On September 5th 2016 the Irish School of Ecumenics hosted an ethics workshop on behalf of the Slandail Project. The workshop was led by Professor Charles Ess of the University of Oslo’s Department of Media and Communication.
Professor Ess focussed on the role of *phronesis* or judgement in ethical decision-making. What we often dub “judgement calls” implicate knowledge that is difficult to articulate. We speak of “gut feeling” or “going with your heart”.
Most work in the field of ethics focusses on deliberative, or determinative decision-making: “top-down” ethical judgements that run from (more or less) accepted general principles to specific ethical conclusion(s). This contrasts with “bottom-up” judgement-calls that must be made, in circumstances of often incomplete contextual information. He highlighted the renewed relevance of the approach of virtue ethics in providing a framework for exploring how practices can be put in place to best enable and foster good judgements.
Subsequent discussions explored the implications of this for decision-making in disaster response circumstances, where information is often incomplete, the context is complex, and time is short. The importance of training, integrating organisations with different operational practices and cultures, recognition of the diversity of the affected population, accountability that doesn’t fixate on apportioning blame, the place for experience and wisdom were recognised and discussed.
Professor Ess gave the following summary of the workshop: “From my perspective, the workshop went exceedingly well. I say this from a general background experience of having developed and led such workshops for many years. In particular, workshops involving such a diverse group of participants – including computer scientists and related technical professionals, as well as police and other first-responders – are the most challenging, especially for the sorts of philosophically-oriented analyses that I take up. I was very pleasantly surprised, however, first by the clearly good collegiality that prevailed across the diverse groups, and second by their familiarity with and receptiveness to philosophical approaches to the ethical challenges evoked in the project. These sorts of atmospheres and relationships are extraordinarily difficult to establish and foster: such an environment obviously made the workshop that much more fruitful and enjoyable.”