An Introduction to Ethical Analysis
Ted Goertzel

    Egoistic Ethics -  This is perhaps the most elementary of ethical principles - whatever is good for me is right.  This almost seems like a lack of ethics, and it is characteristic of many criminals who lack any feelings of guilt when they commit acts that would make a healthy person feel guilty.  This is sometimes referred to as a psychopathic personality.  However, there are positives to egoistic ethics.  First, egoistic ethics may be more honest as a description of what we actually do than other ethical principles that we may only pretend to follow.  Second, egoism encourages self-reliance and gives people freedom to realize their own objectives.  Egoistic ethics are only really defensible, however, if we respect other people rights to also pursue their own objectives.  This is the ethics of the free market economy;  we are all free to pursue our own objectives, no matter how greedy, as long as we follow the rules and respect the rights of others.   This doesn't sound nearly as noble as more socialistic principles such as  "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs," but societies based on market economies have generally been more humane than those that claim to be following socialistic principles.

    Group Loyalty - The next stage in ethical development is loyalty to a group, not just to ourselves as individuals.  The first such group is usually our family, the next may be a group of childhood friends.  This kind of loyalty is common in groups that work closely together, particularly in dangerous situations, such as police, soldiers, fire fighters, etc.  Or it may be expressed in loyalty to our racial or ethnic group or to our gender.  It is also found in criminal groups, where there is "honor among thieves."  Organized crime depends on this kind of loyalty.

    Deontological Analysis focuses on the intent of the action. We examine the inherent nature of the act in terms of ethical principles. Since these principles are central to this approach, it is important to consider them carefully. Many of these principles are enunciated in religious traditions; philosophers such as Immanuel Kant believed that they could be derived from pure logic or from "Natural Law". Fundamental principles which many traditions agree on include:

The deontological analyst applies these general principles to specific cases, such as: Is it appropriate to use racial profiling in stopping cars on the turnpike? Is it fair to publish the names and addresses of paroled sex offenders? Should policemen accept small gifts from proprietors of stores or restaurants? Should undercover officers deceive members of criminal groups?

    Teleological, Consequentialist or Utilitarian Analysis focuses on the consequences of an action. Those critical of this approach accuse it of believing that "the ends justify the means," and that is true as long as we recognize that not any ends can justify any means. Often, utilitarian criteria are used, which means assessing "the greatest good for the greatest number." This, however, is hard to judge. Teleological analysis requires that we rigorously and objectively measure the real consequences of any act, not the consequences which are intended. For example, a teleological analysis might support racial profiling if it could be shown that it was actually effective in catching drug dealers. Even if this is the case, however, we still have the problem of minority rights, which are not well protected by a teleological analysis

The most controversal contemporary utilitarian philosopher is Princeton professor Peter Singer, who is best known for advocating animal rights.  He also defends infanticide under some circumstances.

There are two varieties of utilitarianism:  Act Utilitarianism and Rule UtilitarianismRule Utilitarianism is actually a synthesis of deontological and teleological approaches.  Rule Utilitarianism agrees with deontological analysis that rules are important, but it suggests that utilitarian criteria be used to evaluate general rules - not specific incidents.  In my opinion, rule utilitarianism is the most satisfactory of the ethical theories.

Discourse Ethics - This stresses the nature of ethical conversation.  When we make ethical statements, we are not just stating preferences, we are stating beliefs that we believe are generally valid.  Not 'I don't like murder" but "it is wrong to murder."  This means that  we are claiming that there are good reasons to believe as we do.  If others believe otherwise, they also believe they have good reasons.  We should discuss our reasons, try to persuade and learn from each other.  Even if we can't agree altogether, we may be able to break the problem down into parts, and perhaps agree on some of the parts.   Or we may refine our positions.  Discourse ethics is associated with the writings of German philosopher Jurgen Habermas

Certain rules must be followed to implement discourse ethics:

 On a practical level,  Moral Codes A are often used to institutionalized ethical princples.  Sometimes these come from religion, such as the Ten Commandments.   Following a code enhances people's self-esteem, and it becomes incorporated in their personality.  Professional groups often have codes of ethics appropriate to their work, e.g., the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics.  These codes help to build group solidarity.  One problem is that the content of the code may be objectionable, e.g., a racist group may have a code of ethics that promotes killing members of other groups.