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Imagine that we have three flashlights that we shine in a dark room. Each one shines a different primary color of light (green, red and blue). If we overlap these three primary colors of light we get white light, which is the full spectrum of visible light (see the image to the left). Using visible light as a metaphor, we can combine ethical approaches in much the same way that we combine visible light. If we can combine approaches to ethics we can benefit from the strengths of multiple approaches while balancing out the weaknesses of any single approach.

What approach (color) do you rely on the most?

Where do YOU fall on the Ethicspectrum? 

Take the “Take5 Inventory” (click here!)

 


How does color vision work?

To understand the metaphor of the Ethicspectrum, it can help to understand how color vision works. What color do we get when we combine red and green light? Click the simulator below to find out…

Color Vision

 


An Example to Keep in Mind

Suppose your friend Jun intervenes to stop someone from being bullied. You believe that what Jun did was ethical, but why?

Read through the descriptions and questions below to discover which ethical approach(es) you prefer. Each approach is associated with a different wavelength of light. There are three “Primary Approaches” listed: Green, Red and Blue. There are two “Combined Approaches” listed: Yellow and Grey. Please note that there are many other possible combinations. Are you aware of the pros and cons of the approach(es) you are using? Could you benefit from incorporating approaches you are not using in order to utilize the full spectrum of light?

 


PRIMARY APPROACHES

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GREEN: Character approach (A “Primary” Approach)

  • You ask yourself: “What kind of people should we be?” and “What would a person of good character do in this situation?”
  • You feel that ethics is very much a matter of what kind of people we are.
  • You focus on the personal characteristics people need to live good lives. For example, you may believe that compassion for the suffering of others is an important character trait.
  • You may also believe that we should focus on being honest, fair/just, respectful and responsible people.
  • Examples of Pros and Cons.RED: Code approach (A “Primary” Approach)

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RED: Code approach (A “Primary” Approach)

  • You ask yourself: “Would I want this action made into a rule/code for all to follow?” and “Are we respecting others’ rights and not just using them?”
  • If someone tries to do the right thing but it works out badly, you believe they still deserve moral credit for trying, regardless of the consequences.
  • You believe that it is important not only to do the right thing, but to do it for the right reasons.
  • You think that others should always be treated with respect and that we should never use others merely as a means to our own goals.
  • Examples of Pros and Cons.

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BLUE: Consequences approach (A “Primary” Approach)

  • You ask yourself: “What will bring the best results and least harm for all who might be affected?” and “What are the overall consequences of this action?”
  • When trying to decide what the right thing to do is, you add up the overall consequences of the various alternatives, seeing everyone as equally important.
  • You think that increasing happiness and reducing suffering for as many as possible is the way to live life.
  • You believe that the right thing to do is whatever is best for the greatest number.
  • Examples of Pros and Cons.

 

COMBINED APPROACHES

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YELLOW: Care approach (A “Combined” Approach)

  • The Care approach may be seen as a combination of aspects of the Character approach and the Code approach. When we combine green and red light we get yellow light.
  • You ask yourself: “How can we treat others as we/they would like to be treated?”
  • This can be seen as a combination of aspects of the Character and Code approaches since it includes ideas about the type of people we are striving to be (e.g. caring/compassionate) and a rule/code that it would be beneficial for all to follow (e.g. “Treat others as you/they would like to be treated”).
  • This approach is our first example of a combination of two other approaches, indicating that these approaches do not need to be mutually exclusive.
  • Examples of Pros and Cons.

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GREY: Consult approach (A “Combined” Approach)

  • You ask yourself: “Who will help me to consider diverse perspectives?” and “Who can help me avoid harmful biases?”
  • You believe that we each have a limited viewpoint and harmful biases (e.g. conformity bias).
  • You seek diverse perspectives in order to see things from different viewpoints.
  • You think that it is essential to combat harmful biases in order to be more ethical.
  • Examples of Pros and Cons.

 


Here’s an example to highlight the first three approaches listed above. WeTake5 calls these the “Big 3” or “Primary Approaches” of Moral Philosophy:

Remember the example from above that we asked you to keep in mind: Your friend Jun intervenes to stop someone from being bullied.

If you take a Character (Green) approach, you will be most interested in the personal traits (e.g. compassion) that Jun shows. This suggests that Jun has good character.

If you take a Code (Red) approach, you will be most interested in what rules/codes Jun lives by and Jun’s motivation/intent. You will also be most interested in how much Jun helps to protect people’s rights. Jun stood up for someone in need of protection, and that kind of behavior is good in and of itself.

If you take a Consequences (Blue) approach, you will be interested in the consequences of Jun’s actions. According to this approach, what Jun did was good because it resulted in the best consequences; Jun stopped the person from being hurt.

These approaches do not need to be antithetical. They can often be combined, as we see with the Care (Yellow) approach.

Jun example adapted from: Moral Philosophy.info

 


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Overlapping Colors: The Metaphor of Light

The metaphor of light can help us to see how we can combine the 5 approaches (5 Cs) for ethical decision making. Using visible light as a metaphor, we can combine ethical approaches in much the same way that we combine visible light. This can help us to benefit from the strengths, but balance the weaknesses of each individual approach.

Imagine that we have 3 flashlights that we shine in a dark room. Each one shines a different primary color of light (green, red and blue). When green, red and blue all overlap they combine to create white light, the full spectrum of visible light. The idea of the Ethicspectrum is the same. If we combine the three most respected approaches in moral philosophy (the “Big 3” or “Primary Approaches”) we may be able to benefit from the strengths and balance the weaknesses of each individual approach.

The Care approach (yellow) may be seen as a combination of aspects of the Character (green) and Code (red) approaches. Thus it is called a “Combined Approach.” This is because it has elements of the type of person you are striving to be (e.g. caring/compassionate) and elements of a rule/code that it would be beneficial for all to follow (e.g. “Treat others as you/they would like to be treated”). A combination of any of the approaches is possible, this is just one example.

The Consult approach (grey) can serve to lighten or darken any of the colors. This is because consulting with others can clarify or muddy various perspectives and can either help us move towards the full spectrum of light or further away from it. Wise and trusted advisors can help us to see important subtleties that we may miss on our own. However, we may choose to consult with people who have harmful biases of their own, which can cloud our own judgement. It is essential to carefully select those with whom we consult. When selecting trusted advisors, it can be a great help to observe which of the various approaches that they use.

If we are able to ask the questions that help us consider each approach and consult with those who can help use see things we may not be aware of, we may be able to benefit from each perspective and move closer to the full spectrum of light.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that” ~Martin Luther King Jr.

 


Check out our brief video which helps to explain the idea of Multiple Approaches: