personal ethics derive from a combination of established codifications of moral conduct, such as those embedded in political documents or in religious scripture, but also from my personality, my upbringing, and my worldview. I tend towards a utilitarian point-of-view, in that I do believe that the consequences of actions are more important than worrying about whether an action is inherently right or wrong. I also believe that there are situational variables that make true deontological ethics almost impossible to apply universally and without hypocrisy. Although I make some decisions based on the principle of doing the maximum amount to good for the maximum number of people, I also recognize the importance of a strong ethical character when making decisions “Six Ethical Theories Rough Overview,” n.d.). This is why I believe that there can be no one ethical theory that encompasses all situations. A person who has a strong ethical character, and who critically examines the variables at stake in any given situation, will make the best possible ethical decisions. It is impossible to please every stakeholder, every time, and thus, ethical outlooks need to be balanced carefully with pragmatism.
Week 1 — Discussion 2
Ethics are simply theory; it is how we act that matters. Bystander effect is one of the most important examples of where human beings can go astray by not acting. Not taking action can be more harmful than actions taken. Bystander effect, also known as bystander apathy, occurs when individuals are in crowds and fail to take action to help someone because it is assumed someone else will intervene (Sommers, 2011). On some level, though, bystander effect is explained by the social norms that govern human behavior. Sometimes helpers end up making problems worse, or the person may resent being helped. Most of the time, though, moral actions are required to improve the quality of life for all people in a city. For instance, a person who sees a child run out into the street needs to run after that child and not just stand there expecting that the parent will do it. If the parent returns and gets angry for a person for touching their child, at least the person saved the child’s life. The irrational reaction of the parent only shows that the parent is under stress or did not understand or see what happened.
Week 2 — Discussion 1
The three main ethical categories include duty ethics or deontology, utilitarian ethics or consequentialism, and character ethics, or virtue ethics. Ideally, a combination of these three approaches helps to inform a person’s ethical and moral behavior. There are pros and cons to each of these. Deontology assumes that everything can be black and white, and the ethical decision-making becomes rigid. At the same time, deontology allows people to become principled and to refrain from making convenient exceptions to rules for selfish reasons. Utilitarian ethics tend to view the ends as justifying the means, allowing for some unethical behaviors to take place as long as the actor deems the consequences worthwhile. At the same time, utilitarianism is a convenient model in a complex society where different ethical frameworks may clash. Virtue ethics stress the inner moral and psychological development of a person, and can be helpful in situations where a person simply wants to do good and be a good person. However, virtue or character ethics do not accurately guide a person towards ethical actions (“Six Ethical Theories Rough Overview,” n.d.).
Week 2 — Discussion 2
The law sometimes, and perhaps usually, reflects ethical codes. However, many laws remain unethical. Often, pragmatism and/or fear guide public policy in criminal justice more than ethics. The law usually reflects the difficulty balancing different ethical frameworks. A good example is drug laws. Drugs can cause addiction, which can cause personal harm. Drug prohibition is designed to “protect” the individual by restricting his or her freedom to act. However, the greater ethical principle of freedom as well as privacy also needs to be respected. Criminalizing drug users by placing them in prison is more unethical than the use of drugs itself, which can be considered a morally neutral act.
Week 3 — Discussion 1
Policy is often drafted using general language, so that it can be applied to different situations. Using generalized language allows the policy to cover multiple variables or contingencies. Yet herein lies the weakness with policy — it is sometimes too vague. Policy cannot possibly encompass all situational variables, and this is why informed individuals need to think critically about each situation and apply policy judiciously. Policy revisions become a critical part of an intelligent society and a learning organization. Just as the Constitution can be amended over time, so too can company policies. Drafting policies as practice helps to reveal the complexities and challenges involved in policy making in general. Diversity and multiple viewpoints also complicate effective policy making. Input from a variety of sources can help a policy be more universal and effective, and policy makers should always remain flexible and willing to revise.
Week 3 — Discussion 2
Private prisons should be abolished. Mistrust of them is not only instinctual, it is also evidence-based. Privatized prisons promote mass incarceration and they do not even help the government to save money (Austin & Coventry, 2011). Therefore, privatized prisons should be abolished on the simple ground that they achieve no goals other than those that serve the interests of the corporations that run them. The criminal justice system needs to remain integrated in the government and only the government, where democratically elected officials govern overarching policies and practices. Furthermore, the government ensures that prison practices reflect the principles of the criminal justice system. The system needs to shift towards a more humanitarian basis, whereby rehabilitation and alternative sentencing are more important than incarceration. Incarceration in privatized prisons too closely resembles a form of slavery.
Week 4 — Discussion 1
A moral guideline reflects the overarching principles that inform codes of ethics and can undergird laws and policies. Therefore, moral guidelines tend to be deontological in nature. For example, a moral guideline would be “it is wrong to harm another human being.” Morals can be cloudier than ethics, in the sense that they are often culturally embedded (Surbhi, 2015). What is considered just, right, and good in one culture is not so in another. Morals can also differ from person to person within the same culture. In light of criminal justice issues, it becomes important to distinguish between moral guidelines and the ethical decision-making process that allows for more objective evaluations of situational variables. One’s personal morals, shaped by religious beliefs of backgrounds, should not come in the way of one’s ability to make ethical judgments and decision made in accordance with the principles governing the law.
Week 4 — Discussion 2
There are actually few rational arguments in favor of capital punishment, because capital punishment is essentially hypocritical: how can a state that purports to uphold the value of not doing harm do harm to others? The logical fallacy that “two wrongs make a right” is the epitome of capital punishment. Furthermore, there is no logic in capital punishment because it is based on emotions like the emotional response to revenge killing. Capital punishment serves no purpose, as evidence does not support its efficacy as a deterrent and in fact abundant evidence shows that it actually costs more than life incarceration (Fagan, n.d.). Therefore, logically, the practice of capital punishment makes no sense. It might give a victim a temporary feeling of relief, but that feeling is not going to undo the crime committed. Capital punishment is issued in cases where DNA evidence has not been supplied, leaving open room for reasonable doubt even when the person has been convicted by a jury. There are simply no logical arguments in favor of capital punishments, only emotional ones.
Week 5 — Discussion 1
War is a tricky subject in the realm of ethics and morality because some wars are unfortunate means to a just end. It is absolutely moral and ethical to fight against injustices. At the same time, all war results in death tolls. When war becomes an ongoing reality and feature of foreign policy, as it seems to be with the war on terror, then the nation must contend with revising its ethical policies related to war or admit that it is an aggressor. Ethical systems are not irrelevant, as they can still underpin some of the decision-making along the way, inform how wars progress, and which wars are “ethical” versus those that are self-serving in some way, like the invasion of Iraq.
Week 5 — Discussion 2
The law is blind, and justice is blind, but people are not. People make decisions based on a complex of biases and assumptions. From law enforcement to juries, individuals that take part in the criminal justice system are not robots and their decisions are not always just or ethical. The criminal justice system cannot use this as an excuse to continue functioning as is, without making requisite changes that can reduce if not eliminate bias. One step that can be taken would be to nationalize and professionalize law enforcement training. Another step would be to ensure that equitable legal counsel is truly available to all persons, because the public defender system fails citizens that need it most. Finally, the law needs to reflect sociological issues and take into account factors like race, gender, class, and power in structural inequity.
Week 6 — Discussion 1
Criminal justice needs to be reformed dramatically in accordance with ethical principles and in light of empirical evidence. The punitive system in place is impractical and ineffective and has caused more problems than it ever solved. As Duff (2013) points out, it is important to recognize that abolishing the entire notion of punishment is a viable alternative. A utilitarian ethical framework helps to show how the greatest good is not being achieved through the current system, whereas it can also direct attention away from legal moralism and towards utility. Drug use is the ideal target for reform, because criminalization of drugs is nothing but legal moralism, and the same is true for prostitution.
Week 7 — Discussion 2
Technology does not change the right to privacy, as it is framed in the Constitution. Search and seizure laws apply just as well to information technology as to traditional forms of communication. Intelligence can be gathered in ways that do not infringe on civil liberties. When a society uses tyrannical means to protect a presumed liberal democracy, the society ceases to be a liberal democracy and becomes more of an authoritarian regime. Of course, the United States is far more an oligarchy than an authoritarian regime, as the power is vested and distributed through persons possessing wealth, power, and status as opposed to the people. Technology has the potential to transform power structures in the society by democratizing the media. This is why the law needs to dismantle media conglomerations, particularly those that enable media producers to own the means of media dissemination like the actual infrastructure.
Austin, J. & Coventry, G. (2001). Emerging issues on privatized prisons. Bureau of Justice Assistance. Retrieved online: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/bja/181249.pdf
Duff, A. (2013). Theories of criminal law. Retrieved online: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/criminal-law/
Fagan, J.A. (n.d.). Capital punishment. Retrieved online: https://www.law.columbia.edu/law_school/communications/reports/summer06/capitalpunish
“Six Ethical Theories Rough Overview,” (n.d.). http://homepage.usask.ca/~wiebeb/Etheory.html
Surbhi, S. (2015). “Difference Between Morals and Ethics,” http://keydifferences.com/difference-between-morals-and-ethics.html
Sommers, S. (2011). Why crowds make us callous. Psychology Today. Retrieved online: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/science-small-talk/201110/why-crowds-make-us-callous
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