Types of Ethical Statements

Thinking about ethical issues can become confusing and it is helpful to distinguish between the three kinds of statements than can be made about ethical issues.

Factual Statements

Factual statements can be either true or false and can be confirmed or proved false by practical observation. For example:

A civil technologist may be accused of specifying insufficient reinforcing bar in a foundation wall but there can be no doubting the actual amount used when it is counted before the concrete is poured.

Factual disagreements are resolved by collecting the relevant facts.

Conceptual Statements

Conceptual statements centre on the meaning of the terminology being used or the scope covered by the terminology. For example:

A technician may state that allowing fluorocarbons from old refrigeration equipment to escape into the atmosphere is acceptable because he believes that there is no link between their release and the hole in the ozone.

Conceptual disagreements are resolved by considering one definition against another.

Moral Statements

Moral statements are declarations that an activity or belief is right or wrong.

A building project manager may state that he believes it acceptable to give hockey tickets to a local building inspector who is known to accept gifts from other contractors.

Moral disagreements are resolved by considering broad, basic moral principles.

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