"So what's it gonna take? Silver shadow believer..." -Shiny Toy Guns

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Potter Box Revisited

I have way too much crap. So yesterday, while going through and throwing away some school stuff, I ran across an old binder from Ethics. Inside were notes on the Potter Box and no, this has nothing to do with Harry Potter. The Potter Box is a framework method used for making ethical decisions. Developed by scholar Ralph B. Potter Jr., a theologian and professor of Social Ethics at Harvard, I believe it to be absolute genius! It has landed Potter a spot on my heroes list, that’s for sure.
People who also had to take Ethics are saying, “Oh my god she’s not really going to discuss the Potter’s Box right now, is she?” But, of all the classes I took for my major- besides writing for the Newspaper of course, Ethics was my favorite. It was difficult; it is harder than you think to make an ethical decision. Is it ethical to give all the information? Is it ethical to withhold information for their protection? You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t, in most cases. Someone somewhere will always be pissed off.
When Potter developed this moral reasoning method he came up with four categories he felt were universal to all ethical problems. According to Potter people use Facts, Values, Principles, and Loyalties as moral analysis in formulating a decision.
1.) The Facts- are, the facts. Who, What, When, Where, Why. It’s also the time you would identify the problem. What's the issue?
2.) Values- what are your values? This is also the time to take other people’s values into consideration, from their perspectives. For example, I try not to swear around my Grandma. I know that she doesn’t like it and her values say that, “ladies” do not talk like that. I would probably reach a different decision taking her values into consideration versus that of my friends.
3.) Loyalties- who are you loyal to? As a journalist you would be loyal to the public. But you might also be loyal to your boss, loyal to your family, your religion, etc. You could be loyal to yourself. For instance, you could know that your current situation is not right for you and in order to be loyal to yourself you would need to remove yourself from it.
4.) The Principles- are taken from philosopher’s (sometimes ancient) ideas. It's basically the approach you will take to reaching a decision. An idea you believe would be the best way to solve the problem. It’s always hard for me to choose just one, but its okay to use more than one.
Aristotle’s Golden Mean- the word “mean” means half-way between two extremes; basically, to find a balanced outcome. Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who lived somewhere in 384 BC. He said, “All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire.”
Confucius Golden Mean- is the compromise principle. Confucius was an ancient Chinese philosopher who said to find the middle ground. I find this and Aristotle’s to be very similar. He said, "Respect yourself and others will respect you.”
Kant’s Categorical Imperative- is what we should never do, what has become our universal law. “Thou shall not kill,” etc. Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher who lived in the 1700’s. He said, “Act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world.”
Mill’s Principle of Utility- said, “Seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.” John Stuart Mills was a British philosopher who lived in the 1800’s. He said, “All desirable things... are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as a means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain.”
Rawl’s Veil of Ignorance- says to place yourself in the position of the people our decision may influence. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, for example. He said, “The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance.” Think of the veil of ignorance as looking the other way, like when people call smog fog in order to keep in denial that the air is polluted.
The Judeo Christian Principle- also referred to as the Agape says, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." You know all that stuff it says in the bible; a lot of what our Constitution was based on.
It’s not necessary to go in a particular order, it is a linked system but, I usually start with the facts and work towards the principles. So, I write out the facts, then values involded, then the loyalties, and close with the principles. Two people with the same problem could come out with two very different decisions when using the Potter Box. I found it best to write it all down, it really helps weigh out the pros and cons. As indecisive as I am, it may be beneficial to use this for making the big choices.


Big Night Fan said...

Pretty heady stuff, A. Nice. I have to admit, in my case, I'm to the point where I'm throwing all the "textbook" stuff out and going with one thing: What does my intuition say? I don't know...Maybe I'VE been playing too much poker of late!

Timothy said...

I was looking for information on the Potter Box (one of the few things I remember from a Comm Ethics class), and came across your excellent, concise description. Thank you!