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Some final comments

We have still dodged the question about whether the ethics tests are good versions of the more complex ethical theories they represent. A simple answer is to capitulate on this question. Of course they do not represent the full complexity of these theories.

For example, the Harm/Beneficence test ignores many large problems with consequentialist theories. Including beneficence ignores the difficulty of requiring perfection in decision and action (is one obligated always to do the best thing for all humankind?). The test is phrased as an act-utilitarian approach, one that has been shown to be unworkable in practice because it requires (perhaps infinite) deliberation before every act. Rule-utilitarian approaches skirt this difficulty, but have their own problems

We might do this exercise with the other two ethics tests and come to similar conclusions. Thus, if the only goal of a course is to teach students the complexities of these ethical approaches, we would not recommend using these tests (though our perverse imaginations suggest ways even this might be done). These tests are designed for applied courses whose goals are to help students learn to think ethically within their profession (see our comments on goals in ethics courses).

There is good reason to believe that it is a bad idea to treat these ethical approaches as foundational rules from which correct answers can be derived (see for example, Stephen Tolumin "The Tyranny of Principles," The Hastings Center Report, 1981; Stephen Tolumin, "How Medicine Saved the Life of Ethics, " Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 25, 4, Summer 1982). As you can see from this essay, this is not the way we think these tests should be used. And therefore we think that their direct correspondence to the ethical approaches becomes less of an issue. These are guidelines, not first principles in a deductive solution.

Finally, we do not think these test should be used alone. Much research on moral reasoning suggests that experts in professional ethics spend much of their time thinking at an "intermediate" level about the ethical issues at stake in a case (see for example Keefer M. & Ashley, K.D. (2001) Case-based Approaches to Professional Ethics: A Systematic Comparison of Students' and ethicists' Moral Reasoning. Journal of Moral Education 30: 377-398; Bebeau, M.J., & Thoma, S.J. (1999) Intermediate Concepts and the Connection to Moral Education. Educational Psychology Review, 11(4): 343-360.). So, we encourage instructors to mix these tests up with exercises that emphasize these intermediate concepts.

Another reason these tests should not be used alone is that they are not even exhaustive of the possible approaches to thinking about the ethics of a situation. In the socio-technical analyses of the cases, we encourage students to think about how power is used in the systems that the cases involve. This concentration on the appropriate (just, careful) use of power is a central element in feminist ethics. We did not add a "power test" to the list because we felt the list was already too long. But the careful instructor will make sure students think about their use of the power that comes with being a professional.