Reference material for teachers (Lesson Three)
Show students that ethics includes many issues covering both personal and social aspects. These issues have been studied by many individuals. Learning ethics helps students grasp the focus and method of analysis of various issues, helping them develop their own viewpoints quickly and systematically.
Introduce common thinking tools of ethics, i.e. utilitarianism, deontology and value theory.
Demonstrate how these tools may help us effectively analyse various issues.
Demonstrate how the mastery and application of these tools may help students in their studies of other subjects.
Through dealing with two questions involving ethical dilemmas, show students how dilemmas can be resolved, i.e. through reflection, one should learn to uphold justice even if it means suffering losses. It is the shouldering of responsibilities that makes us human.
to report to the police. However, morally speaking, he had a vague sense that spending the money is stealing.
Stance 1: List the reasons why Wai should return the money
When Wai obtained the money by accident, he indeed had no intention of stealing. He did, however, deliberately covered up his actions afterwards. It is therefore unethical. (intrinsic value)
On first look no one suffered any losses. However, if there was no one reported to the bank about the breakdown of the ATM machine, the bank would continue to suffer losses. As a result, it would consider lowering the daily withdrawal amount, or even reduce the number of ATM machines. Everyone would pay the price in the end. (resulting consequences/ resulting benefits and drawbacks)
Although Wai appeared to have made some kind of ‘self-reflection’, he focused only on superficial gains and losses and did only selective thinking. It was not comprehensive or rational enough, and so he has neglected his own
responsibilities. (resulting consequences/ resulting benefits and drawbacks)
The various reasons Wai listed about why he should not report to the police could be summarized as ‘inconvenience’. At times of inconvenience we should strive even harder to keep to our principles, because this is when the value of these principles is truly shown. We should not compromise our principles just for convenience’s sake, and abandon our principles and our responsibilities. By keeping to our principles no matter the circumstance, we show the value and dignity of humanity. (the expression of human virtue/ good intentions)
No matter how he tried to convince himself, the nature of Wai’s action was cheating. The action of Wai is against the value of honesty. (intrinsic value)
Stance 2: List the reasons why Wai should not return the money
$4,000 was a small amount to the bank. They earned huge profits and would not take the small amount seriously. (resulting consequences/resulting benefits and drawbacks)
Even if Wai did not take the extra money, someone else would. No one would report it, so why should Wai not take it? The result would be the same. (resulting consequences/resulting benefits and drawbacks)
The bank had not suffered losses in this case. The insurance company would compensate the bank.(resulting consequences/resulting benefits and drawbacks)
Wai was happy to have the extra money. No one has suffered any real losses. The
overall gains outweighed the losses. This is why it was good. (resulting consequences/resulting benefits and drawbacks)
Wai obtained the money out of luck. It was like winning the lottery. It was right to claim the prize and wrong not to do so. As a common saying has it: Every man for himself and the devil takes the hindmost. (intrinsic value)
The bank should take responsibility for the malfunction of its own ATM. Wai was not deliberately cheating the bank, and should not pay the price for someone else’s mistake. The bank should take responsibility for its oversight. (intrinsic value)
The incident benefited the bank, as it would encourage them to improve the system. (resulting consequences/resulting benefits and drawbacks)
Twisting the baby’s leg
Your car crashes into a tree in a forest at a winter night. The car breaks down and your friends are badly injured. As it is midnight, there is no one on the road, so you run along it till you find an isolated house. An old woman and a baby live in the house.
The baby is sleeping sweetly in the crib. There is no phone, but a car in the garage.
You ask desperately to borrow it, and explain the situation to her. However, she doesn’t believe you and is terrified by your desperation. She locks herself in the kitchen, leaving you alone with the baby. You knock on the door but she does not respond. You cannot find the car key. Then it occurs to you that she may change her mind and tell you where the car key is if you were to twist the baby’s leg.
(Adapted from: The View from Nowhere, by Thomas Nagel)
Should you do it? Explain your moral judgement.
Stance 1: Reasons for twisting the baby’s leg
I would twist the baby’s leg. Doing so would only make the baby suffer, and targeting the family of the old woman is the quickest and most effective way to achieve my aims. It is a necessary evil that benefits me and the badly injured passengers in the car. (resulting consequences/resulting benefits and drawbacks)
Harming the baby in order to protect the lives of friends will win the praises of most people. (resulting consequences/resulting benefits and drawbacks)
The old woman hides in the kitchen because she is terrified. If she recovers her wits afterwards, she will regret not lending her car to help the badly injured passengers. So by twisting the baby’s leg I am actually helping her. (intrinsic
Stance2: Reasons for not twisting the baby’s leg
Twisting the baby’s leg would create the opposite effect. The old woman would even more terrified, and more reluctant to give her car key. (resulting
consequences/resulting benefits and drawbacks)
It is an unethical act to twist the baby’s leg to force the old woman. It violates their freedom and dignity, and is treating humans as if they are tools. No matter how urgent a situation is, one must not inflict illegal harm on another person.
Human rights are a universal value. Harming a baby is an infringement of human rights. We cannot harm an innocent person just to achieve an aim. (intrinsic value)
It is wrong to harm the baby. (the expression of human virtue/good intentions)
The choice between one and four
You are a doctor. There are four patients who are seriously hurt and sent to the hospital. Each needs a separate organ: a kidney, a liver, a heart, and so forth. You can save their lives if you remove a heart, a liver, kidneys, and so forth from a healthy person and distribute them to the four patients. At the same time, a healthy woman is in Room 418. She is in the hospital for routine check. From her test results, you know that she is perfectly healthy and her organs are suitable for the four patients. If you do nothing, of course, she will survive; the other patients will die. The other four patients can be saved only if the woman in Room 418 is cut up and her organs are distributed.
In that case, sacrifice one person can save four.
(Adapted from The Nature of Morality, page 3-4, by Gilbert Harman)
Should you do that? Explain your moral judgement.
Stance 1: It is right to distribute the organs of the healthy patient at room 418 to the four patients
Comparing sacrificing one person to four, the cost of sacrificing one person is lower. (resulting consequences/resulting benefits and drawbacks)
Although killing one person counts as murder, the doctor’s intention is to save lives rather than commit murder. (intrinsic value)
The patient who was killed sacrificed herself to save four lives. This is an act of
great benevolence. The society will be better off with more people of this kind.
(the expression of human virtue/good intentions)
Stance 2: It is wrong to distribute the organs of the healthy patient at room 418 to the four patients
The patient at room 418 may be a great scientist/entrepreneur; her death will affect overall social well-being, causing a lot of people lose their jobs. (resulting consequences/resulting benefits and drawbacks)
If the doctor has the right to kill the patient, then people will lose faith in the medical system and society. This will create huge negative social impact.
(resulting consequences/resulting benefits and drawbacks)
The patient at room 418 is not related to other patients. She has no obligation to sacrifice herself. (intrinsic value)
The patient at room 418 is not given a choice. She is not willing. (intrinsic value)
By killing the patient at room 418, the doctor is committing murder. Murder itself is wrong (intrinsic value)
As a doctor, I have no right, obligation and power to determine anyone’s life or death. My obligation is to save lives. (intrinsic value)
Doing so would violate my code of practice as a doctor. It will also damage the trustworthiness of other doctors. (the expression of human virtue/good
The interesting thing about ethics is that it helps students apply moral principles to deal with various personal and social issues or case.
Through guiding students in their discussions of moral reasoning, teachers not only test students’ understanding of theories, but also learn what kind of values students possess. Teachers can guide students to reflect on their personal values and pursuit of virtues, and review personal attitudes towards certain important values, such as human rights, justice, fraternity, and dignity.
The following cases are classic stories in introductory ethics. They are mostly fictional, but each contains certain important ethical issues or key concepts. Teachers may select materials from the appendix based on students’ interest and abilities, which aims to help them understand the interesting aspects of ethics and have basic understanding of it.
New Senior Secondary Ethics and Religious Studies Introductory Learning and Teaching Materials
for the Secondary 3 Ethics Studies