Social Ethical Models

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Social Ethical Models

Modeling of social groups for purposes of understanding behaviors is a practice as old as Plato. Reasons for understanding social behavior range from efforts at governance (i.e., Plato, Machiavelli, Disraeli) to marketing (targeting specific groups) to scientific analysis. Social ethical modeling, a more recent phenomenon, combines ethical analysis with social analysis, and is used to understand and predict different ethical beliefs and responses by groups of individuals when given similar situations or ethical dilemmas.

Every individual holds his own set of ethical beliefs; however, many ethicists believe that certain groups of individuals who share common underlying beliefs, outlooks, or life perspectives, will also share mutual ethical and moral views. By grouping these individuals, the social ethicist attempts to understand why these societal groups believe and behave the way they do. This practice, most social ethicists believe, will increase human understanding of social behaviors and lead to increased tolerance and empathy among individuals. In addition, social modeling helps individuals understand their own decisions. Dealing with ethical issues is often perplexing and without the benefits of a decision-making model supported by ethical positions people are apt to repeat their mistakes.

Creating Models

One method used to determine social groupings for ethical modeling is to follow the standard steps of ethical dilemma resolution1 and apply social groups to see how they would or should respond. By finding similarities with specific social groupings, useful models for prediction may be deduced.

A standard process for reasoning through an ethical dilemma is to:

  • Define the ethical issue. Get all the relevant facts. Consider it from as many perspectives as possible. Is it an individual issue or a social one? Does the issue impact one or many?
  • Clarify the goals. What is the expected outcome and does it align with other goals and priorities?
  • Understand or clarify the underlying approach that will be taken. What is the moral outlook (discussed more below) taken to resolve the issue?
  • Develop the options.
  • Consider the consequences.
  • Choose.
  • Monitor and modify.

Following a set of individuals' anticipated responses to the above steps should lead to effective grouping for modeling purposes. The third step above asks for consideration of the underlying approach that will be taken. This is relates to the individual or group's belief systems and is paramount in social ethical modeling. There are many different paradigms to be found for social ethical modeling. However, these all may be reduced to one of two underlying prototypes. According to Professor Felix Pomeranz:

Two operational models have emerged from the work of philosophers and theologians: (1) The Golden Rule Model, derived from the New Testament, states that one should treat other people in the same way that he or she would want to be treated, and (2) The right-driven or Kantian model, named for the philosopher Immanuel Kant, rests on the assumption that every person has basic right in a moral universe (i.e.; an action is morally correct if it minimizes the aggregate violation of the rights of all stakeholders).2

The Constitution of the United States as well as the prevalent Western mindset is based upon the second view. The idea that "All men are created equal and have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is the foundation of American societal reasoning and follows the Kantian assumption of individual rights within a moral universe.

Orthodox theology, morality, and ethics follow more closely the first paradigm; that is there is a moral agent (God) governing the universe. In the Orthodox perspective, individual rights are aligned with God's law, teachings, and loving guidance. Orthodox social ethics are the ethics of the person created in God's image, and growing in his likeness (theosis). This should form the basis for all Orthodox ethical decision-making and it will be foundational when considering the Orthodox within any social ethical model.

With this dichotomy of moral/ethical approaches considered as the foundation, then subsets may be identified. Within either paradigm social subsets may include nationalities, sex, age, businessmen, farmers, priests, etc. By considering how groups respond to ethical dilemmas, and by understanding their foundational moral, ethical approach, then useful social ethical models can be developed.