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101 Ethical Dilemmas, Second Edition


Author: Martin Cohen

Publisher: Routledge


Publish Date: April 5, 2007

ISBN-10: 415404002

Pages: 400

File Type: PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

Ethics is about choices which matter, and choices which matter are dilemmas. The Greek word means ‘two horns’. The horns of the dilemma – only two choices: is or is not, to be or not to be, true or false. Or, indeed, only one choice, to find the way between the horns of the dilemma. That is nearer to the original sense of the term.

Now one hundred and one certainly seems like a lot of ethical dilemmas. Enough to cover the main issues you would have thought. And there are a lot of issues covered here. But ethics is a deep well, and once you start to lower the bucket, there comes no obvious jolt to tell you that at last it has reached the bottom. Instead, we find we are plumbing the depths of the human psyche, and no, it is not a pretty sight. In fact, if each dilemma were a bucketful of water, and we took our 101 Dilemmas and sprinkled them over the Sahara, we would have the same sort of impact on that environmentally challenged landscape as this book can be expected to have in tackling the myriad issues of our ethically challenged world.

What of the old question of the fundamental nature of human beings – whether we are basically good, or basically evil? Not known. When is the beginning of life, when the end? Maybe. Depends. Are there any ethical absolutes? We’d like to think so. Well, does the bucket at least dredge up the key issues? In fact, no. It does not even provide proper questions. Because, at the end of it, despite the ‘epic’ quality of the survey, whole swathes of ethical life have not been dealt with at all.

Put that way, it could be rather depressing. But that is not the point and not the way to put it. For the aim of ethics, much less a book, like this, is not to be a rule book, or even an uplifting sermon. Rather the aim of ethics is to improve our navigational skills, to help us find what the ancient Chinese called the ‘Tao’, but we would call ‘the way’. It is no coincidence that Plato’s most detailed description of the nature of ‘justice’ describes the person who has discovered the answer as like a traveller who knows the path to their destination, as opposed to those, like the rest of us, who are strangers in an unknown land, reliant on the odd landmark and halfunderstood instruction.

But if ethics is a journey, it is not one where it is enough for the individual to find their private destination alone, even if many have set off with that delusion in mind.

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