Ethical decisions are based largely on intuitions we have about the nature of morality. For some of us, intuition might tell us that the consequences or outcomes of our actions are what matter most. Others might think that adherence to a rule or duty (things that come before we ever act) is what is morally relevant when deciding to do or not do something. Moral intuitions like these in turn become basic principles, or guidelines, we enact everyday when deciding, choosing, and doing.
To get us thinking about ethics, morality, and how both influence the things we do (or don’t do), let’s consider the following thought experiment.
Imagine that you are living in Poland during World War II. A good friend comes to your house and asks if she can hide in your basement. She tells you that the enemy has discovered that she is working for the Resistance and will be shot if found. You agree and let her hide in your basement. Now, about an hour later, you hear a knock on your door – several soldiers are there asking if your friend is inside. The soldiers state that if your friend is inside, you must send her out.
What would you do? Lie and save your friend, or tell the truth and send your friend to their death? In responding, think about a general principle that would explain your course of action and guide you in your decision making. For example, is the safety/happiness of your friend most important? Is not lying most important? Is doing what is in your own self-interest most important?
Please stay within the parameters of the prompt and avoid adding in additional information or questions (for example, “Why am I in WWII Poland anyway?”). The point is to get your intuitions going, not side step the issue…