Moral community

At the end of this class you ought to:
  1. be able to explain what is meant by the term "moral community"
  2. be able to state the extent of the moral community for ethical egoists, familials, ethnocentrists, anthropocentrists, etc.
  3. have done some reflection on what you think is the correct moral community for a health care professional and why this is correct.

Explanation of the term "moral community"

The term "moral community" in ethics does not mean a community of people who act morally or ethically. This could be a meaning of the term, but it is not the meaning used here.

In ethics, one's moral community consists of all those beings that one holds in moral regard. ie., those beings that you need to think "but is this right" before you do something that could affect them.

Example: If I tear a piece of paper in half, do I have to be concerned that it might not be right to tear a piece of paper?

Most people do not hold paper in moral regard. If they have a moral concern about tearing a piece of paper, it is not for the sake of paper itself but because the paper might be an imporatant manuscript or a bill of sale needed in a law case etc. However, if you were to ask me to remove a limb from a child, I would have to ask myself, "Is this right to do?" because a child is part of my moral community. A child deserves moral regard. I need to ask myself, "Is this right?" before taking action that will affect a child. Sometimes it might be right to remove a child's limb. But such action should always be preceeded by ethical reflection.

Extent of Moral community

In the history of philosophy, different ethicians have argued for different extensions of moral community. I have listed some and they are ordered by how many beings are "in" the moral community. The list goes from the smallest to the largest moral community.

Note: As you read this list, try to recall times when you have heard or read of someone using that moral community.

In addition some thinkers add either previous generations [one's ancestors] or future generations to the moral community. [Example:We should preserve forests for the sake of future generations] Finally, some add God to the moral community. They believe that we have moral obligations to God as well as creatures.

If you are typical of many persons raised in a modern society, you have probably been taught several of these moral communities at different times or by different people. "Look out for Number 1 ; that is all that counts" or "You need to take care of family; others should take care of themselves." "Law abiding citizens need our concern; criminals do not deserve anything because of their crimes." "Americans need to stick together; the enemy does not deserve moral concern". "Be kind to every human being". "Animals have moral rights, too". "It is wrong to destroy a work of art" etc.

One of the basic steps in figuring out your medical ethic is to get clear about what you think one's moral community ought to be.

Go to Lessons .