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Becoming a Critical Thinker, Canadian Edition (Diestler/Mahy)
Chapter 2 Values and Ethics
1. Goals of this chapter
a. Students learn to recognize how values and ethical beliefs can be used in
b. Students learn how values and ethical beliefs are prioritized in situations where
two (or more) values conflict.
c. Students become more aware of their own values and ethical beliefs in order to
recognize how they have used their own values/ethical beliefs in arguments.
2. Using exercises from the text
a. Question Man: Fictional Character You Admire Most? (page 27)
Many students can acknowledge where their values come from but seeing how
those values are influenced by our assessment of people, characters or issues is
often more difficult.
Question Man allows students to explore how when interviewed, the values
people attributed to a character can be compared to the values that their
professions hold. As a group exercise, you may assign each group one or two of
the people interviewed and have them use chart paper and create a table with
two columns – “Profession & Values” and “Character & Values”.
It is important to point out that the column “Profession and Values” will illustrate
how the students perceive what that profession values. (Use the Stop and Think
(page 27) to have students further their conversations about their own values.
b. Exercise 2.5 on ethical decision-making (pages 43 – 44) can be done as a group
or pair exercise. Prepare a current ethical dilemma (report from a school
newspaper or local paper) so that the students have the same material to work
from. This dilemma can then be considered in light of each of the “tests” for
ethical decision-making. These tests are excellent thinking exercises; you may
find that students come up with different ways of understanding each test,
lending insight into each other’s dilemmas.
Class Feedback/Follow-up Exercises:
a. Class Exercise (page 35) helps students isolate value conflicts in a variety of
social issues. To review argument structure and draw attention to the role of
values in arguments, it would be beneficial for the whole class to work through
the first issue before beginning the exercise. The exercise can be done as a
lecture-discussion, in class groups, or as homework
b. Exercise 2.2, #3 (page 42) lists several ethical dilemmas that are good for class
discussion. Students may work in teams to develop the ‘best reasons’ for to
support their answer in each situation. Students should be prepared to identify
the ethical school they are applying when stating their reasons.
a. Exercise 2.1 (page 41) challenges students to examine various value systems
(their own or one to which they don’t subscribe) and to note how differing value
systems affect decision-making. This can be a particularly subjective exercise
so students should be encouraged to identify the position from which they are
speaking. This exercise can provide excellent material for class discussions
related to diversity.
b. Exercise 2.2 challenges students to be ethical for a week (page 41, #2).Students
should see this as a journal activity requiring a reflection. Students document the
number of value conflicts and the particular issues in which they experienced the
value conflict. The conclusion that students draw at the end of the week is that it
is difficult to be “ethical” because of different value priority choices. A class
discussion may be drawn from the exercise highlighting the importance of clarity
in a pluralistic society.
a. For Exercise 2.6, 1 and 2 on common rationalizations (page 44), you can divide
the class into groups (with four as the ideal number of group members). Each
group can take one or two of the common rationalizations and “teach” it to other
class members. Encourage each group to teach their segment with examples
and role-plays so that other students can really grasp and recognize the
b. For Exercise 2.6, 2 (page 44), students can write a short dialogue in which they
‘write in’ the particular rationalization. Have students choose well-known
characters in order to identify the example with a particular social or political line
Global Village Box Exercises:
“Thinking about Transnati
a. The questions linked to the box can be used for class discussion, or an individual
writing assignment such as a journal.
b. “Afghanistan: Between Hope and Fear” is a CBC documentary available through
the CBC website. Students can analyze different segments to assess for values
and to identify particular value conflicts.
c. “Audition” is a Canadian documentary film by Nelofer Pazira that explores the
values and changes in values concerning women in Afghanistan. This film
follows Pazira as she holds auditions for a new film in which she hopes both
Afghan men and women will have roles. In preparation for a viewing of the film,
students can research what the values are concerning “gaze” in Islamic culture.
3. Supplemental lecture and exercise ideas
onal Values: in Afghanistan” (page 35)
Christopher Waddell of PEN has written on the particular ethical issues
could analyze Waddell’s report (pages 48 – 49) by identifying the values
discussed and summarize the value conflicts. As an exercise to extend values in
journalism, students could research
b. “Prime Minister Harper Offers Full Apology on Behalf of Canadians for the Indian
Residential Schools System” (pp. 52 – 53) can be used as a lecture/class
discussion on how values within ethical systems can change. This can be done
in lecture format (PowerPoint) that demonstrates how what was once valued
within a system has changed. For this article, the value in Christianity that “all
must become Christian” – through the process of evangelization, assimilation –
to the current Christian value that “all faiths and creeds must be respected”. This
historical/religious discussion can be difficult, but it highlights the challenges in
our society and the shift in values that is part of Canadian history.
4. Films for Analysis and Discussion
Many film, theatre, and television plots involve different value assumptions, priorities,
and conflicts. When you go to a movie, notice the value conflicts that are shown through
the plot and expressed by the various characters. Here are a few examples.
Million Dollar Baby (2004, PG-13)
This movie follows the dreams of Maggie (Hilary Swank) to become a boxing contender
under the tutelage of Frank (Clint Eastwood); the only man she thinks can help her
realize her dream. Through pure determination and negotiation, Maggie breaks the
hardened Frank and convinces him not only to train her, but also manage her career as
a female boxing champion. This film is full of inner conflicts, both of values and ethics,
for each character we encounter. Initially, Frank is conflicted by the prospect of training
a “girl boxer,” afraid she is too old and will not only lose every fight she’s in, but also get
seriously hurt in the process. As the film progresses, Frank faces an unsettling ethical
dilemma that will change the course of both Maggie and Frank’s lives forever.
that have faced journalists in . As an individual writing activity, students
the work of PEN .
Similar Films and Classics:
Do the Right Thing (1989, R)
In this acclaimed Spike Lee film, which takes place primarily on one hot day in Brooklyn,
many different characters represent specific beliefs and values. Note how their various
beliefs affect their behaviour in relationships and in the decisions they make.
Chariots of Fire (1981, PG)
This film about British sprinters competing in the 1924 Olympics is filled with value
conflicts. Eric Little has to decide whether to compete or devote himself completely to
his missionary goals; he also has to decide whether to compete on a Sunday, a day that
he holds sacred. The Olympic committee has to decide whether or not to change the
time of the race to accommodate Eric, the top contender for the 100-meter race. In
addition, a teammate has to decide whether to let Eric compete in his place in the 400-
The Fountainhead (1949)
This classic film, based on the book by Ayn Rand, concerns an idealistic architect who
must decide between his artistic vision and the compromises necessary to sustain work
in his field.
Sister Act (1993, PG)
In this film, Whoopie Goldberg plays Deloris Van Cartier, a lounge singer trying to make
it big. She was many decisions to make that involve value conflicts, including whether to
stay with her mobster boyfriend, who is still married, whether to enter a witness
protection program when she witnesses a murder, whether to becoming involved in a
convent choir, and whether to leave the choir before an important performance.
The Mighty Ducks (1992, PG)
This film reveals, in the opening segment, a painful event that shapes the life of Gordon
Bombay, who has since become a successful lawyer. After a charge of drunk driving,
Gordon is assigned to work with young players and the experience forces him to
examine the values he learned at a young age. Note especially how he is given an
opportunity to display the congruence between his real values and ideal values toward
the end of the film.
Match the correct ethical system with the value assumption:
a. Religious values
e. Prima facie values (universal ethical principles)
1. Value assumption: The highest value is to promote the liberty of all.
(c) page 36
2. Value assumption: The highest value is that which promotes the greatest general
happiness and minimizes unhappiness.
(b) page 36
3. Value assumption: The highest value is equality. Justice and fairness are
synonymous with equality.
(d) page 36
4. Value assumption: The highest values based on our relationship to God and our
love for others.
(a) page 36
5. Value assumption: Universal ethical principles exist and are self-evident and
obvious to rational individuals of every culture.
(e) page 36
6-9. More Matching: Tests for Ethical Decision-Making:
Match each test below to the test that is considered in the example.
a. Higher principles test
b. New cases test
c. Universal consequences test
d. Role exchange test
6. It is 3:00 a.m. and you are driving on a city street with virtually no traffic. You
come to a red light, and consider passing through the intersection, despite the red light.
Then you ask yourself, “What if everyone who drove decided it was O.K. to bend the
traffic rules, whenever they decided the traffic rules weren’t ‘applicable’ at that time?”
(c) page 42
7. You realize that your neighbour stocks his home office with supplies from work
because the matter is bantered about at a neighbourhood potluck. You decide not to
mention anything about the ethics of this matter, so as to maintain a good relationship.
Would you still make the same decision if the neighbour was obviously re-selling the
stolen office supplies at frequent garage sales, held across the street from your house,
sales that your friends and relatives attended?
(b) page 42
8. You are at a social gathering that is important to your career. Several of your coworkers are talking negatively about your boss. The boss has been good to you and
others, and you want to defend her but are afraid of being left out of the group. You
begin to wonder if honesty is always the best policy.
(a) page 43
9. On a Saturday afternoon, you are in a rush, and the line at the grocery store has
been long. You want to get home as quickly as possible. The cashier checks through
your apples as regular, not organic. You realize the mistake and think, “but I could save
a couple dollars because the regular apples are on sale.” Then, you think, how would I
feel if I paid more for an item and realized it after I got home.
d) page 42
10-15. Considering the four ethical tests listed in the previous question, choose one test
and apply it to the following situation: your roommate, spouse, or child asks you to tell
callers he isn’t home, when he actually is home. Describe the test you are applying to
the situation and document your analysis of the application here:
Role Exchange Test: “I would decide how I would feel if someone told me my friend
wasn’t home when he really was home. I wouldn’t appreciate being lied to, and so I
don’t think I would lie for someone else.”
Universal Consequences Test: “I would think about the consequences if everyone did
what my roommate, spouse, or child was asking me to do. If it became common
practice for people to lie about who is home, I think that could make lying in general
more acceptable, and that would be a bad thing. On the other hand, I’m not sure if any
major societal consequences would result or not; I think people consider these minor
deceptions and don’t consider them lies.”
The New Cases Test: “To come up with a new, harder case, I’d imagine someone I live
with asking me to say they are not home when I answer the door. That would be harder
because I would be lying to a person’s face. Since that clarifies that I would be lying in
either case, I wouldn’t want to do it.”
The Higher Principles Test: “The value conflict for me would be between pleasing my
roommate, child, or spouse, and telling the truth. Honesty is a higher principle for me
than the approval of others, so I would choose to be honest.”
16-24. Matching: Common Rationalizations
a. “If it’s necessary, it is ethical.”
b. “If it’s legal and permissible, it’s proper.”
c. “I was just doing it for you.”
d. “I’m just fighting fire with fire.”
e. “It doesn’t hurt anyone.”
f. “It can’t be wrong; everyone’s doing it.”
g. “It’s O.K. if I don’t gain personally.”
h. “I’ve got it coming.”
i. “This isn’t just about me; I am being objective.”
16. This rationalization is based on the false assumption that deceit, lying, promisebreaking, and other similar actions are justified if they are the same sort engaged in by
those you are dealing with.
(d) page 44
17. An office worker realizes that when supplies are ordered, other workers in the
office order supplies for their own ‘home use’. Therefore, the office worker decides to
add a few extra items to the next order for his/her own home use.
(f) page 44
18. This rationalization is based on the false assumption that one can deem an
action to be so necessary that ethics are not a consideration in choosing this action.
(a) page 43
19. This rationalization fits in the case of someone who works for a grocery store
giving food to the homeless behind the owner’s back.
(g) page 44
20. This rationalization could apply to fairly well-off, middle-class families who put all
their financial assets into relatives’ names at the time that their college-age children
enter college, so that the students can “qualify” for financial grants based on the
neediness of their family.
(b) page 43
21. This rationalization is based on a false assumption that whatever reward the
individual is helping himself to (without proper clearance and approval) is justified,
because the individual has earned this reward for services rendered.
(h) page 44
22. This rationalization might be used by a parent coach who allows his own son or
daughter to be the “star” of the team when in reality, the child is on a par with his or her
teammates. The rationalization underestimates the subtle ways in which gratitude,
friendship, and favors affect judgment.
(i) page 44
23. This rationalization works on the assumption that if there is no clear and
immediate harm to others, then the action must not be wrong.
(e) page 44
24. A secretary is frustrated with her supervisor’s messy desk and knows that many
of the documents on the desk are outmoded and irrelevant to the work. One day, she
cleans off the desk, throws old papers away, and puts everything in order. The
supervisor is angry that her possessions were disturbed without her permission. In
response, the secretary uses which rationalization?
(c) page 44
25-27. Choose three of the following issues and write what the value conflicts or
preferences would be between those who support the policy and those who oppose it.
Note to instructors: students may come up with different, but still legitimate, ways to
characterize the value conflicts than the examples below.
Should marijuana be classified as an legal drug?
Freedom of choice vs social health
Should college athletes receive special consideration concerning their academic
Individual rights over group rights
Should colleges mail student grades to parents who are paying tuition?
Should the media be allowed to expose personal problems of politicians?
Privacy versus public interest.
Freedom of the press versus the privacy of all individuals.
Should high school administrators be able to exclude controversial articles from the
Freedom of the press versus accountability of administrators.
Should birth parents be allowed to take their natural children back from adoptive parents
after one year?
Biological family priority over family in which the child has been raised. Biological
parents’ rights versus legal contract.
28-31. Describe the difference between value assumptions and reality
assumptions; use examples to support your descriptions.
(Note to instructors: you may need to discuss reality assumptions, covered more fully in
Chapter 3, before putting this question on the test.)
Value assumptions are beliefs about what is good and important which form the basis of
opinions on issues. (page 29 and page 32) Example: Should we have dental care
Reality assumptions focus on what is true and factual and sometimes what we take for
granted or as a given fact. (page 29) Example: Does cigarette smoking create lung
32-35. Explain how value prioritization is used to deal with value conflicts; use examples
to clarify your answer.
Value conflicts are disagreements about the priority different values should hold in
making decisions. (page 32) Examples would involve many controversial issues, such
covered under the Health Care Act?
as whether we should legalize drugs (freedom of choice versus health, or possible
crime reduction versus health).
36-39. Define ideal value and real value, using examples.
An ideal value is a value that you believe to be right and good but haven’t put into action
in your life. (page 39)
A real value is a value that you consider to be right and good and actually act upon in
your life. (page 39)
An ideal value would be believing that people should eat healthy foods, exercise, and
get enough rest.
A real value would be believing and acting on the belief that people should eat healthy
foods, exercise, and get enough rest.
The text names several ethical concerns for any message. Three of these concerns are
named below. Explain with your own reasoning why each would be an important ethical
40-41. “Do not leave out or distort important information.” (page 41)
Sample answer: “If information is left out, people who have to make decisions on
information are not able to weigh all of the relevant factors. If a lawyer in a criminal trial
leaves out relevant information, the jury may convict an innocent person or acquit a
42-43. “Thoroughly research any claims you make.” (page 41)
Sample answer: “If a reporter is covering a story, he or she needs to make sure that the
information reported is accurate; otherwise, the audience would be getting and maybe
passing on or acting on information that is not correct.”
44-45. “Give credit to secondary sources of information.” (page 41)
Sample answer: “It is dishonest or misleading to speak or write without giving credit to
the source of the information. Citing the source also allows people to look up the original
articles or books so that they can get more details about the topic.”
46-50. Discuss the value conflicts and ethical concerns in one of the articles from
Chapter 2; e.g., about the doctor’s ethical dilemma in prescribing placebos, about the
school’s dilemma in dealing with students who have deadly allergies.
(Note to instructors: the main point of this question is to assess the students’ ability to
recognize value conflicts and ethical concerns in larger articles, so that they are
equipped to be more discerning in their reading outside of class).
Value conflicts and ethical concerns addressed in articles:
On the story about prescribing placebos: There is a conflict here between the well-being
and health a patient may feel if he or she believes that real treatment is being given and
the patient’s right to know the truth about his or her condition.
On the school’s dilemma about students with peanut allergies: the dilemma for the
school is the protection of the lives of the allergic students versus the rights of other
students to have the freedom to pack and eat what they want for lunch.