It has been very interesting to read through the various posts from the BAPP Arts module 2 student group exploring to subject of Ethics. One of my main observations is that there are a range of ways students are treating ethics. This range seems to represents what I think is a dimension from the theoretical to the practical
Ethics is a branch of philosophy that seek to explain possible or proper responses to a situation where there are choices of action. Philosophers have sought to propose reasons for why certain ways of looking at a situation can affect that choice. So the focus is on ways of thinking … mental picture-making that helps to rationalise and make sense of a situation, and the factors effecting choice. We could think of this as ‘Ethical Principles’. That is, particular ways of thinking ethically.
On the other end of the scale are the practical implementation of these principles ‘in practice’. While we might be informed by principles, we carry the responsibility to other people and have to apply specific principles. For example, using ethical guidance or health and safety regukations at work. So at the extreme of this, we could see the translation of principles into specific procedures (e.g. Health and Safety) where these can be applied without any knowledge of the underlying principles.
From the posts I can see different positions being adopted. While some people are dealing with the principles, many are thinking in a more applied way. Of course, what we value in BAPP Arts and encourage is an exploration of ethical principles, and how these are applied in practice … an integration of both.
In terms of how to do this, I think we must first accept that Ethics matters precisely when no obvious and easy action is implied. Ethics is about choice. When only one action is possible, even when that action is not comfortable, the action is clear. Ethics really comes into play when there are choices to be made, and each option has its virtues.
How do we come to make a choice when faced with say two, seemingly bad choices? We have then to apply the principles and assess the correct choice based on the application of the principle. Nothing in this process implies the choice is easy. Hence we often think in terms of ethical ‘dilemmas’.
As you work on the ethical preparations for your professional inquiry, try to accept that the ethical aspect of your inquiry is not about making the right and obvious choices. It is not simply about applying a given set of regulations. Rather, it is about reconciling the benefits of the study with potential harm and working to reduce that potential harm.
You might be interested in the best book I have ever read that sets out very clearly the linking of ethical thinking to ethical actions: Practical Ethics