Remember it’s about ethics

October 17, 2006

Must remain aware that this is at heart an ETHICAL investigation, not social science, science or media studies.

 So – will need to include chapter(s) on ethical theories. Following Karen Sanders (Ethics and Journalism, Sage Publications, 2003), the broad divisions are:

1. Deontological
Kant, based on duty – think categorical imperatives, thou-shalt-not-kill, the Golden Rule

2. Consequentialist/utilitarian 
Bentham, Mill, Locke; based on consequences for human happiness

3. “Virtue ethics”
Aristotelian – seems to be broadly deontological but centred around an idea of meeting each scenario with a question of “what would the virtuous person do?”. This appeals to various virtues – courage, prudence, justice etc; at first glance seems to be in danger of circular reasoning: “what is a moral act?” – “moral acts are those which a virtuous person would perform” – “who is a virtuous person?” – “a person who acts morally” etc, but this will need more looking into.

4. Rights-based ethics: I am free to act as I wish as long as I don’t interfere with other people’s rights (how defined is the question).

Having done so a discussion of which approach (or more likely which combination of approaches – utilitarianism in purest form flawed by “scapegoating”, deontological by somewhat unfeeling disregard for human consequences) is best suited for application to journalism. What particular moral touchstones are there for journalists? This is obviously going to be a major theme, but I’ll jot down ideas here as I go.


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