International Summer University in Social Work 

‪More and More Moral Decisions‬‬‬

Prof. Gabriel Abend — New-York University, USA

Discussions about ethics in society, politics, and the economy frequently use the words “choice,” “decision,” and “decision-making.” For example, they may say that Elena chose to devote her life to fighting poverty and inequality, Antonio decided to emigrate to Germany, and Babette decided to become a more pious Catholic. They may say that economic actors, organizations, professionals, social workers, practitioners, etc. face difficult moral choices on a daily basis. Further, both academic and popular accounts of morality tend to equate it with moral decision-making. They underscore decision-making situations or scenarios, an individual who has options before her, and the rules and principles that may guide her choice. Accordingly, research and teaching focus on either how choices are made (e.g., psychologists, sociologists, and neuroscientists) or how choices should be made (e.g., practical ethicists). Here I’d like to raise five questions. First, how well these accounts of morality map onto actual people’s lives; how often people actually make moral choices. Second, what these accounts might be missing; what a moral life might comprise that the concepts of choice and decision overlook. Third, what counts as a choice or decision in the first place (and what doesn’t) and what should count as one (and what shouldn’t). Fourth, why the concepts of choice, decision, decision-making, and decision-maker are so widespread and effective. Thinking in broader historical and comparative terms, where these concepts are central to morality and where they aren’t. Fifth, whether other understandings and representations of ourselves might be morally preferable—and hence we morally ought to choose them.

  • Abend, Gabriel. 2013. “What the Science of Morality Doesn’t Say about Morality.” Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Vol. 43, pp. 157-200.
  • Abend, Gabriel. 2014. The Moral Background: An Inquiry into the History of Business Ethics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Murdoch, Iris. 1956. “Vision and Choice in Morality.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 30, pp. 32-58.
  • Pincoffs, Edmund. 1971. “Quandary Ethics.” Mind, Vol. 80, pp. 552-571.