Chance or Choice?

“When you drink from the spring, remember the source” – Confucius

What are the philosophical sources for the concept of choices which determine who and what I will become?  How often we forget as educators to consider the etymology of the word – thus we do an injustice to the scope of the learner’s knowledge, understanding, and application to life’s challenges and choices. 

In my ethics class, the following is an exercise which engages the students in examining and determining the basis for their choices – their critical thinking skills and their decision making skills. Socrates reminds us that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

I am the sum of the choices I have made and make from womb to tomb  — thus the philosophical school of existentialism, that is, a philosophical attitude associated especially with Kierkegaard, Neitzsche, Heidegger, Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Camus who  stressed the individual’s unique position as a self-determining agent responsible for the authenticity of his or her choices.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) as an Existentialist Philosopher; Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) as an ExistentialistPhilosopher; Martin Heidegger … Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) as an Existentialist Philosopher; Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) as an Existentialist Philosopher; Albert Camus (1913-1960 )

Here are the exercises for the students to complete:

  1. The Hierarchy of Personal Morality: the hierarchy consists of five classifications of moral character: your character is shaped and formed by the influences that have washed over you from womb to tomb and are thus conditioned by the choices you make. Where do you think you fall along the Hierarchy of Personal Morality? And why?

    a. Morally Corrupt – this individual embraces beliefs, principles, and values that generally result in socially reprehensible behavior such as criminality, violence, and deviant personal conduct that is unacceptable to society.
    b. Ethically Challenged – this individual lacks any sense of right and wrong – has no personal code of ethics to which he or she can be personally accountable.
    c. Legally Compliant – the individual’s sense of right and wrong is derived from the bare minimum requirements of the law.
    d. Ethically Striving – is one who is aware that there is a difference between ethics and law, and strives to demonstrate higher, more noble, and virtuous principles in one’s daily life.
    e. Authentically Virtuous – has a strong sense of right and wrong; his ethical principles, beliefs, and values are genuinely virtuous. He consistently lives them, demonstrating them in his decisions and conduct on a daily basis.

    2.  Some reasons why people make poor and uninformed  choices and thus the consequences:  identify the causes and consequences of your past unethical choices and conduct? What reasons have you used to justify the choices you made and the consequential misconduct of your choices.

    a. Ignorance
    b. No One Will Find Out
    c. The Ends Justify the Means
    d. Minimal Consequences
    e. Others Do It
    f. Prior or Current Perceived Unjust Harm
    g. Unrealistic Demands and Pressure
    h. Financial Necessity
    i. Egoism
    j. It is Not Illegal
    k. Just This One Time
    l. Peer Pressure
    m. Self-Deception
    n. Greed
    o. Conditioned Unthinking Reflexes

    3. There are 7 ethics types or preferences – your choices are based on these types and preferences — Which one(s) are you?  And how do these preferences influence your ethical character and choices?

    1. Egoism – is that inner drive that compels you to seek, maximize, and promote the greatest good for yourself. Self-centered and not taking into account the needs of others – can have difficulty maintaining relationships  “Your so vain, you probably think this song is about you.” – Carley Simon
    2. Utilitarianism – requires you to seek the greatest good for the greatest number of people – John Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Focuses on the welfare of others, maintains civil harmony. There is a disproportionate emphasis on others.
    3. Existentialism – when confronted with an ethical dilemma, you should look within yourself for the right moral path to follow, and that you should make a conscious choice to follow your deeper, inner sense of right and wrong – Soren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus. Your personal self is the sum total of the choices you have made and do make daily.
    4. Divine Command – you should follow the word of God, as reflected in scripture, religious doctrines, or spiritual teachings. This approach encompasses all religious beliefs. There are many views of God – diversity of beliefs.
    5. Deontology – ethical dilemmas are best revolved by following the established rules, codes of conduct, and duties prescribed by a recognized authority. There is a loss of personal perspective of right and wrong and driven by the rule of code.
    6. Conformism – when confronted with an ethical dilemma, a person ought to look to family, friends, colleagues, or a relevant social peer group and undertake an action or resolve the dilemma in a manner consistent with the perceived values and expectations of that group. What would your mother or grandmother say if she knew what you are doing?
    7. Eclectic – blends and relies on two or more of the previously described ethical types; agonizes with decision making, and can appear inconsistent; usually existential is the strongest influence, divine command or utilitarian.



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