explain why post facto.

If we are a Utilitarian, we will presumably think of our options and their consequences, and then choose an option.

I am therefore not as good a Utilitarian as I would like to be, because I find myself going backwards, trying to justify the answer I ‘feel’ is right. But I don’t see myself as a Virtue Ethicist (good people make good decisions) and besides, even if I did, I don’t think I’m that good a person.

I suppose another reason I don’t like Virtue Ethics, (other than the fact that it seems to be telling me how I ought to think, not just how I ought to act) is because if you need to be a virtuous person to make virtuous decisions… where does that leave me? (See, Lowestofthekeys – I admit it. Maybe the reason I don’t like Virtue Ethics is because I’m just not virtuous enough…)

For me, I guess one reason to study ethics is to understand more of the depth and breadth of the possibilities, and maybe apply a bit more thought and logic and a bit less instinct.

At least until I turn into Gandhi.

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