Our personal morals, virtues, and beliefs are unconscious constructs. Therefore, our ethical morality can play a huge role when it comes to what we say and how we act.¹
This suggests that people can act on the basis of prejudice and stereotypes without intending to do so. Research studies have indicated how our implicit beliefs influence the way we make decisions.²
One of the ways to reconstruct and develop our implicit beliefs is by exploring the realm of ethics and moral philosophy. Becoming more aware of your own values and mindful of others' can vastly help when making decisions.
There are different ethical theories that can be used to analyze one's decisions. If we choose to solely analyze the action, then we would be following the theories of conduct. These theories focus on one’s actions. If we are considering the character of the person involved, then we must turn to the theories of virtue.
Theories of Conduct
There are two theories of conduct: consequentialism and deontology.³
Consequentialists focus on the consequences of an action.
Whereas, deontologists focus on the motive.
Let's assume we have a duty to be just.
Consequentialists will look at the consequences to explain what it is about justice that makes it good. If we apply this to character traits, then fairness is a virtue, and unfairness is a vice.
Deontologists will consider the motive(s) involved in the act of justice. The duty to be just will derive from:
considering the kind of motives a rational person would have
our own will to understand motives and desires that are different from our own
Theories of Virtue
Unlike the theories of conduct, theories of virtue focus on an individual's character rather than their actions.⁴
Intellectual Virtue (Socrates)
An intellectualist is someone who believes reason is the only reliable standard. They believe that our emotions and desires cause us to stray further from a virtuous life. To live a good life, intellectualists believe that we must overcome the obstacles that bring irrational elements.
Moral Virtue (Aristotle)
Within Aristotle's view, there is an emphasis on reason but in a different way than intellectualists. Aristotle agreed that emotions and desires can be irrational. But he also believed that we do not have direct control over what we want and how we feel.
He believed that, with training, our emotions and desires could be reliable for making decisions. In order to develop into a virtuous person, you must train to react and act appropriately in given circumstances.
Going back to our example of justice and fairness, justice is often defined as fairness.
A fair person is considered just because it is someone who shows no bias. Performing acts of fairness have become second nature to them. They have the ability to make judgments that are concrete and specific to a particular case. Sometimes, justice can be cruel and seem unfair.
But, our capacity to reason allows us to be what Aristotle famously defined human beings as, rational animals. To take into consideration human emotion, desires, and bodily necessities. According to Aristotle, this is the overall goal of living the life of a rational animal.
Aristotle: Virtue & Moral Character
Virtue theorists that follow Aristotle believe that people are not simply good-natured. It's not an instinct we are born with. Rather, it's a behavior that is learned.
Their emotions and desires are present in moments of decision making. What distinguishes them as a virtuous person is not their knowledge and their use of reason. Instead, it is the way that they habitually feel and desire: their moral character.
Within the book Aristotle's Way, the author provides insight into Aristotle's process of decision making.
The Greek word for the process of masterful decision making is 'euboulia'. It is having the ability "to both deliberate for one's self and to be able to recognize good deliberation and rational decisions in others….".⁵
Through ethical exploration, you can develop the implicit biases you have. Being able to view others' actions from a rational perspective allows you to be more empathetic.
It will take time and practice, but learning to be more mindful can greatly assist in the process of decision making.
Brownstein, M. (2019). Implicit Bias, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2019/entries/implicit-bias/>.
Zheng, R. (2016). Attributability, Accountability, and Implicit Bias. Implicit Bias and Philosophy, Volume 2: Moral Responsibility, Structural Injustice, and Ethics. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198766179.001.0001
Tseng, H. H. (2015). The Development of the Personal and Professional Values-Integrated Framework as an Aid to Ethical Decision Making. American Journal of Education Research. 3(9), pg. 1163-1667. doi: 10.12691/education-3-9-16
Lara, A. (2008). Virtue theory and moral facts. Journal of Value Inquiry, 42(3), 331-352. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1007/s10790-008-9113-0
Hall, E. (2020). Aristotle's way: How ancient wisdom can change your life. NY, NY: Penguin Books.