The Missing Ingredient: Applied Ethics

Jul 24, 2009

Policies are often debated along three dimensions: effectiveness, efficiency, and expediency. In place of a fourth dimension—applied ethics—we usually find sensationalism and polarization. Can public discourse rise above shouting?

Why do public decisions become so divisive?

Many people are discouraged by how governments make decisions, disgusted with the intentional polarization of opinion, or dismissive and cynical of soaring ideals.

In government, think-tank, and media circles, public decisions are debated along three dimensions, while a fourth atrophies.

The first dimension is effectiveness; what policy best meets the goals, provides the best outcome?

The next is efficiency; what is the cost, the economics of the policy?

The third is expediency; what are the politics, what can we get through the political process?

The last and often missing ingredient is applied ethics; what is right and wrong, what should we do?

In its place we usually find sensationalism and polarization. For many, ethics simply means asserting one's own position. Real ethical discourse accepts a plurality of legitimate views without succumbing to relativism. It credits opponents with genuine concerns.

The debate and the decisions should be about policies that are effective, efficient, expedient, and also ethical.

What do you think? Can divergent but equally legitimate opinions be acknowledged? Can public discourse rise above shouting? Or is polarity and sensationalism simply an unfortunate result of modernity?

By William Vocke

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