At the end of this class you ought to:
- be able to explain what is meant by the term "moral community"
- be able to state the extent of the moral community
ethical egoists, familials, ethnocentrists, anthropocentrists,
- 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
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
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
Note: As you read this list, try to recall times when you have
heard or read of
someone using that moral community.
- Ethical egoist - an ethical
egoist thinks that
the correct moral community is him/herself.
If it is good for him/herself, it is morally right.
No one and nothing else needs to be given moral regard.
The ethical egoist would argue that if everyone
was an ethical egoist, every thing would be fine.
a typcial ethical egoist.
- Familials claim that only one's own family deserves moral regard.
Some times this is extended to all one's relatives or
tribe. Such persons are called tribalists Can you recall an instance
in which persons showed there were familials or tribalists?
- Ethnocentrists claim that ones moral community ought to
consist of "those like me". Some ethnocentrists are by
nation, others by class or ethnicity. Do you know
- Anthropocentrists claim that the moral
community ought to consist of
all human beings. They would say that all human
being deserve moral regard and
not just one's self or one's family or tribe.
Can you name any anthropocentrists?
- The next group holds that all sentient beings
deserve moral regard. This is a position held by Buddhist
philosophers. Not just human beings but
any sentient being deserves moral regard because they are capable
of suffering. Such ethicists believe that we need to hold all
sentenient beings in moral regard and that our behavior towards any being
capable of suffering should be governed by ethical norms.
There are those that hold that all living beings
deserve moral regard and not
just sentient beings. Living beings include plants and
plankton as well as fish, animals and human beings.
We can become aware of a person's
moral community by listening to what they say when they are justifying a position.
For example. Many argue that we should preserve the rain forest.
Anthropocentrists argue that we should save the rain forest because
it does and can do for human beings. Those whose moral community includes all
living beings would say we should preserve the rain forest because
the beings in the rain forest [trees, plants, bugs etc.]
deserve moral consideration in themselves.
- There are those who hold that all natural
beings [created beings] deserve moral regard.
The hold that one ought not deface stones
or mountains. Stones amd mountains deserve moral consideration just
as human beings, animals and plants do.
- There are those who would say that all beings,
both natural and artificial, deserve moral regard.
Such persons would say that my original example about
tearing the piece of paper was "wrong headed"; that one ought
not harm anything, even a piece of paper without
good moral reason
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
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
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.
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