Site Map The Secular Morality Project - Towards a Shared Morality

Running an Ethical Jury

Overall process
An ethical jury needs someone to facilitate it who should, ideally, be assisted by someone who can make notes on flip charts as the event progresses.

  1. Gather a jury and explain the ethical jury process and the Secular Morality Project context
  2. Agree upon the choice of dilemma.
  3. Present the dilemma in detail. Clarify any points of fact
  4. Agree on a Dilemma Resolution Process
  5. Develop the solution
  6. Analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the resolution process and the tools used
  7. Prepare a report on the event and share it with the Secular Morality Project

Dilemma Resolution Processes
Thousands of years of philosophising present many candidates for the toolbox but we are only just starting to collect dilemma resolution processes. The one below was found to be helpful for a complex personal dilemma.
  1. Agree on some relevant objectives that any solution should satisfy. These may be more specific than the "principles" and equate more to "policies".
  2. Agree some actions that were or could have been part of the solution.
  3. Construct a flowchart if appropriate
  4. Assess the likely outcomes of the action choices and their fit to the objectives
  5. Decide which actions should have been followed
When a political dilemma was submitted to a jury, something simpler was found more appropriate as follows:
  1. Identify issues that a solution might be affected by
  2. Discuss the issues, identifying where possible, principles that might be relevant to them
  3. Strip away some of the detail to uncover the more generic dilemma that it is an instance of
  4. Come to a personal decision on the solution and declare it
These methods can be improved upon, and perhaps varied according to the type of dilemma, but does represent progress from early ethical juries.

Toolbox Contents
The following moral principles are suggested as initial contents of the toolbox. More information on each one can be found by following their links.
The Golden Rule
Do as you would be done by.
Choose the action that results in the least aggregate harm.
The Triax - Philip Veasey
Kindness: Recognising that humans have evolved as social animals and that it is in our nature and to our advantage to look out for one another.
Courage: Managing your fears and not letting them stop you doing what you think is right.
Self-Honesty: Defined as never lying to yourself (lying to others is not excluded and may sometimes be kind). You should not be surprised to see people forgetting this definition, as the ethical jury progresses, and assuming it is the same as not lying to others. It may need repeating a few times.
Kant's Categorical Imperatives
1st "Act only on that maxim which you could will to be universal law."
2nd "Always treat other people as ends in themselves, never as means to an end."

Balancing objectives/principles: It is clear that part of the process requires us to make judgements about the relevant importance of different principles/objectives in a situation where they appear to conflict. It would be good if we can develop some "systematic" ways of doing this so that our decisions are less arbitrary.
Morals v. Tactics: Although principles are valuable guides to moral decision making, each situation will usually also present opportunities to employ tactics which appear to be morally neutral but which can greatly affect the value of the outcome. It will be found that many of a jury's suggestions are of this kind and the distinction needs to be recognised.
Flow Charts: Although the ethical jury sets out to arrive at a unique decision on what to do when faced with the dilemma, it may seem very unreasonable to expect anyone to make all the best decisions and have all the best ideas in a complex situation. Rather than one decision, the outcome may be more like a decision flow chart that could be used to guide anyone in such a situation in the future.
Emotions: It is helpful to warn the jury to be as self-aware as possible with regard to the way they are making decisions. Nothing wrong with emotions, but best to recognise the part they are playing. In some situations, jurors may attach very strong emotions to their prior opinions and care is required not to let this derail the process. One should also remember to protect a juror who has volunteered their dilemma from over- intrusive questioning.
Personal Dilemmas: One of the main advantages of sticking with personal dilemmas is that one avoids losing a lot of time arguing about what actually happened. The facts are only important in that they define a scenario that can be analysed. If there is dispute, agree on a version for the purposes of the exercise and move on.