Moral Decision Making: How to Approach Everyday Ethics

Course No. 4222
Professor Clancy Martin, Ph.D.
University of Missouri, Kansas City
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Course No. 4222
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Course Overview

What does it mean to live a good life? If we want to live ethically, it stands to reason that our daily habits and overall goals must align themselves with a certain moral code. Is it ethical to pursue money, property, and social status? Do we have a moral obligation to give to charity, take care of our aging parents, or shop locally? Where is the line between personal freedom and societal good?

These questions and more are at the heart of what it means to be a human being in our world today. We are constantly faced with ethical challenges, whether or not we’re aware of them. As such, we make important ethical decisions all the time—as professionals, consumers, citizens, parents, sons and daughters, and friends. Yet as we go through our daily lives, we seldom take the time to consider the wide-ranging implications of our actions. What’s more, many of us have never had any formal training in ethics, which means we may not have the right philosophical framework to think through some of our most complex decisions.

Moral Decision Making: How to Approach Everyday Ethics offers you the chance to reflect on some of the most powerful moral issues we face—as well as providing a framework for making the best decisions that will lead to a happier, more fulfilling life. Over the course of 24 thought-provoking lectures, Professor Clancy Martin of the University of Missouri–Kansas City introduces us to a variety of ethical “case studies”—the kind of difficult situations we have all faced at some point—and he shows us how great thinkers, from Socrates to Nietzsche to Bonhoeffer, approached similar problems.

Are profits and property the highest moral ends? When is it OK to lie? How should we handle heartbreak? There are no easy answers, but with an engaging blend of philosophical history and theory as well as real-world applications, Moral Decision Making: How to Approach Everyday Ethics provides an ideal framework for living the good life—for ourselves, for our family and friends, and for society at large.

Ancient Roots, Contemporary Applications

Philosophers have been wrestling with morality for at least 5,000 years, and Professor Martin clearly disseminates the wisdom of the world’s great thinkers from across the ages and around the world. In this course, you will

  • apply Aristotle’s range of thought to questions of individualism, social status, and generosity;
  • learn what Kant’s “categorical imperative” means for personal relationships and the contract of marriage;
  • see how Locke’s theory of property paved the way for a revolutionary new system of government;
  • contrast John Rawls’s and Robert Nozick’s theories of liberty and social justice;
  • find out why Andrew Carnegie said it was immoral to give money to panhandlers;
  • study the teachings of Eastern thinkers, including Confucius, Xunzi, Mencius, and the Buddha;
  • consider what a utilitarian calculus implies about genetic enhancements and torture.

In addition to examining the views of historically great philosophers, Professor Martin draws from 20th-and 21st-century thinkers from other fields, including economics, theology, business, psychology, and evolutionary biology. You’ll meet such figures as these:

  • John Maynard Keynes
  • Friedrich Hayek
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Lawrence Kohlberg
  • Carol Gilligan
  • Kenneth Arrow
  • Peter Singer
  • Martha Nussbaum

By introducing such a diverse array of thinkers, Professor Martin provides a complete picture of various ethical schools and approaches. But the real beauty of this course is in the way he applies this rich philosophical overview to our contemporary lives.

To take one example, Professor Martin notes in a discussion on gossip that “almost every conversation is a moral act.” Every time we have a discussion with someone, we are choosing, consciously or otherwise, whether to lie, or to gossip, or simply to engage in idle chatter when we could be doing some other, more enriching task.

With the right philosophical background, we can learn to recognize these moments, which will lead us closer to living the “good” life.

Keep an Open Mind in Everyday Dilemmas

According to Professor Martin, the trick is to understand that the mind is like a parachute; it only works when it’s open. Rather than take a side in any particular debate, this course provides a framework for thinking through a host of debates and dilemmas from all sides. You’ll explore all the ins and outs of issues such as these:

  • Business ethics
  • Property
  • Love and marriage
  • Privacy
  • Genetic engineering
  • Capital punishment
  • Animal rights
  • Recycling

The rapid advances in technology, from the medical world to social media, have created new ethical situations to navigate. Where is the line between privacy and security in a state where snooping is so easy? What obligations do we owe our aging parents, who might be reliant on our help? Do people have the right to die a “good death”? If so, what is the best way to make that happen? What are the ethical guidelines for genetic engineering?

These challenges are part of our modern world, and simply by living in our society, we all will confront some of these questions. It might seem that historical thinkers like Plato, Rousseau, and John Stuart Mill would have little to say about such contemporary dilemmas, but Professor Martin extrapolates from their ideas and shows how old methods can be used to solve new problems.

Rich Storytelling Brings These Case Studies to Life

Professor Martin’s approach in this course is to present an ethical question—for instance, is it acceptable for a pharmacist to refuse to fill a prescription for the morning-after pill on conscientious objection grounds?—and then to step back and interrogate the issue, bringing in ideas from different philosophers to highlight arguments on all sides of the debate.

Engaging stories and thought experiments put you in the shoes of someone facing a real-life dilemma, showing how different theories play such an important role on the stage of our everyday lives. The philosophers he references may have been speaking abstractly about liberty, property, conscience, and more, but the narratives in this course make complex philosophy easy to understand.

Professor Martin is a wonderful storyteller, and he himself has had a colorful and exciting life, particularly in business. He recounts stories of his travels and business ventures, making himself both a character in the thought experiment and a sympathetic guide. Without judgment, he helps you open the parachute of your mind and shows you how to navigate the age-old question of how you should live.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Why Be Good?
    Begin your survey of morality by asking some of the fundamental questions that philosophers have been grappling with for thousands of years. What is the source of morality? Is it culturally relative? Are humans innately good or evil? What role does society play in civilizing—or corrupting—us? x
  • 2
    Is It Ever Permissible to Lie?
    We’ve all told lies and can think of reasons to justify them, but philosophers are surprisingly divided on whether deceit is ever ethical. See what Plato, Kant, Machiavelli, Bonhoeffer, and others have said on the subject of why we lie, the relationship between truth and freedom, trust and intimacy, and more. x
  • 3
    Aren’t Whistle-Blowers Being Disloyal?
    Put yourself in the shoes of a company employee who knows his friend is doing something unethical. Would you rat out your friend for the sake of the business? Should you? Explore the mechanism of dissent, the nature of loyalty, and the courage it takes to stand up for one’s principles. x
  • 4
    What’s Wrong with Gossip?
    Humans are hardwired to enjoy talking about other people. Harmless chatter can be entertaining and establishes intimacy within social circles, whereas malicious gossip provides a feeling of superiority. Consider the ethical pitfalls of gossip before turning to the various types of criticism we can direct toward others—as well as the ethical nuances of criticism’s counterparts, flattery and praise. x
  • 5
    Do I Have an Obligation to Be Healthy?
    Shift your attention to the ethics of liberty, one of the most important moral values in Western society and a key value of American society. Is it ethical to eat, drink, and smoke whatever we want, wherever we want, and as much as we want? This lecture pits the views of Aristotle and John Rawls against those of Robert Nozick on individualism and self-determination. x
  • 6
    Can I Sneak a Grape or Two While Shopping?
    Examine the philosophical history of how and why property has become so closely tied to morality in our culture. From John Locke to Ayn Rand, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman, you’ll find out how the pursuit of property ties in with the moral pillars of freedom and happiness in Western society. Then turn to Kenneth Arrow’s arguments in favor of regulating this pursuit. x
  • 7
    Is It Wrong to Make as Much Money as I Can?
    Continue your examination of wealth and society by looking at what several great thinkers have had to say about the role of money and work in the pursuit of the good life. You’ll unpack Aristotle’s philosophy of moderation, study the surprising origins of the Protestant work ethic, and reflect on the dangers of pursuing money at the expense of society at large. x
  • 8
    What Are My Obligations to the Poor?
    We know that most of the world’s religious traditions advocate giving money to the poor, but what do other, nonreligious thinkers have to say about charity? This lecture returns to Aristotle before introducing you to the worldviews of Andrew Carnegie and Peter Singer, both of whom will challenge what you think you know about charity and the poor. x
  • 9
    Can We Do Better Than the Golden Rule?
    This first in a series of lectures on interpersonal relationships examines what ethical obligations we have to others. How should we treat those around us? How can we resolve the tension between moral obligations to others with our personal freedom? Take an in-depth look at Kant’s categorical imperative, the idea that all humans are “ends in themselves.” x
  • 10
    Why Can’t I Just Live for Pleasure?
    Consider hedonism: one-night stands, flashy cars, exotic vacations. What could be wrong with such a life? Survey the philosophy of “utilitarianism,” the philosophy that morality is a matter of seeking the greatest happiness for the greatest number. After exploring the distinction between “pleasure” and “happiness,” you’ll take a look at key objections to utilitarian ethics. x
  • 11
    Why Can’t I Date a Married Person?
    Dive into the stormy, unpredictable world of love and marriage. To begin with, consider what romantic love is. After surveying four distinct types of love, this lecture helps you navigate the moral norms that govern marriage with a look at the philosophies of the ancient Greeks, Kant, and Nietzsche. x
  • 12
    Are Jealousy and Resentment Always Wrong?
    Continue your study of moral psychology with an exploration of heartbreak, jealousy, and resentment. After tracing the relationship between emotion and reason, and the voluntary and involuntary components of emotions, you’ll analyze Nietzsche and Hume’s arguments that emotional responses can generate entire moral systems. x
  • 13
    What Are the Rules for Respecting Privacy?
    In today’s world, technology has complicated the ethics of interpersonal relationships—especially in the realm of privacy. How much privacy are we entitled to? How do intrusions into our privacy affect our freedom and autonomy? Reflect on the arguments for giving up some privacy for security, as well as the dangers of giving up too much. x
  • 14
    What Do I Owe My Aging Parents?
    Many of us will one day find ourselves in the position of caring for an aging parent. What ethical obligations do we have? What is the best way to take care of the elderly in our society? Travel the world to see what philosophers ranging from Confucius to Plato to William James have to say about filial piety and the ethics of care. x
  • 15
    Should I Help a Suffering Loved One Die?
    Medical technology is prolonging our lives, for better and for worse. In this lecture, you’ll explore the myriad complexities around euthanasia. Is there such a thing as a “good death”? What counts as “natural causes”? Is there a moral distinction between “pulling the plug” and assisted suicide? Consider the ethical pros and cons. x
  • 16
    Is Genetic Enhancement “Playing God”?
    What if you had the opportunity to choose your child’s hair color? Or edit her DNA to protect against disease? Or determine your child’s intelligence and athletic ability? This kind of genetic programming is not as far-fetched as it sounds—and it raises a host of questions about human agency and social fairness. x
  • 17
    Is Conscientious Objection a Moral Right?
    Investigate the origins of “conscience.” Start with the ancient Greek view of “conscience” as an “inner demon.” Then turn to the social contract theory espoused by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, and the relationship between our individual consciences and society, law, and our obligations to each other. x
  • 18
    Is It Always Wrong to Fight Back?
    Return to the realm of emotions and consider three closely related phenomena: anger, revenge, and forgiveness. First, you’ll consider the moral utility of anger; then, you’ll explore the dictum of “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth,” and see how vengeance, punishment, justice, and forgiveness are all more complicated than you might think. x
  • 19
    Should the Death Penalty Be Abolished?
    The United States is one of the few Western nations that still have the death penalty. In this lecture, you’ll examine several arguments for and against the death penalty—and you’ll survey the larger system of punishment and justice in terms of vengeance, retribution, rehabilitation, and deterrence. x
  • 20
    Is Torture Ever Acceptable?
    The Geneva Conventions of 1949 clearly laid out an international prohibition against torture, but is there a philosophical case for torture? After exploring myriad objections to torture, this lecture unpacks a utilitarian argument for why torture may be necessary under certain conditions. x
  • 21
    Do Animals Have Rights?
    Why do we think it’s all right to eat certain animals but not others? Do nonhuman animals have some quality that suggests they have rights? Do the consequences of society’s “social contract” extend to animals? See what Kant, Peter Singer, and other moral philosophers say about rationality, sentience, and the ethics and economics of animal rights. x
  • 22
    Why Should I Recycle?
    What matters more, people or penguins? Because so much of our impact on the environment flies beneath our radar, the answer to this question is complex and has changed in recent years. In this lecture, you’ll examine Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development and apply them to pollution, waste, and the environment. Then consider the tension between corporate interests and environmental protection. x
  • 23
    Does It Matter Where I Shop?
    What kind of responsibilities do we have as citizens and consumers in terms of business, economic policy, and how we spend our dollars? Do we have an obligation to buy locally? To buy “free trade” products? After reviewing the economic theories of Friedrich Hayek and John Maynard Keynes, you’ll examine the contemporary force of globalization and the idea of a “global village.” x
  • 24
    What Would Socrates Do?
    Conclude your study of ethical decision making with a look at the difference between belief and knowledge. Socratic wisdom comes from a stance of skepticism, a willingness to ask questions to free ourselves from the danger of moral hypocrisy. Take this sense of curiosity and open-mindedness into the world after the end of the course. x

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Your professor

Clancy Martin

About Your Professor

Clancy Martin, Ph.D.
University of Missouri, Kansas City
Dr. Clancy Martin is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC) and Professor of Business Ethics at UMKC's Henry W. Bloch School of Management. A specialist in moral psychology and existentialism, he earned his Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin. A 2011-2012 Guggenheim Fellow, Professor Martin has authored, coauthored, and edited a variety of books in philosophy, including Love, Lies,...
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Moral Decision Making: How to Approach Everyday Ethics is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 29.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Compares favorably to the other Ethics Class I picked this course and the other ethics class, Quest for Meaning, by Kane and so found myself listening to them more or less side-by-side. It seemed to me that this course far outshone its partner as it jumped very early in the course to practical considerations. Simply put, I found this course both fun and interesting.
Date published: 2018-05-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Suitable title Thought provoking,packed with information. Provides basic philosophical ideas for group discussions.
Date published: 2017-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good introduction to the field of ethics I appreciated the application of philosophical principles of "greats", like Kant, to everyday dilemmas. Like many teachers who are detail-oriented, his manner and voice at first seemed rather dull, but as I listened, I really began to enjoy them.
Date published: 2017-04-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Intersting and easy to follow I really enjoyed this course. I have taken most of the Teaching Company's philosophy courses and this was relatively light and easy to follow. The professor is well-versed in the topic and draws from multiple sources to make his points. He is also very entertaining and has a led a rich life which makes his discussions that much more interesting. Although this course is unlikely to change anyone's mind, it is worthwhile listening to what major philosophers like Kant or Nietzsche have to say about taking care of one's parents, death penalty, stealing, etc. It is fascinating to see how they go about tackling these questions. The course is also valuable in that one is very unlikely to look up any given philosopher for their thoughts on such eclectic topics. The professor has done all the research for you. In short, I think the course is worth the listen and I recommend to everyone, perhaps especially to parents who want a deeper knowledge base to talk with their children.
Date published: 2016-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another excellent philosophy course I think this course was excellent. I chose it because I wanted to feed my Great Courses addiction on a long plane ride. I thought that an audio format course would be a good way to go. Each chapter was excellent and I like the way the professor presented the material (a good balance of ancient and modern philosophy). I absolutely did not find fault in the professor for using personal experience as examples. The professor never used an off-topic personal example. On the contrary, his experiences were relevant to the topics being discussed. I had some very good conversations with my wife and 2 teenage children about these issues as I moved through the course. That experience alone was worth 10 times what I paid for the course. If you are not a philosophy expert, but a person like me who studies philosophy as a hobby, I think you will enjoy this course.
Date published: 2015-08-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Contemporary, Practical and Personal Dr. Martin poses a series of twenty-three contemporary, ethical/moral issues from which he discusses how one can evaluate taking a moral position. Examples include: white-lying, petty stealing, taking a position on corruption in the workplace, working with aging, dying parents or family, obligations to those less fortunate, marital infidelity, and others. He spices these dilemmas with some of his personal experiences that challenged his thinking and ultimate decision-making. (Dr. Martin has been criticized by some reviewers for giving personal examples as irrelevant to a Great Course, but I found his personal experiences candid and refreshing.) Dr. Martin always quotes ancient and contemporary philosophers as how their writings would weigh on the issues he raises. Thus, this in not only a contemporary course, but relies on established philosophical writings as a reference point. As I went through each lecture, I did not always agree with the concluding position that Dr. Martin took on an issue. However, despite my occasional disagreement, I was forced to think about my position vis-à-vis Dr. Martin. I highly recommend this course to challenge one's thinking about contemporary moral and ethical issues
Date published: 2015-08-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Nothing New and disappointing I was excited to start listening to this course but was soon disappointed. The topics sounded interesting and fresh but the content was stale and offered nothing new. For me there was too much emphasis on ancient philosophers and not enough on modern day thought. I agree with another reviewer who was bothered by the way Mr. Clancy shared openly about what he saw as his brothers character flaws. Disclosing things about oneself can be a way to engage the listener, but publicly shaming a friend or colleague seems unnecessary, distracting, and well, morally offensive.
Date published: 2015-08-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good material, but flawed presentation I was very interested in these topics, but I thought Prof. Martin could have done a better job. Just a couple of examples. He often says things like "We all know ..... " and "We all agree ..." In fact, that's not true, as I didn't know in some cases what he was talking about. And it's presuming a great deal to think that everybody agrees with a certain value. I also think he is sloppy in his presentation to the point where his credibility is flawed. When he talks about the ethics of requiring pharmacists to dispense Plan B prescriptions, it's a good topic. But a couple of times he refers to pharmacists "prescribing" this drug. If a pharmacist did prescribe a drug, that pharmacist should lose his or her license. Yes, I knew what he was talking about. But Prof. Martin didn't make this crucial distinction. I think he also put too much emphasis on ancient examples from Plato and Aristotle and not enough on issues we face today. For example, what are the ethics of a convenience store clerk whose conscience says she should not sell cigarettes? Or a grocery clerk who doesn't believe in selling liquor?
Date published: 2015-08-06
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