You are on page 1of 309

Reason and Professional Ethics

This page has been left blank intentionally

Reason and Professional Ethics

Peter Davson-Galle
University of Tasmania, Australia

Peter Davson-Galle 2009

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher.
Peter Davson-Galle has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,
1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
Published by
Ashgate Publishing Limited Ashgate Publishing Company
Wey Court East Suite 420
Union Road
101 Cherry Street
Surrey, GU9 7PT VT 05401-4405
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Davson-Galle, Peter.
Reason and professional ethics.
1. Professional ethics. 2. Practice (Philosophy)
I. Title
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Davson-Galle, Peter.
Reason and professional ethics / Peter Davson-Galle.
p. cm.
ISBN 978-0-7546-5484-1 (hardcover : alk. paper)
1. Professional ethics. I. Title.
BJ1725.D39 2009

ISBN 9780754654841 (hbk)

ISBN 9781409402466 (ebk.I)


Preface and Acknowledgements

Introductory Remarks and Overview

Proposition Types


3 Structuring Arguments


4 Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Logic Criticism


5 Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Premise Criticism


6 Extended Reasoning: the Basics


7 Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities



Babble and Murk

9 Some Ethical Theory




This page has been left blank intentionally

Preface and Acknowledgements

Many professionals confront ethical issues concerning their proper roles and the
manner in which they should carry out those roles. University and College courses
for the preparation of such professionals usually address some of these matters to
some extent. Sometimes the treatment is cursory (little more than the inculcation
of a professional code of ethics as stipulated by some professional body).
Sometimes the issues are raised and discussed but without students having the
tools of thought with which to think their way through what are quite complex
issues. The book aims to provide students (and, for that matter, their instructors)
with a stepped introduction to those tools of thought. It would be best utilized
in tandem with another text discussing the particular issues that arise within the
profession in question.
Briefly put, those tools of thought are drawn from the critical thinking, or
informal logic, corpus. In particular, given that the issues being deliberated upon
concern what one should do, the book belongs in the field of so-called practical
reason. Three features distinguish it from other works in the field. The first is
its explicit focus upon professional ethical issues and its brief portrayal of some
normative and meta-ethical theory that bears upon many such issues. The second
is its unusual focus upon the acceptability of an arguments premises. The third is
its concern with reasoning of an extended sort rather than merely with the features
of a single argument.
Concerning the first, the treatment is necessarily brief. It touches on both
normative ethics and metaethics. Within normative ethics I consider just utilitarian
cum consequentialist theories and deontological-rule theories. Appeal to one or
other of these seems to be what mostly goes on when people engage in principled
defence of a position. If people wish to supplement this with a consideration of
virtue ethics, evolutionary ethics or whatnot or whether more complex treatment
of varieties of the above then that it would be an easy thing to do. With respect
to metaethics, I focus upon two main puzzles: is there any such thing as ethical
truth? and: if there is, then how would we know it when we had it?. Finally,
threaded throughout this chapter is a consideration of how someone of some sort
of religious persuasion might fit themselves into one or other of the taxonomic
boxes portrayed. Although my own view is that religious belief is one of the
things that philosophy has successfully debunked, I have noticed that many
students in the so-called caring professions have some religious belief.
Concerning the second, much (not all) of the critical thinking literature
focuses upon getting particular individual arguments being logical. Yet an
argument, however logical, is only acceptable as a case for its conclusion to the
extent that its premises are acceptable. A lot of the time ones complaint against


Reason and Professional Ethics

an argument is that one or other of its premises are dubious and deserving of
support and/or criticism.
As for the third feature, extended enquiry (in soliloquy or in dialogue) is
comprised of a series of arguments with some connective tissue between them
(this criticizes or supports that ) which relates them together as parts of the
one enquiry. At any given point in an enquiry, working out which option of the
available options is the best next move is dependent upon the particular enquiry
history to date, the interests of the particular enquirer and so on. And this situation
of multiple possible paths forward, to be deliberated among as an exercise in selfconscious meta-cognition, continues and becomes more complicated as an enquiry
unfolds. Thoughtfully handling such extended enquiry in a metacognitively selfconscious way is, in my view, a matter that is under-done in the extant literature.
Yet carrying out such a connected series of particular arguments in a metacognitively thoughtful, rigorous way is a key part of thinking in depth about an
issue. A notable feature of my approach is to grow the complexity from the
ground up, starting from the issue at hand and not getting too many cards on the
table at once. A usual result of this is that the broad principles that were thought
to apply to the case at hand come judged to be too simplistic and somewhat more
nuanced versions of them emerge. A related result is that, as a result of criticizing
the premises is pressing some underlying principles, peoples willingness and
ability to be self-critical rather than defensive is enhanced. What I am concerned to
resist is the tendency to simply list 15 for arguments and 14 against arguments
and call that a balanced appraisal of the issue. This is sometimes the style of the
controversial issues in XYZ readers for professional ethics courses. Rather than
such breadth without depth, I am tending more to focus upon depth and teasing
out underlying conflicting issues as slowly as possible whilst keeping the number
of new elements down unless very deliberately introduced for reasons that can be
metacognitively warranted.
The book is usable in several ways and I would not expect some of its
complexities to be utilized with introductory undergraduates. Chapters 2 to 6
cover the basic skills of argumentation at the level of an individual argument, the
two basic operations upon a premise (criticizing it or defending it) and the idea
of metacognitively tracking the emerging features and tensions of an enquiry and
deliberating upon the path forward. Given the amount of junk jargon that seems
to be in circulation in professional circles, Chapter 8 is probably also worth a read
by even introductory students. Chapter 7 is rather complex and I would suggest
that it would be more suitable as something to be read by advanced students or, for
that matter, by tutors/instructors for their own interest. I do not know of anywhere
else in the literature that some of the complexities of extended reasoning have
been teased out in this manner.
Much of what is in the book is just general critical thinking and ethical
literature material of a sort that I would hardly know now how to attribute in any
specific detail. I make no claim for originality here and acknowledge multiple
diffused debts to other philosophers. The focus on metacognition is a bit more

Preface and Acknowledgements


original and most of the detail of Chapter 7 is, as far as I know, largely an original
Finally, I wish to acknowledge the forbearance of my family and the support of
my university in the production of this book and, in particular, to thank a colleague,
Rainie Douglas, who laboured through the onerous task of translating my draft
into Ashgates house style.

This page has been left blank intentionally

Chapter 1

Introductory Remarks and Overview

Value Judgements and Professional Life
What follows is intended to assist you to think as carefully as possible about various
aspects of professional life that involve value judgements, that is, judgements about
what is right or wrong, good or bad, worthwhile or not. Many university courses
of professional preparation predominantly ignore such matters or simply take for
granted a series of value stances concerning professional ethics sometimes
these have been codified as a Code of Ethics for the profession. Or, even if various
value judgemental issues are raised and discussed, students are not trained in the
skills of critical thought prerequisite for a rigorous exploration of the issues. Even
when courses attempt this task, little is available in the published literature to
assist students to carry it out. Largely speaking, the book aims at helping you to
reason in a rigorous way about such professional ethical matters. Its intent is to
assist you to identify professional issues that are value judgemental and to form
considered views on those issues. There are two elements here. First, identifying
value judgemental issues; second, forming a considered view on them. Let us look
at them in turn.
Some Particular Value Judgemental Issues Concerning Professional Life
I will not be able to cover all professions or all ethical issues, so these will be just
a few illustrations. As we will see, however, there are a few broad themes within
which most particular ethical concerns can be placed. What I will do is illustrate
matters using the teaching profession as an example, identify some themes, draw
some connections to some other professions and suggest that the themes are
general ones governing any profession.
Teaching as an Illustration
Compulsory schooling is an extended exercise in forcing individuals to do what
someone else wishes them to do. Apart from such school students, the only other
people in society who are deprived of their liberty for such extended periods of
time are criminals and the insane. Of course some students may enjoy what they
learn and some of the curriculum might be what students would have chosen for
themselves if given the choice but I think that it is safe to say that much of the time
this is simply not so.

Reason and Professional Ethics

If people are to be subjected to loss of freedom of action (and thought) for such
extended periods then there had better be a reason for doing this. And not just any
old reason but good reason a case that would justify such force. As soon as one
is talking this way, matters have become value judgemental. So, presumably the
general form of such a good reason would be something like: Johnny and Janie
should learn such and such because it is so worthwhile for them to do so that it
is worth forcing such learning on them if necessary. That is, we (or someone or
other, anyway not Johnny or Janie) have a goal as to how we wish students to be
and that goal is considered to be of such importance that it outweighs our normal
granting of freedom of action (and of thought) to individuals.
The upshot of this is that one matter that is clearly value judgemental is setting
the goals (or aims, or purposes) of schooling. We cannot avoid having someone
decide such aims, for clearly teaching cannot go on in a goal-less vacuum. There
had better be some direction for what is occurring in schools or schooling would
be literally aimless activity, mere flailing about.
What would such goals look like? For a start, the goals operate at different levels
of generality. At the detailed level, the purposes governing day-to-day teaching
decisions are set by teachers. A teacher values having some pupil carrying out
some particular language activity because that will help her understand sentence
structure. But why bother having the goal of having ones pupils understand
sentence structure? Perhaps in service of the cause of having them able to express
their own ideas and understand the ideas of others. Why bother with that? Perhaps
because being able to do that allows them a better chance of being gainfully
employed than otherwise. But why consider that important? and so on. In short,
ones rationale for considering the activities of schooling worth bothering with is,
if pursued in some depth, likely to take one beyond the immediacy of schooling to
broader and more fundamental value positions about what society should be like,
what sorts of citizens it should have, how we should treat each other, the rights of
various individuals and groups in society and so forth.
We have here a hierarchy of goals from nitty gritty ones concerning daily
teaching tasks through to life, the universe and everything goals of a very general
sort. And it is the latter goals, the very general ones, which govern what are chosen
as more particular goals. Look again at the chain of goals in the illustration of
the last paragraph and you will see how the more general ones are appealed to
in justification of earlier, less general, ones. So, who decides on goals at which
Generally speaking, as I have noted, individual teachers power in choosing
the directions of what they do is limited. Other people choose the policies, the
broad aims, that lay out what it is that teachers should be trying to achieve (like:
students being employable) and it is the stipulated task of teachers to act in ways
that serve those preset aims they only get to choose the detail of the means to
achieving ends chosen by someone else.
Or, at least, that is how things are now. I will return in a moment to question
whether that is how things should be. But even if the task of teachers is not seen as

Introductory Remarks and Overview

the setting of broad aims but merely as the achievement of broad aims set by other
people, it seems to be their professional duty to enter into the debate as to what
those goals should be. After all, teachers are the counterparts of prison warders
or psychiatric ward staff, those other institutional enforcers of lost freedom. If
they have not thought about the aims that their actions are directed towards and
satisfied themselves that the directions of the institution they are part of are proper
directions, indeed, ones important enough to outweigh individual freedom, then
a crisis of conscience surely looms for them (or should do so). And, on pain of
unprofessional superficiality, their value judgements on these issues had better
be well thought out clearly conceived of and thoroughly explored as to the
arguments which could be raised in their defence or in objection to them. Part
of the task of what follows in the book is providing assistance for those readers
who are (or will be) teachers to think through some ideas about what they judge
schooling should be trying to achieve (at that broad aim level of decision) and to
do that thinking as rigorously and deeply as possible.
So, one value judgemental aspect of schooling for teachers to have a good hard
think about is: What should schools be trying to achieve? What broad aims should
their activities be directed at satisfying?
I remarked that, at the moment, teachers do not get to decide these things.
(They have individual power at the nitty gritty end of the spectrum and some
power collectively in setting things like school mission statements and whatnot
but broad educational policy setting is something outside the hands of practising
teachers.) And this raises another value judgemental matter concerning schooling.
Who on earth has the moral right (or perhaps the duty not the same thing, an issue
we will return to in a later chapter) to decide upon those broad policy directions
that lay down a framework governing, ultimately, what individual students learn at
school? That is, who should have the power to decide the broad aims of schooling?
(Note that this is not the legal matter-of-fact question: who does have the power
to decide the broad aims of schooling?.) Perhaps, you might think, this should
be a decision for teachers even if it is not that at the moment after all, are not
teachers the relevant educational experts? Or perhaps it should be parents that
decide it is their children of whom we speak. Or perhaps it should be the students
themselves who decide; is it not a basic moral right to be in control of the contents
of ones own mind? and schooling aims do dictate some of what goes into a
students mind. Or perhaps it should be someone else or some combination of
various parties and so on. The point is that once one goes beyond simply noting
who does, as a matter of fact, decide the broad aims at the moment to working out
who should decide them, immediate ethical controversy ensues.
So, another value judgemental aspect of schooling for teachers to have a good
hard think about is the following sort of second level question: Who should have
the power to decide the broad aims of schooling?
So far, we have focused upon the goals, or ends, or aims of schooling. But
ethical questions also arise concerning the means to be chosen in achieving those
ends. You might not see there to be any ethical dimensions here; surely, you

Reason and Professional Ethics

might think, the educational research literature will simply provide matter-of-fact
guidance as to what means are most efficient and effective in producing this or that
learning outcome, in achieving various valued goals. Perhaps so, but sometimes
the most efficient and effective method, even if known, should not be employed.
As a dramatic illustration, allow me the assumption (quite plausible in my view)
that the most efficient and effective way of getting children to learn arithmetic is
to threaten them with amputation of finger segments if, in the teachers judgement,
they are not working as hard as possible at their arithmetic and to mean it and to
have various students trundling around with less than a full count of fingers. Ones
objection to that could not be how successful it was in getting arithmetic learnt;
it is, by assumption here, more successful than anything else. Rather, despite its
efficacy, the objection to it would be that it was unethical to adopt such a means
to achieving the learning outcome. A less dramatic illustration, and one which
involves current practice in schools, is the use of positive reinforcement as a way
of shaping behaviour. Arguably this is immoral. I mention it now to emphasize
that schooling involves actual, not just hypothetical, practices that are deserving of
careful critical scrutiny. As another real-world example, consider the controversy
concerning the use of corporal punishment in schools or the widespread practice
of incarceration (detention) of disobedient students indeed the whole business of
punishment and behaviour control is up for critical scrutiny.
So, a third value judgemental aspect of schooling for teachers to have a good
hard think about is: What ethical constraints should there be on how teachers
achieve the broad aims of schooling?
And, as you might guess, a further, second level, question is: Who should have
power to decide what ethical constraints there are to be upon teachers choices of
means to ends?
That will do as illustration of the point that teaching is hardly a value-free
business. To summarize, most value judgemental issues concerning teaching can
be grouped into four main themes:
1. What should schools be trying to achieve? What broad aims should their
activities be directed at satisfying?
2. Who should have the power to decide the broad aims of schooling?
3. What ethical constraints should there be on how teachers achieve the broad
aims of schooling?
4. Who should have power to decide what ethical constraints there are to be
upon teachers choices of means to ends?
Other Professions
Although it is but one profession, I have explored the case of teaching in some
depth because most readers will have some familiarity with schools and because
much of what is said about teaching transfers across to other professions. Consider
the first theme above. Every profession has aims. Generally speaking, you might

Introductory Remarks and Overview

feel that a fairly clear-cut answer is available as to what each profession should
be trying to achieve, that is, what broad aims those employed in its institutions
(or self-employed) should have their professional activities directed at satisfying.
I suggest, however, that when it comes to pinning things down in more than
the vaguest way, things become controversial fast. For instance, what about a
scientist? What should a scientist be aiming to achieve? Let us put the following
as a counterpart to our above question: What should science be trying to achieve?
What broad aims should scientists activities be directed at satisfying?
Well, it might be thought that the answer is clear cut and uncontroversial:
qua scientist, one should be attempting to discover what reality is like. It might
be surprising to you, but even at this broad brush level, controversy exists (for
instance: should science bother to try to find out truth about reality or is it enough
to merely learn how to control it? the latter is something achievable even with
false theories, as human history has demonstrated). Anyway, even if one were to
be happy with the pursuit of truth broad aim, issues arise concerning which truths
one should pursue. What is more important to find out than what? Where should
our priorities lie? Should we fund pure, curiosity driven, research or only research
of a more applied sort that, in some fairly direct way, benefits us? (And if both,
then with what priorities?) Indeed, should some research be performed at all? Some
decades ago, the so-called Race and IQ controversy flared. Two psychologists,
Hans Eysenck and then Carl Jensen, reported upon some research that they had
(individually) carried out comparing the IQ of three racial groups in America.
Roughly speaking, Asian-Americans seemed to score more highly than white
Americans and black Americans scored the lowest. All sorts of ordinary scientific
debate occurred as to whether the research had been carried out competently
or not but one interesting element was the suggestion that even if the research
were to be competent and it were to be true that IQ differs across races, then it
would have been better had we never known that. Such knowledge is divisive
and dangerous and thus, it was argued, the research that led to it should never
have been permitted. In short, some aims that scientists might have are held to be
improper because some truths should not be known. I hope that I have said enough
to illustrate that genuinely controversial issues arise concerning the settling of the
aims of science.
How about a social worker? Again, let us try a counterpart question: What
should social work be trying to achieve? What broad aims should social workers
activities be directed at satisfying?
Again, it might be thought, the answer is clear enough is it not? Assist people
in disadvantaged circumstances. Well, perhaps. It depends a bit upon what is meant
by assist and by disadvantaged. There is room for differing interpretations here
and such differences might mean different social workers committed to conflicting
goals. To illustrate: am I assisting someone if, as a result of my intervention, he is
now better able to do what he wants? Surely so, you might think; but what if what
he wants is not good for him (whatever that means)? Anyway, even if, in assisting
him, one is acting for his good, what if what is for his good is not for the good of

Reason and Professional Ethics

someone else (say his spouse, or society generally)? Or, what if he emphatically
rejects what one thinks is good for him? Anyway, what (or who) is to determine
what is good for someone anyway?
The above bit of thinking aloud should do three things I hope. The first is
persuade you that, not only is social work an activity directed towards goals that
involve moral stances, it is unclear and controversial just what those valued goals
should be. The second is to illustrate that some obvious-looking and attractive
answers can be seen to be murky and troublesome after a little thought (yet too
often things do not receive such thought but are left at a slogan-style level). The
third is to illustrate some issues which not only appear in this little monologue
but which tend to be recurrent issues in many discussions of professional ethics
not just in social work. One is personal autonomy individual freedom of thought
and/or action (and respect by others for that autonomy). Another is the well-being
or welfare of the individual what is good for her. Another is what is good for the
group. (And note: all of the above are both murky and might conflict.) Finally,
given that people will have different views on various professional issues involving
moral values, is there any way of working out who is right (if it even makes sense
to talk of any one view being right)?
Clearly, given that controversy will exist concerning the legitimacy of various
suggested aims or goals for the guidance of Social Workers professional practice,
we are led to the question: who should set those goals?. So: Who should have the
power to decide the broad aims of social work?
I wont continue down the list of professions but I trust that it is clear that each
profession has to have some aims and, given controversy about what those aims
should be, a further issue arises concerning the locus of legitimate power to set
those aims.
As you might predict, counterparts of themes 3 and 4 above (concerning
teaching) exist for other professions as well. I will not laboriously work through
them but will content myself with a few quick illustrations.
For the sake of illustration, assume truth as an aim of science; now, is it
legitimate for a scientist to cause another creature to suffer in the pursuit of
truth? Assume clients welfare as an aim of social work; now, is it legitimate for
a social worker to lie to a client even if it is for the clients own good? Assume
patients health as an aim of nursing; now, should a nurse ever dispute or, more
seriously, subvert, the judgement of a physician, even if to do so would benefit
a patients health? Assume assisting clients to solve their problems as an aim of
counselling; now, can a counsellor ever properly breach confidentiality to serve
that aim (and if so, in what sorts of circumstances)? And so on. I think it clear
that issues can arise concerning the morality of the manner of ones pursuit of
ones professional goals.
And, I suggest, given that controversy will ensue as to what the right answer
is on any of these issues, the last of our themes will arise. Who should decide
what the moral constraints upon professional practice should be? Should it be a
matter for the conscience of individual professionals or should they be governed

Introductory Remarks and Overview

somehow morally answerable to someone else? Note that, for these Who should
decide? questions, you will not automatically have the same type of answer for
each profession. Moreover, you might, even within the one profession, judge
different sorts of people to appropriately have ethical control over different
particular matters. But such complexities lie ahead of us. For now, all I hope to
have done is suggest to you that any profession is involved in making moral value
judgements in at least our four areas; put crisply:
1. What should be the professions aims?
2. Who should decide the professions aims?
3. What moral constraints should there be on the way practitioners achieve
its aims?
4. Who should decide those constraints?
Many practitioners are impatient with these matters and just want to get on with
their jobs and students want to focus on practical stuff that will bear directly on
practical everyday professional tasks. But, on pain of being a mere hired hand,
a sort of mercenary, uncaring about the rightness or wrongness of what you do,
you had better have some views on these matters. And, on pain of unprofessional
superficiality, your views had better be something better than just the first thing
that comes into your head or pops out of your mouth (and onto butchers paper)
in a one-day professional development workshop or whatnot. As will emerge, the
issues are complicated ones and having a clear, rationally supported stance on
them is not easy to achieve. Almost certainly, you will come to find that your initial
views on these topics will prove to be muddly and open to awkward objections.
Do not worry about that; ideas cannot be easily improved without criticism. Which
brings me to the next of the two points raised in the section Value Judgements and
Professional Life above. What is it to have a considered view on these topics and
how does one manage to build one?
Values and Argument
Having a considered view on these matters is a matter of having a view that is
clear and well argued for. The former can take a while to achieve but is important
because one can hardly argue for (or against) a proposal that one does not even
clearly understand. The latter involves more than what you might be familiar with,
namely rattling off a bunch of for arguments for ones position. It is not even
just a matter of being balanced and also having a bunch of against arguments
and then somehow or other plucking a conclusion out at the end. It is not much
good advancing any such arguments without subjecting them to critical scrutiny.
That such and such is an argument in favour of, or against, some proposal is not of
much help in trying to come to a considered judgement unless one knows whether
that argument is any good or not. So, what is involved in having a well thought

Reason and Professional Ethics

through stance is not just listing arguments but judging their worth. This is a key
point and constitutes the core business of this book. Appraising the merits of
some line of reasoning in support of (or against) some value stance concerning
schooling involves a collection of high-level cognitive (and metacognitive) skills.
Most undergraduates do not possess those skills to any great extent but have the
capacity to learn them (to differing degrees of course). However, learning them
is rather hard work and will involve you in a style of thought that most of you
will find unfamiliar and frustratingly difficult to improve in. For quite some time,
it will involve you in building up competence in some sub-skills before you are
able to link them together and engage in the sort of extended reasoning in depth
that is involved in argument appraisal and forming a considered view on the topic.
There is no quick and easy way of developing these capacities; it is just a matter
of coaching and practice it is worth the effort though.
Layout of Remaining Chapters
In this section, I wish to outline briefly the chapter plan of the rest of the book (and
explain my choice of layout).
I said above that extended reasoning involved a suite of sub-skills and items
of knowledge concerning reasoning. Some of these skills concern the crafting of
a single piece of reasoning, a discrete, or individual, argument. In discussions
of an extended sort, such arguments form the building blocks, or elements, of
the discussion. A basic skill, then, is being able to lay out an argument in a way
that manages to say what you are trying to say in a clear and complete manner.
My experience, and that of other reasoning tutors, is that those new to the task
of careful statement of arguments tend to leave bits out and, moreover, when
attention is drawn to this and they are asked to fill in the missing pieces, most
people find it difficult to do so. In short, they have trouble portraying in a clear and
complete way what they are trying to argue (or, as the other side of the same coin,
unable to easily interpret, and portray, the arguments of others). For instance, say
someone said that Harold did a wrong thing because he hit Horace. The argument
is incompletely stated and rests upon the (unstated) moral principle that hitting
people is wrong. So, put more completely, the argument might go: hitting people
is wrong and Harold hit Horace so what Harold did was wrong. Or, laid out a bit
more formally:
Hitting people is wrong.
Harold hit Horace.
Harold did something wrong.

Simple enough in this case perhaps, but, as you might guess, rather more difficult
at other times when the topics are more involved. And, as you will see when I go

Introductory Remarks and Overview

on to discuss the task of criticizing arguments, it is important to have arguments

stated completely because if you leave bits out, then the bit left out might be what
should be being challenged. Obviously it is hard to challenge something you do
not even realize is there as a part of a given argument.
So, a key task is learning how to do this sort of thing: taking an initial attempt
at an argument (yours as well as those of others) and portraying it with all of its
bits and pieces stated clearly and explicitly and in the right sequence. Chapter 3
Structuring Arguments addresses that task of portraying arguments in a clear and
complete manner and introduces some simple theory concerning the elements of
an argument and a way of methodically checking what you are writing down in
order to avoid various errors.
Note that I have skipped Chapter 2 and leapt ahead to Chapter 3, which, as we
have just seen, is about portraying arguments clearly and completely. Now I wish
to return to Chapter 2 Proposition Types. As will be outlined in Chapter 3,
arguments about what it is right to do, or what people should be like, introduce
a complexity that is not present in arguments on some other subject matters.
Some of the propositions that go to make up the argument are of a distinct type or
category from the others. For instance, to say that Harold hit Horace is simply to
(purport to) describe what occurred. To say that what he did was wrong is to pass
moral judgement upon it a quite different sort of proposition. Yet both sorts of
proposition might occur as elements of an argument concerning Harolds conduct
(as happened in our illustration of a couple of paragraphs ago). Understanding
what is happening in an argument involves being able to distinguish these (and
other) different types of proposition from one another and Chapter 2 introduces
and illustrates some basic theory concerning proposition types.
Say that you have progressed to the stage of being able to state some argument
clearly and completely and with the nature of all of its component elements
understood what next?
Recall that I observed above that, for serious enquiry, it was not enough that
one could stipulate a reason for some moral stance that one is taking, or some
proposal as to what should be done; one wants the reason to be a good one, one
that one could have confidence in as a rationale for ones position. So, how can one
tell whether an argument is any good or not? Not a bad way is to see how it stands
up to persistent criticism. Chapter 4 Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Logic
Criticism and Chapter 5 Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Premise Criticism
introduce to you the two core tasks involved in argument appraisal. The idea here
is that the extent to which an argument successfully withstands criticism is the
extent to which you should rely (tentatively, always) on it as a ground for thinking,
or doing, whatever it was an argument for, as a sound argument for its conclusion.
So if, after careful investigation, you think it factually true that Harold hit Horace,
and consider the principle Hitting people is wrong to be morally correct, and
judge that it really does logically follow from these two accepted propositions that
Harolds hitting of Horace was wrong, then you seem to have a sound argument
in support of your value judgement that Harold did something wrong (in hitting


Reason and Professional Ethics

Horace). But is it factually true? And is the principle morally correct? And does
the conclusion of the argument really logically follow? Chapters 4 and 5 focus on
such questions and are the last of the chapters of the book to introduce various
basic sub-skills and associated theoretical ideas to you.
Although Chapters 4 and 5 introduce you to the basics of argument criticism,
the process of critically examining an argument in order to see how good it is can
be quite drawn out. Think about it: just because an argument has been criticized
does not mean that it is not any good; it all depends on how good the criticism is.
Criticisms can themselves be criticized and on it goes. Things become complicated
fast here and in Chapter 6 Extended Reasoning: the Basics I introduce to
you some techniques for methodically working your way through the maze of
criticism, possible response to criticism, response to the response and so on; in
short, argument in depth.
Chapter 7 Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities follows on from
Chapters 3, 5 and 6. You will recall that Chapter 3 was concerned with the task
of taking a half-formed intuitive argument and getting it laid out clearly and
completely in a structured way. However some arguments are more complicated
than others and so the structures capturing what is going on in them will also
vary in complexity. In Chapter 3 I discuss only the simplest structures and
defer consideration of more complex argument patterns until this chapter (I do
this because I think it wise for you to become confident and competent walkers
before trying triple somersaults). So, one task of this chapter is to introduce to
you some of the more complicated forms that arguments concerning some stance
or proposal might take. The other part of Chapter 7 follows on from Chapters 5
and 6. Remember that Chapter 5 introduced you to the task of mounting a certain
sort of criticism against an argument (premise criticism as it happened, that is, the
challenging of the assumptions an argument is starting from things like the moral
principle hitting people is wrong of our little Harold and Horace example above).
In Chapter 6 we considered (among other things) reaction to such criticism (does
it succeed? can the original argument resist the criticism? and so on) in short,
reasoning in an extended way as the merits or otherwise of some line of thought are
teased out. This sort of extended reasoning can be quite involved and complex and
this chapter explores some of those complexities. In particular it discusses what
might occur when you think that you have some issue that has emerged in such an
extended enquiry sorted out: how do you close off a particular thread of dispute
and work out what implications that closure has for your topic of interest?
Although some of the books techniques and ideas apply to any exercise in
critical thinking and almost all of it applies directly to thinking critically about
any old moral matters, Chapter 8 Babble and Murk is focused directly on some
concepts that seem prevalent in much thinking about moral problems that arise in
professional circumstances. There are some horribly muddled and intellectually
disreputable ideas concerning issues within our four themes listed above for various
professions. As the name suggests, the chapter is simply an exercise in conceptual
tidying up, one of attuning you to what is wrong with some common slogans,

Introductory Remarks and Overview


buzz words and obscure ideas so that you can move on to better conceptualized
views concerning the ethical issues arising in, and surrounding, your professional
life. I would have liked to make this an earlier chapter so that the waters could
be un-muddied more swiftly but some of what I say would, I suspect, not be
understood until you have some sub-skills of analysis and reason under your belt.
So, I have deferred the task until we finished portraying our suite of techniques. If
you want to jump ahead a bit to read this, then I recommend at least waiting until
you have a fairly solid grip of Chapter 3.
Chapter 9 Some Ethical Theory is intended to provide some background
for your critical thought about your value judgements (especially those that
connect with professional life, although it is not limited to that). I draw upon some
standard ethical theory and I try to draw as finely judged a line as I can between
overwhelming you with moral philosophy (a result of which can be that you lose
sight of your professional motivations and engage with various philosophical
puzzles as an end in itself which is fine for philosophers but, for practising
professionals, is losing sight of the point a bit) and underwhelming you with too
cursory a treatment of what are quite complicated and abstract matters. As an
illustration of the sorts of issues addressed, try this: given that different people
will have different views on our topics, is there any such thing as objective moral
truth on these matters, right answers if you like, or are wrongness and rightness,
like beauty, subjective and in the eye of beholder, that is, merely a matter of
personal commitment or preference? As you might guess, there is a considerable
amount of argumentation in moral philosophy about such questions and I try to
chart some of the territory. I probably err on the side of underwhelming you but,
in any event, my experience with students has been that, despite the importance
and clear connection of such matters to their professional ethical concerns, most
students are almost totally unaware of them and resistant to wishing to engage
with such abstractions. Yet it seems important to make some attempt at wrestling
with these issues, despite their difficulty. Accordingly, when you get to Chapter 9
you should find the spread of theoretical positions quite a voyage of self-discovery
and challenge as you try to place your own intuitions about your moral principles
into some place in the network of theories that I present to you and consider some
of the problems with those views.
So, there is a sketch of the role and layout of the book. Know in advance that most
of you are probably not used to thinking about these matters in such a relentlessly
rigorous and in-depth way. This means that you will have to work hard for some
period of time at getting some critical thinking/reasoning skills robustly in place
before you are ready to be let off the leash to use those skills when reasoning
about some morally vexing professional concerns. Expect to be frustrated at times
when things are not clicking and it all seems rather involved and complicated.


Reason and Professional Ethics

Keep at it though, reread the section of the book relevant to whatever it is that
is puzzling you, try to put things in your own words. In short, actively engage
and re-engage with the subject matter and it will usually click at some point.
Understanding this sort of stuff is definitely assisted greatly by discussion with
your peers (either in formal or informal settings) and, if you are not following
things, then discussion with your tutor/instructor is, of course, also advised. The
effort is worth it, though; to the extent that you can reason in depth you will have
a potent suite of intellectual skills that you will find you will apply as (almost!)
second nature in all sorts of situations (not just professional ones).
One last thing: when you are out practising your profession, please try to foster
clear and rigorous thought about ethical matters in those you encounter in your
professional lives. Such thinking will, perhaps, not be as formally pursued as you
have been introduced to in this book but quite a lot can be done short of that and
still be worthwhile. As I said at the start, there is more to professional life than
the practical everyday matters you have to contend with and those matters are
important enough to think properly about.

Chapter 2

Proposition Types
The Descriptive/Moral Distinction
Think back to the Harold and Horace argument. Once I had laid it out and put in
a missing piece, we had three component propositions that formed the argument.
These were:
Hitting people is wrong.
Harold hit Horace.
Harold did something wrong.

As I remarked at the time, these propositions are not all of the same sort. The
second one is a proposition about what the world is like (or, at least, that bit of it
formed by Harold and Horace). It purports to describe an event the hitting of
Horace by Harold. Put another way, it is trying to report the facts of the matter,
to say what was occurring. The other two are different. They are not trying to tell
you any claimed fact about the world; rather, each is a moral judgement. Have
a look at the last proposition first. As with the second proposition, it is talking
about Harold but it is not telling you something (supposedly) true about him in
the matter-of-fact manner of the second. Rather, the author morally appraises a
particular action of Harolds as wrong, as not being what he should have done. In
this third proposition, the author expresses moral disapproval of Harold hitting
Horace (for it is obvious from the context that the something in question was the
hitting). The third proposition is a particular moral value judgement of a particular
event. The first proposition is not. Rather, it is a general moral principle being
advanced (and appealed to in guidance of the judgement of the Horace and Harold
event). Although I trust that it is clear enough what the difference between the two
is, what I wish to emphasize for present purposes is not this difference between
the first and third propositions but their similarity as moral propositions and their
difference to the fact-claiming descriptive nature of the second proposition.
Getting this difference clear is the major business of the chapter propositions
of these two sorts are central to discussions of professional ethics.
The distinction has a number of labels in the philosophical literature, none
of them terribly satisfactory. As you might come across them, I will run quickly
through a few before fixing on one for us to use. Anyway, running through them
will approach the distinction from several different angles, thus, hopefully, helping
to fix it in your mind.


Reason and Professional Ethics

One common tag for the distinction is the is/ought distinction. I hope you
can see the point of the label. That Harold hit Horace is purportedly something
that is the case. Or, more precisely, was the case but tense is beside the point
here, we can hardly operate with the clumsy is-was-will be/ought label for the
distinction! Compare this second proposition with the third one that Harold
did something wrong. Here the proposition is not telling you what is (or was)
happening, it is passing moral judgement upon what happened. Although the word
used to express the judgement is wrong, not ought, it would be easy enough
to rewrite it saying Harold did what he ought not to have done (not quite the
same in meaning but close enough for now anyway). Of course this is ought not,
not ought. But, as before, we are hardly going to operate with the clumsy is-is
not/ought-ought not to cater for negatives. Given that one ignores tense, and does
not fuss about negatives, and realizes that most propositions of a moral sort which
are expressed using language other than ought can be translated into that sort of
language, and so on, the is/ought tag is a useful enough one. However, it is not
one I choose to use.
Another common tag is descriptive/normative. Descriptive because
propositions like the second one are trying to describe what the world is like (or
some aspect of it). Normative because moral principles are taken to establish
a standard for behaviour, they are taken to be action-guiding, or directing, and
your moral judgements about particular actions are made by reference to their
conformity or otherwise to your moral standards. Have a look at our little Harold
and Horace argument above and you will see just that sort of thing going on
so, not a bad tag. Nonetheless, the tag is a little bit awkward in that some socalled descriptive propositions will not actually succeed in describing at all. Try:
The moon is made of green cheese this is simply false; it is not succeeding in
describing what the moon is like. Perhaps, if spoken by some naive person, it could
be thought of as an attempt at describing the moon, as a putative description but it
does not actually describe anything. I suppose we could modify the tag so that it
was putatively descriptive/normative but clumsiness is setting in fast here. Also,
normative, although a word in general usage, is not all that frequently employed
by undergraduates. So, I will not be using this tag for the distinction either.
A third tag is empirical/evaluative. Empirical basically means: known
through the senses (either directly, as in knowing that one has a cup in ones
hand, or indirectly, as in knowing some quite general law of science on the basis
of experiment and observation). One trouble is that, again, this is hardly a word
robustly present in your vocabulary. Another is that I will be wanting to lump
into this is, descriptive, ... half of our distinction some propositions that are
implausibly thought of as empirical, ones like: Jesus loves me, There is life
after death, Gertrude has extra-sensory perception and so on. Evaluative is OK
except that we do not just make moral evaluations, the word is used more widely
than that. I might look at the clouds and say: My evaluation of the cloud patterns
is that it will rain before dawn; nothing very moral/ethical about that. We also
talk of aesthetic evaluations, say of a painting by an art critic. Again, I will not

Proposition Types


use this tag. (Sometimes you will see crossbreeding of the previous two tags to get
descriptive/evaluative; I will not bother to comment upon such hybrids.)
A fourth tag is fact/value. One trouble with this is similar to what has been
mentioned above concerning evaluative. We tend to think of values as covering
more than just moral values. Another is that fact has the connotation of proven
truth. One tends not to use it for propositions that one is hesitant about. So, for
instance, the proposition: there is intelligent life somewhere else in our galaxy is
rather speculative and it grates to put it in a basket labelled fact. Yet, in this book,
I do wish to be putting into just one basket any proposition which is, however
tentative, an attempt at describing the world out there, trying to say what reality is
like. (This is whether such an attempt is successful or otherwise and whether it is
guesswork or proven by some body of evidence.) So, I am a bit unhappy with this
common tag for our distinction as well.
There are other candidates in the literature but they are even more troublesome
or obscurely technical and I will not bother you with them. So, if all of the labels
in the literature have their problems, what will I use? What I want is a not too
technical, not too misleading tag that is fairly crisp and short. Nothing is without
problems and, with misgivings, I am simply going to employ the tag: descriptive/
moral. I know in advance that this will muddle some students but its the best I
can think of. Let me flag some possible misinterpretations in the hope that, having
explicitly noted them, you might avoid muddle. First, I direct you to my comments
about failed descriptions above. The way I will be using the tag descriptive,
even a failed description like the moon is made of green cheese will count as
descriptive. Think of descriptive as shorthand for putatively, or attempting to be,
descriptive if you like. Second, although moral cuts the field of misinterpretations
down a bit from that present with value or evaluative, there is one worry with
it. We tend to use moral in two ways. In one, the contrast for moral is immoral.
Moral is used as a synonym for good as opposed to bad. Example: Murgatroyd
is a very moral person. In the other, the contrast for moral is non-moral (or, as it
is less commonly put, amoral). Here, the idea of moral is that the proposition is
something or other to do with goodness and badness, right and wrong and so forth
morally-loaded if you wish. Example: The discussion then moved on to moral
issues. In contrast to moral in this sense, the idea of something being non-moral
is that something non-moral is morally neutral, or nothing to do with morality. So,
whether I brush my teeth with a blue toothbrush or a green toothbrush is, as far
as I can see, without any moral implications at all. It is not moral, but not in the
sense that it is immoral, it is a non-moral activity. As I will be using the term, a
moral proposition will be one that is something or other to do with morality; the
contrast will be with non-moral. That means that, whether some proposition that
you are analysing judges some activity in a way you agree with or not, so long as
it is a morally-loaded proposition, one making a moral judgement (as opposed to
one having nothing to do with morality), you will be categorizing the proposition
as moral, not descriptive. So, even if you think abortion is immoral, you will be
classifying the proposition: abortion is ethically right as a moral proposition.

Reason and Professional Ethics


Our task at this stage is merely to reliably categorize propositions into types, not
to make our own moral value judgements on the issues.
Wading through all of the above will have given you some feeling for the
nature of the distinction that I want you to get clear here. However, I know from
experience that it can take a while to get things straight so I will try to reinforce the
above with some examples before moving on to other things.
Key Ideas
Moral Propositions express the authors moral judgement about what is right or
wrong, should or should not occur and so on.
Descriptive Propositions express the authors claim about what the world is like.

Some Examples
In the following examples, the D propositions are descriptive and the M
propositions are moral. See if you can understand explicitly why each proposition is
categorized as descriptive or moral. What I am trying to foster is greater awareness
of your use of language than is common for most people.
D1 Most teachers think that positive reinforcement is the most ethical form of
behaviour control.
D2 No teachers employ positive reinforcement.
D3 Positive reinforcement has no effect on behaviour.
M1 No teachers should employ positive reinforcement.
M2 It is only morally proper to employ positive reinforcement if the individual in
question is too young to understand the worth of some activity.
M3 It is usually wrong to bribe someone to do something.
D4 All patients wish to be told the truth about their condition.
D5 Sometimes telling a patient what is wrong with them lessens their chances of
M4 Patients should always be told the truth about their condition if it is clear that that
is what they want.
M5 It is more important for someone to recover from illness than it is for them to
know what is wrong with them.
D6 All Clients expect their counsellor to treat anything they say in a counselling
session as in confidence.
D7 If a counsellor reveals the contents of a counselling session in response to a police
request, then their client can sue.
M6 Counsellors should be able to make their own professional judgements as to when
it is proper for them to reveal the contents of a counselling session to a third party.

Proposition Types


M7 Preventing crime is not more important than respecting a clients trust that what is
said to a counsellor will not be revealed to anyone else.
D8 The price of some scientific knowledge is animal suffering.
D9 It is impossible to prevent some scientists carrying out stem cell research even if
it is made illegal.
M8 No knowledge is worth having if its price is animal suffering.
M9 Stem cell research is immoral.

The D prefixed propositions are descriptive propositions, they purport to describe

what reality, or some aspect of it, is like. That some of them fail in this task (D2, for
instance, is false) does not stop them being descriptive propositions, propositions
of the sort that one would use to attempt to describe the way things are.
The M prefixed propositions, on the other hand, are not ones trying to
describe to you some fact about the world (or, at least, they are not doing this
in a straightforward way; there are some subtle theoretical issues here which I
will ignore for present purposes; we will discuss them in Chapter 9). Rather than
making a proposition trying to describe how something is, they propose morally
how it ought (or ought not) to be, they make a moral judgement as to the rightness
or wrongness of some state of affairs. The current task is be able to detect that they
are moral (as opposed to non-moral) regardless of whether you agree with them
or not.
Sometimes, you will find it easy enough to work out what is what. But
sometimes it will be more vexing and difficult. Basically, this is a matter of practice
and coaching and feedback from your tutor. There are some techniques that will
help you, though, and I turn to these in the next section. But before I do, it might
be helpful if I think aloud and talk my way briefly through why I categorize
my examples as I do. I will also take the chance to begin attuning you to some
subtleties that will be revisited in later chapters.
Analysis of the Examples
D1 Most teachers think that positive reinforcement is the most ethical form of
behaviour control.

My guess is that many of you would have allocated this as a moral proposition. What
might have caught your eye is the phrase most ethical. In deeming something to
be the most ethical form of behaviour control, surely one is morally approving
of it? This last point is correct; but note that it is not the speaker of D1 whos
passing that sort of judgement. All the speaker is doing is reporting the judgements
of other people. The speaker is describing the thinking, in particular the moral
thinking, of most teachers (or trying to, she may have things muddled). It is a
descriptive proposition about the moral views of others; the speaker is expressing
none of her own moral views about positive reinforcement.


Reason and Professional Ethics

D2 No teachers employ positive reinforcement.

The proposition is false but in terms of our system of categorization it counts as

a descriptive proposition. The speaker is attempting to describe the behaviour of
teachers, just failing to do so correctly.
D3 Positive reinforcement has no effect on behaviour.

Much like the previous one: in terms of our categories, this is a descriptive claim,
just one that is false (as far as I know, positive reinforcement does have an effect
in many cases).
M1 No teachers should employ positive reinforcement.

In this case, unlike the first one, we are getting the speakers own moral judgement
(note the word should of which more in a moment). The speaker is saying what,
in his view, a moral duty of teachers is.
M2 It is only morally proper to employ positive reinforcement if the individual
in question is too young to understand the worth of some activity.

Again, the speakers own moral views are being expressed, it is not a report of the
views of others and the views expressed are moral ones note the words morally
proper. All that is different to the previous one is that it is a slightly more complex
conditional proposition (note the if).
M3 It is usually wrong to bribe someone to do something.

This is fairly straightforwardly a moral proposition; the only thing to note is the
mild complexity of the proposition given the word usually. Presumably the
author is suggesting that there would be occasions, or circumstances, where she
would morally approve of bribery.
D4 All patients wish to be told the truth about their condition.

This is a straightforward descriptive proposition where what the author hopes to

describe are the wishes of other people in this case, patients. It is worth noting
how sweeping and exceptionless the claim about them is (all ...). Almost certainly,
this proposition is false as I imagine there are exceptions. It being false does not,
you will recall, stop it being categorized by us as descriptive.
D5 Sometimes telling a patient what is wrong with them lessens their chances
of recovery.

Proposition Types


Yet another fairly obviously descriptive claim. Note the sometimes: unlike its
predecessor, this claim is un-sweeping and rather restricted in its claimed scope of
application. One last thing: although the word wrong is used it is not a moral use
of the word. What is under consideration is telling a patient what illness, injury
and so on they have, not their moral faults.
M4 Patients should always be told the truth about their condition if it is clear that
that is what they want.

The speaker is saying what should occur and its fairly obviously a moral should
(there are other, non-moral, uses of the word as we will shortly see). The only thing
to note is that, as with M2, the moral proposition is conditional (note the if).
M5 It is more important for people to recover from illness than it is for them to
know what is wrong with them.

Again, a moral proposition expressing the authors views as to what is more

important (morally speaking) out of illness recovery and knowledge of the nature
of ones illness.
D6 All Clients expect their counsellor to treat anything they say in a counselling
session as in confidence.

As with some earlier ones, the author is attempting to describe the psychology of
other people so, a straightforward descriptive claim. Again, note how sweeping
the claim is (all).
D7 If a counsellor reveals the contents of a counselling session in response to a
police request, then their client can sue.

A descriptive proposition claiming to tell us what the law is concerning the

confidentiality of counselling sessions (even when the breach of confidence is
in response to a police request). As with some earlier ones, note the conditional
nature of the proposition (if , then).
M6 Counsellors should be able to make their own professional judgements as
to when it is proper for them to reveal the contents of a counselling session to
a third party.

This is on the same general topic as the previous one but, in this case, we are not
being told what the speakers ideas are about what the law is, we are getting the
speakers own moral views as to what is right and what is wrong (note the moral
use of the word should). Note that there is nothing inconsistent in agreeing with
this proposition and with D7. One might agree that people legally can sue and


Reason and Professional Ethics

think that this is a bad law and that a morally better situation would be allowing
counsellors to exercise professional discretion in the matter. In short, what is legal
is not the same idea as what is morally good.
M7 Preventing crime is not more important than respecting a clients trust that
what is said to a counsellor will not be revealed to anyone else.

As with an earlier one, a comparative moral value judgement about what is more
important than what.
D8 The price of some scientific knowledge is animal suffering.

This is a straightforward descriptive proposition that you will simply not get some
items of scientific knowledge unless there is some animal suffering. Presumably
what is in mind is that the suffering of some animals (those used in experiments,
say) is a necessary part of the process that leads to that knowledge. Note that it is
neutrally descriptive and we simply cannot tell whether the author thinks the price
is (morally) worth paying or not.
D9 It is impossible to prevent some scientists carrying out stem cell research
even if it is made illegal.

This is a descriptive proposition which expresses the speakers views as to our

chances of eliminating such research by legal banning. You may agree with the
proposition or you may be more optimistic (or is it pessimistic?) concerning the
power of the law but your agreement or disagreement is irrelevant to the task of
allocating it as a descriptive claim.
M8 No knowledge is worth having if its price is animal suffering.

In this case, however, we are definitely getting the authors own moral views; note
the word worth.
M9 Stem cell research is immoral.

This is pretty obviously to be categorized as a moral proposition; note the use of


Proposition Types


Further Detail on the Distinction and Some Clue Words

Clue Words Introduced
I have noted a tendency at times for my own students to radically misconstrue
whether some proposition is a descriptive proposition or one issuing some sort of
moral value judgement. There is no easy recipe for distinguishing these better but
there are a few helpful clues in our language. Most of our ideas are expressed in
language and value judgements are no different. Accordingly, we have developed
a range of linguistic ways of expressing value positions. My first suggestion
then is that you be very meta-cognitively deliberate and self-conscious about
the language you are using or reading (if, say, it is another persons proposition
which you are trying to categorize). Look carefully at what is said, at the words
used. Turns of phrase which are commonly used to express value-judgements are:
should, ought, right, good, a (or the) right, important, duty, proper
and so on; and, of course, should not, wrong, and the rest of the negations. As
a rough rule of thumb, you are not going to be able to express a moral proposition
without this sort of terminology and you can take its presence as likely signalling
the presence of a value proposition. Call such words clue words; they tip you
off to the possibility that you have a moral proposition present. It is only a clue
though and you cannot just automatically assume that the presence of one of these
words means that you have a moral proposition (have a look at my discussion of
D5, above). Although they are not a sure-fire guide, or some sort of recipe, and
they have to be employed with some thoughtfulness as all of these words can also
be used to express non-moral (as opposed to immoral) propositions as well as ones
to do with morality, they are, nonetheless good clues.
Key Ideas
Clue Words (like: should, right, important and their negations) provide a clue,
but only a clue, to the possible presence of a moral proposition; they are not to be
used as a mindless recipe in place of thoughtful analysis.

Descriptive Uses of Clue Words Some Examples

Almost all of the language that we employ to express moral propositions, the clue
words as I have called them, can also be used to express descriptive propositions.
Consider should as an example. One might have the proposition:
M10 No child should have to live in fear of physical violence.

Reason and Professional Ethics


What this seems to do is enjoin a moral duty upon all of us to do what we can
to intervene and prevent any child from having to live in fear. This is a clear-cut
moral proposition. By this I mean that, whether you agree with it or not (and it is
swiftly open to serious criticism as being wildly overstated despite its superficial
motherhood and apple pie attractiveness as a value; but thats another story), it is
clearly a moral, as opposed to descriptive, proposition. Even if you come to judge
it as not morally acceptable as a stance, as immoral, if you like, it is still moral as
opposed to non-moral.
But sometimes should can be used in a descriptive proposition. For instance,
say some piece of medical equipment was not working and the technician, after
some repairs, pronounces:
D10 There, it should work now.

Am I to take it that she is signalling her value stance to the effect that the equipment
has a moral duty to work now? Of course not. All that is happening is a (quite
morally neutral) expression of the likelihood or probability of various cause-effect
chains being in place ready for activation. Similarly, say that a colleague is late for
a conference and the meeting secretary phones his room and reports with:
D11 He ought to be here in a few minutes.

This is probability talk, not moral appraisal talk. Contrast it with:

M11 Jones really ought to be on time for meetings.

This does seem to be the issuing of a moral judgement.

I will not continue but every one of our clue words can be used in a non-moral
way so attend closely to this point about care in the analysis of these clue words
and ensure that you understand the above. I have found confusion of the moral and
non-moral uses of should and other clue words to be a major fault in those new
to this sort of careful analysis and categorization of propositions.
Key Ideas
Descriptive propositions, not just moral ones, might be expressed using our clue
words; so watch out!

Proposition Types


Embedded Clue Words: More Detail

Next, I would like to have a deeper look at an issue touched upon when we analysed
D1. Most ethical seemed to be being used to express a moral value judgement
but I observed that it was not the authors. So, despite appearances, I allocated the
proposition as descriptive, not moral. This sort of situation occurs quite a bit. How
a given sentence is to be analysed is all a matter of how the clue word occurs in
whatever sentence is under scrutiny, even when it is the moral sense of the word.
Consider the following, both employ should and in both cases the word is used in
the moral sense but in only the former case is the sentence being used to advance a
moral proposition; the latter is a descriptive proposition. So, compare:
M12 Rural medical practitioners should give discounts to families in poverty.

D12 Most Welsh people think that rural medical practitioners should give
discounts to families in poverty.

In the former, we get the authors, or speakers, own moral proposition about
rural medical discounts. In the latter, we get no contribution of that sort at all. All
that we get is a descriptive proposition reporting other peoples values, one about
what most Welsh people would decide on that moral issue. The use of should is
embedded in the proposition and not used directly to express the authors moral
views. To note their views says nothing in itself about the rightness or wrongness
of such discounts. Even if one thought the proposition about the views of most
Welsh people to be true as a matter of fact (I have no idea), one could, with no
hint of contradiction, go on in the next breath to morally disagree with them. That
is, one could hold that no matter how many Welsh people think such discounts to
be right, it is nonetheless wrong. In short, working out for yourselves what you
take to be morally defensible answers to our questions is distinct from finding out
what other peoples answers are. Those answers of others (and their supporting
argumentation) might be useful food for your thought but it will not settle the
moral question of what is right; just the descriptive one of what some group of
people think is right. Moral controversies are not to be settled by doing a survey.
(We will return to this issue of what is right versus what people say is right in
Chapter 9.)
So, look carefully at what is written: is it an expression of the authors own
moral judgement? in which case it is a moral proposition; or is it a report by the
author of the moral judgements of someone else? in which case it is a descriptive
proposition (purporting to describe the contents of their mind).

Reason and Professional Ethics


Key Ideas
Sometimes, even when it is a moral use of a clue word, the word is not used to
express the moral judgement of the author and so that proposition is not a moral

I will use the tag ambiguous proposition for propositions that, upon one
interpretation of some key turn of phrase, fall into one type and upon another
interpretation fall into another type. Ambiguous words are words with more than
one meaning and I am just borrowing the general idea for our more specific present
purposes. The label is apt because propositions like:
A1 Everyone has the right to freedom of religious thought.

may mean:
M13 Everyone has the moral right to freedom of religious thought.

but also may mean:

D13 Everyone has the legal right to freedom of religious thought.

We cannot tell, just from looking at A1, which is meant. So, as I will use the word,
an ambiguous proposition is one whose meaning is unclear in that particular way.
Interpreted one way it would be a moral proposition but interpreted another way
would be a descriptive proposition.
It is one thing to issue ones own moral judgement about what moral rights
people should have but it is quite another thing to comment about what legal
rights have been granted in some country or other. (As an aside, there is no such
legal right in most western countries; parents are permitted to indoctrinate their
children into various religious beliefs, thereby compromising their freedom of
thought. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing you might care to think about,
I merely note it as a legal fact.)
So, what moral rights you think people should have and what legal rights the
powers that be have granted to them are two distinct matters; yet both use the
right/s turn of phrase and it can be unclear which is meant. It is not just the word
right/s that has this problem of ambiguous meaning: the same arises with the
word permissible (it can be legal or moral permissibility in question and they are
not the same idea), with the word accountable and with some others.
What makes such propositions ambiguous is that we have no guidance from the
sentence, or the context of its utterance, or writing, just which way its supposed
to be interpreted. Be alert to this problem in trying to understand the propositions

Proposition Types


of others but also be alert to it as a problem others might have in understanding

you. Why not make it crystal clear just what you intend and write in moral right,
if that is what you mean, instead of just right (which might be misconstrued as
legal right)? And so on for other such expressions. Of course it is also the case
that some propositions which would be ambiguous in isolation are not when you
attend to the surrounding context. So, if A1 had been uttered in the context of a
discussion of the laws of the land and what they stipulated as citizens legal rights
and responsibilities, then there would be no ambiguity whatsoever and we would
understand that D13 was what was meant. So, if you are not sure, attend carefully
to the context and see if that helps you work out what is meant.
Apart from the possible moral/legal confusion, another source of ambiguity
in some situations is that, even with context, it is sometimes not clear if some
other clue word is meant morally or not. All you can do is be as careful as you
can in unpacking the ideas of others and try hard to avoid creating confusion in
expressing your own ideas.
Although I have introduced the idea of ambiguous propositions as ambiguous
between the category moral or the category descriptive, this is just because
we have only laid out two categories so far. As we will see, there can be some
confusion across other categories as well.
So, in summary on clue words: some linguistic clues? certainly; they are a
big help so long as they are not taken to be relieving you of the obligation to think
about what you read and write.
Key Ideas
Sometimes you cannot tell how a clue word is meant (it is ambiguous) but a lot of
the time the surrounding context of the proposition helps resolve any such potential

A Common Student Error in Categorizing Propositions

Finally, just a reminder that, so far, it is descriptive propositions that we are
contrasting with moral propositions. A proposition can, I have said, be descriptive
and false (e.g. The earth is flat or our recent example: Everyone has the legal
right to freedom of religious thought). A proposition might also be descriptive and
highly speculative (e.g. There is intelligent life somewhere else in our galaxy). In
each case, the proposition is an attempt to describe reality, to say what the world is
like that the attempt fails, or is unjustified, is beside the point of categorizing the
proposition as descriptive. So far, so repetitive of earlier sections. Hopefully this
is clear and needs no further elaboration for you to follow the point.
However, some of your student ancestors of my experience have persisted
in confusing the idea of a moral value proposition with that of a not-proven,

Reason and Professional Ethics


or speculative, but nonetheless descriptive, proposition. So, consider the

D14 On average, black, homosexual, paraplegic, left-handed, fundamentalist
Hindus are less capable in those skills of abstract thought apt for thinking
through ethical dilemmas than those who are not.

I have no idea whether this is true or not and surmise that we would have to
rate its utterance by someone as pure speculation on their part, as guesswork,
as mere opinion. Despite it being guesswork, it is a guess about that class of
peoples comparative intellectual capabilities. Given this, it is a descriptive
proposition, an attempt to say what reality is like. It is not a moral judgement of
any sort about what should be the case. True or false, known or unknown, it is a
descriptive proposition, not a moral proposition. In summary, being an unproven,
or speculative, proposition about what reality is like (a guess, a mere matter of
opinion), does not of itself make the proposition a moral proposition. Never mind
that some proposition is just someones speculative opinion, ask yourself what it
is an opinion about; if it is just an opinion about what the facts are, then it is still
descriptive. For it to be a moral proposition it has to be the authors view as to
what is right or wrong, good or bad, and so forth.
Much the same can be said about moral propositions (although I have not
found students to have the same problems here). That you disagree with it, or
think it to be in moral error, does not make some proposition any the less a moral
proposition. For instance, Lying to people is always morally permissible might
be a view that you reject but that just means that you think it to be expressing an
immoral stance; it is still a moral proposition as opposed to non-moral.
Key Ideas
Do not confuse expressing a moral judgement with making a speculative mere
opinion claim about what facts of the world are.

Uses of Some Clue Words in Aesthetic Propositions

Sometimes when you analyse a proposition, the claim being made with the
employment of one or other of these clue words is value judgemental but not
morally so. Another category of values is that of aesthetic values matters of taste
to do with beauty, ugliness and so forth. Some of our clue words can be employed
to advance aesthetic value propositions, not just moral value propositions. As an
illustration, were someone to say that some style of clothing was right for you,
you would misunderstand if you took them to be saying that the style was one that
it was morally proper, or dutiful, for you to be wearing. All that is meant is that

Proposition Types


they like that look on you. Having made this distinction between aesthetic and
moral values, I will henceforth ignore it, as aesthetic value propositions are not
our concern.
A Brief Summary and a Taxonomy of Proposition Types so Far
I said earlier that the main business of this chapter was to assist you get a clear
conception of the distinction between descriptive and moral proposition types. So,
let me first just briefly review those two types.
Descriptive Propositions
These propositions are those supposedly describing what reality is like. They
might be tentative attempts, or even be sheer speculative guesswork or they might
be proven truths. They might concern matters of particular detail or be broad
sweeping generalizations. They might be true or they might be false. Whatever the
detail of all of that is, we are calling them descriptive propositions attempts to
describe what reality is like.
Moral Propositions
These propositions are those where the author is taking some sort of stance
concerning the moral rightness or wrongness, goodness or badness of something;
a stance about what morally should or should not happen, about the moral rights,
duties and responsibilities of various people and so on. Again, much as with
descriptive propositions, it is irrelevant to a propositions categorization as a moral
proposition whether it is advanced tentatively or with great confidence, whether
it is accepted by you or not and so on. All that matters is that the author is indeed
proposing some sort of moral value judgement.
Moral propositions almost always use turns of phrase such as should, good
and so on to express the moral judgement being made; such Clue Words, as I
called them, are, however, not a mindless recipe for the allocation of propositions
as moral ones. They are but clues and should be used in conjunction with an
intelligent appraisal of the sentence and its context as every one of the clue words
has a non-moral use as well. Which leads us nicely into my next category.
Ambiguous Propositions
Ambiguous propositions, you will recall, are those that are not clearly one
proposition type or another as they stand it all depends on how some particular
clue word is taken. So, some proposition could be a moral one or could be a
descriptive one; we just cannot tell. (Note that some propositions that might have
been ambiguous if considered in isolation might have that potential ambiguity

Reason and Professional Ethics


resolved by the context of their occurrence.) So far, the possible ambiguity has
been between descriptive and evaluative proposition types (the only basic types
that we have considered to date). As we will see in due course, although this is the
most common type of ambiguity, things are a little bit more involved.
Mixed Propositions
So much for progress to date. I would like now to add one more proposition type to
our taxonomy. I will call such propositions Mixed Propositions. The metaphor is
from chemistry. Take some sand and pour it in a cup; now take some ground black
pepper and pour it in the same cup. Stir well. Now remove a teaspoonful of the
cups contents. The teaspoon will contain both sand and pepper. Each retains its
own separate identity (the sand is still just sand, the pepper is still just pepper) it is
just that various bits of each are present in the teaspoon. Ditto with our proposition
types. Sometimes more than one proposition is present in the same sentence. And
on some such occasions one of the propositions is a moral proposition and another
is a descriptive proposition. So, upon examining such a sentence you would be
in error to just say: It is a moral proposition or: It is a descriptive proposition
because it is more than that, it contains both of them at once.
Consider this sentence:
DM1 Professionals arguing in front of a client causes the client to lose trust in
their judgement and it is wrong to cause any such loss of trust.

This sentence contains both a descriptive proposition and a moral proposition

bundled together. It says both that such disagreement will cause the client to lose
trust in their judgement (a descriptive proposition as to what the fact of the matter is)
and that such loss of trust is wrong (a moral value judgement). Such composite
propositions are, for our purposes, usually most easily considered if analysed into
their component bits (as just done with DM1). Once these are analysed, they break
down into our two existing proposition types. So, in this case, the best way of
thinking of DM1 is as these two propositions:
D15 Professionals arguing in front of a client causes the client to lose trust in
their judgement.

M14 It is wrong for anyone to cause the clients of professionals to lose trust in

In the case of DM1, the mixed nature of the sentence (the presence of more
than one proposition, with one of them unpacking as D15 and the other as M14)

Proposition Types


is fairly obvious because we have a blatant conjunction with the two conjuncts
joined by the word and. Sometimes, however, things can be not quite as obvious.
DM2 Professionals arguing in front of a client wrongly cause the client to lose
trust in their judgement.

Note the insertion of the word wrongly. With that insertion DM2 says the same
thing as DM1. It is just that the sentence structure bundles the two propositions
together rather than separating them out to form the two conjuncts we see on either
side of the and as we had in DM1. The same propositions are there in each of
our two versions; it is just more obscure in DM2 just what is going on. It is that
obscurity that can trip you if you do not attend carefully to teasing out all of what
has been said.
As a variation on this theme, one can also have sentences which contain more
than one proposition yet they are not of different types. That is, there might be
more than one descriptive proposition advanced in the one sentence or there might
be more than one moral value judgement. Instances are: Joan cried at the news
but also realized that what had happened was what Jeremy would have wanted.
Here we have two pieces of information, two descriptive propositions, one about
her crying and one about her realization, bundled into the one sentence. Or, try:
Lying is wrong but so is causing people avoidable harm. Two things are being
called wrong; two moral value judgements are being made. Each of these two
sentences could be broken up into its component parts and later down the track
I will be talking about making sure that you do just that so that it is clear what
is being said. However, for the moment, I do not want to fuss with these cases
of more than one proposition but with each of them being of the same type. Our
present concern is to note the possibility of propositions which are formed of a
mixture of descriptive and moral propositions. It is particularly important that you
be alert to these and able to unpack them into their component bits. Without a bit
of care there is every chance of you simply not realizing the presence of the moral
proposition element in mixed propositions and this can be a real impediment to
thinking clearly about professional ethical matters when such sentences crop up in
the enquiry. I will return to a particularly troublesome case of this (one rampant in
educational, nursing, social work, counselling and other professional circles) in a
later chapter (Chapter 7 on needs).
So, our final category so far is:
Mixed Propositions
Mixed propositions are those where more than one proposition is present in
the sentence with one of them being a moral proposition and the other being a
descriptive proposition (or at least that is so within the limitations of the proposition
types we have dealt with so far).

Reason and Professional Ethics


In closing, note that what all of this amounts to is that, so far, we have two
basic proposition types: moral and descriptive (ignoring aesthetic propositions).
Then we have two other types that are built up from these two basic ones. Mixed
propositions are ones where two distinct propositions are bundled together in the
one sentence one moral and one descriptive. Ambiguous propositions are ones
where only one proposition is present but it is not clear whether it is a moral
proposition or a descriptive proposition.
Key Ideas
Mixed Propositions are where a sentence has more than one proposition being stated
and more than one type of proposition (so far, descriptive and moral).

Conceptual Propositions
As just remarked, we have so far had two basic proposition types, descriptive
and moral. In this section, I want to introduce the last item in our taxonomy of
proposition types. The final proposition type I will portray for you I will call
conceptual propositions. For some reason, my experience has been that this
is the proposition type that students have most trouble understanding perhaps
because such propositions do not crop up often. Accordingly, I will try to explain
it and draw the contrast between this type and our other two basic types.
The major possibility for confusion about conceptual propositions is with
descriptive ones and I will spend some time focusing upon that as a way of
introducing the conceptual proposition type. (The distinction between conceptual
propositions and descriptive propositions is controversial within philosophical
theory but the detail of that goes beyond our present purposes.)
Let us start with a common example. What is the concept of bachelorhood,
what is it that constitutes a bachelor being a bachelor, the core idea if you like,
the meaning? Say we answered: being an unmarried adult male. One can think
of what has been offered here as constituting a proposition about the conceptual
equivalence of bachelor and unmarried adult male. So, we could portray things
in the form of a proposition to the effect that bachelors are unmarried adult males
this would be an example of what I will call a conceptual proposition. Let us
portray it in labelled form for ease of reference:
C1 Bachelors are unmarried adult males.

Contrast it with the descriptive proposition:

D15 Bachelors favourite food is beer.

Proposition Types


What is the difference?

I said that C1 was a way of expressing the conceptual equivalence of bachelor
and unmarried adult male. Another way of thinking about this is that C1 seems to
have its truth and falsity dependent not on facts about the world, things true of the
people who happened to be bachelors. Rather, its truth or falsity is dependent upon
the meaning of the word bachelor, the nature of the concept, what is essential to
the very notion of being a bachelor, or something of that sort. If it is true, then its
truth lies in meaning relationships among bachelor and unmarried, male and
adult. If you think it is true and I think it is false then the nature of our dispute is
that we are operating with different meanings of the word bachelor.
In contrast, D15 is true or false dependant upon the facts of the matter about the
food preferences of bachelors, and whether it is true or false would not affect what
we understood bachelor to mean, as opposed to what the facts about bachelors
are. There seems, then, on the face of it, to be a distinction to be drawn between
conceptual propositions, like C1 and descriptive propositions, like D15.
Another way of grasping this distinction better is to think about how we might
go about trying to establish each of the two proposition types as true or false. So,
how might these propositions be tested?
On the face of it (and again philosophical controversy abounds but is bypassed
here) the way that we might go about trying to work out whether or not we agree
with a descriptive proposition is different to what we would look for in testing
a conceptual proposition. For instance, we might expect some sort of survey of
bachelors to be of help in seeing whether most (was it most, was it all? as
an aside, note how vague the proposition was; we will talk about vagueness and
clarity in the next chapter) bachelors liked beer more than any other food.
But we would not test the conceptual proposition by picking out a sample
of bachelors and then seeing how many of them are unmarried adult males. If
that were what we understood the concept of bachelorhood to amount to, then we
would already and automatically have judged our sample as comprising unmarried
adult males in virtue of judging them as bachelors. If one knows that someone
is a bachelor then there is nothing further to find out as to whether they are an
unmarried adult male or not. To check this sort of claim is not a matter of seeing
if the bachelors have some further property as a matter of descriptive fact (like
preferring beer) but a matter of seeing if the understanding of bachelor is right in
the first place. So, one might check the conceptual proposition by reflecting upon
the relationship among the ideas bachelor, unmarried, male and adult. When
I do that, it seems to me that C1 is true, true by definition if you like. Unmarried
adult male is indeed contained within the idea bachelor. All I had to do to decide
upon the truth or falsity of C1 was reflect upon word meanings and the syntax, or
grammatical structure, of the sentence. I say the syntax of the sentence because,
were our sentence to have been:
C2 Bachelors are not unmarried adult males.


Reason and Professional Ethics

then the presence of that all-important word not, together with the very same
meaning relationships just discussed, would make C2 false. Mind you, one has
to be a little bit cautious. What if we made the meaning relationships nature of
conceptual propositions quite explicit in a this means that sort of way. Try
the following:
C3 Bachelor means unmarried adult male.

As I remarked in an aside earlier, we will focus upon issues of clarity of expression

in the next chapter but the problem arises here so we will have to get a little bit
ahead of ourselves. As it stands, C3 is unclear. Is the suggestion that this is the
total meaning of bachelor? If so, it should be rewritten more clearly as follows:
C3a Bachelor means unmarried adult male and nothing more.

So viewed, C3a is false; it is too inclusive because it is only unmarried adult male
humans that are to be thought of as bachelors.
However, perhaps it just meant:
C3b Bachelor at least means unmarried adult male.

If so, then it seems to be true. I hope to have given you some feeling for the
distinction between conceptual propositions and descriptive ones and also
some appreciation of the importance of precision and clarity in the expression
of conceptual relationships. It might be thought that all that is needed is a
dictionary, for does not it act as the authoritative lexical record of how we use
words, of the conceptual connections in our language? Up to a point this is so;
certainly it would sort out the concept of bachelor well enough. But many of
the conceptual connections in our language are not tracked in dictionaries and,
indeed, not explicitly, or consciously, understood by the native speakers whose
usage the dictionary tries to summarize. Remember that the dictionary can be no
more precise than the linguistic practice it is trying to report and sometimes that
practice is pretty murky. Much philosophical work involves thinking about subtle
meaning relationships and conceptual connections. In particular, many issues in
professional ethics require thinking about conceptual connections that are more
complex and subtler than what are captured in dictionaries. I will illustrate this
point when considering our next comparison.
So far, we have spoken only of the difference between conceptual and descriptive
propositions. I now want to spend a moment discussing the difference between
conceptual propositions and moral propositions. Consider this proposition:
M15 Everyone has the moral right to life.

Proposition Types


You might agree with this or you might disagree with this; but clearly the author
of this proposition is issuing a moral judgement and so it is, in terms of our
proposition types, a moral proposition. Contrast with this the proposition:
C4 To say that someone has the moral right to life is to say that, when it comes
to living or dying, it should be their decision, not someone elses.

This proposition certainly has some moral clue words present (moral right,
should) but we are getting no moral judgement by the author at all, so it is not a
moral proposition. Rather, what is going on is that we are having someone outline
what they take the allocation of a moral right to someone to amount to, what the
very idea of a moral right is. It is, if you like, presenting an answer to some such
question as: What do you mean when you say that someone has a moral right
to life?.
You should realize that some of the concepts which you will be wielding (in
thinking through value judgemental topics concerning your professional lives) are
not going to be as clear cut in their meaning as bachelor is (try: equality as
a glaring case in point or moral right as just used). As to whether conceptual
propositions concerning such concepts are true or not, it is not part of what I
am trying to achieve here for you to be generally attempting to adjudicate these
conceptual propositions in their own right. To make such judgements involves rather
sophisticated conceptual analysis and that requires a fair amount of philosophical
training which you will likely not get. Rather, all that can be reasonably asked is that
you just recognize that one possible source of controversy in ethical discussions
concerns what various concepts amount to and thus which conceptual propositions
we endorse and which not. Discussions can get at cross purposes when meanings
are unclear and different participants mean different things concerning central
ideas. All you can do is be alert to this possible problem and try to make it as clear
as you can as you go just what your concept is of this, that or the other key idea
in your discussion and spend some time making other participants clarify their
own concepts. As you will see in the next chapter, my suggestion about this is
that you explicitly set up what I will call your own working definitions of these
key, but possibly murky, concepts. This is so that everyone involved understands
each other as much as possible. So, you might say: When I say that schools
should provide an equal education for all, I mean that they should treat students in
whatever way will result in them exiting school with as close to an identical set of
competencies as possible. That might not be how someone else would understand
equal education but rather than divert into challenges to your understanding of
the concept, they can at least see what your idea is (mislabelled though they might
judge it to be) and get on to the substantive moral issue of whether or not they
think that your schooling aim is morally appropriate so, as you mean equal
education, is this what schools should be aiming to provide or not?
Generally speaking, conceptual propositions will not loom as large in your
enquiries as descriptive propositions and, especially, moral propositions which is

Reason and Professional Ethics


a blessing given how hard they can be to cope with without thorough philosophical
training. So, although I include them as our last basic type of proposition, the main
ones to focus on are moral and descriptive propositions.
Finally, for completeness, a given sentence might contain a mixture of a
conceptual proposition and some other basic type or it might be ambiguous as to
whether what is present is a conceptual proposition or some other basic type.
Key Ideas
Conceptual propositions neither tell us what the world is like nor pass moral judgement
upon it; rather, they make claims about the relationships among concepts.

Summary Remarks
What you should have clear from this chapter is a number of distinctions. The most
important distinction to have straight is that between a descriptive proposition
and a moral proposition. Although you should understand what conceptual
propositions and aesthetic value propositions are, the most important thing for now
is distinguishing descriptive from moral propositions and noting where both are
present (mixed propositions) and where its not clear which is present (ambiguous
Moral propositions and descriptive propositions are the major constituent
elements of the arguments that make up a rigorous enquiry into ethical problems
and it is to that matter of argumentation that I turn in the next chapter.

Chapter 3

Structuring Arguments
The Problem of Justifying Moral Propositions
In the last chapter, I stated that a crucial distinction for our purposes was that
between a descriptive proposition and a moral proposition. Obviously any of the
propositions that you or others advance in taking some sort of ethical stance on
a professional matter are moral propositions. You are now more attuned to this
distinction and should be able to see that propositions of the following sort are to
be so classified:
Children should be educated, not trained, at school.
It is totally improper for a medical practitioner to have sexual relationships with one
of her patients.
It is sometimes right for police officers to use their discretion in deciding whether to
enforce the law.
It is more important that social workers act as advocates for their clients than that
they enforce petty bureaucratic rules.

And so on. At this stage, you should be attuned to the presence of the clue words
that suggest that you have moral propositions here. And, having noted that that is
what they are, you will perhaps find that some such propositions of an ethical sort
concerning professional life you agree with, that you disagree with others, are in
two minds concerning the merits of some others and find some too vague to know
what to say unless they are clarified a bit. In short, you will already have some
views on these matters, especially issues to do with your own chosen profession.
But, for all you know, your views might be rubbish; they might be ill thought
through, the result of shallow minded thinking off the top of your head. The only
way you would know that they were not rubbish would be to have thought out
some reasons for your views, to have a rationale in their support. In what follows,
we begin to explore the sort of thing that might provide such a rationale.
I will begin that exploration by contrasting the present problem with that facing
the support of a descriptive proposition. If a descriptive proposition is advanced,
then, as most of you would realize, the issue is whether it is true or false, that
is, succeeds in describing reality or not. And, suffice it for now to note, ones
hope would be that some process of, mostly, empirical enquiry would result in it
being established if, say, it is true that most police take bribes, or if it is true that
some undergraduate courses demand a higher level of literacy than 30 per cent
of current students are capable of, or if it is true that 20 per cent of deaths in


Reason and Professional Ethics

hospitals are due to staff incompetence, or if most retirements of social workers

are stress-related, or not.
Not that empirical enquiry is guaranteed of settling all descriptive propositions
truth-status. Some such propositions might be true, and some false, without anyone
being able to establish them one way or the other. (Try: Ten minutes before the
battle of Waterloo, Napoleon briefly thought of Josephine.) In short, not all truths
are capable of being known. Despite that, if such propositions are amenable to
having their truth or falsity established at all, then, for most of them at least, we seem
to have a halfway decent procedure for such investigation: empirical research
that is, observation, experiment and the like. (Actually it is not clear that some
descriptive propositions are, even in principle, amenable to empirical research;
try: God exists. I will ignore this complication for now.)
But what of moral propositions? How on earth are they to be established (or
First, note from the outset that such propositions do not seem to be able to
be proved one way or the other by means of the sort of empirical research that
one might usually undertake to investigate the truth/falsity status of descriptive
propositions. This is not a mere matter of it being too difficult. As just pointed
out, plenty of descriptive propositions that are presumably either true or false are
nonetheless just too difficult to check out; and we will all go to our graves never
having been able to find out which it was. (E.g. The historical person now called
Jesus Christ had a particular liking for fig cakes.) Nonetheless we feel that,
even if it is impossible find out which it is, they are nonetheless either true or
false. (Either he liked fig cakes or he didnt; and that would be so whether we
knew about it or not.) But, flawed though it is, and though it is not guaranteed of
success, empirical research is a generally available and appropriate way of going
about investigating the truth or falsity of the vast bulk of descriptive propositions.
With moral propositions though, such enquiry seems to be just inappropriate; that
is, in principle inappropriate, not just difficult it is just the wrong sort of way to
go about establishing such propositions. You might not see this, so lets ask what
sort of empirical research (as done by natural or social scientists) could be thought
suitable to the task of settling whether something was right or wrong, good or bad,
should or should not be done?
To illustrate, lets look at an example from the previous chapter. Consider:
It is wrong to bribe someone to do something. What sort of research could
establish that?
Well, I suppose that one could do a survey of citizens in our society and let
us suppose that the survey question asked: Is bribery right or wrong? Suppose
further that we found that three-quarters of respondents said that it was wrong.
Would that settle things? Not obviously. If done competently, such a survey tells
you whether or not our societys citizens morally condemn or condone bribery
but that is not to learn whether it is right so much as to learn what fellow citizens
views on the matter are, whether they think it right. (We touched upon this sort of
thing in the last chapter, you will recall.) You are getting descriptive information

Structuring Arguments


about their views not moral guidance concerning the wrongness of bribery. You
could disagree with others and judge society to be in moral error on this without
being automatically wrong in your view simply because it is a minority view. (One
might also note that the answer from the survey would presumably vary with time
and place depending upon the society that one surveys.)
Alternatively, one might do research to find out what the usual consequences
of bribery are for various people involved. But that wouldnt help decide about the
rightness or wrongness of bribery unless we already had some values in terms of
which to appraise such consequences as good ones or bad ones!
In short, it is not clear that either of these particular sorts of empirical research
settles moral questions; if anything, it seems clear that they dont. So, what else
could one do by way of empirical enquiry in order to find out whether or not
the proposition that it is wrong to bribe someone to do something was one to be
endorsed? Another common suggestion is to find out whether or not bribery is
legal. But this looks to be confused; the question was not whether bribery is legal
but the distinct issue of whether it is morally right. Unless you reject the very
possibility of bad laws, rightness and legality are not to be conflated; they are
different things what is legal is a descriptive matter and what is right is a moral
matter. If one is lucky enough to live in a good society then the law might happen
to reflect what is right but, even so, the two concepts are distinct (we touched upon
this in the last chapter and will consider things further in Chapter 9).
So, we are still left with the problem: what is one to do in appraising value
propositions, can they be shown to be correct or not and if so, how could one do
The issue is hugely controversial within that domain of philosophy that
concerns itself with thinking about the nature of ethics; but we simply do not have
time to address these matters here in their own right (again, some further treatment
will occur in Chapter 9). For present purposes, it will have to suffice to say that it
is not at all clear that there is any way of showing a moral proposition to be true
or to be false. Indeed, it is not at all clear if there is any objective or absolute right
answer to be had at all concerning value propositions. This is even worse than
the situation, touched on above, for the minority of descriptive propositions that
are also not able to have their truth/falsity checked by empirical means (even in
principle). Such claims as: God exists might not be empirically checkable but,
despite that, it is either true that God exists or false. There is some sort of fact of
the matter that makes the claim true or false, even if we cant tell which it is. With
moral propositions, it is not even clear that there is any sort of fact of the matter to
be had. So, what can be done by a thinker concerned to have well supported ethical
views on various professional matters?
Pending further immersion in moral philosophy, the best thing for now is not to
worry about whether ones answers are right or wrong in any absolute, or objective,
sense. For now, focus on getting your own views straight and as well supported as
possible. This can be done while accepting that it may not be possible to further
decide in any non-personalized way between two competing views, say those of

Reason and Professional Ethics


yours and those of a colleague of yours as to whether, say, bribery is sometimes

legitimate or not. The best that we can hope for is having both of you having
thought through your judgements on the issue as thoroughly and fair-mindedly as
possible. That you differ in your final assessment is a matter that we will not be
able to further arbitrate on. What we can arbitrate upon, however, is the clarity and
argumentative rigour with which each of you come to your conclusions.
So, the upshot of what I am suggesting above is that, in the absence of anything
like as obvious a way for settling moral questions as empirical enquiry is for
settling most descriptive questions, the best that can be managed is a carefully
worked out, critically appraised, personal judgement on the matter. Even if not
objectively establishable as the truth, your judgement will hopefully be at least
satisfactory in a subjective sense. That is your task. But how to do that? with
difficulty; but once you have some skills further developed, your capacity to think
through complex issues will be considerably sharpened. The key skills are being
able to craft and appraise arguments. In this chapter, we focus upon the former task
and in subsequent chapters upon the latter.
Key Ideas
Empirical enquiry cant establish moral propositions. We assume for the moment
that no moral proposition can be established as true in any objective sense. Our
current focus is therefore on having your moral judgements as carefully thought out
as possible with a view to them being satisfactory in a subjective sense. Doing this
involves skill in argumentation.

Arguing about Values

My suggestion is that you think of the moral values that you have, and the value
judgements that you make when employing them, as forming a network or web.
The web is comprised of two sorts of things: first, more or less general moral
principles; and second, particular judgements on particular topics, acts or situations.
To illustrate the former, try: All stealing is wrong. To illustrate the latter, try:
Jenny should not have stolen Janes wallet. As this pair will indicate, particular
value judgements can generally be seen as being an application of, or as being
motivated by, the former, more general, principles (although you might not be
self-consciously doing that at the time). So, if asked to defend ones condemnation
of Jenny, one might appeal to the principle that all stealing is wrong (a rather
simple and sweeping principle in this particular case and, as we will see later
down the book, principles might be more hedged about than that; at the moment,
we will keep things deliberately simple while key elements of argumentation are
explained). Anyway, laid out a little more completely and formally as a structured
argument in justification of that judgement, we get something roughly like this:

Structuring Arguments


All stealing is wrong.

Jenny stole Janes wallet.
Jenny should not have stolen Janes wallet.

I will pursue the mechanics of argumentation in a moment but, for now, I merely
point out that there are two distinct sorts of role for the constituent propositions
of the argument supporting propositions and those being supported. Some,
the premises, are acting as reasons in support of another, the conclusion. In this
case, what we have is a general moral principle (that all stealing is wrong) being
shown relevant to Jennys action by way of a linking (or bridging, or connecting)
descriptive premise (that Jenny stole Janes wallet) and these are offered in
support of the conclusion (that Jenny should not have stolen Janes wallet). We
have two premises with the first being a moral proposition and the second a
descriptive proposition leading (hopefully) to our conclusion which is also a moral
Simple, even simplistic? Yes, but little arguments like this form the elements
of the complicated intermeshing dialogue that constitutes an in-depth discussion of
our topics and justification of our stances upon them. When you are giving reasons
for some moral proposition you are arguing. And when you respond in objection
to some presented argument, then your response will itself be another argument.
A dialogue of discussion of, and enquiry into, our professional ethical issues can
be seen as an extended exercise in argumentation back and forth as the worth of
some proposal is thoroughly probed. That whole enquiry is basically made up a
web of linked arguments each of which is not a lot different in general layout to the
little three-liner above. In Chapter 6, we will move on to the task of going beyond
single arguments to crafting such a more extended web of reasoning.
Mind you, any such web has to start somewhere and my suggestion is that
you take some intuitively attractive stance on the topic that concerns you and then
begin to craft that web by starting off with a single argument that, in your view,
advances a line of thinking that is a central or key line of support for that stance.
Get it straight and you have the starting point for further development of your
thinking. But, as I said earlier, before you can get it straight a number of sub-skills
have to be in place and one of those skills is being able to lay out (or structure, as
I will call it) an argument in the manner of the three-liner above. Much as with the
last chapters task of being able to reliably distinguish a descriptive proposition
from a moral proposition, I have been surprised at how difficult some students
seem to find this business of structuring an argument, so read carefully.

Reason and Professional Ethics


Key Ideas
Having a well thought-out ethical stance involves argumentation in which reasons
are advanced for a view. Arguments are most clearly laid out in a structured form
with supporting propositions (the premises) leading to the proposition being argued
for (the conclusion).

Assertion and Argument

Before proceeding much further, it is probably worth pausing briefly to just spend
a few moments confirming that you understand the distinction between (merely)
asserting some view and arguing for it. Let us again use the subject matter of the
little three-liner from above. Say that one said:
Jenny should not have stolen Janes wallet.

As it stands, this is a mere assertion; one knows what the author thinks about
Jennys actions rightness but one doesnt know why. Contrast with this the
Jenny should not have stolen Janes wallet because any stealing is wrong.

In this case we do have an argument; a (somewhat sketchily worded) rationale

has been offered for judging that Jenny should not have stolen Janes wallet. The
support for the judgement follows the word because. Contrast this with the threeliner of the previous section. Basically that three-liner is the same rationale; it was
just laid out more carefully, clearly and completely. Most of the arguments that you
will naturally come up with yourselves, and come across from others, will tend to
be of the sketchy sort rather than the clearly laid out sort of our above three-liner.
Your next task is being able to progress from such sketchiness and portray your
and others reasoning into such a clear structure (I will call it: structuring such
initial feral arguments; I call such initial arguments feral to underline the point
that these are wild, untamed arguments that need some work).

Structuring Arguments


Key Ideas
Arguing for a position is more than merely asserting it, it is reasoning in its support
providing an argument with the reasons constituting premises of such an argument.
The position in question thus forms the conclusion of such an argument and has an
explicit rationale rather than being merely stated without one. A key skill is taking a
feral initial go at an argument and structuring it.

Structuring Arguments
As you will have realized by now, one of the skills which is central to the books
objectives is that of having you be able to argue in as explicit and transparent
a way as possible. It is not much use congratulating yourself on having various
views if they are unsupported. Yet it is not much use congratulating yourself on
having reasons for believing, or doing, something if those reasons are an obscure
mess. Why? because if they are a mess, then they are not in a form where you, or
anyone else, can judge whether they are good reasons or not. And you should care
about the quality of your reasoning if the topic is an important one. And surely,
as noted earlier, any professionals worth their salt would consider the sorts of
questions raised in Chapter 1 to be important ones. (For what it is worth, which is
quite a bit actually, the skills of reasoning transfer across to other issues as well;
not just your professional life will benefit from you being able to reason well
although you may irritate sloppy-minded friends.)
To help you build up your reasoning skills, I suggest that you lay out your
arguments in the rather artificially structured way of the above three-liner (it
is not always three, but it is commonly two premises and a conclusion). I dont
suggest that you are likely to do this sort of formal structuring in future, but doing
it now as a training exercise assists you to get a more reliable intuitive feel for
argumentative clarity and quality. In effect, your future feral arguments will be less
feral as a result of the training in structuring them that you are about to undergo.
The argumentation we will be focusing on will always (initially) concern
moral matters like whether a proposed course of action is the right one or whether
some proposition as to the correctness of some moral view is to be accepted. (I say
initially because, as you will later see, as the enquiry unfolds you might divert to
be pursuing some matter of fact, or even a conceptual issue, as a sub-task; ignore
this complication for now.) So, any argument directly on your moral problem will
always involve moral conclusions that you are arguing for. And, there is no way that
one can have an argument with a moral conclusion based on reasons, or supporting
premises, that dont themselves contain a moral proposition. One cant extract
a moral judgement as conclusion from premises that are merely morally-neutral
descriptive propositions. So, for all of the arguments that you will be initially
offering directly in moral judgement concerning our topics, the set of premises,

Reason and Professional Ethics


or reasons, advanced as support for your conclusions have to contain some sort
of moral propositions as moral premises. So, a key task to be kept in mind when
structuring a feral argument is to make sure that the resultant structure contains
at least one moral premise. Lets try walking through this process of structuring a
feral argument.
The first thing to get clear in a feral argument is where the conclusion is.
Sometimes it is obvious but sometimes it isnt even when the argument is your
own! If the conclusion is not obvious then there are techniques that may help you
to work out which part of a feral argument is expressing the conclusion and which
parts are premises. The next sub-section introduces the first of these techniques,
hunting for, and understanding, what I will call inference words.
Key Ideas
Arguments directly supporting some stance on a professional ethical issue will
always have a moral conclusion. Any such argument with a moral conclusion has to
have a least one moral premise. A key skill in trying to understand any feral argument
is to be able to identify what it is trying to prove its conclusion.

Use of Inference Words to find the Conclusion

Say that you have tried to go beyond some intuitive (or feral, as I will continue to
dub it) line of reasoning and lay it out as a formal structure. As an illustration, lets
make the abortion debate the topic of enquiry. Say that your initial feral argument
Abortion is wrong because it is the killing of people.

This is an argument and not a mere assertion (note the bit after the word: because
it starts to give supporting reasons). Much as we had clue words when we were
discussing the moral-descriptive distinction in the last chapter, there is another
bunch of words that it is worth remembering as giving a tip-off that, in this case,
a move of reasoning, an inference, is present Ill call them inference words. As
with the last chapters clue words, they are to be used with caution and intelligence,
not blindly and automatically as a recipe. All of them have uses in our language
apart from that of expressing a move of reasoning but theyre still worth noting.
We have one here, namely, because.
Because usually signals that we have just had a conclusion and that a premise
is about to follow. It sometimes gets placed elsewhere in a sentence than between
the premise and the conclusion but if you get a good feel for the plain vanilla
versions discussed here, then you should be able to extend your understanding to

Structuring Arguments


other sentence patterns. Some other words, or turns of phrase, that carry out the
same job are: as, given that, on the grounds that ... you get the idea. Some
other inference words work in reverse and signal that one has just had a premise
and a conclusion is about to follow. For instance, another way of expressing F1,
but switched around, would be:
Abortion involves killing people so it is wrong.

Again, there is a bunch of words and turns of phrase that do the same job that so
does here. A partial list is: thus, therefore, hence, it follows that ... and so on;
again I hope you get the idea.
So, one piece of help that you often have in structuring an argument is looking
for inference words. As noted, we have two (plain vanilla) varieties:
1. Conclusion because (as etc.) Premise(s); and
2. Premise(s) so (therefore etc.) Conclusion.
Key Ideas
To help find the conclusion of a feral argument there will sometimes be inference
words present; these are of two sorts:
1. Conclusion because (as etc.) Premise(s); and
2. Premise(s) so (therefore etc.) Conclusion

Although learning to hunt for inference words is useful in laying out an argument
as a structure with clearly indicated premises and conclusion, sometimes an
inference is occurring yet no inference word at all has been employed. One might
Abortion is wrong. It involves killing people.

Here we have two separate propositions (sentences in this case, but they could
be clauses within a sentence try replacing the first full-stop with a semi-colon)
but, despite appearances, they are not two mere assertions. To see that they are
not just two disjointed mere assertions one after the other but are connected (with
the second proposition being (a partial) rationale for the first) there are a couple
of techniques to assist. The first I will call inference word insertion; the second I
will call the why?-because trick.

Reason and Professional Ethics


Inference Word Insertion

As the name suggests, with inference word insertion, one plays around with
inserting inference words. Remember that we had two groups of them, one, if you
like, the reverse direction of the other. I will use because from one group and
so from the other. The idea is to shove one inference word and then the other
(in turn) between the two propositions and see if either of them fits so that the
resulting sentence scans. Does insertion of either of them help you to realize
that one proposition is the conclusion and the other a premise? Lets try because
(remember that this works in this way: conclusion because premise).
Abortion is wrong because it involves killing people.

As I hope you will agree, this works; we can see the last bit as premise in support
of the first bit as conclusion. Indeed, it is more or less the same as the original F1
(with just minor rewording). Tried around the other way, using so, it doesnt
Abortion is wrong so it involves killing people.

This just doesnt jell as a move of reasoning. The upshot of this is that inserting
inference words can help you to see not just whether an inference is going on or
not but which proposition is conclusion and which is premise. When inserting
inference words, I suggest that you use so and because on the grounds that
your intuitions as to what these mean are probably more reliable than for other
inference words.
Indeed, even if you do have an inference word but are unsure what it means,
in particular, which direction it goes in (conclusion word premise, or premise
word conclusion) you might want to insert the more intuitively familiar so and
because to help you work out what is going on. So, say you had:
Abortion is wrong in virtue of the fact that it involves killing people.

You might at least realize that you have two propositions joined by the italicized
inference phrase but not be confident as to just what that inference phrase means
by way of picking out the conclusion. Your intuitions are probably better with so
and because so insert them in turn in place of the italicized phrase and see which
fits better. In this case, clearly because scans but so doesnt.

Structuring Arguments


Key Ideas
If no inference word is present in the feral argument, try inserting inference words
between that arguments propositions to see which sort fits, or flows. If you have
an inference word but are not quite sure how works, then try replacing it with so
and then with because and see if that helps you work out which way the argument

What of the other technique, the why?-because trick.

The Why?-Because Trick
Lets try it on F1**.
Abortion is wrong. It involves killing people.

Here, we take each proposition in turn and ask of it why (that proposition)? and
see if answering because (the other proposition) fits. If so, the why? proposition
was conclusion and the because proposition, premise. In this case, if we asked:
Why is abortion wrong? and answered: Because it involves killing people, then
that would fit. (Trying it the other way and asking: Why does abortion involve
killing people? and answering: Because it is wrong just would not work.) So, by
use of this trick we know that another way of writing F1** (without changing its
meaning just making it clearer that an inference is occurring) is as we did back
in F1**a: Abortion is wrong because it involves killing people. Again, the trick
tells us not just that an inference is present but which direction it goes in.
This technique and that of clue word insertion are mainly of use when you are
trying to understand the arguments of others but I have found students find them
useful on occasion in working out what they themselves are saying! It is best,
though, if you get yourself into the habit of arguing in a way that has appropriate
inference words already written in explicitly and deliberately. That way you and
whomsoever your argument is directed towards each have a better chance of
avoiding confusion.

Reason and Professional Ethics


Key Ideas
Faced with two propositions, P1 and P2, and unsure of which is conclusion and
which is premise, ask Why P1? because P2 and Why P2? because P1 and see
which one makes sense. For whichever version scans, its why proposition is the

Those techniques explained, lets return to considering F1.

Laying out a Structure
Abortion is wrong because it is the killing of people.

Here, we do have an inference word (because) and clearly some sort of sketchy
rationale is being offered for saying that abortion is wrong but it is fairly incomplete
as it stands. But, even with the bits we have explicitly on the page so far, we
can lay things out a little bit more clearly. We now know which statement is the
premise and which the conclusion, so lets portray that in a structure. This gives us
an initial structuring attempt as follows.
Abortion is the killing of people.
Abortion is wrong.

This is some improvement on F1 in that it displays clearly just what is supposed

to be proving what what is premise and what is conclusion. However, note the
switch to so; this is because in our structure the conclusion comes last. But it is
not much of an advance. Its still a bit obscure and is missing a bit (getting a feral
argument into decent shape as a tight structure usually requires a few drafts as you
progressively fix faults). So, lets try a clearer, more completely explicit, version.
Presumably, the absence of any other quantification means that one is speaking
of all killing of people and all abortion, so that might as well be explicit (not
that it will always be all thats written in see the section: Clarifying Whole
Propositions). Also, note that the conclusion is a moral proposition yet there is
no moral value expressed in the premise; the latter is not a moral proposition. So,
as discussed earlier, some sort of moral proposition (acting as a moral premise)
should be in there but is missing. What might such a premise be? Note that, back
in the feral argument, F1, nothing more was present that has not been captured
in S1 all the clauses/sentences of that feral have found a place in our structure.
So, we have to read between the lines a bit to find out the missing, or merely

Structuring Arguments


implicit, value principle the case rests on. In this case, it seems obvious (especially
once it is written in by someone else, like me!): the author is opposed to killing
people, thinks it wrong to do so. So, we might have a better go at structuring it as
MP All killing of people is wrong.
CP All abortion is the killing of people.
MC All abortion is wrong.

Working out Moral Premises That Are Difficult to Identify

Note that three things have occurred from S1 to S1*. The MP has been written in
explicitly, quantification has been made explicit (the alls) and the propositions
that make up the argument have been labelled as to type (MP for the moral
premise, CP for the conceptual premise and MC for the moral conclusion and
note that we have a CP, not a DP; though unusual, it sometimes happens).
This might all look fairly simple and obvious but sometimes it simply will not
occur to you straightaway what the missing MP is. As it is hugely important in
these sorts of ethical enquiries to get straight what the values are that an argument
is resting upon, you simply have to try harder to work out what the missing MP is.
There are a couple of techniques that might help. Lets go back to our initial, and
incomplete, structuring of our feral.
Abortion is the killing of people.
Abortion is wrong.

Say that you get stuck at this point and cant see what to write in as a moral
premise. You realize that you are missing one but cant immediately see what
it might be (again, realize that this is a problem that will arise not just with the
arguments of others but with your own arguments; in effect, you wont know what
you meant!).
Two approaches might help to find the missing MP.
The first approach is to say to yourself something like: I know that the author
(perhaps you) is morally opposed to abortion but what other moral commitment of
hers is hinted at in the feral? What else is implicitly there concerning the authors
moral values (either what she is morally against or what she is morally in favour
of)? Trying that with S1, most of you would realize that the author is not just against
abortion but subscribes to a more general moral opposition to killing people. (And,
incidentally and controversially, we see from the CP that she conceives of abortion
to be a special case of killing people, an instance of that more general principle.)

Reason and Professional Ethics


So obviously you are going to write in (as the MP) some sort of claim expressing
moral opposition to killing people. When you write this in, write it in a way that
obviously links up with or connects with the way some of the other claims are
expressed. Have a look at the way that I did it in S1* and see how the MP meshes
with the rest of the argument. Its a matter of the turn of phrase that I have chosen
to express the (previously implicit) value explicitly as the MP. Later in the chapter,
in the section: Checklist Item 4, well come back to this matter of having the bits
and pieces of the argument mesh together.
Then again, you might stare at the initial (incomplete) structure and ask
yourself what else the author values and simply fail to come up with anything.
What then? Well, then you try the second technique. In fact, I would be inclined
to use this technique anyway just as a check upon whatever you might have done
more intuitively.
How does this second approach work? You will usually have another premise
present. In this second approach, focus your attention on the premise that you do
have. You havent yet got the MP that you are hunting for but you will have, most
commonly, a descriptive premise. The abortion argument we are using is unusual
in that the other premise is a conceptual premise. (Arguments can even have two
MPs and you have one explicitly present and are hunting out the other; but that
is a rarity that Id rather not muddy the waters with right now.) When you focus
upon the descriptive premise or, in this case, CP, you focus on it asking yourself
questions along the following lines.
The author (who may, remember, be you) is trying to advance an argument
against abortion and tells us that it is a case of killing people. So what? Why would
the author claim this as part of her case in trying to show that abortion is wrong?
What is the relevance of this claim to that task? Well, presumably if the main point
to be made about abortion, in support of the claim that it is wrong, is that abortion is
the killing of people, then the author is presumably against the killing of people
otherwise, why bother mentioning it? So, I can write in as the moral premise
something like: Killing people is wrong. And that, of course, will give us the
MP of S1*.
Key Ideas
There are two techniques for teasing out missing moral premises: first, ask what
other moral commitments the author has apart from the one listed as the MC; second,
focus on what is said in the (non-moral) premise that you have and ask what makes
it morally significant as a reason in support of the MC.

Structuring Arguments


A Checklist for Checking Argument Structures for Tameness

Now, S1* seems nicely clear and connected and seems to have all of its bits and
pieces explicitly present (most notably an MP). It is already what I will call a tame
structure as opposed to the feral, more intuitive, statement of the argument with
which we began and, for that matter, as opposed to our first attempts at portraying
the argument in a structured form (S1 in this case). Note again that, to help keep
track of things, I have labelled the moral premise MP, the conceptual premise,
CP, the moral conclusion, MC (and, had we had one, I would have labelled
the descriptive premise DP). Its a fairly obvious shorthand and acts as a visual
reminder of what sort of proposition any given line is taken to be. Although you
have hopefully tracked along with the above discussion of our little abortion
argument without getting lost and can see the final structure as hanging together
fairly nicely, it is quite likely that, for some time, your efforts at structuring will
not often be this successful. Your argument structures will be faulty in various
ways. So, what might go amiss?
Well, youve seen my transformation of F1 into S1*; it seemed to go OK but,
as I have noted, things will not always go that smoothly; what might go wrong?
Lots, but a few errors are sufficiently common among those new to this level of
reasoning rigour that they are worth remembering. My suggestion is that its worth
explicitly and self-consciously checking through your arguments to make sure that
you are avoiding these errors. Think of it in terms of a mental checklist that you
methodically work through, looking for various possible faults one after the other.
With a bit of practice, mentally working through the checklist will become second
nature. So, whats on the list? Four things:
1. Is the conclusion on target?
2. Does each line of the argument contain only one proposition and does each
proposition occur in only one place in the argument?
3. Is each line of the argument correctly identified as to proposition type?
4. Do the various lines of the argument mesh together to form one coherent
piece of reasoning?
By applying this checklist methodically, one step after the other, and fixing any
problems that you detect, one after the other, as they are found, you have a good
chance of producing a structure that fairly well lays out what the original feral
argument was trying to say. If you just look at an argument and try to form an
overall Gestalt impression as to its satisfactoriness, then you are likely to overlook
faults. I emphasize looking for (and fixing) faults one at a time in a tightly focused
way because this helps you to see (and remediate) things that you would otherwise
miss and ensures that you dont omit anything when analysing the argument for
various faults. Let me explain each of these taming checklist items one by one.


Reason and Professional Ethics

Checklist Item 1: Is the Conclusion on Target?

One thing to get clear right from the start is whether the argument structure has
its conclusion talking about what you meant it to be. Arguments have purposes;
they are intended to address some issue of concern. An argument is on target if it
does just that and off target if it addresses some other issue. If it is not on target,
then it is immediately in trouble as it has a conclusion, no matter how well proved,
that is simply irrelevant to the task at hand. In the case of F1 and the various
versions of S1, the argument was meant to be one directly addressing the issue of
the rightness or wrongness of abortion. As an initial argument in an enquiry you
would expect it to be bearing directly on this topic with its conclusion and the
rest of the argument to be laying out a case for or against abortion (in this case
it was against). So, lets look at S1*, the best-stated version of the argument we
had above, and check whether its conclusion is on target. In this case, it is pretty
obvious that it is, so obvious that you might wonder why we bother doing this
particular check. I will simply report to you that it is surprising how many people,
especially when in the early stages of learning to reason more rigorously, simply
wander off the track and start arguing about something else. They dont go wildly
off track but it is still off track, not arguing about what they were meant to be
arguing about. For instance, one professional ethical issue for teachers to wrestle
with is trying to have a considered view as to who should be setting the broad
aims, or goals, of a curriculum. I have found student-teachers to have a tendency
to drift across from this topic to a distinct one, namely: who should be deciding
the content of a curriculum in order to achieve preset, or given, aims or goals. The
first question is the topic: Who should set the ends?; the second question is the
topic: Who should decide the means to achieve some given ends?. An argument
with the conclusion as to who should decide on the means is irrelevant to a topic
concerning who should decide on the ends. Easy enough to see when I portray it,
harder to avoid when you are trying to make sense of someone elses reasoning or
trying to argue yourself. How to stop yourself making this error? examine the
argument focusing upon just one thing: is the conclusion on target?
As another illustration, this time using our abortion argument, say someone
structured that argument as follows:
MP All abortion is wrong.
CP All abortion is the killing of people.
MC All killing of people is wrong.

Have a look at this in comparison to S1* and youll see that the only difference is
that the MP and the MC have been switched around, the argument is, if you like,
upside-down. Curiously, I have found this sort of inversion of the order of the
lines to be not uncommon among beginners. If you just looked at this argument as

Structuring Arguments


a whole and asked of it whether it was on target then you would probably answer
that it was because the argument as a whole has lines in it mentioning abortion.
But if, knowing that you are supposed to be presenting an argument establishing a
stance upon abortion, that is, presenting an argument that concludes that abortion
is wrong (in this case), then you would know that, for the argument to be on target,
its conclusion has to be a stance on abortion. So, instead of looking at a whole
argument you should look just at MC. And, looking at it, you would see that it
doesnt mention abortion at all and realize that it is not on target.
In this case, S1** isnt even a proper portrayal of the feral F1; in forming the
structure the author has not taken proper note of the inference word because.
The ferals conclusion was on target but things got distorted in transcribing it
into a structure. At other times, it will not be that the MC in the structure is a
misrepresentation of the conclusion of the feral; it might be a perfectly faithful
rendition of the original feral. The problem might rather be that the conclusion
of each of them is off target. We saw a case of this above where the author had
failed to distinguish two distinct ideas and ended up talking about one when she
was meant to be talking about the other (the means/end schooling stuff of a few
paragraphs ago). Ill do one more illustration.
Say, for instance, that you are trying to work out whether it was morally wrong
or right for a financial planner to deceive her client as to the commission being
paid to her by some investment firms for signing clients up for their products.
Concerning this topic, the following argument might be offered.
MP Business Weekly surveys should always be believed.
DP According to one such survey, most financial planners who operate on commission
mislead their clients as to the commissions they earn from various firms for favouring
their financial products when rendering advice to clients.
MC Most financial planners who operate on commission mislead their clients as to the
commissions they earn from various firms for favouring their financial products when
rendering advice to clients.

Even if successful, the most that this argument is doing is establishing a descriptive
proposition (which has been misidentified as an MC we will come back to this
below when discussing checklist item 3) about how most financial planners on
commission actually do behave. However, establishing how widespread some
particular behaviour is is a different thing to establishing whether it is morally
right or wrong. The author of this argument has a conclusion that is off target. It is
not wildly so; it is not as if it is suddenly an argument about the weather, or the war,
or the next election. The arguments conclusion looks as if it might be on target
because it is, after all, talking about the disclosure relations between financial
planners and clients. The trouble is it is talking about what they are, not what they


Reason and Professional Ethics

should be. Again, precisely focused interrogation of the structures conclusion

when carrying out checklist item 1 should detect the problem.
As with all of the checklist items, if you find a problem, fix it rewrite the
structure in a Mark 2 form that doesnt have the hassle that you have identified.
In the case of S1**, it would be a simple matter of turning it up the right way
again. In the case of S2, it is so off-beam that it is probably a case of giving up
on it as too muddled an attempt to try to cure by any simple refocusing of it to be
on target.
To nail down this fix the problem point, lets try one more example of an offtarget conclusion. Recall the discussion earlier on in the section about confusing
the issue of who should decide educational aims with that of who should make
detailed curricular decisions about means in service of such aims, or ends. So, say
the topic we were interested in thinking about was:
Who should have the power to determine the broad aims that schools should be
trying to achieve?

In contribution to this, we get the following (off-target) feral.

Teachers should decide their schools subject curricula for the reason that they will
work more willingly if what they are teaching is their own decision.

Say that, put as a structure (and filling in the missing MP), we get:
MP It is important for all teachers to work as willingly as possible.
DP If all teachers decide their schools subject curricula then they will work more
willingly than if they dont.
MC All teachers should set their schools subject curricula.

So, is MC on target? no. Curricula are means in the service of aims which are
ends. There might be all sorts of good reasons (and, just maybe, S3 gives one) for
granting teachers power over how to achieve some body of aims but such reasons
dont automatically apply to the issue of granting teachers aims-setting power
the level and type of decision is different.
So, strictly the argument is off-target. Do we just discard it as a muddled
diversion from the task at hand (much as we did with S2)? Maybe, but sometimes
we can fiddle and reshape the arguments thrust to get a sibling of it that is on
target and is worth consideration.
Think about this one. The motivating value (in the MP) is about the importance
of teachers working willingly at their tasks. Admittedly the author went off-track
in talking about the role of curricula setting in maintaining such willingness but

Structuring Arguments


mightnt aims setting be also causally relevant to teacher willingness? In effect,

the MP principle was applied to one (off-topic) issue but might well be applicable
to the one that is of interest to us as well.
Note that Im not suggesting that the author of F3/S3 had anything like this in
mind; she may just have been totally confused about the two levels of decision.
But rather than simply chucking the whole thing in the bin as confused irrelevance
to the issue at hand, why not see what can be usefully gained from the intuitive line
followed, even if it was strictly off-target as the author offered it. Ill return to this
later but, first, consider this argument:
MP It is important for all teachers to work as willingly as possible.
DP If all teachers collectively decide the broad aims governing their subject curricula,
then they will work more willingly than if they dont.
MC All teachers should collectively decide the broad aims governing their subject

Whatever the merits of this argument might turn out to be (and it is flawed in
a way it shares with its sibling S3 well come to this in the next chapter) it at
least is an argument on the topic of broad aims decisions and, although not what
our confused contributor had in mind, it might well be a useful on-target input to
thinking on our topic.
Key Ideas (Checklist Item 1)
Ensure that your arguments conclusion is on target talking about what you wanted
it to. If it isnt, rewrite it so that it is. This might involve some subtlety of analysis.

Later down the track (in Chapter 5) Ill add a complication concerning this checklist
item but this will do for now.
Checklist Item 2: Does Each Line of the Argument Contain Only One Proposition
and Does Each Proposition Occur in Only One Place in the Argument?
One of the motivations for laying an argument out as a structure is so that you will
have a clear picture of each of the bits and pieces that go to make up the argument
as a whole. The idea is to have each of the arguments constituent propositions
listed by itself on its own line in the structure and for it to be listed only once. Why
bother with this? Well, first, laying them all out separately helps you to see their
connections as part of a pattern of reasoning (or lack of it). Second, it helps you to
identify and discard extraneous propositions that might have been in the feral but

Reason and Professional Ethics


which are really playing no role as part of the argument at all. Third, it helps you to
detect redundant repetition and eliminate it. Fourth, when it comes time to criticize
an argument, it makes life easier for the critic if each of the distinct propositions
you are advancing as part of your case is distinctly identified and portrayed in your
structure. So, doing this item well has lots of benefits for other, later, tasks.
Carrying out this checklist item is a matter of methodically looking at each of
the lines in your initial structure, one by one, and checking that just one thing has
been said. If you find a line containing two (or more) propositions, then break it
up and add some lines so that each proposition has its own line. If, having done
that, you look down the list and find a proposition present more than once, then
eliminate the repetition. If such multiple listing all occurs in premise lines then the
task is fairly simple. If you have the same proposition listed as a premise and as a
conclusion line, then you have a hard think on your hands as to which is the proper
role for the proposition in that argument; I would be looking back at the feral
argument, playing around with inference words, thinking about what conclusion
would have to be were it to be on target and so on.
In the remainder of this sub-section I wish to illustrate this checklist item and,
in particular, to draw attention to two common ways in which people fail to portray
an arguments propositions once only and only one per line.
One Proposition per Line
First, I will talk a little bit more about having just one proposition in each line and,
in particular, about one common student error. I will describe this error as having a
compressed argument occurring in a line. To begin with, let us revisit S1*:
MP All killing of people is wrong.
CP All abortion is the killing of people.
MC All abortion is wrong.

Take a look at S1*, we have split up the argument as a whole into its separate parts.
What are those parts? basically what one is trying to prove (the conclusion)
and what one offers in its proof (the premises). These separate roles for separate
propositions are made explicit in the layout of tame structures. That, after all, is
part of the point of having things laid out like that. Note also that each premise
contains just one proposition; thats why we have more than one premise, so that
those various distinct propositions (being advanced as components of the joint
case for the conclusion) can be portrayed separately and understood (and may be
criticized later) in their own right. Some of the propositions are more complex
than others (see the relationship proposition in the CP or the rather involved DP
of S2 as examples) but look at them and only one thing is said in each. So far, so

Structuring Arguments


One common error among those new to structuring is to not just state the
conclusion as the conclusion but to re-state one of the premises in the conclusion
line as well. So what one gets in the conclusion line is not just the conclusion
proposition but a premise proposition as well. Looking at it, it reads as a sort of
abbreviated summary of the argument as a whole rather than just the conclusion
hence compressed argument as a tag. Another way of putting it is that you have
something like a little feral argument occurring in just the conclusion line. As an
illustration try the following first go at structuring our feral abortion argument:
CP Abortion kills people.
MC Abortion is wrong because it kills people.

What is wrong with ~S1**? The conclusion-proper is just the bit up to the word
because and what follows is a repeat of the premise again. You should pick up that
this is occurring because of the inference-word because, a word that commonly
says Here comes a reason like it does in this sentence. So, instead of having
just one proposition in MC we have two: Abortion is wrong and Abortion kills
people. Only the first of these should be there because only the first of these is
stating the conclusion. (I dont know why students do this but my suspicion is that
they feel compelled to use the conclusion line as a sort of a mini-summary of the
whole argument; that is not its role however.)
The same sort of thing can occur in a premise that is, one can have a compressed
argument occurring in a premise line. As an illustration, try the following as a first
go at structuring our feral abortion argument:
MP Killing people is wrong therefore abortion shouldnt be permitted.
MC No one should have an abortion.

This attempt at taming has more than one flaw but, for present purposes, our interest
is with the fact that the premise contains more than just a premise-role proposition
(the premise-proper is just the bit before the word therefore). It is a compressed
argument with the conclusion proposition repeated in MP as well. This preview
of the conclusion is heralded by the word therefore and, as it happens, it is not
expressed in the same terminology as it is in the conclusion-proper. I have done
this in this example because one of the ways of not realizing what is going on (in
this case a preview of the conclusion occurring in a premise line) is that, although
it is the same idea being expressed twice, it is expressed in ways involving it being
worded differently. If the very same turn of phrase had been used in the conclusion
and in the part of the premise following the word therefore, it would jump out
of the page at you a little bit more obviously and the problem would be more


Reason and Professional Ethics

apparent. So one piece of advice, that Ill return to in checklist item 4 below, is to
use the same turn of phrase every time you are expressing the same idea. It may
not look stylistically pretty but that way youll be helped to follow what is going
on in the argument and to see problems such as these.
If you find a compressed argument in any given line, then work out which bit
should stay where it is and leave it there. So, in ~S1***, the first bit of the MP
would stay where it is (and in ~S1**, the first bit of MC would stay where it is).
Then move the proposition that shouldnt be on that line to its proper place in the
argument; so, the last bit of the MP in ~S1*** would move to become an MC
(note that it follows the word therefore). Of course when you try to do that you
would note that you already had a conclusion and, if you had your wits about you,
you would realize that what you already had as conclusion said the same thing as
the last bit of MP. So, as you want any proposition only to occur once, you would
simply scrap the last bit of the MP. As for ~S1**, the last bit of the MC would
move up into the premises (note that it follows the word because). Having done
that, when you later came to check your premises to ensure that each proposition
only occurs once, you would realize that you already had that claim up in the
premises and, again, you would scrap it.
Although a common fault, having a compressed argument happening in a line
is not the only way of failing to have each line having just one proposition. One
can have two things going on in a line without them constituting a little feral
argument and again, when this happens, they are best split up and separately listed.
Consider this argument:
MP Competence and concern for the clients well-being are two criteria necessary for
anyone being a good counsellor.
DP Horace is neither competent nor concerned for the well-being of his clients.
MC Horace is not a good counsellor.

The MP contains two claims: that one necessary criterion for being a good
counsellor is competence and that another necessary criterion for being a good
counsellor is caring for the well-being of ones clients. The MP should be split
up to become two MPs, one for each necessary criterion claim. Similarly, the DP
contains two pieces of supposed information about Horace: that he is incompetent
and that he is unconcerned for the well-being of his clients. Best to split them up
and have two DPs. (We will revisit this and complicate matters a bit in Chapter 8
as a bit of a preview, it may be best to conceive of S3 as not one argument but two
independent cases for MC all mixed up together.)

Structuring Arguments


No Repeated Propositions
In the above section, our focus was on checking that each line contained just one
proposition; in this one, I am assuming that we have split up any compressed
arguments or other cases of multiple propositions in one line and the task is now
to ensure that each proposition is only listed once. How we do this is to scan down
the list of propositions forming the argument structure and step by step for each of
them, ask: Is this said anywhere else (perhaps in other words)?.
Under this heading, I would like to single out for particular attention one
specific way of having one lines proposition repeated elsewhere. The error I have
in mind here is usually called: a circular argument. The repetition in question has
the proposition forming the MC repeated somewhere up as a premise. Consider
this argument:
MP No person should ever carry out an abortion.
CP All abortion is the killing of people.
MC All abortion is always wrong.

This might seem fine to you at a casual glance but look methodically at it and ask
if any line contains a proposition that is repeated elsewhere. So, look at MP and
ask if it is repeated in CP no, it isnt so, so far so good. Next you would look at
MP again and ask yourself if it is repeated in MC. It is not immediately obvious
whether this is so or not. Each line seems to be against abortion but is worded
differently. What you would have to do here is have a close think about what is
meant in each of these lines. Doing that would, I think, bring you to agree that they
are saying the same thing (or close to it but the difference is too subtle to fuss with
at this stage), just in different words. Although not apparent at first glance, we have
a proposition repeated.
Although we had a problem with MP being repeated, we should then go on to
check the CP in that same line-against-line way I just went through (CP with MP
and then with MC). And then the same for the MC; sometimes this is repetitious
of checks already carried out from the other end so to speak but it ensures that
you have indeed covered the ground. You might think that there is no chance
of the CP being repeated; after all, it is a conceptual premise and no conceptual
premise can say the same as any proposition of any other type (in this case the two
other propositions are moral-type). The trouble is that people sometimes mislabel
propositions and call something, in this case, CP when it is in fact a proposition
of another sort (not that theres this problem in this particular case). Anyway, check
them all against each other. And, even though you have found a problem in this
case with MP there might be another problem focused on CP. I will return to this
business of mislabelled propositions below.


Reason and Professional Ethics

When you have an argument that has the conclusion repeated as one of the
premises, it is, as noted, commonly called circular by logicians. Why? because
the reasoning moves in a circle ending up (in the conclusion) with what it began
with (as a premise). Have a look at our above structure. Once you realize that the
MP and the MC say the same thing, then you can see that the argument is just
going around in circles. A premise is supposed to be part of a rationale, a reason
for accepting some other proposition (the conclusion) and it is hardly going to do
that job very well if it is a rewrite of the conclusion. This might sound like such an
implausibly silly bungle that it is hardly worth drawing to your attention but I have
found it to be a fairly frequent error. I think that what traps people is expressing the
same proposition with two different sentence forms and not realizing that they are
just two ways of saying the same thing. Had the argument said:
MP All abortion is always wrong.
MC All abortion is always wrong.

then it would be blatantly obvious that it is a useless piece of reasoning as a case

for saying why all abortion is always wrong. Even if we made it less stark by
adding in the CP that we had before, it would still be pretty obviously a useless
argument. All that potentially tricks us in ~S1**** is the form of words.
So, what should be done in the face of a circular argument? Our rule is to
have no repetition of a proposition in the lines of an argument so, either we scrap
MP or we scrap MC but which one? Remember that, by the time we get to this
checklist item, we have already carried out some earlier ones. (There is a point to
doing the checklist in order.) In particular, in the first checklist item we checked
whether the conclusion was on target, was talking about what it was supposed to
be talking about. So, presumably, we have satisfied ourselves that the conclusion
is OK. That leaves MP as the proposition to be discarded. Mind you, this is a
pretty sad result because what we were trying to do with the argument was back
up MC by appealing to some deeper value principle in support of it. Now we will
simply have a blank line. How can you fill in a new MP so that you do not have a
circular argument? Go back to the sub-section: Laying Out a Structure and youll
find some techniques.
Before I close on this section, I wish to block a possible misconception about
circular arguments. Ive said that a circular argument is an argument in which the
MC proposition is repeated as a premise. What about this argument?

Structuring Arguments


MP All hospitals should ensure that their patients have confidence in the competence
of staff members.
DP If hospitals ensure that staff members do not engage in disagreements in the hearing
of patients, then patients will have confidence in the competence of staff members.
MC All hospitals should ensure that their staff members do not engage in disagreements
in the hearing of patients.

You might look at this argument when checking for a circular argument and
become suspicious of what you take to be repetitious turns of phrase when you
look at the sort of thing said in the first bit of the DP (up to the comma) and in the
MC. Admittedly, its the DP and the MC, rather than the more usual focus on the
MP and the MC, that are potentially causing the problem but it might still catch
your eye. As it happens, there isnt a problem. Look closely at the DP and it is not
as if the first bit is a proposition in its own right. It is a mere fragment of a more
complex if-then relational proposition asserting a causal link between witnessed
disagreements and loss of confidence. In any event, as already noted, even as
a fragment it is a fragment of a descriptive proposition. If it was going to be a
repetition of the proposition of MC then it would have to be a moral proposition.
A close examination should assure you that it isnt. So, in short, beware of too
quickly and too sloppily claiming a circular argument to be present just on the
basis of some similar looking turns of phrase analyse things.
As a final reminder on circular arguments, remember not to think of the solabelled MP as the only source of possible repetition of the conclusion MC. Some
other premise might well be mislabelled (see next checklist item) and be actually
a moral proposition and thus be a candidate for possibly saying the same thing as
the MC.
Although I have focused upon potential circular arguments in which the MC is
repeated somewhere in the premises, this is just a particularly troublesome case of
proposition repetition. You might merely get a proposition repeated in more than
one premise. It might not matter all that much but even fairly harmless repetition
is cluttered and may interfere with you seeing the flow of argumentation going
on. So, check and weed out any such repetition.
Key Ideas (Checklist Item 2)
Every line should contain just one proposition (check especially for so-called
compressed arguments) and no proposition should occur more than once (check
especially for so-called circular arguments).


Reason and Professional Ethics

Checklist Item 3: Is Each Line of the Argument Correctly Identified as to

Proposition Type?
Once you have all of the bits and pieces of the argument laid out with each
appearing on only one line and with only one proposition in any given line, you
are a position to check that you have each lines proposition properly categorized.
This might be quite a brief check as, in getting this far, you have had to think
about these matters to some extent. It is still worth spending time to focus on
this in its own right, however, because misconstruing and mislabelling the type of
proposition in the given line is surprisingly common among beginning reasoners.
The task is important because, in a little while, we will be wanting to consider
mounting criticisms against an argument and one sort of criticism is criticizing the
premises. Criticizing a moral proposition is a very different thing to criticizing a
descriptive proposition and different again to criticizing a conceptual proposition.
Misunderstand the nature of the target of your criticism and your criticism will be
So, if you look back at Chapter 2, we had three basic proposition types
(descriptive, moral and conceptual) and then two extra types built out of them
(mixed and ambiguous).
Recall that mixed propositions were ones where we had more than one
proposition going on in a sentence and the two (or more) propositions that were
bundled together were of different types (a descriptive proposition entangled
with a moral one or whatever). Given the methodical care with which you will,
hopefully, have carried out checklist item 2, any mixed proposition that was there
in the feral or in an early version of the structure will presumably have been split
up into its component bits and those component bits each allocated a line. So, in
effect, mixed propositions should be out of the story by now.
Ambiguous propositions might still be there, sitting on a line, but presumably,
as you will have a label (MP, DP or whatever) for the proposition, you will
have resolved which way it was to have been taken so, presumably, the ambiguity
has been resolved. It is not as if you will have a line with the label AP (for
ambiguous premise).
The upshot of this is that the only labels you will see as you move down the
list of premise lines are DP, MP and CP. In the types of argument we will be
(primarily) considering, your conclusion will be some sort of moral proposition
about what is right or wrong, or should or should not be done, or is more or
less important than something else. (I say primarily because, as I will explore
in Chapter 5, there are other sorts of arguments that crop up in discussions of
professional ethical issues. I wont talk about these now because I dont want
to muddy the waters at this early stage.) And, if your conclusion is a moral
proposition, there will also have to be a moral proposition as one of the premises.
This is because you cant pluck a moral conclusion out at the end of an argument
unless you have fed another moral proposition in at the start as a premise. So, what

Structuring Arguments


you would expect to see in each of your argument structures is the conclusion
labelled MC and one (or more) of the premises labelled MP.
As for the other sorts of proposition that might be present, as I have just
noted, all that is left is the possibility of a descriptive premise and/or a conceptual
premise. Although there will always have to be an MP if there is an MC, what else
is present in the premises depends upon the particular argument. Very commonly,
your structure will contain a descriptive premise (as well as a moral premise and
a moral conclusion). Sometimes, however, there wont be a descriptive premise,
there will be conceptual premise instead (we saw an instance of this in an abortion
argument above). Or there might be a medley of propositions of different types
and more than one of some types. Finally, in some cases the argument might just
have one premise, an MP. Very much the most common pattern for arguments in
professional ethics is one MP, one DP and the MC but it is not the only possibility.
In the next section, I will talk a bit more about structure patterns that are common
in professional ethical discussions.
All of that said, whatever you have listed and labelled in the structure that
you are looking at, you should have all of those individual propositions correctly
understood and correctly labelled to reflect that understanding. So, the task here is
to see if you are indeed identifying, and labelling, each line correctly. How would
you know? As you might guess by now, by methodically checking your structure,
line by line. So, if you had a premise line labelled MP, you would ask yourself:
Is this really a moral proposition at all?. How would you tell? by employing the
techniques spoken of in the last chapter (hunting for moral clue words and so on).
If it is correctly labelled, then, fine, on you go to the next line; if it is incorrectly
labelled, then you change the labels so that it is correctly labelled. And so on down
the list of propositions constituting the argument. As a result of this scrutiny and
the changes it might lead to, you might end up with an argument that requires
some rethinking. For instance, as the vast preponderance of your conclusions will
be moral propositions, your premises will have to contain a moral premise and you
might have thought that you had one and then discover that it was misidentified
and now you are left without any proper MP at all. In such a case, you have to try
to work out what the missing MP is (the sub-section: Laying out a Structure went
into this).
Key Ideas (Checklist Item 3)
Methodically analyse each line in your argument structure to ascertain whether your
first go at classifying/labelling it is correct or not. If necessary, re-label it.


Reason and Professional Ethics

Checklist Item 4: Do the Various Lines of the Argument Mesh Together to Form One
Coherent Piece of Reasoning?
Remember that the role of taming (and thus of this checklist) is to get the argument
into good enough shape to portray your, or others, ideas clearly and, in particular,
to be to be coherently enough put to be worth subjecting to serious critical scrutiny.
As a preliminary to a good hard think about the quality of an arguments reasoning
(which we will come to in a later chapter) it is an idea to just roughly check that
it hangs together as a piece of reasoning at an at first glance level. Is there a
connection of ideas from line to line? Can you see it as one fairly coherent case
rather than a jumble of independent propositions vaguely on the same topic? That
is what I mean by an argument meshing. The task here is to do a preliminary
screening prior to more rigorous examination of the worth of its reasoning. It is
hardly worth carrying out a more sophisticated critical examination if the argument
is not even to first base as a piece of connected reasoning.
As exemplification of what I have in mind by an argument which meshes,
lets return to S1*.
MP All killing of people is wrong.
CP All abortion is the killing of people.
MC All abortion is wrong.

We have one value judgement given in the conclusion which is based on another,
broader, moral stance, that outlined in the MP; the conclusion has as its key
concept: abortion and the MP: the killing of people. How does S1* get from
one idea to the other? That is the role of the CP. It acts to connect, or mesh together,
the propositions forming the MP and the conclusion. So have a look at S1* again,
this time focusing on the CP. Note how it acts to join the MP and the conclusion
together by asserting that what is talked of in the conclusion (abortion) is a case
in point of whats talked of in the MP (killing people). You are helped to see that
this is so by S1* doing what I spoke of earlier that is, using the same words for
the same idea as much as one can. In this case, you can see killing people as a
common idea in the two premises (and which acts to connect them) and abortion
as a common idea in the CP and the conclusion (and acts to connect them).
Lets try another example, one that is a little bit more complicated and which
doesnt quite mesh. Consider:

Structuring Arguments


MP Telling lies to avoid frightening someone is always right.
DP Informing seriously ill patients of their illness will usually frighten them.
MC Telling lies to seriously ill patients about their condition is usually right.

S4 is not wildly disconnected but tidying it up a bit would assist you to later
appraise it. Looking at DP, we get the turn of phrase: of their illness and in MC,
we get the turn of phrase: about their condition. This is no big deal and seems to
be a case of the same idea being got at by two forms of words but it is an easy tidy
up and, as I said, you make life easier for yourself by having the language aligning
as much as possible. I would tidy this one up as:
MP Telling lies to avoid frightening someone is always right.
DP Informing seriously ill patients about their condition will usually frighten them.
MC Telling lies to seriously ill patients about their condition is usually right.

First thing to re-emphasize is how I have again written this so that, as much as
possible, I am using the same turn of phrase each time I express the same idea. It
makes the sentences a bit clumsy at times but it is a great help in seeing how one
proposition connects with another. You might still have qualms here in that I have
used always in the MP but usually in the other two lines. Fussing about whether
this is how you want things to be or not is a later task that we will come to in the next
chapter. For now, dont fuss about it when doing this checklist item. Such words
expressing how much of something or how many (usually called quantifiers as
in quantity) dont have to be the same everywhere in an argument for the argument
to be OK and attending to them at the moment under the heading of mesh is not
profitable. So dont fuss about aligning such words (others are all, only, most
and so forth) up and down the argument that this stage. Ill revisit the issue of
quantifiers in the section: Clarifying Whole Propositions and in Chapter 4.
In the case of S4*, you can see that the MP advances a quite general moral
principle that telling a certain sort of lie (fright-avoiding) is always right. The
DP gives an instance of something (informing ...) that would be covered by
this principle about right action and so, in the MC, the argument concludes that
an opposite to it is right. Note that there is talk of telling lies in one place and
informing in the other. Despite this, these more or less connect up if one allows for
one being a negative of the other (telling lies is mis-informing). So, the argument
does have its bits and pieces connecting up, or meshing, as I call it.
So, for this checklist item, you are looking for linkage among the bits and
pieces of the argument so that you get one flowing case and helping yourself to see
such a linkage by aligning the language (except, at this stage, for quantifiers).

Reason and Professional Ethics


Also, check for disconnected bits and pieces that mesh nowhere. If you have
a proposition that doesnt connect with anything else, then that is an instant nonmesh problem. For instance, say that we were checking out the following structure
for mesh:
MP Telling lies to avoid frightening someone is always right.
DP1 Informing seriously ill patients of their illness will usually frighten them.
DP2 Informing seriously ill patients of their illness is against the wishes of some close
MC Telling lies to seriously ill patients about their condition is usually right.

What is different in this argument compared to S4 is the extra DP, DP2. If you
check for connectedness, then the last bit, about the relatives, connects to nothing
else. DP2 is the only place we hear about that. So, having found this problem we
fix it up. In this case, I would remove the offending premise as not part of this line
of reasoning and mentally park it as possibly a second, independent, ground for
lying to seriously ill patients about their illness.
S1* and S4 both exemplify one of the two broad generic patterns that our
arguments about what is right or wrong, or should or should not be done, commonly
take. I will call this first pattern of argument: set inclusion arguments.
Set Inclusion Arguments
There are variations among the arguments that fit this broad pattern but, for most
ones that you will come across in applied ethics, the general idea is something like
the following.
In the MP, we have some fairly general moral principle advanced then, in the
DP, we have some more particular situation, type of situation, or persons action
connected to what the general proposition is about, in virtue of the former being
a sub-set of, or an instance of, the sort of thing being talked about in the latter.
Finally, in the MC, we have a proposition stating the authors view as to the result
of applying that general moral principle to that more particular case. Laid out as a
structure schema, we get:
MP A fairly general moral principle outlined.
D/CP A more particular situation (etc.) brought under the umbrella of that principle.
MC A judgement about that more particular situation (etc.) made.

Have a reread of S1* and of S4*and you should be able to follow whats happening
in those arguments in the above terms although S4* is a bit tricky. Note how the
bits and pieces of the arguments hang together and note how you are assisted in

Structuring Arguments


realizing that those bits and pieces hang together by realizing that the argument is
a set inclusion argument and deliberately looking for a pattern of connections that
aligns with the schema just outlined above.
I said above that there were two common generic patterns of argument that
occurred in discussions trying to establish some moral proposition as conclusion.
As weve just seen, the first I have called: set inclusion arguments. The second
sort I will call: means/end arguments.
Means/End Arguments
I call them this because, looking at such arguments, youll find that the MP lists
some sort of outcome, or end, to be achieved (or avoided, it depends on the
particular argument). Then the DP (its usually a descriptive premise but, as we
have seen earlier, other claim types can do this as well) connects some action as a
means to achieving that end, or a means to avoiding the end, or whatever (again,
details vary as to just what sort of connection it is). Finally, the MC says something
about that means action (that it be carried out, that it be avoided, or whatever
again the details vary). So, these arguments follow a schema as follows:
MP End proposition.
DP Means/End link proposition.
MC Means proposition.

To illustrate, consider the following argument:

MP It is important for school-leavers to be employable.
DP If schools devote their energies to making school-leavers employable then this is
a way of increasing the employability of school-leavers.
MC Schools should devote their energies to making school-leavers employable.

This arguments MP sets out an end, having school-leavers employable, which

is considered important. Then, in the DP, we are told a way of increasing the
achievement of that end, namely having schools devote their energies to achieving
it. Finally, the conclusion advocates schools doing just that, namely adopting that
means (for achieving that end). Note how the bits and pieces of the argument hang
together and note how youre assisted in realizing that those bits and pieces hang
together by realizing that the argument is a means/end argument and deliberately
looking for a pattern of connections that aligns with the schema outlined above.
Lets try another argument that exemplifies this second common pattern of
reasoning. Say someone were to advance this argument, this time in favour of
abortion, as follows:


Reason and Professional Ethics

Abortion should be allowed as forbidding it will lead to lowering the status of

Structuring it, with a little bit of tidying, say that we got:

MP It is very important that the status of women is not lowered.
DP Forbidding abortion will cause lowering of the status of women.
MC One should not forbid abortion.

At the cost of some clumsiness of wording, the merit of S6 is again that one can
see how the bits and pieces of the argument fit together. On the assumption that
allowing and not forbidding are the same idea, I could have used allow in the
conclusion (one should allow abortion) much as it was in the feral F6, but then
it would not have so obviously meshed with the DP terminology. (Of course, I
could have achieved much the same level of terminological linkage by wording
things in allow talk in each place; it doesnt much matter which way you jump.)
The reasoning quality of S6 is not perfect (well come to examining such matters
later it commits one of the common errors we will look at in Chapter 4) but at
least the argument isnt a disjointed mess; it hangs together well enough to be
worth thinking further about and thats all were attempting to achieve in getting
an argument to at least be in mesh.
I said that I chose F2 as illustrative of our second common pattern of argument
concerning what it is right and wrong to do or think. Id like to spend a moment
going back over these two types of pattern.
Look back at F1 and its tame version S1* and recall that it is a case of relating
things by set inclusion. Abortion was argued against by asserting that it was
included in a set of events, the killing of people, that the arguer thought bad. In
effect, what was happening was the arguer saying: Im against killing people and
abortion is just a case in point so Im against abortion. S4, on the other hand, is
a version of a means/end argument. What is said is: Im morally against (the
end of) lowering the status of women and forbidding abortions is a means to that
(bad) end so Im against that means, against forbidding abortions. Of course one
can have good ends and favoured means featuring as well in other variations of
the same broad pattern, much as one could have set inclusion styles of argument
with the MP citing a set of good, not bad, states of affairs. These broad types of
common argument are worth remembering, as having them in your mind helps
you in trying to get your own structures meshing.

Structuring Arguments


Key Ideas (Checklist Item 4)

Getting things in mesh is a matter of getting all of the key component ideas connecting
up in the right way. Any idea anywhere should connect to the same idea in at least
one other place. Keeping in mind that most arguments that you will come across,
or generate, on professional ethical topics will be either some form of set-inclusion
argument or some form of means/end argument, it is a good idea to think about any
candidate argument in terms of whether it fits one or the other broad pattern. Doing
this will help you look for connections in the right places.

So much for some thoughts on meshing; it is the hardest thing to get right when
taming arguments.
Summary Remarks on the Checklist
So there is the taming checklist. Once you have your initial intuitive feral argument
laid out into an initial structure, methodically carrying out those four checklist items,
one after the other in turn, is a hugely powerful way of ending up with a halfwaydecent tame structure. The checklist is not so much difficult to apply as it is laborious
and requiring care but the labour bears dividends. When it is your argument that is
being tamed, then it is a benefit for you in getting a better understanding of what youre
trying to say and thus of later discovering possible weak points in your thinking. And
the same goes for others trying to grapple with your ideas. When it is someone elses
feral argument that youre trying to lay out in a structure and render tame, one worry
that you might have is that, when you find a problem with their structure and fix
it up, you might feel you are distorting the original. This is quite possibly so but I
dont think you should be deterred by that from fixing it up. One way of thinking of
it is that you have become co-author, concerned to get the argument from its present
unsatisfactory state into a better version. And why not do that? After all, if the original
argument, even when initially structured, is a mess then it is not a viable contribution
to the enquiry in its present state. Yet, unsatisfactory though it currently is, some
version or other of that original feral intuition might well be a viable contribution
even if it is not quite what the original author meant. Throwing the original totally in
the bin because its a mess might be to lose a potentially valuable contribution when
all it needed was a bit of a tidy up and rewrite. I cant see why an author wouldnt
welcome such distortion of their ideas to get a better version.
Clarifying Key Ideas and Whole Propositions
Apart from having arguments tame, another task is that of having the various bits
and pieces present in the argument clearly understood. We have done this in part in


Reason and Professional Ethics

the section: A Checklist for Checking Argument Structures for Tameness above but,
even if we have done the checklist properly and fixed up any errors, it might still not
be quite clear what is being said. Such obscurities should be clarified. Unless they
are, the argument is not much of a contribution to the enquiry. In particular, much
as was remarked in the section: A Checklist for Checking Argument Structures for
Tameness, it will be rather difficult for anyone to critically react to an argument
key parts of which are unclear. Obscurities tend to come in two sorts. The first
concerns an individual word or turn of phrase (especially important if it expresses
some key idea in the argument). The second is where the obscurity is not so much
with any particular word, or turn of phrase, so much as with the whole sentence.
Ill speak about each of these in turn.
Clarifying Key Ideas
The above argument concerning abortion is a classic of this type. What does
the author have in mind as counting as an abortion? Would the administering a
morning after pill (which prevents implantation) count as inducing an abortion?
And, an issue of notorious controversy, what counts as a person? anything that
is a genetic member of the human species? even if it is a two-celled organism
(as a conceptus initially is)? All of your structures will contain key ideas, some
of which will need a little bit of pinning down in order for it to be clear what
is said. Sometimes its just a matter of choosing another, equally brief, word or
phrase to substitute for the dubious one in question. However my suggestion is
that you do not bother always doing this clarification within the structure as it
would make it read very clumsily a lot of the time because it would not be equally
brief. Rather, do it in a couple of explanatory sentences in an accompanying
paragraph. In effect, this is your working definition of that idea; you are laying
down how you are wishing to be understood by your use of, say, person. It is,
though, only a working definition, an initial attempt at pinning an idea down,
enough to be going on with for now in clarifying some argument so we can get
on with our more important intellectual work of appraising its worth. It might
well be that, later on in the continuing enquiry into your topic, you have to revisit
the just-established understanding of the concept and further clarify matters or
change things somewhat. That doesnt matter; a working definition is only an
initial clarified understanding of what you are saying that you are advancing, one
that allows you to press on for now with your intellectual work. Nonetheless, the
working definition that you have set up is one that stands until an explicit and
deliberate later revision is carried out (if there is one).
So far my main emphasis has been upon you clarifying your own arguments
and certainly the task of crafting your own arguments as well as possible is a key
focus of this book. However, as Ive noted earlier, sometimes what you are trying
to make sense of is someone elses argument. Sometimes, when someone elses
argument is unclear, you can simply ask the arguer to clarify things. Sometimes
though, that is impossible. It might be, for instance, an argument contained in

Structuring Arguments


some document that you are reading. In such a case, you can hardly make use
of the argument as a contribution to your own thinking on your topic until you
have a better idea of what it means. Sometimes, with a bit of thought, you are
fairly confident of some interpretation you are making of some key idea and
sometimes you are less confident. Either way, some sort of interpretation has to
be implemented by you for you to be able to make any use of the argument at all.
Perhaps it is not quite what the author meant (and perhaps the author was muddled
and didnt mean anything very clear in the first place) but if your main interest in
the argument is as a contribution to your own thinking then, provided you make it
clear that this is your interpretation of it, then set up your own working definition
and press on. Remember that, however some idea gets pinned down in a working
definition, that is what it is to be understood as meaning in every place it occurs in
the enquiry (and no matter by which participants) unless explicit revision occurs.
Sliding around with having various construals of some term or phrase in play in
the one enquiry (especially if no one notices that this is happening) makes the
whole exercise a waste of time. Clarify things! It is rarely wasted time (unless, of
course, it is already dead obvious what is meant).
In Chapter 5 Ill be revisiting this discussion of working definitions in the
context of talking about criticizing conceptual premises but those complications
can be left to one side for now.
Key Ideas
If individual terms or phrases in an argument are unclear in meaning, then set up a
working definition to establish how they are to be taken in the current enquiry.

Clarifying Whole Propositions

Sometimes its not so much some individual word like person that is unclear and
demanding of a working definition. Sometimes its more the obscurity of a whole
proposition, one forming a premise or conclusion in an argument structure. For
instance, say a premise in some argument was:
Teachers are educational experts.

Apart from it being unclear (and thus deserving of a working definition) what is
to count as an educational expert, there is another obscurity here, one to do with
the structure of the whole sentence. Have a look at teachers; what is meant by
teachers might be clear enough but does the sentence express the proposition:

Reason and Professional Ethics


All teachers are educational experts, or

Only teachers are educational experts or
All and only teachers are educational experts, or:
Most teachers are educational experts or what?

How this gets clarified has considerable effect upon the role which it can play in
an argument and upon your chances of criticizing it successfully. The italicized
words are usually called quantifiers. My first suggestion is that you explicitly
insert such quantifiers where they are absent so that the scope of what is talked
about in the proposition is clearer to readers/hearers (and sometimes to yourself).
We touched on this in the section: Laying Out a Structure.
Other obscurities concerning what proposition is being put by a particular
whole sentence can be because of the way in which the sentence has been
constructed but the ways in which such lack of clarity can arise are legion (too
many to itemize here) and I can only suggest that you very carefully examine each
line in your argument, asking yourself: Is it perfectly clear and unambiguous
what proposition is being advanced by this sentence?. If it isnt, and it is your
argument then rewrite it so that it does say clearly what you want to say. If it is
someone elses argument, then you have to make some clearer interpretation of it,
much as spoken of above in the previous sub-section.
Key Ideas
Sometimes murkiness is at the level of whole propositions (particularly because of
missing quantifiers); make sure that what is said is not open to misinterpretation.

Summary Remarks and Prelude to Following Chapters

So, my suggestion to you is that you lay out feral arguments as structures and
then proceed to tame those structures in a very methodical checklist-style manner,
moving one by one, explicitly and carefully, through the items listed and explained
above and modifying the structure as you go if you find flaws. Then, look at each
line of your tame structure in turn and ensure that it is clear just what proposition is
being advanced there. Hopefully, at the end of that process you will fairly reliably
have arguments that are well enough expressed to be considered worthy candidate
contributions to your thinking on your topic and the thinking of others who are
engaging with your ideas. Of course, having your arguments tame and clear is, as
I have said, a preliminary matter an unavoidable preliminary matter, but only
a prelude to the more important task of trying to ascertain whether the tame and
clear argument is worthy of acceptance. And you will not know how worthy it is
until you have tried to criticize it.

Structuring Arguments


Sometimes the business of argumentation is presented as if the participants are

in some sort of adversarial contest and the task is to win the debate. There are indeed
situations where argument is a tool of persuasion but that is not the case when one
is trying to sort out a defensible position on some ethical matter of professional
interest. After all, one might win a dispute even though one had bad reasons for
ones stance. All that is required is rhetorical skill and/or that ones dialogical
opponent is too dim-witted to realize the flaws in ones reasoning. In such a case,
winning is an empty victory. One would be left believing in some professional
ethical stance that is, perhaps, flawed yet, just because one could overawe ones
opponents, the flaw is undetected. Better, I suggest, that one considers the critic
of ones argument, not as an opponent to be beaten but as a colleague who might
do one the service of detecting flaws in ones thinking (a critical friend as it is
sometimes put). And, if any such flaw is undetected, why on earth would this be a
matter to be resisted? Why desire to cling to a flawed view just because the flaws
are pointed out by someone else?
In short, my suggestion is that, when thinking about professional ethical issues,
one should consider all views and arguments as fair-mindedly and thoroughly as
possible and, if that means accepting a criticism that seems sound and abandoning
ones initial view, then so be it; surely to move away from a mistaken view is
progress! And if the criticism itself is faulty then that is also something to be
teased out (as we will explore in Chapter 6) but you wont know whether it is
really faulty or not unless you have had the integrity to express it in its strongest
and clearest form first.
So, my first message here is that the primary task in professional ethics is to
work out the best answer that one can. Thus, criticism of your views should be
welcomed because it might help you to improve them.
So far, so good; but what if there isnt a critic falling readily to hand to
give your arguments a critical going over? If you are unprofessional and dumb
enough to be in debate winning mode, then that is terrific. No challenger, then no
challenge, and you win by default. But if you are in best answer seeking mode,
such complacency is dangerous your views might simply be wrong. The solution
is self-criticism.
To do this, you have to put yourself in the mind of a critic and try to work out
how your pet argument might be disagreed with. One of the intellectual skills
cum habits of thought which I am attempting to foster is that of fair-minded
consideration of objections to your own views. As helpful critics do not always
fall readily to hand, part of this is being able to self-criticize, being able to put
yourself in the mind of a critic and imagine how, say, your pet premise might be
disagreed with or the reasoning of your argument might be illogical. Clearly, in
mounting criticisms against yourself, you will want the best and most plausible
critical arguments possible; for, if you settle for anything less, you will not have
properly critically probed your position and thus run a larger risk of acting in
a way which, had you given it more careful analysis, you might have deemed


Reason and Professional Ethics

So, getting an argument tame and clear is but a preliminary matter and the real
task is appraising arguments fair-mindedly and thoroughly; in the next chapters,
well proceed on to considering such critical scrutiny of arguments.

Chapter 4

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism:

Logic Criticism
Introduction: Argument Criticism
What we have been doing so far is trying to get to the stage of being able to lay out
any given argument, one that we want to use or think about, as tamely and clearly
as possible. Accordingly, we portrayed arguments in the form of structures and
then methodically checked and adjusted those structures so that all of their bits
and pieces were understood clearly by us and hung together coherently to form
an argument. But getting an argument tame and clear is really just a preliminary
business. It is important because, until an argument is tame and clear, its rather
pointless going on any further but it is but a prelude to the main task. What we
want to know about any given argument is whether it is any good or not. Should
we place any reliance upon it as grounds for believing its conclusion? An argument
can be nicely tame and as clear as you care yet still be a bad argument.
So, how can we tell whether an argument is a good one or a bad one? A good
practice is to try subjecting it to critical scrutiny and see how well it stands up
in the face of criticism. And note that this is something that you should be doing
not just to the arguments of others but to your own arguments. Just because you
have thought some argument up doesnt automatically mean that it is any good.
Having the capacity to be thoroughly self-critical is a hugely valuable thing and
not just in matters concerning professional ethics. It is at its most important when
the argument in question is one that you favour (it is easy to be blind to faults in
your own thinking). This chapter begins my consideration of the tasks of argument
criticism. So, what is involved?
There are only two things that can go wrong with any argument. One is that
it is illogical, that the move of reasoning from premises to conclusion is invalid.
The other is that one (or more) of its premises is faulty. In this chapter, I wish to
proceed on to some issues and techniques to do with criticizing an arguments
logic. In the next chapter I will consider the task of premise criticism. Before I
proceed to the detail of this chapters business, let me talk briefly about these two
possible failings of arguments. Say that you have had the following argument
(much like one from a previous chapter) advanced to you.


Reason and Professional Ethics

MP Some stealing is wrong.
DP Jenny stole Janes wallet.
MC It was wrong for Jenny to steal Janes wallet.

The author is asking you to believe MC on the grounds that it follows from MP
and DP, each of which she takes to be acceptable to you. In effect, what she is
saying to you is: Look, you believe that some stealing is wrong and you believe
that Jenny stole Janes wallet; dont you see that it follows from those beliefs that
it was wrong for Jenny to steal Janes wallet?. How might the argument come
Well, first, you might say: Never mind for the moment whether I believe that
some stealing is wrong and that Jenny stole Janes wallet, regardless of my views
about those two claims it just doesnt follow from them that it was wrong for Jenny
to steal Janes wallet. (Have a look at the argument and youll probably realize
that, even if you accept MP and DP, whether Jennys act of theft is right or wrong
is not established by the argument because it all depends on whether her wallet
stealing is one of the types of stealing that the MP has in mind as wrong or some
other type note the word some in the MP.) What youre doing with such a
critical response is focusing upon the move of reasoning, upon the authors claim
that MC follows from MP and DP.
Alternatively, a quite separate line of complaint against the argument would
be to focus upon the MP or DP and dispute it (or both of them). So, you might say
against MP: Stealing is never wrong (perhaps because you have an objection to
the institution of private property). Or, you might dispute DP by saying: Jenny
didnt steal Janes wallet (perhaps because she had an alibi and was not even in
the vicinity of the wallet). Moreover, to dispute MP is a different thing to disputing
DP and you might dispute one but agree with the other.
Note that these are three quite independent ways of criticizing our argument and
thus the success of each of them is independent of the fate of the other criticisms.
You might mount all three and have all three succeed, or none of them, or one of
them, or ... . For the moment, I will classify criticism of MP and criticism of DP
together as premise criticism (we will consider premise criticism in more depth in
the next chapter). Premise criticism is to be is distinguished from criticizing the
move of reasoning. I will call the latter logic criticism and it is the business of
this chapter. I will turn to it in the next section but first I want to talk a little bit
more about the general business of argument criticism.

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Logic Criticism


Key Ideas
There are two quite distinct ways in which an argument can go wrong and thus two
quite distinct types of criticism which might be mounted against a given argument:
criticizing its logical merits, the move from premises to a conclusion, and: criticizing
the assumptions that the argument rests upon, its premises, in their own right. I will
call these logic criticism and premise criticism, respectively, and it is the former
of these which is the business of this chapter (the latter will be addressed in the

Argument Criticism Compared to Listing New, Opposing, Arguments

Before I move on to introduce the skills of logic criticism I want to spend a
moment or so discussing the focus of logic criticism (and of argument criticism
Think back to my remarks about what an argument is. It is a connected set
of claims, some of which, the premises, are advanced in support of another, the
conclusion. The hope is that the premises are acceptable, that the conclusion
logically follows from the premises and thus that the conclusion is established
as acceptable. In a perfect argument you would have unchallengeable premises
leading with impeccable reasoning to the arguments conclusion. Things dont
usually initially pan out like that but understanding an arguments weak spots
helps you to work out how to fix it up or, if it remains a flawed argument, how
much weight you want to give to it as a case for its conclusion (given that it is not
without blemish). So, how to go about argument criticism?
Look again at S1. Any such argument is up for critical examination. This might
be achieved with the assistance of a dialogical partner (perhaps in a discussion on
the topic) but it might not. Sometimes you are trying to think some issue out by
yourself and that is where the skill of critical examination of your own arguments
comes in. Note that, when I talk of criticizing an argument, it is criticizing an
already existing argument that has been advanced is there anything wrong with
the reasoning advanced in that argument for its conclusion? It is, of course, unlikely
to be the only possible argument on the topic and a common student error (in this
context of argument appraisal) is to advance an argument supporting the opposite
conclusion to that of the original and to deem that to be a way of criticizing that
original argument. So, in this case, the critic might offer some argument to the
effect that it is morally OK for Jenny to have stolen Janes wallet. We would then
have two arguments on the topic, one for, one against. And we could keep going
and keep adding arguments until we generated a whole spread of points for and
against. And doing this is a common student flaw. This is a flaw because it is not
much good for the goal of making ones best judgement on the issue to have a
medley of unappraised arguments on the table. For any given argument, one wants

Reason and Professional Ethics


to have worked out whether it is any good, and, if not, just where its weaknesses
lie. To do that, one has to focus on that arguments supporting case (and not ignore
that case by simply providing an argument for the opposite conclusion). Once you
can do that critical scrutiny for any given argument, you can widen the application
of that skill outwards and advance and appraise a number of arguments bearing
on the issue and thus get a rigorous feel for the qualities of the elements of what
is usually a whole complex interweaving web of sub-issues and arguments. To be
able to think your way through such a web of argumentation is a very high order
cognitive (and meta-cognitive) task and, as I have said before, it cant be learnt
all at once and there are sub-skills to be learnt first. Youll find it difficult and
frustrating enough going through the training hoops of mastering those sub-skills
without prematurely trying to do too many things at once.
So, if you have an argument like the above one, it is premature to start thinking
up a host of other arguments (perhaps supporting Jennys action) if you dont yet
know how good this argument is. Argument criticism is just that; you focus on
the argument at hand and try to work out whether it is any good, that is, whether
its premises provide proper support for its conclusion. To reiterate (because it is
such a common confusion on students part) criticizing this arguments merits as
support for its conclusion is a different business to mounting another argument
for the opposite conclusion. It is the former task that concerns us now. You will
craft and recraft and subject to repeated criticism one single argument at a time.
Become able to do that and repeated application of these skills will allow you to
work your way through, and inter-relate, a web of conflicting arguments.
Key Ideas
Distinguish the distinct tasks of criticizing a given argument to appraise its merits
as a case for its conclusion and mounting a quite separate argument as a case for the
opposite conclusion. The former is our focus here.

How does one carry out such argument criticism then? This can be quite difficult
(especially if it is self-criticism of your own arguments) but is assisted by careful
and methodical working through of distinct elements of critical examination. So,
what are these elements?
There are basically two things to think about logic criticism and premise
criticism and, as I have said, we will focus on the first of them in this chapter and
the second in the next.

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Logic Criticism


Logic Criticism Introduced

The basic intellectual skill of logic criticism is that of being able to tell when a
conclusion follows from the arguments premises. To reiterate, the concern here
is simply and solely with the move of inference and not with the merits of the
premises, or of the conclusion, in their own right. It is merely the connection
between premises and conclusion that is the focus of attention. So, whether or
not you agree with any of an arguments claims, you can still judge whether or
not, if one allowed the premises (for arguments sake, as we sometimes say) the
conclusion would have to be allowed as well because it follows from the premises.
In illustration, consider this argument:
MP Only police officers that verbally abuse children should be permitted continuing
DP No presently employed police officers verbally abuse children.
MC No presently employed police officers should be permitted continuing

I have chosen this rather weird argument because I surmise that none of you would
accept any of the three claims (two premises and one conclusion) making up this
argument. Despite this total rejection of its substantive propositions, you should be
able to see that the logic of the argument, at least, is impeccable. The conclusion
follows from the two premises as tightly as you please. What we are doing here is
not bothering with the acceptability of the individual claims but only concentrating
on the connection among them. Were one to accept DP and MP, would one thereby
be committed to accepting the conclusion as well? In this case, yes; there is no
way of denying the conclusion (having accepted the premises) without talking
contradictory nonsense. With many arguments, however, you wont find that nice
tight logical connectedness. Your complaint will be that, even if the premises
were to be accepted, they would not provide much of a case for accepting the
conclusion. The conclusion wont follow and it will be the arguments move in
logic that is objectionable.
Key Ideas
To critically examine the logic of an argument is to ask whether the conclusion of
that argument follows from the premises and your judgement has nothing to do with
your agreement or otherwise with the arguments premises (or, for that matter, its


Reason and Professional Ethics

Logic Criticism of Set-inclusion Arguments

To consolidate your feel for the idea of the conclusion following from its premises as
opposed to a conclusion not following, consider the following bunch of arguments.
All of them are variations of set-inclusion arguments, one of our two common
argument pattern families. (In the next section Ill have a look at our other main type
of argument, namely: means/ends arguments.) In what follows, each argument with
a ~ in its name is illogical; the rest are logically tight, or valid, as it is usually put.
MP1 All killers should be hanged.
DP1 Kathleen is a killer.
MC1 Kathleen should be hanged.
MP2 Some killers should be hanged.
DP1 Kathleen is a killer.
MC1 Kathleen should be hanged.
MP1 All killers should be hanged.
DP2 Kathleen might be a killer.
MC1 Kathleen should be hanged.
MP1 No killers should be hanged.
DP2 Kathleen is a killer.
MC2 Kathleen should not be hanged.
MP1 All killers should be hanged.
DP3 Kathleen is not a killer.
MC2 Kathleen should not be hanged.
MP3 No killers should be hanged.
DP3 Kathleen is not a killer.
MC1 Kathleen should be hanged.

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Logic Criticism


MP4 Only killers should be hanged.
DP3 Kathleen is not a killer.
MC2 Kathleen should not be hanged.

The differences among these arguments mainly concern some logically crucial
words like all, not, no and so on. Lets have a look at each of them in turn.
MP1 All killers should be hanged.
DP1 Kathleen is a killer.
MC1 Kathleen should be hanged.

It doesnt much matter what you think about capital punishment and it doesnt
much matter who Kathleen is and what her homicidal tendencies are (as long as
its the same Kathleen in DP1 and MC1). That is, it doesnt matter whether you
agree with the premises or not; regardless of that you should be able to see that if
someone were to agree with the premises then they would not be able to disagree
with the conclusion without having contradicted themselves. As I sometimes
put it, the premises logically force the conclusion. If you were to allow that all
killers should be hanged and also allow that she is a killer (for this exercise, never
mind what you really think), then you would have just committed yourself to the
view that she should be hanged. Given acceptance of the premises, accepting the
conclusion is unavoidable. It is that sort of connectedness that you want between
premises and conclusion so that the premises logically force the conclusion in the
argument you offer. If they dont, then, as a rationale for believing that conclusion,
the argument is a frail reed indeed. (Ill discuss the issue of illogical arguments
further in Chapter 8.) Compare L1 with:
MP2 Some killers should be hanged.
DP1 Kathleen is a killer.
MC1 Kathleen should be hanged.

The only difference between this argument and the last is the word some rather
than all in the moral premise. But what a difference that makes. If all that we
have allowed is that some killers should be hanged, then we cannot conclude that
Kathleen should be hanged simply on the basis that she is a killer because we do
not have (from DP1) whether she is one of the killers that should be hanged or one
of those that, perhaps, shouldnt. Note that this criticism of this arguments logic


Reason and Professional Ethics

is unaffected by what I would imagine to be your greater tendency to agree with

MP2 as opposed to MP1. What of the next argument?
MP1 All killers should be hanged.
DP2 Kathleen might be a killer.
MC1 Kathleen should be hanged.

This argument is also illogical. Even if all killers should be hanged, we cant
conclude that Kathleen should be hanged merely by learning that she might be
a killer (and note that DP2 is a descriptive premise despite the hesitant might).
Lets turn to the next argument.
MP3 No killers should be hanged.
DP2 Kathleen is a killer.
MC2 Kathleen should not be hanged.

The conclusion of this one does follow. If one allowed that no killers should be
hanged, then learning that Kathleen is a killer is learning that she is one of the
people who, according to MP3, should not be hanged. Compare L2 with this
argument (not from our list):
MP3* No one should be hanged for killing.
DP2 Kathleen is a killer.
MC2 Kathleen should not be hanged.

Note the difference between this MP and that of L2. In this one, the moral premise
doesnt propose that no killers should be hanged just that they should not be hanged
for killing. The premise that we have does not rule out other grounds (treason
perhaps) for hanging someone, even someone who killed, and thus the rather
sweeping conclusion does not follow. In L2, however, we are told categorically
that no killer should be hanged. Presumably, in that authors view, it doesnt matter
what else they might have done. Thus, all of our above worries that Kathleen
might deserve hanging because of some other action (treason, say) are ruled out
by the L2 author. According to what is actually said in MP3, nothing else matters,
she is a killer and, in virtue of that, should not be hanged.

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Logic Criticism


MP3* No one should be hanged for killing.
DP2 Kathleen is a killer.
MC2* Kathleen should not be hanged for killing.

This one has the modified moral premise that we had in the last one but also has
a modified moral conclusion. Note that that conclusion is no longer the sweeping
claim that she should not be hanged but the more limited one that she should not
be hanged for killing. The possibility that you might deserve killing for something
else, like treason, is not ruled out; the argument simply doesnt talk about such
other possibilities. Note also that the argument is logical.
I have introduced these two extra arguments to illustrate that one has to be
careful to say what one means. It is easy to be trying to say L2* but to instead
advance ~L2* or, very likely, L2 which is much more sweeping than you really
mean and makes it sound like a good way to avoid being hanged is to kill someone!
The lesson is: say what you mean as others will assume that you mean what you
Lets move on the next argument.
MP1 All killers should be hanged.
DP3 Kathleen is not a killer.
MC2 Kathleen should not be hanged.

This one is illogical as well. To accept that all killers should be hanged is not to
say anything about whomsoever else should be hanged as well (it is not as if it
says that only killers should be hanged). So, just because Kathleen is not a killer
doesnt mean that she should not be hanged because perhaps, for all we know,
there may be some other ground for hanging her (again, treason perhaps). We
simply dont know from these premises; all that we are told is that she doesnt
satisfy one sufficient condition for it being proper to hang her. We cant, on the
basis of such premises, conclude whether she should or should not be hanged.
MP3 No killers should be hanged.
DP3 Kathleen is not a killer.
MC1 Kathleen should be hanged.

This one is rather more complicated and you might have to read over the following
a few times to track what is going on. ~L4 is another illogical argument but why
doesnt its conclusion follow? Accepting the premises (remember, this is just for

Reason and Professional Ethics


the sake of checking the logic; its a pretend acceptance) tells us that no killers
should be hanged, that is, that being a killer is good enough for avoiding being
hanged. The DP tells us that she is not a killer, so Kathleen doesnt qualify for
this way of avoiding being hanged. That is not to say, however, anything about
any other categories of people who should not be hanged or about whether or not
Kathleen is in any of those categories. All we know is that she fails to satisfy one
way of being excused from hanging. Even though she has failed that, we cant
conclude that she should be hanged; we have to be neutral about whether she
should or should not be hanged pending a better argument than this one.
Now to our last argument:
MP4 Only killers should be hanged.
DP3 Kathleen is not a killer.
MC2 Kathleen should not be hanged.

The conclusion of this argument is forced. The moral premise tells us that being
a killer is a necessary condition for it being proper for one to be hanged and the
fact-type premise tells us that Kathleen fails this prerequisite. From these premises
it indeed follows that she should not be hanged.
Note the way that I thought about each of these: I tried pretending to accept the
premises and then worked out whether I would have to also accept the conclusion
having accepted the premises (I will return to this process below under the heading:
the invalidity test).
Note also that, in trying to work out what followed from what, I had to attend
very carefully to just what was actually said about relationships between various
sets and individuals and their actions or properties in the various propositions
constituting an argument.
Trying to build up an analytical skill in thoughtfully understanding arguments
is a more lasting benefit than rote learning various patterns as valid or not, and
practice and feedback from your tutor is the key to skill development.
Key Ideas
In trying to work out what logically follows from what, attend very carefully to what
is said (and what is not said) in the arguments constituent propositions.

Logic Criticism of Means/Ends Arguments (Including One Common Fault)

You will recall that I suggested that most arguments concerning professional ethics
fell into one of two broad categories. The first, I called: set-inclusion arguments.

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Logic Criticism


The second, I called: means/ends arguments. I have tried to help you get a feel for
some of the things that can go wrong (or right) with set-inclusion arguments when
I talked you through the list of hanging arguments in the previous section. The
discussion wasnt exhaustive of versions of, and problems with, such arguments
but did, I hope, give you some feel for the analysis of such argumentation. In this
section, I want to discuss our other main type of argument and walk you through
one main way that some such means/ends arguments fail to be logical.
Basically, arguments of this type are results or consequences focused
arguments and advanced with two main motivations.
The first is that you are arguing for something on the basis of some
(supposedly) good result that it will have. Either this is some goal or end that
you think it worthwhile achieving and the action you are arguing for is a means
to the achievement of that end, or there is some goal or end that you think it
worthwhile avoiding and the action you are arguing for is a way of avoiding it. So,
the good result gained by the action you are arguing for is either the achievement
of something good or the avoidance of something bad. Put schematically, we can
think of these two variations in the following way:
MP Achievement of some end morally endorsed.
DP Claim about some means role in the achievement of that end.
MC Adoption of means advocated.

MP Avoidance of some end morally endorsed.
DP Claim about some means role in the avoidance of that end.
MC Adoption of means advocated.

The second main type is when you are arguing against doing something on
the basis of some bad result that it will supposedly have. Again there are two
variations. You either have some end that you endorse and then you note that
some means will interfere with achieving that end and therefore you are against
it, or you have some end that you wish to avoid and then you note that some
means is connected to bringing about that end and therefore you are against it.
Again, put schematically, we get:

Reason and Professional Ethics


MP Avoidance of some end morally endorsed.
DP Claim about some means role in the achievement of that end.
MC Avoidance of means advocated.

MP Achievement of some end end morally endorsed.
DP Claim about some means role in the avoidance of that end.
MC Avoidance of means advocated.

Of these two main types, it is the first, the one where one is arguing for the adoption
of some means that causes the most problems. Consider this argument:
MP The productivity of the practice should be in the top quartile of similarly sized
DP One way of having the practices productivity in the top quartile of similarly sized
practices is to shed 20 per cent of its staff.
MC The practice should shed 20 per cent of its staff.

This argument fits the broad pattern of 1a, above. However it commits a very
common fault of some arguments in this pattern. I will call this fault: An
inadequately strongly worded means/ends link in the DP.
Have a look at the DP in our argument: just because the means mentioned
(shedding staff) is one way of achieving some desirable end (having the practices
productivity in the top quartile ) doesnt provide a strong enough case for
concluding that that means should be adopted. For all we are told to the contrary
in the argument, there might well be other ways of achieving that same end and
one or more of those other ways might be more, or equally, efficient and effective
than shedding staff. On the basis of the arguments premises, it is not warranted to
conclude that we should shed staff in particular, its DP is inadequate.
I have found this fault to be enormously common in beginning reasoners. I hope
that you can see the danger in arguing in this way. There is every risk of adopting a
solution that is not the optimal one. (I shudder to think how much money has been
wasted by decision-makers reasoning in this manner and choosing means that are
inferior to un-considered alternatives.)
Lets have a look at an argument exemplifying 1b, the second variation of our
first type. It will also commit this same common reasoning error.

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Logic Criticism


MP All surgeons should avoid killing any of their patients.

DP If all surgeons do no surgery then they will avoid killing any of their patients.
MC All surgeons should do no surgery.

The action recommended in the MC is indeed, as we are told in the DP, one way of
achieving the desired goal but, for all the argument says to the contrary, it might
not be the only way and some other way might be more, or equally, efficient and
effective. In the DP we are simply not told anything about other ways; thus it gives
us inadequate information and MC simply does not follow. Note that we do not
have to actually know of some other more/equally efficient and effective means to
the achievement of the MP end than avoiding surgery; it is enough to point out that
the arguments premises have not ruled that out and, having failed to rule it out,
the conclusion is premature. The mere un-ruled-out possibility of such alternative
and superior means to the MP endorsed end is enough to make the conclusion fail
to be entailed by the premises.
Note that, in pointing out the inadequacy of the DP in performing the logical
job being asked of it, one is not disputing the DP in its own right. The DP might
be true (in this case, it isnt some surgeons kill their patients in other ways than
operating on them, for instance, by shooting them) but, even if it were to be true, it
can be true and yet be logically inadequate as part of a case for the conclusion.
The other main type is not susceptible to this common flaw. Consider the
following argument as an exemplification of 2b, the second variation of this type.
MP All patients should have confidence in the competence of any hospital staff
DP If a member of a hospitals staff is rebuked by her superior in the hearing of
a patient, then that increases the likelihood of that patient losing confidence in the
competence of staff member.
MC No member of a hospital staff should be rebuked by her superior in the hearing
of a patient.

This argument is logical and it doesnt much matter that there might be other
actions that would even more effectively lead to a loss of patient confidence (like,
say, broadcasting over the PA system: We advise that all of the staff in this hospital
only just barely passed their university courses). Given that we think that loss of
confidence should not happen, we should be avoiding anything that would bring
it about, including the rebuke scenario mentioned in the DP. In short, it doesnt
matter that it is just one way of bringing about the end when, as in this argument
pattern, it is an end to be avoided, not achieved.
Lets try an argument exemplifying 2a, the other variation of this second main

Reason and Professional Ethics


MP All police officers should avoid any suspicion of corruption.

DP If any police officers dine with any criminals then that would cause them to be
suspected of corruption.
MC No police officers should dine with any criminals.

No doubt there are other ways (and some other ways that are very much more
effective) to cause a police officer to be suspected of corruption (like, say,
being observed receiving thickly stuffed envelopes from known criminals) but
the existence of other such possibilities doesnt stop our arguments conclusion
following. Contrast that with the problem caused by other possibilities, other
possible means, in either variation of the first of our two main types (that where
the conclusion was for some proposed course of action).
Key Ideas
There are sub-varieties of these consequence-focused means/ends arguments and
much depends, in particular, on just what is said in the DP. One common error of
some such arguments, those where the conclusion is for some course of action, is an
inadequately strongly worded DP.

An Error Common to Both Set-Inclusion and Means/Ends Argument Types: an

Inadequately Strongly Worded MP
A logical error which is common to both of our two main argument types is where
the argument has an inadequately strongly worded MP. Consider the following
MP It is important for as many school-leavers as possible to be employable.
DP If all schools devote their energies to making all school-leavers employable then
this is a way of having as many school leavers as possible employable.
MC All schools should devote their energies to making all school-leavers

Looking at this, it might have already occurred to you that DP commits the error
mentioned in the last section an inadequately strongly worded means/end link.
But that is not our focus here. Arguments can have more than one logical flaw and
there is another one present in this particular argument. Have a look at the strength
of the wording in the MC. The word used is should. There are no ifs or buts
or maybes; one is told that this is what schools should do. Its a way of issuing a
moral imperative, a moral must. The message is that, when all things have been

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Logic Criticism


considered, this is the final moral answer on the issue. (Incidentally, I have noticed
that students tend not to realize the strength of should claims; they are as morally
strong as can be.) In order to have an argument supporting such a strongly worded
conclusion, the premises of that argument have to contain a similarly strong
moral commitment. (One cant have a strong moral commitment logically follow
from a weaker one.) And, of course, the premises moral commitments should be
occurring in the MP so that is where one should look.
But have a look at what is said in the MP, we are told that the end is important.
We are not told that it is what one should do, or that it is of paramount importance,
or more important than anything else, or more important than anything else that
clashes with it (clashes because, after all, not all ends are in rivalry with each
other). Any of those would have done by way of matching the strength of the MC
but we dont have any of them. The is important turn of phrase that we do have
is a fairly weak commitment and, for all we know to the contrary, from what the
author has said, there might be other things more important than that end and which
clash with it. We just dont know and without some stronger commitment as to the
relative importance of the end of having school-leavers employable, we dont have
enough of a case for the strongly put conclusion to follow. As it stands, we could
say that schools (morally) need not devote their energies to making school-leavers
employable, even though it is important for as many of them to be employable as
possible and even though schools doing that would be a way of increasing their
employability because other, more important, rival ends might exist which would
not be served, might even be undermined, by schools doing that. In short, it is
possible for us to agree with the premises, yet deny the conclusion. And that can
never be possible with an argument whose conclusion logically follows.
Key Ideas
The strength of valuing in the MP must not be weaker than that in the MC.

The Invalidity Test

So far, I have tried to give you some feel for the logical validity (or otherwise)
of the spread of arguments within our two main types set-inclusion and means/
ends and I have drawn your attention to a couple of common logical failings of
arguments. One, an inadequate means-to-end link in the DP, was a common flaw
of one type of means/ends argument. The other, an inadequately strongly worded
MP, could be a problem in any of our argument types. My suggestion is that, in
much the manner that you run a checklist over an argument to check its tameness,
you automatically check any argument for the latter potential flaw and, if you have
a means/ends argument (of the sort with an end to be achieved), that you also have
a close look at the wording of the DP. The two flaws that we have gone through are


Reason and Professional Ethics

common enough to be worth committing to memory and to automatically check

for one or both as appropriate. However, arguments can have more flaws than it is
feasible and convenient to draw up a list of. Moreover, even if we did draw up a
list, youre not going to remember its elements when you try to think reasonably
about ethical problems that arise in your own professional practice. Better if you
have some more general tool with which to make a judgement as to an arguments
logical validity. The point of this section is to introduce you to such a tool. I will
call it: the invalidity test. The title here is probably a little bit overstated, its not a
test in the sense that one can semi-mechanically check if an argument is invalid. It
does, however, give you a good chance (at least when you get practised at using it)
of detecting an invalid argument, one whose conclusion does not follow from its
The test relies on the following feature of a valid argument. In such an argument,
if one accepts the premises, then one is logically forced to accept the conclusion
as well; one cant (consistently) accept the premises and then, in the next breath,
deny the conclusion. Consider this argument:
MP All decisions should be made only by those people with the relevant expertise to
make such decisions.
DP Only social workers have expertise relevant to making decisions about the parental
competence of any single mothers.
MC Only social workers should make decisions about the parental competence of any
single mothers.

Logically, this argument is impeccable. Were you to allow MP and DP, then
you would be unable to deny MC without inconsistency, without contradicting
yourself. (The argument has a blatantly false DP but that has got nothing to do
with the connections of premises and conclusion and the latter is the only issue
for the arguments validity.) Pause for a moment, look at the argument and satisfy
yourself of this. If you insisted, across-the-board, upon expert decisions (MP)
and social workers were admitted to be the only experts concerning the parental
competence of single mothers (DP), then, having agreed to that, you couldnt
deny that social workers should be the only ones to make decisions about single
mothers parental competence. Accepting the premises would mean that you were
stuck with accepting the conclusion as well.
This is a feature of all valid arguments. In all such logical arguments, what
is said in the premises entails what is said in the conclusion so that, if you allow
the premises, then you are logically forced (on pain of contradicting yourself)
to allow the conclusion; having allowed the premises, denying the conclusion is
impossible. We can turn this feature of a valid argument on its head as a test for
invalidity. If you cant (consistently) accept the premises and deny the conclusion
in a valid argument, then if we can do that in some argument under examination,

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Logic Criticism


we know that it is not valid. Doing something that is impossible to do with a valid
argument means that it is invalid.
So, the test is simply carrying out an act of imagination on some target
argument, trying to imagine a scenario, an imagined world, in which, without
inconsistency, one could have premises accepted and conclusion denied. If that
is even imaginable, never mind whether you think it is actually the case or not,
or even plausible, then the arguments conclusion doesnt follow from its premises.
The test would flop with our social worker argument. You can be as creatively
imaginative as you care in thinking up scenarios and you will fail to think up any
scenario situation in which, without contradiction, you have denied the conclusion
yet accepted the premises. Contrast the fate of this argument:
MP All decisions should be made only by those people with the relevant expertise to
make such decisions.
DP All social workers have expertise relevant to making decisions about the parental
competence of any single mothers.
MC Only social workers should make decisions about the parental competence of any
single mothers.

The only difference between this argument and its predecessor is the first word in
the DP; but changing that word from only to all makes all the difference and
means that the new argument is invalid. Its invalidity can be seen by carrying out
an invalidity test on it. Try this: Social workers need not be the only ones to make
decisions about the parental competence of single mothers even though those
decisions should be only made by those with the relevant expertise and all social
workers have that expertise because other people might also have that expertise,
like some psychologists. And, if they did, then they would just as much qualify to
make decisions about the parental competence of single mothers as well.
Note whats going on here. I deny the conclusion even though I accept the
premises because ... and then I outline some assumptions that underpin my story.
Note that, as I have put it, these are pretend acceptances and denials. You dont
have to believe any of the claims forming your invalidity test scenario. They can
all be false, even bizarre, and it makes no difference to the working of the invalidity
test. The power of the test is that what is said is possible, that the combination of
claims isnt contradictory. So it matters not at all whether or not you believe that
some psychologists have that expertise; the point is that the premises havent ruled
them out as having it. There is, if you like, a gap in the supporting premises we
are not told enough to force that conclusion and the test assists you to see the
inadequacy of those premises.
We have already had some cases of an invalidity test style exercise in the
foregoing; have a look, for instance, at the very last part of the last section. In
effect, we were showing that the MP and DP couldnt force the MC by showing
it possible to have those two premises accepted yet the conclusion denied without

Reason and Professional Ethics


any inconsistency arising. Note that there was no actual endorsement by me of

any end as more important than that of having school-leavers employable; I just
pointed out that the weakness of the argument was that the author hadnt ruled that
out, the premises thus didnt say enough for the conclusion to follow from them.
To reiterate, note that one doesnt have to believe the scenario in order to employ
it to make the simple point that what the author has said in the premises is not
enough to generate the conclusion he wants to follow. I suggest that, at this stage,
you read back through the chapter so far and see if, for those arguments I have
identified as invalid, you can use the invalidity test to see why they are invalid.
So, apart from being able to note that an argument has one of the two common
errors mentioned above, my suggestion is that, by practice and tutor feedback, you
try to build up a logical feel for the validity or otherwise of various arguments.
Note, though, that the invalidity test is an imperfect instrument. If you can think
up an accept premises but deny conclusion scenario, then you have demonstrated
invalidity. But what if, try as you may, you cant think up any scenario that is not
contradictory; does that mean that it is a valid argument? No, another possibility
is that you have inadequate imaginative powers! The best that you will be able
to tentatively say in such a situation is that, as far as you can judge, it is a valid
argument. So: an imperfect tool but still a useful one.
Key Ideas
In the so-called invalidity test, try to imagine the possibility of accepting the
premises but rejecting the conclusion. If you can, the argument is invalid. Mind you,
if you cant, that doesnt automatically mean that the argument is valid it might just
be that you dont have the imaginative powers to think up an apt scenario.

Patching (Fixing up Arguments Found to Have Logical Holes)

It is one thing to find out that an argument is invalid, that it has a logical hole,
but what next? In effect, as an attempt to prove its conclusion, an invalid argument
is a failure. So it gets discarded. But just because that particular argument is
unsatisfactory doesnt mean that some other version of the same general intuitive
line of reasoning that the argument has tried to capture wouldnt fare better. Maybe,
by fiddling about with an invalid versions wording, one can change things so that
the resulting mark 2 version is more logically satisfactory. In short, once you
have found a logical hole in an argument, try fixing it up, or patching it, as I will
say. The motivation for doing this is that you do not want to too swiftly discard
an intuitive line of reasoning when it is really only just one variation of it that is
at fault. To illustrate this, lets work with the argument from the section An Error
Common to Both Set-Inclusion and Means/Ends Argument Types: an Inadequately
Strongly Worded MP.

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Logic Criticism


MP It is important for as many school-leavers as possible to be employable.

DP If all schools devote their energies to making all school-leavers employable then
this is a way of having as many school-leavers as possible employable.
MC All schools should devote their energies to making all school-leavers

We found one hole with this argument, it was, you will recall, one of the common
errors, the one to do with the weakness of the moral commitment in the MP. So,
let us try to patch it.
Try this as a re-written argument in which this hole is patched.
MPa It is important for as many school-leavers as possible to be employable.
MPb No other ends clashing with having as many school-leavers as possible
employable are more important than that end.
DP If all schools devote their energies to making all school-leavers employable, then
this is a way of having as many school-leavers as possible employable.
MC All schools should devote their energies to making all school-leavers

With the addition of MPb, the problem found earlier will not arise. Note that what
I havent done is patch MP by saying it is of paramount importance ... that
is, more important than anything else whatsoever. Putting that in instead of the
weaker (it is important) wording of the existing MP would certainly patch the
hole. But, when you are patching arguments, remember that you are trying to
make them viable contributions to your enquiry. If you patch up a logical hole
in a way that makes the new moral premise implausible, one that you would
swiftly dismiss, then the improved validity of the argument has been bought at
the expense of creating another problem, namely, an implausible premise. In this
case, it is indeed implausible to suggest that having school-leavers employable is
anything like of paramount importance. More important than, say, world peace?
surely not. In effect, to say that would be over-patching, saying more than one
has to in order to fix the weakness in the premise. MPb, on the other hand, allows
that there might well be more important things than the end listed in MPa, but its
claim is that none of the more important things clash. Its not as if making schoolleavers employable is an option in rivalry with fostering world peace, for instance.
Thus, the admittedly greater importance of the latter simply doesnt matter in this
decision situation.
There are usually a number of logically satisfactory ways of patching
logical holes and sometimes there is more than one way that is not just logically
satisfactory but also plausible. For instance, in our example here, we could have
said the following as a revised argument.


Reason and Professional Ethics

MP* As many school leavers as possible should be employable.
DP If all schools devote their energies to making all school-leavers employable, then
this is a way of as many school-leavers as possible employable.
MC All schools should devote their energies to making all school-leavers

Note the way that the MP has been rewritten to become MP*. Rewriting it in this
way such that the moral language of MP* aligns with the moral language of the
MC (should and should) automatically gets us over our concern that the original
MP was inadequately strongly worded compared to MC. Generally speaking, I
would suggest seeing if aligning the wording of the MP with that of the MC as a
way of patching this sort of hole can be done with any plausibility. Sometimes,
however, on one way of taking it, what one gets as a result might convey the wrong
impression. In this case MP* makes it sound as if it is some sort of moral duty on
the part of school leavers whereas the original made it sound more like some sort
of moral duty that the rest of us had in assisting school leavers. So, in this case, I
would be inclined to go down the MPa plus MPb route to do the same logical job
but more in the spirit of the original argument.
So, when you patch a logical hole, there are three, sometimes conflicting,
demands: a) make the revisions as plausible as you possibly can and b) clearly in
the spirit of the original version, while c) still patching the hole.
How do you know when the hole has been patched successfully? See if it
is still vulnerable to the common error concern or invalidity test scenario that
exposed the hole in the first place. If it isnt vulnerable anymore, then you have
fixed that problem. Mind you, arguments can have more than one hole so merely
fixing one doesnt guarantee an arguments validity. And that is the case with this
one. I observed earlier that there was another common error with so-called means/
ends arguments an inadequately worded means/ends link and this argument
has this error present in it as well. Have a look back to the previous section and
refresh your memory; the problem, if you will recall it, lay with the means/end
connecting link, the DP.
How to fix it? We could say that that is the only way of increasing the
employability of school-leavers but that is a more implausible claim than one has
to make in order to patch the hole; it would constitute over-patching. One doesnt
have to go this far and it can be admitted that there are other ways yet one can
judge that this way is preferable to them. There are various ways of doing this and
what follows is not an optimal patch but it is relatively simple to follow so I will
initially use it here. Try:

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Logic Criticism


MPa It is important for as many school-leavers as possible to be employable.

MPb No other ends clashing with having as many school-leavers as possible
employable are more important than that end.
DPa All schools devoting their energies to making all school-leavers employable is
the best way of having as many school-leavers as possible employable.
MC All schools should devote their energies to making all school-leavers

I am using best here as shorthand for something like most efficient and effective
(note that what Im doing here is offering a working definition in the manner
spoken of in an earlier chapter).
As far as I can see, this argument is now logical. However, although this new
DP is more plausible than some other possible patches, it is still rather implausible
that that action by schools is going to have such a result just by itself. Thus the
revised argument is vulnerable in that it makes an assumption as to a factual causeeffect relationship that is probably false. As commented above, to do that is not
doing the argument any great favour. Is there anything better that can be used that
is still a logically adequate patch but manages to be more plausible? I think so. I
will just offer the first bit of it initially and then talk about it (later, Ill supplement
things with another extra DP). Say that, instead of DPa, we try this as a patch:
DPb All schools devoting their energies to making all school-leavers employable
is an essential part of the package that is the best way of having as many schoolleavers as possible employable.

First off, I agree that this is very wordy; I dont, however, think that it is too wordy.
There is not a bit of it that could be scrubbed out without crippling its ability
to say what I want it to say. So, attend very carefully to the wording as it is an
enormously useful patch for these cases where a hole is that the linking DP premise
is inadequately strongly worded. Let me spend a little bit of time explaining what
is being said in this patch. Ill get at it by a slightly roundabout route.
It is not uncommon in cause-effect relationship situations (and that is what
almost all of these means/end linking premises are talking about) for some given
effect to be brought about, or best brought about, not just by a single cause but
by a bundle of them a package, as I have said in DPb. Consider our situation in
question. If our goal is to increase the employability rate of school-leavers, then
that is the effect that we are to be achieving. The original DPa claim was that
schools doing stuff was the best way of getting that effect. Nothing else has been
mentioned. Presumably the idea is that, just by itself, schools doing such stuff will
bring about the desired effect more efficiently and effectively (our unpacking of
best, recall) than anything else that one could do. This is implausible.
More plausible is that such activity by schools is a part of the story, that if
schools do stuff and a few other things happen as well (government-sponsored


Reason and Professional Ethics

transition to work programmes, employer talks with schools ...?) then all of those
things added together constitute the best way of achieving that effect. If we are
really interested in getting that effect (and the MP propositions commit us to it)
then it is likely that the best way of achieving it is by having a whole package of
things occur. So, noting that gives us the wording at the end of DPb: ... the package
that is the best way of having as many school-leavers as possible employable.
But we are not interested in actually talking about that whole means package
in our conclusion; all that we are arguing for is the situation of schools carrying
out certain actions. If we are to focus on that and to have a case for that particular
element happening, what do we have to learn about its connection to our desired
end? The answer is in the first bit of DPb: while not the whole package, it is a bit
of it and, presumably, not a bit that could be dispensed with, or substituted for,
without loss of the packages causal power in producing the effect that we are
after. In short, that it is an essential component in that package, that it has to be
present for the package to be the best package, is what is said by DPb.
So, hopefully, you see the point in having what might seem to be a forbiddingly
wordy DPb. So is that enough as our patch? Probably not. In terms of achieving
our desired effect, it might be futile for us to do something that is a mere part of
a package if other pieces are not in place. Consider lighting a fire. Having the fire
burning is the desired effect and we are to be doing something or other to bring
that about. No doubt there are all sorts of means for achieving this end but say
that we had something like this as the package that we had decided was the most
efficient and effective way of achieving it: presence of oxygen, presence of dry
fuel, use of match to light fuel. Its not much use arguing that someone should have
dry fuel, even if it is part of the best package for achieving our end, the fire, if we
are operating in a vacuum or operating with no matches (or suitable substitute).
So, what we want to be assured of is that the other parts of the package are in
place, otherwise having dry fuel is futile in the service of our end of having a
fire burning. In short, and turning back to our employability argument illustration
above, we should not just be writing in DPb, but also the following:
DPc All of the other parts of that package are, or will be, in place.

Here the that is a simple grammatical back reference to the package mentioned
in DPb.
So, the final patched argument would be:

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Logic Criticism


MPa It is important for as many school-leavers as possible to be employable.

MPb No other ends clashing with having as many school-leavers as possible
employable are more important than that end.
DPb All schools devoting their energies to making all school-leavers employable is
an essential part of the package that is the best way of having as many school-leavers
as possible employable.
DPc All of the other parts of that package are, or will be, in place.
MC All schools should devote their energies to making all school-leavers

At this stage, we hopefully have our illustration argument totally satisfactorily

patched. As you have seen, quite a lot of work was involved but, unless the
argument is tidied up in some such manner, it is a needlessly flawed contribution
to your thinking on the topic. Sometimes, indeed, one might have even more
patching to do in order to fix up a multiply flawed illogical argument.
Key Ideas
Patching an argument is rewriting it to create a version of the original that no longer
contains the logical hole you identified. As there might be more than one distinct
hole, the process of patching might have to be repeated Always try to patch holes but
also try to have the patched version in the spirit of the original and without making
the new, patching, premises unduly implausible.

Summary Remarks
In this chapter, I have tried to give you a feel for the logicality or otherwise of the
sorts of arguments that are common in discussions of professional ethical issues.
Apart from displaying a few common types of arguments and a few common
errors, my suggestion has been that you are better off trying to build up a reliable
feel for when a conclusion doesnt logically follow from its premises and I
offered the invalidity test as a useful tool. Further, if you find a problem, fix it
an argument with an unpatched logical hole cant establish its conclusion. Its
worth trying to patch because, even if the original argument is poor, some other
version of it might not be and you are silly to too swiftly discard a line of thinking
just because its initial version is flawed. My only other cautions have been that
arguments might have more than one logical hole and that, when patching any
given hole, the replacement premise should be plausible (as it is hardly any service
to the conclusion to replace an argument that is illogical by an argument that is
logical but has an implausible premise) and in the spirit of the original line of
thinking. These are, however, sometimes competing demands that are placed upon


Reason and Professional Ethics

a prospective patch and not all three can always be met. If that happens, then make
sure that it is at least a logical patch and the other two demands are served as best
as possible and remaining problems will be sorted out at a later stage.
In closing, I will say one further thing. You will recall that I remarked earlier
that before they were seriously looked at, feral arguments should be made tame
and clear. My suggestion was that you simply do this automatically with any
argument you generate or come across. My suggestion here is that you similarly
automatically subject arguments to logic criticism and patch any logical holes that
you find in any such arguments.
So every argument should be automatically tidied and tightened up so that it is
tame and clear and logical.
However, being logical, although a desired feature for an argument to have, is
not sufficient for the satisfactoriness of an argument. As I illustrated earlier, you
might judge a perfectly logical argument to nonetheless give you dubious grounds
for accepting its conclusion. All that it takes is for it to be based upon premises that
you find unacceptable or, at least, doubtful. An argument for a given conclusion is
no better than the premises upon which it is based.
So, yes, if an argument has been offered as a contribution to your thinking on a
topic (including those that you have crafted), then check if it is logical and patch it
if it isnt. Just dont consider that that is the whole job of argument appraisal you
will also want to know if the premises are acceptable.
As will become clear, much of the discussion surrounding professional ethical
issues rotates around the acceptability of premises, particularly moral premises.
Getting the arguments logical is really a preliminary move to being able to focus
on premises in a productive way. It is to the task of premise appraisal that we turn

Chapter 5

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism:

Premise Criticism
Introductory Remarks
Clearly, whatever the topic is, you want the arguments upon which you might base
your judgements to be as sound as possible. Partly, as we saw in the last chapter,
this is a matter of them being logically tight, or valid. But, as noted earlier, it
is also a matter of the arguments starting points, or premises, being sound. No
argument is much support for its conclusion if its premises are to be rejected. Such
an argument would be built upon sand. To illustrate, say we had the following,
logically impeccable, argument.
MP All killers should be hanged.
DP Kathleen is a killer.
MC Kathleen should be hanged.

Despite it being logically valid, it would provide a very poor case for its conclusion
if you rejected the MP as unacceptable (what if, although someone had killed, it
was in self defence, should that person then be hanged?) or rejected the DP as
false (what if you know that Kathleen had an alibi for the time in question?). If
either premise is unacceptable, then the argument fails to support the conclusion
claim even though that claim (that Kathleen should be hanged) certainly logically
follows from the two premises.
So, how can one tell when arguments have poor premises? The quick answer
is: with difficulty. For some premises, it can be quite an elaborate affair trying
to appraise their soundness but you can only do the best job you can, in the time
available, according to how important the issue is to you.
One good way of seeing how good a premise is, is to try challenging that
premise. Try mounting a criticism against it and see if it can withstand that
criticism. So, what is it to mount a criticism against a premise? In essence, it is
to craft another argument, one targeted at the premise in question. In the sorts
of arguments which we will be examining, and considering creating, there will
commonly be two sorts of premise descriptive and moral (although some will
feature a conceptual premise we saw a case of this in Chapter 3 with S1*).
As I mentioned in the last chapter, I am lumping these premise types together
to contrast premise criticism and logic criticism, but it turns out that, within the

Reason and Professional Ethics


generic task of premise criticism, the sort of thing that one might appeal to in
criticizing a DP is different to that appealed to in criticizing an MP and different
again for a CP. As will emerge below, this is due to the distinct nature of these
propositional types.
Despite these differences, there is a similarity in the broad architecture of
premise criticism and I will outline that below.
To illustrate, lets try criticizing the premises of this argument:
MP Everyone should have freedom of thought on any matter.
CP To instil any belief on any matter into anyone is to interfere with that persons
freedom of thought on that matter.
DP All of St Crispins religious education curriculum instils religious belief in some
of its students.
MC None of St Crispins religious education curriculum should be taught to those

As you might guess, I crafted this argument so that it had a premise of each of our
main types (something that is unusual). I have also made sure that it is logical (try
an invalidity test: there is no way that one could deny the conclusion, yet accept
the premises, without contradiction).
I will work through criticizing each of these distinct types of premise in turn
beginning with criticism of the descriptive premise as my guess is that you are
more familiar with the task of criticizing descriptive propositions than criticizing
either of our other two types. I will also use discussion of this type of premise to
illustrate the common architecture of any premise criticism.
Key Ideas
Arguments can fail through having flawed logic and/or flawed premises. A key way
of appraising the worth of arguments premises is by subjecting them to criticism.
Although the broad approach to premise criticism is common across the three premise
types, the detail of what is mounted as a critical argument varies with those types.

So, how might one criticize the DP of 5-A1?

Descriptive Premise Criticism
To mount a criticism of DP is to argue that it is false. This means that the conclusion
of the critics argument will be some sort of opposite of the claim made by DP.

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Premise Criticism


(As usual, if you are crafting such an argument you are probably wise to portray it
ferally first, put it into initial structured form and then methodically make it tame
and clear and logical.) So, in this case, the opposing claim has to be something like
claiming that the curriculum does not instil religious belief (or not all of it does,
or ...). What could one have in mind here by way of a critical argument?
Well, you would have a better idea were this not to be a somewhat contrived
made-up example and you knew something about St Crispins but try this: say
that the truth were that they have changed their curriculum recently and although
it used to be successful by way of indoctrination of religious belief into students,
the new curriculum isnt. So, in effect, one would be suggesting that the authors
information about what the school was doing is out of date.
Or, as a separate line of complaint, one might simply deny that any instilling,
as opposed to attempted instilling, of belief actually results. In short, one might
accuse the curriculum of more ineffectiveness than the author seems to believe.
Or, as the claim is that all of the curriculum instils belief (at least in some
students) one might deny this as too sweeping by saying that only some of the
curriculum has that effect, that it is a mixed bag.
As I said, just what sort of criticism, if any, one would mount against DP would
depend on ones understanding of the facts of the matter and thus which aspect
of DP one considered open to dispute. Lets assume that our main hesitations
are along the lines of the mixed-bag point last mentioned. Given this, I might
criticize DP as follows:
Some of the St Crispins religious education curriculum does not instil religious
belief in any of its students because it merely portrays the history of the Christian

Laying this feral argument out as a tame and logical structure (and inserting a
missing premise) we get:
CDP1 Some of the St Crispins religious education curriculum merely portrays the
history of the Christian religion to students.
CDP2 To merely portray the history of some religion to students does not result in that
religion being instilled in any of the students.
CDC Not all of St Crispins religious education curriculum instils religious belief in
some of its students.

Have a look at this argument and you should see that it gives reasons for concluding
that the DP of 5-A1 is false.
As is familiar by now I trust, with descriptive premises the author is trying
to give a true description of the world. For many of the assertions that you will
be making, there will be a suitable research literature to consult. But has that

Reason and Professional Ethics


literature been properly accessed and understood? It is not uncommon for there to
be conflicting, or seemingly conflicting, suggestions from the literature on some
issue, especially if the phenomenon is complex. There is quite a skill to the sort of
research literacy that can tap into and apply such literature to some issue of interest.
The author simply might have got it wrong and descriptive premise criticism is an
opportunity to probe her claim perhaps by more sophisticated deployment of the
relevant research literature.
For instance, many of the arguments that crop up in discussions of problems
in professional ethics are what I called means/ends arguments. In such arguments
the descriptive premise linking the MP and the conclusion is usually some sort of
cause/effect claim. The cause/effect link might be overstated. Try this as such a
premise in some argument:
DP1 If one is cheated by a business then one does not return.

Plausibly, this is simply false and could be objected to by pointing to studies

establishing less sweeping claims in which some customers, even though cheated,
nonetheless return.
Key Ideas
In criticizing a descriptive premise, one argues that the author has got her facts
wrong. This involves crafting a critical argument the conclusion of which contradicts
the target arguments DP.

The Common Architecture of Premise Criticism

I said above that I would use the scenario of criticism of the descriptive premise
to illustrate the common architecture of the process of criticizing any type of
The major thing to note is that the conclusion of the critics argument (in the
above case, CDC for critics descriptive conclusion) is a form of contradiction
of the premise that is the target of criticism (in this case, the DP of 5-A1). If CDC
is true, then DP is false. This CDC contradicts DP, or, more generally, having the
critics arguments conclusion contradicting the target premise in the criticized
argument is the key feature of premise criticism of any sort. That point satisfied,
the rest of the critics argument (its premises) provides support for that denial.
Of course, having mounted a critical argument, one wants the critics argument,
like any other, to be tame and logical and clear. But it is not even worth checking
that it has all of these good features unless it is properly targeted. If its conclusion
is not on target in the sense of denying the target premise, then it isnt even
getting to first base by way of doing the task that it is supposed to be doing.

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Premise Criticism


Any argument advanced as an exercise in premise criticism had better be doing

just that premise criticism!
On this point, if you think back to the taming checklist of Chapter 3 (Checklist
Item 1: Is the Conclusion on Target?), I said that I would revisit this first of the
checklist items later in the book. This is one such later place. The critics arguments,
like any others, should be made tame, logical and clear. Recall that this was to be
an automatic tidy up of them as contributions to an enquiry. So, as soon as one had
laid ones feral criticism out as a tentative initial structure, one was to be carrying
out the checklist check of its tameness. The first item on that checklist is: Is the
conclusion on target?. What counts as the conclusion of the critics argument
being on target is that its conclusion contradicts the target premise (in the above
case, CDC contradicting DP of 5-A1). Perhaps Im over-labouring this point but
note it well; it is commonly lost sight of (and I will revisit it below).
To help avoid going down a mis-targeted side path, I suggest that you determine
the conclusion of the critics argument first and check that it is indeed on target
before going any further; only then craft your supporting case for that critical
Key Ideas
Dont forget: the conclusion of the critics premise criticism argument must
contradict the challenged, or target, premise of the argument being subjected to
premise criticism. To help ensure this, write down the conclusion of the critics
argument first and check that it does indeed deny the premise that it is supposed to.

So much for the general architecture of premise criticism. Lets see what such
criticism looks like when its target is one or other of our other two premise types.
Conceptual Premise Criticism
Challenging a conceptual premise has the same general architecture as challenging
a descriptive premise but the sort of thing going on in the challenge is different
because of the different type of premise being criticized. As that target premise
is a conceptual-type proposition, its denial (the critics arguments conclusion)
will also have to be conceptual-type. (A proposition of one type cant contradict a
proposition of another.)
So, compared to our above challenge to our DP, this time we wont be
disputing the authors factual claims. Rather, we will challenge her conception of
the connection between ideas. What do I mean by this? It is not easy to explain
briefly but here goes.


Reason and Professional Ethics

Basically, when one starts to challenge a conceptual premise, one is engaging

in an exercise usually called: conceptual analysis, an activity at the heart of
what is usually called: analytic philosophy. Becoming skilled at this is no mean
feat and is one of the objectives of most undergraduate philosophy majors. You
probably wont have time within your professional degree programme to build
up this competence to a high level. However, you can at least be attuned to the
fact that sometimes it is a conceptual premise, an assumption about the relations
among ideas, that is causing the problem and be familiar with at least some of the
skills used in criticizing such premises.
Lets look at our sample argument again.
MP Everyone should have freedom of thought on any matter.
CP To instil any belief on any matter into anyone is to interfere with that persons
freedom of thought on that matter.
DP All of St Crispins religious education curriculum instils religious belief in some
of its students.
MC None of St Crispins religious education curriculum should be taught to those

Look at this particular CP and youll see that the author is, in effect, claiming that
the idea of instilling a belief into someone is the opposite idea to that of letting a
person freely adopt their own beliefs. (In much the same way as the idea of being
a bachelor is, in part, an opposing idea to that of being married. I say in part
because part of the idea, for instance, being adult, is a shared, not an opposing,
To challenge CP of 5-A1 would be to suggest that somehow a person can
still have freedom of thought about, say, whether something like the Christian
god exists or is just a myth even though he has had instilled into his mind the
belief that such an entity does exist. On the face of it, CP sounds unchallengeable.
How is it even conceivable that one could be programmed with a belief yet still
have free choice as to whether to believe it or not? And, indeed, it might well be
simply unchallengeable. Not every (or even any) premise in a given argument is
always plausibly disputable. (Were all bachelors are unmarried to be a conceptual
premise in some argument or other, then it would presumably be indisputable.)
The present case is an interesting one however. It all depends on what precisely
is meant by freedom of thought concerning a belief and by instilling a belief.
Id like to spend a little time on this as what we are calling conceptual premises
are sometimes the focus of much complex and important philosophical discussion,
not just in professional ethical controversies, and getting them right can involve an
unusual attention to understanding the concepts in play.
I said back in Chapter 3 that, once one has a tame structure in place, one should
take pains to ensure that what has been said is clear. To that end, one might end

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Premise Criticism


up with some sort of clarificatory comments (working definitions as I called

them) as an aside to the main flow of argument. We didnt actually do this in
the case of 5-A1. Say that we had done so and that what was offered was as
follows: by instilling a belief what I mean is causing someone to come to hold
a belief without rationally persuading them of its truth and by freedom of thought
concerning a belief I mean being able to accept or reject that belief without being
swayed by any non-rational influence concerning it.
On the face of it, instilling a belief and having freedom of thought about that
belief are thus opposed ideas and CP indeed looks unchallengeable. Maybe not,
though. The working definitions are not quite as clear as they might be on one
matter time. Mightnt I have belief in God instilled in me as a child and then,
later, have other inputs to my thinking that negate that influence such that I end up
exercising freedom of thought on the issue? In short, could I have theism instilled
at one time but come to freely endorse atheism later? If so, if both can occur,
then to instil belief on some matter into someone at one point in time does not
(automatically) interfere with that persons freedom of thought on that matter at
every later point in time.
So, given that the authors clarifications made no reference to time limitations,
the following argument in criticism of CP might be raised:
CDP1 It is psychologically possible for one to have a belief instilled in one and then
to have countervailing (non-rational) influences of sufficient strength operate so as to
cancel out that influence.
CCP1 If the non-rational influences upon ones belief formation are equally balanced
then one has freedom of thought with respect to adoption of that belief.
CCC A belief on some matter can be instilled into someone at one point in time
without that (automatically) interfering with that persons freedom of thought on that
matter at some later point in time.

As it happens, the sort of discussion that might continue on concerning this

particular conceptual issue is quite rich and complex but our discussion of the
treatment of such extended enquiries is a matter for the next chapter, not this one.
At this stage, I simply wish to have illustrated how a criticism of a conceptual
premise might go and to have alerted you to the subtlety of the issues involved in
many such disputes. Again, note the key relationship between 5-CA2 and 5-A1.
The conclusion (CCC) of the critics 5-CA2 contradicts the conceptual premise
(CP) that was its target claim within 5-A1.
Some philosophical discussion of ethical topics rotates around the acceptability
of various conceptual premises in arguments and concerns possible revisions to
our understanding of the concepts involved in the face of challenge. It is common
for conceptual refinements to arise as a result of such, sometimes quite extended,
discussion. The subject matter of our example is a case in point. What ends up as a


Reason and Professional Ethics

good conception of freedom of thought and what its relationship is with inputs to
someones thinking (perhaps particularly at an early age) is a vexed and complex
issue and, although we wont pursue the discussion here, it is an important one that
arises in a number of professional ethical contexts.
We could spend more time on this but I will simply refer you to standard
undergraduate philosophy texts if you want to develop the skills of conceptual
analysis any further. Fortunately, although there are professional ethical problems
where conceptual muddle is a major problem and conceptual analysis the key tool
in resolving the problem, for much of the time careful attention to providing what
we called working definitions suffices for enquiry to be able to proceed profitably
if the major foci for concern in an argument are its DP or MP especially the
Key Ideas
In conceptual premise criticism, the task is not to dispute the authors grasp of the
facts but to dispute her understanding of the relationships between ideas. The focus
is not upon what the world is like but upon the interrelationship of the meanings of
various key terms.

Moral Premise Criticism

Generally, this is the most important form of premise criticism for our purposes.
I have found that students are fairly unfamiliar with the task of criticizing
arguments moral premises and tend to want to concentrate on the descriptive
premises. As far as I can ascertain, this is because engaging in disputes as to what
the facts are is familiar ground and, for many issues in professional ethics, safe
and easy ground in that there is a research literature out there to draw upon
in settling what the truth actually is. Mind you, conceptual premise criticism is,
like moral premise criticism, an unfamiliar and difficult task. Although there is a
philosophical literature out there on many of the issues that arise in professional
ethical dilemmas (for instance, in the abortion and euthanasia debates a key
conceptual issue is what counts as a person) the literature is forbiddingly complex
for non-philosophers. Fortunately, for most (not all, try the abortion debate just
mentioned) issues in applied ethics, conceptual concerns dont loom large. As
noted earlier, with some careful attention to supplying what we called working
definitions, things can be kept clear enough for the purpose of sorting through the
particular problem at hand.
So, descriptive premise criticism is relatively familiar and conceptual premise
criticism is not common. Accordingly, the key task in sorting out ones position
concerning most problems in professional ethics is not so much getting ones facts
straight and conceptual framework well sorted, it is getting ones set of moral

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Premise Criticism


values well enough worked out so that they can be confidently applied to the issue
at hand.
Normally, you will have several moral principles (some clashing with others)
that bear on an issue. Sorting out ones deeper moral priorities among these
principles so that they are in good enough shape to guide decision on the issue
at hand is no minor task. As a quick illustration, say that the issue in question is
one of disclosing the content of a psychotherapists consultation conversations.
One might have several values that bear on this issue. One such value might be a
commitment to the confidentiality of such conversations (a bit like our earlier case
of police and informers but with some different elements). Another value might
be a commitment to the elimination of serious crime. These values can clearly
compete if, in the course of a professional consultation, there is disclosure of sexual
abuse of a minor by the client. Sorting out ones priorities is a complex matter and
one element in performing that task is raising and considering criticisms of various
values when they are appealed to as moral premises in various arguments put
forward on some topic.
Key Ideas
Professional ethical decisions rest upon ones values but those values are likely to
be conflicting. Sorting out ones priorities among them involves critical appraisal of
those values and a key element in that is moral premise criticism of values that occur
as Moral Premises in ones arguments.

So, how might moral premise criticism go?

The Mechanics of Moral Premise Criticism
In broad architecture, a criticism of moral premises is the same as any other sort
of premise criticism. So, this means that the critic is to craft an argument that has,
as its conclusion, some claim that contradicts the target MP. As an example of this,
lets return to our example argument 5-A1:
MP Everyone should have freedom of thought on any matter.
CP To instil any belief on any matter into anyone is to interfere with that persons
freedom of thought on that matter.
DP All of St Crispins religious education curriculum instils religious belief in some
of its students.
MC None of St Crispins religious education curriculum should be taught to those

Reason and Professional Ethics


One way of criticizing this MP would be as follows: Perhaps on some matters

(some central moral or religious beliefs perhaps) some people should not have
freedom of thought because it is too important that they end up with the right
answer and, if left their own devices, some people would end up with the wrong
answer. So, laying this feral argument out as a tame and logical structure, we get:
CMP On some matters, it is more important that as many people as possible have a
particular belief than that the belief is arrived at as a result of freedom of thought.
CDP If everyone had freedom of thought on any matter, then more people than is
avoidable would end up not having such beliefs on some such matters.
CMC On some such matters, some people should not have freedom of thought.

It is worth noting a general feature of such moral premise criticism. Have a look
at what is going on in 5-CA3. Note that, in the critics moral premise (CMP), you
have something else (people having some particular beliefs) valued more than the
driving value of the original MP of 5-A1 (that is, unrestricted freedom of thought)
at least in some matters. The critics own driving value is being articulated as CMP.
Then, in the critics CDP, we learn that, at least sometimes, the critics value and
the authors do clash (giving people freedom of thought wouldnt always result in
the wanted beliefs).
In effect, what the critic is saying to the author of 5-A1 is: Look, the trouble
with your unrestricted commitment to freedom of thought is that some people will
sometimes choose to have the wrong thoughts and isnt that sometimes worse than
some loss of freedom when the issue is an important one?.
Or, put more generally, the tactic is to say something like Your value sometimes
clashes with this value (CDP) and this value is more important (CMP).
Partial Denials
It is worth highlighting one feature of MP criticism, one that is exemplified above.
Note the scale of the clash between MP and CMC. All that the critic is doing is,
in effect, arguing that MP is too sweepingly general and that, in some situations,
something other than freedom of thought (believing some important truths, in our
example) is more important. What is offered in CMC is what I will call a partial
denial of MP; note that what is not said in CMC is some more extreme denial of
MP like: No one should have freedom of thought on any matter.
Generally speaking, such partial denials are good practice whether we have a
dialogue between two actual people (the author/speaker and the critic) or you
are engaging in self-criticism.
Consider a two-person dialogue. As we shall see in the next chapter, teasing
out a well-thought-through case on some issue can be quite involved and it will
usually help that process of thorough enquiry if the critic doesnt effectively

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Premise Criticism


say: Your premise is totally wrong but offers some less extreme rejection by
mounting a critical argument to the effect that the premise in question is wrong to
some extent (part of the time, or for some people, or in some ways or situations,
or whatever).
If you are in soliloquy and engaging in self-criticism, then arguing that you
have got some premise totally wrong is hardly as plausible a way of having a
productive rethink about things as would exploring a partial denial in which you
explore the possibility that you have got things a bit wrong.
So, the rule of thumb is that partial denials are usually the preferred way
of challenging possibly unsatisfactory premises. That said, there will no doubt
be situations (most likely dialogical ones unless you are seriously intellectually
schizoid) where an extreme denial is exactly what you want to do. Even so,
engaging in a partial denial style of criticism might nonetheless be your best
chance of having a productive dialogue in which the author reconsiders her
views instead of becoming overly defensive.
Although I have raised this issue within a section on moral criticism, the
above discussion carries across to criticisms of our other two types of premise
proposition as well.
Key Ideas
As with any premise criticism, the conclusion of the critics argument should be
a form of denial of the target premise (in this case a moral premise). The general
strategy of such a criticism is that the critics moral premise advances some other,
more important (at least some of the time, for some people etc.) and rival value and
the critics descriptive premise proposes that his value clashes with the authors.
Engaging in partial denial of a target MP is generally advised (the same rule of
thumb applies to criticism of descriptive premises and conceptual premises).

Summary to Date
So far, I have said that there are only two things that can go wrong with the reasoning
that someone offers in support of some judgement on an issue of professional
ethical concern (or with any argument on anything, for that matter). One is that it
has a logical fault we discussed this in the last chapter. The other is that one (or
more) of its premises is unsatisfactory. It is the second sort of possible fault that
has been the concern of this chapter. If there is something unsatisfactory about a
premise, then it should be able to be exposed by successful criticism. To criticize it
is to mount an argument against it, an argument that has, as its conclusion, a claim
that contradicts the target premise.


Reason and Professional Ethics

Remember that an argument might be vulnerable to criticism of more than one

of its premises (or just one, or none) but even if they are all dubious (as with 5-A1)
their criticism should occur separately otherwise things become a muddled mess.
Although the general architecture of premise criticism is similar regardless
of the premise type under challenge, the particular task of the critics argument
varies with the type of premise. Arguments on professional ethical topics might
contain premises of any of our three basic proposition types (descriptive, moral
and conceptual). Given the distinct nature of propositions of these three types,
arguments critical of one type will differ in key ways from those critical of other
types. The sort of consideration one would be basing an argument criticizing a
descriptive premise on would be different from the sort of thing a criticism of the
conceptual premise would be based on and moral premise criticism would employ
a different basis of dispute yet again.
Of the three types, I said that moral premise criticism was usually the most
central task. In this case, the general tactic for the critic is to advance some
other value which, at least sometimes (for some people etc.), is considered more
important than the authors MP (all of which gets expressed as the critics CMP)
and which, to at least some extent, clashes with that MP (with that clash articulated
as the critics CDP). In effect, the critic is challenging the soundness of the moral
values that the authors case rests upon by appealing to rival values. I also stressed
the tactical merits of partial, as opposed to more extreme, denials of the target MP
by the critics CMC.
In criticism of a descriptive premise, one is offering reasons for thinking that
the authors case rests upon a misunderstanding of the relevant facts. In criticism
of a conceptual premise, one is arguing that the author misunderstands some key
concept or relationship among concepts.
In all of this remember that although, for convenience, I talk of an author and
a critic, the situation might not be one of dialogue between two minds but one of
self-criticism with you playing both roles. It is part of thinking thoroughly about
some issue to ask things like: I wonder if I have my facts straight, or: I wonder
if the concepts I am using are well-enough understood or: I wonder if the moral
principles that I have some sort of commitment to will turn out to bear on this issue
in more complicated and possibly conflicting ways than I now realize. Exploring
any of these matters leads to one or other of our tasks of premise criticism getting
carried out.
So much for the basics of premise criticism. In what remains of this chapter, I
wish to re-emphasize the avoidance of a common error, do a little bit of extension
on the idea of premise criticism and talk about the other side of the coin of premise
appraisal: premise defence as opposed to criticism.

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Premise Criticism


Premise Criticism a Common Error

At the risk of labouring a point, I would like to spend some more time on what is
a common student fault (Im not quite sure why). We touched upon this in the last
chapter but it bears repetition.
Remember that premise criticism is one form of critically probing the reasoning
given by an author in support of her judgement (with the latter appearing as the
arguments conclusion). Recall also that I just reminded you that only two things
can go wrong with an arguments reasoning. One is that it has faulty premises:
in premise criticism, one is investigating whether one or other of the premises
is faulty. But what about the conclusion couldnt one criticize the conclusion
directly by mounting an argument against it?
Well, one could and, as I have noted, students commonly do; but to do that is
to ignore totally the reasoning offered by the author. It is as if one has said: Never
mind what youve said, Im not carrying out any scrutiny of the worth of your
supporting reasoning, Im just going to ignore it and advance my own argument
for the opposing conclusion just as if you had never spoken. You have mounted
a for argument on the topic and I am going to mount an against argument on
the topic. In our example argument, I would not (under the heading of moral
premise criticism) be at all fulfilling that task by challenging MC: None of St
Crispins religious education curriculum should be taught to students in whom it
will instil religious belief, such that my critics argument had, as its conclusion,
CMC*: Some of St Crispins religious education curriculum should be taught to
some students in whom it will instil religious belief.
What results if one stays focused constantly in this way on generating
arguments that bear directly on the topic issue with their conclusion propositions
is that the discussion/enquiry becomes cluttered with a bunch of arguments for
and against some proposal but without any appraisal as to whether any of the
arguments that have been generated are any good. Surely its not enough to just
keep generating an unappraised string of arguments on a topic; one should wish
to know which arguments are worth taking any notice of. Such generation of
mere breadth, instead of depth, of enquiry is a waste of time (except as a sort of
preliminary brainstorming exercise prior to more serious thought). Eventually,
if an argument on the topic of interest is presented, you will have to spend some
time working out the merits of that argument and that means, in part, considering
whether its premises are open to plausible criticism. Once its fate gets sorted out
after some (probably quite extended) examination and enquiry, you might indeed
get on to other distinct arguments bearing directly on the original topic. My point
is simply that you cant profitably have a series of arguments that bear directly on
your topic under examination at once.
So, criticism of any given argument focuses on the rationale that that argument
presents for its conclusion. I want now to point out that, if you are careful and
methodical, this conclusion-denying error simply should not ever arise.

Reason and Professional Ethics


Earlier, when we were talking about taming a structure by methodical checking

using a checklist, the initial question was: Is the conclusion on target?
You should be able to avoid the above error of misdirected criticism of a
given arguments conclusion by paying proper attention to this checklist item as it
applies to the critics argument. The target for the conclusion of a critics premisecriticism argument is a premise! so you would expect to see his conclusion
being the denial of the target premise not the denial of the authors arguments
conclusion. As doing just that (criticizing the conclusion rather than a premise)
is the common student error under discussion, doing this checklist item properly
should detect the problem if you have been unthinking enough to commit this
Key Ideas
Premise criticism is just that. The target of such criticism is some premise or other of
an argument, not its conclusion. Exercise discipline and properly check your critical
offerings targeting before moving on.

Argument Failure and the Fate of the Conclusion

This section is a bit of an aside and doesnt sit totally comfortably within this
chapter but it seems around the right place to be introducing the issue. Say that
you had decided that an argument had a faulty premise (or, for that matter, was
unpatchably illogical). To decide that is to decide that that argument fails in its
task of establishing its conclusion satisfactorily.
It might well be that, although a given supporting argument fails, and fails in
any version that you can think of, there is some other, quite distinct, line of support
that fares better. For instance, say that you had considered the following argument
in support of the proposition that one should not ever tell lies.
MP We should always do what God commands.
DP God commands us to not ever tell lies.
MC We should not ever tell lies.

Upon reflection upon some criticism of MP (say by an argument that deploys

as its CMP the rival value: No moral agent should lose any autonomy of moral
decision-making by being subservient to the moral prescriptions of any other
moral agent), you find that you cannot endorse MP any more. (This stage would
probably take a while to reach rather than happen after a criticism being simply
expressed but we will ignore such complexities for now; such matters are the
business of the next chapter.)

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Premise Criticism


In effect then, as a case for MC, you judge the above argument to be a failure.
But just because this argument has failed doesnt automatically mean that no case
for saying that one should never tell lies, one of a more satisfactory sort, cant
be advanced. You might be able to think up some quite different line of support
for the same conclusion and that different case might fare better under critical
scrutiny. (Such a case might be something along the lines of saying that one should
not ever tell lies because the telling of lies helps to destroy social trust and social
trust should be preserved as much as possible.)
However, unless there is indeed some other, quite distinct, argument that
can be advanced that fares better, the conclusion would be unsupported. Mind
you, even if one can think of no satisfactory argument for the conclusion, it does
not mean that the conclusion is wrong. Just because some proposition is without
adequate defence does not mean that there is anything wrong with it, it is just that
you dont have grounds for thinking that there is anything right with it. There are
many descriptive propositions, in particular, that are simply beyond our power to
have any satisfactory grounds for belief in them.
As a possible illustration, and staying with religion for the moment, take the
vexed issue of the existence, or otherwise, of God. Now, take the proposition God
exists. Assume for the moment something that you might wish to dispute with
me, that is, that there is no successful argument in support of that proposition.
That is, any argument one might advance would be either illogical or based upon
premises open to successful criticism. Even if this were so, that would not mean
that the proposition God exists is false. It might be true even if we were to have
no good reason to believe that it is.
Mind you, if a proposition were to be unsupported by any satisfactory
argumentation as far as you could see, this should give you some pause for
thought about any temptation to accept it.
Key Ideas
Argument failure is not conclusion failure, just failure of that particular line of
justification for accepting that conclusion. Sustained failure of any argument to
satisfactorily support such a given conclusion should, however, be of concern.

A Common Critical Technique

One technique (not the only one) for mounting a challenge to a premise is to probe
it with what are usually called counter-examples. What, then, is a counter-example?
You are probably already familiar with the broad idea from past discussions about
descriptive and moral propositions. Let me illustrate: As a descriptive proposition,
try the following:

Reason and Professional Ethics


All British generals to date have been incompetent.

This could be challenged by advancing the following as a counter-example to this

The Duke of Wellington was a British general and was not incompetent.

(Of course, weaving this in as part of a properly structured critics argument would
be a bit more elaborate than that.)
As a moral proposition, try the following:
All lying is wrong.

This could be challenged by advancing the following as a counter-example to this

Lying to save an innocent persons life is not wrong.

In this case, I shall bother to portray the structured critical argument in full because
much debate on professional ethical matters rotates around the acceptability of
MPs as opposed to other types of premise. I suggest initial structuring of our above
feral criticism as follows:
CMP It is more important to save an innocent persons life than it is to tell the truth.
CDP Sometimes the only way to save an innocent persons life is to lie.
CMC Not all lying is wrong.

A couple of comments, note that this fits our earlier discussion of criticism of MPs.
In the critics CMP we get another value advanced as more important than the one
appealed to in the authors MP. Then, in the critics CDP, it is pointed out that the
two values clash. They do not clash all of the time (so it is not as if we conclude
that lying is always wrong) but they do some of the time hence our conclusion. It
also complies with my earlier suggestion that it is usually a better tactic to mount
a partial denial criticism that disagrees a little bit with its target premise rather
than rejects it out of hand.
So far, so obvious, I hope. The same tactic can be deployed in criticism of a
conceptual premise; say such a premise was the following:
All members of the species Homo Sapiens are persons.

This could be challenged by advancing the following as a counter-example to this


Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Premise Criticism


Those members of the species Homo Sapiens born with no cortical functioning
are not persons.

I trust that you get the general idea. If you look back to the section Descriptive
Premise Criticism you should be able to see that the style of criticism that we
mounted there exemplifies this sort of raising of a counter-example.
Note that what is happening in such a form of criticism is that one is disagreeing
a little bit with the target premise. It is an instance of what I earlier called partial
denial; one is not mounting an extreme right to the other end of the spectrum
denial of the target premise. For instance, in the above challenge to a possible
conceptual premise, the critic is not suggesting that no members of the species
Homo Sapiens are persons just that some are not. As discussed earlier, such limited
criticism, or partial denial, is usually a sensible thing in an enquiry if it is to
progress profitably.
Key Ideas
One common tactic in critical challenge to a rather sweepingly general premise is to
appeal to counter-examples. Such a challenge has the merit of constituting a partial
denial, not an extreme rejection, of the original proposition.

Premise Defence
Although the opposite of premise criticism, Im going to talk about premise
defence in this chapter as it is the other basic skill involved in premise appraisal
and sits here as well as anywhere.
What premise defence amounts to is adding on an extra bit of argumentation
that has an existing premise as its conclusion. Once this is done, you would have a
better idea of where an argument is coming from, of the deeper story that is driving
the author. Each of our three basic proposition types might occur as premises in
an argument and each type of premise (a CP, an MP, a DP) might be one that you
wish to see receive some support or defence. How might this go? Lets return to
our sample argument and try defending each of its premises in turn.


Reason and Professional Ethics

MP Everyone should have freedom of thought on any matter.
CP To instil any belief on any matter into anyone is to interfere with that persons
freedom of thought on that matter.
DP All of St Crispins religious education curriculum instils religious belief in some
of its students.
MC None of St Crispins religious education curriculum should be taught to those

Descriptive Premise Defence

A feral defence of the above DP might go as follows: it is true that all of St
Crispins religious education curriculum instils religious belief in some of its
students because a survey was carried out on its students and this was the result of
the survey. Laid out as a structured argument we might have the following:
DP1 All surveys correctly report the nature of the phenomena that they are
DP2 A survey of St Crispins students indicated that all of St Crispins religious
education curriculum instils religious belief in some of its students.
DP All of St Crispins religious education curriculum instils religious belief in some
of its students.

What has happened in this argument is that we have been given some grounds for
holding the proposition DP to be true. In effect, an appeal has been made to the
relevant research literature and that is a common line of support for descriptive
propositions occurring in discussions of professional ethical issues. Note also that
this case crucially rests upon a fairly sweeping assumption about the reliability
of surveys (in DP1). This might, as the enquiry continues to unfold, prove to be a
concern with the satisfactoriness of this defence.
Conceptual Premise Defence
A feral defence of the above CP might go as follows: to have freedom of thought
on some matter is for ones views on that matter to be ones that one has arrived
at as a result of ones own thinking and if a belief is instilled into a person then
that person has arrived at it as a result of that process of instilling as opposed to
it being the result of their own thinking; so, to instil any belief on some matter
into someone is to interfere with that persons freedom of thought on that matter.
Structured, we get:

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Premise Criticism


CP1 To have freedom of thought on some matter is for ones views on that matter to
be ones that one has arrived at as a result of ones own thinking.
CP2 If a belief is instilled into a person then it is not the result of their own thinking.
CP To instil any belief on any matter into anyone is to interfere with that persons
freedom of thought on that matter.

What has happened in this particular argument is that we have had each of the key
ideas, or concepts, in the original CP (instilling belief and freedom of thought)
unpacked in meaning a little bit by appeal to a third concept a view being arrived
at as a result of ones own thinking in a way that supports the opposition of ideas
expressed in the original CP. (Mind you, the plot will thicken as soon as one ponders
a little bit upon what counts as a belief being a result of ones own thinking.)
Moral Premise Defence
A feral defence of the above MP might go as follows: humanity should maximize its
capacity to challenge any of its ideas so everyone should have freedom of thought
on any matter because, if they didnt, then humanity would not be maximizing its
capacity to challenge any of its ideas. Laid out as a structured argument we might
have the following:
MP1 Humanity should maximize its capacity to challenge any of its ideas.
DP1 Unless everyone has freedom of thought on any matter, humanity will not be
maximizing its capacity to challenge any of its ideas.
MP Everyone should have freedom of thought on any matter.

What has happened in this argument is that we have had the original commitment
to quite sweeping freedom of thought supported by appealing to something that
that freedom of thought is good for (it exemplifies what we called earlier a means/
ends argument).
Argument Chains
One way of thinking about what has occurred above when we have defended one
or other of the premises of an argument is to employ the metaphor of a chain. As
you realize, chains have links and different lengths of chain might have different
numbers of links. Think of an individual argument such as 5-A1 as forming a single
link. When one of its premises, say, DP, is defended (by deployment of 5-DA1) the
two arguments can be seen as joining in the manner of two links of a chain. The
connection in this case is DP. DP plays two roles. In 5-DA1, it is the conclusion, or

Reason and Professional Ethics


end point, of the argument; in 5-A1 it is one of the premises, or starting points, of
the argument. In effect, it is the overlapping element, a proposition present in each
component argument although playing a different role in each. One could portray
the argument and the defence of one of its premises as one longer, more elaborate,
structure: a chained argument of two links:
DP1 All surveys correctly report the nature of the phenomena that they are
DP2 A survey of St Crispins students indicated that all of St Crispins religious
education curriculum instils religious belief in some of its students.
DP All of St Crispins religious education curriculum instils religious belief in some
of its students.
MP Everyone should have freedom of thought on any matter.
CP To instil any belief on any matter into anyone is to interfere with that persons
freedom of thought on that matter.
MC None of St Crispins religious education curriculum should be taught to those

I had to change the order of the premises in 5-A1 to lay the whole chain out in
a neat linear way but, as you should remember, this makes no difference to the
logical power of those premises to entail their conclusion it is just a stylistic
thing which way round DP, MP and CP are listed. Of course, were we to wish to
portray the defence of more than one of our premise propositions, we could not
do it as a nice neat linear chain as above and the metaphor breaks down a little
bit. Still, it is not a bad way of thinking about things for any given premise that is
being defended.
Key Ideas
To defend, or support, a premise is to craft another argument which has, as its
conclusion, the premise to be defended.

Summary Remarks
In this chapter we have focused upon premises, the starting points of arguments,
the component elements of the rationale given for a given arguments conclusion.
The suggestion is that it is not enough for an argument to be logical, an arguments
worth as a case for its conclusion is only as good as the worth of its premises.

Subjecting Arguments to Criticism: Premise Criticism


Accordingly, one task in appraising an argument as a contribution to an enquiry is

to appraise its premises.
One good way to begin to appraise a premise, especially if it is a premise in
an argument that you favour, is to try criticizing it. To criticize a premise is to
argue against it. The premises of an argument can be of any of our proposition
types. These types are different and require different sorts of considerations to be
appealed to in arguing against them.
Another possible move in the appraisal of a premise is to explore its defence,
to argue for it.
In effect, this chapter is basically the last in which I introduce you to basic
skills of reasoning at the individual argument level (although in Chapter 7 I do
introduce a number of complications at the level of individual arguments). But
enquiring thoroughly into a professional ethical issue will involve more than a
scattering of individual arguments or even of those arguments and a criticism or
a defence of one or other of their premises. Rather, there will be a web of such
argumentation with the individual arguments constituting that web connected
together in thoughtful and deliberate ways so that an enquiry builds complexity,
depth and thoroughness. It is the task of the next chapter to introduce to you this
sort of thoughtful and deliberate, in-depth, enquiry.

This page has been left blank intentionally

Chapter 6

Extended Reasoning: the Basics

Moving beyond Sub-skills
This chapter is a turning point in the book. So far, I have been running through
some basic sub-skills and some basic logical theory; lets briefly review that.
We distinguished merely asserting a point from providing an argument for it.
Arguments are the basic building blocks of an enquiry. We noted that any argument
is comprised of propositions providing premises and a conclusion.
We distinguished three basic types of propositions (moral, descriptive and
conceptual) and a couple of more complicated ones (mixed and ambiguous).
We observed that most attempts at portraying arguments were pretty rough
and ready and learned how to portray such feral attempts in a structured form
and then to methodically deploy a checklist to tame such structures and working
definitions to clarify them (and remember that you would want the same assigned
meaning for some term or phrase to be consistent within an argument and, indeed,
a whole enquiry, or muddle is the result).
We then moved from argument portrayal to argument appraisal. As repeatedly
noted, only two things can go wrong with an argument its starting points, the
premises, or the (hopefully logical) move from them to its finishing point, the
conclusion. The first possible problem that we considered was the issue of the
logical validity of arguments. Some common logical errors were outlined, a
technique for general logic criticism introduced (the invalidity test) and the point
was made that there wasnt much sense in simply pointing out the logical holes in
an argument. Of more use in an enquiry is fixing up the faults found patching
the holes as we put it.
I suggested that any argument that was advanced in an enquiry at any point
should be automatically made tame and logical and clear as a standard tidy up. So,
criticizing an arguments reasoning (and patching up logical holes) would be part
of this automatic TLC suite of checks.
The other possible focus for criticism is one or other of an arguments premises.
Accordingly, you have been introduced to the skills of premise criticism and, as a
counterpart activity in the broader task of premise appraisal, premise defence.
And that takes us to the end of the last chapter.
While it is good to be able to competently perform the above tasks, such
competence is but a fragment of the competence required to pursue an enquiry
profitably. An enquiry is a whole edifice and the above tasks are at the individual
brick level or, at most, the level of a couple of bricks. The business of this chapter
is to begin exploring how to string a bunch of such arguments together to constitute


Reason and Professional Ethics

an in-depth enquiry that investigates in a sustained way some particular topic of

a professional ethical sort. To continue our metaphor, the task now is putting the
bricks together to make a cathedral of learning (with apologies to the University
of Pittsburgh). It gets quite involved, so be prepared to have to pause periodically
to go back and find your feet before moving on again. Also, be prepared to read
and reread the chapter. Sometimes youll see a bit of exposition bracketed by the
lead in: An aside and the closure: End of aside. I use these when I dont want
to leave the impression that things mightnt be more complex than the simpler
track that we are following but dont really want you to fuss too much about it at
this stage if it diverts you from the main flow. My advice is to skip these asides
initially if you are struggling to keep track of what becomes rather complicated as
we go through the chapter and return to them later. However, if you are happily
enough following the unfolding story and feel that you wouldnt be thrown by
reading them, you might want to read them as you go just for completeness of the
A Little Bit of Scene-setting
As just noted, a thoughtful investigation of almost any topic is more than just the
advancing of an argument (or even several) in favour of your position, however
competently crafted they are. Moreover, if you are in critic mode, then that
involves more than the mounting of a single critical argument, no matter how ably
that is carried out. A thoughtful investigation involves a quite elaborate to and
fro of argumentation as you think your way through a labyrinth of intertwined
and competing arguments. As you might expect, there are better and worse ways
of working your way through these complexities. As you might also expect, given
what has gone before, the best way of doing it is with a great deal of rather selfconscious thought. The best way of having high-quality thinking is to think about
your thinking as you are carrying it out and to very explicitly and deliberately plan
your enquiry as you work your way through it. All of which raises the question:
how does one think about ones thinking in this way? There is no set recipe;
however there are some useful guidelines and it is the task of this chapter to briefly
introduce them to you.
Its worth making clear from the very beginning that two enquirers of equal
logical skill, each thinking about the same topic, and even with each starting off
with exactly the same initial tamed argument structure on the topic, might diverge
wildly as the investigation of that topic unfolds. Just how this might occur will
emerge as we work through the chapter; I mention it now merely to disabuse you
of any idea that there is anything mechanical in the employment of our techniques
in the pursuit of your enquiries. Also at this stage, I wish to introduce one term
that Ill be employing frequently in what follows. The term is: metacognition
(and others in its word family: metacognitive, metacognize etc.). Cognition
is the process of knowing and meta is a prefix meaning above or beyond.

Extended Reasoning: the Basics


The thinking that you will be carrying out (the arguments, the criticisms and so
forth) amounts to your acts of (attempted) cognition on the topic under investigation.
It is that argumentation that (eventually) leads you to know your position on the
topic. But as well as doing that cognizing, you should periodically metacognize
as well, that is, stand back from your thinking and reflect upon just what is going
on. Doing this allows you to keep track of what has happened and to work out
what the appropriate next move is in your enquiry. And what the appropriate next
move should be depends in large part upon the enquirer; two enquirers reflecting
upon the same enquiry history to date can decide to move the enquiry forward in
different directions. Why? because of the different mix of beliefs and values and
priorities in their heads. So, where a given enquiry goes next is not automatically
determined, it depends upon the enquirer; there is usually a best direction for a
given enquirer, but not one for every enquirer. Your job as enquirer is to learn how
to manage a complicated enquiry in a manner that gives you your best answer on
the matter at hand. The sub-skills already covered give you the basic tools to use,
competent metacognitive controlling of the enquiry tells you when to use which
tool. So lets proceed to discuss that in more detail.
As I said above, enquiries will take different paths depending on the enquirers
choices at various points and I cant possibly illustrate all of these possibilities.
So, what I will do is illustrate the process with just one enquiry with the enquirer
making particular choices as to how it goes and pass comment on other possibilities
by the way (sometimes detached as an aside). I will also assume that, although I
speak of author and critic, they are both you. That is, you are an enquirer trying
to think an issue through thoroughly and, as part of that, critically probing your
own thinking being, if you like, in dialogue with yourself as you try to explore
and resolve conflicts in your thinking by being a self-critic. Of course you might
also be in dialogue with another person but, if so, Ill assume that the task is the
same working out the best answer (as opposed to beating the opposition) and
most of what Ill say applies straight across.
Key Ideas
An extended ethical enquiry is more than a single argument; it is a disciplined and
metacognitively thoughtful affair in which a succession of unfolding argumentative
moves are connected in a deliberate way.

Getting Started
Any enquiry in professional ethics begins with a problem, one probably best put
in the form of a question. So, one might, for instance, ask: Is it ever legitimate for
a nurse to lie to a patient?.

Reason and Professional Ethics


Clearly, there are many arguments that might be advanced to directly support
yes or no answers to this question. Clearly also, a thorough treatment of the
issue probably means that you will end up investigating quite a spread of such
arguments. But it is a bad idea to try to raise them all at once. By all means
brainstorm so that you get a feeling for the spread of for and against arguments
directly on the issue under examination but you cant talk about them all at once.
A rigorous enquiry has to start somewhere, but it cant start everywhere!
So, having brainstormed a few feral arguments, it will probably strike you that
some seem more central and important than others. My suggestion is to choose
one of the lines of thinking that seem right at the core of things (at least, for you
others may differ). This may be a for or an against argument. So, take one such
argument and portray it properly (using our full automatic TLC suite of checks
and adjustments).
Concerning the question about the propriety of nurses lying that was raised
above, say that a key issue was considered to be patient welfare and this led to the
following argument:
MP1 All nurses primary professional obligation is to maximize the welfare of each
of their patients.
DP1 Sometimes, in order to maximize a patients welfare, it is necessary for a nurse
to lie to them about their medical condition.
MC1 On such occasions, nurses should lie to their patients about their medical

Of course, you would have to clarify that the obligation meant was moral, not
legal, and also say what counted as a patients welfare. Say that you gave a working
definition of this along the lines of equating their welfare with their physical
health. So, maximizing their welfare would amount to acting so as to have them as
physically healthy as possible (over their remaining lifespan).
Key Ideas
Enquiries into a topic cant be entered everywhere but have to be entered somewhere
this best occurs with an initial argument that seems to lie at the heart of the issues.

Now, what happens next?

Extended Reasoning: the Basics


What Next? Some Metacognition Following an Initial Argument

So far, this is all familiar sub-skill stuff from previous chapters. What next? How
to go from stating one argument, however central and important, to developing
an extended enquiry that goes beyond that? It is just conceivable that an initial
argument (say, our above one) is so undeniably wonderful that you are bowled
over by it and think that of course nurses should be primarily focused on patient
welfare and thus, assuming that the rest of the argument is OK, lying is indeed
sometimes warranted. I put it to you that such early acceptance of an argument
puts you in danger of prematurely closing off an enquiry that, had you bothered
to pursue it, might have unsettled your complacent acceptance of the merits of the
initial argument. Almost all topics in professional ethics are rather more complex
than that (despite regrettably widespread simplistic sloganizing about them). Your
first thought on the topic is unlikely to be your last thought, so youre almost
always advised to resist the temptation to such early closure.
Back to our question then: What next?
As you have advanced an argument that you think to be pretty central and pretty
sound, yet you want to investigate it a bit more (on pain of premature closure), an
obvious candidate next move is to subject it to critical examination, to critically
probe it to see if it is as sound as you had hoped. And, as you have (automatically)
been at pains to ensure that it is logical (as part of the TLC suite), this amounts
to proceeding to premise criticism. Might there be something wrong with one or
more of the arguments premises? Given that we have two premises in A1, that
would generate two such possible options at this point.
Mounting such a premise criticism is indeed one possibility at this point and,
at this early stage when there is only one argument on the table, it is usually the
best thing to be doing the sooner your initial thoughts get a critical probing, the
There is another possibility though: defending some premise or other. But
why would one bother to do this (given what I have just said about the merits of
critically probing ideas)? Lets talk about our above two premises in turn, both as
to criticism of them and defence of them.
For a moral premise, the only motivation for not criticizing, but defending, would
be that, when you look at the initial argument, it is so shallow, or superficial, in
some way, that its MP is not ready for critical attention. In effect, to proceed to
criticism is sometimes premature, the authors argument hasnt said enough yet to
be worth such critical attention.

Reason and Professional Ethics


An Aside
Our lying nurses initial argument is not shallow like this but to illustrate what I
mean, try this argument on another topic:
MPa All students should have life skills.
DPa The best way of having all students having life skills is for all schools to teach
those skills to all students.
MCa All schools should teach life skills to all students.

Technically speaking, this argument is not in bad shape (tame, logical and so on
although I would want the idea of life skills pinned down a bit and keep in mind
that best is just our shorthand for most efficient and effective). In particular, it is
not circular in that the MP and MC do say different things (MPa concerns desired
student qualities and MCa concerns what schools should do). Yet look at them.
If an MP is supposed to be giving a deeper motivating value in support of that
expressed in the MC, then, although technically sound enough, this argument is a
bit feeble. It has an MP that hardly counts as giving much of a deeper story. Both
are expressions of the authors enthusiasm for life skills. It might be profitable to
challenge MPa but it is likely to be even more profitable to wait and allow some
more distinct, deeper again, value to emerge that gives us more of an idea as to
why the author values life skills, what he values life skills for. Getting that deeper
value out into the open is the task of a defence of MPa. Once it is out into the open,
it might be worthier of a critical probing (with a premise criticism) than his MPa
is. So, we might defend MPa as follows:
MPb All students should be able to cope with problems facing them in day-to-day
DPb Only if all students have life skills, will all students be able to cope with problems
facing them in day-to-day life.
MPa All students should have life skills.

Again, some clarification would be in order (what precisely is meant by being

able to cope with problems facing one in day-to-day life?) but note that, with
the introduction of MPb, we are now one step deeper down the authors set of
values and have got to something distinct from the life skills commitment that
was present, not just in MCa, but in MPa. We now have an idea of what those
life skills are considered to be good for. Of course there would no doubt be a yet
deeper story again (in answer to the query: why is it so important that students be
able to cope with such problems?) but, with the emergence of MPb, we probably
have enough of the authors case for it to be profitably critically responded to.

Extended Reasoning: the Basics


We are probably better off not hearing that yet deeper story yet; better to get
critical interplay happening. So we would then mount a criticism of MPb.
Contrast this life skills argument with the lying nurse argument structure
that we had earlier. As remarked above, there is no such superficiality about that
argument and MP1 is already sufficiently deep and distinct from MC1 to be ripe
for criticism if we so chose.
End of Aside
After that small digression, lets return to the main flow.
Apart from that MP, the only other premise in the lying nurse argument is the
DP. This seems to me to be obviously true so it seems to me that, in this case, any
exercise in its defence is a waste of time and any exercise of criticism is doomed
to failure and thus also a waste of time.
But conceivably you might not be persuaded of that, or might be curious as
to what grounds can be advanced in support of it, or in challenge to it. (After all,
sometimes what seems to be obviously true turns out not to be for instance, an
example from the history of science is the proposition that the earth is at rest.)
Anyway, if you were to be criticizing it, then you would be presenting evidence
to the effect that it was false. Note that all that DP1 says is that sometimes such lying
is the only way to maximize a patients welfare. To challenge this, one would have
to provide evidence that such welfare maximization would never require lying.
This is a big task. If you were to be defending it, then such a defence would strictly
only have to show at least one case where this was so. Either way, presumably you
would be appealing to some sort of relevant research literature on the matter. As I
said though, DP1 seems so obviously true that a criticism is futile and a defence is
pointless. So, with this particular beginning argument, our focus for the next move
is back on MP1 and on criticism of it, in particular. With other arguments, in other
contexts, the DP might well be what you feel should be defended, or criticized; in
this case, however, I think not.
So, in this case, our choice out of our four options (criticize MP1, defend MP1,
criticize DP1, defend DP1) is: criticize MP1. Our tactical thinking is that DP1
is obviously true so it is pointless to defend it: and, given its obvious truth, it is
futile to try a criticism (we are confident that it is not over-confidently held). As for
MP1, it seems not to be too close to MC1 in its level of value (A1 isnt superficial
in the manner of the life skills argument in our aside) and so we have no reason
to delay letting the critic in. Accordingly, the tactically soundest next move is:
criticize MP1.
So, how might this go?
Remember that mounting a criticism might not be motivated by vehement
opposition to the authors premise (something that is especially unlikely if, as we
are here assuming, it is your argument and you are engaging in the useful practice


Reason and Professional Ethics

of self-criticism). Rather, it might be the sort of probing criticism that is carried

out in the interest of thoroughness. (Then again, you might well be vehemently
opposed to a premise offered as part of someone elses argument.)
The general tactic of moral premise criticism, you should recall, is to find
some other value that is possibly more important than the target one and, at least
sometimes, is in clash with it. In the lying nurse example, this might seem to
be difficult. What could be more important for a nurse than patient welfare? This
seems like such a motherhood and apple pie style value that it would be immune
to challenge. If that is your thinking, then it is unusually important for you to jolt
your complacency and have a good go at thinking up a criticism of MP1 one
that seems at least halfway plausible to you. So, lets try that.
What else is it important for nurses to do (or be) that might clash with, and
outweigh, patient welfare?
One thing that might work is a view about nursepatient relationships. Perhaps
part of having a proper respect for another persons status as a person an
autonomous moral agent is treating them in a certain way. In particular, not
treating them in a paternalistic way might be important (by being paternalistic I
mean something like knowing whats best for them and deciding for them without
being honest with them about whats going on). Indeed, not being paternalistic
might be more important on some occasions than patient welfare and might conflict
with it. Lets portray this feral intuition as a formal structured criticism of MP1.
CMP1 All nurses should treat all patients with respect for their status as persons.
CDP1 Sometimes maximizing a patients welfare entails treating her without respect
for her status as a person.
CMC1 On those occasions, it is not a nurses primary responsibility to maximize his
patients welfare.

You might care to refer back to the last chapter to confirm that this generally has
the features which I spoke of as ones that a moral premise criticism argument
should have. The only thing that would be worth the effort would be some sort
of working definition clarification of what counts as respecting someone for their
status as a person. I wont do this but I shall warn you that CMP1 is murkier in its
meaning than you might at first think.
Before pressing on, I just want to pause briefly to recap the key ideas from our
discussion so far.

Extended Reasoning: the Basics


Key Ideas
In the face of an initial argument (one that is tame, logical and clear) you have two
broad options open to you. One is to further develop the authors case by defending
one or other of her arguments premises. The other is to critically probe one or other
of those premises.

Generally speaking, one should try to let the critic in as soon as possible (which
might be you as self-critic). Given their centrality in driving ethical judgements, MPs,
in particular, are deserving of critical scrutiny although some may be too shallow to
be worth it and a prior defence might be wise. Remember that choosing an option
as the path forward is a tactical decision, the key question is: Which option looks
best suited to progressing my thoughts on the merits of this argument and thus on the

Thinking back over our lying nurse argument, we had an argument in favour
of some such lying that was based on it being, at least sometimes, the price of
maximizing patient welfare. Having outlined that argument (A1) and noting that
it had two premises, we had four possible options defend or criticize each of the
premises. In this particular case, after some thought and discussion, it was decided
that the tactically soundest way forward was to mount a critical challenge against
the MP1 commitment to nurses maximizing patient welfare. Having decided on
this option, we crafted such a criticism (although MP1 looked like a hard value to
criticize). And CA1 was the result which is where we are at.
I find it useful to diagrammatically chart the progress of an enquiry, especially
when it becomes rather long and involved. It is a good way of keeping track of
what is happening and seeing various features of the enquiry at a glance. Such
charting is simple at this early stage of an enquiry but later it would be more
complex as more moves occur. There are many ways of doing this and here are
two that I favour.
One can think of the enquiry as having two distinct sorts of things happening
in it: some substantive arguments on the topic (like A1 and CA1) and some
metacognitive thinking about where we are at and where to go next (our tactics
discussions of our options), with that metacognition linking the unfolding
substantive arguments together. In the first of my charting suggestions, I portray
these two sorts of thing as different columns in a flowchart and represent the flow
of the unfolding enquiry by a series of arrows that go back and forth between these
two different sorts of activities. I recommend portrait display of this first sort of


Reason and Professional Ethics

Diagram 1
The above flowchart lets you see the sequenced flow of moves in the enquiry
(follow the zig-zag of arrows) and highlights the role that metacognition is playing.
If you look carefully at the Metacognition column, then you will see that all of the
options are listed and I also signal which ones are rejected and which one is selected
as the path forward. If you look at the Substantive Argumentation column, you
will see that I just list the proposition names and, with the vertical linking arrows,
the relationships among those arguments. Useful although this style of diagram is
for seeing the sequenced flow of the enquiry, it is less satisfactory as a device for
keeping track of the relationships among the component substantive arguments of
an enquiry and, as the enquiry goes on and becomes more complicated with more
such substantive arguments being offered, it can be a good thing to have another
way of doing things that focuses more on portraying those relationships and
downplays the metacognition. Generally, I find it easier to do this in landscape
mode although it wont much matter at this early stage of this particular enquiry;
later, the diagram grows sideways in a way that is awkward to accommodate in
portrait mode.

Extended Reasoning: the Basics


Diagram 2
Note the absence of the metacognitive element and note that, within any given
argument box, I give a very abbreviated indication of what that argument was
talking about (the dashes in the descriptive premises just signal an unspecified
link of some sort between the two key ideas picked out and the ticks and crosses
signal moral endorsement or rejection). Unless the boxes are going to become very
cluttered, these entries are very much in shorthand form and are really doing
nothing more than triggering your memories as to what the fuller propositions
might have been about. There is nothing particularly prescriptive about the detail
of what I have inserted here, choose your own way of doing things whatever
helps you to recall at a glance what the individual arguments were on about so
that you can see their interrelationships. Later down the track, in more complicated
diagrams, you will see me just not bother to fill anything in on some lines. This
is because the key elements of our example enquiry as it unfolds are the moral
premises and conclusions. Again, this is your shot to call; write in as much or as
little as helps you to keep track of things without excess clutter.
So, so far we have a challenge to the original MP sitting on the table, where
More on Metacognition: Metacognitive Reviews and Metacognitive
If you look at Diagram 1 in the last section you can see that, even in the somewhat
short history of this lying nurse enquiry, there is a sort of a pattern emerging.
A substantive initial argument, A1, was presented (the patient-welfare motivated
one) then a bit of metacognitive thinking occurred in which the available options
were considered and one of them chosen as the best next move (criticizing MP1
as it happened). That path forward having been chosen, it was proceeded down and
another substantive argument, CA1, one critical of MP1, portrayed. So, argument
then metacognition then argument is the emergent pattern and, as we will see,
this pattern continues as the enquiry builds complexity.
The task at this point is metacognitive: to decide what to do in the face of this
criticism. Partly this is a business of getting straight about the options that are
possible at this stage of the enquiry and working out which one is best and why.

Reason and Professional Ethics


But before starting to think about where to go next, it is a good idea to be very
clear about where one has got to so far; and making an appraisal of that is what I
will talk of as carrying out a Metacognitive Review. What do I mean by this?
Key Ideas
Enquiries tend to have two alternating types of things going on: the substantive
arguments themselves and the metacognitive thinking in between which keeps track
of what has gone on so far and then chooses the nature and direction of the next move
in the enquiry, its tactical job, if you like.

Metacognitive Review
Look at the two substantive arguments we have had so far (authors and critics) and
they are clearly in disagreement in a direct way on the acceptability or otherwise
of MP1s commitment to patient welfare. After all, this was the direct target for the
CMC of the critics argument (I will speak of author and critic as a convenient
device even though, for many enquiries, both will be you performing different
roles as is the assumption in this enquiry). So, that is one disagreement that has
emerged so far in this dispute. But the critic hasnt just asserted the opposing
CMC1, she has given reasons for CMC1 (and thus against MP1). Her reason
for not wishing to endorse the sweeping patient-welfare value is its clash (on
occasions) with her respect value. Given this, the best way of characterizing the
focus of the deepest level of disagreement is as a dispute between CMP1 and MP1.
The clash can be put in the manner of a question:
Should nurses primary responsibility be patient welfare even in situations
where fulfilling that responsibility has, as its cost, treating patients without
respect for their status as persons?

My suggestion is that you always try to express the dispute (in this case, a deep
moral value clash) that constitutes the newly emerged focus at a given point in an
enquiry in this manner, as a sort of challenging question.
This question sets the focal issue at this point in this particular enquiry. We
are no longer directly addressing the issue of the legitimacy of nurses sometimes
lying (although you should be able to see the connections back to that issue
from where the enquiry has got to). As a result of us defending such lying in the
authors argument and then criticizing the basis of the defence (MP1) in the critics
argument by appeal to the critics own motivating value (CMP1), the enquiry has
moved focus to a dispute at a deeper level of valuing than that of the original topic.
In effect, there is a shift in the topic of the moment from the issue of lying to that
of a priority dispute between valuing patient welfare and valuing treating patients

Extended Reasoning: the Basics


with respect for their status as persons. Sorting such deeper priority disputes
(or deep moral clashes, as I will talk of them) out in your mind is a pre-requisite
for having an ethical framework of values that is in good enough shape for you
to be able to confidently apply it to the topic at hand (lying nurses in this case).
Professional ethics is a sub-branch of applied ethics and for you to apply your
ethical views to professional problems, those ethical views had better not be a
conflicted mess.
An Aside
Of course, although the focus of conflict is moral (at least in this case, because
we challenged an MP) it could have been a different sort of conflict if we had
challenged DP1. Moreover, some arguments will have conceptual premises in
them and, if such a premise had been challenged, then it would be a different
sort of conflict yet again. If, say, we had challenged a descriptive premise, then
the issue at hand would be a dispute as to what the true facts of the matter are. If
we had challenged a conceptual premise (not that there was one to challenge in
this particular case in our authors argument) then the current dispute would have
been one about the meaning connections among the ideas involved. I wont pursue
these possibilities here any more as it would make even messier an already messy
exercise (in illustration of the basics of complex extended reasoning); well return
to discuss such matters later.
End of Aside
So, at the moment, what we have is a moral conflict and the task of the enquiry is
to try to get that set of deeper moral values sorted out. My point about all of this
is that, before rushing on, it is a good idea to be very clear in your mind just what
the focus of concern is at this particular point in the enquiry.
Now, having worked out the current conflict as a key element in your
Metacognitive Review, what next? When it is a moral dispute, as we have here,
I find it useful to do one more thing before pressing on to select the next move.
Remember that we expressed that current dispute in our example enquiry as the
following question:
Should nurses primary responsibility be patient welfare even in situations
where fulfilling that responsibility has, as its cost, treating patients without
respect for their status as persons?

Although it is unlikely, it may be that you are totally confident that you can answer
that question. You might side with the author or you might side with the critic. This
sets the boundaries of a range of possible initial reactions to the current dispute.
There are less black-and-white reactions and these are more common in considering
such deep moral disputes. So, for instance, although not totally persuaded by the
critic, you might be pretty solidly inclined to favour treating people with respect


Reason and Professional Ethics

even when the cost is some loss in their physical health (which is, recall, how we
clarified the idea of patients welfare). Or, you might fairly solidly lean to the MP1
value. Or it might be a tilt one way or another but a rather more hesitant, and
slighter, one.
What I am suggesting here is that, at those points in an enquiry where the
current focus of dispute is a moral one (as in our example), you should try to get
explicitly clear where your sympathies lie at the moment. They might of course
change as the enquiry unfolds; it is just a matter keeping track of things as you go.
I find the following metaphorical device useful here for capturing your intuitions.
Imagine a beam balance with one of the competing moral premises at one end
and the other at the other. Which is more important, or morally weightier? If you,
say, tend to favour CMP1 over MP1, then the CMP1 end of the balance would be
weighed further down. By how much though? After all, a balance steeply tilted
towards CMP1 over MP1 is a bit of a different situation for an enquiry to be in than
were the balance to be only shallowly so tilted.
My suggestion is that you try to put an intuitive gut instinct figure on the
steepness of the tilt by mentally splitting up a total of 100 per cent between the
two clashing values. So, if you were very much inclined to favour CMP1 over
MP1 you might allocate that 100 as 90 for the former and 10 for the latter. In this
case, there is a 90/10 tilt (as I will talk of it) in favour of CMP1 over MP1. If you
were more conflicted in your thinking at that point in the enquiry but still tended
to favour CMP1 over MP1, it might be that that is best represented by, say, a 60/40
tilt favouring CMP1. And so on through a morally schizoid 50/50 toss-up tilt,
over to the other side of the spectrum in which you favour MP1 over CMP1. Mind
you, it would be rather odd to have MP1 favoured 100/0 over CMP1 if you are the
person who had offered the latter. After all, if it were to be deemed so hopeless a
criticism then why would you have even bothered to advance it?
When you are allocating these tilt ratios, keep in mind that they are merely
(current) gut instinct or intuitive preferences. They result from you consulting
your current moral intuitions to see where your current moral priorities seem to
lie. If you get 100/0 one way or another, then you have reached closure on the
dispute at hand and that thread of enquiry into your topic has finished (others may
then open up, as we will see in due course). If you are anything more conflicted
than 100/0, further enquiry is in order to investigate matters further. It might be
that you are able to reach closure on that dispute once you have teased out more
of the argumentation surrounding it. Just how it is best for you to start teasing
out further argumentation depends a bit on the tilt that you have identified. The
best next move varies according to the strength and direction of your current
An Aside
Before I press on, and at the risk of raving on a bit, Id like to address a possible
misunderstanding as another aside from our main flow of exposition.

Extended Reasoning: the Basics


Say that you allocate your tilt as 100/0 in favour of CMP1 over MP1. Does this
mean that you think that treating patients with respect for their status as persons is
perfectly good as a value (100) and acting for their welfare is to be totally rejected
(0)? No. Note that such tilts are always relative it is this value versus that value
and a given value might get a different score depending upon what it is being
set up in clash with. All that you would be indicating with a 100/0 tilt is that,
at this stage of your thinking, you are sure that if ever the two clashed such that
satisfying one value interfered with satisfying the other, then you would always go
for respect over welfare. Lesser ratios indicate doubt or indicate concern that the
hierarchy of the two values might not always be in favour of one over the other. It
is possible, after all, for one value to outweigh another in some scenarios and not
in others. Extended enquiries, if well done, can tease the detail of this complexity
out. For now, your tilt is just a current gut instinct. I will return to all of this
more thoroughly in the next chapter; for now, I am simply trying to get you to
understand the basics of our process of extended enquiry.
End of Aside
Another Aside
Although I am not going to fuss much about this at this stage, counterparts of
the tilt business occur with descriptive disputes about what the facts really are
and with the conceptual disputes about meaning relationships. For instance, it
might emerge in an enquiry that a descriptive dispute ensues concerning, say, an
eyewitness report of a felony conflicting with the alleged felons protestation of
innocence. In essence, there is a conflict of rival testimonies as to what the facts
of the matter really are. It might be that you are ready to reach closure on this
particular conflict, that you have enough confidence in one or the other party to not
wish to pursue matters further. Then again, your tilt might not be that conclusive
and you might still have an open dispute, not being sure whom to trust and wishing
to seek more data.
A counterpart situation applies to conceptual disputes. The authors side of
the dispute might be claiming that, for a person to be morally responsible for an
action, it suffices that it was freely chosen (in the sense that no one is physically
forcing that action on that person). The critic might challenge that. The basis of
the challenge being that, even when no one is forcing that action upon someone,
that person would not be properly thought of as morally responsible if they were
acting in a way that reflected their upbringing and the moral indoctrination, or
programming, that it contained in another sense, they would be unfree. In
essence here, the dispute is as to how one is to understand the concept of moral
responsibility which sense of freedom is connected in what way with being
morally responsible?
In each of these cases, the tilt would be not so much a gut instinct as one
based on your current grasp of the relevant facts or your grip of conceptual

Reason and Professional Ethics


connections among ideas. Nonetheless, perhaps the tilt metaphor is still a good
one to employ.
End of Another Aside
So, where we have got to so far can be encapsulated as follows:
Key Ideas
After each new substantive argument (like CA1) as a move in your enquiry, you
should pause for a metacognitive review to get clear just where the enquiry has got to,
in particular, what the current focus of dispute is. Depending on what sort of premise
has been challenged, that dispute might be moral, factual or conceptual. Commonly,
it is moral. If so, then, as part of that review, you should explicitly identify the deep
moral clash at that point in the enquiry and your intuitive tilt concerning it. Tilts are
relative importance ratings of the moral values in conflict. They might be anywhere
in the range from totally favouring one value in the dispute (100/0), through evenly
torn (50/50), to favouring the other value (0/100).

I will, for the moment, keep tracking along with our sample enquiry to get across
some basic features of the process. As you would realize, various options always
exist for the next move and, even so far, other enquiries might have followed
other paths than the ones we chose (for instance, someone might have chosen to
defend MP1, or DP1, or to criticize DP1). It is best for the moment that we keep
going down our particular path of having criticized MP1, or things will become
too complicated, too soon, for you to keep track of.
So, to pick up the threads again, we have identified our current conflict as a
deep moral clash, one able to be expressed with the question:
Should nurses primary responsibility be patient welfare even in situations
where fulfilling that responsibility has, as its cost, treating patients without
respect for their status as persons?.

Lets set a tilt for the sake of continuing our illustration. Lets assume that the
critics argument found considerable favour with us but not totally, so our tilt is
not 100/0, but it is still very strongly favouring the critic. So, say our tilt is 80/20
in favour of CMP1 over MP1. (Remember this is just an initial intuitive reaction.)
Identifying the conflict of the moment and identifying our tilt finishes this
particular metacognitive review. So, what happens now, where do we go next?

Extended Reasoning: the Basics


Metacognitive Deliberation
As you will become sick of me saying, the answer to: Where next? is: Nowhere
automatically. There are options and we have to decide thoughtfully from among
them. Unlike the case with our last exercise in choosing a path forward, we now
have a new input to our thinking we have gone far enough in things to have
generated an unresolved controversy the deep moral clash of MP1 versus CMP1.
And, as an extra input into our thinking, we have some idea as to how we feel
about things at this stage (we have an 80/20 tilt in favour of CMP1 over MP1).
As will soon emerge, that tilt influences our tactical thinking. Note, though, that
80/20 is not 100/0. Substantial sympathy with the critic is not agreement that CA1
is right. Were you to simply agree 100/0 with the critic, then this particular thread
of discussion on the topic would begin to close. But closure is, with an 80/20 tilt,
not sensible at this early stage. Rather, the enquiry should open out a bit more
in the hope that further argumentation might resolve things. So, the first thing to
decide is whether you can close on this conflict or not. In this particular case,
with this tilt, the answer is: No.
Thus accept A1, reject A1, reject CA1 and accept CA1 are ruled out.
Note that accept CA1 is effectively the same option as reject A1, for if CA1
is accepted, then MP1 is rejected and thus A1 fails in virtue of that. Still, Ill
list reject A1 separately at this stage, as its easier to keep track of in ensuring
that you are listing all the possibilities. I will return later (in the next chapter) to
discuss accept A1 a bit more. For now, Ill list it for completeness and simply
observe that, of course, there is no question of accepting A1 when we have an
un-dismissed, indeed favoured, criticism of its MP in play. So, given our tilt, no
closure option is endorsed before we can settle our thinking on this dispute, we
have to investigate things some more. The thread isnt to close yet; it is to open
out more. But how?
Before choosing a path forward for the enquiry, it is obviously a good idea
to have an explicit grasp of all of the possible options facing you. The available
possibilities depend a bit on the particular history of the particular enquiry, on the
moves already made; in our example case, the options are as follows:
Defend CMP1.
Criticize CMP1.
Defend CDP1.
Criticize CDP1.
Defend MP1.
Defend DP1.
Criticize DP1.

Note that this is a longish list and would have been longer than that if either of
our arguments to date had had more premises than they did. (There is also another
potential option that has been ruled out given our particular enquirys history;


Reason and Professional Ethics

Criticize MP1 is a used option.) And the list will get longer. The further down
the enquiry you go and the more things that have happened already, the more the
options grow as to where you could go next; again, well come back to that later.
Note also that some options (the first four in this case) have only just become
available with the advent of CA1. The other three are unchosen options left over
from the previous exercise in metacognition. As we will see, this pattern of new
options coming with the most recent argument plus an increasingly long list of old
unused options is a recurrent feature of extended enquiries.
So, on what basis are we to choose from among those options? I will call
this process of choice metacognitive deliberation. (To deliberate is to carefully
consider options before decision an apt name then for what you should be
The primary feature of this process of choice is that you are making a tactical
choice as an enquirer. Of course you have a strategic interest in working out your
considered views on nurses lying. But, in trying to do that, you mounted A1,
then, in critical probing of it, CA1. This left you with a nicely exposed deep moral
conflict (MP1 versus CMP1). In effect, your strategic goal of working out your
views on nurses lying is blocked by the current dispute being unresolved. Thus
your current tactical task is to try to sort out that conflict. This means that the
next move should be whichever option you think will get you furthest towards
achieving such a resolution.
A key input to your deliberation is your tilt. A general rule of thumb is that,
if you are enthusiastically in favour of one moral value over another (in this case,
respect over welfare to an 80/20 extent), then you are generally advised to explore
going against your current enthusiasm going counter-intuitive as I will call it.
This covers both criticizing what you favour and defending what you dont.
Why? Basically, it is a guard against having your enthusiasms run away with
you. It is an all too common human tendency for people to become too quickly
committed to a view and to not properly consider what might be wrong with it
(and, as the other side of the same coin, to too quickly dismiss a view without
properly considering its merits). What is usually tactically unwise is to reinforce
whatever your current intuitive tendencies are. That is the way of overlooking
possible problems.
So, as we have an 80/20 tilt favouring CMP1 over MP1, the first option I would
dismiss is the intuition-reinforcing option: Defend CMP1. What of the rest?
Criticize CMP1 is a counter-intuitive move (as it challenges your current
tendency to favour CMP1 over MP1) and should go onto your short-list.
Defend MP1 is equally a counterintuitive move (as it reinforces the view that
you less favour in the clash) and should also go onto your short-list.
Ill discuss these two a little bit more at the end; apart from them what else is
Defend CDP1 might be a possibility, as might be Criticize CDP1. It
rather depends on how confident you are concerning the truth of that descriptive
proposition. But as, in this particular enquiry, this was you being admirably

Extended Reasoning: the Basics


self-critical by mounting CA1, it would hardly have been a helpful move for you
to have put down a challenge to MP1 that rested on a known-to-be highly dubious
descriptive premise. You surely had considerable confidence in CDP1. Still, even
so, there may have been some doubts; not all descriptive propositions deployed
in an enquiry are going to be ones that you are near certain about. So, if there
are some doubts, you might wish to either explore them by criticizing CDP1 or,
perhaps, reassure yourself that it really is OK by mounting a defence of it. Either
way, given that it is a descriptive proposition that is involved, you would be hunting
out relevant evidence concerning it. You might think that, as the tactical issue of
the moment is the dispute between CMP1 and MP1, concentrating any attention
on anything but one of these two propositions is a diversion. To some extent this
is true but sometimes there are good grounds for diverting briefly elsewhere. After
all, it is not as if the clash between CMP1 and MP1 is direct (unlike that between
CMC1 and MP1). Rather, CMP1s dispute with MP1 is mediated via CDP1. That
descriptive proposition is the connecting link between CMP1 and CMC1 and thus
gets CMP1 and MP1 into clash. Unless it is true, we would not have our tactical
problem of the moment (CMP1 versus MP1) even getting set up. So, given its
importance in setting up our current dispute, if there is any doubt about it, it might
well be very usefully on task, tactically speaking, to fuss about our confidence
in the truth of CDP1. In this particular example enquiry, however, it again seems
to me that this particular CDP1 is simply obviously true. Given that, it is pointless
to bother defending it and futile attempting criticism. Thus, these two options are
to be discarded.
How about DP1? I decided not to defend or criticize it back when I was making
my last metacognitive decision. My reasons then were much like what I have just
outlined for CDP1 DP1 is just obviously true. That hasnt changed and so these
two options stay discarded.
Whats left after all of that? A short-list of two: criticize CMP1 or defend
Note that these options happen to focus directly on the tactical problem
at hand: resolving the moral clash between MP1 and CMP1 sorting out our
moral priorities, if you like. As it is the tactical problem of the moment, doing
something that bears on one or other of those values in the hope of resolving
matters is obviously tactically sound. And, given our tilt of 80/20 in favour of
the critics CMP1, what we are wise to be doing in response to this value clash
is something that is counter-intuitive. Each of these options is. Criticizing CMP1
is fairly obviously counter-intuitive because it is to go counter to the value that
we were solidly tilting towards. Less obviously, defending MP1 is also counterintuitive because it would be supporting the value that you are intuitively tempted
to discount (relative to CMP1).
So, for reasons that we can explain, we have trimmed the range of tactically
sensible options down to two. But which of the two should be the next move? Both
might eventually happen as the enquiry unfolds but only one thing can occur right
now as the next move; so which should it be?


Reason and Professional Ethics

An Aside
I say only one thing because it is generally a bad idea to have too many things
going on at once. Sometimes you will be forced into it (as we will see in a later
chapter) but it is easier to keep track of emerging complexities if you expand the
discussion gradually, keeping things as simple as you can.
End of Aside
At this stage, the basis for making a decision between these two becomes even
more personalized than before. A range of possible tactical motivations for doing
one or other of our short-list might apply. In what follows, I will play with a couple
of such possible considerations to give you an idea of the sort of thinking that
might lead to a final decision as to a path forward.
Here is one possibility Say that you had been somewhat surprised by the relative
success of the respect value of the critic over the original authors welfare value.
Moreover, say that you have a good idea of what the defence of the original MP1
would look like were you to mount it. That is, although not yet presented formally
as an argument on the page, a defence (resting on some, yet deeper again, MP of
the authors) is fairly clear in your mind and, moreover, was in your mind when
you did your tilt towards CMP1. Given this, there would be little tactical point in
formally mounting this defence; it will not contribute anything in challenging your
current intuitive tendency to favour the critic because it was informally present in
the back of your mind already when you favoured CMP1. In such a scenario, you
would be wise to choose Criticize CMP1 as your path forward. This is because it
would add new issues into the enquiry and this might help you to resolve matters
(as well as challenging your current intuitive tendencies). So, given this particular
set of considerations, the choice between our two counter-intuitive short-listed
options would be whittled down to one: Criticize CMP1.
Here is another possibility Say, instead, that you had been strongly committed
to MP1 and were just going through the process of probing self-criticism for the
sake of intellectual thoroughness. Yet, once it was advanced, CMP1 surprised you
with its relative attractiveness. In such a scenario, say that its swift success has
unsettled you and you now wonder why you were so enthused about MP1 in the
first place. You still think patient welfare to be important but why were you rating
it as highly as you did when offering MP1 (a rating you now doubt)? Moreover,
in this scenario, unlike the last one, you might not have clearly in your mind what
the answer to that question is. As is not uncommon in professionals thinking
about ethical matters, with MP1 (in this case) you committed to a stance without
any clear idea about why. In this case, you might be more interested in returning
to MP1 at this stage and defending it, rather than taking some new tangent by
criticizing CMP1. Your motivation is to see if you can find any decent rationale for
your original MP1-style strength of commitment to patient welfare. Maybe you

Extended Reasoning: the Basics


can begin to restore your original confidence in it. So, given this rather different
set of considerations, this time the choice between our two short-listed counterintuitive possibilities goes the other way: to defend MP1.
My point in exploring these two possible paths is to show that, although some
tactical considerations are fairly clear (e.g. dont close prematurely, dont bother
to reinforce strongish current value intuitions but challenge them) things become
fairly personalized fast in a way that it is not possible to set up text-book recipes
for. You have to exercise careful tactical judgement in choosing a path forward
from the options facing you and that judgement might appeal to motivations that
are quite personalized. As just illustrated, two enquirers with the same enquiry
history of moves and the same tilt might, for individually good reasons, take the
enquiry forward in different directions.
It is also possible that whatever tactical reasons you have dont manage to trim
the options down to one. You might be left with a short-list, any one of which
seems as equally tactically sound as an option as any other. So, what to do then?
Basically, pick with a pin. Do something from the shortlist and hope that it will
help you resolve the conflict that is the current tactical problem.
Finally, just because, at this stage, you choose one option and not others, doesnt
mean that you will not return to those others at some later stage. They remain on
your books as possibilities for later choice; all unused options are carried forward
for later consideration and possible selection.
So, for the sake of illustration, lets return to our particular enquiry. I will
assume that, of the two counter-intuitive scenarios listed, Criticize CMP1 was
chosen for the reasons outlined.
What next? Basically, implement the decision just made; having carried out
our metacognitive review and deliberation we proceed on to crafting our next
substantive argument, one having a denial of CMP1 as its conclusion.
Key Ideas
At any given point in an enquiry when a substantive argument has been offered,
there is no automatic next move. A deliberated upon metacognitive decision is to be
taken to select the path forward that is best suited to progressing resolution of the
tactical problem at hand. That process of metacognitive deliberation is informed by
the metacognitive review that has preceded it. In particular, if the key focus of the
dispute is moral, then identifying the deep moral clash and the tilt concerning it are
key matters. If you fairly strongly favour one side, then it is usually tactically wise to
challenge your intuitive preference by going counter-intuitive.


Reason and Professional Ethics

Summary of Enquiry to Date

Portrayed in flowchart diagrammatical form, we have this dialogue history:

Diagram 3
A few comments on this diagram. In the Substantive Argumentation column, note
again the vertical arrows showing the relationships among the various arguments
in that column. Note also that, in the Metacognition column, things are a little bit
more complicated than last time we did one of these in Diagram 1. We now have
some more detailed understanding of what goes on in metacognition and some
terminology to deploy. So, in the first metacognitive exercise (after A1), I have
re-labelled the box from Options to Options and Deliberation because we now
have that term to describe what was going on there. We have also had a criticism
happen prior to this latest exercise in metacognition and, to reflect that developing
complexity, I have two separate boxes for the two separate tasks of review and

Extended Reasoning: the Basics


deliberation; note the vertical arrow between them to show the sequence of events.
Within the deliberation box, you will notice that its quite a long list. This time,
I have internally broken up the list of options as, first, the four closure moves
grouped together, then four new options that have come with the new argument
(CA1) and, last, the three unused options that have been carried forward from
last time. How you bother to list these is your decision and you will see me doing
things in a different way in Diagram 5 below. Another possibility is that you might
find that your flowchart is getting too cluttered if you bother to list all of the
possibilities and you might want to just list the review and then, in the deliberation
box, just the path forward that you chose. Personally, I like to list the lot just to
remind me that there really are quite a lot of options (again, look at Diagram 5
Before proceeding to the next section, I would like to supplement the above
diagram with a brief recap of what we have done at this metacognitive decision
point in this enquiry. As you might be beginning to appreciate, things can get
rather complicated and, to help prevent getting lost, I think that it is useful for you
to periodically do this sort of abbreviated summary.
Having completed our criticism of MP1, we suspended our substantive
enquiry and went metacognitive. Our first task was a metacognitive review in
which we identified the current dispute. In our case it was MP1 versus CMP1,
a moral dispute; we also consulted our intuitions to come up with our tilt of
80/20 favouring CMP1 over MP1. Review finished, we proceeded to deliberate
upon our options. First thing to do was to be aware of what those options were.
So, we drew up a list some options were associated with the latest substantive
argument, CA1, and some were unused left-overs carried forward from the last
decision. Then we set about trimming the list, hoping to end up with one clear path
forward. Some options were almost automatically discarded (we were not ready
to accept anything and thus close that dispute, and we thought various descriptive
premises to demand no defend or criticize attention at all). Then, noting that we
had a substantial 80/20 tilt of intuitive preference favouring CMP1 over MP1,
we decided that a primary tactical motivation to deploy in choosing from among
the remaining options was to go counter-intuitive. This weeded things down
to a short-list of two options: Defend MP1 or Criticize CMP1. Further, some
secondary considerations did manage, in this case, to further reduce this to one
option: Criticize CMP1. As far as we can judge, doing this is the smartest choice
in trying to resolve the tactical problem facing the enquiry at this stage, namely the
deep moral clash between MP1 and CMP1.


Reason and Professional Ethics

Key Ideas
Metacognition is comprised of two elements:
Metacognitive Reviews keep you aware of what the enquiry has done to date and,
in particular, what the current foci of unresolved conflict are. In particular, and if
applicable, the review should identify the deep moral clash, and the tilt concerning
it, that you have.
Metacognitive Deliberation involves understanding and choosing from among
your options. After the elimination of non-viable options, you should choose from
among the rest for reasons (of various sorts and of differing importance) that you can
explain. This amounts to making a tactical decision, a decision as to which option
will best help resolve whatever the current unresolved conflict is.

Some Possible Problems When Carrying out Metacognitive Deliberation

Before pressing on with our enquiry, I would like to pause for a moment and warn
of some common errors that those who are not used to metacognitive deliberation
sometimes commit. Beginners often fail to keep in mind the tactics discussion
style of such metacognitive deliberation. Instead of giving reasons for choosing or
rejecting various possible paths forward, some other (and useless in that context)
sort of discussion is offered. Here are three errors that are surprisingly common
when performing this task. I will illustrate them assuming that, say, the option:
Defend CMP1 was the one decided upon this time.
The first is to say something like: One option is to defend CMP1; if I did this
then I would be crafting an argument that had CMP1 as its conclusion. Another
option is .... And then, out of the blue: My choice is ....
This gives the final choice but gives no reason for it. In supposed support, all
we get is an outline of what the option Defend CMP1 would involve and ditto
for the other options. But to merely describe what an option involves is to give no
reason at all for choosing it or rejecting it.
The second is to expand a bit on one or more of the options by giving a feral
version of the substantive argument that would be eventually offered were that
option to be chosen. So, one might have: One option is to defend CMP1, I favour
this because if nurses dont treat patients with respect for their status as persons
then they are acting as if they were superior to the patients yet everyone is morally
To include this sort of thing is to confuse giving a metacognitive reason for
choosing an option as one worth exploring next, with the separate activity of
previewing ferally the substantive argument that might result once the option has
been chosen. One can, indeed, have good tactical grounds for choosing to, say,
defend CMP1 even if one has not got the faintest idea what such a defending
argument would look like (even ferally). In short, substantive arguments on the

Extended Reasoning: the Basics


topic have no place in your metacognition. They will come later once you are
implementing your decision as to the next path forward.
The third common error is to offer this sort of thing: I dont want to criticize
CMP1 because I think it more valuable to defend it and that is what I will be doing.
For similar reasons I wont defend MP1 and, given that I wish to defend CMP1, I
wont choose the option ....
This is mildly caricatured; but note that nowhere do we get any tactical rationale
for choosing Defend CMP1 as the path forward. Clearly the writer is enthused by
this option and, given that enthusiasm, the only reason advanced against any other
option is that it isnt the preferred one.
If you keep firmly in mind that you are supposed to be giving a tactically
motivated rationale for choosing to direct the enquiry down some particular path
then, hopefully, you will avoid the above errors. For each rejected option, it should
be clear why you are tactically avoiding it and, for the chosen option, it should be
clear why it is chosen.
Implementing the Metacognitive Decision
As noted repeatedly, even in the same enquiry, different enquirers will likely make
different decisions as to the best next move. In our example enquiry, I am assuming
that the decision was to criticize CMP1. Moreover, if you look back at the thinking
that finally led to a choice between our two counter-intuitive options and ruled out
Defend MP1, that was done because, in our example scenario, how that defence
would go was already mentally sketched in and its formal presentation wouldnt
add anything new in settling our deep moral dispute hang on to that last point,
we will use it later.
So, how might our criticism go? I will portray a feral argument and then a tame,
logical and clear structured version of it and then talk about the criticism a bit.
As a feral challenge, try: some people are too morally bad to deserve any
respect, so sometimes nurses shouldnt treat some patients (the morally bad ones)
with respect for their status as persons.
Lets lay this out as a tame and logical structure:
CCA1 (For critic of the critics first argument).
CCMP1 All and only those with status as persons who are also not morally bad (to a
certain extent) deserve to be treated with respect by anyone.
CCMP2 Some patients of some nurses are morally bad to that extent.
CCMC1 Some nurses should not treat some (those) patients with respect for their
status as persons.

This is tame and logical but one thing that is manifestly unclear is the key new idea
in the moral premises here what counts as morally bad (to a certain extent)?


Reason and Professional Ethics

We know that, whatever it is, if someone is like that, then this argument deems
them not to deserve respect as a person (meaning by the latter what was clarified
earlier, in the paragraph prior to CA1). But what is it? Obviously our degree of
sympathy with CCMP1 might vary depending on what is meant, in particular, on
what extent of moral badness is said to debar one from deserving to be treated with
One thing is clear, the moral badness is to be judged by reference to whatever
set of moral principles are endorsed by the author of CCA1. And, as we have set
this enquiry up as one carried out by one person engaging in self-criticism, that
means that if you are the enquirer, then its whatever you count as morally bad.
Ditto for the extent element. In effect, this is you laying down (at least tentatively)
the qualities that would debar (and those that would qualify) someone from being
deserving of respectful treatment. As I have said, it is your clarification to make
and who knows what you, the actual reader at this point, would say on this matter.
So, for the sake of progressing our illustrative dialogue, I will simply decree that
what is meant in these moral premises is simply that all and only those who do
not habitually tell lies to advantage themselves or are habitually unconcerned
about the welfare of others are not morally bad (to our certain extent). Note that
this gives us some guidance as to the qualities unpacking morally bad (lying to
ones advantage and not being concerned about others welfare) and the extent
that is of concern (habitually). Of course it may prove as the enquiry unfolds that
this clarification isnt yet adequate but we would operate with it until any such
inadequacies emerge one can always revisit things later and refine meanings
One other feature of the above structure is worth comment. Have look at the
quantification in the moral premise. The all asserts that every person who satisfies
the criteria listed later in the premise is deserving of respect. The only asserts
that no one else, that is anyone who doesnt satisfy those criteria, is deserving
of respect. Reflect upon it, the two quantifiers do quite different jobs and both
are needed to express what this critic of the critic is wanting to say. (As I said
way back in Chapter 3, quantifiers matter what they are, and are not, affects the
meaning of what is said.)
I wont bother to do a flowchart diagram of the dialogue with this last move
in but you will see it in Diagram 5 in the next section. I will, though, do one of
our other style of diagram, that more focused on substantive argumentation. Note
again that the entries are only rather cryptic tags for your memory of the fuller

Diagram 4

Reason and Professional Ethics


So we now have (hopefully) a tame, logical and clear criticism of the critics
CMP1, where next?
As I hope you would, by now, predict, nowhere automatically. As usual, we
should first stand back from the fray and carry out a metacognitive review to get
a grip on where the enquiry has got to and then proceed to deliberate among our
options with a view to choosing a path forward.
Key Ideas
Having implemented our metacognitive decision and advanced the next substantive
move in the enquiry, one that does the tactical job we decided was our current
priority, that argument, like any other, should be automatically made tame, logical
and clear.
What happens then, is, however, not automatic and another process of careful
metacognitive review followed by metacognitive deliberation is to be carried out.

Next Metacognitive Review And Further Deliberation

As you should realize by now, a major task for these reviews is to identify explicitly
the current focus (or foci) of dispute. In this case, the type of dispute is moral and
one obvious deep moral clash is that between CCMP1 and CMP1. Put in question
form, this could be expressed as follows:
Should nurses treat even morally bad patients with respect?.

And, concerning this deep moral clash, say that I am now beginning to get cold
feet about my (feelgood slogan-style) rather sweeping commitment to having
nurses respect all patients. I might now have considerable sympathy for the view
that, by being sufficiently immoral, people do not deserve respect for their status
as autonomous moral agents. In effect, their immorality might legitimately have
the consequence that I feel justified in subverting their ability to exercise moral
autonomy (in this scenario, by lying perhaps, or withholding information from
them, or ...). Let us say that my tilt is 90/10 favouring CCMP1 over CMP1.
Before proceeding on to our deliberation among our options, there is another
matter that I wish to illustrate. It is rather important as a feature of reviews once
an enquiry has gone beyond the first couple of moves so I will spend some time
upon it.
The matter that I have in mind concerns what I will call: voices.
We know that MP1 of A1 and CMP1 of CA1 are in dispute (after all, CA1
was deliberately set up to dispute MP1). We also know that CCMP1 of CCA1 and
CMP1 of CA1 are in dispute (again, CCA1 was deliberately invented to dispute
CMP1). So we have two deliberate deep moral clashes so far in the dialogue; but

Extended Reasoning: the Basics


there is still a question to be addressed, however: what is the relationship between

CCMP1 and MP1 (of A1)?
There seem to be three possible answers to this. One is that the best way of
interpreting CCA1 is as the original author responding to criticism. The second
is that one cant so construe CCA1 and, although it wasnt its formal role (which
was to critically probe CMP1), CCMP1 happens to be just as much in dispute
with MP1 as it is with its formal target CMP1. The third possibility is that CCA1
can neither be construed as the author critically replying to CA1 (having a second
turn if you like) nor as an argument in dispute with MP1, but as yet another, third,
viewpoint, one which is neutral to MP1.
One way of thinking about this is in terms of what I will call voices. To date,
we have two clear and opposed voices: the author (expressing A1) and the critic
(expressing CA1). So what is the voice of the writer of the criticism of the critic?
Obviously it is not the critic writing CCA1 but is it the other one of our existing
voices, the author, or is it someone else again, some third voice. And, if it is a third
voice, what is the relationship of that voice to the first, that of the author? Keep in
mind that this talk of author, critic, voices and so on is just a device. In an enquiry
they may well all be you (it is not at all uncommon for ones underlying moral
principles to be in multiple conflicts). Voice is just our way of talking about a
viewpoint of a distinct sort put as an offering in an enquiry. The other labels (first
etc.) simply help us to remember where in the dialogue that viewpoint cropped
To sum up this point about voices, there are, at this stage, three possibilities as
to whom the critic of the critic might be:
a. Author replying;
b. Third voice disagreeing with author; and
c. Third voice neutral to author.
My point is that, as part of a metacognitive review that is trying to keep track of
what is unfolding in the enquiry so far, it is important to understand the voices
present (especially if they are all you) as you try to think conflicts out.
So, how do you work out which voice the critic of the critic is? The answer is:
by analysing the relationship of CCMP1 and of MP1. Lets talk about each of our
above possibilities in turn.
a. Say that what is really going on is that CCA1 is the author replying to
the criticism of CA1. This should be detectable by noting that what is
said in CCMP1 is the sort of thing that you would expect the author to be
committed to. Usually what would occur in this scenario is that the author
would be digging deeper into her values and appealing to some such value
(as CCMP1) to put on the table in criticism of CMP1. A common way
for this to occur is that the content of CCMP1 is the sort of value that
could equally well have been offered as further development of the authors


Reason and Professional Ethics

views had you chosen to defend MP1. This is not always what is going on
with this first voice having a second turn scenario but if you can see how
CCMP1 could act as (part of) a defence of MP1, then you can construe
CCA1 as offered by the author who is responding to criticism by deploying
her deeper values in order to criticize the critic. (To confirm your thinking
that this is what is going on, try writing a little feral argument appealing
to CCMP1 as the motivating moral premise of an argument in defence of
b. If, on the other hand, the scenario is one in which CCMP1 represents a
third voice in dispute with MP1, then that should be obvious when you read
each of them and see that they are in conflict with one another. One way of
seeing this is to try using CCMP1 as the moral premise of another argument,
one which has the denial of MP1 as its conclusion. If you can think up a
plausible connecting premise (probably a descriptive premise) that puts the
thing valued in MP1 in, at least partial, opposition with whatever is valued
in CCMP1, then you have a third voice that is disputing, not just the second
voice and its CMP1, but also the first voice and its MP1.
c. Finally, if CCA1 represents a third, but neutral, voice then, looking at
CCMP1, you would see that it is neither the sort of value you could see as
more authors story (probably as a deeper support for MP1) nor something
that is in conflict with it.
So, what is the voices situation in our sample enquiry? Lets analyse things.
Put briefly (and over-simply), MP1 commits to patient welfare. As asserted in
CDP1, this clashes, on occasion, with the critics favoured respect. CCMP1 is
still, to some extent, committed to respect but wishes to restrict who should get
it: just all the moral people. As it is implausible to suggest that it would only be
immoral people for whom respect and welfare might clash, it would seem that
CCA1 constitutes a third voice that doesnt just dispute CMP1 but also MP1. In
effect, we have another, unintended, deep moral clash that has emerged, one that
has its loci in MP1 and CCMP1. Put as a question, it is:
Should nurses primary responsibility be maximizing patient welfare even
in situations where fulfilling that responsibility has, as its cost, treating moral
patients without respect for their status as persons?

Let us just confirm our analysis here by using CCMP1 as the motivating value in
an argument criticizing MP1 (in the manner suggested above).

Extended Reasoning: the Basics


CCMP1 All and only those with status as persons who are also not morally bad (to a
certain extent) deserve to be treated with respect by anyone.
CCDP2 (CDP1) Sometimes, maximizing a patients welfare entails treating her
without respect for her status as a person.
CCDP3 In some of those cases, the patient involved would have status as a person and
would not also be morally bad (to the stipulated extent).
CCMC2 On those occasions, it is not a nurses primary responsibility to maximize his
patients welfare.

A few comments on this structure: Note that, in the second descriptive premise,
we get two grammatical back references to earlier propositions in the argument
(those cases and the stipulated extent). Similarly, in the conclusion, we get such
a back reference with those. Doing this can lessen clutter in the expression of
an argument but it has the down-side that you have to be a little bit more skilful in
ensuring that the argument is in mesh when you are check-listing it.
Also, note that the moral premise is indeed the same as the one deployed
in CCA1. Note further that CCDP2 says the same thing as CDP1, a descriptive
premise that was originally deployed by the second voice, the original critic of
the original author. Although our third voice is in moral dispute with the second
(about the number of people deserving of respect) they share a factual belief about
the possibility of this clash occurring. Participants in a dispute can agree about
some things yet disagree about others. Note finally that the conclusion in the
above argument looks the same as the conclusion that the original (second voice)
critic of the author had. Indeed, just in terms of the words on the page, the two
conclusions are identically worded. However, they dont mean the same because
the grammatical back reference of those is different in each case. Mind you, the
original critic (the second voice) would probably be happy to endorse CCMC1, it
is just that he would wish to extend the exception cases to welfare maximization
beyond those that the third voice would be comfortable with.
End of Aside
Anyway, by successfully crafting CCA2, it is confirmed in our mind that we
have a second line of criticism that has emerged against MP1 (we will revisit
this business of multiple criticisms of a given premise in Chapter 7). So, we have
another deep moral clash, thus there will also be a new tilt. Say that, in this
case, its 90/10 favouring CCMP1 over MP1. I said earlier that you should grow
complexity gradually and deliberately but, in this case, two things have happened
in the one move without any explicit intention that that occur. Still, they have both
occurred and you would be silly not to explicitly recognize the emergence of a
CCA2 third voice criticism of the author and take account of it in your thinking.

Reason and Professional Ethics


Anyway, given that things are becoming rather complicated, it is especially not a
bad idea to pause and go into metacognitive review mode to make sure that you
are tracking things without getting lost. Accordingly, what has happened up to this
point in our enquiry? I would suggest that, basically, what we have is a threecornered contest with each voice disagreeing with each other one.
I would sum up the state of play as follows: Although initially inclined to
consider patient welfare as a good ground for approving of a nurse lying to a patient,
once I realized that patient welfare might be achieved by means that involved a
lack of respect for a patients status as a person, I had serious qualms; indeed, in
such a conflict I tilted 80/20 towards respect over patient welfare. Challenging
my tilt, I considered that it might not be everyone who deserved such respect
and, indeed, with 90/10 confidence, I inclined to the view that only moral people
did. And then, in clash with the original patient-welfare view, I was even more
confident that respecting moral people at least was more important than acting
for their welfare (CCMP1 versus MP1 was 90/10) than I was that respecting just
anyone outweighed acting for their welfare (CMP1 versus MP1 was 80/20). Of the
two clashes with MP1, it seems that the line of criticism that I have more faith in
is that derived from the third voice.
Key Ideas
Once an enquiry has gone beyond the initial stages, metacognitive review becomes
both more complicated in what it covers and more important in helping to keep
track of things. In particular, once beyond an initial criticism, you should think very
carefully and explicitly about the inter-relationships of the various arguments in the
enquiry. More might be happening than you deliberately intended to be present the
issue of voices.

Metacognitive review completed, where to next? As before, the next move is to

engage in metacognitive deliberation among your available options. And, again,
one can hardly do this without understanding what the options are; so, lets list
With the advent of CCA1 come a number of new options:
Accept CCA1.
Criticize CCMP1.
Defend CCMP1.
Criticize CCMP2.
Defend CCMP2.

And, with, our now formally crafted, CCA2, come further options:

Extended Reasoning: the Basics


Accept CCA2.
Criticize CCDP3.
Defend CCDP3.

Remember that the first two premises of this argument were already on the table
in other arguments (see below) but you might find it useful to re-list them if that
helps you to remember that they occur in more than one place.
And, added to these, are all the unused options from the past (ones that we
might now have some new reason to choose):
Accept A1.
Accept CA1.
Defend CMP1.
Criticize CDP1 (CCDP2).
Defend CDP1 (CCDP2).
Defend MP1.
Criticize DP1.
Defend DP1.

Quite a forbiddingly long list.

But, although I include all of the available options for completeness, a good
number of them are obvious non-starters. Heres how I would think things through
(go slowly in reading the following, there are a lot of proposition labels to backtrack on looking at Diagram 6, below, should help).
Although my sympathy with CCMP1 when compared with either rival is high,
it is not at a level warranting acceptance yet; so the options of accepting CCA1
or CCA2 are out. Also, Accept CA1 and Accept A1, options rejected last time,
have had nothing happen to warrant reversal of that decision. Further, given my
critical focus upon moral premises, not descriptive ones, it seems a diversion
from the flow of the enquiry to move focus to the latter. Anyway, as nothing has
happened to change my confidence in DP1 and CDP1/CCDP2 and thus of the
pointlessness of their defence and the futility of their criticism, those four options
drop away. CCDP3 seems also to be obviously plausible (surely it wouldnt only
be the immoral patients whose welfare might well be served by disrespect).
Given that the main current conflict is, in a general way, between respect and
welfare, and, given further that the respect based criticism is at its strongest in
its refined CCMP1 form and that a primary motivation in any further weeding is to
focus on options that help me resolve that conflict, CCMP1 should be my focus. (If
I dont decide that respect for moral people outweighs their welfare, I am unlikely
given my 90/10 tilt to CCMP1 over CMP1 to favour respect of those left, the
immoral ones, over welfare. Put another way, if CCMP1 doesnt end up beating
MP1, could CMP1?) This means that any CA1 located options get weeded out.
Events have overtaken them a bit. Curiously, the un-planned criticism of MP1
(CCA2) has proved to be more important in my mind than CA1.


Reason and Professional Ethics

So, whats left? three options:

Criticize or defend CCMP1.
Defend MP1.

What should be the basis of my choice here? Recall that my tilt between CCMP1
and MP1 is 90/10 favouring the former over the latter. Given such a strong intuitive
leaning, it is usually a good idea (as I have said earlier) to challenge, rather than
reinforce, such an intention. (This is especially the case in the early stages of an
enquiry; Ill return to some complications next chapter.) If the motivation is to go
counter-intuitive, then Defend CCMP1 is eliminated because doing that would
be reinforcing my current tendencies; hence that leaves a short-list of just two
So, should I defend MP1 or criticize CCMP1? My primary tactical motivation
was to go counter-intuitive but that left me with these two options; so are there
any secondary motivations that will guide a choice between them? Last decision
time, I chose to criticize the critic (CMP1 in that case) and what emerged was
basically a friendly refinement of the critics case, one simply narrowing the
range of the clash between respect and welfare that was of moral concern. I
could, in effect, criticize again, this time against the new, narrower, species of
the generic respect position. However, having gone down the criticize respect
path, it might be more interesting to go back to MP1 and see if theres anything
that can be said in support of the welfare value that might challenge my current
tendency to discount it when it conflicts with respecting people, especially morally
good people. Also, I have an existing dispute (respect versus welfare) in play and
maybe I should stay with it and not run the risk of a more complex situation with
too many balls in the air at one time. Last time, I criticized CMP1 and I was
lucky that the third voice that was generated was a first cousin of the second,
just one with a more restricted commitment to respect for others. If I mounted a
criticism of CCMP1, then I wouldnt want it to be a fourth voice (!). It could come
from the second voice but that is out of play for the moment. So, it would seem
that, were I to mount a criticism of CCMP1, it would end up being a criticism
generated from the point of view of the first voice (the original author). Given this,
why not just articulate more of that first voice position in a more straightforward
way as a defence of MP1? It would then be easier for me to keep track of all of
the voices in the dialogue. Admittedly, I said the last time that such a defence was
mentally familiar but it might still be a good idea to get it formally on the table
and, perhaps, given its mental familiarity, I might even persist a bit and further
expand upon that defence with a defence of the defence. Anyway, as things have
unfolded, it seems a good move now even if it wasnt earlier.
So, after a somewhat involved tactics discussion my metacognitive decision
is: Defend MP1.
Note that this is a left over option from way back. Although I didnt have a
good reason to do it in the past, I now do and I can explain why to myself.

Extended Reasoning: the Basics


Key Ideas
As an enquiry proceeds, the number of options facing you in metacognitive
deliberation as to where to go next expands rapidly. Fortunately, there are usually
good tactical grounds for quickly ruling out a number of options and you are
then left with a short-list for more serious consideration. Note that this process of
metacognitive deliberation operates in a sequenced way with obviously poor options
eliminated first and then the remaining ones trimmed methodically by appeal to
primary motivations and then secondary ones and so forth until, hopefully, you are
left with one path forward. Sometimes you can be left with a short-list of more than
one with no good reason to choose among them; in such a case, given that you cant
do more than one thing at once, you will just be fairly randomly picking out one of
them (you might return to do some other, unchosen, option, or options, from your
final short-list at some later stage in the enquiry).
Note also that, as an enquiry proceeds, it becomes increasingly important to carry
out thorough and thoughtful metacognitive reviews both to keep your finger on the
pulse of what is emerging in the enquiry (in a perhaps un-planned way) and as inputs
into your thinking as to where to go next.

What Now?
So, where would the enquiry go next? Well, having decided to defend MP1, you
would proceed to implement that decision. And, as we noted that such a defence
had been mentally pencilled in already, it might be that it gets elaborated upon
a little bit beyond that so that new ground emerges. One way of doing this is to
double up on the defence so that we dont just get a single defence move, like this
(plus some other premises)
(plus some other premises)

Instead, we get a double depth defence as follows (schematically):

Reason and Professional Ethics


(plus some other premises)
(plus some other premises)
(plus some other premises)

You can see why I spoke earlier of chains of reasoning and their links. In this case
we would have a three-link chain.
We will be looking at other ways of elaborating upon the authors case in the
next chapter. But, as this chapter is just an introduction to the basics of extended
reasoning, I will leave things for now. Generally speaking, you would continue
this process of metacognitively guided elaboration of the features of a dispute (in
this case the current one is MP1 versus CCMP1) until confident enough about your
feelings (your tilt) concerning that dispute to close on it. (CCMP1 was close to
this situation having a 90/10 tilt in its favour in comparison to either of the other
moral premises). A discussion of that type of closure move (and its consequences
for your enquiry on the original topic) is a matter for the next chapter.
Laid out as a flowchart, we have this form for our sample enquiry so far (see
Diagram 5).
Note again that there are two main types of alternating activity occurring as the
enquiry proceeds. One is what I have called substantive argumentation (the
initial argument, the criticism of MP1 and then of CMP1 (and, in an un-planned
way, of MP1 again) and, finally, the planned defence of MP1). The other is what I
have called metacognition. In turn, this has two main types of activity.

Extended Reasoning: the Basics

Diagram 5



Reason and Professional Ethics

The first is a metacognitive review. Such a review is a backward-looking

activity in which track is kept of what has already happened in particular, of what
the emerging foci of dispute are and, if it is a moral dispute, the deep moral clash
(or clashes) and your tilt (or tilts) that are present. At this stage, we have another
extra element in our reviews: voices. Note that I have accommodated this feature
in the flowchart with the box headed Extra Review. At this point in this particular
enquiry, the issue is the voice of CCMP1, in particular, its relationship to MP1.
If you recall our discussion of the three possibilities for that relationship, I hope
that you will follow the shorthand in the box well enough. Note also that theres
a little decision in there to confirm the analysis as to which voice it might be. To
check out our view as to the voice of CCMP1, we crafted CCA2 and you will see
that decision within the metacognitive extra review box and then, zig-zagging
across to the other column, we get CCA2 portrayed (and note the vertical arrow
connecting it back to MP1 and showing the relationship between them).
The other element within metacognition, metacognitive deliberation, is a
forward-looking activity in which you consider possible options and, for various
tactical reasons of varying importance, methodically weed the list in a sequenced
way as much as you have good tactical grounds for. (An important input into this
deliberation is the analysis of the enquirys current state of play as provided by your
metacognitive review and, as applicable, your tilts concerning various disputes.) If
you look at the Options and Deliberation box that follows the mounting of CCA2
(and, effectively, after a bit of a quick think about voices, CCA1) youll see that
I have listed the options differently this time and first group together those that
come with the offering of CCA1, then those that come with CCA2 and then the list
of unused options from the past. In particular, I havent listed all of the closure
options first (compare Diagram 3). Note also that Ive got some options listed in
an accept/reject form. I didnt do this in previous deliberation boxes and I offer
it now just as a way of reminding yourself that, for instance, accepting CCA1 is
tantamount to rejecting CA1 they are two sides of the same decision. And, again,
you might decide that all this is cluttering your flowchart too much and trim it to,
perhaps, just the decision that you finally take or just those that were given serious
consideration as possibilities. Again, my personal preference is to leave the clutter
in because it reminds me of all of the possible options.
Focusing on the relationship among the substantive arguments, you could try
one of our other styles of diagram to get the following:



Diagram 6


Reason and Professional Ethics

Note that, in this diagram, it is clear just what arguments are challenging what
moral premises. Note also that, although I have painted in a shorthand sketch
of the content of some of the premises (and look back at the full versions in the
structures and see how you would do some sort of abbreviation for the diagram),
I havent bothered for either descriptive premise in CCA2. For a start, I couldnt
think of anything clear that wasnt rather too elaborate and, anyway, for the task
at hand of tracking relationships among substantive arguments, they dont much
matter it is the moral premise and the conclusion that are of more importance
here. One thing that I havent done in the diagram but that you might consider to
be worthwhile, is to head each of our columns with some such title as first voice,
second voice or third voice. This reminds you that all of the arguments in that
particular column come from the same point of view, or voice. So, A2 is a further
development of A1 (both first voice) and both CCA1 and CCA2, although they do
different jobs with different targets, have the same motivation, CCMP1; they are
in the same voice.
Anyway, as a result of these alternating activities of substantive argumentation
and metacognitive tracking and planning of the enquiry, the controversial issues
underlying the original topic should be gradually teased out and addressed with,
ultimately, some resolution, or closure, concerning these deeper disputes. That
resolution achieved, the enquirer has a more sophisticated and thought-through
framework of beliefs and values to track back to, and apply to, the original topic
Of course, our above enquiry is just one illustration of the basic elements of
the process and, as you might predict by now, things could have gone down some
other path and could have been somewhat more complicated. It is the task of the
next chapter to begin exploring some of those possible complications.

Chapter 7

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities

As noted before, the basic building blocks of rational thought about ethical issues
are arguments. And, if an issue is to be thought through in some depth, then this
will be more than offering an argument or even a job lot of for arguments and
another of against arguments. Rather, what is wanted is an interplaying web of
arguments, ones in interaction with one another. But how to craft that web, how to
decide which arguments to place in which sorts of interaction?
In the last chapter, you were introduced to the basics of this. In effect, the
discussion generates depth by focusing upon the bases of an arguments case, its
premises. And, concerning these, two possible actions can be taken to expand the
discussion. One is to criticize a premise and the other is to defend it. Either way,
this generates a further argument that is related to a component premise of the
preceding one. The trouble is that there is always more than one such move that
one could do, so how to choose which one is the issue. This led us to the business
of metacognition.
Choosing what to do next was explained as a matter of tactics, of doing
whatever seems best suited to advancing your thinking on the issues, with that
decision as to what to do being informed by your appreciation of the enquiry to
that point and, in particular, of the disputes, or clashes, that have emerged and
your current intuitive appraisal of them. (You will recall my introduction of the
concepts of metacognitive deliberation, metacognitive reviews and, within the
latter, deep moral clashes and tilts.)
In this chapter, I wish to go beyond the basics and outline some of the more
sophisticated features of carrying out extended enquiries. These complexities will
involve both of our tasks: substantive argumentation and metacognition. Some
of these complexities are, well, complex, and youll have to read rather carefully
and reread and discuss them with your tutor. Some matters are more central than
others and it may be that your tutor picks and chooses a bit depending on the
level of thought there is time and space to achieve within your course (the section
on dispute closures is particularly important though). All of them are, however,
aspects of sophisticated in-depth thought about professional ethical issues and this
chapter ends up being fairly comprehensive and lengthy.
I cant really see any non-arbitrary way of breaking the chapter up into two or
more chapters but confess misgivings given that it is a bit of a medley of bits and
pieces. Accordingly, I think that it might be more than usually worthwhile to do
a chapter index at the beginning. This might not be a lot of use initially because

Reason and Professional Ethics


some of what I say in it will use terminology that wont be clear until you have
read the relevant section. I include it because it might nonetheless be a useful
reference for you to turn back to in order to remind yourself of just where what you
are reading fits in with what has gone before. So, here goes:
Non-moral Disputes Revisited

Disputes Involving Descriptive Propositions
Disputes Involving Conceptual Propositions

Complex Argument Structures

Joint Rationale Structures
Independent Rationale Structures
Summary So Far
Independent Conclusion Structures
Joint Conclusion Structures
Summary So Far
Roles of Some of These More Complex Structures
Complex Structures and Non-moral Claim Types
Another (Unusual) Type of Simple Argument Structure

Deep Moral Clashes and Their Treatment Revisited

Issues of Degree Moral Clashes and Tilts Revisited
Voices Revisited
Tilt Shifts
Tilts And Counter-intuitive Motivations

Dispute Closures

Voices And Multiple Deep Moral Clash Closures
Closures Involving Non-moral Propositions
Problems upon Patching
Dubious Premises and Messy Outcomes

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


Real-world Reasoning
Non-moral Disputes Revisited
So far, our attention has been focused primarily upon moral disputes. But, as you
know, enquiries might also involve disputes as to what the facts are, or disputes
as to how ideas are related or key concepts are to be understood that is, disputes
about the truth of either descriptive or conceptual propositions as they appear as
premises in various arguments. Although we touched upon these in Chapter 6 in a
couple of asides, I havent talked much about these to date as I have been trying to
get a clear story across about exploring moral clashes and didnt want to muddy
those waters by addressing descriptive and conceptual disputes. Another reason
is that in most, not all, professional ethical disputes, the central concerns are not
so much about what the facts are or how some key concepts are to be understood.
Rather, the key concerns arise from being unsure as to how to proceed on an issue
because your moral values are in conflict concerning it. Sometimes, however, the
problem that you judge to be tactically important to sort out at some point in the
enquiry will, indeed, involve one or other of these non-moral types and Id like to
spend a little time on each.
Disputes Involving Descriptive Propositions
One key way in which these occur in arguments is as premises connecting, or
linking, two moral propositions together. Most prominently, this can occur in one
of two types of argument: one is where we have one moral proposition supporting
or defending another (as MP to MC, say in a premise defence or in an initial
argument); the other is where we have one proposition in conflict with another (as
in a counter-argument, which results in a Deep Moral Clash between the target MP
and the critics moral premise via the critics descriptive premise).
Clearly, neither of these two relationships (defence or criticism) will work well
unless the claimed connection via the linking DP actually does exist. Descriptive
premises act as the connective tissue of your enquirys arguments; they are not the
primary focus but, unless sound, the enquiry is stymied. Sometimes, as with the
DPs in our illustrative enquiry of the last chapter, the facts are clear; but sometimes
they are not. What then?
It depends; sometimes matters can be fairly easily checked out but often the
DP in question cant be because it makes an assertion about matters that are rather
difficult to verify. For instance, in various professional circumstances, many
descriptive claims concern the mental goings-on of individuals yet what some
individual is thinking or feeling might be difficult to ascertain and there might be
conflicting opinions about it. Moreover, the DP might be quite general in its scope


Reason and Professional Ethics

and make assertions about relationships between whole classes of action (often
causal claims if the argument is a means-end one). As these often talk about rather
complex social events and processes, disagreements as to what the truth is might
well occur and be difficult to sort out.
Most (not all) professional ethical issues appeal to DPs that fall into the domain
of the social sciences. Thus it might well be that relevant guidance on some
query can be obtained by consulting the relevant research literature in sociology,
psychology, pedagogical theory, or whatever.
A word of caution though: given that many socio-psychological situations can
be quite complex and tracking cause-effect connections a vexing business, it might
be that the relevance of what was investigated in some body of research to what
you want to know about is debatable or unclear. The circumstances investigated
in the research might be a bit different and it might be unclear if it applies to
your case (say the research covered only early teenage people and your concern
was with late teenagers; or it covered Asian-Americans and your concern was
with Asian-Australians and so on). Or, even if it is relevant, there are cautions
as to whether or not it gives advice at a level of specificity that is useful for your
purposes (it covers heart disease risk for middle-aged males and your concern is
with middle-aged sedentary non-smoking males). There may even be cases where
some studies seem to say one thing and others something conflicting.
It is beyond the scope of this work to pursue such problems. I can only hope that
the rest of your professional education has provided you with adequate research
literacy (as it is sometimes called) to have a reasonable chance of gleaning some
guidance from the relevant published literature. However, even if you can sort
your way through things to form some sort of tentative appraisal of the truth value
of the descriptive premise that is of interest, you might not be able to be totally
confident about accepting it (unlike the DPs in our sample enquiry of Chapter 6) or
rejecting it. Moreover, it might be that you are in no position to find out anything
more that will help increase your confidence one way or the other. Where does that
persistent uncertainty leave an argument that involves it?
As mentioned earlier, we had two main types of relationship between moral
propositions that might be provided by a descriptive proposition: one was where
one moral proposition defended (or supported) another and the other was where
one moral proposition opposed another.
Let us first outline the defence scenario; say it were one like this:
MPa Any police officer who commits a corrupt act should be disciplined.
DPa Sergeant Smith-Smythe committed a corrupt act.
MCa Sergeant Smith-Smythe should be disciplined.

You might not be very confident of DPas truth. Indeed, you might even be able
to give grounds for your doubts. Say that you had decided to challenge DPa and
it went:

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


CDPa Inspector Snider is totally trustworthy as to what he claims to be true.

CDPb He says that Sergeant Smith-Smythe would never commit a corrupt act.
CDCb Sergeant Smith-Smythe did not commit a corrupt act.

Now the web of information and evidence connecting to the matter of Sergeant
Smith-Smythes alleged corruption might go on for some time but let us say that,
at the end of it, you still havent got the facts of the matter totally pinned down to
your satisfaction. You are fairly sure that the result is that he is indeed sometimes
corrupt but there are doubts (although not totally trustworthy, Inspector Snider is
generally so ...). If you were to put a figure on it, you would say that you are 70 per
cent confident that DPa is true. So, where does this leave the connection between
MPa and MCa? MPa is a general moral principle that we were trying to apply
to the situation of Sergeant Smith-Smythe. But, for it to apply depends upon the
connecting premise, DPa, being true. So, what is the upshot of our uncertainty about
it? As you would expect, our confidence in the application of MPa to the particular
case of Sergeant Smith-Smythe to yield our conclusion MCa is undermined to
the extent that our confidence in DPa is undermined. In effect, and assuming that
there is nothing wrong with MPa itself, the weakness of DPa means that we can
only be around 70 per cent confident about that case for the view that he should be
disciplined. Of course, if we also had doubts about the acceptability of MPa, then
our uncertainty about our grounds for MCa would be compounded. We will return
to this issue of dubious premises in a later section.
So much for the effect of uncertain descriptive premises on the satisfactoriness
of defences of moral propositions; what about when they occur within criticisms,
within, say, a counter-argument against some moral premise or other?
Say that we had mounted a counter-argument against MPa. Put ferally, say
that the thrust of it was that some police officers, although corrupt, should not be
disciplined because some short-term corruption was necessary to achieve longterm crime reduction. So, we might get the following counter-argument against
CMPa The primary duty of all police officers is to act so as to reduce crime levels in
the long term as much as possible.
CMPb No police officers should be disciplined for carrying out their primary duty.
CDPa Sometimes, for such long-term crime reduction to be maximized, some police
officers have to act corruptly in the short term.
CMCa Sometimes, some police officers who commit corrupt acts should not be

For CMPa to get to grips with MPa (via the critic denying it in CMCa) relies
again on the truth of CDPa. And, much as before, if its truth is in doubt, then some
investigation of it would occur. This might be a defence of it or a criticism of it or,


Reason and Professional Ethics

indeed, both; and such an investigation of it might go on for some time. Moreover,
as was touched upon earlier, such investigation might involve consulting the
relevant research literature and intelligent caution in applying that research to the
claim at hand is advised. Finally, the upshot of all of that might be that the truth
status of CDPa gets resolved to your satisfaction but it might also be that it does
not. And, if it doesnt, then the confidence that you have in its truth will effectively
be the confidence that you have that the moral values advanced by the critic really
do conflict with MPa (that they are different values is not, itself, of great interest;
values can be different yet be quite compatible the point is whether they are in
Following on from that, say that you were to be only 80 per cent sure that
CDPa is true. In such a case, even if you were totally confident that, in the event
of any clash between CMPa and MPa, you would prioritize long-term crime level
reduction over short-term corruption avoidance, you could only be 80 per cent
sure that there was ever a clash between them to do any prioritizing about! (Well
return to this issue of uncertain premises towards the end of the chapter).
Keep in mind that we talk of only this critical arguments success in getting you
confident that CMPa and MPa are in conflict. Even if this particular case is in trouble
and commitment to CMPa is a dubiously applicable ground for challenging MPa,
other counter-arguments, appealing to other possibly conflicting moral values,
might fare better as lines of challenge to MPa (see the section on independent
rationales, below).
End of Aside
So, how to handle all of this? Basically, with hesitations that reflect what you are
not sure of, to the extent that you are not sure. A key part of your metacognitive
reviews would be keeping a very self-conscious finger on the pulse of all of this.
Key Ideas
Disputes concerning descriptive propositions truth can be of great importance
because such propositions can act as descriptive premises forming a bridge from moral
principles to their application and in setting up disputes between moral principles.
If, even after investigation, there is doubt about a key descriptive premise, then that
doubt should be reflected in your confidence in your case for your conclusion.

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


Disputes Involving Conceptual Propositions

It has been a while since I introduced these propositions and they have not been
prominent players to date so a quick refresher is probably worthwhile.
Conceptual propositions were characterized as ones whose truth or falsity is
not a matter of whether they manage to describe the world or not; rather, it is a
matter that is internal to the language dependent upon the meaning relationships
of various words and on the structures of sentences. I suggested that conceptual
matters might crop up in two places: working definitions and conceptual premises
(or, for that matter, conclusions).
Working definitions were self-conscious attempts to pin an idea down well
enough to go on with ones intellectual work the enquiry. It was recognized
that such conceptual clarifications might, as the enquiry progressed, prove
unsatisfactory and some key idea might accordingly be re-characterized. So, for
instance, it might become apparent that, in the original working definition, two
quite different ideas had been unknowingly blurred together. As an illustration,
say that the original turn of phrase that was appearing in some argument and was
receiving a working definition was: health treatment equity. Moreover, say that
the working definition offered in clarification of this was: citizens have equitable
health treatment if and only if each has the same health treatment provisions, when
ill or injured, as any other citizen with the same illness or injury.
This has certainly pinned down some matters. If Joe has cancer and Jasmine
has a broken toe then they will be provided with different treatment but if each has
a broken toe then the treatment will be identical (regardless of wealth, religion,
geographical location, or what not).
Now say that, as the enquiry unfolds, an issue that emerges is that of individual
autonomy concerning whether or not an illness is even treated, or prevented, at all
(think, for instance, of blood transfusions and the views of some religious sects,
or of compulsory child vaccination programmes and the objections some have to
them). If Joe and Jasmine each has a disease but Joe wishes it treated and Jasmine
does not, have they had equal provision of treatment? Well, yes, in the sense that
each was offered the same thing but, no, in that no treatment occurs for Jasmine
(assuming that her wishes are complied with) but it does for Joe. It would be useful
to know where the author stood on this (or stands the distinction might not be
something that she was really alert to until now). So, a revised working definition
might be in order.
Working definitions are basically meaning stipulations in which you make
yourself clear: When I say such and such, I mean this to be unpacked as so and
so. In effect, it is an attempt to have all in the enquiry on the same wavelength,
not, that is, prone to arguing at cross purposes with different participants taking
key turns of phrase to mean different things. One way of thinking of it is as a plea:
Look, never mind (for the moment) how you would unpack health treatment
equity; can we just agree to these definitions for present purposes and, in those
terms, explore our substantive disagreements instead of focusing on meanings.


Reason and Professional Ethics

Although I am speaking here of a dialogue, much of the above transfers across

to the case of an individual enquiring in soliloquy. In a working definition one is
trying to sort out for oneself just what one understands various key concepts to
amount to in order to press on and address more salient concerns.
Of course, weird stipulations like: when I use oranges, I am referring to
apples will hardly help any enquiry and usually one is just hoping to signal where
one stands concerning ordinary language which may, nonetheless, be somewhat
vague or ambiguous.
Sometimes, though, one wants to go beyond this sort of clarification that is
done just so all involved know what is meant and can focus on the real issues
without confusion working definition style of exercise. Sometimes we are doing
what analytic philosophers (like myself) spend much time over and we are
advancing a tentative claim, or assertion, as to a connection among ideas; one that
we are not stipulating so much as offering for genuine consideration and, hopefully,
agreement. In a working definition one is trying to get semantic agreement for the
sake of argument so that one can focus on other things without distracting to
meaning disputes. Sometimes though, an important part of what one is concerned
to put before others for their intellectual consideration and possible challenge is a
conceptual relationship claim enter conceptual premises.
Consider another concept that occurs in a number of professions that of
informed consent. Just what counts as a person having given informed consent?
There is some room for dispute concerning this and that dispute is something that
you might not wish to merely bypass by stipulation (in a working definition) so that
you can concentrate on other matters. Rather, you might wish to have it upfront
as a possible bone of contention. Try the following as an argument involving this
concept in a conceptual premise:
MP No one should have any medical information about them passed to anyone else
unless they have given their informed consent to that.
CP For a person to give informed consent to some information transfer means for that
person to agree to that transfer having full knowledge of the consequences that will
DP1 Sometimes transfers of medical information are consented to by patients who do
not have full knowledge of the consequences that will ensue from that transfer.
DP 2 In some such cases it is impossible to have full knowledge of the consequences
that will ensue from the information transfer.
MC In those cases no such information transfer should occur.

Clearly one thing that is a possible bone of contention here is how much information
one has to know in order for ones consent to be properly deemed informed. In
short, CP might get challenged as deviating from a reasonable unpacking of the
concept of being informed.

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


Key Ideas
Conceptual issues tend to arise in enquiries in two places: working definitions and
conceptual propositions in arguments. With a working definition, one is basically
stipulating a meaning for all involved to simply go along with for the sake of
argument because ones interests in the enquiry lie elsewhere. With a conceptual
premise, one is laying a conceptual relationship claim on the table as a hypothesis
inviting challenge.

Complex Argument Structures

So far, when structuring arguments we have seen two types. The first was our
simple, or basic, structure, typically a three-liner but not always. The second
occurred when we deepened such an argument to get what I called: a chain of
reasoning, one with more than one component link. The point of the chain/link
metaphor was that, in such an argument chain, each component argument, each
link, was connected to the next in virtue of a shared claim. A proposition that was
in role as MP at the start of one link did double duty and was in role as MC at
the end of the next link up the page. One can view the whole chain as a complex
structure comprising a connected sequence of simple structures. So, lets call these
two types so far: simple structures and chained structures.
The first thing that I wish to do is introduce some further sorts of structure.
The second thing I wish to cover is some of the ways these might emerge in an
Joint Rational Structures
The most common argument type that we have had so far is a simple structure in
which we have some valued state of affairs, some goal or end, being appealed to in
our MP, some sort of linking premise as the DP and then some judgement or course
of action being proposed in the conclusion. An example of a simple structure is the
following one. It has an obviously false DP but it will do for present purposes.
MP1 Being informed about what aims are possible is a (morally) necessary and
sufficient condition for being among the deciders of the broad aims of schooling.
DP1 Only teachers are informed about what aims are possible.
MC1 Only teachers should be among those deciding the broad aims of schooling.


Reason and Professional Ethics

In MP1 we have a single criterion for being a decider being morally endorsed
by the author. (It is endorsed as both required for being a decider and enough for
being a decider but it is only one quality being endorsed.) We should really have
split MP1 into two moral premises, one for the necessary condition claim and one
for the sufficient condition claim, but MP1 will do as it is for now.
As always, that arguments MP might be counter-argued say, to the effect that
the deciders really should know more than just what might be an aim. In addition,
the critic might say, they should know what the consequences of implementing
various possible aims would be. In short, the deciders should be informed about
possible aims and their consequences, not just possible aims. Lets assume that
one accepted this criticism. So, one might, after such a successful challenge to
the MP, decide that, although knowledge of what the possibilities are is the least
something every legitimate decider should have, it is not enough in and of itself to
qualify someone as a decider. In short, to use what is, I hope, familiar jargon, one
might judge knowledge of possibilities to be merely a (morally) necessary but not
a sufficient condition to be met by candidate deciders.
As will be explored more at the end of this chapter, in the face of a successful
counter-argument, one revisits and revises the criticized argument to accommodate
the criticism. Say that the way in which we wanted to revise the original MP was
to say that one necessary condition for being a legitimate decider is to be informed
about what the possible aims are, that is, what the decision options are; but another
necessary condition is knowledge of the consequences of the various possible
aims. Finally, one might judge the two necessary conditions, when combined
together, to be enough to qualify one as a decider, to form a sufficient condition.
In summary, we have two individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions.
So, lets try a revised structure.
MP2 Being informed about the possible aims options is a (morally) necessary
condition for being among the deciders of the broad aims of schooling.
MP3 Being informed about the consequences of each of those aims options is a
(morally) necessary condition for being among the deciders of the broad aims of
MP4 Knowing the aims options and knowing their consequences jointly form a
(morally) sufficient condition for being among the deciders of the broad aims of
DP2 Only teachers are informed about both possible aims and their consequences.
MC2 Only teachers should be among the deciders of the broad aims of schooling.

Note a feature of this argument: although there are two reasons for having teachers
as broad aims of schooling deciders, both reasons have to be satisfied by someone
in order for her to qualify. They form, if you like, a joint rationale for someones

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


inclusion; we have two aspects of the one joint reason rather than two distinct
reasons, each good enough in its own right.
Compare with this a different sort of argument in which, again, there are two
reasons for including some group among the deciders but this time those two reasons
dont join; rather, we have two independent rationales for the same conclusion.
Independent Rationale Structures
To continue our example, instead of viewing knowledge of the options available
and knowledge of their consequences as two (necessary) elements of a joint
(sufficient) criterion for being a decider, one might instead view each as enough in
its own right to qualify someone as a decider. That is, one might view knowledge
of the options as a (morally) sufficient condition for being among the deciders but
also view knowledge of the consequences as, by itself, another sufficient condition
for being among the deciders (having done that, one can hardly coherently have
them as necessary conditions as well think about it). So, one might have these
two arguments:
MP5 Being informed about the possible aims is a (morally) sufficient condition for
being among the deciders of the broad aims of schooling.
DP3 All teachers are informed about possible aims.
MC3 All teachers should be among the deciders of the broad aims of schooling.

MP6 Being informed about the possible consequences of aims is a (morally) sufficient
condition for being among the deciders of the broad aims of schooling.
DP4 All teachers are informed about possible consequences of aims.
MC3 All teachers should be among the deciders of the broad aims of schooling.

The thing to note about these two structures is that they share a conclusion. In
effect, we have two rationales for that conclusion, each independent of the other.
(You might also notice that I have changed the quantifier from only to all; this
is not random but the reasons dont matter for present purposes you might like
to have a think about it.)
Summary So Far
So far we have distinguished four sorts of structure.

Reason and Professional Ethics


Simple structures involve a single move of inference (a single link, if you like)
and that link appeals to just one driving value in its MP. Diagrammatically, we
could put it as follows:
(plus some other premises)
So, MC

Joint Rationale structures are also single links but with more than one deeper
moral value appealed to in the case for the conclusion; the values combine to
provide a joint rationale. Diagrammatically, we could put it as follows:
(plus some other premises)
So, MC

In an Independent Rationale structure, we effectively have two (or more) separate

cases for our conclusion and these can be laid out as independent argument
structures. In our earlier example, it was two simple structures. The only thing
that distinguishes this independent rationale scenario from one having any old two
arguments is that, here, each is an argument for the same conclusion so, not so
much a structure as a converging pair of them. Diagrammatically, we could put it
as follows:

(plus some other premises) (plus some other premises)
So, MC

What is important is that, when there is more than one value being appealed to in
support of some claim, you are able to tell whether they form a joint or independent
Chained Structures are basically a series of argument structures linking up
nose to tail to form a rationale in depth for the final conclusion. Mostly you
have formed these as a result of deepening some structure with a premise defence
but there is no particular reason why one shouldnt offer such a deeper, chained,
rationale straight off. Mostly the links of the chain will be simple structures but

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


they could be other types as well. Diagrammatically, we could put a chain (with
simple links) as follows:
(plus some other premises)
So, MC2/MP1
(plus some other premises)
So, MC1

The last structure types I wish to outline I will call independent conclusion
structures and joint conclusion structures. They are less important in enquiries
than the above but you should still understand them as something that might
Independent Conclusion Structures
Consider the following structure as an attempt to lay out an argument:
MP6 Any schools curriculum should satisfy all those who pay for it and all those who
undertake it.
DP5 All taxpayers pay for any schools curriculum.
DP6 All of its students undertake any schools curriculum.
MC4 Any schools curriculum should satisfy all taxpayers and all of its students.

Have a look at this structure and you will notice that the conclusion is a compound
claim (as we called it in Chapter 3). More than one thing is being proposed. In
effect it is two claims. First, that the school curriculum should satisfy all taxpayers.
Second, that the school curriculum should satisfy its students.
In the case of this particular argument, we also have two driving moral values
being appealed to, as we did in A7/2. There are differences though. There they
were two aspects of a joint case for a single proposal. Here, as we have seen,
the conclusion proposal is really a compound of two claims and MP6 is also a
compound claim, it is a bundle of two moral-type claims which we could split
up. So, in the case of A7/5 we could disaggregate the argument without change of
meaning into two simple argument structures as follows:

Reason and Professional Ethics


MP6a Any schools curriculum should satisfy all those who pay for it.
DP5 All taxpayers pay for any schools curriculum.
MC4a Any schools curriculum should satisfy all taxpayers.

MP7b Any schools curriculum should satisfy all those who undertake it.
DP6 All of its students undertake any schools curriculum.
MC4b Any schools curriculum should satisfy all of its students.

If you are able to break up an argument with a compound conclusion in this

manner then, as touched on way back in Chapter 3 when we were discussing
taming using our checklist, you should. Why? because, as has been emphasized
throughout the book, the more that you can break the tasks of critical enquiry up
into manageable sub-tasks, the better. With A8/5 broken up into its component
pieces you can concentrate your critical attention on the case for the satisfaction of
taxpayers as one task and on the case for the satisfaction of students as a separate
task. It might well be that you come to different appraisals of each of them and
doing that is easier to keep track of if you have disaggregated the two arguments.
In effect, what we have here is two separate simple structures that were being
blurred together. Note that, because the structures are separate, the demise of one
argument would not affect the other.
However, not all arguments with complicated looking conclusions can be
broken up in such a manner. With some such arguments, the bonds among the
elements are such that one cant break them down into simpler arguments without
changing the meaning of what is said. These arguments are our focus in the next
Joint Conclusion Structures
Consider the following:
MP8 Any desirable curriculum should be offered if and only if it is feasible.
DP7 Any curriculum is feasible if and only if adequate physical and human resources
are available.
MC5 Any desirable curriculum should be offered if and only if adequate physical and
human resources are available.

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


It seems to me that this conclusion is being offered as a package that is indivisible

in the sense that (according to the author) it would not be much good offering a
curriculum if only adequate physical, but not human, resources were available or
vice versa. Rather than two arguments that have been compounded together, we
have here a single argument with a complex but integrated conclusion involving
two aspects jointly.
Summary So Far
Mostly, your arguments will be simple or chained structures. Their predominance
is why I have left these other variations until now. The main new skills involved
here are two. The first concerns arguments that seem to have more than one thing
going on in the premises in which case you have to work out whether, in your
feral, you do indeed have a single structure (a joint rationale structure) or whether
it should be split up into two or more separate arguments (an independent rationale
structure or, perhaps, an unnoticed chained structure). The second concerns feral
arguments that seem to have more than one thing going on in the conclusion in
which case you have to work out whether you do indeed have a single structure
(a joint conclusion structure) or whether it should be split up into two or more
separate arguments (an independent conclusion structure).
To complicate your lives, you might get mixes of these. For instance, when
tracking back up a chained structure for a deeper rationale, you might have a
link that is an independent rationale structure. If so, you would be wishing to
have a think about it, realize that the link is indeed formed of two arguments that
constitute an independent rationale structure and then split it up into its component
arguments. Why? Because you will only be wanting to deal with one of them at
a time.
Key Ideas
Argument structures form six main types: simple, chained, joint rationale, independent
rationale, joint conclusion and independent conclusion. A key task for an enquirer
is knowing what is going on, so: analyse what structures are offered in order to
ascertain their type.

Roles of Some of These More Complex Structures

So, how might these more complex structures appear in an enquiry? As mentioned,
it might be almost accidentally in that you were not trying to craft one but when
you properly understood your feral, it turned out to be one or other of these more
complex affairs. But it might also be a deliberate matter; there can be good tactical
point in choosing to go down some of these paths. In this section, I wish to discuss


Reason and Professional Ethics

such deliberate complication (and we will revisit the matter at the end of the
chapter when discussing dispute closures).
Independent Rationales Consider independent rationales: say that you were
engaged in an enquiry and, at some point where you had a steepish tilt towards
one of a pair of clashing moral values, you decided to go counter-intuitive and
chose to defend the weaker value. Clearly, what you would advance as such a
defence would be your best guess as to a satisfactory line of thinking in that role.
Despite this, it might not fare too well and, if your tactical motivation in mounting
a defence was to challenge your current intuitive leanings, it might prove to be a
failure. Even so, you might feel obliged to not give up on going counter-intuitive.
So, what might occur?
You could, I suppose, try your other counter-intuitive option, challenging the
view that you tilted towards, but say that, for whatever tactical reasons, you did
not want to do that. As a result, you choose to try defending your defence, giving
a longer argument chain in support of the MP being defended. Say that, upon
reflection, this still doesnt achieve much and your sympathies still lie about as
much with the opposing value as they did at the start of the whole defence process.
What now? You might judge that, no matter how you deepen that particular line
of defence, it is not going to change your thinking. So, should you give up on
defending and now move to challenging the comparatively more favoured value?
Perhaps; but you might decide not to and (for whatever reason) still want to try
bolstering the weaker view. Presumably then, as that particular line of defence
was getting nowhere, you would think about other possibilities in short, you
might wish to investigate if there might be another, independent, rationale able to
be advanced in support of MP, one that fares better as a challenge to our current
inclinations (even though not as initially favoured as the one that has just failed in
a protracted way to improve its standing).
The same sort of thing might occur somewhere in an enquiry when a criticism
is being mounted. One line of critical argument might not be faring very well
and seems unable to be satisfactorily boosted by appeal to any deeper supporting
defences. So, one might abandon that line of criticism for the moment and mount
another criticism of the same target moral premise. In effect, this gives us two
independent rationales for the same conclusion, CMC say, which was the denial
of the target MP.
So, the upshot of all of this is that, while I have advised you to try to keep to
the minimum the number of lines of thinking that you have in play at one time,
sometimes the inadequacies of an existing argument, or argument chain, warrant
parking it to one side while another line of support is investigated. Note that it is
just being put on the back burner for the moment. After all, it is not as if it has
been 100/0 dismissed and it still counts as a source of lingering doubt about the
merits of the more favoured moral value with which it is in dispute. (And, as will
emerge in a moment, it might arise from near death in another form.) I will return
to the issue of independent rationales when talking of closures in a later section.

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


Key Ideas
Although independent rationale structures might emerge as a result of unpacking
a feral argument, one might also deliberately introduce them if the values initially
advanced in defence of one side of clash seem unsalvageably weak despite

Joint RationalesI turn now to joint rationales. Again, it just might be that when
you come to make sense of a feral argument, it turns out that what is present is
best captured as a joint rationale structure. But, it might also be that you have good
tactical grounds for deliberately crafting such a structure type. There are a few
metacognitive situations in which this might occur.
Consider the sort of scenario we just entertained, one in which some counterintuitive exploratory defence (or probing criticism) of some MP for other has been
mounted and which had the form of a simple structure (or, after development, was
a fragment of a more extended chain). Let us say that the defence (for brevitys
sake, I will skip constantly saying or criticism) doesnt improve matters and even
defending the defence doesnt help. In short, your attempt at challenging your
intuitions is not succeeding in shifting them. As explored above, you might give
up and, putting the existing defence to one side, advance another rationale, one
independent of the first, in defence of the moral premise in question. But it might
not succeed either (not improbable given that it was but your second choice and
your first choice failed to change your tilt). What then?
Well, you could persist in further attempts at independent rationales, or move to
doing the other main counter-intuitive move of criticizing what you favour, rather
than defending what you dont (of which more in a later section). Or, you could
just give up on going counter-intuitive (again, of which more in a later section).
There is, however, another option that is well worth consideration.
At that stage, you have two unsatisfactory independent rationales in defence
of some MP. In this case, an example would probably help so, lets say that the
enquiry in question is the lying nurse one of Chapter 6 and, given our tendency
to favour the respect for moral patients value over the patients welfare one,
we try a defence of the latter. As discussed at the end of Chapter 6, this might be
already mentally pencilled in, but say that the decision was to get the defence
formally written into the dialogue. We didnt pursue our dialogue any further in
the last chapter but say that our initial defence of the duty to look after a patients
welfare appealed to a deeper commitment to patients happiness. So we would
have a descriptive premise linking the two by outlining the connection between
welfare (understood as physical health, recall) and happiness. The details of the
structure of all of this are beside the present point but it is worth portraying the
newly emerged, post-defence, Deep Moral Clash. I would put it as follows:


Reason and Professional Ethics

Should a nurse always treat morally good patients with respect for their status as
persons even if sometimes such patients will thereby have a less happy life than
they otherwise would have had?

Having consulted our intuitions, say that this defence makes no difference and we
favour respect over happiness 90/10. As happiness looks to be a fairly basic, or
bedrock, value, it is hard to see how it might be further defended and so we might
put this line of defence to one side as not working (even though we did not reach
100/0 closure against it). In metacognitive deliberation, say that we decided that
trying to defend the welfare value was still tactically sound, so we proceeded to
mount another, independent, defence (all as per the last section).
This time, the rationale for the patient welfare duty has nothing to do with the
happiness of the patient but with a concern for the wishes of relatives and friends
of the patient. Put ferally, the defence is that nurses should maximize patients
welfare because that is the wish of most of those who are close to the patient.
Again, I wont fuss with the details of the argument structure but I will portray
the Deep Moral Clash that it generates.
Should a nurse always treat morally good patients with respect for their status
as persons even when that runs contrary to the wishes of most of those who are
close to the patient?

Although you might see the point in complying with the wishes of patients
friends and relatives, it might seem to you that this is also well outweighed (say
80/20) by the moral commitment to respecting morally good patients status as
persons. So, this has been of no great assistance in and of itself.
At this stage, we have two independent rationales for maximizing patient
It is for their own happiness; and
It is what those close to them want to occur.
Neither, however, is of sufficient importance in our mind to outweigh treating
morally good patients with respect. However, this is if each is clashing individually
with the respect value. What if the values driving our two rationales, ones that are
unsuccessful when considered independently, were to be combined to make a joint
rationale defence might such a combination outweigh the respect value of the
critic? Maybe, maybe not; but I trust that you can see that it is sometimes worth
playing with such a possibility in an enquiry. A lot depends upon the strength
of the individual tilts of the arguments that you are contemplating cobbling
together. Clearly two near hopeless defences are not promising as raw material to
combine for a joint rationale that has any hope of success. And, in our respect
scenario above, it indeed probably wouldnt be worth the effort. Certainly we have
discovered that not only does the respect value find itself clashing with the patient
happiness value (as a result of our defence of patient welfare), it also clashes with
the wishes of most of those close to the patient. Neither matter concerned us very

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


much (90/10 and 80/20 tilts, favouring respect in each case). And even adding
them to make a joint rationale wont help; they are too slight and wont add up to
However, on other occasions, the individual bits might end up to more of a tilt
change when summated. Say that, instead of 90/10 and 80/20, we had individual
rationale tilts of 70/30 and 60/40. I trust that you can see the promise of their
combination into a joint rationale.
Before I leave this, I have a few observations that I would like to make.
The first is to note that, much as we have gone down the path of bolstering one
side of a dispute (without success so far in our particular example scenario), so (for
whatever tactical reason) might we seek to do the same for the other side. Respect
might not have to face its opposing values alone. The decision as to what cards
should be placed on the table and when is, as I had been at pains to emphasize, a
matter to deliberate metacognitively upon. The thing to keep in mind is that there
are often more cards that could be put on the table and put on the table in ways that
go beyond our simple and chained structures of the last chapter. In effect, the list
of options facing you has grown once you realize these further possibilities.
Recall that, when you were first introduced to the business of carrying out
metacognitive deliberation in the last chapter, I said that, before trying to work
out what you should do next, it would be an idea to have a robustly complete
understanding of what you could do next the list of available options. At the
time, I said that the list came from two sources: first, a bunch of options connected
with whatever the most recent substantive argument was and second, whatever
unused options were left over from past deliberation.
I had my reasons for doing things that way (primarily trying to defer some
complications, rather than confusing you with them when the basics were not yet
understood) but now I want to revisit and revise my advice about the status of
options from the past that have already been used.
Think about what we did earlier when discussing deliberately developing an
independent rationale (a new one that is distinct from an extant one that has proved
wobbly) in defence of some moral premise or other (which could be a DMP,
CMP, CCMP or whatever but we will just call it: MP). A defence of that moral
premise had already occurred so, as per last chapter, defend MP is a used option.
Thus, as things stand, the advice from the last chapter on the options available
would not even have up for consideration the mounting of another defence of MP.
Initially in a thread, such option restriction is a good idea recall what I said about
wanting not to generate a spread of for (or against) arguments that constituted
an unexamined and unappraised list. This still applies in the early stages of a
positions development one doesnt want a premature explosion of rationales for
the same proposition.
But think about the scenarios that led us to wanting to mount either an
independent rationale or (later) a joint rationale. This wasnt just adding for cases
for the sake of it without having considered the merits of any of the extant ones.
Rather, it arose from the protracted failure of a given extant defence of some moral


Reason and Professional Ethics

premise (even after development) to gain traction against the moral value with
which it is clashing. The option defend MP has certainly been used but what
emerged was without much profit in terms of trying, counter intuitively, to boost
the un-favoured side of the dispute.
In such a context, to re-do the option defend MP with an independent rationale
is not so much giving a supplementary rationale that has been gratuitously added
to an existing un-appraised one as it is to be having another go at satisfactorily
trying that option.
Similarly, if two dubious independent rationales are combined to form a joint
rationale, then the combined argument has a different status to the components out
of which it was formed and, strictly speaking, is a further go at the option defend
MP an option which has already been used twice (by the original rationale and
then by the independent new one that would have occurred by this stage in the
Again though, this is not gratuitous generation of multiple defences. It has only
occurred in the face of near failure of earlier attempts. Remember, none of these
earlier efforts were 100/0 rejected, it is just that they are unable to improve the fate
of that side of the dispute against its rival even if given further defence of the
defence style development.
So, in short, after a certain amount of unsatisfactory working with an existing
offering in service of an option, you might well be tactically advised to have
another go (as an independent rationale) and, later, perhaps to combine some such
efforts (as a joint rationale). Doing this is, however, something that is not to be
rushed into and it is only pursued when an existing extant argument, even when
developed, is not succeeding. Ill revisit the issue later (when we discuss what I
will then call track backs) but that will do for now.
The upshot of all of this is that it is a good idea to add to our options lists (for
metacognitive deliberation upon) the following catch-all option:
Revisit some already used option.

It might be queried: Why bother to list it like this rather than just keep carrying
every option (used or unused) forward for consideration next time?. We could
do this but there are two reasons why I prefer my above catch-all way of doing
it. One is that it lessens the length of our listings (something that becomes more
important as an enquiry goes on). The other is that its unusual style of portrayal in
our list reminds us that this is an option that is only to be considered in very special
cases. Still, if you want to carry all options forward for completeness of listing, then
do so. In effect, when you came to consider the option: defend MP (or whatever)
your tactical thinking would usually be something like: No, dont bother to do this
as we already have a defence in place and its fate hasnt been properly considered
yet. It might be, though, that in the sorts of scenarios (protracted failure of extant
defences) outlined above, youd say: Perhaps, although we already have a defence

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


in place, given that it is faring poorly, even after further development, we should
consider mounting another defence.
The second general observation that I wish to make is a response to a common
query: Why not put all of the cards on the table right at the start?. The quick
answer is that you would likely swamp yourself and not have the capacity to
intuitively react to, say, five reasons for having nurses lie and four against and
a multitude of defences and criticisms and criticisms of criticisms and so on.
Best, I suggest, to build complexity in your thinking step by step. Methodically
deploy and refine your guiding principles as you go. This way you dont just have
a gut intuitive response to a whole great pile of considerations, you develop your
intuitions as you go. This gradual teasing out of things gives you your best chance
of getting a better understood and sorted out set of moral principles to apply, not
just to the case at hand, but also to other ethical problems. It will also usually be
the case that not everything that possibly bears upon the topic will have to be
looked at for you to reach confident closure on the issue.
So far, I have discussed grounds that you might have for deliberately
introducing a more complicated structure type such as an independent or joint
rationale. Both of these more complicated types focus upon premises. In each case,
it is a matter of having a more complex type of case for some given conclusion
that you are concerned to defend. What of our other two complex structure types
independent and joint conclusions are there circumstances when it might be wise
to introduce them? If there are, then I havent come across them. It seems indeed
that these structures would only appear as a result of unpacking a rather messy
feral argument.
Key Ideas
Apart from developing independent rationales, there might also be good tactical point
in bundling some independently weak rationales together to form a joint rationale.
This is usually only worth doing if the tilt that results changes ones metacognitive
thinking about the enquirys direction. Independent and joint conclusion structures
seem without such deliberate point.

Complex Structures and Non-moral Claim Types

Although I have made moral propositions a deliberate focus of the book, you
already, of course, realize that sometimes the focus of an enquiry is upon the
disputed truth status of a descriptive or conceptual proposition as initially deployed
as a premise in some argument. Of course arguments concerning the merits of such
propositions might be simple or chained but they can also be one of these four
more complex types and more or less the same remarks apply as those just made
concerning moral propositions.


Reason and Professional Ethics

Another (Unusual) Type of Simple Argument Structure

Way back, in Chapter 4, I said that, in enquiries into professional ethical issues,
there were two main types of argument structure that might appear.
One was what I called: set inclusion arguments. There were sub-varieties
of this but the rough idea was that some ethical stance was supported by noting
the sort of thing it was and then relating that to some sort of broader principle as,
say, an instance of the latter. So, for instance, one might (ferally) defend the view
that Bartholomew should be sacked by appealing to the general principle that all
employees who are incompetent should be sacked and asserting that he is indeed
an incompetent employee (included as a member of the set employees and of the
set incompetents).
The other type I called: means/ends arguments. Again, there were variations
on this but the rough idea was that some particular action (or class of actions) was
defended by appealing to the consequences of doing it. So, one might defend the
position that Bartholomew should be sacked by being (morally) committed to (the
end of) efficiency being improved and holding that sacking Bartholomew (the
means) would have the consequence that efficiency would be improved.
It is such means/ends arguments that I wish to focus upon and contrast with
another pattern of argumentation that is also to do with consequences but in a
different way. Sticking with the Bartholomew case for illustration, we could lay
our means/ends argument out schematically as follows:
MP efficiency improvement
DP Bartholomews sacking efficiency improvement
MC Bartholomews sacking

(The ticks are ones of moral endorsement and the arrow in the DP is some sort of
causal connection with sacking as cause and improved efficiency as effect.)
This is all rather roughly portrayed but so far, so familiar, I trust. I am just
reminding you of past stuff.
Note that the focus of attention in the MC is Bartholomews sacking and it is in
cause (or means) position in the DP claim with some effect being claimed if we
were to do the sacking. So, sacking, now, will lead to efficiency improvement, later.
In this argument an action is proposed (MC) on the basis of a good consequence
that will flow (as effect) from it.
As noted, the extra structure type that I am about to outline is best thought of
in comparison to our standard means/ends arguments. I will call this new type
of simple argument structure: commitments arguments. Lets try an illustrative
example. Ferally, we might argue as follows:
Sometimes guilty people should escape punishment because that is the outcome
of a fair trial process.

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


Put as a structure, we get:

MP* The processes of fair trials for alleged offenders should always be carried out.
DP* Sometimes carrying out the processes of a fair trial for alleged offenders leads to
guilty people escaping punishment.
MC* On those occasions, guilty people should escape punishment.

Let me lay this one out schematically as well:

MP* fair trial
DP* fair trial not punished
MC* not punished

Examine this in contrast to the schematic version of the Bartholomew case and
you will see that the key difference is in the descriptive premises. The direction of
the causal arrow is different. Earlier, we were defending something (the sacking
of Bartholomew) by noting some good consequences that flowed from it (as an
outcome). Here, though, it is the outcome that is being defended (some guilty party
not being punished) on the grounds that it flows from something good (fair trials)
as a consequence. This time, looking at the causal relationship, it is the effect that
is being defended (as flowing from a good cause) whereas earlier it was the cause
that was being defended (as flowing to a good effect).
You can imagine how arguments of this sort might crop up. Imagine that the
discussion was one about guilty people escaping scot-free sometimes and, in that
discussion, the above argument was offered. Basically, the point would be that
we are stuck with that situation sometimes happening because it is an occasional
result of something that we should support (fair trials). If you like, the line here is
that it is a situation that we should be willing to (morally) accept as part of the cost
of having a commitment to a fair trial justice system.
The upshot of all of this is: be careful. If you have some sort of consequences
type of argument present then have a careful think about just what it is that you
take to be going on before you lay it out as a structure. In particular, get straight just
what the author is trying to make a case out for. Mostly, consequences arguments
will turn out to be some form of our means/ends type but sometimes it will be a
commitments style of argument that you have so, careful analysis is enjoined.


Reason and Professional Ethics

Key Ideas
Consequences arguments come in two types. The more common is the means/ends
type outlined earlier but sometimes an argument will be of what I have called the
commitments sort.

Deep Moral Clashes and Their Treatment Revisited

In the last chapter, you were introduced to the basic notion of Deep Moral Clashes;
and, above, you had that built upon with our discussion of the possible role of
more complex structures in dealing with them. In this section, well look at a
range of other matters that bear upon your understanding of these clashes and their
treatment. Later, well revisit them under another heading.
Issues of Degree Moral Clashes and Tilts Revisited
Some moral agents have a single bedrock intrinsic value. For instance, you will
have come across the utilitarian maxim: Act always so as to bring about the greatest
happiness of the greatest number. As it stands, it is overly obscure, nonetheless its
driving motivation is sufficiently clear for present purposes. What is intrinsically
valued is (human) happiness and nothing but human happiness. No doubt other
things will be valued but not intrinsically; they will be extrinsically valued only in
so far as they are instrumental in helping to maximize human happiness. They will
be valued in terms of their consequences and the only consequence that ultimately
matters is human happiness. If you act so as to more serve the cause of human
happiness than any other action open to you, then, on this view, you have done the
right thing.
In effect, for such agents, any chain of argument resulting from deepening
some initial argument (by defending its MP) will run out with the deepest link
having this utilitarian maxim as its MP.
Mind you, even with such a single guiding goal, there are practical, or
computational, difficulties concerning working out which particular action of a
spread of options actually does best serve the cause of human happiness but
they are technical difficulties. Such problems are to do with the truth or falsity
of various fact-type premises operating in ones deliberations. So, for instance,
one might reason as follows: I should cheat on my exam because so doing will
increase my happiness and do nothing to decrease anyone elses happiness and no
other action open to me will more increase human happiness and I should increase
human happiness as much as possible.

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


The trouble with that piece of reasoning is that all of the fact-type premises
here seem dubious. Will such cheating really do nothing to decrease anyone elses
happiness? What if the incompetence associated with ones cheating (despite
one being certified as competent) impinges upon others? Is it indeed sufficiently
probable that it will even increase your happiness? What are the chances of being
caught? And, if caught, how will being known as a dishonest fraud affect your
happiness? And is this action really the one that, more than any other available
option, will contribute most to human happiness? Maybe dropping ones course
of study and working somewhere to help the plight of starving Africans would be
superior in the service of the intrinsic value of human happiness.
So, in short, even someone who has only one such intrinsic value, who values
only one thing at that bedrock level, is hardly spared difficulty in working out
what should be done or how to judge some action of some person. For most of
you, however, the situation is more difficult yet again because most of you will
have more than one intrinsic, or bedrock level, moral value guiding your actions
as moral agent. Why this creates more difficulty is that they will sometimes clash.
So, a pressing problem is: What to do in the face of the possibility of such intrinsic
moral value clashes.
To some extent, we have begun to address this problem already in that the
usual form that a counter-argument (criticizing a target arguments MP) would
take would be to suggest that some sort of moral clash is occurring, to say
something like: Such-and-such (MP) shouldnt happen because it clashes with
so-and-so (CMP) which is more important. To date, you have been basically
advised to use the critics challenge as a vehicle for exposing such disputes and
thus as a step towards sorting out your priorities concerning the clashing values
(by considering things further, deepening the authors and critics arguments and
so on). What I want to do now is flesh out (with a little bit more sophistication)
just what might be some of the elements of such an initial moral clash and its
As you know, these clashes usually begin with fairly non-bedrock values that
are close to the ethical problem under consideration an initial arguments MP and
a counter-arguments CMP if you like. Why would such a moral value clash exist?
Basically, there are the two possibilities just touched on. First, if you were to track
deeper down the chain of values underlying MP to its moral bedrock, then (at least)
one such bedrock value is found and if you track down the chain underlying CMP,
then you get a different bedrock moral value (or values). In short, one possibility
is that your shallower value clashes, those ones closely tied to the ethical issue at
hand, arise because of deeper moral conflicts. So, ultimately the task will be to sort
out those deepest, or bedrock, level conflicts as best you can.
There is a second possibility though. It might be that the fairly shallow MP/
CMP moral clash is not ultimately derived from a clash at the level of fundamental
values. It might be that you only have one bedrock value like our utilitarian maxim.
(Or, if there are more than one, they are not here conflicting, so not generating
the problem at hand; Ill ignore this scenario for the moment.) Recall that these


Reason and Professional Ethics

fundamental moral values are the motivational drivers of other, shallower, moral
principles or judgements. So if author and critic start off with the same such
fundamental driving value, how is it that from that same starting point we generate
an MP and a CMP which clash? There are just two ways that this can occur. One
is that somewhere we have an illogical argument. The other is that we have a
problem with some non-moral premise or premises somewhere that is, either we
have managed to get ourselves in a conceptual muddle or we have an unnoticed
conflict (and thus error) in our claims as to what the facts are.
Professional ethical enquiries start at the level of a particular problem so of
course you are starting things at the shallow end and building depth by various
defences and counter arguments. And, when you thereby generate some MP/
CMP clash early in the enquiry, it simply may not be clear to you how it is that
you have sympathy with both MP and CMP yet see them as clashing. It might
be that the conflict indeed reflects deepest level moral conflicts which you have
among a number of bedrock values that do not always agree. Or it might instead
be that you have only one bedrock value and that the apparent moral conflict
is really just that apparent with the real source of the apparent clash being
a factual error or conceptual confusion or an illogical argument somewhere in
the web of arguments forming your enquiry. For instance, two clashing views
about the propriety of cheating might both rest upon the utilitarian maxim we
outlined. The shallower level clash about cheating might be explained by, say,
a factual disagreement about whether cheating on an examination will or will
not have the consequence of causing unhappiness for various people. Because
of this dispute as to the facts, two people in deep level agreement might end
up in shallow level disagreement. Moreover, by losing metacognitive track of
things, such problems might arise in your own thinking when you are, so to
speak, both author and critic. How would you be able to tell what is going on
in any given enquiry?
First, by careful development of the elements of the enquiry and keeping
your descriptive premises true as far as you know and, in particular, not having
descriptive premises from various arguments in conflict without you noticing.
Second, by keeping your concepts as precise and clearly understood as possible.
Third, by meticulously ensuring that your arguments are indeed logical. Also, a lot
of the work is going to be done in metacognitive reviews in which you try to keep
your finger on the pulse of what is unfolding and, in particular, just what you think
the emerging areas of contention are.

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


Key Ideas
Shallow level moral disputes (MP/CMP style) might be driven by deepest level
disputes but might occur even when there is agreement about bedrock values. In
such a case, the culprit is one or more of the following: a conceptual muddle, a
disagreement as to what the facts are, or an illogical argument. These non-moral
sources of apparent moral dispute can be tracked/prevented by careful crafting and
checking of arguments and careful metacognitive tracking of their relationships.

As you realize, the whole approach that I recommend is a ground up one, one
in which you grow the enquirys depth by careful teasing out of motivations and
objections. Again, you might think that it would be simpler to just identify your
bedrock values and see what they say about the issue at hand. My reason for not
advising this is that most people do not have an adequately clear and precise
picture of what, at the most fundamental level, they actually do value. Their grasp
of their own bedrock values is likely to mean that they will construe them in too
simplistic a way to be a useful guide and basis for simple application to professional
ethical issues. One cant simply apply ethical principles if those principles are illunderstood and it is unclear when they conflict and what is to be done about it.
Take the utilitarian maxim that I spoke of above. It might be attractive to you
and seem clear enough for application. I assure you that it is not. The way that
we have put it masks the existence of sub-varieties and those sub-varieties (all of
which could be vaguely expressed in the way I put the maxim) would give different
guidance in various ethically problematic situations. Better to bottom-up build
the complexities of your thinking as needed by the problem at hand, rather than
expect to be able to just state an adequately complex set of guiding principles that
you can top-down apply.
Moral Disputes Based on Bedrock Moral Value ConflictsAnyway, say we have
some value clash to sort out. Further, I am going to assume for present purposes
that it is one that is ultimately generated by a moral clash at the deepest level
one of fundamental, or bedrock, intrinsic moral values (so it is not just a matter
of getting our facts wrong or getting in a conceptual muddle or being illogical).
So, let us assume that we have teased things out methodically and got to such a
deepest level moral clash. In short, we are fundamentally ethically conflicted in
our values. What is to be done?
Your first thought might be that it is all a matter of sorting out a hierarchy of
moral values, one listing them in order of their comparative importance. So, let us
say that you have as bedrock values both the value that lying is bad and the value
that one should be kind to people (of course, even if you hold these values, they
might not actually be bedrock values for you, but shallower ones, but just assume
that they are). Clearly these morals might clash. For instance, you may be asked


Reason and Professional Ethics

a question by a colleague who has written a grant proposal: Is my document any

good?. In your view, the proposal might be dreadful. Saying that it is so satisfies
ones bedrock value against lying. But, lets plausibly assume, if you say this then
the colleagues feelings will be hurt, self-esteem lessened and so on. Be kind
seems to enjoin lying to your colleague and pretending that the work is better than
it is. The point is that in this scenario you cant satisfy both values (although in
other scenarios they might not clash). In response to this, the hierarchy suggestion
would simply place the two values in an order of importance. So, you might say
that, although lying is bad, failing to be kind to people is worse. So, in effect,
whenever the two clash, you should, on this view, always tell a kind lie. Putting
this in terms of our earlier talk of tilts, you would close any such dispute 100/1 in
favour of being kind.
If such simple rank ordering of values could always be done, then the life of
moral agents would be greatly simplified. One way of thinking of such a hierarchy
with, say, Be kind outranking Be truthful is that one could construe the moral
prescription Be truthful as being somewhat sloppily worded. A more sophisticated
version would be: Be truthful unless being truthful clashes with being kind. In
short, write in an exception clause. So, were one to just have a bunch of four
values, 1, 2, 3, and 4, ranked in descending order of importance, then sorting out
value clashes would be a fairly simple thing (apart from the technical descriptive,
conceptual and logical difficulties mentioned earlier). One would always do 1
(assuming that it was an applicable option) and do 2 unless it clashed with 1, do 3
unless it clashed with 1 or 2 and do 4 unless it clashed with 1, 2 or 3.
Unfortunately, such simple rank ordering of the relative importance of a number
of bedrock values is simply not possible for most moral agents. It is likely that you
have more complicated, or nuanced, moral views than that. Say you are, as before,
tossing up between two action options: tell the kind lie and tell the unkind truth.
In some sense you might rate kindness as more important than truth but it is often
not clear cut. Say that the scenario is the following. A person has suggested to an
academic journal that she has a new theory of the origin of the universe which
she can prove to be true. What would be done by the journals editor is to send
the paper out to a couple of expert referees for their advice. Say that the putative
proof of the papers thesis is flawed and that the journals referees pick this up. The
editor knows that rejecting the paper will upset the author and yet to accept it for
publication would be for the journal to tell a lie as to its worth. In such a case, the
value concerning truth-telling looms large. It would be such a large lie that you
might feel that the degree of un-truth involved outweighs any unkindness shown
to the author by the rejection of the paper.
But what if the clash between the two bedrock values involves minor lies with
considerable unkindness avoided by those lies?
The hurt feelings versus truth-telling dilemma was chosen by me as one
which crops up in a number of professional situations for instance, the contexts
of feedback to students, clients and colleagues, formal reports (such as appraisals
of colleagues for tenure/promotion), discussions with patients/clients, reports on

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


authors submissions and so on. It ranges across a spread of professions. (It is not,
of course, the only sort of moral value clash professionals face.)
Even where you might feel very confident of the rigidity of some hierarchical
ordering, worrisome cases can be crafted. Ordinarily, you might feel that
preservation of life rates as more important than avoidance of suffering. If, in
some decision scenario, you were (never mind why or how) faced with a choice
of causing someone pain and suffering for a while or killing someone, I surmise
that you would tend to favour causing pain as better, or less evil, than killing. But
what if it were a great deal of suffering (very extreme and extended pain indeed
for that person) yet on the other option, the person up for death had only a few
days of unconscious life to live anyway? Would killing such a person be less evil
than causing such horrendous pain to the other person? Many people, faced with
this choice, would opt for killing; and would do so despite a rough and ready
judgement that killing is worse than causing pain. What is making the difference
is the degree, or extent, to which a moral value is satisfied or transgressed in each
So, when you appraise options and consequences to judge the rightness of
actions, a major complication is that it is not as if it is a simple matter of one option
satisfying one value and another option another; its importantly also a matter of
the degree, or extent, to which those values are satisfied.
Key Ideas
The relationship between values in dispute is rarely clear cut. In particular, things are
often complicated by what I call issues of degree the extent to which one value is
being satisfied and the extent to which its rival is not (in various clash scenarios).

Tilts Revisited Recall that, with our tilts, I said that you might get anything from
100/0 to 50/50 to 0/100 the other way. I spoke of this as a rough indicator of the
confidence that you had that one value would outweigh the other were they to
clash. We are now ready to refine our understanding of this business of tilts. Lets
work through another example scenario.
Say that you originally argued that disabled students should be included in
mainstream schooling because that was the most effective way of fostering their
socialization with their peers and such socialization was important and clashed
with no other value that was more important.
Say also that, in response to this, a counter-argument was advanced as follows:
the academic learning of ordinary students is more important than the socialization
of a disabled student and inclusion of a disabled student will indeed interfere
with the academic learning of the other (ordinary) students in the class so such
socialization does clash with a more important moral value (academic learning).


Reason and Professional Ethics

You conceive of the Deep Moral Clash in this way: Should the peer-socialization
of disabled students be fostered even if it interferes with the academic learning of
ordinary students?. Concerning this, you have sympathy with the critics point of
view and assign a tilt of 80/20 favouring the critics commitment to the academic
learning of ordinary kids over the peer-socialization of disabled kids.
Assume for simplicitys sake that, after much enquiry, the bedrock value
motivating the authors thinking is some sort of commitment to the fair treatment
of individuals and that motivating the critic is our earlier-outlined utilitarian
maxim. (Of course we would want to spend some time clarifying each of these
bedrock values but, as when I first outlined the latter, I dont want to divert to that
task of clarification and will leave things obscure as it doesnt matter for now.)
Also, concerning this deepest level clash of fundamental moral values (should
happiness be maximized even if its cost is unfairness?), lets assume that your tilt
is 70/30 favouring happiness over fairness (see the section on tilt shifts, below).
Note that our tilt is not 100/0 so we dont have a neat rank order hierarchy of
happiness over fairness available to us. Our ideas are messier than that. So, just
what is going on?
One way that I have encouraged you to think about a tilt is as a gut-level
expression of your confidence in preferring one over another of two clashing
moral values. We are now in a position to have a more sophisticated understanding
of what is going on here. The 30 that you are assigning to fair treatment can be
thought of as a suspicion that in some cases you might prefer to sacrifice happiness
for fairness. Now connect this with the issues of degree part of the section title.
Plausibly, what is going on in these tilts that are not 100/0 or 0/100 closures is a
combination of two things. The first is that, say, our 70/30 tilt means that we feel
that, mostly, in a happiness versus fairness clash, wed go for happiness but
not always. The second aspect of these tilts is that, although generally you rate
happiness maximization over fairness, things get complicated by what I will call
issues of degree. There are scenarios where the degree, or extent, of unfairness
involved in increasing human happiness outweighs the increased amount of
happiness thereby achieved. Reread this last bit and have a bit of a think it
is important and I dont want it to be overlooked as you flow through with the
So, what we have with our non-closure tilts is an intuitive appraisal of the
chances of one moral value outweighing another and the reason for sometimes
jumping one way and other times the other, lies with the varying degrees of
satisfaction or dissatisfaction of the values in question in various particular
I have focused on bedrock moral value clashes because that is where genuinely
moral disputes end up but, of course, non-decisive tilts occur at shallower levels
as well. Indeed, in most professional ethical enquiries, they occur first at such
levels. In this particular example scenario, we had a clash of peer-socialization of
disabled kids versus the academic achievements of ordinary kids.

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


As you would guess, this is not a dispute that is likely to be resolved by simply
ranking the two clashing values in a hierarchy of importance. After all, it is not as
if, on one alternative (exclusion), the disabled student will be totally unsocialized
and the rest of the class will have maximal academic learning and on the other
alternative (inclusion), the disabled student will be maximally socialized and the
rest of the class without any academic learning whatsoever. Rather, what will
presumably occur with inclusion is more socialization of the disabled student
and less academic learning by the rest than were the disabled student not to be
included. Your view as to the morality of inclusion will likely depend on just how
much better socialized the included student would be and how much academically
worse off the rest would be and that might vary from particular situation to
particular situation.
Well revisit things below in the section on dispute closures, but it may be
that the upshot of all of this will be something rather more complex than simply
being in favour of, or against, the inclusion of disabled students in regular schools.
You might end up favouring it sometimes, in some circumstances, for some such
kids, depending on just how much their socialization changes and how much such
inclusion (or not) connects to the sort of fairness that you have finally worked
out to be one of your bedrock values. Mind you, it will also depend on the degree
to which other students academic learning is affected and thus, ultimately, how
much human happiness is thereby downgraded.
Finally, realize that many issues dont involve the prioritization of just two
clashing values. You may have a bundle of merits (of differing degrees and
importance) of some action being weighed up against a bundle of demerits (again
of differing degrees and importance). Recall the more complicated structures of
an earlier section in which appeal was made to more than one value in support of
a conclusion (which could well be the conclusion of a counter-argument) and you
will imagine how complicated things can become. Of course a good many merits
or demerits might end up tracking down to rather fewer bedrock or fundamental
values that are motivating such judgements.
My advice remains, though: grow the complexity through metacognitively
deliberate unfolding of it and dont expect to be able to just put it all on the table
at once without suffering muddle.
Key Ideas
Appeal to the previous point about issues of degree can help us understand what is
going on (at least in part) when we have a non-closure tilt present.

Reason and Professional Ethics


Voices Revisited
In the illustrative enquiry used in Chapter 6, we introduced the idea of voices.
There, our third voice, one critical of the respect value, was one that was a
first cousin of the CMP1 that it was criticizing. Like CMP1, CCMP1 generally
favoured respect over welfare, it just had a more restricted view about when that
respect should be issued (only to the morally good). We had CCMP1 outweigh
CMP1 90/10 and thus, with that preference in the internal dispute between the
critics, we were focused on a single Deep Moral Clash CCMP1 versus MP1.
But sometimes things will not be this neat. In our dialogue, the second and third
voices were both variations on the respect theme with MP1 as the common foe,
and, in a sense, getting straight which version of the critic we tended to favour was
wise before revisiting the issue of patient welfare. So, a three-cornered contest?
yes, but two corners (the two critics) were fairly closely aligned. Some enquiries
might end up with voices that are more distant from each other than that. In this
section, Id like first to briefly discuss such scenarios and then I will go on to
another matter.
More Severely Disagreeing Voices Let me illustrate with an enquiry that I will
but briefly sketch, one quite different from the lying nurses one and drawn from
another profession, teaching. I wont bother laying all of the arguments out in
Say that the topic was what the primary focus of school curricula should be.
Say further that the initial stance on this was that the primary focus of school
curricula should be on literacy, numeracy and IT competence. Why? Because
that is what most employers want and schools should do whatever most employers
All a little bit feral and no doubt it would benefit from some TLC but it will do
for present purposes. In particular, we have the driving moral motivation, the moral
premise, of this argument explicitly present that schools should do whatever
most employers want them to do. Say that we proceeded to criticize that moral
premise (MP) along the lines that it was of utmost importance to have a society in
which as many people as possible have shared moral values and a key ingredient
in having this happen is for schools to have indoctrination of those values as a
primary focus despite this interfering with doing what employers want. Again, I
wont fuss with the detail but I will portray the Deep Moral Clash, to wit:
Should schools do whatever employers want even if the result would be that
fewer members of society would have shared values than would otherwise have
been the case?

Fine; now say that, for whatever reason, after metacognitive deliberation our
decision is to criticize the critics CMP. So, as an argument disputing that view

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


(that as many people in society as possible should share moral values) we might
get the following feral:
Everyone should have maximum freedom of thought and, as the only way that
maximizing shared values in citizens can occur is by restricting some citizens
freedom to hold unpopular values, society should not have as many citizens as
possible sharing values.

Explicitly in the first clause, we get the CCMP and its commitment to freedom of
thought. I will, in this case, pause to give a rough and ready working definition
of freedom of thought: to have ones freedom of thought maximized is, to the
maximum extent possible, to have only those values, beliefs and so forth that one
chooses to have (including via rational persuasion). This is still a bit murky but it
will do for now.
So, the Deep Moral Clash with the original critic is clear enough:
Should as many people in society as possible have shared values even if its at
the cost of lessening freedom of thought?

So, we have two Deep Moral Clashes so far: MP versus CMP and CMP versus
CCMP. But, as you might have guessed, this last voice doesnt just dispute its
intentional formal target, CMP, it also disputes MP. How so? Well, getting what
employers want might be at the cost of some freedom of thought. To help see
this possibility, look back at the initial argument: what employers seem to be
wanting is a suite of knowledge and skills to do with literacy, numeracy and IT to
be present in school leavers; but what if some of the students involved would not
freely choose to have such knowledge? It looks, according to MP, that the schools
should do what employers want regardless of what students might want to be the
contents of their minds, regardless, that is, of how they might want to exercise
freedom of thought.
So, we have two quite distinct clashes involving the initial MP, the values
dispute with CMP (which was deliberate) and the CCMP freedom one which is
accidental, a by-product of the deliberate CCMP dispute with CMP.
This is all to be kept careful track of in metacognitive reviews. And it may well
be that the way the enquiry unfolds means that one criticism of MP is ultimately
defeated (and that thread is thus closed) but that still leaves the other one not, or not
yet, defeated. And, curiously, it might be that the deliberately mounted criticism
(CMP in this case), which was your first cab off the rank as a line of objection,
is the one that fails and (after some exploration) the accidental one succeeds.
Stranger things than this occur when you start exploring the complexities of a
topic in some depth which makes the point again that your first thoughts in an
enquiry into some professional ethical issue are unlikely to be your last ones:
surprises happen.


Reason and Professional Ethics

Deliberate Creation of VoicesIn the above case (and our earlier lying nurses
one from Chapter 6) we had the unintentional creation of a third voice. That it was
present in the enquiry was only realized upon careful and methodical metacognitive
review after the crafting of the argument containing CCMP. In effect, the enquiry
has accidentally become more complicated in terms of streams of competing
ideas than the two-voice dialogue we might have hoped that we were continuing.
Although I have recommended that you try not to have too many balls in the air
at once, sometimes we might deliberately seek out such complexity; sometimes
the introduction of a third (or fourth, or whatever) voice might be done on purpose
for good tactical reasons as outlined in an exercise in metacognitive deliberation.
How might this go?
Say that you have some MP/CMP dispute but realize that the whole enquiry
is going to involve investigation of more competing viewpoints than that. You
could follow my standard advice and keep things as uncomplicated as possible
and just concentrate on that dispute but you might feel that it would be profitable
that further complications occur now, that you want to have a wider picture on the
table, and in your mind, so that you can sort out bits of it. So, using our curricular
aims dispute example, we might explicitly realize that, although we are conflicted
about whether it is more important for employers to get what they want or society
to share moral values, there is another issue: any such compulsory curriculum is
an imposition upon students freedom. You might wish to have a spread of such
mutually conflicting values all on the table at once. If so, then all I suggest is that
you have a very clear idea of just why you think making things messier is a good
move and that you keep very careful metacognitive track of such matters in your
reviews. Such added complexity is to be viewed with caution.
Finally, although I have used an MP versus CMP versus CCMP scenario in
my exposition, voices multiplication might not occur this early in an enquiry but
later down it. One such scenario might be the following:
Say that you had an initial MP/CMP two-voice clash and that tilt was not a
closure-style 0/100 but something messier. Lets say that it favoured CMP over
MP at 70/30. Accordingly, you play around with defences of the two voices and
challenges to various deeper moral premises on each side and craft independent
rationales and joint rationales and what-not until a quite multi-layered and manyfaceted rendition of the dispute between those two voices has emerged. In short,
you really have teased out the dispute between those two voices.
But say that the enquiry is getting nowhere in another sense. You still tend to
favour the critics side of dispute (no matter what level that dispute has got to)
and with some similar sort of tilt as what you started off with 70/30. That we
have not got 100/0 means that you have some persistent doubts about the critics
web of values (when put up against the authors). The elaborate teasing out of
competing views (including some nuancing involving issues of degree) simply
hasnt settled things much and you feel that you have hit a brick wall.

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


Sometimes nothing can be done, and things stay messy and unresolved a
scenario that well discuss further at the end of the chapter. But sometimes it is
worth introducing another voice as a circuit breaker.
It could be that the 70, and not 100, relative score for the critic in the dispute
with the author indicates qualms about the critics web of values that simply
havent emerged in the formal dialogue with the author but are there somewhere
in your mind. Sometimes these features can emerge better if the dominant view (in
this case, the critic, is put in conflict with a third voice (a critic of the critic). What
sometimes emerges from this is that the third voice prevails and the critics deepest
moral premise so far (which would have been the target for the third voice criticism)
gets modified to accommodate successful (100/0) criticism of it. (Well come back
to this business of modification of a premise in the face of its successful criticism
in a later section on what I call track backs, but we did already touch upon it
earlier when talking of clashes and possible hierarchies in response to them and
exception clauses as a way of expressing hierarchical relationships.)
In effect, as a result of the success of the third voice challenge to the critic,
some of our niggling, half-conceived of, qualms about the critics line of thinking
might emerge into the light of day. As a result, we might get a modified, or toned
down, version of the critics views emerging. And it might be that this new version
of the critics view (with the niggle excised) is one that you are more comfortable
with and moves you closer to closure against the author.
Key Ideas
Sometimes extra voices might enter an enquiry without you intending that. If this
occurs, then part of the job of a metacognitive review would be to become alert to
this development and to chart precisely what is going on so that you can decide what
response you wish to make to that development.
Sometimes, however, extra voices occur because you deliberately introduce them;
this should only occur for good tactical reasons that you explicitly understand.

Tilt Shifts
As we have seen a few times, when defences of one or other of a pair of conflicting
values occurs, intuitive tilts concerning the new, even deeper, moral clashes can
be different to those that preceded them. In this section, I wish to try to ensure that
what is happening in this process is not misunderstood. I will look at two different

Reason and Professional Ethics


First Scenario By now, I hope that I can operate fairly schematically without
laborious illustration; so, say that we had an initial argument that was something
of this sort:

Say that the MP was then challenged to give us this sort of counterargument:

Our Deep Moral Clash tilt is, say, 80/20 favouring CMP over MP. So far, so
familiar, I trust. In the face of this, say we decided, counter-intuitively, to defend
MP; and say that such a defence gives us:

With such a defence of MP in place, our new Deep Moral Clash is DMP versus
CMP. Say that the defence was partly successful in that the new tilt is 70/30, still
favouring CMP but slightly less so for the conflict with DMP than was the case
against MP.
I have said that all of these Deep Moral Clashes are bipolar. The tilt is a relative
weighting of one moral value against another, not an absolute endorsement
strength of any given value. Even were there to be a 100/0 tilt, all that would
be being said (tentatively always) would be that whenever the values in question
clash, you would, without doubt, always prefer one over the other (and regardless
of any issues of degree). A particular value can reach 100/0 closure against another
value but still lose out, or be unclearly ranked, against some different value yet
again. As I said, tilts are all relative.
So, having carried out a defence, are we left with two distinct Deep Moral
Clashes here namely: MP versus CMP and DMP versus CMP? (With the author

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


faring marginally better, 70/30, in the deeper, latter, one than in the former one
which had a tilt of 80/20.)
Not quite; and here is where the main business of the section begins.
With DMP (together with DDP, of course) we have provided an argument
supporting MP; that was, indeed, the whole point of introducing it. Lets assume
initially that, as with the descriptive premises in our lying nurses enquiry, we are
near certain of the truth of DDP. If the argument supporting MP is logical (which
it should be, unless we have bungled) then your confidence in DMP should bleed
down the argument to boost MP. So, if you are 30/70 confident in DMP when in
clash with CMP, then that boost in tilt rating transfers to MP. In effect, you used
to be only 20/80 confident in MP against CMP but now (with DMP) that you
have seen a reason for thinking MP, that support would raise your confidence in
MP (when opposed to CMP) as well. In short, the tilt weight of your MP versus
CMP tilt gets changed to align with your DMP versus CMP tilt. So, although
tilts are bipolar, increased confidence in DMP in opposition to CMP affects the
MP versus CMP tilt as well. Why? because MP follows from DMP. Or, to be a
bit more careful, it follows with the bridging assistance of DDP. And here lies a
We assumed above that DDP was near certainly known to be true. What if it
were not? What if one problem with our defence of MP were to be that the value
upon which the defence depended, DMP, isnt very well-connected to MP? For
instance, say that in MP we were committed to maximizing the average wealth of
citizens and, in its defence, we appealed to the role of increased wealth in making
people happier. So, DMP would be a commitment to increasing happiness and the
connection of that to MPs enthusiasm for wealth would be some such DDP as:
Maximizing average wealth is an essential part of the package which comprises
the best way of maximizing average happiness.
But is that true? You might be anything but near-certainly confident of this (as
far as I know, the wealth/happiness connection is highly dubious). Given those
hesitations, the support given by DMP to MP is correspondingly dubious. By no
means then, will the tilt rating of DMP over some CMP just bleed down and
automatically boost MP against CMP.
So, it requires a moments thought as to how tilts associated with the current
Deep Moral Clash might affect previous, as deep as you had, at that stage, got to
Deep Moral Clashes. (Well revisit this issue of dodgy supporting defences below
when we talk about what I will call messy outcomes in a later section.)
So, to summarize this first scenario, if DMP, the deeper moral premise offered
in defence of MP, fares better than MP in a moral clash with some critics CMP,
that greater strength of the DMP bleeds down the argument and bolsters MP
(which, after all, follows from DMP at least it does given that the descriptive
bridging premise(s) are true).
Second Scenario As you mount a defence, another thing to be alert to concerning
tilt values is the following. In the above discussed situation, DMP was faring better


Reason and Professional Ethics

against CMP than MP had (originally, anyway, that is, prior to being defended).
And, of course, the whole tactical point of the defence was to try to boost confidence
in MP. But what if it failed in this task? After all, if you are carrying it out with a
counter-intuitive motivation, then you will be carrying out an exploratory defence
of something that you dont much favour. Given this, it would hardly be surprising
if that attempt at fair-minded thoroughness didnt quite turn out successfully. So,
lets talk about such a scenario.
Say that your best go at such a defence involved a DMP that, when opposed
to CMP as the new and the latest Deep Moral Clash, actually fared worse than MP
did in comparison with CMP. In effect, it is an unsuccessful attempted defence.
Lets assume the new Deep Moral Clash tilt to be 90/10 favouring CMP. In such a
scenario, would the lower tilt score of DMP against CMP bleed down and lower
MPs rating (much as happened in our earlier scenario when DMP rated higher
and that higher tilt score bled down)? Let me roughly sketch an example to help
us think about this.
Say that we had an original argument that had as its moral premise the claim
that as many school students as possible should get the highest academic results
they can. Say further that a challenge was raised against that MP and that the CMP
of that counter-argument stated that no students should suffer high levels of stress.
Of course we might want to clarify some of these ideas with working definitions
but for present purposes I am not going to fuss.
At this stage then, we would have a Deep Moral Clash that can be expressed
as follows: should as many students as possible get the highest academic results
they can even if that is at the cost of some of them suffering high levels of stress to
achieve such results? Say that our tilt concerning this were to be 30/70 favouring
CMPs concern about stress levels.
Given this tilt, we go counterintuitive and decide to defend MP. The DMP
appealed to in that defence is that all students should achieve academic results
to whatever level their parents wish (with a connecting DDP to the effect that all
parents want the highest possible academic results from their children). So the new
Deep Moral Clash might be put as follows: should all students achieve academic
results to whatever level their parents wish even if that is at the cost of some of them
suffering high levels of stress to achieve such results? Say that our tilt concerning
this particular Deep Moral Clash were to be 10/90, still favouring CMP.
In effect, the defence has been a tactical failure; far from bolstering our esteem
for the authors case it seems to have lowered it. But one has to be cautious here.
Certainly DMP is thought of less well than MP as a rival to CMP and so, in the
context of exploring the merits of that author/critic dispute, DMP has proved to
be a bit of a blind alley. But just because MP has been defended unsuccessfully
by appeal to DMP doesnt mean that MP is automatically downgraded in esteem.
Remember the relationship between DMP and MP is that MP is in the role of
conclusion in that little defending argument, with DMP in the role of premise. And
it is perfectly possible to have a logical argument with a wonderful conclusion
and an absolutely lousy premise. To illustrate: whatever the tooth fairy says is

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


true and the tooth fairy says that the Sun rises in the east, therefore the Sun rises
in the east. That the premises of this (logical) argument are ridiculous does not
detract from the truth of the conclusion. Generally speaking, the same sort of point
applies when it is moral propositions that are the key argument elements of which
we speak.
Generally speaking then, the situation with such a weak defence by DMP of
our moral premise MP (now in role as conclusion) is that the DMP low rating does
not bleed down to MP. All that it means is that the offered defence has failed in
its tactical job. We are thus back with MP as not yet satisfactorily backed up and
with its tilt rating unchanged.
Now as, in our scenario, MP was faring badly in the clash with CMP, things
would be beginning to look bad for MPs comparative merit were it not to be able
to be defended in some other way that fared better than DMP did against CMP.
This, of course, might well be possible (as explored when we talked earlier of
independent and joint rationales).
The point is, though, that MP isnt automatically degraded in its appeal by
DMPs comparative lack of merit. Mind you, as noted earlier, with a successful
defence involving a DMP that rated better against CMP, MP would have it is
appeal automatically enhanced (assuming the truth of the DDP). There is, then,
an asymmetry here about whether DMPs tilt rating against CMP bleeds down the
argument to MP or not. Of course, in either situation, MPs tilt status is unlikely to
be final and may shift as further enquiry ensues. If nothing better emerged by way
of a rationale for MP and CMP stayed robust, then we would begin to worry about
MP as literally indefensible.
Key Ideas
Generally speaking, if a defence of an MP generates a higher tilt (against the opposing
moral premise) than before, then that tilt score bleeds down to improve the rating of
the defended MP. If, on the other hand, it is an unsuccessful defence that generates a
lower tilt score, then that lower score does not bleed down.

Tilts And Counter-intuitive Motivations (and an Aside on Criticizing Moral

Premises Appearing in Premise Defences) In the last chapter, I advised that,
if you had a steepish intuitive tilt concerning some particular Deep Moral Clash,
then a primary tactical motivation guiding your choice of what to do next would
be to challenge your current tendencies. The steeper the tilt, the more powerful is
the motivation to go counter-intuitive (as I put it).
In this section, I want to suggest at least one scenario when the tactically smartest
thing to do might be to reinforce your current tendencies rather than subject them
to challenge. In particular, instead of an exploratory defence of the unfavoured
proposition, or a probing criticism of the one you favour, it is sometimes wise to


Reason and Professional Ethics

go with your intuitions and defend the moral proposition that you favour. Why so?
What would be the circumstances that would warrant that?
Well, say that, at some stage in an enquiry, when confronted with a Deep
Moral Clash between two values (which I will refer to as MP1 and CMP1 in
familiar fashion) you have a tilt of 80/20 favouring CMP1 over MP1. In short,
your decision to criticize MP1 has been a tactical success and your confidence in
MP1 (when put up against CMP1 anyway) has been rather dented. Given this tilt,
you make the sound tactical decision to go counter-intuitive. So, your short-list
is: criticize CMP1 or defend MP1. Say that, for whatever secondary motivation,
you decide to defend MP1.
You do that and the moral premise of the defending argument (call it DMP1)
fares less than robustly against CMP1. So, say that your tilt concerning the latest
Deep Moral Clash, DMP1 versus CMP1, is unchanged at 80/20. Still acting
counter-intuitively, you have another go at defence and defend DMP1. Still not
much success; the tilt for DDMP1versus CMP is 75/25. Perhaps, though, although
it was the first line of defence you thought of, the DMP1 to DDMP1 chain is not
the best way to support MP1 and you cant see that any further development (say,
by digging down to some DDDMP1) is likely to help.
Accordingly, you might decide that it is tactically sound (still in the spirit of
going counter-intuitive) to explore another line of defence of MP1, a rationale
independent of the existing DMP1/DDMP1 chain of support. So, call the moral
premise of this new, second, defence of MP1, D2MP1. This gives, as our new
Deep Moral Clash, D2MP1 versus CMP1. Say our new tilt is 85/15 favouring
CMP1 over D2MP1. This is still not a defence that is managing to outweigh the
critics CMP1. Indeed, it is faring even worse than the first line of defence did,
especially after that first defences development to DDMP1.
Now what? Well, you might play around with deepening this new defence
by defending D2MP1 but, for brevity, lets say that you cant see how this might
happen in any way that looks at all promising in terms of tilt adjustment.
So, two failed defences and it might not seem to you that anything else that
has more hope can be said by way of yet another independent rationale in defence
of MP1. It might occur to you to try combining the two independent rationales to
make a joint rationale but, even though the whole is sometimes more intuitively
attractive than the mere sum of the independent tilt values might suggest, say that
that doesnt work either and CMP1 outweighs the combination of DDMP1 and
D2MP1 60/40.
This is tantalizingly close to 50/50 but it is the culmination of extended
counter-intuitive effort and say that all of the ammunition available in defence
of MP1 has been used up. Perhaps we could, still in the spirit of counter-intuitive
thoroughness, try our other counter-intuitive option, namely criticize CMP1.
Consider the question of voices however. Such a criticism couldnt be in the
voice of the author because, for it to change anything tilt-wise, whatever card was
put on the table as a CCMP1 would have to be a new value yet the history of the
enquiry to date has been that everything relevant to the dispute between author

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


and critic that the author might have to offer has already emerged in the guise of
various defences and without result. So, perhaps a criticism of CMP1 done from
a non-author perspective, a third voice, could be a path forward?
Maybe. But recall that all of these Deep Moral Clashes and their related tilts
are one-on-one affairs. Even if CMP1 lost out in comparison with a third voice
CCMP1, that doesnt automatically help MP1 (and its defences in whatever depth
and combination) against CMP1 as that dispute is a distinct one. Remember that
your tactical motivation for even considering doing this is one of doing a thorough
job of going counter to your intuitions concerning the dispute between author
and critic (MP1 versus CMP1 and later developments). Given that motivation,
the only chance of relevance for a third voice challenge to CMP1, is that the new
CCMP1 (or some deeper moral premise in defence of it if that line became further
developed) would, by success, eventually force some modification to CMP1 and
then that such a modified CMP1* would be less attractive than the original when
put in clash with the DDMP1 plus D2MP1 combined rationale. I suggest that you
pause for a second, reread slowly and thoughtfully, and try to ensure that you are
following all of that.
Again, for brevitys sake, lets assume that nothing like this looks to be a
starter or, if tried, it doesnt make any difference to things with respect to the
author/critic clash. (This doesnt mean that such a CCMP1 versus CMP1 Deep
Moral Clash might not be bearing helpfully on the current author versus critic
concern; it is just that it did not shift your sympathies on that clash series.)
What now? You really really have tried to challenge your intuitions and, although
some shift has finally occurred in tilt steepness, the direction is unchanged
you still favour author over critic, although now with rather more doubt.
Look at what has occurred and there has been considerable development of the
authors case but none of the critics. That case has faced an expanding array of
opposing values but remains in its original form. Perhaps if it were to be developed
more, we could not just balance the depth of argument on each side of the dispute
more but, by going pro-intuitive, resolve the doubts that we have comprehensively
explored to no final avail and be able to move to closure in favour of the critic over
the author.
For such reasons then, we would be metacognitively warranted in ceasing to try
to challenge our intuitions and, instead trying to boost them by going pro-intuitive.
This could be by challenging D2MP1 or DDMP1 or by defending CMP1. And,
if a challenge to the authors defending values, it could be in the voice of the
critic (in which case more of the critics values will emerge as challenges to the
authors deeper values) or in some third voice. Probably, given the relative lack of
development of the critics case, it would be tactically unwise to add further voices
at this stage and, if you are to do a new criticism of the authors deeper case, then
why not have it from the point of view of the critic, thereby further developing the
current dispute rather than adding others?

Reason and Professional Ethics


An Aside
This is almost not an aside as it fits the flow of things here quite well but skipping
it and returning to it at the sections end is possibly wise.
I said above the one option might be to criticize D2MP1 or DDMP1. More
generally, sometimes an option is to criticize some moral premise (which I will
just generically talk of as DMP for short) offered in defence of some other moral
premise (again, just generically MP for short). This might occur early or late in
an enquiry. In our scenario here, it is late and after quite a bit of development
and our motivation is to go pro-intuitive. But it might be that the defence of some
initial MP is the very first thing that occurs and we then decide to criticize the
DMP (we touched on this early in Chapter 6 in another aside in a section entitled
What Next?). Moreover, such a criticism might be a counter-intuitive probing
Anyway, however early or late, and whatever the motivation, why would one
criticize DMP and not MP?
Consider the following argument:
DMP1 No one should be a financial burden upon society unless them being unable to
financially support themselves is unavoidable.
DDP1 All unemployable school-leavers are financial burdens upon society who are
not able to financially support themselves but whose inability is avoidable.
DMC1/MP1 All school-leavers should be employable.
DP1 Having all schools aim at having all school-leavers employable is an necessary part
of the most efficient and effective means for having all school-leavers employable.
MC1 All schools should have the aim of having all school-leavers employable.

So, in this case, a counter-argument against A7/7 would be an argument which

had as its conclusion some form of denial of DMP1 rather than of MP1. But why?
Think about the ways in which an argument can go wrong. Recall that there were
only two: a logical hole or an unacceptable premise. Now consider MP1; say we
were to wish to criticize it. MP1 has, however, already been defended; wearing
its other label as DMC1, it was supported by DMP1 and DDP1. Given that it has
already been argued for, it is immune to criticism unless there is something wrong
with that defending argument. Were the argument to be perfect, with acceptable
premises and a hole-free logical move from them to DMC1, then DMC1 (that is,
MP1) would be established. A criticism of MP1 can only be successful if there is
something wrong with the defence it has already received. So, criticizing MP1
presupposes criticizing the argument raised in its defence. But, as I just reminded
you, there are only two things that can go wrong with that argument. One of
them is already checked by the time that we have got to this stage of the enquiry.

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


We have already satisfied ourselves that there is nothing wrong with the move
of logic in either of these component arguments of A7/7 when we automatically
carried out our logic criticism/patching exercises. So, unless we bungled, the only
thing that remains to go wrong with that defence of DMC1/MP1 is an unsatisfactory
premise. The problem might lie with either (or both) of DMP1 or DDP1. In short,
when working out what to criticize in a chained argument, it is rather silly to
criticize a premise (in this case weve talked of a moral premise) that has a defence
sitting above it. It is best to go down to the elements of the supporting case and to
subject them to critical attention. Commonly, if you have been careful in keeping
your descriptive claims true as far as you know, then the focus of your attention
will be whatever the deeper moral premise is and it will be that DMP rather than
the MP which is subjected to premise criticism.
End of Aside
Returning to our flow, we were considering criticizing the authors deeper story.
Mind you, rather than challenging the authors line of thinking from the point of
view of the critic, if one were to be interested in developing the critics side, it
would be just as well done by simply defending CMP1; and that is what I would
do as it is the easier path to keep track of. (And, on that point, you can see how
the diagrams of the last chapter, especially the second, landscape, sort that charted
relationships among the substantive arguments, would help you to not get lost in
all the moves.)
Anyway, the point is that sometimes is worth developing the view that you
favour, going pro-intuitive, especially if you have already satisfied the demands of
intellectual thoroughness by having a good go at counter-intuitive explorations.
Key Ideas
Sometimes, when counter-intuitive moves have been exhausted without success, it
is tactically sensible to reinforce your intuitions by defending the favoured view or
criticizing the unfavoured one.

Dispute Closures
This is one of the more important sections for, unless you are to argue back and
forth for ever, the hope is that in some clashes you will be confident enough to
(100/0) close the dispute in favour of one or other of the clashing propositions
(as complicated by issues of degree perhaps). As explained earlier, one of the
explicit intentions of extended enquiry is to go beyond ones first impressions
and delve into the depths of the issues and beliefs that underlie the initial problem


Reason and Professional Ethics

or topic. These issues can be of any of our three types and a common result of
deep enquiry is to discover that ones deeper beliefs and values are in conflict.
Much of the to-ing and fro-ing of enquiry is an attempt to sort out those deeper
conflicts. If some dispute is, at some stage, still unresolved, then the result of
metacognitive deliberation would be some further argument, one teasing out some
further elements of your thinking. This is done in the hope that, with more cards
on the table, your priorities, or beliefs, might become clearer, more resolved and
you can move to closure. In what follows, I will explain and illustrate the sort
of thing that occurs when one finally does get clear just which way one wants to
(100/0) close on some dispute.
I have emphasized that, as they are the primary motivators of your judgements,
moral issues loom high on the agenda as important to get sorted (and weve
seen that moral disputes are usually complicated by what I have called degrees
of goodness). Such disputes will be our initial focus. As we have an enquiry
involving a series of such disputes available from the last chapter, Ill use that
lying nurses enquiry as my example here. (You might want to quickly reread it if
you dont find my summary below sufficient of a jog to your memory.)
Recall that, crudely put, we had an initial argument that was motivated by the
moral principle that nurses should have patient welfare as their highest priority
(MP1). The driving motivation for the criticism of this was a rival moral principle
concerning respect for patients status as persons (CMP1). It was decided to
challenge that and the basis of the challenge was the view that such respect should
be limited to those who are not morally bad (CCMP1).
In the last chapter, the tilt that we had concerning the clash between CCMP1
and CMP1 favoured CCMP1 90/10 over CMP1. After some consideration of
voices, we also had CCMP1 and MP1 in clash and, in that case, had a tilt of 90/10
against MP1. As we had only an 80/20 tilt favouring CMP1 over MP1 and given
our favouring of CCMP1 over CMP1, we decided to focus on CCMP1, not CMP1,
as the source of criticism of MP1. After some deliberation, we decided that defend
MP1 was the tactically soundest next move. We left it there, without implementing
our decision. In this section, Id like to borrow the first three substantive moves, or
arguments, of that enquiry (it saves time and you are already familiar with it). For
present purposes, however, I am going to suppose that, when it came to doing our
metacognitive review after CCA1, we didnt have a 90/10 tilt but a 100/0 one. In
short, say that we were totally persuaded by the criticism of CMP1 and the option
we would choose is thus accept CCA1.
Pause for a moment to think about how we tended to approach the issue of
deliberating upon our options. Basically, the first decision to be made about any
given dispute was whether we were ready to (100/0) close on that dispute or
not if not, then we had a closer look at the other opening out options and started

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


weeding them by, say, going counter-intuitive as a primary tactical motivation

and so on.
Consider also that we realized in our Chapter 6 review, that is, prior to any
deliberative decision-making, that we had CCMP1 clashing with MP1 as well as
CMP1 clashing with it.
At this point, for this sections expository purposes, I am going to assume
that the review was sloppily and incompletely done. In particular, assume that we
simply did not properly think about the issue of voices and thus did not notice
that we had that third voice versus first voice dispute on our hands. Accordingly,
when we consider our options, the list is going to be shorter than before (owing to
our supposed incompetent metacognitive review) and thus we are focused upon
the CCMP1 versus CMP1 clash as the new element in the enquiry.
As Ive said, in this illustrative scenario, we are supposing that we are 100/0
bowled over by the criticism of CMP1 and thus any further deliberation upon
options is otiose; we simply accept CCA1.
This is, of course, going to mean that the version of the enquiry that we pursue
here is going to go down a different path to that of last time (as just said, last time
we foreshadowed a defence of MP1). So, given that we are ready to close the
CCMP1/CMP1 dispute in favour of CCMP1, what happens next?
It is this that I wish to explain and illustrate in this section. Mind you, such
acceptance is an implausibly swift outcome and it is likely that most enquiries
would not reach a decision on a clash this quickly and the judgements as to the
relative importance of various values would be nuanced by what, in an earlier
section, I spoke of as issues concerning the degree, or extent, of satisfaction,
or transgression, of a value. I am simply going to ignore such subtleties and, to
illustrate the concerns of this section, I am assuming that we are satisfied with
a simple rank ordering of the two values regardless of their degree and without
further enquiry.
What happens next? Well, any such closure decision is not isolated; it has
consequences. Lets trace them.
If our tilt is 100/0 favouring conditional respect over unconditional respect,
then that amounts to accepting CCA1 (given that it is logical and its other premise
is true). Now, if CCA1 is accepted, this means that, to our present satisfaction,
it establishes its conclusion. But its conclusion, CCMC1, denied CMP1. So, if
CCMC1 is accepted, CMP1 is rejected. In short, the original critics argument,
CA1, has had its key foundation, CMP1, kicked out from under it. We no longer
have the apparently unconditional sympathy that we had for the view that all
nurses should treat all patients with respect for their status as persons. But to reject
that premise is not to have to reject it in an extreme way. Our agreement with the
criticism of it does not force us to abandon CMP1 to the extent of saying that no
nurses should ever treat any patients with any respect for their status as persons.
Nonetheless, CMP1 cant now stay as it is.
Given our enthusiasm for CMP1 prior to the advent of CCA1, my suggestion
here (and generally) is to make an adjustment to CMP1, but one which is the


Reason and Professional Ethics

slightest one possible. CCA1 has forced a rethink, so CMP1 cant stay as it is but
how much do we have to back off? just to the extent that our agreement with
CCA1 dictates. So, I suggest making the smallest adjustment that still results in
the modified CMP1 (lets call it CMP1* to mark the change from the original
CMP1) accommodating the success of that criticism of the original version of it.
So, consider this:
CMP1* All nurses should treat all patients who are not morally bad (to a certain
extent) with respect for their status as persons.

This satisfies the demand that we tone down CMP1 just enough so that the new
CMP1* accommodates the successful criticism (a process I sometimes call: fiddle
and fix). So, what next?
Well, with that adjustment to the moral premise, we have begun the process of
(what I call) tracking back down our enquiry to see the consequences of our decision
to accept CCA1s criticism of CA1. The closure decision has consequences and it
is a matter of tracking back down the enquiry to identify what they are and to make
the appropriate changes to your thinking in response to that closure decision.
The next part of that backtracking is to see what adjustments are required
elsewhere in CA1 to restore its mesh and validity. After all, its original form
was laboriously checked so that all of its bits meshed and the premises entailed
the conclusion. Now we have intruded a new (italicized) element into the moral
premise, an idea that that is present nowhere else in the argument; clearly then,
the argument wont any longer be in mesh (or logical). Also, that new element
weakened CMP1 and the resultant CMP1* might not now say enough to (in
combination with CDP1) entail CMC1. So, a rewrite is probably in order.
Sometimes this will only involve the other premise (or premises), sometimes just
the conclusion, sometimes both and, very rarely, nothing at all. You will have to
judge each argument on its own merits. In any event, the tasks are to restore mesh
and validity. In this case, I suggest the following as a revised version of CA1.
CMP1* All nurses should treat all patients who are not morally bad (to a certain
extent) with respect for their status as persons.
CDP1* Sometimes, maximizing a not morally bad (to that extent) patients welfare
entails treating her without respect for her status as a person.
CMC1 On those occasions, it is not a nurses primary responsibility to maximize his
patients welfare.

Note that, in this particular case, CMC1 did not get changed in its wording.
It is important to note this because it means that, although CCA1 has shown us
that the original CA1 was flawed, toning it down to make it cease to be vulnerable
to that criticism has not weakened it so much that CA1* has ceased to operate as

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


a criticism engaging with MP1. CMC1 denied MP1 and, being unchanged in the
revised argument, of course it still does.
So, in this case, the backtracking exercise ceases with the rewrite of CA1
into CA1*. Sometimes, especially if such a closure occurs later down an enquiry,
backtracking might go further as we trace a ripple effect back through a series of
connected arguments as far as its influence goes.
If we now did a metacognitive review of events, (as we should do) it would
be worth reminding ourselves of the dynamics of the enquiry as part of that.
Remember that we were assumed to have been sloppy in our previous review
and not noticed the third voice clash with MP1. In this particular enquiry, our
error has, in large part, corrected itself. Look at the general thrust of CCA2 from
Chapter 6 and at CA1* and you should see similarities and it would be astonishing
dim-wittedness were the above congruence of third and fiddled and fixed second
voice criticisms of MP1 not to now begin to loom into a reviewers consciousness
so that belated appreciation of the CCMP1/MP1 clash now occurred. However,
not always will errors be fortuitously retrieved like this, so thoroughness in the
first place is enjoined.
In any event, a post fiddle and fix review is important in order to find out just
where the enquiry is at.
I would do this new review something like the following: In my initial argument,
I warranted nurse dishonesty by appealing to patient welfare. In probing criticism
of this, I was motivated by a commitment to respect for patients status as persons,
a respect that would sometimes not be in the interest of a patients welfare. Having
sympathy with the criticism, I chose to subject it to critical scrutiny. It occurred to
me that perhaps I was too sweeping in my commitment to respecting people. Does
just anyone at all deserve such respect? maybe not. Accordingly, my criticism
of the respect moral premise proposed that such respect should be limited to
those who are not morally bad, rather than apply to everyone. Upon reflection I
was satisfied that I was confidently enough in agreement with this to accept this
criticism of CMP1. This meant that CMP1 had to be adjusted to accommodate
the criticism. Having adjusted CMP1 to CMP1, I made other adjustments to the
elements of CA1 to restore mesh and validity giving CA1*. In this case though,
softening the tone of the criticism made no difference to its capacity to continue
to critically target MP1. So where am I left? with an original argument having
its MP challenged by a criticism, a criticism that has been modified somewhat but
which was not seriously upset by its earlier version having to be changed in the face
of successful challenge. Reflecting upon things, I think that I was incompetent in
my lack of consideration of the issue of the voice of the CCMP1 value. I suspect
that this was because, as soon as I articulated it, I was totally convinced of the
CCA1 criticism of CMP1 (which struck me then as too simplistically sweeping).
My attention was thus to focus upon that dispute and I was illegitimately rushing
on to adopt the next path forward. I now see that where I have ended up with the
CMP1* versus MP1 Deep Moral Clash is much like what I would have had with
a third voice CCMP1-based criticism of MP1. Not quite, though, as CCMP1


Reason and Professional Ethics

is more general and one can see CMP1* as a subsidiary principle of it. For the
moment, I will continue down the path I have begun (with CMP1*) but keep in
mind the broader motivation (CCMP1) that the qualified respect line of criticism
seems to have at the heart of it.
Some such review as this helps you to keep track of things, especially when
they get complicated.
The only remaining Deep Moral Clash is, then: Should all nurses primary
responsibility be maximizing patient welfare even in situations where fulfilling
that responsibility has, as its cost, treating patients who are not morally bad (to a
certain extent) without respect for their status as persons?.
And, as it is a new clash, I should revisit my tilt. Say that, in this case, it
is 90/10 in favour of CMP1*. Curiously, a successful criticism of the critic has
firmed my enthusiasm for the general thrust of the respect point by removing a
weakness present in the original, overly sweeping, CMP1.
Of course, other challenges to CA1/CA1* might be mounted. And although
this criticism, despite its success, has not disturbed the critical power of CA1/
CA1* against MP1, some other challenge to CA1* might be more damaging. So,
perhaps our best next move would be to try another challenge, this time targeted at
CMP1*. Such a challenge might be another fourth voice or might be a first voice
response by the author and rest on some deeper value of the author as its driving
motivation. Or, for that matter, we might just defend the unfavoured MP1 as our
counter-intuitive response to our preference for CMP1* over MP1 in cases where
they clash. For now, let us assume that the last option is selected for much the same
tactical reasons as we had in Chapter 6 at the end. That metacognitive decision
made, we would set about trying to implement it. In a real enquiry, something
promising would probably emerge as development of the authors case. In this
illustration, however, I am, for brevitys sake, going to assume that either nothing
emerged at all, or that it did but, upon some further exploration, the defence failed
to improve the tilt. In such a case, we might try our other counter-intuitive option
criticize CMP1* from a fourth voice point of view. But say that no promising
lines of value conflict with CMP1* seemed to emerge. We are thus left with the
dispute between MP1 and CMP1*. In effect, no matter how we set out to dispute or
outweigh CMP1*, we fail. Such sustained failure would probably firm our support
for CMP1*. Say that it did and, in its dispute with MP1, we decided to close 100/0
in favour of CMP1* over MP1 (perhaps after the sort of pro-intuitive defence of
CMP1* we touched upon in an earlier section).
So, what now? Well, having closed on another clash, we repeat the process. Ill
do this in a minute but first I want to digress to discuss something.
An Aside
A moment ago we revised CA1 (having fiddled with its moral premise). In that
argument, it turned out that CMC1 could stay as it was. In other arguments, it may
well be that, when you make adjustments to suit the revised moral premise this

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


isnt so and, the conclusion has to be adjusted to fit in with the new premise. If that
happens, then there are two possibilities.
One possibility is that it gets so mucked about that is no longer capable of
denying whatever premise was its target. If this happens, then the result of it
having been successfully criticized is that it has had its teeth pulled as a source
of criticism of its intended target. Had this happened in the enquiry that we are
playing with, then we would have been left at the end of our backtracking with
just A1 on the table. CA1 would have been so successfully criticized as to have
been demolished to the point that it would be useless in performing its role in
life: denying MP1. So, in such a scenario, when carrying out our metacognitive
review we would have construed events as an enquiry that had attempted to mount
a criticism of a key premise (MP1) of our initial argument but, after that criticism
was itself successfully criticized, the enquiry was left where it started: with A1; an
argument that is, so far, unsuccessfully challenged. What next? probably another
criticism of MP1, one appealing to entirely different grounds for concern. Or, if
the other premises had not been as immune to criticism as our DP1 happened to
be, perhaps a challenge to some other elements of the authors case (well, I have
finally decided that the moral principles upon which your case is based seem OK
but Im not sure that you have your facts straight ...). What would probably be
premature is accepting A1.
The other possibility is that, even though CMC1 gets changed as a result of
adjustments to the rest of the argument, the changes make no difference to its
power to deny MP1. In this scenario, the changes are harmless changes that dont
stop the critics argument doing its critical job. In such a case, the situation is much
like the one we were discussing before our aside: changed or not, the important
thing would be that we still had a viable criticism and thus a Deep Moral Clash
(MP1 versus CMP1*) to think about.
End of Aside
OK, lets go back to where we were. A1s MP1 was under challenge by the revised
CA1*. In that CMP1* versus MP1 Deep Moral Clash, our scenario was that the
weakened (but, as a result, more sophisticated) version CMP1* was now even more
attractive to us but not decisively so. After further attempts to bolster MP1 and/or
unsettle CMP1* had failed, we decided that CMP1* was sufficiently attractive to
us to decisively outweigh MP1 so that we 100/0 tilted to close that dispute in its
favour. And that is where we left off for the aside.
All of that amounts to saying that CA1* has, to our (always tentative)
satisfaction, proved its conclusion and thus proved MP1 to be unacceptable. Now
As was done with CMP1, we try adjusting MP1 so that the revised version is
immune to (by accommodating) the criticism and then proceed to make whatever
changes we have to make in the rest of the argument to restore mesh and validity.
So, what changes are forced upon MP1 by the success of CA1*? We could try this:


Reason and Professional Ethics

MP1* All nurses primary professional obligation is to maximize the welfare of
all of their patients unless this involves not treating those patients who are not
morally bad (to a certain extent) with respect for their status as persons.

This amounts to us putting in what constitutes an exception clause. Usually this

sort of thing is fine (indeed, it is a common form of fiddle and fix modification and
we touched upon it earlier when discussing rank ordering as a response to having
competing values; mind you, as was also said then, things can be complicated by
issues of degree). It does, though, read oddly in this particular case. If patient
welfare is being over-ridden, then it seems odd to still talk of it as a primary
obligation, even with the unless clause. Perhaps it is over-fussing about wording
but keep in mind that words are the vehicle for your ideas and imprecision
concerning them has some potential for generating muddles. Anyway, try this as a
less jarring go at revising MP1:
MP1* All nurses should maximize the welfare of all of their patients unless this
involves treating some patients who are not morally bad (to a certain extent)
without respect for their status as persons.

As before, we cant leave things like that and other adjustments will be in order to
restore mesh and validity. So, try the following for the rest of the argument:
DP1 Sometimes, in order to maximize a patients welfare, it is necessary for a nurse
to lie to them about their medical condition.
CP1 To lie to anyone about their medical condition is a case of not respecting their
status as a person.
MC1* On those occasions upon which it is necessary to lie to a patient in order to
maximize their welfare, a nurse should do so unless the patient is not morally bad (to
a certain extent).

Rather involved and wordy isnt it? But read it thoughtfully and you will see how
the bits all do some work. Note that the revised premises dont yield the original
conclusion but only a qualified one. In this case, the changes in MP1* necessitated
a revised MC1* but left DP1 as it was. We have, however, put in another premise
to make a connection explicit and, note that this premise is a conceptual one I
am taking it as saying that the very idea of respectful treatment entails not lying to
someone about their medical condition.

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


So, lets do a metacognitive review concerning where we have ended up on

this thread of possibility. Not only did the original argument suffer (ultimately)
successful criticism and have to be changed to accommodate it, those changes
extended to the conclusion. In this case, MC1 had to be toned down to MC1* in
order to get something that actually validly followed from the modified premise
set that the successful criticism forced upon the author. This means that, as a line
of support for the original MC1, an A1 style of argument has proved a failure. If
we keep the original MC1, the premises that entailed it are flawed (in that MP1
was shown unacceptable). But change MP1 to the more acceptable MP1*, and
MC1 is no longer entailed, only the more restricted, or toned down, MC1*. In
short, a process of criticism has established to our satisfaction that the original
line of argument was flawed. In no form does it provide a satisfactory case for its
intended conclusion, MC1.
What is to be done in the face of this result? As usual, there are options.
Remember that A1 was advanced as a central, important, line of argument for
MC1. Presumably, we had, at that time, considerable enthusiasm for MC1 and
were trying to articulate our main reason for that enthusiasm. This enthusiasm
might still be present but it is not able to be warranted by any variation upon A1.
Mind you, A1 was just an argument for MC1. Conceivably there is some other
argument, call it A2, that, although not our first choice, might fare better in
the long run (than A1 did) as a case for saying that it would be right for nurses
to lie to patients on those occasions where it is necessary for patient welfare to
be maximized. If we can think of such an A2 that looks promising, then wed
advance it and off would go a new thread in our thinking on the topic. In terms
introduced earlier, we would be advancing an independent rationale for MC1
(independent of A1 that is).
Another possibility is that, although we cant think of anything which is even
worth seriously considering as an independent rationale for MC1, we can think
of a sort of half reason which, when combined with another such half reason
would look like plausible rationale. That is, we might be able to craft what we
called a joint rationale. Sometimes the elements of this would be new but, as
discussed in an earlier section, it might be that an argument that didnt succeed
as a stand-alone independent rationale can be bundled together with some other
consideration as part of a joint rationale.


Reason and Professional Ethics

I am going to assume for the purposes of this illustrative enquiry, that no such
way of mounting a different defence of MC1 (that is even vaguely plausible)
occurs to us or, if it does, it ultimately fails. This leaves us with MC1 being
indefensible, with the most that we can salvage (as something we do have a case
for) being MC1*.
So, is that finally the end of the enquiry? Should we choose the option:
accept A1*? Not automatically (sigh!). While A1* is a satisfactory reaction to
the success of CA1*, the latter might not be the only line of critical challenge
against the authors thinking. One possibility is that of mounting a new critics
argument (call it CA2) against the revised A1*. This might be a new stand-alone
criticism or, it might be that more complex affair, a joint rationale. Also note that
A1* has a premise (CP1) that was not present in the original A1. It might be a
focus of critical attention (in which case the discussion would be challenging
the contention that the meaning of respect anothers status as a person rules
out lying to them about their medical condition if one was committed to such
So, what next? Your tactical motivation might be to want to see if, with the
change to MP1*, we have got the moral principle driving the authors case into
a finally satisfactory shape yet. If we suspect so, then, for familiar counterintuitive reasons, we might wish to mount a counter-argument against MP1*.
Also, as moral clashes have been our concern for a while, we might be advised
to stay in that mental set until our moral principles get better sorted out. Even if,
upon reflection, we think that CP1 is worth critical attention, we might be wise to
defer such criticism for a while. So, perhaps the best next move is to investigate
some new challenge to the authors motivating moral principle, which, in its
current incarnation, is MP1*.
In an abbreviated form, lets try flow-charting some of the above so that we
can keep track of it.

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities

Diagram 7



Reason and Professional Ethics

As for our substantive argumentation landscape diagrams, try this (again, in

abbreviated form):


Diagram 8
This is where I will leave things for now. I hope that I have clearly enough portrayed
a process of methodical backtracking down the enquiry from moral closure
decisions concerning some dispute or other (in our case the CMP1/CCMP1
dispute was the start of this process). As you have seen illustrated again, there
are always options even if youve got some sort of a path forward (or backward,
for that matter) pretty much worked out. Note again that the initial thread of this
particular enquiry was truncated early for expository purposes and the process
of backtracking would probably not be as brief as this. The point where you first
manage to close on some dispute might be early or late in the enquiry and the
backtracking to accommodate it might be extensive or only involve a move or so
from the past (as it was in this case).
In all of this, though, the principles remain the same: if you can settle
something, then methodically trace the consequences of that decision for the rest
of your enquiry and then review where that back-tracking exercise has left you and
deliberate carefully upon what seems to be the best path forward from there. It will

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


mostly be the case that closing on one particular dispute will not be the end of your
enquiry but merely settling your views upon one aspect of it.
As always, be fully aware of the spread of possibilities facing you and choose
from among them with explicit tactical motivations in mind! Also, realize that
things are almost always more complex than they first appear but that being
methodical and metacognitively aware can help you expose and deal with those
Key Ideas
The hope in generating Deep Moral Clashes is that, upon development, youll be able
to close in favour of one side or the other. That closure decision is not an isolated
one but has implications for elsewhere in the enquiry. Just how extensive such effects
will be will vary from case to case and it is a matter of methodically backtracking
changes that are consequential upon the closure decision.

Voices and Multiple Deep Moral Clash Closures

In the last chapter, and earlier in this one, the issue of voices was raised. Recall
that more voices than just the two of a simple author/critic dialogue might emerge
as an enquiry becomes more complicated. One possibility with a third voice is that
it disputes not just its intended target but some other moral premise as well. In
such a scenario, what will be generated is not just the intended Deep Moral Clash
but another one as well. Although I have recommended that you try not to have too
many balls in the air at once, it sometimes occurs that the enquiry thus has more
than one controversy of current concern demanding your attention.
In this section, I want to discuss the issue of dispute closures when more
than two voices are present and all are quite distinct in stance (unlike our earlier
CCMP1 and CMP1 from the lying nurses enquiry which were closely related
variations upon a theme).
As an illustrative example, I will move from our familiar lying nurses one
to another one more suitable for the task at hand, The one that I will use was
introduced and sketched above in the section entitled: Voices Revisited.
If you look back at that section, the enquiry involved was drawn from teaching
and, for present purposes, it will initially suffice for us to briefly sketch the various
moral premises and their inter-relationships.
The moral premise of the initial argument was:
MP All schools should do whatever most employers want.

This was subjected to counter-argument and the motivating premise of that

counter-argument was:


Reason and Professional Ethics

CMP As many members of society as possible should have shared moral

So, we had a Deep Moral Clash that could be expressed as this question:
Deep Moral Clash 1: Should schools do whatever employers want even if the
result would be that fewer members of society would have shared values than
would otherwise have been the case?

CMP was then itself subjected to criticism and the motivating moral premise of
that critical challenge was:
CCMP Everyone should have maximum freedom of thought.

This yields as an intended Deep Moral Clash with CMP:

Deep Moral Clash 2: Should as many people in society as possible have shared
values even if it is at the cost of lessening freedom of thought?

But, as is familiar to you by now, CCMP is also in Deep Moral Clash with MP:
Deep Moral Clash 3: Should everyone have maximum freedom of thought even
if that can only occur if schools do not do what employers want?

So, basically we have a three-cornered dispute with each of the three voices
disagreeing with each other one. Or, if they are all you, as is probable, you find
yourself quite morally conflicted when you start to make explicit those values of
yours that bear upon the issue of what school curricular priorities there should be.
I have left out the tilts but, as you have three Deep Moral Clashes, there will be
three of them. Lets say that the MP/CMP tilt is 30/70 (favouring the latter), the
CMP/CCMP one is 20/80 and the MP/CCMP one is 10/90. So, we favour CCMP
and CMP fares slightly better against it than MP does.
Now, what is to be done in the face of this complexity is, as usual, something
for careful deliberation. My concern in this section is not so much to practise that
in detail but to focus on closures so what I will be doing is somewhat abbreviated
in some respects. (I will, as before, assume that the non-moral parts of the various
arguments happen not to be up for challenge.)
Looking at the various disputes, there is some common ground between MP
and CMP. In each case, they are willing to override freedom of thought; it is just
that they have different ideas as to what might be important enough to warrant
doing that. MP would override it in order to satisfy employers wishes and CMP in
order to have greater commonality of moral values among citizens. Of course any
two of the three values in contention at least share the feature that they are each
in opposition to the third but I find the MP and CMP versus CCMP divide to be of

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


particular interest. This is because it seems to me to be some sort of fundamental

prima facie right for people to have freedom of thought and a key division is
between those who would see grounds for its restriction (MP and CMP but for
different reasons) and those who would not (CCMP). So, for me, the key question
is if either MP or CMP constitutes a good enough reason. On the evidence of my
tilts, CMP is more promising as a rationale (although still faring badly). Despite
this, in the spirit of going counter-intuitive, the MP versus CCMP clash is what
I have decided upon as the one to be focused upon next (with the shared values
basis for freedom reduction being put in the back of our mind for now).
This decision trims the range of seriously considerable options to those
associated with the arguments these two moral premises are part of. And, given
the steep tilt, a counter-intuitive next move is advised. Say we choose to defend
MP and the enquiry proceeds on for a while until, at some point, we close on some
deeper dispute that we have exposed. The details of all of this dont much matter
for now but lets say that, after backtracking the consequences of our decision
back down the enquiry, we are left with the surprising result that CCMP fails in its
dispute with MP. In short, we have a closure in which we have, after some further
enquiry, dramatically reversed our earlier tendency to favour freedom of thought
over granting employers power over schools. We are now satisfied that the loss of
some freedom of thought is not a good enough reason to fail to grant employers
such power. Now what?
Basically, of the three Deep Moral Clashes we had, one has been resolved
and two remain. Thus there is still unfinished business that has emerged from the
enquiry to date. So, presumably the next move is to begin the process of trying
to resolve one or other of them. Just because one dispute has been sorted to our
satisfaction doesnt mean that the enquiry has ended.
We still have the original criticism of MP, that based on CMP, to consider and
it was a criticism that our tilt shows we thought well of. It was itself challenged
by the argument motivated by CCMP and our tilt at the time favoured CCMP over
CMP. That CCMP was ultimately unsuccessful in its dispute with MP doesnt
mean that it wont be successful against a different rival, CMP. Remember that
these tilts are all bipolar. They are also, recall, just at-the-time intuitive ratings of
the values in clash and, as we saw (somewhat dramatically) with MP and CCMP,
they are subject to revision. As a result of our rethinking of the merits of freedom
of thought when in conflict with giving employers power over what schools do, it
is obvious that we are less sweepingly enthusiastic about freedom of thought than
we were. So, even though CMP is a different rival for CCMP than MP was, an
intuition re-consultation is probably in order before pressing on. Ditto for the MP
versus CMP clash.
Say that we do that. It doesnt really matter for present purposes how these
tilts change or dont; the point is that when we come to work out what is our
tactically smartest next move, our deliberation just might be informed by a review
that contains revised tilts.


Reason and Professional Ethics

So we would choose one of the remaining disputes to pursue, the one that it
seemed to us was the most important the attend to first and so it would go on.
The point is that, with just two voices, you might get a succession of clashes as
each has its case deepened but this will still amount to only two basic viewpoints
in dispute at various levels. This can become complex enough to sort out (as
seen earlier) but different, and more, complexities enter when the clash of ideas
contains more than two voices.
The basic guide in all of this is remains: when you think that you have reached
closure on some particular dispute, track the consequences of that closure decision.
But realize that settling a clash between two voices will probably leave unfinished
business when it comes to those voices separate clashes with some third voice.
Key Ideas
Having more than two voices in dispute complicates closure scenarios but the main
operating principles are as outlined earlier.

Closures Involving Non-moral Propositions

Above, and throughout the book, I have focused particularly upon moral disputes
(Deep Moral Clashes as I have termed them). This is deliberate because the most
usual foci of concern in professional ethical problems are various moral values
that you have sympathy with but different ones of which lead you in different
directions on your problem.
However, as noted in the last chapter, it might be a descriptive premise or
a conceptual premise that you wish to challenge. If so, off would then go some
enquiry into what you take the relevant facts to be or what you take to be the
conceptual relationships among the ideas in question. Lets assume that, after some
such process of enquiry, you reach closure on the dispute in question what next?
Basically, it is much as we have outlined for closures concerning moral disputes
methodically rewrite various arguments involving the descriptive or conceptual
propositions in question in a manner that reflects your current judgement as to
what the truth is concerning them. Much as before, you start with those arguments
where the dispute got settled and then track back from them to make whatever
changes elsewhere in the enquiry that are forced upon you by their connections
to the arguments you have adjusted. Finally, in metacognitive review, appraise
where the enquiry is at as a result of the changes and, in particular, what unfinished
business there still is. Then, metacognitively deliberate upon what will be the best
next direction for your enquiry to take.

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


Key Ideas
Much the same lessons as applied to dispute closures involving moral propositions
apply again to those involving descriptive or conceptual propositions methodically
trace the implications of your decision back down the enquiry as far as they go.

Problems upon Patching

If you reflect back over the ideas and techniques covered to date, we have had a
certain ideal form which we have sought to have all of the arguments involved
in our enquiries take on. First, we have tried to ensure (by patching if necessary)
that any argument employed is logically tight (as far as we know). We sought to
have our arguments conclusions follow so that if one accepted the premises, then
one would also have to accept the conclusion. We have typically begun with some
particular topic and with some tentative stance on the topic issue and that intuitive
stance became the conclusion of a feral argument that was tamed, clarified and
made logically tight. In an illogical argument, the problem is always that what
is said in the premises is not enough to generate, or entail, what is said in the
conclusion. In the face of this, one has two options for achieving validity. One is
to, as I put it, beef up the premises so that they do say enough to generate the
conclusion. The other is to tone down, or weaken, the conclusion claim so that
the (unchanged) premises do manage to at least entail the weakened conclusion.
Of these two choices, I have recommended that, in response to detected invalidity,
you first try beefing up the premises. The main reason for this is that the existing
conclusion constitutes your best bet as to what you want to prove, so you might as
well stick to that intuition for a while (until forced away from it perhaps). Also, the
(admittedly illogical) argument under examination was nevertheless your initial
go at a good line of reasoning in support of your tentative answer to the topic
question so you might as well see what the premises would have to look like to
actually do that job properly and entail the desired conclusion.
A possible problem is that, having done that as the price of getting some
logical holes patched, the new, or revised, premises that you have deployed might
themselves be problematic. Although we touched upon similar matters in an earlier
section, I want to highlight the issues in this one, especially as arising from logic
Generally, having achieved logicality by means of beefing up the premises,
one has almost always made those premises more vulnerable to criticism. The
more they say, the larger a target they present for critical attention. Here lies a
problem. Although we could give much the same analysis for other premise types,
lets say that the only hole was an inadequate MP. Sometimes, having beefed up
such a moral premise in response to an identified logical hole, you will instantly
feel that the revised version is too extreme for you to accept. Although the original


Reason and Professional Ethics

(too weak) MP was a view you happily endorsed, the patched version is not. For
instance, the original might have said that the pursuit of truth is one duty of a
scientist and when it got revised it became the claim that it was the most important
of a scientists duties. And you simply might not buy that. At this point, you should
be disturbed. It looks as though this line of reasoning for your hoped for conclusion
is in trouble no matter what. In its original version, it had an MP you are happy to
endorse but that version of the MP (together with the rest of the premises) would
not logically entail the conclusion you were seeking to support. Yet modify the MP
so that it does say enough to patch the hole and the resultant logical validity has
been bought at the cost of an unacceptable premise. Its not much use having an
argument, however logically valid it is, that has a dud premise, so (unless you have
incompetently over-patched, of which more in a moment) this ought to tell you
that any variation of this line of reasoning for your original conclusion is doomed.
It looks as if it either has an OK moral premise but is invalid, or it is valid but at
the cost of a dud premise. What now?
As always, there are options for metacognitive deliberation upon. I have
just one suggestion to make when considering your options. A theme of the
intellectual style encouraged in this book is thoroughness. To the extent that the
topics importance and time permit, I have advocated that you resist too quickly
closing down consideration of some issue. Of course, sooner or later you will
want to do just that and there is not much point in generating discussion just for
the sake of it. So, what has this to do with the current situation? I have spoken of
the possibility that some new or revised premise deployed as a patch in pursuit
of validity might in itself be unacceptable. My suggestion is that, even if you
are confident that some premise is indeed unacceptable, you should consider the
possibility that there may be merit in formally exploring the basis for that snap
judgement. So, say that we had some patch modifying some MP (like the one
in our scientists duty illustration). There may be some tactical point in formally
mounting a counter-argument in criticism of the revised version of the MP (MP*,
say) that was offered as a patch even if you are fairly confident that you dont at
the moment think that the pursuit of truth would constitute the highest duty of a
scientist. For instance, you might be confident that such status (most important
duty) is over-stated but not have a very clear idea of just what you would take to
be more important and why. Moreover, such comparative ratings are quite likely
going to be complicated by what we above spoke of as issues of degree. It is
possible that it will be important for your enquiry to explore the intricacies of all of
this even if you are indeed confident that MP* is not going to outweigh everything
else in the 100/0 way its wording suggests.
Then again, it might not matter for the circumstances of your particular enquiry
to tease this complexity out.
All I am suggesting is that you metacognitively entertain the possibility that,
say, merely being confident that MP* is to be rejected might be a less satisfactory
state of affairs for your enquirys health than proceeding to tease out some of the
detail as to why (and, just maybe, surprising yourself by changing your mind).

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


An Aside
A moment ago, I parenthetically alluded to the possibility that you might have
over-patched. I would like to just expand briefly upon this before returning to the
main flow. Recall that the idea of patching is, generally, to fix a logical hole by
utilizing the smallest patch that will do the job. Put another way, one attempts to
modify the original premise as minimally as possible, just to the extent required
for it to do the logical job that was asked of it in the argument (and that it was
failing to perform in its original form). By means of logic criticism, it has been
established that the original premise is indeed too weak to perform that task; so,
something has to be done in an attempt to salvage the argument. Sometimes,
however, what people write in as a revised premise to restore validity makes more
changes than the logic criticism forced the author to make. In effect, they overreact to the logical problem that they face. So, if the premise under challenge
said that all real estate dealers are dishonest and this was challenged successfully
by the critic establishing that there were some exceptions, then it would be an
over-reaction to the critics exception cases (what I am calling over-patching) to
revise the challenged premise to say that no real estate dealers are dishonest, rather
than just making a less radical adjustment that merely says that some, or perhaps
most, real estate dealers are dishonest.
End of Aside
Anyway, say that, after some further thought perhaps, the situation under
consideration is indeed that of an argument that cant escape having either dud
logic or a dud premise what should be done next?
As explored in an earlier section, you could just give up and abandon that line
of reasoning as hopeless (or hopeless as a stand-alone independent case for its
conclusion). This would mean either finding some other, independent, rationale
for your conclusion or combining the too-weak original MP with something else
to form a joint rationale.
If nothing of either sort seemed worth pursuing, or didnt work out, then,
instead of beefing up the original MP so that it patched the hole (but at the cost
of becoming unacceptable), you could then legitimately move to tone down the
conclusion to whatever did follow from whatever premises you felt able to accept
(read back a couple of asides ago and that is what we did in an argument that had
a problematic descriptive premise). Such a readjustment of your original thoughts
and hopes is a good result from the process of critical analysis.
We noted above that one result from a patching process in response to a
criticism of an arguments logic might be modification of the MP with possible
ripple-effect modification to the MC (toning it down) as well. Similar problems
might also occur with premises of other propositional types. For instance, when
patching up an illogical argument it is sometimes the descriptive premises that we
change such that we have, as the cost of attaining validity, a resultant DP* that is
logically adequate but false. Again we would be in a bind where we either had a


Reason and Professional Ethics

DP* (patched version) that was false although logically useful in the generation of
the original conclusion, or a DP (original version) that was more plausible but had
the failing of not saying enough to generate the original conclusion.
When this sort of thing occurred with a moral premise, we modified it again
back to something plausible as the first move in a fiddle and fix exercise of
rewriting the argument. So, why not just modify an unsatisfactory descriptive
premise in the same way with the same resultant adjustment of the rationale under
No reason; and that is precisely what I suggest that you do. So if, say, as a result
of patching a logical hole, such a beefing up of a descriptive premise has made it
false as far as you now judge, then try toning it down until it becomes true (again,
as far as you know). This might mean a total reversion back to the un-beefed-up
descriptive premise of the original argument but, then again, it might not (you
might have over-patched originally). Whatever the detail is, it might thus be that
you decide that there is some version of the descriptive proposition in question
that, though it is stronger than the original version, is not as strong as the overpatched version, and thus manages to be both true and, logically, a good patch.
Just to illustrate the above sort of process, try the following as the original,
logically problematic, argument:
MP9 All and only those who understand the aims options and their consequences
should decide the broad aims of schooling.
DP8 All teachers understand the aims options and their consequences.
MC6 All and only teachers should decide the broad aims of schooling.

Say that, in the course of the logic criticism, we noticed that DP8 was too weakly
worded to do the logical job asked of it and re-write it to get:
MP9 All and only those who understand the aims options and their consequences
should decide the broad aims of schooling.
DP8* All and only teachers understand the aims options and their consequences.
MC6 All and only teachers should decide the broad aims of schooling.

But DP8* is just obviously false. Yet, if we wish to retain MC6 as the conclusion,
it is hard to see what weaker proposition one could put in as a replacement
descriptive premise that would still force that conclusion to follow. So, what is
to be done here is to weaken the descriptive premise back to what you judge to
be true and then see what will follow from this. Sometimes what you write in as
plausible will be a reversion to the original premise and sometimes not. In this
particular case, having focused your attention upon the descriptive premise and

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


thinking about plausibility issues you would likely decide that even the original
was, upon reflection, implausibly overstated. So, in this case, I would retreat
even further to something like the plausible claim that some teachers understand
the aims options and their consequences. I cant see how anything stronger is
plausible. So, lets try writing that in as a descriptive premise and then make other
changes to accommodate the fact that the new descriptive premise is rather weakly
worded. What we would get is:
MP9 All and only those who understand the aims options and their consequences
should decide the broad aims of schooling.
DP8** Some teachers understand the aims options and their consequences.
MC6* Those teachers should be among those who decide the broad aims of

As you see, this is all very much like our fiddle and fix argument rewrites in
response to successful counter-argument. In a like vein, a version of the original
line of reasoning that has a toned down, or weaker than original, conclusion has
resulted one that actually follows from premises that we feel able to accept. So,
in this particular example, we have managed to restore our ideal of an argument
with acceptable/true premises and logically valid reasoning by, in effect, retreating
to only being able to prove a weaker conclusion than we originally were after.
Sometimes even backing off like this doesnt quite work in getting an argument
that has premises that you are totally satisfied with and is logically perfect; we will
turn to this in the next section.
In any event, and whatever the outcome, it is worth learning about the merits,
or otherwise, of the original argument that you had high hopes about.
Key Ideas
Sometimes the trade-off for making an argument logical by beefing up some
inadequate premise is that it is at the cost of the new premise (the patched version)
being unacceptable. Even if you are confident of this, it might be tactically wise to
explore your judgement by mounting a premise criticism of that patched-version
premise. If it does ultimately prove to be unacceptable, then reverting to a more
plausible premise and then toning down the conclusion to what is entailed by that
more acceptable premise set might be a viable way forward.


Reason and Professional Ethics

Dubious Premises and Messy Outcomes

I said at the start of the last section that what we had as an ideal was an argument
with valid reasoning and true/acceptable premises. As things emerged, we saw that
these two demands might clash and that some line of reasoning for a particular
conclusion might not be able to be made to satisfy both of these demands. In
the face of this, I suggested a good hard metacognitive think about what to do
next. The hope was still, however, that, sooner or later (and after extended thought
perhaps), we would end up with a logical argument that had premises we were
happy with and which thus established its conclusion (perhaps not the original
one) to our satisfaction.
This is fine if you can do it but it might not prove possible.
For instance, lets consider a case where some MP was challenged by a counterargument which pointed out that it is in conflict with some further value with which
you have some sympathy. Say that the criticized MP advocated that all members
of society should share the same values and the counter-argument pointed out that
this clashed with freedom of thought (at least about what values to adopt) and
contended that the latter was the more important value. You simply might not have
thought about this potential clash (that is, that the price of achieving shared values
might be indoctrination that interferes with freedom of thought) and although the
criticism unsettles your confidence, you might not be sure quite where you now
stand on the issues, especially given the likely complications of issues of degree.
If you think way back to when I outlined to you the metacognitive deliberation
options in the face of a counter-argument, two of them amounted to defending one
or other of the values in rivalry. Sometimes, this sort of probing for yet deeper
reasons will resolve the dispute and if, say, the critic prevails, you will end up
knowing what sort of revised MP (if any) you wish to have in replacement of the
original. Sometimes, though, even when you explored what can be said for the
values in rivalry (and explored criticisms of those cases and so on) even when you
get to the end of what might be quite an elaborate web of such argumentation, it is
possible that you still simply dont have things clearly sorted out. You know that
you are not happy to continue with the original commitment to shared societal
values and you know that you have some sympathy with the freedom of thought
line of the critic but its not enough sympathy for closure (in which you accept
the criticism and return to fiddle and fix the original into, say, something like:
All members of society should have shared values provided that such agreement
has been freely arrived at). Despite your sympathy with freedom of thought, you
might feel that forced agreement is probably sometimes right (perhaps when the
forced value is an important one) but you are not sure (issues of degree arise once
In short, although not happy with the original MP, you might not be confident
about the acceptability of any candidate substitute and not know how to
accommodate misgivings raised by the criticism (and any ensuing exploratory

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


Similar murkiness can arise with the DP as the problem. Having decided that
the DP is too strongly worded to be confidently endorsed as true, you might not be
all that sure what is to be accepted in its place as true. You might, on reflection, not
quite know what the facts are even if there is a research literature. Ditto again for
CPs, uncertainty might persist.
Indeed, although we have viewed the problem as one emerging with one
premise or another as a result of some sort of criticism and then further enquiry
that doesnt manage to sort things, the misgivings might be there from scratch.
You instantly might feel that, although some line of reasoning that is logical is
sort of OK as a case for some proposal, you are simply not totally confident of the
moral acceptability of the MP, or of the truth of the DP or CP, and thus even your
first go at the argument fails to meet our ideal. Faced with this, you are probably
wise to explore such misgivings via counter-arguments but say that things do not
get sorted out satisfactorily and no neat resolution occurs.
In summary, some arguments that you dont feel like totally discarding or
accepting will, nonetheless, have foundations that you have some sympathy with
even if you are not quite sure of things. Moreover, although you might be tempted
to put such an argument on the back burner until youve sorted out your views
on the premises more satisfactorily, sometimes decisions wont wait for that or
resolution seems unlikely even with more time. Nor might you want to discard the
argument totally for, inconclusive as it is, you might still consider it an important
element in your thinking. As convenient shorthand, lets call these arguments with
such uncertain premises: non-conclusive arguments and give our earlier ideal
model the tag: conclusive arguments.
In principle, the way of coping with this hesitation is simple (and touched
upon in an earlier section). To the extent that you are unsure of the premises,
you should be unsure of your conclusion. So, for instance, if you were 100 per
cent confident of the moral claim of the MP but only 90 per cent sure of the truth
of the DP, then (assuming that there is a valid logical move from premises to
conclusion) you would only be warranted in endorsing the conclusion with 90 per
cent confidence.
There are hassles with the neatness of the above picture though. The main one
is that it is rare for us to be able to assign neat probability weightings like this
(especially to the value premise claims). This is a pity because, if we could do that,
then much of our deliberation would become algorithmic using the probability
calculus. But it isnt and that means that arguments with premises that you are
imprecisely sort of confident about are hard to assess the worth of as cases for
their conclusions. The best that you can do is to have a rough and ready degree of
confidence appraisal of them.
What might indeed emerge, as the whole enquiry unfolds, is that none of the
arguments critically considered by you is of the sought-after conclusive quality.
Despite this, my suggestion remains that you initially keep all of your arguments
as logically tight as you know how and with premises that initially yield the
conclusion you seek to support and then tone things down in response to criticism,


Reason and Professional Ethics

further thought and so on. If you do end up with a conclusive argument for your
proposal then youve hit the jackpot. If not, then you might be stuck with trying
to work out where the weight of argument lies. Unfortunately there are no recipes
for that but it helps lots to have the arguments you are trying to weigh up being
as well sorted out and understood as possible, hence all of the foregoing and the
earlier chapters sub-skills.
Key Ideas
Sometimes arguments and disputes never get sorted out so that you have a nice neat
conclusive case for your conclusion. Despite this, an argument having sound premises
and a valid logical move is the ideal and is worth pursuing. Even if that ideal is not
reached, your enquiry will give you a much more sophisticated understanding of the
complexities underlying the topic and your views concerning them. This should help
you to make a tentative judgement as to where the weight of reasons lies even if you
are still somewhat confused and doubtful.

Real-world Reasoning
No doubt the stuff in this chapter especially (but even the previous one) seems
terribly complex and it is. Also, I have no doubt, you are thinking: I wont ever
do this sort of thing, its too complicated and too involved. Well it is involved.
Any enquiry thread growing out of any given initial argument might go on for
some time as you tease out your views on various deeper values. And there might
be several initial arguments supporting that same stance and, further, distinct,
stances on the topic each with its own spread of initial arguments and each of
those arguments generating an enquiry thread as its soundness is examined. There
is simply no way around this complexity if your final judgement on a complex
topic is to be thorough.
So, you might think, if that is thoroughness, then I will just have to content
myself with sloppy superficiality. Up to a point, this strikes me as a legitimate
attitude, even for a professional with, as I have earlier insisted, a professional duty
to have considered views on these matters. Note, though, that thoroughness is not
an on/off matter; it is more a matter of degree, one can be more or less thorough.
How thorough you should bother to be is a matter of how much time you have
to spend on the matter, how important the issue is and so on. I put it to you as
an observation that many important value judgemental matters to do with your
profession may not be able to be given totally comprehensive scrutiny but still
deserve more thorough treatment than is common.
How much of the above you employ on any given question will vary but it
gives you the tools for going as far as you wish. At the very least, you should be
able to state the arguments that motivate your position in a clear and complete

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


way with the moral values that are impacting upon your position explicitly
identified. You should also be able to self-criticize and realize that your initial
arguments might not be as sound as you first thought them to be and have some
ideas as what to do in the face of those flaws. You should, further, be alert to
poor argumentation by others and have some capacity to probe for clarification of
ideas, hidden assumptions in what they are saying (like implicit moral premises
were) and have the tools to critically engage with their arguments and keep some
metacognitive track of, and direction to, an enquiry. As I said, how far this goes
will depend upon how important the issue is, the time available, the intelligence of
the participants and so on. There is, however, great room for improvement in the
level of discussion present in most professional contexts. I am no playwright but
try the following as the first few moves of a more informal dialogue covering some
of the skills displayed earlier. As my characters, I will have Albert as author and
Cindy as critic.
Albert: (A1, if you like)
You asked me what the institution of schooling should be trying to do. Well,
surely when people leave school they should be able to enter employment
and if schools dont try to make that happen it just wont happen as well as it
could. So, one thing that school should be trying to do is having exiting students
Cindy: (Thinks: Hold on, that whole case rests on the assumption that school
leavers should be employable and I dont agree that all of them should be.)
Says: (CA1)
But the only jobs that they could get right after school would be low-skilled ones
and many students arent going to want to go into those and its wrong for them
to have to be employable at that stage in jobs they do not want. Such school
leavers, at least, need not be employable.
Albert: (Thinks: OK, shes criticizing my commitment to school leavers being
employable and I have considerable sympathy with what she is saying so maybe
I should defend that commitment.
Says: (defence of the MP of A1)
I suspect that you are right but, so that I dont too quickly agree with you, Id like
to tell you why I thought they should be employable at that stage. My thinking
was that if theyre not employable then they will be parasites, dependent upon
our handouts and thats not right.
Cindy: (Thinks: But isnt it right? Again, his case is resting on an assumption
that I dont agree with; surely it is sometimes OK to be a parasite, if thats what
he wants to call being financially dependent on other people. I could challenge
what I take him to be saying but as it seems so weird perhaps I should make sure
that I understand him first?

Reason and Professional Ethics


Says: (seeking a working definition of parasite)

I dont quite get where you are coming from here. It sounds like you are just
generally in favour of people being totally financially independent no matter
who they are or what their circumstances are. Is this what you meant by not
being a parasite?

And so on (with increasing complexity).

Although informal, the spoken portion of the above could (mostly) be
represented in a Substantive Argument column in a flow chart diagram. Between
each spoken move and the next is some quick thought, some brief metacognitive
planning by the next speaker. Note that, although they are informally stated, each
of the offered arguments is fairly tame and, in particular, has an explicit moral
premise. Albert and Cindy are having a fairly tight dialogue and, in particular,
trying not to be simple-minded about their views. It might look deceptively easy.
I would suggest to you, however, that that is mere appearance. To progress an
enquiry as nicely as they are managing to do requires sound skills in argument
and a sophisticated metacognitive grasp of how the enquiry is unfolding and
where it could go next (the thinks bits in the above). Once you have such formal
skills under your belt, then you are able to operate an enquiry informally but
in a way that is argumentatively tighter and metacognitively more aware than
it would otherwise have been. All of the elaborateness of the earlier sections is
the framework of a training exercise to get those skills in place. Hopefully, you
will then be able to improve the sophistication of your thinking and writing and
discussion in whatever professional circles you move in. Usually it is in written
documents that greater sophistication occurs but even if you dont carry out all
of our bells and whistles you should be able to think things through better than
commonly occurs. As you will see from the next chapter, some improvement is
As I said at the start of this chapter, we laid down the basic architecture of pursuing
an enquiry in the last chapter. The task of this chapter has been to portray a series
of complications that were deferred because I did not want them to get in the
way of getting that basic architecture outlined. One problem is that the series of
complications tends to be a series of rather distinct points and a rather long series
at that. Wading through this chapter required you to have your wits about you to a
rather extraordinary extent. What I want to do now is just sketch through the bones
of what we have covered.
In the section on non-moral disputes, I pointed out that although the
investigation of disputes involving moral propositions was core business and was
what we focused on in Chapter 6, other types of dispute might crop up along the

Extended Reasoning: Some Complexities


way as we pursue an ethical enquiry. Accordingly I briefly covered such disputes

involving one or other of our other two proposition types.
In the next section, I took our thinking beyond the simple argument structure
types that we had met to date and outlined some more complicated patterns and
discussed how they might crop up in an enquiry, sometimes in a very deliberately
planned way.
In the section following that, I returned to something that we had spoken of
before, namely, Deep Moral Clashes. Exposing and dealing with Deep Moral
Clashes is core business for an ethical enquiry and in this section I outlined some
elements of a more sophisticated treatment of such clashes.
In the next to last section, I reminded you that the point of an enquiry was,
ultimately, to work out what we think on something rather than to just keep on
enquiring for the sake of it. Accordingly, I discussed the situation when one was
ready to close discussion of some particular dispute and outlined what happens
as a result of such closure. I also discussed the situation when an enquiry doesnt
seem to end up with a neatly satisfactory version of some rationale.
Finally, I observed that, even if you didnt work through things with the
sophisticated methodical rigour that full deployment of this range of techniques
and processes would involve, your more informal private thinking and interaction
with others on professional ethical issues should be argumentatively tighter and
more metacognitively aware and planned than before. This is no mean achievement
if you can manage it.
As I remarked at the beginning, not everything in the foregoing is of equal
importance and you might be directed by your tutor to focus upon some sections
and sub-sections more than others.
In the next chapter, I want to do two things: the first is to analyse critically
a spread of slogans and buzz words of an incoherent sort (babble) that infest
discussions of professional ethical problems; and the second is to go through some
concepts and distinctions that occur sufficiently frequently across a number of
professional fields, and in ethical problems arising within them, to be worth having
a fair grasp of but which are too often wielded in an obscure manner (murk).

This page has been left blank intentionally

Chapter 8

Babble and Murk

Somewhat provocatively, I have entitled this chapter: Babble and Murk. I do so
because professional discourse seems uncommonly cursed with the use of what
are sometimes called buzz words usually as part of catch-cries and slogans
that are accepted widely and without much thought. In what follows, I wish to
analyse critically some of these and to add some theoretical ideas that will, I hope,
be useful background for your thinking. As you might expect, some of these buzz
words are more salient in some professions than in others. They fall into two
The first comprises ways of thinking/speaking that have in-built incoherence
as ordinarily deployed (babble) and the second comprises ones that are simply too
vague or ambiguous (murk) to be vehicles for sound thought as they stand. I will
start with the former sort and proceed to the latter in the second major portion of
the chapter.
The list is not an exhaustive one and, although it covers some salient problems,
the concepts examined (and their analyses) are meant to be but illustrative.
Hopefully what you get from the following is an appreciation that there are
inadequacies in some of the concepts deployed in discourse about ethical issues
arising in various professions and some increased sensitivity for your crapdetector. You can get a long way with the repeated interrogation of your thoughts
and those of others by the question: Just what does that mean?
The N Word
In my experience, the most widely misused buzz word is needs. As commonly
used, it is so destructive of careful thought that I consider it to be akin to intellectual
blasphemy. Thus I have chosen it as our first subject for critical scrutiny.
It is not uncommon for professionals to preach, and be preached at, using
slogans employing appeals to needs. It is said that we should pay attention to
the special needs of various disadvantaged or unusual groups, or that pupils or
clients or patients individual needs should be met by our practice, or that we
should remember that schools or hospitals or counselling services etc. exist to
satisfy societys educational/medical/psychological etc. needs; and a host of other

Reason and Professional Ethics


slogans and one-liners could be mentioned that use the term needs. Helpful in
sorting through this will be to get clear as soon as possible just what is being said
when one talks of someones needs.
So, the starting point for our scrutiny will be a piece of standard conceptual
analysis. What does the concept of a need amount to? The first thing to note is
that if someone says, for instance, that John needs a sense of positive self-esteem,
or even that Jane has a physiological need for food, something incomplete has been
said, the propositions havent been finished off. To see the idea here, consider the
proposition that little Jamie is taller. It doesnt make sense because it is syntactically
incomplete; taller than what? than he was a year ago? than Jenny? what? To use
a bit of grammatical jargon, taller is not a one-place predicate term picking out a
simple property (like, say, square is); rather, taller than is a two-place relation
term signalling a relationship between two objects. In much the same vein, when
someone claims that John needs a sense of positive self-esteem one can ask: For
what? One plausible answer as to what might be meant in this case is that such a
sense of positive self-esteem is needed for, say, Johns happiness. Lets assume
that this is what was meant. So we move from the incomplete:
John needs a sense of positive self-esteem;

to the more coherent:

John needs a sense of positive self-esteem for his happiness.

Once we have the proposition completely stated, we can unpack it a bit. I would
suggest that the above is what we earlier called a mixed proposition; it is to be
considered as a shorthand way of advancing two quite distinct propositions:
For John, having a sense of positive self-esteem is a necessary condition, or
needed, for his happiness;

It is a good thing for John to be happy.

The former is a descriptive proposition but the latter is a moral proposition. So, as
usually expressed, needs claims are incomplete, one needs (!) to know the answer
to the question: For what?, in order to discover the goal or purpose of having the
needed thing. Sometimes it is fairly clear from the context of discussion but, even
if that is so in a general way, it is worth getting explicitly clear about. Knowing
what that desired goal is is important for your reaction to the claim. The point is
that, although the speaker, or author, presumably favours that goal or purpose, you
might not. And, if you dont, then that difference in valuation would mean that you
reject the needs claim (in virtue of denying one of its component clauses). If you

Babble and Murk


didnt care tuppence for Johns happiness, then you wouldnt agree that he needed
a sense of positive self-esteem (for his happiness). And this would be so even
were you to allow as true the other clause, the descriptive necessary condition
proposition. Let me try another example; it might assist you to see my point
here. Someone might say that Jane needs heroin (in order to satisfy her addictive
craving). You might disagree, not because you deny that a shot is a necessary
condition for the satisfaction of her craving you might admit this but because
you dont value the point of the exercise, that is, you dont value the satisfaction
of Janes addictive craving; thus you deny that she needs heroin. (You might,
instead, be inclined to say that she needs treatment so that the cravings no longer
exist to demand satisfaction.)
Lets consider an issue facing teachers, one of the sorts of issues that this book
is trying to help you think clearly about. Say I were to ask: What should the broad
aims of schooling be?. Say also that, in reply, some teacher said: Schools should
aim to meet individual student needs. Think about this in terms of the above
analysis. No individual, Jeremy, say, has any such thing as a need simpliciter, it is
always something needed for achieving something else. Once we have some goal
already decided on for Jeremy (say, having him employable upon leaving school)
then we can coherently talk of what is a necessary condition, or needed, in order
for him to be employable. But without the setting of some such goal, the purported
aim is empty. To say that schools should aim to satisfy individual needs doesnt
set a goal for schools, it relies on a goal having already been set. We havent got
a coherent suggestion until we have advice about what various individuals need
and we cant know that except by reference to some goal (or goals), some moral
stance about how one wants them to be. But that was just what one was trying to
work out in trying to propose schooling aims! And, given this, why not just skip
all the muddle of needs talk and just directly list that goal (or goals if you have
different ones for different individuals) as to what you think schools should be
aiming to achieve?
Not only is our notional teachers needs claim no positive (or even coherent)
contribution to serious thought about what schools should be trying to achieve, it
is harmful to such thought. This is for two reasons. The first is that those advancing
and listening to such answers might be deluded into thinking that something
coherent has actually been said, that a candidate-aim suggestion has actually been
advanced. Second, slogans that employ this term have a compelling quality to
them, after all, how could anyone but a scoundrel deny people something that they
need? As the term is usually used, it is also an implicit assumption that whether or
not someone needs something is an objective matter, is some sort of empirical fact
(perhaps of psychology, or economics, or biology ...).
Thus all of this initially looks beguilingly attractive for it looks as if, in answer
to the complex moral question: What should teachers and schools be aiming to
do?, one could get an objective answer that no one could seriously deny, namely:
Satisfy the needs of children. Thinking that one can have uncontroversial,
objective, answers to complex value judgemental issues is intellectually naive,


Reason and Professional Ethics

indeed dangerous. Before I close this section, I wish to point out a few more
features of needs talk.
First, in the above I have discussed individual needs talk but that is not the
only way such talk occurs in discussions about what, in our illustration, schools
should be doing or, more generally, what professionals and their institutions
should be doing. Have a look at the second paragraph of this section. Notable
is that sometimes the sloganizing appeals to fulfilling the needs of some group
like society-as-a-whole or the local community. As before though, just saying that
schools should satisfy societys needs is empty and even if one tries to fill it in a
bit by saying educational needs and even if one starts to advance proposals like,
say, that society needs literate citizens, one has not yet spoken coherently because
of the relational nature of needs talk and the absence of a specified goal (whatever
society needs literate citizens for). As in the above-analysed case of John needing
a sense of positive self-esteem, propositions about what, say, society needs are
what we earlier called mixed propositions and, when unpacked and stated fully
as a descriptive necessary condition proposition and a moral goal proposition, we
could, as before, save a lot of fuss by simply stating that goal as the aim in the first
place. If one felt that in the society in question literacy was necessary for more
informed voting decisions to occur and you favoured such decisions then why not
get straight to the moral point and propose that schools should assist students to
be informed (future) voters? At least then your cards would be explicitly on the
Second, although talk of what John needs usually involves some sort of goal
about what the speaker considers to be good for John, it doesnt always have to.
Sometimes one can talk of what some individual needs and have in mind what
is good for some other party, as opposed what is good for that individual. For
instance, say one had an unreformable serial killer; lets call her June. Someone
might remark that June needs to be locked away forever. The implicit goal here
might have nothing to do with Junes welfare so much as with the welfare of the
rest of us.
Third, because of the relational nature of needs talk (X needs Y for Z), it is
possible for the Y to be kept constant but the other two to vary. So, for instance,
one might say, of a scientist, that Bartholomew needs tobacco industry financing
in order to be able to do his tobacco addiction research. Mind you, of another
scientist, one might say that Boris needs tobacco industry financing in order to
fund his tropical villa (different X and Z) or that Bartholomew needs better
grantsmanship skills in order to be able to do his tobacco addiction research (same
X and Z but different Y). My point is that the easiest way to follow all of this
is not to merely rave on about Boriss or Bartholomews needs but to get the mixed
proposition disaggregated into its component moral and descriptive components
(in the manner of our earlier analysis) so you know just what is going on.
Fourth, note that, in my earlier analytical unpacking of the mixed proposition
about John into its component descriptive and moral elements, I expressed the
moral proposition component in the form: Z is a good thing. This is, as you

Babble and Murk


should realize by now, a fairly weak endorsement of Z. I just used it in quick

illustration but you know enough by now about different strengths of moral
endorsement to realize that there is a spread of possibilities. More important than
anything else may be what was meant and having to work out not just what the
valued goal is how much it is valued, adds to the burden of someone faced with
an incoherent claim like: X needs Y. Not only should the goal (the Z) be explicit
in order to know whats going on but the strength of importance given to it. This
is because getting this clear might make quite a difference to someones reaction
to the endorsed goal. So, one might accept Z as a good thing but not be as happy
about endorsing it as, say, the most important thing. It would be helpful to know
which was meant (if either; there are other possibilities).
Although I have developed this point using examples connected to particular
professional circumstances, teaching, I trust that you can see that similar problems
arise with the use of needs talk in almost any professional context.
I also point out that talk of what is essential, required, necessary and so on
has exactly the same sort of analysis as needs does and thus has the same set of
attendant concerns. The key thing to achieve is to get out into the light of day the
morally valued goal; and asking of a needs claim: Needs for what? is a way of
doing that.
Clashing Needs
Harking back for the moment to my concern that needs worded propositions have
a spurious status as apparent objective truths, consider the following scenario in
continuation of the above discussion. Tammy asks Timmy and Tommy what broad
aims schools should have. Timmy replies that schools should meet individual
needs and Tommy replies that they should meet societys needs. As complained
of above, such talk is empty but almost no matter what emerges as what Timmy
thinks of as a good way (or ways) for individuals to be and what Tommy thinks
of as a good way for society to be, there will be clashes. What is good for an
individual is often not what is good for the group.
This is fine in and of itself; if Timmy supports one aim and Tommy another,
then that is a matter for mutually probing extended enquiry of the sort introduced in
earlier chapters. At least, it is fine if each of them realizes that what he is advancing
is a moral judgement in clash with the moral judgement of the other. Such
metacognitive awareness can be interfered with if one views ones own stance as
necessarily correct because it is just advocating what needs to be done. Thinking
about needs clashes might help avoid this. The only necessity in needs talk is
the necessary condition descriptive proposition that such-and-such is a necessary
condition for the occurrence of so-and-so. And that proposition is neutral about
what anyone should do (and, being just a claim, might not even be, as a matter
of fact, true a matter to which I will return below). Two people can indeed
be in complete agreement about the necessary condition proposition, in complete


Reason and Professional Ethics

agreement as to what the facts of the matter are if you like, yet still disagree as to
what needs to be done because they have rival goals.
For instance, Harold might claim that Helga needs more counselling. Harriet
might deny that Helga needs more counselling. Harold believes the following
descriptive proposition: Helga having more counselling is a necessary condition
for Helga becoming thoroughly cured. Harold also highly values Helga
becoming thoroughly cured. Harriet does not so highly value Helga becoming
thoroughly cured and more values Helga becoming just as cured as she wishes
to be. Nonetheless, she agrees with Harolds necessary condition claim. She just
thinks that not only is Helga having more counselling a necessary condition for her
becoming more thoroughly cured, it is also going to go beyond the level of cure
that Helga wants. Harold doesnt disagree with any of these descriptive beliefs
of Harriets (he accepts that Helga does not want more counselling), he just has
different value priorities concerning what is best for Helga, how cured she should
be. So, without any disagreement as to what is, as a matter of fact, necessary for
what, Harold and Harriet disagree as to what Helga needs to do; the disagreement
rests upon different moral priorities. Despite their direct disagreement concerning
Helga, Harold and Harriet might, if intellectually crude, each describe their
proposals as catering for Helgas individual needs (although they would likely
not employ my shudder quotes).
Needs and Interests
As touched upon above, sometimes talk of what someone, or some group, needs
seems to be meant as a way (however muddly and obscure) of talking about what
is good for them, what is in their interest as we sometimes put it. Sometimes,
though, it seems not to be in line with that analysis (which is basically the one
offered earlier). This seems especially so when needs occurs as part of phrases
like taking account of individual needs and catering for individual needs and
being sensitive to, or aware of, individual needs. In many of these cases, it seems
to me that the suggestion is more that the views of the individual be taken on
On this interpretation, catering for Junes individual needs would be not
doing what one might judge to be good for June; rather, it would be more about
doing what she wishes to have happen. On this construal, catering for individual
needs is taking account of, and acting upon, those individuals views as to what
should happen. So, if you like, it is doing what those individuals are interested in
rather than what is in their interest (as you judge it).
One could obviously advance either view and dispute would occur as to when
people should be able to do what interests them and when they should have to do
what someone else deems to be in their interest. My point here is just that needs
talk seems to ambiguously cover each meaning (and, in the mouths of some of
the muddlier professionals employing it, an indistinct and undetected amalgam
of both). The point of the sub-section is to apprise you of the distinction and to

Babble and Murk


urge you to be explicitly clear in your thinking (and not to conflate the two) and to
closely interrogate others as to just what they mean.
Needs and Wants
If the thrust of the previous sub-section was to urge you not to confuse two ideas
just because they seemed both to get talked about using needs talk, the point of
this one is not to insist on a distinction where it is not at all clear that there is one
properly to be made. It is not at all uncommon to hear practitioners of various sorts
saying things like: That may be what he wants but it is not what he needs. Oddly,
it is when they take the time to attempt to be conceptually subtle that they will tend
to wish to think of needs as quite different to wants. It is not quite clear what this
comes to but let me get to my criticism of this supposed distinction indirectly. As
I have come across it most in educational circles, I will use an example from that
Say that we had a dispute between a student, Jeremy, and a teacher, Janette,
about what Jeremy should be learning. Jeremy wants to learn about car engines;
Janette wants Jeremy to learn about English grammar. We could describe this is
a clash of wants. Or, we could rephrase it and say that Jeremy values learning
about car engines but Janette does not value Jeremy learning about car engines.
We could describe this as a value clash. Or, with some suitable unpacking as per
above analyses, we could describe this as a clash of views about what Jeremy
needs to learn. All of these strike me as legitimate ways of construing the dispute
between Janette and Jeremy.
As noted, I have heard professionals and particularly, as in our case, teachers
like Janette, say things like: Jeremy may want to learn about car engines but that is
not what he needs to learn; what he needs to learn is English grammar. This strikes
me as simply addle-pated arrogance on Janettes part. As also noted, Jeremy may
want one thing and Janette another. Jeremy may value different things than Janette
does. Jeremys views about what he needs to learn may differ from Janettes
perhaps in virtue of different goals the Z of our earlier analytical schema. So, we
could look one step more deeply and observe, perhaps, that Jeremy learning about
car engines is held by Jeremy to be a necessary condition, or needed, for Jeremy
to be happy in the short term. On the other hand, Jeremy learning about English
grammar is, well say, held by Janette to be a necessary condition, or needed, for
Jeremy to be the sort of member of society that Janette values. But why upgrade
Janettes views to some different status of proposition than Jeremys? Remember
that needs talk is goal-directed. Some held to be needed thing is held to be a
need in virtue of it being held to be a necessary condition for some end that is held
to be valuable. Assuming for the moment that Janette has her necessary condition
descriptive proposition competently appraised (a matter I will return to below) the
claim rests upon her valuing some end or goal; on something she wants to have
happen (Jeremy being the sort of citizen that Janette values). It all boils down to a
clash of views about how it is best for Jeremy to be. To judge whether Jeremy or


Reason and Professional Ethics

Janette has the better proposal is a matter of looking at what each of them has to
say in support of their value judgements; its not a matter to be settled in Janettes
favour by the fait accompli of deeming her to know Jeremys needs whereas poor
Jeremy merely knows what Jeremy wants. Indeed, as will see in the last chapter,
one theory about rightness and wrongness is to view moral propositions like these
as merely expressing some sort of subjective preference, a want if you like. And,
if one thinks in this manner and views values as a sort of want, then needs claims
are crucially wants claims in virtue of their implicit goal. Mind you, there are
other analyses of rightness and wrongness that are portrayed in that chapter in
which what is right is seen as some sort of objective truth. This only changes the
detail of the above and the question would then become: What makes us think
that Janette has more insight into moral truth than Jeremy?.
The Necessary Condition Component in a Needs Claim
So far, I have been concerned to point out that needs claims rely on implicit
valued goals, on moral stances. When unpacking a needs claim, such a moral
proposition becomes one of two component propositions. Apart from that goalstating moral proposition, we have a descriptive necessary condition relation
proposition and it is the latter that I now wish to make two brief comments on.
My first comment is simply to observe that, as part of what is being said in a
needs claim is such a descriptive proposition, two people in dispute about what,
say, Jeremy needs, might not be in dispute about the morally valued goal implicit
in such talk. Jeremys friend Jim might agree with Jeremy that the important thing
is Jeremys short-term happiness but be convinced that Jeremy would be very
swiftly bored by car engine theory and would be much happier (even in the short
term) doing outdoor education. Jim and Jeremy disagree about the truth of the
descriptive proposition advanced by Jeremy concerning the link between him
learning about car engines and his short-term happiness. Such a dispute is quite
different to that between Jeremy and Janette even though each dispute is about
what Jeremys needs are. So, one moral from this is to not just make explicitly
clear what the needs claim is saying but to make explicitly clear what the focus
of any disagreement about it is.
My second comment is to remind you that it is a necessary condition proposition
that is being made in the descriptive component of a needs claim. This is a very
strong sort of proposition indeed. My impression is that lots of needs claims are
ill-conceived of in that no such strength of relationship is envisaged. The author
has often simply not said what she really meant. Take the case of Jeremy above.
Jeremys words (when unpacked) are to the effect that him learning (about
car engines) is a necessary condition for his (short-term) happiness. What this
says is that without such learning he wont be (short-term) happy, such learning
is a prerequisite for such happiness. Really? If Jeremy means this seriously, then
we have a psychiatric case on our hands! Much of the time some less extreme
relationship between the thing needed and its implicit goal is intended. So, what

Babble and Murk


is Jeremy claiming? Is it that learning about car engines will make him happy
(or, to put it more carefully and technically: that learning about car engines is a
sufficient condition for his short-term happiness)? If so, then a sufficient condition
relation (this will bring about that) has been muddled with a necessary condition
relation (this is prerequisite for that). Even that sufficient condition relationship is
probably stronger than what is plausibly intended. Not only is Jeremy not likely
to be suggesting that he wont be happy without such learning he is also not likely
to even be suggesting that such learning will guarantee, or bring about, such
happiness (what if he gets such learning but his best friend dies or ...). Much of
the time all that seems meant is something like: such learning will likely increase,
or help increase (among other things like friends, food ...), my happiness (which
I value).
How much easier enquiry and discussion would be if people would try harder
to simply say clearly and explicitly what they mean. As needs talk rarely assists
in this, I recommend that you drop it. It can be unpacked and made clear but
alternative turns of phrase are less fuss and people rarely have the intellectual skills
and patience to do the unpacking. If others use needs talk, then try challenging
it with something like: Meaning precisely what? or get them to put their point
another way.
Useful and Relevant
RelevantThese are two other buzz words that have much the same problems in
their use as needs. They often crop up in discussions (and especially complaints)
about some course of action (that it is not useful or irrelevant). Again, a preliminary
analysis of these concepts is a good foundation for seeing the difficulties in their
usual employment.
When discussing needs talk, I pointed out that the word was used as if
it picked out a property that something had, rather than made a claim about a
relation. The same applies here. A course in professional ethics, say, is not able to
be coherently claimed to be irrelevant simpliciter; it can only be coherently claimed
to be irrelevant to some task, or to the satisfaction of some purpose, or end, or type
of professional activity, or some-such. Only after it has been specified just what
such purpose is the one under consideration, can one make claims about what is
relevant to that purpose. So, ethics courses might be irrelevant to the performance
of everyday tasks and thus to most tasks undergone in most professions but relevant
to understanding how to think about professional ethical dilemmas. Professional
experience placements, for instance, might be relevant to the performance of the
everyday tasks of most professions but irrelevant to understanding how to think
through an ethical problem.
I trust that you can see the similarities to needs talk. Incoherent use of
relevant, like incoherent use of needs, has an inbuilt assumption of superiority in
a dispute. A critic of ones argument that, say, ethics should not be in the curriculum
of a professional preparation course because the curriculum should be relevant and


Reason and Professional Ethics

ethics education is not relevant seems to be thrown immediately and unfairly on to

the back foot. If the critic wishes to challenge the MP of the above argument then
she seems to have to defend the indefensible by favouring irrelevance. How could
someone be so stupid as to advocate making undergraduates learn irrelevant stuff?
But it is simply unfair to the critic to so conceive of the lines of dispute. All that is
happening is that the relevance-monger and the critic have different tasks in mind
that are deemed important. The proper locus of dispute is whether the curriculum
should be limited to helping undergraduates perform everyday professional tasks
or whether it should also assist students to think professional ethical issues through.
Once such matters have been decided, then one can coherently opine about the
relevance of this or that particular curriculum item to the endorsed aims. Unless
that part of the relation has been set, talk of somethings relevance or otherwise is
unfinished-off literal nonsense.
Useful Much the same can be said about the misuse of useful. Nothing is
useful simpliciter; it can only be useful for the achievement of some goal, the
performance of some task and so on. And what is useless for one purpose can be
useful for another. When people advocate that any suggested activity, or skill, or
item of knowledge should be useful, they usually have some set of approved-of
tasks implicitly assumed as what usefulness is to be tied to. And if they complain
of the uselessness of, say, critical thinking, it is only a lack of usefulness for the
achievement of the purposes, or the performance of the tasks, that they endorse as
worthwhile that is being asserted. But unqualified talk of uselessness sounds more
objective, more matter-of-fact, than that. It might be conceivable that something
is absolutely without use for any task whatsoever but that is not what is being
asserted when people complain of somethings uselessness; rather, it is uselessness
relative to whatever purposes, or tasks, that person endorses as worthwhile. And,
as you might guess by now, the real focus of controversy might be more on what
these ends should be rather than on the matter-of-fact issue of what is useful as a
means for the achievement (or not) of this or that end.
So, much the same lesson as for the dreaded N word: if you must use this
suite of buzz words then, for the sake of your own and others intellectual
health, realize that they are relation words and state, or ensure that all concerned
understand, the value goals, or tasks, or whatnot that the claims are relative to. And
when you hear others committing the above errors, get into the habit of asking:
needs/relevant/useful for what? As noted with needs, sometimes the goal is clear
from the context of discussion but often it is not, or is worth explicit pinning
anyway so that it is perfectly clear just what is being subjected to possible critical

Babble and Murk


Growth, Development and Maximizing Potential

Ever heard or read things like the following?
Schools should aim at students educational growth.
Teachers have a duty to foster the social, intellectual, emotional and spiritual
growth of the children that they teach.
My personal goal as a teacher is to try to maximize the individual potential of
every child that I teach.

Yes? I thought they might sound familiar. My suspicion is that, like many people,
you will have a warm rosy glow of empathy with such sentiments. You might
even have an Of course this is right reaction to them. Regrettably, none of the
above means much and all count as empty feel good sloganizing for much the
same sorts of reasons hence their treatment together in this section.
Although very (indeed, scandalously) prominent buzz words in educational
circles, especially in talk of aims, these crop up to some extent in some other
professions as well so, although this section is particularly directed at teachers (and
my examples will be from that profession), it should be worth others attention as
well. You should reflect upon the discourse of your own profession and I will
merely observe that the so-called caring professions (another buzz word perhaps)
and various professions connected to commerce and business seem to use them.
Whats wrong with this way of talking (and thinking)?
Growth and Development
If I say that Janice has grown, meaning by this that she has physically grown,
then it seems in many contexts to be an entirely descriptive proposition. I might
be observing that she is taller or heavier or whatnot; in short, I am saying that a
physical size change has occurred and, moreover, on that parameter of physical
size, Janice has gone in the direction larger rather than smaller. All harmless
enough but, of course, being a descriptive proposition, it is, as it stands, and in and
of itself, neutral when it comes to setting any moral direction for ones interaction,
professional or otherwise, with Janice. One could, I suppose, have a schooling
aims proposal to do with physical growth and say something like:
Schools should aim at fostering students physical growth.

Meaning what ? Well, meaning: try to help them get taller or heavier or whatnot.
Silly sort of aim you might think but at least it is fairly clear. This concept of
physical growth is, I think, the core notion that the metaphor of growth (as
used in educational aims and curriculum discussions and, as noted, in some


Reason and Professional Ethics

other professions) rests on. The trouble is that as soon as we go beyond this core
conception to the metaphorical derivatives of it, we find crucial differences that
make for the emptiness of the slogans using such metaphors. How so? Lets take
an example to see. Say that a principal were to write in a newsletter to parents
some such assertion as this:
As a result of our survey of parents, a key feature of the coming year will be an
increased focus on the emotional growth of our early childhood pupils.

We have two key words here, emotional and growth. This looks to be a
straightforward counterpart of the core idea of physical growth except that this
time it is emotional, and not physical, growth spoken of. Appearances mislead
however. In the everyday sense of the phrase that we had as our core notion, we
had some sort of size parameter in mind and it was fairly clear what counted as
growth on that parameter a bigger size: more height, more weight or whatever.
In the case of talk of emotional growth things are trickier. Emotional picks our
parameter out (or perhaps a cluster, or family, of more individualized parameters).
And, knowing that growth is being advocated at least tells us that change on that
parameter is wanted one cant grow in any sense by staying the same. So far,
so good; but that is as far as the good news goes with this metaphor. The crucial
problem is what sort of change upon some emotional parameter or other is to be
granted the honorific label growth?
One could try to run with a feature of the core physical idea of growth and just
say: More of (whatever) counts as growth in (whatever) as we would say more
height counts as growth in height. Paradoxes abound however. Let me select as
an example of an emotional parameter: racial intolerance. According to the above
idea, emotional growth on the parameter of racial intolerance would be more racial
intolerance! I doubt that this would be what the principal had in mind. Some of
you might feel that Ive played a trick here and that the trick is betrayed by the
negating prefix in in intolerant. The real parameter is tolerance, you might say,
and accuse me of a perverse negative labelling in terms of its opposite, intolerance.
Thus, if tolerance is the real parameter then growth on it will be more tolerance.
Nope, wont work; that is just muddled. Why?
First, it is not as if tolerance and intolerance are two distinct emotional
parameters; rather, they are opposite ends or directions along the same parameter.
More intolerance is less tolerance and so on. So, going which way on that joint
parameter is to count as growth? There is no automatic answer.
Again, you might disagree and insist that, because it is tolerance and its
negation intolerance, getting more tolerance is going in the positive direction
and more intolerance is going in a negative direction thus the former is growth
and the latter regression. Nope; nothing of importance here hangs on which end
of the parameter gets labelled with the primary term and which with the negation
of that term.

Babble and Murk


To see this, try another emotional parameter: hatred and non-hatred. Here the
grammatically primary term is hatred with the negative being non-hatred. So,
following the advice of the objector in the above paragraph, emotional growth on
this parameter would be more hatred.
In short, neither end of any emotional parameter has the sort of inbuilt growth
direction favouring it in a parallel to the way that growth on a simple physical
parameter like height means getting taller. The metaphor is misleading.
You might feel that this is a lot of philosophical fussing of the worst sort and
that everyone knows what constitutes emotional growth: more tolerance, less
hatred and so on. Nope; the above is not mere fussing and is rather important as an
antidote to some dangerously simple-minded tendencies in educational (and some
other professional) discourse. How so?
The first thing to note is that, although there might be considerable agreement
as to what counts as growth on many emotional parameters, there will be others
which are controversial. For instance, does it count as emotional growth for a
child to become increasingly proud about getting an A, or a merit certificate, or
winning a race at the school swimming carnival? People will be in dispute about
the moral worth of such feelings of pride. What can be said in the face of such
disagreement? Its not as if either party in the dispute is in factual error in the way
that a flat-earther is. The dispute is a moral one about what sorts of emotional
qualities are good ones for people to have. It is dangerously simple-minded to
think that there is some sort of simple fact of the matter as to what is emotional
growth and that everyone knows those facts. Best that all concerned realize that
moral judgement is involved.
Even more dangerous is when there is not much actual raging controversy and a
sort of in-the-background moral taken for grantedness is going on. Ill switch to a
related notion, development and, in particular, social development, for my example.
At one time it was almost uniformly agreed that being patriotic, having a special
commitment to ones country was the better end of the patriotism/non-patriotism
parameter of social change to be at. Thus, a person becoming more patriotic would
count as becoming more socially developed on that parameter. There would now
be more criticism of such views on the grounds that such nationalism is a sort of
selfish and dangerous tribalism and the view that it is more socially developed
to be less, not more, patriotic would be more prevalent than in the past. Never
mind what the merits of either view might be, the point is that for any view to be
soundly held it has to have been subjected to probing criticism and this is unlikely
to occur if it is just being automatically assumed by everyone to be right. Whether
increasing or decreasing patriotism counts as social development is something
more likely to be deliberated upon now than it would have been in the past when
everyone just automatically knew that patriotism was right (or, put in our terms,
that a more patriotic citizen was more socially developed than a less patriotic one).
As you would realize, however, even if this one is now more contested, we have
our own taken-for-granted assumptions concerning other matters.

Reason and Professional Ethics


So, in summary, coherent talk of growth (or development) requires

clarification of which parameters one is speaking of (and finer-grained clarification
than just the generic emotional or intellectual) and a moral judgement as to
which end of the parameter is the good end. Slogans that are unclear and have their
correctness taken for granted are no substitute for carefully thought-through views
on complex matters.
Maximizing Potential
Before leaving this family of misused buzz words, Id like to touch on propositions
like one of those earlier listed:
My personal goal as a teacher is to try to maximize the individual potential of
every child that I teach.

All of what has been said above about growth and development applies again
here but with one additional twist.
Presumably an individual has some potential for kindness and some potential
for cruelty so is one to take it that, if one is to maximize his potential across-theboard then it should be each that is maximized? But that is impossible. As explored
in the last sub-section, the two are simply opposite ends of the same parameter
and someone becoming more kind is the same thing as that person becoming less
cruel. One cant maximize every potential because of such clashes. So, as you
would guess from the foregoing, some moral judgements have to be made and,
as with growth, this involves deciding which end of, say, the kindness/cruelty
parameter is the good end.
Problems with the maximize potential slogan go beyond this though. Even
if one has morally determined, for each potential parameter, which end is the
good end, there will still be clashes. Lets be conventional and say that kindness is
judged the good end of the kindness/cruelty parameter. Say also that truth-telling,
or honesty, is judged to be the good end of the honesty/lying parameter. Wonderful,
you might think; so, if we morally endorsed maximizing Jennas potential on these
parameters, then we would maximize her potential to be kind and to be honest
(just what right-thinking teachers would want). What does that proposal mean?
Presumably: make her as kind as possible and as honest as possible. But this
is incoherent because of possible moral clash situations where to tell the truth is
to be unkind. Maximizing her honesty is in clash with maximizing her kindness.
So, the upshot of this is that one has to again make moral judgements about the
relative importance of various qualities that a student might be brought to have (or
to have more than at present). Priorities have to be set for the maximize individual
potential proposal to even start to make sense. So, if one thought that kind lies
should sometimes be told, then one would not favour maximizing her potential for
honesty; some lesser commitment would be sought. The tools of thought presented
in earlier chapters should help you to work out these priorities.

Babble and Murk


Indeed, further priorities have to be set even when clashes of the above sort are
not present. Even were one to have a consistent set of potentials in mind, say, for
simplicitys sake, ones that were simply rank-prioritized in terms of importance,
one cant maximize them all simply because there are too many.
You and I have all sorts of potentials. We each have the potential to be better
(and to be worse) at distinguishing leaf types than now. Same with balancing
small pebbles in a pile, riding a unicycle, whistling out of the corner of the mouth,
cooking omelettes and so on. The list is huge. One simply hasnt the time to
maximize every potential even if one knew which direction counted as better
and even if they were ranked in order of importance. (And note that some of these
potentials will seem to be of trivial importance neither a good thing nor a bad
thing to any extent much at all.) Obviously some picking and choosing will have
to occur. But how, and on what basis?
You might think that once one has rank-ordered ones priorities, and knows
what potential one judges to be more important than what, it would be a simple
matter of maximizing ones top priority and then, if there is time left over, moving
down to ones second priority and so on. I doubt, however, if that is indeed a
strategy you would wish to espouse. To make a similar point to one from earlier
chapters, most potentials are able to be fulfilled to a greater or lesser extent; it
is all a matter of the degree of their satisfaction. Call a score of ten out of ten (in
some chosen direction on some parameter of possible change) a maximization of
that potential. However, not all failures to maximize are equal; seven is closer to
ones ideal than four. This constitutes a complication for the above-contemplated
working down the list strategy. Let me illustrate. Say that one had prioritized
Judiths potentials as follows:
1. Competent spelling;
2. Clarinet playing;
3. Avoidance of superstition.
And so on.
Never mind for the moment whether you would have these priorities or not
and never mind just how they might get clarified. Say that Judith is already a
fairly competent speller (a score of 7, say) and that she is a child prodigy at
clarinet playing (a score of 9.5, say) but that she has had a Christian upbringing
and thus has a tendency to superstitious belief (Christianity being, we will say,
so classified) and so is currently rating 2 out of 10 on that parameter. Say further
that, although the ranking is as shown, the decline in importance from 1 to 3 is not
immense. Now, at 7, we clearly do not have potential 1 maximized. We could
devote time and energy to moving it as far towards 10 as possible but lets assume
that to do that would consume all of our available resources. That would mean
ignoring potentials 2 and 3 in our list. 2 might not be a source of concern as she
is close to 10 anyway but what of 3? Given the closeness of deemed importance,
despite the lower rank order, would a better strategy be to work on undermining


Reason and Professional Ethics

her religious faith because of her comparatively low score on that superstitionavoidance potential?
Perhaps so. Indeed mightnt we want to have a complex strategy of intervention
on a number of parameters depending on the importance of this, that and the other
potential and on the current degree of satisfaction of them? I suspect so.
There is one further complication which I wish to mention. Perhaps any aim of
maximizing some potential should not just be governed by its importance and by
Judiths current score on it but by the feasibility of ones intervention. If she now
scores 6 and with massive diversion of resources one might be able to increase
that to 6.1 then is the game worth the candle even if it is a hugely important
potential being worked on? Having a near futile aim is, well, a bit futile!
Although it crops up in many professions, I will again begin my illustration of
the problems with this concept by discussing the way it crops up in the teaching
There seems to be an increased trend towards demanding that schools, teachers
and so forth be more accountable. First thing to note is that there is no such
thing as being accountable simpliciter; one is always accountable to someone or
other and for something or other. Sometimes this is to society as a whole for the
achievement of certain outcomes (as in much current discussion of literacy and
numeracy benchmarks). Sometimes it is to parents for their childs educational
progress. Sometimes it is accountability for some matters to some people and for
other matters to other people. Much as was the case with needs etc., accountability
is a relational concept, not a simple predicate. (A related turn of phrase with similar
conceptual un-packing, and problems, is: answerable to.)
One difficulty with ignoring this is that one gets empty sloganizing. I have
seen things along these lines in mission statements and the like: The school
acknowledges that it is accountable to parents, students and the wider community.
On what matters is the school to be accountable to parents, on what other ones
to students, on what further ones to the wider community? Unless things are
clarified the commitment is empty babble. As we will see, on a more than minimal
interpretation, one cant be accountable for one thing to more than one group. This
might not be immediately apparent so let me spend some time on the point. First,
well need a bit more analysis of the concept of accountability. If I am accountable
to you for eating my greens at dinner, then what does this amount to? At the very
least, it means that I owe you an account of my greens-eating or otherwise at dinner.
You are being granted the right to know what I did. If this is all that is meant, then
certainly one could be accountable in that sense to more than one person. But this
is a minimal sense. There is also usually an element of granted power and control
involved in accountability talk. In this stronger sense, in the case above, you are,
in effect, being granted the power to determine what I eat at dinner (at least in part,
that is, as to whether I eat greens or not and maybe concerning how big a portion

Babble and Murk


I am to eat). My reporting to you, my giving an account of my activity at dinner

concerning greens-eating, is merely information for you to use in your legitimate
control of me. Perhaps if I have done what you wished, then I will be praised or
rewarded; if not, I might be chastised or punished in some way. If one takes this
latter, more robust, sense of accountability in which some sort of power is granted
to the person or group to whom one is accountable for something, then one cant
be accountable to more than one group for the same thing. Go back to the greens
case. How could I be accountable to both you and Jeremiah for eating my greens at
dinner? You might disagree with Jeremiah as to whether I should be eating greens
at all or, if so, what sort, how much and so on. I cant serve two masters if their
demands conflict. So unless it is just a minimal reporting that is in mind, one cant
be accountable for some aspect of ones activity to more than one master.
Further, distinguish another two distinct types of accountability. Matrix style,
this distinction cuts across the above one between: mere reporting of information
to someone about some activity and: holding oneself responsible to someone
who has legitimate power over you concerning some activity. To illustrate, lets
draw the distinction within the former, minimal, sense of accountability. For me
to be accountable to you in this sense is for you to have a right to know what Im
doing; but what sort of right? In an earlier chapter we distinguished a descriptive
sense of rights from a moral sense. The former was when it was a legal right; the
latter was when it was a moral right ditto with accountability. It could be that I
have a legal duty of reporting my activity to you; or it could be that I have a moral
duty of reporting my activity to you. The same distinction can be drawn within
the stronger, power-granting, sense of accountability. It could be that you have
been legally granted that power over me; or it could be that you have been morally
granted that power over me. Both might apply, or neither, or just one or the other.
In summary, if you must talk of accountability, then be sure that it is clear who
is accountable in what way, for what, to whom. Again though, my suggestion is
to simply drop the word. If, say, by asserting that a school should be accountable
to its parent body for the schools level of academic success in the curriculum
against national benchmarks you mean that the parent body collectively should
have power to control the school concerning that level of success, then say just that
in so many words. And note that this seems to grant parents all sorts of corollary
powers. Say that some poor results were partly because of a poor principals
leadership. Presumably if the whip is in the collective hand of the parents, then
they should be able to move to improve that success by firing the principal and
hiring one with more promise. Or, if it is lack of tuition time that is the problem,
then the parents should be able to get that increased and if that involves students
and teachers working longer hours then so be it, the parents have spoken. And so
on. (And if you dont allow these corollary powers, then what on earth would you
mean by saying that parents should have power over the school concerning, in our
case, academic success?) If such a power claim is meant, then explicitly saying
this up front instead of spouting platitudes about accountability to parents would
certainly make it much clearer just what was being proposed and thus would

Reason and Professional Ethics


present a clearer target for critical challenge. Note what a different scenario it
would be if all that was meant by: accountable to in this context was our minimal
sense and the suggestion was merely that parents should be told about the schools
academic success but the school didnt have to respond to a lack thereof in any
way that parents might wish.
Summary Remarks on Babble
The message from the above analyses is that it is delusional to think that a range
of questions about what various professionals should do, can be answered in any
straightforward way by utilization of sloganistic babble of the sort considered. Our
accountability discussion should be fresh in your mind and the earlier slogans
amount to something like:
Work out what mix of qualities (to what extent and with what relative importance)
you think it is worthwhile for an individual to have and then act in whatever way
gives you the best overall result concerning that mix.

Well, whoopee! Thats not a very helpful piece of guidance in response to any
question all the hard work remains ahead. It is about as helpful as saying: You
should do the right thing in response to the query: What should I do? from
someone faced with a complex moral problem.
In the above sections, I have argued that a number of buzz words and slogans that
crop up in professional discourse are so incoherent, as they are ordinarily deployed
anyway, that it might be best to simply avoid them. There are some other slogans
which are also troublesome, not because theyre incoherent but because they are
obscure. In this section I wish to look at some of these. As I said at the start of
the chapter, I am not attempting discussion of an exhaustive list of these, or even
an exhaustive discussion of those that I do talk about. Rather, what I go through
below is meant to be illustrative of an analytical intellectual approach to such
murk. Hopefully, the following sections will help you to be attuned to the sorts of
problem that I have in mind and you will be able to transfer such scrutiny across to
other instances of murk that crop up in your own professional discourse.
There are a number of related terms which are used in the discussions that I have
in mind, terms like equity, equality, fairness and so on. I will focus on the
first of these.

Babble and Murk


It might be thought that if a term is thought obscure, then clarification of it is

a simple matter of looking it up in a dictionary. Regrettably, things are rarely that
simple. Lets try such tracking of a web of connected concepts in a dictionary
starting with equity. In my edition of Websters, this notion is unpacked by
reference to fairness or impartiality or being just. And, as this has replaced murk
by more murk, following a couple of these further down the definitional trail, we
get appeal to the notions: unbiased and un-prejudiced. And, if, to resolve this
further murk, we track one antonym (bias) we get: that which causes the mind
to incline towards a particular object or course and, tracking prejudice, we get
the suggestion that it is a view that is held without proof or competent evidence
although it seems valid to ones own mind (I use shudder quotes because this
is not like our use of valid when we were discussing the logical merits of an
Mostly, this is not much help in that all we get is an extra list of labels that are
just as murky as what we started with. It is simply not clear for most of them just
what precisely is involved. It is not as if any of them are double-Dutch, we sort
of grasp what is meant but then that was true of equity as well. The point is that
what we are getting is not at a level of conceptual sophistication that is adequate
to the demands of serious thought; things are still too sloppy.
The very last bit of our dictionary paper chase may look somewhat more
promising in that you might think that you have a good grip on what counts as
proof and competent evidence and, even if not, feel that scientists (or, perhaps,
philosophers of science) could swiftly render advice. Perhaps so, but think about
our proposition types: this latter tactic sounds fine for pinning down what counts as
competent evidence for descriptive propositions but less so for moral propositions.
As we have seen in the book to date, one might be able to prove a moral
proposition in the sense that we can link it to some premises from which it validly
follows. And, for the descriptive premises forming that case, one could happily
talk of competent evidence (as pinned down by appeal to scientists perhaps) but
what of the moral premises? Things are much trickier. We will explore the status
of moral propositions more in the next chapter but, as things stand so far, it is by
no means clear that the sort of moral principles upon which (as premises) you
might basing your moral (conclusion) stance are matters upon which competent
evidence and proof bear in any objective sense of the words that parallels what
applies for descriptive propositions.
As for the inclination of the mind offering that we got at one point from
the dictionary, it seems no help at all in our context as any moral principles you
have will presumably incline you towards some course of action they are, after
all, what we were speaking of as motivating principles when we first introduced
So, not much help really and, as usual, all the hard work of conceptual
clarification lies ahead of you even once you have consulted the dictionary.
Dictionaries aside then, what are we to make of equity slogans? As noted above,


Reason and Professional Ethics

our treatment wont be exhaustive but simply illustrative of some issues for further
Part of the idea seems to be something like equal treatment to treat people
differently is inequitable. Everyones favourites here are various groups like
black people, women, old people, homosexuals, physically disabled/handicapped
people, poor people, Jews and so on. The suggestion is that to treat these folk
equitably means that they should be treated equally to any other folk.
As a first approximation, then, our analytical offering would be to suggest
that treating people equitably is to treat them equally. You might think that this all
sounds very promising but it simply wont do. Why so?
Are we to take it that treating Jim and Julie equally is doing exactly the same
thing to/for Jim and Julie no matter what those individuals are like and no matter
what the circumstances in question are? But a moments thought makes this seem
to be a daft suggestion.
Say Jim is drowning and Julie isnt; on the face of it, unless we throw each a
life raft (or neither) we would be acting inequitably (as above analysed). Or, say
Julie is a convicted fraud and Jim isnt; presumably equity, unpacked as equal
treatment, enjoins that each should go to prison (or neither). Clearly if by equal
treatment we mean identical treatment regardless, that would be so but that is
not what anyone wanting to wield the murky term equity would have in mind, so
a more sophisticated analysis is in order.
Such a more sophisticated go at things is to suggest that to treat people
equitably is to treat them equally with respect to those parameters relevant to the
decision situation at hand (and to not take account of other factors or features of
the individuals). What is meant by this? Well, when it comes to jailing people as
frauds, or not, Jim and Julie should be treated on the basis of their status as frauds
or not and nothing else. The only relevant parameter is whether one is a fraud
or not. This would be equal treatment for each in the sense that the very same
fraudulence test would applied to each and the same punishment would apply to
each, contingent upon them being a fraud. Irrelevant to the equitable application
of the jail frauds principle to them will be that Jim is a black Jew or that Julie is
a paraplegic lesbian.
The key idea here is that we are unpacking equity as not just crude identity
of treatment no matter what but as treatment that appeals to, and only appeals to,
those parameters deemed relevant to the case at hand.
Again, this might look OK at first glance but appearances deceive. Jim, we
have said, is black. Presumably, in accordance with the usual rhetoric surrounding
equity, it would be inequitable to fail to hire Jim and to instead hire Jade, a
Caucasian, if that was just because Jim was black and despite them rating equally
on the criteria advertised for the job. So far, so good; but change the story a little
bit and make the job one on the staff of the Ku Klux Klan. And, forgetting for the
moment that current law would probably forbid this, say that the ad for the job
stipulated as one of the necessary criteria: Must be Caucasian. Here, by reference

Babble and Murk


to a criterion relevant to the job, Jim would miss out and Jade would not. By
reference to our analysis, this is equitable but would you be happy to call it so?
Now try it the other way around. In Australia, at least, some aboriginal
organizations can legally insist upon aboriginality as a criterion for appointment
to some culturally sensitive jobs. What is usually said of such situations is that
the organizations are still complying with equity demands because aboriginality is
just as much a qualification for that sort of job as, say, being able to drive a truck
is for a job as a truck driver.
So what, you might think, what is wrong with that? One possible problem is
that the very same argument seems to apply to the Ku Klux Klan case as well. Say
that the job involves lots of anti-black and white supremacist sermonizing; it is
quite plausible that Jims blackness is an impediment to satisfactorily carrying out
the demands of the job.
In short, it is not at all clear that you could consistently consider the aboriginal
organization employment conditions equitable and not the Ku Klux Klan ones at
least according to the unpacking of equitable that we have offered so far.
You might also want to think about the case of so-called reverse discrimination.
Some organizations insist upon a certain quota of people of some under-represented
sort in their job profile. So, as an example, one Australian political party has a quota
for female candidates such that Jill might get to be the candidate over Jonas simply
because of her sex and with no suggestion that she will thereby make a better
parliamentarian than Jonas would. Similarly, many American universities and
colleges once had (and may still have) student intake quotas concerning various
minority groupings in society that were under-represented in higher education.
Is this equitable? It certainly isnt in any unpacking which appeals to equality of
treatment on parameters relevant to the tasks at hand.
Perhaps the idea behind equity is more one of equality of opportunity, not
equality of treatment. Lets tease things out a bit. Say that the college has an
entrance examination for some course that is in much demand and that its offers
for places in the course are made on the basis of ones score on that test with
the highest scores getting offers and then down the range until the course quota
is filled. In one sense this is equality of opportunity in that anyone can sit that
test, they all get equal time during the test and so on. But what if one comes
from a background that doesnt have English (say) as a first language, or one that
has an anti-educational socio-cultural climate so that ones educational level at
the time of sitting the test is below what it might otherwise have been. It might,
indeed, be below the level of someone of poorer genetic endowment with respect
to intelligence but with a more robust educational background. In a sense, such
a person is educationally handicapped and its akin to letting amputees and the
fully-legged all run a race and then rewarding winners. So, perhaps somehow one
should apply handicaps in the racing sense to the test and place different score
demands on people sitting it depending on the sorts of factors mentioned above.
Would that be equitable treatment? I think that it is more like what people have
in mind when wishing to wield the murky notion of equity in scenarios like entry


Reason and Professional Ethics

to universities. In effect, one is trying to compensate for previous differences in

experience that make members of some groups less able than others (or than they
might otherwise have been) in whatever the test is measuring.
Mind you, one has to be cautious here. There is enough to the nature side
of the nature/nurture dispute to say that, regardless of similarity of experiences
and so on, some people are simply genetically less intelligent than others. This is
hardly their fault any more than an educationally impoverished upbringing is their
fault. So, should test results be somehow further adjusted for this? At this point it is
becoming very unclear just what discriminatory function a multiply hedged-about
test could perform. Make the playing field totally level and presumably everyone
will get the same score. The lesson from the above is that equality of opportunity
is by no means a very clear offering in analysis of what is meant by equity and,
if this path is to be explored further, then much intellectual sweat would have to be
expended on getting it clear to all concerned just what was meant.
We could continue teasing out aspects of the notion of equity with more
elaborate analyses but I suggest to you that, if the task is to find out the real
meaning of equity, then first, there probably isnt any such precise meaning that
isnt without puzzling anomalies where you would hesitate about the application
of the word and second, it is a waste of your time anyway to bother.
It is the second of these points that is the more important.
Ask yourself why you even wanted to know what equity amounted to. I would
think that it would be because you are wrestling with some vexing professional
ethical issue where it looked as if some of the options might be usefully classified
as equitable ones or not. So, you might have generated a little three-line argument
along the lines of, well say, one should always act equitably, hiring a black over
a white in virtue of skin colour is not equitable so, one should never hire a black
over a white in virtue of skin colour. But an early demand upon our arguments
was that they be clear in particular, that key ideas like those in the moral premise
principle be clear. And, as ought to be blatantly apparent by now, equity is not
immediately clear and it would be no easy task to craft a satisfactory working
definition. Say that you did pin the concept down to your satisfaction. Never mind
what emerged and lets just say that your analysis of equity was XYZ. You
could, of course, set this up as your own working definition of equity; and, so
long as XYZ itself was clear and all concerned kept in mind just what you meant
by equity and didnt keep mentally writing in their own interpretive tendencies
instead, an enquiry could proceed satisfactorily enough.
The trouble is, though, that equity is a term whose obscurity is such that fairly
different threads of meaning can be prominent in various peoples minds. In short,
it is asking a lot of participants in an enquiry to expect them to keep in mind your
stipulated interpretation of it as XYZ and not slide away to some other meaning
that is in their own mind. Indeed, given the murkiness of the concept, you might
yourself even slide around between the XYZ interpretation that you have crafted
after some tightening up and others that were murkily floating around in your mind
at some earlier stage.

Babble and Murk


The upshot is that it is sometimes easier and wiser to simply drop obscure buzz
words like equity and, instead, carry out your enquiry in terms of whether, say,
XYZ should always be pursued.
To go back to one of our examples from earlier, dont bother to fuss about
whether the Ku Klux Klan hiring the white over the black was equitable or not,
just focus on whether it was morally defensible or not. Then, pursuing this issue,
focus upon on clear features of the situation (and the presence or absence of equity
is not clear). So, although most of the jobs tasks were skin colour indifferent
(typing speeches, constructing crosses, buying matches etc.) one of them (inciting
feelings of white supremacy) was not. I put it to you that, in this case, the hiring
issue will quickly segue into an enquiry into the morality of the job itself that
the people are being hired for. And none of that is going to be much helped by
focusing on equity (whatever that might mean).
In short, to avoid lots of diversions devoted to making sure that everyone
doesnt get at cross-purposes with each other by having different interpretive
slants on what equity amounts to, I suggest that you simply drop the word and
put your moral point (and have others put theirs) directly in terms of whatever
you more or less had in mind and were using equity as a tag for. That way, you
will get more directly to the issues that are of importance to you without having to
divert to flailing around trying to clarify some murk.
We have touched upon this one in our lying nurse example but lots of professions
waffle on about respecting clients, or cultures, or beliefs, or ... ; quite what does
this come down to?
My message here will be the same as with everything in this part of the
chapter: what is meant is obscure, the obscurity can cause confusion and miscommunication, clarification is pointlessly time-consuming and it is better to just
avoid the jargon, even if it gives you a nice warm glow inside. Why not just put
your point using whatever concepts you would appeal to were you to be asked
what you meant when you spoke of respect? Given the potential that there is for
misunderstanding, the elements of that definitional story would probably have
to emerge sooner or later and it might as well be sooner and pre-emptively of
questions being asked as to what was meant.
So that you can see why I think that there is a problem with respect, I will
offer some analytical comments. I am not going to give a laborious conceptual
analysis of respect in its multiple applications and meanings. What I will do
instead is choose one scenario for one profession and suggest that similar sorts
of problems (to those arising in our illustration) would arise also in many other
scenarios and professions.
Consider the case of a social worker, Paul, working in an indigenous community
which has still retained much of its traditional belief system concerning the
workings of the world, religion and morality. Paul is instructed by his superiors


Reason and Professional Ethics

that, in carrying out his work, he must be respectful of these traditional beliefs.
Just what is he being instructed to do?
Two things are worth distinguishing immediately: how one thinks is one thing
and how one behaves is another.
On the face of it, respect looks like a mental quality, a mental attitude towards
something or someone. So, on this line of analysis, Paul is being instructed as to
what to think. What, then, would count as Paul engaging in respectful thinking
concerning these traditional beliefs?
One thing that can be swiftly ruled out is the suggestion that Paul is being
instructed to think their beliefs to be true (if what we have in mind are descriptive
propositions) or to share their ethical code (for moral propositions). I will focus
just on the case of descriptive propositions, although some of the discussion
applies to moral ones as well.
The descriptive components of their belief system might be simply false, or,
at the very least, without any clear warrant as true. It is somewhat strange, indeed
futile, to ask Paul to override his rational faculties and adopt a set of beliefs that he
realizes to be false or without justification. Such belief shifts are not subject to such
imperatives. Even if you told me that I would die unless I believe that the earth is
flat, I cant just sit down and change my belief as an act of will. So whatever else
mental respect might involve, it had better allow that one might respect anothers
descriptive beliefs despite thinking them false or irrational.
It is worth raising, and rubbishing (without intellectual respect in any sense
perhaps) one view that sometimes gets appealed to here. It amounts to a form
of relativism about truth. So, we get this sort of thing said: Paul should realize
that, although the indigenous beliefs are beliefs that are not true for him, they are
true for them. Even if initially attractive to you, you should realize that this is
ridiculous as soon as you begin to push things a bit. Say that one of the traditional
beliefs is that the earth is flat (and that Paul shares the modern scientific view that
it is round, or, to be more precise, an oblate spheroid). Is it being claimed that he
should believe that, although it is true for him that the world is round, for them,
it is true that the world is flat. This seems contradictory. If to say that a belief is
true is to say that it captures some aspect of what reality is really like then, as the
world cant be both flat and round, saying that the indigenous belief system (or
that particular bit of it) is true for them cant be using true in any such ordinary
way. (Note that one could allow that someone thinks something to be true without
at all being committed to the view that it is true.) Given this perversity of usage,
I suggest that you dont even consider confusing the thinking of all concerned by
talking in this true for him but not for me type of way. There is a considerable
literature on the topic of relative truth (including a book by me from this publisher)
but it is a quite technically complex topic and I would suggest discretion is the
better part of intellectual valour here.
So, if respecting their belief systems descriptive propositions cant mean
believing all of them to be true (or true for them) because some will be false
and/or irrational, what could be meant?

Babble and Murk


All that might be meant is thinking that, although some of what they believe
is false, nonetheless, that is their business and it is no part of Pauls business to ...
well, what? If he thinks their belief to be false then, as we have seen, presumably
that is OK. So, perhaps the idea is that he is to believe that people should not have
their false beliefs challenged, that they should be able to continue to be deluded
without being made aware of why their beliefs are false. I have said that respect
is a muddly notion but even in some fairly un-analysed and intuitive sense, this
sounds more like an exercise in patronizing, than respecting, someones beliefs.
Why should they be deliberately kept from knowing the full story on some matter
(the shape of the earth, in our illustration)? Why would one want Paul to believe
that such a policy of continuing their ignorance is a good thing?
Perhaps the motivation here is that, if indigenous believers were apprised of
the correct story, then they might change their views. But so what? Isnt the move
from ignorance to knowledge an intellectual step forward? Perhaps the idea is that
ignorance is bliss, that an abandonment of false belief might lead to a loss of
cultural self-confidence, social breakdown or whatever. It is not clear, however,
that a culture based on falsehood is worth preserving. And on the debate goes.
My point is that it looks lovely to say that Paul should respect their
(descriptive and false) beliefs but if the unpacking of that goes down a path such
as the above, then the loveliness of what he is being asked to think becomes
highly contentious.
In any event, how is it a proper professional ethical demand upon Paul to try
to dictate his attitude to the question: Should people be able to continue in false
belief without any attempt to apprise them of the objections to these beliefs?.
In short, if expecting or demanding that Paul respect others beliefs amounts
to trying to constrain Pauls own thinking, his views as to the proper reaction to
false believers, then is such attempted censorship of his thought really able to be
sanitized by calling it a demand for respectful thinking?
As I have said, all that I intend in all of the above is to start some hares
running and suggest that demanding that Paul be respectful of others (descriptive,
but false) beliefs looks odd if it is a change in his mental attitude that we are
Perhaps, though, it is not respectful thinking that is demanded but respectful
behaviour (including verbal behaviour). So, even if Paul thinks that the indigenous
belief system is primitive rubbish and that only the wilfully dimwitted would
not have chucked it on the scrapheap of false theories long ago, he had better,
qua respectful social worker, keep those thoughts to himself. It might be that,
despite the mental attitude flavour of respect talk, trying to work out what sort of
thinking is being demanded of Paul is a blind alley. Perhaps it is not mind control
but behaviour control that is intended. Even if it is a good idea for a deluded
indigenous group to have their false descriptive propositional beliefs challenged
at some stage, by someone (perhaps those in educational institutions), it might
be insisted that Paul, qua social worker, should be no part of such intellectual
remediation. If you like, it is not so much that Paul should respect their false

Reason and Professional Ethics


descriptive beliefs as it is that he should treat the believers in a certain way with
respect, so to speak.
This looks like progress; at least we have some sort of grip on what might be
meant here. The analytical elements that seem to have emerged so far are that Paul
is not to say that their beliefs are false (even if he were to give reasons) or behave
in any other manner that suggests that the beliefs are false. Perhaps though, it is
a weaker suggestion that, although he cannot initiate such remarks, he is able to
offer them if asked things like: Do you think, as we do, that the earth is flat?. It
is hard to see what he could do but say: No. Perhaps he is supposed to dissemble
as to the belief-worthiness of various views and offer something more diplomatic
like: No, but of course that is just my point of view and I recognize that there are
other beliefs, like yours, that are equally legitimate. But this is to ask him to lie in
his teeth. The belief that the earth is not flat is not just his view and the rival flatearth view struggles to be called equally legitimate if by that is meant anything
like that it satisfies defensible standards for the justification of belief claims.
So, is he just to say: No (and nothing more) on the grounds that it would
be disrespectful to say anything further? Perhaps so, but perhaps this is being, in
another sense, dis-respectful. Again, it sounds close to being patronizing in that
it sounds like the topic of the falsehood (even the near certain falsehood in our
scenario case) of their beliefs is one to be avoided as, well, what? too threatening
to their self-image, or self-respect, or something of that sort?
Anyway I hope that the above talking aloud on the page analytical exercise
illustrates how a fairly common professional buzz word is problematic in ways
that can be simply overlooked by thoughtless sloganizing in its terms. As you
should realize, the above is only illustrative and by no means constitutes a thorough
analysis. Such an analysis is beyond the scope of this chapter and, as I have said,
to be avoided anyway by simply saying what it is that one wants Paul to do using
less junk-jargon.
Closely related to the above respect buzz word is tolerance. In a number of
professions, practitioners are exhorted to be tolerant of the viewpoints of others
that are different to their own and sometimes to be tolerant of behaviour that acts
out such beliefs and, especially, values. I wont offer even the (incomplete) level
of analysis given above for respect and will but point to some of the things that
would have to be thought about were you to go down such an analytical path.
(In order to be tolerant) should one permit any action to occur so long as it is
conscientiously held to be right by the agent concerned (or the culture/group/
religion of that agent)?
What if such an action is wrong according to your values?

Babble and Murk


What if it is also wrong according to some broader grouping (like a society or

a nation)?
Does it make any difference whether it is a legal action or not?
What of that special sort of action, speech? Should tolerance conceived of as the
demand that one allow just anything to be said?
What of thought? Does tolerance demand that we permit anyone to think
anything or should we be able to instil/indoctrinate some views?

And so on.
In short, it is just obscure (in a way that is fairly useless as moral guidance) to
preach tolerance without a considerable amount being said and if that amount has
to be said (for claritys sake) then why not just say it immediately, say precisely
what one has in mind up front and eliminate the dodgy word tolerance? On
pain of paradox, no one can advocate permitting any action at all to occur, few
would advocate totally un-restrained speech (although that is, at least, an unparadoxically coherent position) and many have concerns about permitting people
to even think whatever they like (say their thoughts will motivate them to bad
actions and you have no way of stopping such actions but might have a way of
stopping the thoughts ever arising, or continuing, by subjecting them to childhood
moral indoctrination, or re-education when adults; in such a situation, perhaps
one should so indoctrinate).
My point is that these are all huge moral questions that will require much
careful thought and such thought is not advanced by deployment of vague slogans
like: We should be tolerant of those who differ from us. However rosy a glow
such vague twaddle engenders, the hard ethical work of thinking things through
still lies ahead of you.
As I said in Chapter 1, many professional ethical problems arise because the
profession is somehow connected with doing things that clash with other
individuals freedom of thought or action or, to use another word I employed then,
their autonomy. In this section, Id like to spend a little time talking about what
freedom might amount to. Quite a lot of philosophical sweat has been expended
on trying to pin down the concept (or concepts) of freedom and it is by no means
in as a bad shape as others considered above and, with a little bit of self-conscious
caution, the term is one that can be deployed in enquiries to good intellectual
A good place to start is with the distinction made by the political philosopher
Isaiah Berlin in a 1958 work (Two Concepts of Liberty, Oxford University Press,
Oxford). The distinction is between what are sometimes called negative and


Reason and Professional Ethics

positive freedoms. We have spoken of freedom in the context of what to think

and how to act and the positive/negative freedom discussions in the literature have
mostly concentrated upon action. As we will shortly see, however, it is a distinction
that is useful for our purposes when applied to freedom of thought as well. The
distinction has its obscurities but is not a bad tool at all if used carefully.
Put briefly, to have negative freedom is to have no externally imposed
constraints or forces governing what one does. Positive freedom is best thought of
as the ability, or capacity, to do something. In quick illustration, I have negative
freedom to jump to the moon, no one is stopping me, but I am unable to do it, I do
not have that positive freedom.
Why the tags: positive and negative? A negative freedom, to jump, say, is an
absence of various external forces stopping one from acting as one wishes to (or
forcing one to do what one does not wish to). A positive freedom is the presence of
a capacity to do some act. And one can have one and not the other. We have seen
negative, but not positive, freedom present in the jump to the moon example and
one might have positive freedom to get up out of a chair (one is not a quadriplegic,
say) but not have negative freedom (the psychiatric nurses have strapped you in
Generally speaking, most professional ethical dilemmas concerning freedom
are ones that concern action, not thought, and negative freedom, not positive
freedom. In short, many professions involve stopping people doing what they wish,
and have capacity, to do. Accordingly, I will first spend a little time on negative
freedom concerning action and then briefly touch upon the other three cells of
our cross-cutting matrix of possibilities.
Stopping people doing what they wish to is obviously more salient in some
professions than others. In a dramatic way, police are an obvious case but what
of others? Rather a lot depends upon how broadly one construes the idea of
constraining someone from doing something (or forcing them to do something
else). Strapping someone down or grabbing them and physically moving them
(manhandled into a police car, say) are obvious ways in which all other options
become unavailable. I am, in the sense associated with the concept of positive
freedom, still able to stand up (if only I were not strapped down) or walk down the
street (if only I were not being shoved into the police car); I am just not (negatively)
free to exercise that ability (or positive freedom).
Most professions do not involve much force in this physical sense of the word
but what of threats? This scenario is often of this sort: Unless you act as I wish
you to, you will be punished. I put it to you that quite a lot of professions involve
something of this sort, even if the pill is sugar-coated by euphemism. In one sense,
complying with such threats is still an exercise in free choice but in another, it
isnt. Consider these two scenarios.
Say that you were tossing up between two options, one of which has rather
damaging consequences for you. You see a brawl in which a weaker person
is getting hurt (and will soon be seriously hurt) by a stronger person. Though
no martial arts expert, you know that if you intervene, you could stop things.

Babble and Murk


Mind you, you would yourself get a bit hurt in the process. Being of a timid and
fearful nature, you decide against intervention. Whatever one might think of the
rightness of that choice, it seems to be a clear case of you having negative freedom
no one is dragging you off away from the fight or blocking your intervention.
Basically, it looks like you deciding freely, based upon your appraisal of the
options and their consequences.
Now change the scenario a little. The you in this scenario comes across
someone lying in the gutter bleeding and you are inclined to assist. Then you
notice someone else, another bystander seemingly. The other person, Bruno I
will call him, moves across to you and says that unless you move on and avoid
interference, he will make sure that you get your face rearranged later in a less
public place. You decide that discretion is the better part of valour and move on.
Later, when the story comes out about the bashing and your presence, rapidly
becoming absence, a friend berates you: Why didnt you help?. You answer that
you couldnt, Bruno stopped you. In this scenario, did you have negative freedom?
In effect, you are claiming that you did not.
Each scenario has two options, one of which is dangerous to you. The main
difference for our purposes is that, in the Bruno scenario, the danger has been
deliberately added as a feature of one option by human action the threat.
To cope with all of this and work out if one had negative freedom or not, one
would have to do further analytical work. I raise it just to show you that it might
be plausible to call the Bruno case one of force (and loss of negative freedom) in
some extended sense, even if, in another sense, it doesnt seem to fit because the
intervention option was not physically blocked off you could still have done it,
albeit at the expense of some personal injury later.
So, although not a bad tool, the concept of negative freedom should be used
with some caution and it is probably better to say things like: In one way I was
free but, in another sense, I was forced to leave.
In each scenario, I made reference to your personality profile and, in particular,
to your level of timidity and this moves us nicely into a discussion of grey areas
for the idea of positive freedom, or ability. Are you indeed even able to intervene
if you are too scared to? Are you programmed by your genetic inheritance and
various environmental influences upon you to avoid the intervention option and
thus count as psychologically disabled when it comes to being anything but
timid? Is it but an apparent ability in that, although you are physically capable
of carrying out some action, you are not psychologically capable of doing so?
Note that we do sometimes think of people as psychologically incapable of doing
anything other than what they end up doing with instances being the insane, the
drugged or the hypnotized. Although these would be fairly clear-cut cases, perhaps
the net for psychological inability should be spread more widely.
What we are beginning to get into here is what is known in the philosophical
trade as the free-will/determinism debate. When you avoided trouble in either
scenario, were you exercising your powers of free will or were you acting out your
psychological programming? And ditto, for that matter, were you to intervene.


Reason and Professional Ethics

There is a vast and readily available literature on this sort of issue (almost any
introductory philosophy text will introduce you to the main threads of discussion)
and I dont wish to pursue it in its own right in this chapter. My point with the
above is simply to say that, much as thinking about what constituted external force
or constraint led us into grey areas (the Bruno scenario), so does thinking about
the possibility of programmed psychological tendencies lead us to grey areas in
the idea of being able, or unable, to do certain things (even if negatively free to do
so). Again, if you are going to talk of freedom in considering any of these ethical
dilemma types of situations, then caution is the lesson.
The above discussion has addressed two of our matrix cells: negative and
then positive freedom concerning actions; what of thought? I suppose that there
are scenarios with people stopped from thinking particular thoughts (negative
freedom style) but more frequent are cases of removing, or preventing from ever
developing, someones capacity to think certain things. In short, we are denying
positive freedom. Counterparts of the strapping down, or even the less clearcut Bruno case that we used in illustrating loss of negative freedom concerning
ones actions are not going to loom large in most professional lives (even if they
exist, and dont, upon closer analysis, turn out to be better thought of as cases of
removal/prevention of positive freedom). Accordingly, lets focus upon positive
freedom of thought (the capacity/ability to think various things) and the denial of
such freedom.
Try this scenario. Isabel is brought up by a fundamentalist religious sect and
is schooled and socialized into belief in the religious tenets of that sect. Does
she have the ability to think atheistic thoughts? Perhaps not if by that is meant
seriously consider, and perhaps move to endorsing, atheism or agnosticism. The
issue here is one of what is sometimes called: indoctrination (another somewhat
obscure term but probably clear enough for present purposes). As you would
predict, the major professional locus for such concerns about freedom of thought
is teaching. Nor is it just religious schools that are concerned to instil or reinforce
religious beliefs, or values, that are in question here most schools attempt to
instil some moral values even if not religiously based. Moreover, it is not just
schools and teachers that come up against (positive) freedom of thought issues.
Think back to our discussion of respect and tolerance. Lots of professions
activities come into contact with beliefs and values of other religions, cultures,
sub-societal groupings of various sorts and so on. As discussed earlier, there is
usually some pressure to be respectful, in some sense(s) of these words, of such
alternative views (and, perhaps, of behaviour resulting from them). One common
rationale for this is that people should be able to think what they like, especially
on such matters as religion and ethics.
One challenge to this sort of rationale comes from the last bit of the above
remarks. What if what someone is thinking concerning religion is not so much
a set of thoughts that is their own as it is a set of thoughts instilled into them by
others? To be respectful of someones own views on some matter is one thing
but perhaps it is another thing to ask one to be respectful of views that are, in

Babble and Murk


one sense, not their own. Perhaps we should not treat someones religious beliefs,
say, with professional kid gloves if that person is some sort of victim of their
indoctrinators and is unable to seriously entertain any non-theistic views. Indeed,
would it be more an act of respect for their mind to try to save such a person
from the consequences of them having suffered intellectual abuse, much as we
would charge various professionals with the task of saving people from the
consequences of physical or sexual abuse? If not, what is the morally significant
difference between the two sorts of situation?
I wont pursue matters further but I trust that you can see how issues concerning
(positive) freedom of thought (and prior interference with its range) might be
something impinging upon quite a few of you, not just teachers (and, presumably,
ministers of religion).
So, to close on freedom, the two cross-cutting distinctions between freedom
of thought and of action and between freedom from external constraint or force
(negative freedom) and the capacity or ability to do something (positive freedom)
are useful elements in your conceptual framework for the consideration of a
number of issues that arise in professional ethics. But, as we saw with some of
our grey area scenarios, things can get complicated and we have only touched on
some of those complications.
As with earlier considered, and murkier, terms and turns of phrase, my advice
here is to work out just what you are trying say and , if you are to use freedom,
then ensure that it is sufficiently qualified to be clear enough for the task at hand.
And, when responding to its misuse by others, take some time to seek clarification
of just what they might mean.
Rights and Duties
With these two, it is not so much that they are obscure as it is that they are somewhat
misused by professionals; so here the murk is more in the mind of the thinker than
in the concepts themselves. Nonetheless it is worth just a sketch of the ideas.
First, let me remind you that we drew a distinction way back in Chapter 2
between a legal right and a moral right with the former being a descriptive matter
and the latter a moral one. We could similarly draw a distinction between a legal
duty and a moral duty. In what follows, I discuss only moral rights and duties. (It
would not be terribly hard to transfer the elements of the discussion across to the
legal case.)
Say that I asserted that everyone has the (moral) right to free speech. What
does this amount to? basically that it is up to, say, me to decide whether to speak
or not and, if I speak, to choose what to say. All of this is to be without let or
hindrance by anyone else. In effect, to consider me to have that right is to consider
speech to be an area of morally legitimate negative freedom for me; when it comes
to speaking, all options are for me alone to choose from.
Contrast with that the suggestion that I have a (moral) duty to be polite. If
it is a moral duty, then that is a (moral) restriction on my (legitimate) exercise


Reason and Professional Ethics

of negative freedom. The option of speaking impolitely is being withdrawn as

not a morally legitimate one. There is a little bit of a grey area here concerning
negative freedom in that I might still be not stopped from speaking impolitely
so, in that sense, the option is open, but if I do choose to speak impolitely then
I will be morally condemned (unless a higher duty enjoined the impoliteness a
complication I turn to in the next section). Whereas if I had the (moral) right to
free speech, then I could not be held to have acted wrongly if I exercise that right
by choosing to be impolite and should not be stopped (again there is a possible
complication concerning clashes with more important values). One may not
personally be pleased with the choice made but the moral right to free speech is
the right to make that choice; the choice is a morally permissible one.
So, in summary, and skipping some complications just mentioned, to judge me
to have a moral right in some domain is to judge me to have legitimate negative
freedom of decision in that domain. To judge me to have a moral duty in some
domain is to restrict what it is morally legitimate for me to do in that domain
(and might but wont necessarily, involve stopping me from doing anything but
whatever it is that is my duty).
I wish to make two further points about this pair of concepts before closing.
The first is that having a right to X is incompatible with having a duty to X. Why?
because the former is freedom talk and the latter is restraint talk. So, for instance,
to have the right to life is precisely the same right as having the right to death. What
it means is that, when it comes to life and death, it is morally legitimately your shot
(perhaps literally) to call. In short, such negative freedom means that committing
suicide is a legitimate exercise of the moral right to life. Many people who talk of
the right to life do not seem to realize this implication and my suspicion is that they
really mean a duty to live. So, lets analytically contrast the right to life with the
duty to live. If I have a moral duty to live, then, unlike the case of a right to life,
suicide isnt morally legitimate (again, there are complications about overriding a
duty by an even more important duty but this complication doesnt affect the point
at hand). One can, of course, have both rights and duties but not about the same
thing. I have found that this is a source of confusion in that many professionals
write/talk as if one can have both a right and a duty to do the same thing.
That said, there is a conceptual connection between rights and duties (and
this is the second of my closing points). Your rights, while imposing no duties
on you, entail duties for others. If you have a moral right to free speech, then
a direct entailment of that is that I have a moral duty to not prevent you from
exercising that right. Given that right, it would be wrong (prima facie, again, lets
ignore the complication of higher moral priorities for now) for me to stop you
saying what you please (or stop you remaining silent if that is what you please
one can exercise the right of free speech by being an elective mute). Thus far
is uncontroversial; what is more controversial is whether I not only have the duty
to (passively) not interfere with your exercise of your right but also the (active)
duty to defend, promote and so forth your (negative) freedom of action. It seems

Babble and Murk


that one can jump different ways on this matter depending on the particular right
in question.
A quick sketch I realize, but enough, I hope, to assist some reflective analysis
of your moral views.
PS: In some professions it is more common to hear talk of rights and
responsibilities; for most purposes, responsibility is interchangeable with duty
in such usage.
Final Remarks
So, a summary on murk? simple: things might not be as clear as a superficial
glance would take them to be, so spend time to get them clear. Much can be done
by slowing an enquiry down and trying to de-buzz word it or, at the very least,
making sure that things are clarified enough for serious thought to be carried out
in their terms.
As for babble: avoid it.
Suffice it to say in closing, there is an awful lot of ill-conceptualized thought
around the professional ridges that doesnt do much at all to advance the cause of
having a sophisticated treatment of complex issues; try to do better, please!!

This page has been left blank intentionally

Chapter 9

Some Ethical Theory

If you reflect upon what has occurred so far, we have had a content focus upon
ethical issues arising in one variation or another across a range of professions. We
have also had a procedural focus. Conceiving of professional ethical problems as
ones within applied ethics, we have sought to track connections from the problem
at hand to whatever underlying ethical values are being applied. We have written
the latter in as various moral premises in the web of argumentation that articulates
such connections. So, our professional ethical enquiries are exercises in applied
ethics that use our tools of argument and extended reasoning. Of course, apart from
the ethical principles forming the moral premises in various arguments constituting
an enquiry, there will be premises of other types; in particular, such premises will
form the connective tissue between such underlying moral principles and the
judgements made in their application. Moreover, some enquiries will focus on
descriptive or conceptual issues as little sub-problems in their own right at times.
Nonetheless, the main underlying issues to get sorted out are whatever the moral
values are that you are applying to some professional ethical issue of concern to
In this chapter, I wish to focus on those moral values, or ethical principles, in
their own right. The chapter will have two main sections: one of these sketches
some elements of what is normally called Normative Ethical Theory and the
other introduces you to some of the issues in what philosophers call Meta-ethical
Theory. Ill explain these labels in due course. For now, I just wish to emphasize
that the issues involved in each area are quite complicated and their treatment
in, say, a philosophy major in a BA programme would be more sophisticated
than I have space for. None of what I say below is original and if you wish other
slants on it or to pursue matters further, then enrolling in such a programme (or
just in particular moral philosophy units if your college/university permits that)
is recommended. There are also many good texts on ethics that are pitched at
undergraduates and I would recommend browsing the bookshop on your campus
and seeking your tutors or instructors guidance.
Although limited in their treatment, I judge the ideas and issues that I portray
in this chapter to be worth you putting in the effort to wrestle with in a serious way.
Your professional activity is governed by your moral values and the more that you
understand what they are and what confidence it is reasonable for you to have in
them, the better.


Reason and Professional Ethics

Three Types of Ethical Theory

There are several sorts of enquiry that one might engage in concerning moral
values. They are too frequently muddled together and, to avoid such confusion,
a preliminary task will be to distinguish them clearly. I wish to distinguish three
types: Descriptive Ethics, Normative Ethics and Meta-ethics.
Descriptive Ethics
First, one might wish to know what moral values are held by the members (or
a majority of them) of the society of which one is part (or by some individual
or group of individuals). Note also that one might find that this society mostly
holds some value that some other society tends to reject. Or it might be that,
although most members of a society tend to endorse some value, some individuals
within that society reject it. Moreover, some individuals might reject the values
that are held in their own society but find themselves in agreement with those of
another society, past or present. Answers to such questions would be descriptive
propositions, ones about the values of others as opposed to ones advancing any
moral value stance themselves.
A feature of these sorts of descriptive propositions about moral values is that
there is no inherent problem in noting that variation exists among humans and
across (and within) the societies they form. If the task is to describe those values,
then one simply does that. Saying that various people do or dont hold this or that
value is neutral as to whether you should agree with them or not (a point we will
return to below).
I say neutral because finding out what ethical views are held by various
people, including societies or sub-societies, is rather like finding out other facts
about them like their income, taste in clothes, social status and so forth. They
are probably to be seen as lying within the domain of the social sciences and
presumably could be researched by use of survey instruments or whatever. My
point here is that descriptive ethics, being solely concerned with what is the case,
is silent as to what should be the case. Describing what some persons or groups
moral values are is not the same thing as saying what moral values they should
live their lives by. You might recall that, very early in the piece, I made a point of
distinguishing propositions of this descriptive sort (like: Most Australians think
that it isnt wrong to cheat on an income tax return) from moral propositions
(like: Cheating on an income tax return isnt wrong), pointing out that the simple
presence of wrong (even in its moral use) did not signal a moral proposition to
be present. So, our first sort of enquiry (about the values held by various moral
agents) is a social sciences descriptive style of enquiry. Having outlined it, and
being at pains to distinguish it from what follows, I will pay it no more attention.

Some Ethical Theory


Normative Ethics
Although descriptive ethics is not addressing the question of the ethical values we
should live our lives by, that is just what normative ethics does.
I have said earlier that professional ethical questions are ones best conceived
of as lying within the domain of applied ethics. As that name suggests, what one
is doing in applied ethics is applying some ethical values to the issue at hand. But
what ethical values should one be applying? Normative ethics is that area of moral
philosophy that tries to answer that question.
Although not every approach to normative ethics is of this sort, the approach
that I have taken in this book is to encourage what I will call principled judgements
concerning professional ethical issues. I have sought to have you support your
judgements by quite elaborate and explicit appeal to underlying moral principles
that you hold (and which will form various moral premises) yet to realize that
those underlying moral principles might conflict, even within one person, and, as
a result of exploration of that conflict, some might be revised. One of the central
tasks of normative ethics is to ask what, at the deepest level, such principles should
be and, if your moral judgements are to be ultimately warranted by appeal to a
matrix of moral premises, what can we generally say about the sort of thing that
they might offer?
To date, I have concentrated upon the task of tracking the complexities of
the connections between professional ethical issues and the moral principles that
inform views upon them and upon the task of trying to expose and sort out clashes
among your principles at that deeper level. Below, in this chapters section on
normative ethics, I will discuss some views as to what those principles themselves
might look like.
If descriptive ethics concerns itself with describing what various individuals or
groups hold to be good or bad, right or wrong and normative ethics asks what
sorts of moral principles we should live our lives by (and, for us, use as the basis
of various judgements on professional ethical issues), what is meta-ethics? I will
answer this in a roundabout way.
I have tried to help you to make judgements on particular professional ethical
issues by appeal to some more general principles (in role as deep value premises).
As you would realize by now, all of this is very difficult to do well but lets say that
you did manage to do that and that your views on some issue say, the propriety
of having any compulsory, or core, curriculum imposed on students by force (if
need be) were worked out to your satisfaction. Lets assume that you came
down against such a core curriculum and defended a curriculum that was entirely
voluntary on the part of the student. A colleague disagrees and argues for the 4 Rs
(reading, riting, rithmetic and reasoning) as things that every student should, if
capable, be made to master to some (explicitly identified) level of competency.


Reason and Professional Ethics

Both of you being, by now, trained minds, you sit down and mutually explore your
differences. It becomes apparent that there is no factual dispute between you. You
agree as to what the world is like so your disagreement at the level of curriculum
cannot be traced to a disagreement about the truth status of some descriptive
premise somewhere in someones supporting argumentation. You meticulously
check the logic of each others reasoning and can find no flaw and you seem to
have the same understanding of various concepts and their connections. So, why
do you disagree about the curriculum? Well, given the above, there is only one
possibility left disagreement at the level of moral premises (and, ultimately,
very deep ones at that see Chapter 7 on such disagreements). It might be a fairly
straightforward dispute at that level (he believes in each individuals duty to be
useful in serving the groups purposes; you dont; you believe in the importance of
individual control over what one is; he doesnt). Or it might be some more complex
form of dispute concerning priorities, or issues of degree, or whatnot (again, see
Chapter 7). But, whatever it is, you and he might simply be in irreconcilable deep
moral disagreement. And note that, despite such disagreement with another moral
agent, each of you is satisfied in your own mind as to the satisfactoriness of your
Where to next?
The dispute is not rationally solvable. You are each reasonable, you each agree
on the facts (so it is not as if further scientific research will help). If the topic is one
of but minor importance, you might agree to disagree; if it is a major issue, you
might, in some sense, fight. Is there any sense, though, in thinking that, even if you
and he cant manage to resolve your dispute and even if you are both internally
satisfied with your own stance, one of you is just wrong; that is, in some sense
of the word, a moral error has been committed? Could one of you be a moral
flat-earther, simply making a mistake much as a flat-earth theorist, however
sincere and self-satisfied, is simply making a mistake? And, if so, how could we
tell who was in error? Or is ethics not like that and moral propositions not able to
be thought of as being true or false?
The third type of ethical theory, Meta-ethics, as it is called, addresses questions
such as these (and others of a related sort). Meta-ethics is a major focus of this last
chapter. We have met the prefix meta before when we spoke of metacognitive
reviews and deliberation. As before, the idea is that you are standing back from
particular ethical judgements and principles rather than engaging in the making
or crafting of them (much as earlier we were standing back from the stream of
substantive arguments rather than engaging in crafting them).

Some Ethical Theory


Normative Ethics More Detail

I said above that, having noted the domain of descriptive ethics in order to
demarcate it from, in particular, normative ethics, I would cease to discuss it. Our
normative ethical interest is not a psycho-sociological one concerning what moral
values various individuals and groups do, in fact, hold but a moral one concerning
what values one should hold.
Lets begin by reminding ourselves that, when addressing a professional
ethical issue, I have suggested that you work bottom-up in a carefully considered
way from some tentative intuitive stance on the issue at hand in order to expose
the principles which bear upon that stance. In one example that we used at some
length, the issue was the propriety of nurses ever lying to their patients and our
tentative stance in the initial argument was that they sometimes should. Why?
because so doing was demanded by a deeper commitment, one to patient welfare.
The point about this process of defence of the endorsement of nurses sometimes
lying to patients was that it was done by trying to connect the issue at hand to
another one. As noted, I will call this principled moral decision-making. In trying
to make a principled moral decision, one tries to bring moral principles to bear on
the issue at hand. In this case, the initial element in this was to bring to bear the
patient-welfare principle. The connection of this principle to the tentative stance
adopted on the issue was by locating each in an argument. So, an MP outlined the
principle appealed to in support of a (tentative) stance outlined in the MC (with the
connection usually involving some DP or other). Of course, professional ethical
matters are rarely neat enough to be settled by appeal to just one such exercise of
appealing to an MP. Mostly, you will find a number of principles that you have
some sympathy with that are all bearing upon the issue at hand. Sometimes the
connection is direct and sometimes more indirect (via defences and criticisms).
And, as we have seen, you will likely find that some of the principles that occur as
moral premises in the various arguments that unfold in your enquiry oppose each
So far, so familiar I hope. Principled moral decision-making involves bringing
such moral principles to bear, applying them to the issue at hand. That process can
be long and involved if done thoroughly. And, of course, sometimes one hasnt the
time to do it or the issue is too trivial to bother with sophisticated analysis anyway.
However, important matters are worth thorough enquiry, if time allows.
The job of the foregoing chapters has been to explore the complexities of
thinking an issue through in some depth and, given that this involves conflicting
principles, trying to sort out some priorities such that ones set of moral principles
is well enough organized to apply to the problem at hand.
In this section, I wish to talk a little more about the principles themselves. I will
put it to you that, when crafting arguments that bring various moral principles to
bear through an enquiry, two distinct sorts of exercise might be going on.


Reason and Professional Ethics

One is that you tend to apply principles of a type that is sometimes called
deontological (from the Greek deon, meaning binding duty). The other is that
you tend to argue as a consequentialist (as in consequences). Ill explain these
to an extent suitable for the books purposes in a moment and then close with
a suggestion as to what, as a professional facing ethical issues (as opposed to
philosopher of ethics), you could profitably make of these theories.
Consequentialist Ethics
Say that the ethical issue facing you arose when someone is enrolled in a degree
course that leads to being certified as qualified to practise some profession. There
is an important assignment due but, for whatever reason, she has not managed to
prepare adequately for it. Being a student of marginal competence, with a poor
academic record, she knows that if she fails the assignment, then she is in grave
danger of having her enrolment in the course cancelled. A friend in the same
course offers to help with the assignment. There are two main types of principled
reasoning that you might engage in when trying to work out whether you morally
approve of this or not.
The type that I wish to explore in this section involves arguing in a way that
is concerned with what would result from accepting such assistance. The act is
appraised as right, or wrong, good, or bad, by focusing on the consequences of the
action. Hence, obviously, the label consequentialism (another common label for
this broad type is utilitarianism).
Consider the cheating example. One consequence perhaps is that such a cheat
would get a passing grade instead of fail. A related consequence (in our earlier
scenario) is that the cheat will be able to continue enrolment in the course, thus
saving time and money. Another, more indirect, consequence is that prospective
employers will have the false belief that the cheat is competent as certified by
her university. Even more indirect as a consequence is that future clients might
have incompetent provision of professional services by the cheat. Another type
of consequence, dependent upon how well known it is that cheating occurred, is
a decline in the reputation of the universitys degrees. And, if known to occur yet
be unpunished, another will be a rise in the number of undergraduate cheats. And
so on.
As is obvious, a given act has all sorts of consequences, both direct and indirect,
and if they were appealed to in ethically judging the rightness or wrongness of the
action, then pointing out those consequences would form descriptive premises
in the arguments (what we call means/end arguments) deployed in coming to a
judgement. However, mere descriptive noting of consequences is hardly enough
to drive a judgement, one needs to know whether the consequence portrayed is a
good one or a bad one. And, as should be familiar to you by now, whatever criteria
you were appealing to in order to rate some consequence as good or bad would be
put in as the MPs of various means/end arguments. So, in illustration, one might

Some Ethical Theory


MP Jane should be able to continue enrolment in her law course.

DP Unless Jane cheats on her assignment for legal ethics in her law course, she
wont be able to continue enrolment in that course.
MC Jane should cheat on her assignment for legal ethics in her law course.

Recall, though, that you were also introduced to the business of premise defence.
Say we carried that out for the above MP in response to the query: What is so
important about Janes continuing enrolment?.
Whatever the argument offered in its defence, there will have to be some
further moral premise appealed to. No matter what this might be, that further moral
premise might itself face the same sort of query demanding that it be defended.
So, say that, in advancing a case for Janes continuing enrolment, appeal is made
to the importance of her being available for professional employment as soon as
possible. And we could ask why that is so important. (We touched on such matters
in Chapter 7.)
This begins to look like an endless business. No matter what is offered as a
deeper value in defence at any given point, it seems that we could keep probing for
the yet deeper story, for the deeper value underlying the one at hand. Fortunately,
it is not like that and this sort of chain of defences ends. Indeed, it has to end, on
pain of what logicians call: a vicious infinite regress. It is impossible, in a real
moral value system, one held by real and finite moral agents, to have such an
infinite chain of values. What happens instead is that one gets down to one or more
fundamental values, ones that act as a sort of moral bedrock, as the ultimate ends
in our means/end chains of moral justification.
As to what such final values might be and how many of them there might be,
disagreement reigns among consequentialists. Two popular ones are these:
Always act so as to maximize the greatest sum total of human happiness; and
Always act so as to maximize the greatest sum total of human desire satisfaction.

A few things to note: The first is that these are not the same end desire satisfaction
is not automatically connected with being happy, a lot depends upon the desire;
and happiness might occur without it constituting the satisfaction of any preceding
Another point is that there are variations within these broad concerns for
human happiness or desire satisfaction. So, instead of largest sum total happiness
(which might be achieved by quite uneven distribution of that happiness), one
might favour the most even spread of happiness. One might also be concerned
with the happiness of species other than humans and trade that off against human
happiness (Peter Singers name looms large here). Or, instead of the greatest
amount of desire satisfaction, one might similarly want some sort of evenness
of spread of desire satisfaction. Further clarifications and more sophisticated and

Reason and Professional Ethics


complicated variations have been offered on these two themes but it is beyond the
scope of this book to pursue matters further.
Also, ends other than some variation of the happiness or desire satisfaction
ones have been advanced. So, one might be concerned to maximize true belief,
or freedom of thought, or religious conviction, or ... . Again, pursuing such
possibilities in detail is beyond us and you should consider reading further in the
philosophical literature.
Finally, if one has more than one such fundamental principle (concerning the
ultimate ends that one will be wanting to be served by human action) then there is
no guarantee that they wont clash. Indeed, there is a guarantee that they will. We
touched on this in Chapter 7 and I will return to it in a section below.
Whichever ultimate end(s) is(are) chosen, the idea is that this is where
justification runs out. Such values are what are ultimately appealed to in warranting
other moral judgements and values. They form the deepest MPs of a web of means/
end argumentation.
Deontological Values
Consider again our cheating example. Instead of appealing to what will result from
the action, to its consequences, one might just look to the action itself, to the sort
of action it is, in and of itself. So, try this argument.
Janes action is wrong because it is an act of dishonesty and acting dishonestly
is always wrong.

Upon clarification being sought from the speaker by asking: Whats so wrong
about it? after all, sometimes no harm comes of dishonesty, we might be told:
Whether it does any harm or not is not the point; acting dishonestly is just the
wrong sort of thing for someone to do.
This rationale for condemnation of the cheating is quite different to our previous
consequentialist ones. In those arguments, the DP claimed that some consequence,
or outcome, of the cheating would occur and the MP stated some moral principle that
covered that sort of consequence. By reference to that principle, the consequence
was rated morally as a good or bad one. In effect, the action of cheating would be,
say, morally condemned by forming an appraisal of what the consequences would
be and morally judging those consequences. The act of cheating is, in a sense,
judged indirectly by way of judging its consequences.
In contrast, someone inclined to think about ethical issues in a deontological
way focuses directly on the act itself and morally judges that act by categorizing it
as an instance of this or that type where the types, or classes, of actions are ones
covered by moral principles. So, in this case, the act is condemned because is it is
an instance of the type: dishonesty.
Of course, just as the consequentialist might become conflicted by an action
having both good and bad consequences and have to sort out some priorities,

Some Ethical Theory


a deontological theorist might become conflicted by an action being able to be

categorized in more than one way, some good, some bad. So, consider the person
helping Jane. She might be acting dishonestly by doing Janes assignment (a bad
thing, prima facie, we will assume) but she is also satisfying a friends request
(a good thing, say). Further, much as the consequentialist can track defences of
MPs in a chain of means/end arguments that ultimately end in something at a
fundamental level like, say, some version of the greatest happiness principle, so,
too, the deontologist might have a chain of arguments defending some initial MP.
The style of that chain is quite different, though.
Keep in mind that deontologists are not interested in what results from an
action, just in what sort of action it is, in and of itself. Thus, such a defensive chain
of reasoning will not contain means/end arguments. Rather, our other main type,
set relationship arguments, will be deployed. A common deontological pattern
in defence of a particular acts rightness (or wrongness) is to locate the act as
an instance of a class of actions upon which we have some morally principled
position. So, as an example, say that Sarah, whose profession is that of politician,
is contemplating how she should vote concerning a proposed war. The war in
question concerns a country (Eastland, say) with which the politicians country
(Northland, say) has a formal treaty. Eastland has formally sought assistance in
accordance with the clauses of the treaty. Although no doubt unfamiliar with
normative ethical theory, the politician counts as a deontologist in her manner of
thinking about ethical issues and, in effect, thinks as follows:
MP1 All treaties should always be honoured.
DP1 Our treaty with Eastland stipulates that if Eastland requests it, Northland should
declare war on any country Eastland is at war with.
DP2 Eastland is at war with Westland.
DP3 Eastland has requested that Northland declare war on Westland.
MC1 Northland should declare war on Westland.

A colleague of Sarahs, Tom, who has a consequentialist bent, suggests that going
to war against Westland will have all sorts of bad consequences and Northland
should seek some way of wriggling out of its treaty obligations. He challenges
Sarah to justify her view that Northland should declare war on Westland. Sarah
replies with a fairly feral and abbreviated version of the above structure: We have
to; we signed a treaty with Eastland and we cant break that. Tom responds: Why
shouldnt treaties sometimes be broken?.
In our terms, Tom is seeking from Sarah a defence of her MP1 claim that
all treaties should always be honoured (although she may not have explicitly
formulated the principle like that to herself remember all of the problems that
we had in Chapter 3 concerning the teasing out of missing moral premises).


Reason and Professional Ethics

Say that Sarah responded to Toms challenge cum request as follows: They
shouldnt be broken because they are a sort of promise. Laid out as a structure this
feral defence amounts to this argument:
MP2 All promises should always be kept.
CP1 Not honouring a treaty is always an instance of not keeping a promise.
MP1 All treaties should always be honoured.

In effect, when combined with the original structure that we attributed to Sarah,
we now have a two-link chain of reasoning. Put in a why? because way, it goes
(somewhat abbreviated) like this: why should we go to war? because we should
honour our treaties; why should we honour our treaties? because all promises
should be kept. Going to war is warranted by noting that such an action is an
instance of the type: honouring treaties. And the whole type (or set) honouring
treaties is warranted by noting that it is a subset of the set: keeping promises.
We have generally spoken of defences of premises as constituting a deepening
of a given argument but note that, in the case of such deontological defence
exercises (using set relationship arguments), it is better thought of as widening,
rather than deepening, Sarahs case. The warrant proceeds by appeal to more
general principles.
As with consequentialism, this process of MP defence cant go on forever and
eventually appeal is made to (usually very general) principles that are bedrock
or held to be capturing intrinsic values. These principles specify types of action
that moral agents should perform and which cannot be subsumed under some yet
broader classification.
Also, as with the consequentialist, it is quite possible that various values that
lay down prima facie duties (even if they are at this fundamental, or bedrock,
level) will conflict with each other in various scenario situations. For instance, one
might, as with the case of Sarah above, hold (prima facie) that one should always
keep ones promises yet also hold that one should always be truthful. Clearly,
sometimes keeping ones promise would involve lying. (For instance, one might
promise a dying parent that one will keep their daughter from harm and this might
only be achievable in some scenario by lying to a drug-crazed and violent house
intruder about her presence.)
We will revisit the matter of value clashes below (although, as noted, it was
addressed in Chapter 7).
Just to re-emphasize the distinction using the cheating case: that particular
deontological judgement that it was wrong might be made even if it is clear that
none of the consequences that would disturb a consequentialist actually obtain.
A consequentialist, on the other hand, would see nothing wrong with an episode of
cheating provided that no bad consequences ensued from it.
Most people have a tendency to incline towards one or other of these broad
theoretical orientations when approaching ethical issues and problems in a

Some Ethical Theory


principled way, one that rests their judgements upon principles of some sort but
not everyone does. I turn to such hybrid normative ethical views next.
Hybrid Normative Ethical Views
As just mentioned, most people incline fairly much towards one or another of
these two broad types of normative ethical principle. However, many people,
especially when first trying to explicitly understand their approach to principled
ethical decision-making, find themselves thinking both as a consequentialist
and as a deontologist, even on the one issue. For instance, in our lying nurse
example, we had one argument in which the lying was supported by appealing to
a good consequence of the lying, namely the increased health of the patient who
was lied to. In a counter-argument against this arguments patient-welfare MP,
appeal was made to treating patients with respect. We didnt bother to defend this
respect patients CMP but, had we done so, I doubt that the story would have
involved advancing a means/end argument pointing out the good consequences
that would flow from respecting patients. Rather, it seems likely that the construal
of the respecting patients value would be deontological, such respecting would
be just seen as the right sort of way to act and were it to be defended, then I would
imagine that it would be by appeal to a broader commitment to respect for people
So conceived of, and thinking of the enquiry to that point as one in which
the counter-argument has been mounted by the author as an exercise in probing
self-criticism, we seem to have a moral agent who is a normative hybrid of
consequentialist and deontologist. He is inclined to want to act in a respectful way
as just the right way to act in and of itself (and not with some good consequences
in the back of his mind as the justification for so acting) but concerned that
(sometimes) doing that will have consequences that might be bad enough to
warrant disrespectful treatment upon those occasions.
So, not just a moral dilemma, or conflict, but one that involves elements of
each of our normative theoretical orientations.
Although just illustrated with a value conflict, hybrid thinking can also occur in
other ways. One might, for instance, just think, deontologically, that one has a duty
to act honestly. Although that commitment is not dependent upon any consideration
of consequences, one might also favour it on the basis of its good consequences.
Consider our cheating student scenario. Not only might one decide not to cheat
because that counts as a case of acting honestly, one might also support it with
the consequentialist point that, if one did cheat, then that would run a high risk of
lowering confidence in the universitys grade integrity which, in turn, would ... .
The above portrayal of deontological and consequentialist views and their
relationship to our processes of principled argumentation is inevitably sketchy but
I hope that it gives you some feel for two major approaches to warranting stances
on professional ethical matters or, if you like, major ways of thinking about the
sorts of fundamental moral principles that you would be appealing to, and applying,


Reason and Professional Ethics

to reach some such stance. As I said earlier, there are many good undergraduate
texts on normative ethics and if you wish to pursue this level of theory further, then
that is where to turn. For now, if you understand the two approaches, I would just
suggest that you reflect on the ways that you think about ethical problems and see
which is the approach that you are most comfortable about.
Diagrammatically put, what we have so far is:

Diagram 9
Meta-ethics More Detail
As noted earlier, we have met the prefix meta before in metacognitive. It is
from Latin and means above, or beyond, or after. With metacognitive the idea
was that you mentally stood apart from your thinking (or attempts at knowing
your values, hence the cognitive which is meaning-connected to knowing) and
thought about your thinking. (In that case, the particular sort of metacognition
involved was planning your enquirys direction in the light of progress to date.)
Meta-ethics is thinking about ethics, in particular, thinking about the nature of
moral values and value judgements. Humans engage in all sorts of intellectual, or
quasi-intellectual, enterprises science, art, religion and so on and well be trying
to work out what is distinctive about one of them: ethics. These issues are hugely
controversial in philosophy and I dont expect you to end up with a thoroughly
worked out meta-ethical view. I certainly wont be giving answers, just challenges,
questions and puzzles. What I hope will occur, however, are three things.
First, that one or other position of the spread of views that I am about to
introduce to you will capture, or articulate for you, your existing meta-ethical
tendencies. Second, that the difficulties facing your preferred view will give you
pause for thought. And third, that you will see the enormous problems caused by
these complexities for moral agents in dispute with other moral agents.
In the remainder of the chapter, Ill be introducing you to some broad sorts of
meta-ethical theory and to some of the argumentation concerning them. I dont
have space to do the job thoroughly (that would be a text in itself) but, as with
normative ethics, there are loads of good introductory texts around. If you do read
further, then be warned that the literature is rather inconsistent when it comes to
terminology and the labels I use for the various theories might not be consistent
with some other texts. Also, contrary to my focus on argumentative depth in the
foregoing, I will just present the initial part of what would be a long enquiry as the

Some Ethical Theory


merits of various arguments got teased out. I intend merely to provoke thought and
alert you to some issues.
The Descriptive/Moral Distinction Revisited Moral Objectivism and Moral
Almost the first thing we did (way back in Chapter 2) was to outline the distinction
between descriptive propositions and moral propositions. Yet some meta-ethical
theorists would call the distinction spurious; for them, moral propositions are just
a variety of descriptive propositions. How so? Read on. The view is controversial
and, even if it is right, the distinction was still a useful one for our purposes at
that time even if it turns out to be too crude. It is such a, if you like, descriptive
construal of moral propositions that I wish to look at first. The meta-ethical theory
in question is Moral Objectivism (in contrast to moral subjectivism, which we will
come to in due course).
Moral ObjectivismThe name moral objectivism is appropriate in that such
theorists contend that the correct understanding of what is being said when
someone issues a moral judgement is that a claim is being made about the
objectively present moral facts of the case. We are, then, to understand moral
propositions to be in much the same line of business as ordinary descriptive ones;
each is trying to tell us the facts about what the world is like it is just that a moral
judgement is aimed at bringing to our notice a particular sort of fact. So, much
as: Grass is usually green asserts that a certain property, greenness, is typically
found in a certain sort of thing, grass, so: Stealing is usually wrong tells us that a
certain property, wrongness, is typically found in a certain type of event, or action,
stealing. According to the objectivist, each purports to tell us something about the
way the world objectively is and each is true or false depending upon the factual
accuracy of the proposition. In development of the point, consider the following
as illustrations.
P1 The earth is round.
P2 The earth is flat.

Whether P1 or P2 (or neither) is true is a matter, not of our whim, or fancy, or of

current scientific fashion, but of the cold, hard facts of reality. P2 was at one time
the dominant view among theorists but we would take them to have had false
beliefs, to have been simply misguided as to what the facts really were. P1, on the
other hand, we take to correspond to reality, to the objectively existing facts of the
universe. Now, consider:
P3 Stealing is always wrong.
P4 Stealing is the right thing to do if it is the only way to stay alive but wrong


Reason and Professional Ethics

Although P3 and P4 differ in their judgement in only one circumstance when

one thieves to maintain ones life, they do differ. Which view is morally superior?
According to the objectivist, one (or both maybe stealing is always right or right
in other circumstances) of these propositions is simply false. That is, in an exactly
analogous way to the dispute between P1 and P2, at least one of P3 or P4 has just
got its facts wrong, simply fails to describe the world as it really is, as a matter of
objective fact.
Subjectivism Contrasted with this is the view of the moral subjectivist. You have
probably heard the expression: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Contrast these two propositions:
P5 That painting is beautiful.
P6 That painting is ugly.

We would not usually think that the dispute between these two propositions is one
about what the facts are, about what the painting is really like. Rather, we allow
that such judgements are a personal, or subjective, thing. It is not that the painting
is, as a matter of fact, in itself, beautiful; it is just that the speaker of P5 favours
it, responds in a certain way to it. And, even if we agree with P5, it is not as if the
speaker of P6, like that of P2, is in error; it is just that she responds in a different
way to the painting.
Crudely put, much as the meta-ethical objectivist aligns P3 and P4 with the
scientific or descriptive P1 and P2, the meta-ethical subjectivist aligns them with
P5 and P6. Rightness and wrongness, like beauty and ugliness, are held to be in
the eye of the beholder.
So, in contrast to the objectivist, the claim here is that to have a moral principle
is not to have a theory about the moral property present in a certain class of
situation. It is just to have a certain attitude about such situations. And, to make a
particular moral judgement is not to claim that a particular (moral) factual state of
affairs obtains but merely to express an attitude, or stance, about something.
For the moral subjectivist, someones proposition that something is wrong
means no more than that that person is opposed to it happening (and similar
remarks for other pieces of moral language could be made). This is actually a bit
too broad brush and there are sub-varieties of subjectivist, but, for the moment,
well ignore such sub-varieties and focus on distinguishing generic subjectivism
from objectivism.
So, in summary, for objectivism there is some sort of moral fact of the
matter, whereas for subjectivism there is nothing more going on in morality but
the preferences of moral agents. (Not that objectivists dont prefer the good as
well, it is just that they think that there is more to morality than that, whereas
subjectivists dont.)
Our first major meta-ethical distinction, then, is that between meta-ethical
objectivism and meta-ethical subjectivism. Put diagrammatically, so far we have:

Some Ethical Theory


Diagram 10
Some Implications of These Meta-ethical Theories
I trust you can see how this sort of theoretical dispute affects the way one thinks
about professional ethical issues. Consider, for instance, a central candidate aim
for schooling: producing good citizens. Lets say that what counts as a good
citizen gets clarified, in part, as: one who accepts the values of society. But say
also that to achieve such an aim seems to involve some sort of (perhaps subtle)
indoctrination in which students (positive) freedom of thought, at least concerning
some moral values, is interfered with. Lets assume that you have wrestled with the
clash between the freedom of thought value and the shared societal values value
and sorted out your priorities in favour of the latter. Now consider our two metaethical theories. A glance back at our two views, subjectivism and objectivism,
should indicate that the view of the meta-ethical objectivist is the one that seems,
on the face of it, to be the most favourable to providing some sort of additional
legitimacy to the value-indoctrination view. Why is this? Well, consider our
astronomy examples of a while ago. You might feel on solid ground if you teach a
child that the earth is round and not flat (and justified in your attempts to revise any
tendency for him to believe in the latter) just because you take former proposition
to be true. That is, as a defence against the criticism: Why dont you let students
have the freedom to believe whatever view about the shape of the earth that they
wish?, you might feel it adequate to reply: But that would mean letting some of
them believe what is false. So, in a parallel way, if you felt that the values on the
basis of which you were intervening were objectively true values, you might feel
that that was all the justification you need.
If, on the other hand, you felt that moral matters were essentially subjective,
that goodness and badness and so forth were ultimately no more than a matter
of taste, or feeling, or whatever, then you might feel much more uneasy about
instilling a set of moral values in others, or acting on their basis to restrict another
persons freedom.
Consider our undergraduate cheat example. Say that Joan, a friend, hears
about it and challenges Jane (the cheat): You shouldnt have done that, cheating
is wrong. Jane responds that it isnt wrong so long as no one in authority finds
out. According to the meta-ethical objectivist, either Jane or Joan has a false belief,
is, so to speak, a sort of moral flat-earther. According to the subjectivist, there
are no truths to be had in the moral domain and they have no more than different
stances concerning the activity of cheating. If Jane (or Joan) see their moral views
in an objectivist way, then it places a different interpretation upon how the nature


Reason and Professional Ethics

of their disagreement is construed than if a subjectivist theory of ethics were to

be believed instead. Either way, an exploratory dialogue between them could
occur but it would be conceived of differently depending upon which meta-ethical
theory was accepted much as an exploratory dialogue between two people about
the beauty of a painting is of a somewhat different kind to an exploratory dialogue
between two people as to the shape of the earth.
So much (for now anyway) concerning why we should be interested in such
a meta-ethical dispute. What about the meta-ethical dispute itself, which theory
is correct subjectivism or objectivism? As you will realize by now, I have no
intention of trying to supply an answer. Meta-ethicists are by no means agreed
on this matter. However, as is the case with so many debates within philosophy,
to merely note that an issue is not fully resolved is not an adequate ground for
avoiding thinking about it. The issues are usually too central and important to our
ways of thinking about the world and our place in it to be ignored or left in the
background of your mind, unnoticed. Such is the case here. Moral principles and
value judgements dont just rule our professional lives, they intrude into every part
of life. So the task is to think about things as best you are capable of, and have time
for, and come to as intellectually satisfying a decision as possible. What I will be
doing is presenting you with a range of arguments (concerning the subjectivism/
objectivism controversy) for you to think about and begin to assess. In the interests
of brevity, the following will be just the tip of an iceberg and, as noted before,
there is a considerable philosophical literature on this and many introductory texts
covering meta-ethics could be accessed to continue what I begin below.
Objectivism More Detail
Naturalism Outlined
Let us start with objectivism. Before we can proceed much further you should
realize that there are, broadly speaking, two sub-varieties of objectivism. Both are
objectivist because both hold that goodness, badness etc. are matters of fact (and
claims about them are thus to be properly understood as descriptive propositions,
ones attempting to describe some aspect of reality). Where they differ is in their
story as to just what sort of fact it is that the moral opposition is about.
The first variety, naturalism, holds that goodness (and so on, I will limit the
number of moral terms of I refer to from now on but a similar sort of analysis
transfers across to each of them) is just a shorthand label for referring to other,
quite ordinary, natural features of the world. That is, that goodness is, by definition,
identical to some ordinary sort of property and is not some sort of funny special
property of its own sort. (As well soon see, the other sub-variety of objectivism
thinks that goodness is its own special sort of property and is sometimes called:
non-naturalistic objectivism.)

Some Ethical Theory


Even then, there is further disagreement among moral naturalists as to just

which sort of ordinary property constitutes goodness. Let me illustrate.
Some naturalists would claim that, say, to judge some action as good is just to
say of it that it is conducive to the survival of the human race. Because it doesnt
matter what particular action, or even type of action, we have in mind here lets
just use the all-purpose tag X. So this variety of naturalism can be displayed as
X is good means X is conducive to the survival of the human race.

There are other varieties of naturalism; two common ones are:

X is good means X contributes to the greatest happiness of the greatest number
of humans.

X is good means Most people in my society approve of X.

Some comments: First, note that each of these is a naturalistic theory, the sort of
thing mentioned in the right-hand side of each definitional analysis is an ordinary,
albeit complex, sort of fact (biological or psycho/sociological). On each view, in
order to find out what particular sorts of action actually are right or wrong, good or
bad, one might appropriately consult various scientific experts.
For example, social scientists might lend guidance as to whether X actually
was approved of by most people in society or not. If, say, most of them did approve
of tax avoidance, then, for the sort of naturalist who, in the above way, meaningequates rightness with societal approval, tax avoidance is thereby automatically,
as a matter of objective fact, right. Though not as straightforward, the situation is
much like saying that, if someone is identified as an unmarried male adult human
then, just in virtue of the meaning-equation of being a bachelor and being an
unmarried male adult human, that person is thus automatically, as a matter of
objective fact, a bachelor. To learn that Bartholomew is a bachelor just is to learn
that he is an unmarried male adult human. We have the same fact about him, just
two meaning-equated labels for it. Similarly, for this variety of naturalist, to learn
that tax-avoidance is approved of by society is just the same thing as learning
that it is right. The latter is not an extra fact about tax avoidance, it is the same
descriptive proposition presented again using a different label.
As mentioned earlier, one implication of this would be that two of our
propositional types from Chapter 2, descriptive and moral, would collapse into
one: descriptive. On this naturalistic view, there is no distinction to be made
between those types. However, although each of the three rival analyses outlined
is naturalistic, they are each defining moral terms differently when it comes to the


Reason and Professional Ethics

detail of the analysis (and there are more suggestions in the literature than just
these three).
My second point then is that one should note that each is a claimed analysis of
the meaning of (in this case) good; (similar things would be said about right, ...
there is a whole related family of moral terms and it doesnt much matter which
one we choose to focus on). So, each of these analyses itself constitutes what we
were earlier calling a conceptual proposition to the effect that such and such
means so and so. Each hopes to be correctly reporting just what is meant by words
like good and it seems somewhat strange that they are so different on the face
of it, we seem to all have much the same meaning for these words even if, as a
matter of normative ethical principle, we disagree about what sorts of things are
right and what wrong. This is much like you and I sharing an understanding of
bachelor yet disagreeing as to whether Joshua is or is not one. As we will shortly
see, this meaning focus gets these naturalistic theories into trouble.
Third, obviously enough, similar sorts of definition (but negatively put) could
be given for bad, wrong and so on.
Fourth, as you probably already realized, the last of the three analyses listed
above (the one about society and its views) questions the distinction made earlier
between what I called descriptive and normative ethics. It takes propositions about
what is good and what society asserts to be good to be the same claims.
Fifth, despite superficial appearances, the second of the above analyses has to
be carefully distinguished from the consequentialism (a normative ethical theory)
of earlier in the chapter. I will return to this.
Diagrammatically, so far we have:

Diagram 11
This is the last diagram I will portray because, although we have more discussion
of matters below, it gives the overall architecture of the spread of views covered
in the chapter. Remaining to be discussed in more detail are non-naturalistic
objectivism and subjectivism.
Standard Objections to Such Naturalistic Analyses
One or other of these three versions of naturalistic objectivism might seem to you to
be appealing and roughly correct but keep in mind that these theories are supposed
to be telling you what is meant by words like good. That is, they are supposed to

Some Ethical Theory


be presenting you with definitions reporting meanings in much the way that: X is
a bachelor means X is an unmarried male adult human is presenting a definition
reporting our conception of bachelor. As touched on above, you might think that
the very fact that there are (so far listed) at least three rival definitions of radically
different sorts is immediately rather suspicious; after all, you might think, there
isnt that much controversy about most definitions (as in bachelor above). But
some of the concepts in terms that we naively wield every day are obscure and
ill-understood and controversy and disagreement may properly exist until things
are pinned down and tightened up a bit. Moral language seems to be a classic
case. (Certainly the issue wont be settled by looking up a dictionary see the sort
of thing that we said in Chapter 8.) Still, the offerings are suspiciously radically
different. Anyway, how can we decide on whether any, or none, of the above is a
correct analysis of the nature of our moral concepts?
Basically, its a matter of seeing if any of them intuitively fit. That is, if, in
response to any of them, you say: Yes, thats it, thats what is meant by terms
like good, bad and so on, then you are accepting that conceptual analysis.
However, we dont have to leave things as unstructured as this. We can bring
various features and implications of the suggested analyses into particular focus
for our intuitions to bear upon. As an illustration, lets discuss, say, the human
survival suggestion. The claim was, remember, that by X is good is meant X is
conducive to human survival. This implies that anyone who advances a substantive
normative judgement to the effect that some act is good despite it involving the
destruction of the human race is not just advancing an eccentric moral position,
hes talking literal nonsense. I mean this quite literally. That is, on this analysis,
such a proposition would be held to be as literally incoherent as the proposition
that Jones is a bachelor despite being married. But if we look at the proposition
that some act is good despite it involving the destruction of the human race, it
seems not to be incoherent. You might reject it but it doesnt seem to be married
bachelor-style nonsense. Yet, cashing out the meaning of good according to the
above analysis entails that it would be, because such a claim, when unpacked,
would be saying that the act was conducive to human survival despite it involving
the destruction of the human race! (Much as, when unpacked, Boris is a married
bachelor would be saying that he was a married, unmarried male adult human.)
The proposition that wiping humanity out is a good thing might be an odd claim,
and we would certainly like to hear how such a dramatically destructive act could
be justified, but we do understand the proposition as coherent even if we end up
deeming it to be in moral error. (Which, incidentally, you shouldnt be too quick
in saying. What if humans were waging an aggressive war against a peaceful and
culturally and intellectually superior alien race and it was a matter of them or us
being destroyed?)
So, whats happened here is that weve drawn out an entailment of the proposed
analysis and shown that it is counter-intuitive. The analysis would have it that a
certain sort of moral view is incomprehensible yet our linguistic intuitions tell us
that it isnt. So, weve tentatively decided that that analysis is intuitively unsound.


Reason and Professional Ethics

Its supposed to be telling us what we mean by words like good but, if you accept
the foregoing, it doesnt.
There is more to be said on everything covered in this chapter, but it seems
that that particular naturalistic theory of what one is saying of some act in calling
it good is to be rejected as unsound. Lets look briefly at the others we have listed
so far. Recall that, as naturalistic analyses, each claims to identify goodness as
just meaning the same as, or being shorthand for, some expression picking out
some fairly ordinary natural quality. And each has an analogous implication to the
above. That is, they would, respectively, classify the propositions:
X is good but does not contribute to the greatest good of the greatest number of
humans; and
X is good but is not approved of by most people in my society.

as un-understandable literal nonsense.

Indeed the same (and, in my view, for what its worth, rather crippling)
objection seems to apply to any such attempt to automatically meaning-equate
goodness with some other (and natural) property. For any such property it seems
possible for there to be coherent disagreement about whether or not that sort of
thing is good. One can coherently debate whether or not human survival, human
happiness and so on are good things in a way that one cant coherently debate
whether or not bachelors are married. Or so it seems; perhaps there are flaws in
the above argument, although it is an argument that is long-standing in moral
philosophy and generally well thought of.
A Possible Confusion I want to now (briefly) return to the distinction between
the greatest human happiness naturalistic meta-ethical analysis considered
here and the normative consequentialist theory we met earlier. One version of
the normative consequentalist principle might be: Acting so as to contribute to
the greatest happiness of the greatest number of humans is good. At first glance
the normative and meta-ethical theories look very similar in that each connects
goodness and human happiness. Appearances deceive however, for the types of
connection differ.
Say someone disputed the normative greatest human happiness view that
we saw earlier; this might be an animal liberationist who was concerned about
scientific research using animals, perhaps. She might say: Look, I accept that
human happiness is important but not to the exclusion of that of other species.
Sometimes maximizing human happiness is not good because we should trade
off some human happiness to gain increased happiness for members of other
species. A normative dispute might then occur, one of the type that you have
teased out as a formal dialogue between author and critic. But each participant
in the dialogue understands the other; they share meanings. (Indeed, such mutual
understanding is a necessary condition for disagreement that was why we earlier
spent time in working definition style clarification to get all concerned onto the

Some Ethical Theory


same wavelength. The words good, should and so forth are common linguistic
property and the dispute is not about what good, or should means. The meaning
is shared and the dispute is about what actions fall into, say, the category: good.
It is exactly parallel to you and I sharing an understanding of the meaning of
bachelor but disputing whether Boris is, or is not, a bachelor (He had a secret
marriage a decade ago No he didnt).
But were one to have a meta-ethical naturalistic version of the greatest human
happiness view, one as listed in this chapter, then things are different. In that
case, if some animal liberationist raised the very same argument then a long
normative ethical critical dialogue would not ensue. Our meta-ethical naturalist
would presumably respond with something more like: Look it just doesnt make
sense to say that its good to lessen human happiness (in order to increase that of
other species); you dont understand the language properly, good just means
maximizing human happiness. So thats like saying that human happiness will
be maximized by lessening it which is, of course, incomprehensible nonsense.
Such a naturalistic retort falls flat. It has none of the force of saying (in response
to someone whos remarked that Boris seems the most happily married bachelor
shes met) Look it just doesnt make sense to say that Boris is a married bachelor;
you dont understand the language properly, bachelor just means unmarried
(male adult human). It is not nonsensical to say that human happiness should
be lessened in favour of increasing that of other species. Whatever you think of
animal liberationist theses, they are at least coherent in a way that married bachelor
ones are not.
The difference is not that bachelor is a trivial example with clear meaning
whereas good is more abstract and difficult, something where our intuitions are
unclear. It is indeed more abstract and difficult and, in some aspects, our intuitions
might not be clear but on the following, at least, our intuitions are clear: whatever
else is a possible meta-ethical theory concerning good (and the rest of the family
of moral concepts) simply equating goodness with the maximizing of human
happiness as meaning the same thing is, I suggest, intuitively to be rejected.
I have found in the past that many students have considerable initial sympathy
with naturalistic meta-ethical theories. I think that this is because they dont fully
understand just what the implications of such theories are. In particular, I think
many students confuse having some strongly held normative moral principle (like
the consequentialist one discussed above) with having any such pet moral view
automatically true in virtue of the very meaning of the words (as per a naturalistic
objectivist account) hence my spending some time on the distinction. I suggest
that, if you are getting a bit lost here, you reread the section and raise the matter
with your tutor/instructor; the point is quite an abstract one.
Super-naturalistic objectivism! First cousin to these naturalistic views, and
open to the same sort of complaint, is the view that by X is good is meant
X is commanded by God a sort of supernaturalistic objectivism if you like!
For a start, it would be a matter of some controversy as to which god (or gods) the


Reason and Professional Ethics

theory is to have in mind here; but whichever way we jump, this view has the same
sort of problem as before. It implies that the moral propositions and judgements
of atheists, or religious rebels, or those believing in some other sort of god to the
preferred one are literal nonsense. For even the most religiously pious of you, this
should be a counter-intuitive consequence. It is conceivable that there is some sort
of supreme being and it might even be the case that he/she/it is perfectly good.
If this were to be so, then one would expect such a creatures every command to
be good. But this would just be the way things turned out, it is not what is meant
by saying that something is good. An atheist can, in the fullest sense, employ our
ordinary moral concepts to make moral judgements without being caught up in
some sort of self-contradiction just because of her atheism.
Summary so far
Let me just sketch back over what we have been doing so far. We distinguished
three sorts of enquiry about moral values and here focused on just one of these,
the one asking about the nature of values and value judgements that is, metaethics. Concerning the nature of moral values and judgements, we distinguished
two main camps of meta-ethical theorist the ethical objectivist and the ethical
subjectivist. With its air of factuality, objectivism seemed a more comforting
theory for those wishing to uphold, and perhaps impose, values. Looking more
closely at objectivism, it emerges that, within that broad theoretical camp, there
are sub-divisions. One of these varieties of objectivism is ethical naturalism. It
itself has sub-varieties, depending on the particular natural property taken to be
meant by good (and some were illustrated). As it turned out, these sub-varieties
seemed not to need detailed individual scrutiny because all versions of naturalism
seemed to suffer from intuitively unacceptable implications (as outlined a short
while ago).
So, the story to date is: one variety of objectivism fairly solidly clobbered, or
so I suggest to you what now?
Non-naturalism Outlined
Another variety of objectivism is, predictably enough, non-naturalistic objectivism
(henceforth NNO for short). There are other names in the literature for varieties
of this view like: moral realism and intuitionism (the aptness of which will
be clearer as we proceed) but I will stick to NNO to emphasize the contrast
with naturalistic objectivism. Like its naturalistic brother, NNO is an objectivist
theory, that is, it does hold that goodness, badness and so on are objectively
existing properties of the universe and are not just in the eye of the beholder.
The difference here is that its not held that claiming that some action is good
meaning-equates to making a claim involving fairly ordinary natural properties;
rather, according to the NNO theorist, such a proposition asserts the presence in
that action of the objective and distinct property of goodness. Goodness is not

Some Ethical Theory


seen to be just a shorthand way of referring to something otherwise familiar,

some sort of natural property (like: what society approves of). Rather, its its
own beast a different sort of property in its own right. So, if you like, we can, on
this view, divide the worlds properties up into two sorts ordinary natural ones
(of varying complexity) like size, number, mass, conduciveness to human survival
and so on, and special moral properties like goodness, rightness, badness and so
on. (In contrast, the ethical naturalist had only one list ordinary natural ones
some of which are also labelled goodness, badness etc.) Generally speaking,
NNO has been more kindly thought of in the meta-ethical literature than has
moral naturalism. In particular, it is not open to the meaning-equation problems
that naturalistic theories got into when they insisted that what was actually
comprehensible was incomprehensible nonsense.
Now this is all very fine sounding but, as usual, we should look at what
arguments can be advanced in favour of such a theory and what against it. The great
merit of the theory, like any objectivist view, is that it holds out the hope that moral
truths are available, that some views about what conduct is good and what bad,
are just true and others are just false. It would be comforting to think that someone
who holds the view, say, that having sexual relations with children was morally
permissible was not merely morally unusual in her views but in moral error in
some objective sense, a moral flat-earther whose views were just, as a matter of
(moral) fact, false. And, with respect to the full spread of our professional ethical
controversies, it would be nice if there were true answers to be had. It would be
especially comforting and motivating if you could be assured that your views were
not merely your views (like your taste in music) but captured moral truth.
On this view, a moral theory, like a physical theory, is a hypothesis about the
nature of reality and moral disputes would be disputes about what the universe is
really like with some of the people in dispute, no matter how firm and sincere their
conviction, being in error, objectively in error, their view being just false. And this
would be in just the same sense that, if the earth goes around the sun and not vice
versa, then the geo-centrist theorists just have a false view. And if Jesus BarJoseph
was an obscure Jewish revolutionary with delusions of grandeur and not the son
of God (as, say, there is no such entity), then theists just have a false view. And if
the speed of light is not a constant, then modern physicists just have a false view.
Similarly, if having sexual relations with children is right, not wrong, then most
of us just have a wrong view a false hypothesis as to the moral facts on this.
All of these views on various topics would just be different ones about different
aspects of reality and be true or false depending upon what the objective facts of
the universe happened to be. (On this view, it might seem appropriate to rename
ethics as moral science a term I understand to have been in vogue in the past.)
Of course, all of this could be said of naturalistic objectivism as well. The above
paragraph is really just reinforcing the message of objectivism of any sort. The
difference is only that the moral principles are not held by the NNO theorist to be
about ordinary physical reality of about some special sort of moral aspects of the


Reason and Professional Ethics

Standard Objections to Such Non-naturalistic Analyses

Advance upon naturalism though it may seem to be, there are problems with NNO.
One trouble lies with all of those ifs. Morality seems in rather worse shape than
science (though perhaps no worse off than religion) in establishing or justifying
its claims. So: even if there are some moral facts, how do we know what the moral
facts are? My senses of sight and sound might tell me that, say, a child is being
bullied before my eyes but my judgement that this is wrong goes beyond what
those senses supply. So, what warrants my claim that it is wrong?
One suggestion in this context is that we have something like a sixth sense,
an organ of moral intuition which just lets us see moral properties of goodness
and badness in much the way that the other senses are taken to apprise us of the
presence of more ordinary properties.
There are several worries with this idea of a sixth moral sense. First, we dont
just make judgements about actions going on in front of us but evaluate things
far distant from us in space and time (something generally not possible with
our other senses, although astronomy is an interesting exception). For instance,
I make the judgement that William the Bastard of Normandy should not have
made Harold Godwinson swear an oath of fealty to him by threatening him with
indefinite imprisonment if he didnt. How can a sixth sense account of moral value
judgements cope with cases like this? Second, we make moral judgements about
whole classes of actions. That is, we issue general judgements like: Stealing is
wrong. Yet we havent seen all instances of stealing, so we cant have ascertained
the unfailing presence of the property of wrongness by applying our sixth moral
sense to all cases. But perhaps Im being too hard on the NNO theorist here, he
might claim that the same goes for general propositions in science and claims by
scientists about distant places and times; so mightnt the moral objectivist defend
his claims in much the same ways that a scientist would? Mightnt we build up
general moral views by induction from particular instances? perhaps. Or have
the hypothesis that all stealing is wrong as the best explanation of a spread of
particular observations that this, that and the other case of stealing is wrong?
perhaps. Clearly a whole meta-ethical enquiry looms here and I am only gesturing
at some possible initial moves. A third worry with this sixth sense view is to point
to the non-independence of the sense. Generally speaking, the other senses operate
independently of each other; that is, I can smell things without seeing them and
so on but this doesnt seem to be so in the case of moral judgements. If I have no
information from my other five senses, then I can make no moral judgement. Say
someone is being murdered in front of my blindfolded eyes and stopped-up ears.
Presumably (if she thought it wrong) the NNO theorist would claim that the air
would be veritably reeking with the moral property of badness yet I would not be
able to detect it directly with my claimed sixth moral sense. All very odd.
Of course, as with everything in this chapter, some way around the objections
might be found. Nonetheless, some NNO theorists have responded to them by
playing down the notion of a sixth sense. They claim that it is not as if we can

Some Ethical Theory


detect in any direct way particular instances of particular moral properties being
present; rather, our intuitive powers allow us to recognize general moral truths
about our world.
Contrast this with our previous NNO version. Rather than seeing wrongness,
say, in particular situations one is confronted with and then, perhaps, building up
more general principles by induction, or whatever, from such particular items of
moral data, one intuits the truth of the general principle directly and then applies
it to make judgements in particular cases.
This gets us over the oddities of the sixth sense notion but other worries remain
with NNO. As to whether you consider these to be serious enough to disincline
you to accept any form of NNO is for you to judge (however tentatively).
One family of worries concerns the physics, if you like, of what is going on
here. If they exist at all, then rightness and wrongness seem to be very strange
properties indeed. Quite what is their relationship with other, more ordinary,
properties like mass and length? Should our account of the laws of nature include
laws of ethics and, if not, why not? Of course, mere weirdness is not automatically
a problem consider the bizarre nature of the accounts current in micro-physics.
However, the seeming absence of moral properties from our ordinary scientific
accounts of the functioning of nature is problematic. Nor is it at all clear how
inclusion could occur.
Another family of worries concerns our access to, or knowledge of, what
situations, or types of situation, have goodness or badness present. We have seen
the problems with the sixth sense account of detecting goodness or badness.
The intuition of general moral principles truth is also difficult to fathom. What
is going on when a moral agent just intuits that, say, all stealing is wrong (or
that all stealing is wrong unless it is food and one is starving, or ), or, at a more
fundamental level perhaps, that acting for the greatest happiness of the greatest
number of humans is always right?
One model that is sometimes appealed in answer to this question is that of
mathematics. It is sometimes held that the basic axioms of various mathematical
systems are some sort of necessary truths, that merely entertaining them leads us to
see that they could not be other than true. Some philosophers have held that some
normative ethical principles, particularly deontological ones, have that status. As
usual, I enjoin you to hunt out some introductory texts on moral philosophy to
pursue matters further and I will content myself with just one observation. Note that
moral controversy rages on almost any matter that you care to name. This seems to
sit uncomfortably with quasi-mathematical intuition of moral certainties.
In summary so far, there are two broad sorts of worry about NNO theories. One
concerns the oddity of moral properties compared to ordinary ones and the other
one, the challenge of the question: Even if there are objective moral facts of the
matter, how could we ever know them, how could we assure ourselves that we are
not morally colour-blind?.
It would be nice if we could satisfactorily resolve these challenges to NNO
theories, because it might place our inclination to, for instance, intervene and run


Reason and Professional Ethics

a criminals life for her (on the basis we are only doing what is good for her or
good for society) on a firm factual footing. In particular, we would not be open to
the challenge: Thats just your view that seems always to be able to be mounted
against someone who is over-riding someone elses wishes on the basis of moral
principles construed in accordance with subjectivist meta-ethical theory (as we
will see below).
I would like now to keep exploring this How could we ever know what the
moral facts actually are even if they exist? objection to NNO.
The question is not an idle one. Our worry has been to establish some sort of
objectively firm basis for the ethical values governing professional practice (or
motivating professional reform). If it is indeed to be a firm basis we had better
be fairly sure of our moral facts. If a naturalistic theory of some sort were to be
correct then the problem would be no more difficult than those facing science but
what if the right theory is some version of NNO?
Look at the immense normative disagreement among humans on matters of
morality. If some set of normative principles is objectively correct, then how
could we know which? And what could you say to someone who disagreed with
your ethics? That is, what on earth could you do to prove that you were correctly
describing moral reality, not them? If there are moral facts out there waiting for us
to, say, intuitively apprehend them, then there are a lot of people running around
with faulty moral intuition. That is, people differ even on the most fundamental
moral matters; they differ from place to place and time to time. How can we tell
who are morally muddled and who not? The worry applies whether we have sixth
sense-style particular moral judgements in mind or mathematical principle-style
general moral principles as what is being intuited. A couple of the attempts to meet
this concern are worth our attention.
One response is to say that we can tell which value propositions are true and
which are false by seeing what other people think. That is to say, we might feel
that, although some individuals cant intuit soundly, surely the majority can be
relied on. This might be all very well except that it is unclear whose votes we
should count the majority of what? Those of our society you might say but
meaning what and why? What counts as your society? your town/region, state/
province, nation ... ? However construed, a further worry is that the majority view
shifts within a society over time and certainly from society to society and from
group to group within any given society. Let me elaborate upon each of these
concerns with this Trust the majority of society as moral truth see-ers answer to
our How would one know the moral truth? challenge. I will deal with the former
first, then the latter.
Say that you had opted for your nation as the most obvious unpacking of your
society for moral purposes. But why not a state or province within it (or, to go
more fine-grained, a local community or, to go more coarse-grained, humanity as
a whole)? The more compact the group that you look at, the more likely you are
to find some intra-group consensus but, also, the more likely you are to find that
the majority of that particular group is in ethical dispute with the majority view of

Some Ethical Theory


some other little group. The wider you cast your net, the more likely it is that there
will be disagreement within the group.
There is also the issue of time. Societies change in various ways over time and
one parameter of that change concerns the moral values endorsed. Of interest to
many professionals would be the shifts in thinking about the relative importance
of individual rights versus those of groups, and, particularly, of attitudes taken to
individual freedom of thought and action and legitimate constraints upon them.
So, when do you fix the time for your survey? The views of any society that
you will be surveying the ethical intuitions of will change over time. You might
be a bit impatient with this concern and think that it is just obvious that current
society is the correct group for the survey. But why? Remember the context of the
discussion. We were entertaining NNO as a meta-ethical theory and, in response
to a moral blindness worry, we advanced the view that, while individuals might
have moral illusions surely most of the group wouldnt. In this context then,
one would have to be asserting of ones own current society that it is less prone
to moral illusion than other societies in different times or places. How on earth
could one justify that sort of proposition? Moreover, imagine others thinking in
exactly that sort of parochial way at about their own society in some other time
or place. What could one say to them? Sometimes people are tempted to respond:
Well, what is right for them may not be what is right for us; it all depends upon
the society that one is living in. Again, though, keep in mind the context of this
discussion, namely moral objectivism of an NNO type.
This view, if applied consistently to others in other societies, would have the
extremely odd, if not quite incoherent, consequence that the moral facts vary
from time to time and place to place (unlike the ordinary natural laws of, say,
physics). It would also mean accepting that it was right for a Mongol hordesman to
pillage, rape, burn, torture and so on; that it was right for Germans in the Thirties
to persecute Jews, mediaeval Spanish Christians to persecute dissenters and so on.
Also it is unclear how one should treat the not unknown case of society changing
its mind on some issue as a result of a charismatic figure or propaganda campaign.
If the majority view changes, does that mean that the facts change as well? if so,
they are oddly malleable and un-factual sounding facts. Or should we say that
either the earlier or later views of society were in error? That sounds better but
leaves us with the original problem: how do we know which group speaks truth?
Given all the difficulties that we got into on that one, some would seek some
other criterion beside majority opinion as a way of discriminating among rival and
incompatible moral hypotheses. One such move is to appeal to some sort of god.
On this view, the factually true moral hypotheses are those that the god tells us are
true. (For theists, there is usually some sort of link held to obtain between the god
believed in and principles about what is right and wrong and, as you will see, we
have a version of such a link in each of our meta-ethical theoretical possibilities.)
What can be said in response to this suggestion?
My first point here is to distinguish the view at hand here from our supernaturalistic objectivism of a while ago. There, the view was that X is good


Reason and Professional Ethics

meant X is commanded by God. Unlike with that theory, the claimed link here is
not one of meaning. Rather, it is the view that (non-natural) properties of goodness
and badness are indeed an objective part of the fabric of the universe, are built
into the physics of reality. The only extra twist is the hypothesis that the universe
was made by some entity and that his/her/its reports of the nature of the universe
are thus our most reliable guide as to the moral (and other) aspects of reality.
Note also that there is no question of the gods commanding being bound up with
goodness (within our below discussion of subjectivism, well consider yet another
theistic variant that does have such a link). Goodness and badness are just held to
be artefacts of the creating god woven into the objective fabric of the universe
just as much as mass and electric charge and all of the other natural features of the
universe are (although moral agents seem to have some creative role as well in that
they make something, say, bad by doing it all a tad weird).
As it turns out, there are considerable difficulties with this Ask some god or
other what the moral facts are way of resolving our difficulty concerning how
to work out what moral hypotheses actually reflect reality, or capture the moral
An obvious one is that it is hugely controversial, to say the least, whether any
sort of god exists at all and, if so, what he/she/it/them is/are like. Even assuming
that there is some such entity and that the god settled on indeed made the universe,
how are we to have access to that gods advice as to the contents of the universe?
Interpretation of religious tracts is a notoriously dicey and controversial business
thats how sects crop up. In any event, as might occur to you after the complexities
of earlier chapters, what is available from such tracts is at best a series of simple
maxims that might be crude starting points for ones moral principles but leave
all of those complexities unexplored. (As the saying has it, The devil is in the
detail not literally speaking of course!) So, how else might one get guidance
from the god as to the sophisticated moral fine-grain of the universe? Perhaps by
individual revelation but, as the reports of individuals claiming such experiences
conflict wildly, one would need some way of sorting out the simply psychiatrically
disturbed from those who do indeed have access to the gods advice (if any).
In any event, lets assume that you feel that not only does NNO give the correct
meta-ethical theory of wrongness and rightness, goodness and badness and so
forth, but that, moreover, with some god or others assistance or without it, you
can tell objectively wrong situations from objectively right ones. All of this sounds
very promising but there is still one last difficulty with the NNO view that I would
like put to you (indeed it is a puzzle for naturalistic objectivism as well). Moral
judgements are not just a matter of noting which acts are right and which wrong,
of noting various aspects of the universe; they are action guiding. That is, to hold
some act to be right is to hold it to be the right thing to do, one is obliged to do it.
Its hard to see how any mere factual information about the universe (even about
queer properties of the universe) could of itself oblige us to act in some particular
way. Perhaps this point is just another way of wondering just what sort of property
goodness is being suggested to be.

Some Ethical Theory


Subjectivism More Detail

Given the difficulties in finding any sort of defensible version of moral objectivism,
some theorists abandon it altogether and advocate the position of the ethical
subjectivist. Crudely put, recall that moral subjectivism rejects any suggestion that
theres any possibility of the truth or falsity of moral propositions. On this view,
ethical principles and judgements are ultimately no more than a matter of taste,
or preference. If I say that stealing is right and you say that stealing is wrong,
then it is not as if one of us has uttered a falsehood. As neither proposition is to
be thought of as attempting to describe reality, neither proposition can be thought
of as failing to do that. So, you and I are held to simply have different attitudes
towards stealing.
Standard Objections to Subjectivist Analyses
And this brings us to the major worry with this view. In contrast to aesthetic
attitudes, moral attitudes (whether conceived of as subjectivism or as either version
of objectivism would suggest) are standardly claimed to have two distinctive
features, ones logically bound up with the concept of something being a moral
judgement. First, they are said to be universalizable; second, they are said to be
What is meant by these terms? Well, if I say that it was wrong for Jones to steal
then, to say that this judgement is universalizable is to say that I am committed,
on pain of inconsistency, to saying that it would also be wrong for anyone else to
steal. Or, rather, to keep it a bit more accurate, it would be wrong for anyone else
relevantly similar in relevantly similar circumstances to steal (a necessary, but
troublesome, qualification; but just what counts as relevantly similar? much of
the fine detail of equity disputes concerns the unpacking of this).
As for the prescriptiveness point, this notes that one isnt just expressing an
attitude when one is issuing a moral judgement, there seems to be some sort of
prescriptive element to it. In a moral judgement one tells people (including oneself)
how to behave. So, if I say that people should tell the truth, then I am issuing an
imperative, or prescription, instructing people, myself included, to tell the truth.
These two commonly accepted features of ethics cause trouble for the
subjectivist. All very well, one might think, for me to have a certain set of
preferences and govern and judge my actions in their terms. But if that is all they
are, mere personal preferences, then why on earth should Jones or Smith or you be
judged in their terms? And how dare I issue prescriptions as to how other people
are to behave! This sort of objection has immediate and obvious relevance to the
value clashes which led us into examining the nature of values in the first place.
How can we be justified in imposing our moral judgements on other people if
they are no more than mere preferences? Call this: the prescriptive impertinence
objection. There are four main suggestions as to how one might respond to it


Reason and Professional Ethics

appeal to the authority of some group, some god, or to reason; or: tough out the
So, one response to this is to immediately insist that it is not just your view
that you are imposing, it is the groups, say, society as a whole, with you (some
professional or other in this case) merely acting as its agent and complying with
its preferences. A couple of queries. What if you are out of moral step with the
majority? Should you then act according to aims which reflect those majority value
principles, even though they are ones that you reject? After all, on the subjectivist
view under discussion, it is not as if their view is true and yours false (theres no
question of truth or falsity); there are just more of them than there are of you.
Anyway, if you are going to appeal to the majority, which majority? That is, a
majority of which set of people. We tracked through a parallel worry earlier with
the NNO theory. Various candidate groups will differ in their moral preferences
so which group is to be deemed to have moral authority (and why)? Would the
answer vary according to the sort of moral issue under discussion? That is, might
different groups have different domains of proper moral authority? And what is
going to be the status of dissenting moral minority groups (say of a cultural or
religious sort) that are a minority within the designated group? And so on.
Also raised in this context of appeal to the group is the issue of universalizability.
If, say, societys majority preferences are to be imposed, then on whom? (This is
a manifestation of our earlier worry about unpacking relevantly similar.) Are
they to be imposed just on members of that society? Does that then mean that
each society is to be pronouncing upon what is right for its own members but not
on what is right for those in other societies (because relevantly dissimilar)? So, so
long as some society is agreed that, say, Jews should be eliminated, or women not
allowed to vote, or parents allowed to instil their religious beliefs in their children,
or whatever (write in your own moral horror story and some society, some when
and where, has favoured it) then that is the appropriate set of moral preferences to
govern the actions of that societys members. Enter ethical relativism with a bang
a self-destructive one.
In contrast to that majority preference attempt, another response to this
prescriptive impertinence worry is advanced by many of those of some sort of
theistic persuasion (especially those subscribing to some sect of major monotheistic Muslim/Judaic/Christian religions). It appeals to the views of some god
or other. Distinguish this sort of theistic moral subjectivism from the two theistic
theories discussed to date. Theistic naturalism had a meaning tie up between
goodness and what the god wanted (but note that it isnt a meaning link up here,
so this view is not vulnerable to our earlier worries about non-nonsense being
deemed nonsense). Theistic NNO had objective moral properties, just ones that
were artefacts of the god. On this view, however, appeal is being made to the
preferences of the god (however we might ascertain them) as the preferences to
which appeal is to be made as those having prescriptive force when various agents
preferences clash. So, on this variety, there is still rejection of the objectivists idea
of moral facts and morality is held to be subjective, a mere matter of preference,

Some Ethical Theory


but it is to be the gods preferences, not those of any grouping of humans, that
I will leave it to you to paint in some objections to theistic moral subjectivism
as they will closely parallel ones already made against theistic NNO. Apart from
these concerns, there is a more basic challenge. Remember that we came to this
view as one response to the prescriptive impertinence objection. That is, why
should I be judged by, or take any particular notice of, your preferences? That
was the challenge. The theistic answer here is: Well of course no humans, or
group of humans preferences have any authority over you but Gods preferences
are different and do have that authority. But, even if one allows that the god in
question exists, the simple challenge here is to ask: Why so, why consider some
non-human, supernatural creature to have prescriptive force over us?. This proves
to be an extraordinarily awkward question to answer in any sort of satisfactory
manner. Ill leave you to play around with the arguments if you are of some sort
of theistic persuasion and I will offer just one further comment. Most (JudaeoChristian) theists first go at answering the objection is: Because he created us.
Dont be too quickly satisfied with this response; it is very readily criticizable.
As a third response to the prescriptive impertinence objection, there is the
suggestion that rational consideration of ethical issues will somehow solve this
concern about clash of preferences. Some preferences, it is said, are forced
logically upon us and the source of their authority is that they are necessitated by
reason. This would be fine if it worked and there have been famous attempts at
doing it (most notably by the philosophers Immanuel Kant and Thomas Hobbes).
I dont wish to do more than gesture at considering this sort of view as it becomes
rather complex fast. Suffice it to say that general opinion in moral philosophy
would be that no existing attempt has escaped crippling objection. We considered
a related point of view when talking about direct quasi-mathematical intuition
of moral principles when talking about NNO. As usual, my advice is to flesh out
this chapters sketch with the standard literature in moral philosophy. View my
comments as mere tasters.
Finally, instead of trying to find some person or group whose preferences are
seen to have some special moral authority, one can respond to the prescriptive
impertinence objection about judging others by ones own moral values (given
that those values are admitted to be no more than deep preferences that one has
about how the world is to be) by, as I put it earlier, toughing out the objection.
If some moral principles are indeed your deepest preferences, then what could
possibly have more salience as a guide for living your life by (including your,
perhaps interventionist, interactions with others)? What else can one sensibly do?
Another, related, objection to subjectivism concerns its plausibility as an
account of what we seem to construe our ethical views to be. It seems too slight
a status for them to be construed as mere preferences, albeit ones we might be
willing to subscribe to, and indeed enforce upon, others. Surely, it is said, there is
more to what is right and what is wrong than just subjective preferences, no matter
whose. Surely people can just be bad, be in moral error Hitler, say. Such intuitive


Reason and Professional Ethics

concerns would lead one away from subjectivism to some sort of objectivist view
(though, as seen, they have their own problems).
So, in summary on subjectivism, it can be seen as a response to the severe
difficulties of any variety of objectivism but itself seems open to the objection that,
if moral views are just subjective preferences (albeit strongly held ones), how can
it be anyones duty to act in accordance with someone elses preferences?
All very difficult to sort out.
One last view that I wish to address, and which obviously has abandoned
any hope of finding a solid basis for imposing values on others, is that of what
I shall call the moral anarchist. This view is most easily seen as denying the
universalizing and prescriptive elements we spoke of above. It accepts that moral
values are in the eyes of the beholder and so is a version of subjectivism; but
contends that ones own moral preferences should only apply to oneself and should
neither be used to judge nor to prescribe the conduct of others, far less as the basis
for controlling it.
Comments: first, one wonders whether this is really a theory of the nature of
moral concepts at all, for plausibly the universalizability and prescriptive elements
abandoned here are indeed inbuilt logical features of morality, part of the meaning
of the moral concepts. Rather, anarchism is perhaps better construed as a rejection
of morality, as the substitution of another, non-moral, way of governing ones life.
Second, one might wonder what is going on here; has a second-order prescription
been issued by the anarchist to the effect that other people should abandon other
meta-ethical theories and embrace moral anarchism (no matter what they think)?
If so, then there is a whiff of self-contradiction here! Another difficulty concerns
conflict. Sooner or later people living their lives by their own individual anarchistic
values will be in clash man, as the aphorism has it, is not an island. What is the
anarchists account of what happens next might is right, or what?
As you will have realized, normative and meta-ethics are complex areas and we
have done no more than skate on the surface of things. That said, it is worth your
while to at least be aware of a range of possible theories, some of which you
might be sympathetic to (despite the objections). Professional life does involve
intervention in the lives of others on the basis of the interveners values and that
does raise a concern about the status and nature of that basis for intervention.
Although were not going to do so, should you wish to pursue normative and
meta-ethical issues further, then the tools of clear, sustained rational dialogue
that you have been introduced to in earlier chapters more or less transfer across
to that task. Your argumentation within meta-ethics, at least, will not, however,
contain much by way of moral propositions because you will be arguing about,
not within, ethics. (And conceptual propositions will be of great importance and
of some subtlety.) If you want to pursue such issues further, then, as I have said

Some Ethical Theory


before, Id recommend that you seek enrolment in a moral philosophy unit within
an arts degree or, less satisfactorily, buy from your institutions bookshop some
introductory philosophy text that covers normative and/or meta-ethics and read it

This page has been left blank intentionally


accountability 2446
checklist for checking 4967
clarifying ideas in 6770
compared to assertion 40
criticism of
common logical errors 847
introduced 736
invalidity test 8790
logic criticism introduced 77;
see also logic criticism
premise criticism introduced 978;
see also premise, criticism
patching logical holes 9095, 21721
means/end, outlined 657
set inclusion, outlined 645
chained 11516, 167, 17071
independent conclusion 1712
independent rationale 169, 170,
joint conclusion 1723
joint rationale 1689, 170, 1759
simple 170, 18082
structuring 418
and inference words 426
consequentialist ethics 26870, 2823
deep moral clashes 1314, 1829, 21316
descriptive ethics 264
deontological ethics 27073
development, see growth and
dispute closures 20113, 21617, 2224
duties and rights 25961
equity 24651
ethical theory, broad types of 2646

ethics and religion 2834, 28990, 2923

extended enquiry
broad features of 1548
complexities concerning, overview of
closures, see dispute closures
freedom 2559
growth and development 23942
hybrid normative ethical views 2734
inference words
insertion of 436
introduced 423
invalidity test 8790
logic criticism
common logical errors 847
invalidity test 8790
of means/end arguments 826
patching logical holes 9095, 21721
of set inclusion arguments 7882
maximizing potential 2424
means/end arguments
common logical faults of 847
outlined 657
introduced 12021
contrasted with metacognitive
reviews 12930
explained 1358
possible problems with 1423
contrasted with metacognitive
deliberation 12930


Reason and Professional Ethics

explained 13034
tilts and deep moral clashes 1314,
1829, 193201, 21316
voices 14650, 19093
needs 22937
and wants 2356
meta-ethics 2656, 27494
objectivism 2756, 27890
naturalism 27884
non-naturalism 28490
subjectivism 2767, 2914
normative ethics 265, 26774
patching logical holes 9095, 21721
common architecture of 100101
a common error of 10911
a common technique of 11113
of conceptual premises 1014
of descriptive premises 98101
introduction 978
of moral premises 1047
of conceptual premises 11415
of descriptive premises 114
introduction 11314
of moral premises 115
aesthetic 267
introduced 245
summary of 278, 34

conceptual 3034
criticism of 1014
defence of 11415
disputes involving 1657
contrasted with moral 1328
criticism of 98101
defence of 114
disputes involving 1614
summary of 27
mixed 2830, 34
clue words for 215
contrasted with descriptive 1328
criticism of 1047
defence of 115
summary description of 27
relevant 2378
religion and ethics 2834, 28990, 2923
respect 2514
rights and duties 25961
set inclusion arguments
common logical fault of 867
outlined 645
tilts and deep moral clashes 1314, 1829,
193201, 21316
tolerance 2545
useful 239
voices 14650, 19093