A Typology of Ethical Problems

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Abstract

From an agent-based approach, a core concern of the moral person is his or her identity as a moral agent. From this approach a moral problem can be defined as a situation that puts a threat to this identity. When facing a moral problem, the agent must show his or her moral colours. In applied ethics, many only recognize one type of moral problem: the dilemma. Inspired by Kantian thinking we argue that in practical matters it is better to re-conceptualize the dilemma as a morally hard case. Furthermore, we develop a normative typology of three common types of moral problems that a person may face: the ‘morally hard case’, the ‘morally sad situation’ and the ‘moral motivation’ problem. Our main goals are to determine the fundamental characteristics of each type of problem and to examine the interrelations between them. Our subsequent goal is to point at some consequences of using this typology in applied ethics. Less emphasis ought to be given to morality as a practice that involves decision-making per se. Next, the moral dilemma cannot be considered over or ‘solved’ after a decision has been taken. It transforms into a morally sad situation. The framework may also be instructive in the struggle against rationalization and in teaching applied ethics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)683-714
Number of pages31
JournalEthical Perspectives: Journal of the European Ethics Network
Volume25
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018

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