What is practical ethics? How should we do it well?
There are two broad approaches. The first, the Evangelist Model, aims to convert people to be better citizens, to cause people to behaviour more ethically. It is premised on knowledge of ethical truths, of clear insight into what is right and what is wrong. Peter Singer is perhaps the most famous living bioethical Evangelist.
The second broad approach is the Socratic Model. It is not premised on knowledge of truth or directly aiming at transmission of truth or changing behaviour. Its goal is inquiry and reflection, the discovery of ethical truths. The goal of such an approach is to provoke people to think ethically for themselves, to engage in deeper reflection and to arrive an ethical conclusion of what they should do. This book is an example of the Socratic Model.
While much of my own work argues for a particular course of action, like allowing doping in sport, the primary (unstated) goal is not to realise such actions, but to cause people to think, by the use of provocative argument. There are many ways to encourage people to think. But one way is to consider the unthinkable.
Michael Sandel once famously wrote we should be “open to the unbidden”. I believe we should be open to the forbidden. Open in the sense that we can articulate the reasons for why the forbidden is wrong. But ethics is about progress and reform, as well as justifying our intutions. In many cases, rational reflection will cause us to revise our beliefs about what should be forbidden and indeed what we have moral imperative to do.
It is by considering the controversial that we can get people to think, to exercise their ethical muscles. In that way, we discover our own reasons for action.