Do You Stay Up at Night Wondering Whether You’re Doing the Right Things? There’s a Career for That!
Do you lie awake at night wondering about the right thing to do? Do your friends always come to you with their own moral quandaries?
If you think deeply about right and wrong, and other people trust your judgment, and don’t shrink away from a good debate, then a career as an ethicist could turn out to be your calling.
What Does an Ethicist Do?
Ethicists review situations from all sides and provide advice on what’s right and what’s wrong. They base their advice not just on what’s right for different individuals but on what’s best for society. Philosophers contemplate the nature of life, but many of them also make a lifelong study of ethics.
Most ethicists specialize in a particular field, such as business ethics or human rights. Thanks to recent technological advances in biology and medicine, along with the aging of the population, demand for health care ethicists has grown significantly and will continue to grow.
Your sense of ethics can come from many different sources. Some people look to their religious traditions to define right and wrong while others search for broader answers in philosophy, literature, and even conversation. Wherever they come from, ethics provide a structure to the conversation about what’s best for humanity.
Ethics Clarifies Our Disagreements
Sometimes, people make blanket statements about a particular issue being right or wrong. When people of different opinions begin to discuss why they think an issue is right or wrong using the framework of ethics, they usually narrow their disagreements down to one small point but important point.
One politician might say that embryonic stem cell research is wrong while another might say she supports it. The real issue, however, isn’t the research; it’s the ongoing debate about when life begins. The first politician, based on religious beliefs, might believe that humans receive a soul at the point of conception. The second politician might think that “humanness” becomes distinctive at a different point in an embryo’s development.
Thanks to ethics, they can have a real conversation about the core issue, whether or not they choose to do so, instead of making inflammatory blanket statements and questioning each other’s moral fitness.
Ethics Provide Guidance for Our Actions
Some people take an absolute view regarding ethics. They say that certain traditions, religious texts, or other sources offer absolute ways of thinking that humans shouldn’t challenge.
Others take a different view, arguing that right or wrong changes depending on the situation. For example, someone might say that capital punishment is generally wrong, but they might simultaneously think it’s okay to execute Osama bin Laden.
In many cases, people define themselves as absolutists, but their actions and opinions show that they also see life’s gray areas. Ethics experts bring these gray areas out into the open and help society navigate through them.
Ethics Keep Us Honest
Many people think that taking one’s own life for any reason is wrong. Others see the suffering of people with terminal illnesses, or they see people who are facing Alzheimer’s or dementia, and they see justification for why these people would rather die on their own terms. The dilemma becomes like a multiple-choice question on a standardized test (“Suicide is wrong when…”) that some people will answer “always” while others will answer “when you’re young and healthy.”
In dilemmas like these, ethicists help us negotiate guidelines that fall in between extremes. For instance, we’re not a society that completely denies people the right to a compassionate death, and we also don’t force the elderly to commit suicide because their health care is too costly.
Ethicists help us solve big dilemmas like these, but they also keep people honest about day-to-day decisions. A business ethicist, for example, might help a company’s chief financial officer to decide whether it’s right or wrong to move a transaction off the books.
How to Become an Ethicist
If you enjoy diving into philosophical texts, you can debate tough issues without getting caught up in emotion, and you exhibit good judgment related to moral dilemmas, then you’re just the right person to provide people with ethical guidance. You can study ethics or philosophy in general, or you can specialize in ethics for a certain industry. Your wisdom, both on small and large-scale issues, could shape the future of humanity.