Site Map The Secular Morality Project - Towards a Shared Morality

What is an Ethical Jury?

Ethical Juries are meetings where a moral dilemma is chosen and discussed by a group (of about 12). The objective is to reach some agreement on how it should be resolved. The method for a basic ethical jury is:

  1. Gather a jury - usually a humanist group.
  2. Ask those attending to describe moral dilemmas that they had personally experienced.
  3. Select one of these dilemmas.
  4. Discuss it while taking care to protect the example giver from embarrassment.
  5. Define possible resolutions and vote on which was thought most "moral".

Such events are usually enjoyed by all concerned but go no further. In the Secular Morality Project, any learning about morality is captured by adding a feedback loop into the project as illustrated in the diagram below.

If the juries are conducted in a way that reveals how the moral decisions were made, then the principles that were being used can be identified, tested and refined by use. Principles can be thought of as a toolbox used by the ethical juries. Hopefully, their use by numerous juries will lead to them being widely accepted as effective tools. Once the contents of the toolbox stabilises, it could be published as a set of moral principles that are brief, easy to understand and, although distinctively secular, have wide acceptability, even among the religious.

The diagram shows how, once a dilemma has been chosen, a suitable process for its resolution should be agreed upon and used. A library of processes that have been effective in the past will be available from the project but the jury may have to improvise. The project will also supply the latest version of the toolbox, containing those principles which people have found most helpful in making moral decisions. These can be added to by jury members who feel something new could be useful. Observations on the effectiveness of the tools and the process should be made throughout the event and these included in a report that is shared with the project. Jury facilitators should get together periodically and agree on improved versions of tools and processes.

Advice on running ethical juries is available here. Reports on past ethical juries and more material, on process and toolbox items that are currently in use or under discussion, can be found in the Project Library