Basic Ethical Frameworks

For us, the point is to be aware of this larger meta-ethical question and debate as we go along. Our reflections and responses to this question will affect (and be affected by) our ethical reflections regarding other digital media – including our basic conceptions of selfhood, as ranging from more individual through relational autonomies to largely relational, as these in turn interact with our background cultures.

As we have seen in the opening chapter, “doing ethics” involves much more than a kind of “rule-book” approach – i.e., picking a set of principles, values, etc., and applying these in a largely deductive, algorithmic manner to a problem at hand. Rather, our central ethical difficulties are difficult largely because they require us first to determine which principles, values, frameworks, etc., best apply to a given problem – a determination that Aristotle attributed to phronēsis or reflective judgment. Developing such judgment requires our ongoing effort to analyze and reflect on both familiar and new experiences and problems. The good news is that our ethical judgments – at least, if we consciously seek to develop them in these ways – generally do get better over time. The daunting news is that developing such judgment is a lifetime’s work, one that is never complete or final.

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In point of fact, as an acculturated member of a culture and society, you already have a reasonably well-developed body of experience and practice with ethical analysis and judgments. The following will simply enhance the ethical toolkit you already have developed, by articulating some of the most central frameworks for ethical reflection, both Western and then non-Western ones.