Tackling Ethics in Risk, A Philosophical Challenge

Originally posted on January 30, 2020 @ 3:49 PM

One of the reasons Safety does so poorly in understanding Ethics is because by nature, Ethics is a philosophical discipline. Philosophy is a discipline one benefits in learning through a Transdisciplinary approach to critical thinking  https://safetyrisk.net/transdisciplinary-safety/  ).

Transdisciplinarity is a disposition that seeks to know and think ‘across’ the disciplines rather than assuming that one’s own knowledge culture (eg. safety) is all one needs to know. These days if I see safety as an adjective of something eg. ‘safety’ ethics, its fairly reliable that the discussion that follows is narrow, closed and ill-informed.The discipline of Philosophy is a discipline of seeking wisdom, this is the meaning of the word – ‘philo’ love of ‘Sophia’ – wisdom.  Wisdom is not discussed in the Safety industry and has no mention in the AIHS BoK on Ethics. It is however central to the development of critical thinking, particularly in Ethics. Wisdom is not about finding ‘fixes’ but much more about not finding ‘fixes’. Safety also doesn’t want to know much about Wicked Problems (https://safetyrisk.net/risk-and-safety-as-a-wicked-problem/)
but Ethics is one of those Wicked Problem can-of-worms. Stenberg’s book on
Wisdom is certainly a good starting point.

One of the skills of Philosophy is that of defining terms and understanding assumptions. This is often undertaken by applying critical questions to a text using hermeneutical skills and focusing on how power, anthropology, personhood, methodology and culture are defined. Head-in-sand thinking or parrot–training are not learning and if one wants to understand Ethics one doesn’t get much from any safety text. Even confusing and not defining the language of morality and ethics, ethos and ethic demonstrate a poor understanding of Ethics. No wonder Safety thinks Zero is a good ideology!Most of the time we have a disagreement with someone, it is often about worldviews. Worldviews are often not declared and people in safety are rarely trained in how to discern worldviews. In this way people in safety often put forward various ideas and have little idea of the worldview (ideology) hidden in such discourse (The Bradley Curve is a classic example).

My map of safety
schools of thought (https://safetyrisk.net/a-great-comparison-of-risk-and-safety-schools-of-thought/)
was an attempt to show how worldviews are implicated for an understanding of risk. So in order to help understand Ethics I developed a similar map to help illustrate the various schools of Ethics (Figure 1. Schools of Ethics) and their implications for decision making.If you wish to understand an Ethic of Risk you are more than welcome to join us next week in Canberra in the two day workshop, An Ethic of Risk: https://spor.com.au/home/one-week-intensive-2-modules-february-2020/

Figure 1. Schools of Ethics.

Download a pdf copy here: Schools of Ethics 2

Behaviourist Care
Deontological Natural Law Normative
Pragmatic Situational
Utilitarian Virtue
View of Humans Sum of inputs and outputs As Beings under power Humans as Intersubjective Humans under divine command Humans under god’s law Humans as instruments Humans as rational, logical Humans as not absolute, antinomian Humans as utility Humans as actors
Agents Skinner
Carol Gilligan
Nel Noddings
Jacques Ellul
Kantian Ethics Aquinas
Hobbes, Locke
Combination of any ethic of
John Dewey Joseph Fletcher
R.M. Hare
Richard Rorty
Peter Singer
Alasdair MacIntyre
Language Positive and negative reward Social action, rationality,
embodied experience
Obligation, duty, compliance Jurisprudence
What is moral? Science
moral ecology
Response to context, meta-ethics Ends justifies the means Human flourishing
­Culture Modification of behaviours.
Science of action and controls
Vulnerability to power Ethics as experiences of worldview
and ‘the other’
Motives, things intrinsically
Human rights are natural and
known, social contract
Categorical imperatives, binding
Inquiry and truth, rationality and
good for society
Greatest good for greatest number Happiness for the majority Exercise of skills and knowledge
of virtue
Key Question What is the behaviour? Where is benevolence? What and who is personhood? What is the rule? What should I do? How should one act? What is good for society? What is good in time? What is best for the majority? What is virtuous?
Focus Based on the
assumption that humans as objects are the sum of inputs and outputs. A
mechanistic ethic that has a trajectory of dehumanising others.
Centers on
interpersonal relationships and care or benevolence as a virtue. Feminist,
post structuralist and awareness of power in relations.
Founded in
the dialectic between being, embodiment and not being, consciousness and
unconsciousness. An experiential ethic established in i-thou and intersubjectivity
generalizable standards, duties, rules and impartiality. Founded in the myth
of verifiable scientific objectivity and Positivism. Consequentialism
Based on the
so called ‘laws of nature’ this ethic proposes an objective standard of being
that all humans share (universal) and is ‘god given’.
Based on
rationality and what is deemed ‘normal’.
Based on what
people do. Therefore, an ethic is validated on what is dominant at the time
of analysis. So, society by its actions declares morality.
Takes into
account the social-psychological and cultural context. This approach argues
that there is no objective moral or universal standard.
based on the utility of the moment. Tends to view humans as objects in a
system. The most common mantra for utilitarian ethics is ‘the end justifies the
Emphasis on ‘virtues’ and moral
character. To be virtuous is to possess a certain mindset or disposition in
relation to the world.
Solutions Increase and decrease rewards Make care normative Living ethically through
Make rules clear Love god and obey His laws Being disposed to moral good The collective good What is best moves in time,
context and society
Focus on happiness for the
Be of good character

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