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UNIT 1:

WHAT IS ETHICS?

 

OUTLINE OF THE SYLLABUS

1. What is specific about ethics: The moral point of view

a. The universal experience of duty
b. Moral experience is universal, but moral contents are in many cases different throughout time and space
c. Universality and variability of human morality
d. The goal of ethics
e. Moral statements

2. Facts, values, and duties


a. Three types of judgements.
b. Different, but not independent

3. An ethical method of reasoning


a. First step: Fact deliberation
b. Second step: Value deliberation
c. Third step: Duty deliberation
d. Fourth step: Tests of consistency
e. Fifth step: Final decision

 
FILM: Twelve Angry Men / (S. Lumet, 1957)

Synopsis
A 12-man jury is sent to begin deliberations in the first-degree murder trial of an 18-year-old Latino accused in the stabbing death of his father, where a guilty verdict means an automatic death sentence. The case appears to be open-and-shut. Eleven of the jurors immediately vote guilty; only Juror No. 8 casts a not guilty vote, basing his vote for the sake of discussion. The jurors must believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.


Ethical Issues
Prejudices, unreliable judgments and cultural differences.

•  Problem outline & Discussion •  Script (fragment)
 
 
 

Problem outline & Discussion: 12 ANGRY MEN

• Problem outline

• 12 Angry Men (1957) is the gripping, penetrating, and engrossing examination of a diverse group of twelve jurors (all male, mostly middle-aged, white, and generally of middle-class status) who are uncomfortably brought together to deliberate after hearing the 'facts' in a seemingly open-and-shut murder trial case. They retire to a jury room to do their civic duty and serve up a just verdict for the indigent minority defendant (with a criminal record) whose life is in the balance.

• The jury of twelve 'angry men,' entrusted with the power to send an uneducated, teenaged Puerto Rican, tenement-dwelling boy to the electric chair for killing his father with a switchblade knife, are literally locked into a small, claustrophobic rectangular room on a stifling hot summer day until they come up with a unanimous decision - either guilty or not guilty. The compelling, provocative film examines the twelve men's deep-seated personal prejudices, perceptual biases and weaknesses, indifference, anger, personalities, unreliable judgments, cultural differences, ignorance and fears, that threaten to taint their decision-making abilities, cause them to ignore the real issues in the case, and potentially lead them to a miscarriage of justice.

• Fortunately, one brave dissenting juror votes 'not guilty' at the start of the deliberations because of his reasonable doubt. Persistently and persuasively, he forces the other men to slowly reconsider and review the shaky case (and eyewitness testimony) against the endangered defendant. He also chastises the system for giving the unfortunate defendant an inept 'court-appointed' public defense lawyer who "resented being appointed" - a case with "no money, no glory, not even much chance of winning" - and who inadequately cross-examined the witnesses. Heated discussions, the formation of alliances, the frequent re-evaluation and changing of opinions, votes and certainties, and the revelation of personal experiences, insults and outbursts fill the jury room.


• Discussion

After watching the video, a general discussion of its content will take place. The teacher should organize and conduct the debate. The goal of the discussion will be to see this movie as a process of deliberation, in order to take a wise decision about the case. One important point to be stressed is the difficulty of deliberating correctly, due to many constraints and biases, some psychological, other educational, characterological, etc. The first question to be asked for is why these twelve men are so “angry”. And the answer is because they have anguish. Anguish is the general reaction against psychological aggression. And we consider, in general, that everyone who argues against our opinions is assaulting us. This is the most important difficulty in the deliberation process: to assume that the own point of view is not absolute, that our reasons about something can’t exhaust the matter and that the others, giving different or, also, opposite reasons, are not necessarily wrong, and can help us to progress in the analysis of problems. In order to take part in a true process of deliberation, it is necessary to have some intellectual modesty or humility, that is, the Socratic wisdom of “knowing not to know”. This is the only way to be capable of listening to the others and progress all together in searching the truth. Deliberation is a rational process of interaction, in order to take wise decisions. And it works well when the final decision is wiser than that we were prone to take at the beginning of the process. In the movie the change of opinion of quite all the participants is evident; the last opinion is also wiser than the first. This is the true test of consistency of a deliberation process.

 

Script (fragment): 12 ANGRY MEN

- I don't understand you people!
All these picky little points you keep bringing up, they don't mean nothing! You saw this kid just like I did. Don't tell me you believe that phoney story about losing the knife and about being at the movies.
Look, you know how these people lie. It's born in them.
What the heck? I don't have to tell you. They don't know what the truth is!
And they don't need any real big reason to kill someone, either.No, sir. They get drunk. They're real big drinkers, all of 'em.
You know that. And bang! Someone's lying in the gutter. Nobody's blaming 'em. That's the way they are by nature. You know what I mean? Violent.
Where are you going?
Human life don't mean as much to them as it does to us. They're lushing it up and fighting all the time, and if somebody gets killed, somebody gets killed! They don't care!
Sure, there's some good things about 'em, too. I'm the first one to say that.
I've known a couple who were OK, but that's the exception. Most of 'em, it's like they have no feelings! They can do anything!
What's going on here?
I'm trying to tell you. You're making a big mistake, you people.
This kid is a liar. I know it. I know all about them. Listen to me. They're no good. There's not a one of 'em who's any good.
I mean, what's happening in here?I speak my piece, and you...Listen to me!
I... We're... we're... This kid on trial here. His type. Well, don't you know about them?
There's a... There's a danger here. These people are dangerous. They're... wild.
Listen to me! Listen to me!

- I have. Now, sit down and don't open your mouth again.
Some of the time... I tell you. It's always difficult to keep personal prejudice out of a thing like this. Wherever you run into it, prejudice always obscures the truth. I don't really know what the truth is. I don't suppose anybody will ever really know.
Nine of us now seem to feel that the defendant is innocent.But we're just gambling on probabilities. We may be wrong.
We may be trying to let a guilty man go free. I don't know. Nobody really can. But we have a reasonable doubt. And that's something that's very valuable in our system. No jury can declare a man guilty unless it's sure.