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Introduction to Ethics 3600:120-013 (Ramos): Real Life Situation (RLS) Project Assignment

Introduction to problems of moral conduct through readings from the tradition and class discussions; nature of “good,” “right,” “ought” and “freedom.”

RLS Project Example 1

Theme:  Status of moral standards and moral truths

Real Life Example: Heisman Trophy winner and Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston was accused of raping Erica Kinsman while both were students attending the university. In the end, the university settled the lawsuit, giving Kinsman $950,000, and Winston faced no consequences for his supposed actions.  Was a consistent standard used by the Tallahassee police and the FSU conduct code committee?

Question:  To what extent are moral/ethical standards are relative to the situation/circumstance? 

Description:  The Jameis Winston rape case raises the question of ethical standards.  The accuser, E. Kinsman recalled meeting Tallahassee police officer Scott Angulo at the hospital, where she said she was instructed to think twice before filing a report.  When Kinsman later reached out to Angulo to report Winston’s name, she was further warned.  Kinsman recounted that Angulo said:  “This is a huge football town. You really should think long and hard if you want to press charges”.  “The Tallahassee police did nothing for 10 months, and when they did, her claims were greeted with disbelief that ranged from general skepticism to caustic threats.” 

An FSU conduct code hearing, however, failed to find anything “not good” had happened when it finally held Winston’s code of conduct hearing last December. Just days before Winston was to play in the College Football Playoffs, the school’s panel cleared him of any wrongdoing. This allowed him to play, although his team did not win.  Kinsman, meanwhile, had dropped out of school. “All these people were praising him; they were calling me a slut, a whore,” Kinsman said.


Perspective 1: Moral relativism = there are no universal values; ethical standards and views are culturally based and determined by the society where we grow up.

  • Counterclaim: At least some universal values exist, on the basis that all cultures need them for survival.
  • Rebuttal: throughout history, cultures have shown no moral concern for the wellbeing of others

Perspective 2: Moral universalism

  • Counterclaim: Ethical standards are relative because there is no objective criteria for determining which duties take priorities over others.
  • Rebuttal: Duty ethics leads to rule worship, or unthinking obedience to moral rules without paying attention to the context, meaning ethical standards are not relative. Moreover, duty conflicts—which are only a small exception to most situations—can be resolved objectively by choosing the duty that will lead to a greater good for the rest of the community.

Perspective 3:  Cognitive dissonance theory: Humans have a tendency to keep their cognitions (beliefs, opinions, etc.) consistent. So, when an inconsistency arises they modify their beliefs to reduce the resulting dissonance. The most common way people do so is by changing their attitudes/opinions about the behavior. This applies to ethics because people shift their judgments of a moral act to reduce the potential discomfort it causes.

  • Counterclaim: cognitive dissonance can be reduced through other ways, i.e. by changing the behavior altogether.
  • Rebuttal: In some cases people cannot change the behavior, so they have no choice but to rationalize their judgments (ex: Navy Seals). Moreover, changing a behavior is much more difficult than changing your cognitions, since it entails several life changes--physical and social--for yourself and for those around you. Finally, changing a behavior is not always as effective as changing your cognitions (ex: relapsing smokers).

Connection to RLS 1: Jameis Winston Rape Lawsuit

Perspective 1:  Jameis Winston was a beloved football player at Florida State University, which dominates much of  Tallahassee's social climate. Thus, when determining if Jameis Winston was guilty of sexually assaulting Kinsman, the judges based their decision on the morality of their society, which claimed football players were untouchable. 

Perspective 2: lawsuit occurred after the NFL draft wherein Winston was chosen as first overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, signing a 4 year deal worth over $23 million. It is FSU’s duty to protect its students and the NFL’s duty to protect its players. So even though Winston was accused of an immoral act, by not punishing Winston and agreeing to a settlement, both institutions fulfilled their duties and thus acted in a morally correct manner.

Perspective 3: president of FSU James Thrasher claimed the school only settled the lawsuit to avoid costly legal expenses. The notion of a famous, well-liked football player raping a fellow student was not consistent with most people’s cognitions. So, rather than punish Winston for his supposed rape (i.e. change the behavior), the school claimed the trial would detract from the “future” and thus altered its cognitions to reduce the dissonance.

Step 1

Choose a Topic or Real Life Situation (RLS)

  • You should not merely choose a generic topic like abortion, terrorism, or the death penalty. Rather, you should select a specific news story related to abortion, an act of terrorism, or a person facing the death penalty.

Step 2

Extract the Knowledge Question (KQ) from the RLS

  • Talk about your RLS and give the background
  • Talk about the questions and issues the RLS raises (Ethical theories, Bias, Reliability of Claim, etc.)
  • Demonstrate that the RLS has some underlying knowledge issues. These knowledge issues arise because there is something contestable or debatable.
  • For example, some argue ethical knowledge is relative to culture and history whereas others argue it is universal and objective.

Step 3

Knowledge Questions

  • From your RLS, you must come up with one Knowledge Question.
  • KQ are not definitive but are more open-ended in terms of answers.
  • KQ are stated in with terms (reliability, certainty, bias, reliability, etc.) and centered on contested or debated themes.
  • Begin your KQ with the "how" or "to what extent."
  • For example, "To what extent is ethical knowledge said to be universal?"

Step 4

Identify Perspectives or Developments

  • Your presentation needs to explore the knowledge question from three different perspectives.
  • Perspectives can refer to different theories, cognitive biases, notions of truth, ways of knowing, etc.

Structure when discussing a perspective:

  1. Claim or argument
    • Explain the claim (induction moves from individual to general statement - problem is how many individual statements is needed to generalize.)
    • Give an example of the claim, which is different than the RLS.
  2. Counterclaim: Reject the claim by finding counter factual arguments or by offering a different theory.
    • Example of counterclaim:
      • Rebut of counterclaim: Respond to the counterclaim
      • Return to Claim: Indicate that your main claim is still valid
      • Connect this to the KQ

Step 5

Show how your conclusions have significance for your RLS and one other RLS

  • Where step 4 was about the conceptual and analytical level of the presentation, step 5 is about bringing it back to the original RLS and one new RLS.
  • You should not lose sight of the sustained example (RLS). It is your reference point.
  • Determine how the analysis, in its conclusion, applies to your RLS?
    • How do the different perspectives illustrate the RLS and what would you conclude about it?


  • RLS - The Invisible Children video on YouTube about Joseph Kony inUganda.
  • KQ - What is the impact of new media on knowledge? How do we judge when we have enough knowledge to act responsibly?