Unit 1

What is Ethics?


What is specific about ethics: The moral point of view

a. The universal experience of duty
b. Moral experience is universal, but moral contents are in many cases different throughout time and space
c. Universality and variability of human morality
d. The goal of ethics
e. Moral statements

Facts, values, and duties

a. Three types of judgements.
b. Different, but not independent

An ethical method of reasoning

a. First step: Fact deliberation
b. Second step: Value deliberation
c. Third step: Duty deliberation
d. Fourth step: Tests of consistency
e. Fifth step: Final decision


Twelve Angry Men / (S. Lumet, 1957)

A 12-man jury is sent to begin deliberations in the first-degree murder trial of an 18-year-old Latino accused in the stabbing death of his father, where a guilty verdict means an automatic death sentence. The case appears to be open-and-shut. Eleven of the jurors immediately vote guilty; only Juror No. 8 casts a not guilty vote, basing his vote for the sake of discussion. The jurors must believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty.

Ethical Issues
Prejudices, unreliable judgments and cultural differences.

Problem outline & Discussion:

Problem outline

• 12 Angry Men (1957) is the gripping, penetrating, and engrossing examination of a diverse group of twelve jurors (all male, mostly middle-aged, white, and generally of middle-class status) who are uncomfortably brought together to deliberate after hearing the ’facts’ in a seemingly open-and-shut murder trial case. They retire to a jury room to do their civic duty and serve up a just verdict for the indigent minority defendant (with a criminal record) whose life is in the balance.

• The jury of twelve ’angry men,’ entrusted with the power to send an uneducated, teenaged Puerto Rican, tenement-dwelling boy to the electric chair for killing his father with a switchblade knife, are literally locked into a small, claustrophobic rectangular room on a stifling hot summer day until they come up with a unanimous decision - either guilty or not guilty. The compelling, provocative film examines the twelve men’s deep-seated personal prejudices, perceptual biases and weaknesses, indifference, anger, personalities, unreliable judgments, cultural differences, ignorance and fears, that threaten to taint their decision-making abilities, cause them to ignore the real issues in the case, and potentially lead them to a miscarriage of justice.

• Fortunately, one brave dissenting juror votes ’not guilty’ at the start of the deliberations because of his reasonable doubt. Persistently and persuasively, he forces the other men to slowly reconsider and review the shaky case (and eyewitness testimony) against the endangered defendant. He also chastises the system for giving the unfortunate defendant an inept ’court-appointed’ public defense lawyer who "resented being appointed" - a case with "no money, no glory, not even much chance of winning" - and who inadequately cross-examined the witnesses. Heated discussions, the formation of alliances, the frequent re-evaluation and changing of opinions, votes and certainties, and the revelation of personal experiences, insults and outbursts fill the jury room.


After watching the video, a general discussion of its content will take place. The teacher should organize and conduct the debate. The goal of the discussion will be to see this movie as a process of deliberation, in order to take a wise decision about the case. One important point to be stressed is the difficulty of deliberating correctly, due to many constraints and biases, some psychological, other educational, characterological, etc. The first question to be asked for is why these twelve men are so “angry”. And the answer is because they have anguish. Anguish is the general reaction against psychological aggression. And we consider, in general, that everyone who argues against our opinions is assaulting us. This is the most important difficulty in the deliberation process: to assume that the own point of view is not absolute, that our reasons about something can’t exhaust the matter and that the others, giving different or, also, opposite reasons, are not necessarily wrong, and can help us to progress in the analysis of problems. In order to take part in a true process of deliberation, it is necessary to have some intellectual modesty or humility, that is, the Socratic wisdom of “knowing not to know”. This is the only way to be capable of listening to the others and progress all together in searching the truth. Deliberation is a rational process of interaction, in order to take wise decisions. And it works well when the final decision is wiser than that we were prone to take at the beginning of the process. In the movie the change of opinion of quite all the participants is evident; the last opinion is also wiser than the first. This is the true test of consistency of a deliberation process.