Why an ethics blog?
It’s a good question and one for which there is no simple answer, which will be true of most of the questions tackled here at Talking Ethics.
One partial answer: I think it’s extremely important to act ethically, but figuring out what that means in any given situation can be incredibly difficult, especially when you try to do it on your own. That’s where Talking Ethics would like to help—not by offering dictums from on high, but by trying to define the issue and the factors that matter, and by bringing in a multitude of other judgments and opinions (this is where you come in).
I am no expert in ethics. I have no academic credentials—a fact that didn’t seem to matter when I was asked to teach a graduate school seminar in journalism ethics. Since then, I’ve read a lot about ethics and thought about it a lot more, and I love the give-and-take of weighing issues when good but conflicting principles collide. In journalism, that can be something like the public’s right to know vs. an individual’s right to privacy. In everyday life, it might mean deciding whether to betray a confidence when keeping it will cause significant harm. Navigating the ethical course when good intentions bring bad consequences is where the challenge arises.
What personal ethics do I bring to the table? I believe the means and the ends both matter. I work from the premise that theoretically there is a right and wrong action to take in any given circumstance, but that in practice there are very few absolutes. Even a commandment such as “Do Not Kill,” which most of us subscribe to, can have extenuating circumstances (war, self-defense) that most of us recognize. Similarly, I think lying should be avoided in most cases, but there are many instances when it’s the wise and ethical thing to do.
As a result, we often have no choice but to work in a gray area, where there’s no perfect choice. We try to come as close as we can and hope for the best.
I’m familiar with many of the classic theories—Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, Mill’s utilitarianism, Aristotle’s virtue ethics and practical wisdom—and the many variations and more modern interpretations, but I don’t always favor one over another and often find them hard to apply to everyday life.
As for the blog itself, the plan is to mix it up. Some days I’ll offer the latest ethics news or my views on a current event, but more often I’ll let a reader pose a problem. I’ll also provide book reviews and poll readers on specific situations. If you want help with a problem you face, Talking Ethics would love to hear from you (We’re big fans of the New York Times Sunday Magazine’s regular Ethicist column). Unlike the Times’s approach, however, Talking Ethics will invite readers to help provide the advice. Talking Ethics may offer an opinion, but we recognize it’s just one view.
We welcome and encourage comments, and we have a liberal comment policy.
Talking Ethics is also open to guest blogs under 750 words. If you have an idea for one, send an e-mail query, and if we’re interested, we’ll give you the go-ahead. Guest blogs will be edited for length, clarity, and grammar, but not for content.
If you want to pose an ethical issue or write a guest blog, contact us here.