In the realm of ethical decision-making, familiarity breeds a kind of ethical stability . In other words, as long as the people, cultural setting, values and issues are reliably known to those involved, then the kinds of ethical decisions those people are required to make will be adequately familiar for them to do so in reliably manageable ways. Being ethical will be but too challenging nor too difficult for them to understand. Thus, ethnic familiarity breeds ethical stability .
Newness and change, however, can breed a kind of ethical instability . When new people enter the setting bringing a very different culture and a different different set of values, and having different customs and practices, then it is likely that new problems will show between and between both groups. The meeting and interchange between and among the principles and processes familiar to these groups is where the difficulties arise. To use a different vocabulary, this is a conflict between their principles and processes.
Ethical Principles are the values and preferences of a group as imagined, articulated and understood. They expect that all the ordinary activities of life revolve around them. They actually see and perceive the reality of the world from the perspective of those values and preferences. For example, a group will articulate just how much and what kinds of assertive behaviors are allowed (eg, organized sports) and which ones are outlawed (eg, gladiatorial combat & dueling to the death).
Ethical Processes are the ways in which ethical decisions are made . This includes how the ethical principles and issues are perceived, how they are analyzed, how the principles are applied and how competitive principles are seen in relationship to each other. For example the ancient Oath of Hippocrates "not to administrator a poison nor to recommend such a course" seems clear, and yet, in modern medical practice "chemo-therapy" is specifically that, the administration of poison, but in a controlled and prudent manner for the good health of the patient. Indeed, the Hippocratic Oath has changed with time. Clearly competent health care professionals had to actively engage a moral dilemma, analyze the facts, and with great information and imagination, devise and risk a new course of action. Here, big changes can come about, but ideally of course, only with careful, responsible, competent and reasonable engagement by all concerned.
The Reality of Ethical Evolution and Revolution: The process of applying principles can be anything from simple and easy to most complex and difficult. Circumstances and situations demand a nuanced appreciation for many ethical issues. That is why civilizations have developed classes or professions of judges of all sorts (eg, the judicial, boards of review, and umpires in athletic contests) who spend their time studying, practicing, reviewing, assessing, weighing and deciding within the concepts of real -life issues. It is from just such considerations as these principals and processes are sometimes found to meet their limits because of changes in circumstances, situations, knowledge and popular moral insight and acceptance. Some ethical principles and processes previously considered ethical become unethical (eg, those allowing for slavery and polygamy, and vigilante law enforcement and dueling, respectively). Some principals and processes previously considered unethical become ethical (eg, charging interest on loans, and economic capitalism and chemo-therapy, respectively). And to make things even more complicated, there often develop a ratione for exceptions to the ordinary ethical norm.
For the various ethics systems of principles and processes to be healthy, meaningful and manageable, both principles and processes must be in constant states of development, evolution and revolution. Thus, we must avoid taking refuge in a few preferred principles in order to avoid healthy growth or really new issues. We must also beware of becoming so shallow and unhealthy as to have simplistic or silly principals. Likewise, we must reform and revise ethical processes (even some ancient ones) some of which effectiveness have diminished and even become destructive (eg, tribal prejudices, cultural hatreds and superstitious beliefs) in the various 21st Century, cosmopolitan, multicultural ethnic frames of reference . (Yes, there are numerous healthy ethical systems in the world.) And, we must avoid having ethical processes which are far too complicated for ordinary society members to grasp, understand and find effective in ordinary daily life. All ethics is personal. The ultimate ethical question is how both the collective society and society's individual members are assisted by the ethical principles and ethical processes we embrace and use.
Healthy ethical dynamics between and among ethical principles and ethical processes are critical to making good sense a way of life.