Doing Ethics in a Diverse World


Robert Traer; Harlan Stelmach

First Edition • July 1, 2007 • 336 pages


Print ISBN: 9780813343662 • $45.00 USD$58.50 CAN

Ebook ISBN: 9780786733194 • $25.99 USD$25.99 CAN

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Nothing is more difficult today than deciding what to do about abortion, gay marriage, economic injustice, war, torture, global warming, euthanasia, capital punishment, and a host of other controversies, particularly in a world in which people of varying religious, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds commonly live side by side. Can we draw on the wisdom of the past to address these contemporary ethical dilemmas? Can we see more clearly how we should consider what is right and wrong, and good and bad, and then work through these divisive problems toward decisions that make sense to us?

While challenging moral relativism, Doing Ethics in a Diverse World uses a pluralist approach that draws on religious as well as secular positions and on Eastern as well as Western traditions. The book’s approach reasons by analogy from the rule of law, including international human rights law, as a means to constructing ethical presumptions about duty, character, relationships, and rights. These presumptions are weighed against the predicted consequences of acting on them, which either confirm the presumptions or support alternative actions. Employing a “Worksheet for Doing Ethics” as a guiding framework, this approach is then applied to issues of public morality, health care, economic justice, sex, the war on terrorism, and living ecologically.


Robert Traer led the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) from 1990–2000. He served with the Ecumenical Accompaniment program in Israel/Palestine sponsored by the World Council of Churches. In 2002 he was a resident scholar at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute for Theological Studies in Israel. He is a member of the core faculty at Dominican University and teaches courses in ethics and religion. Harlan Stelmach’s graduate work in the field of ethics began at Harvard University where he received his masters degree. He completed his doctoral work at the Graduate Theological Union in 1977 in an interdisciplinary program in ethics and social science. A post-doctoral visiting scholar stay at the Haas School of Business in Berkeley contributed to one of his specialties in business ethics. He was the director of the Center for Ethics and Social Policy in Berkeley for five years. He is the chair of the humanities department at Dominican and teaches courses in moral philosophy, medical ethics, and social science and religion.

I. Learning from Experience
1. Our Challenge: Doing Ethics in a Pluralistic Society
2. Reasoning Together: Making Sense of Our Experience
3. Rule of Law: The Ethics of Justice
II. Creating an Ethical Presumption
4. Duty: Doing What Is Right
5. Character: Being a Good Person
6. Relationships: Caring and Letting Go
7. Human Rights: Autonomy and Human Dignity
III. Overcoming an Ethical Presumption
8. Possible Consequences: Utilitarian and Cost/Benefit Arguments
9. Making Decisions: HIV/AIDS
IV. Applying the Approach
10. Public Morality: Seeking the Common Good
11. Health Care: Life and Death
12. Sex: Consent plus What?
13. War on Terrorism: Justice and Freedom
14. Economic Justice: Fair and Caring?
15. Our Natural World: Living Ecologically

“Globalization and diversity make teaching ethics more difficult and more important. Robert Traer and Harlan Stelmach offer a new approach, which combines teaching about moral traditions with an introduction to moral reasoning. Doing Ethics in a Diverse World encourages critical thinking and helps students see the broader questions behind headline moral issues. The method is practical, the resources are diverse, and the classroom discussion should be lively.”
—Robin W. Lovin, Cary Maguire University Professor of Ethics, Southern Methodist University

“The strength of Doing Ethics in a Diverse World is that all students in a class learn to apply a specific method to address different ethical dilemmas. Though the dilemmas might change, the book’s method of distinguishing issues, constructing presumptions, identifying consequences, and determining the burdens of proof remains consistent.”
—John A. Berteaux, California State University, Monterey Bay

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