South African Journal of Philosophy

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On the ethical analysis of value issues in public decision-making

Johan Hattingh


The nature, methodology, importance and implications of an ethical analysis of value issues pertaining to public decision-making is not evident. In this paper I would like to address these issues by posing the following questions:
- Why is it important to focus on values in any process of public decision-making?
- What is the nature of an ethical analysis of the value issues involved?
- What is the basis, if any, for ethical analysis that moves beyond relativism and subjectivity?
- What difference can such an ethical analysis make to public decision-making?
During the course of discussing these issues, the question “What is ethics?” will be addressed in passing, as well as the usual objections against ethics and the consideration of value issues in public decision-making, namely that
- values cannot be analysed and discussed objectively
- values and ethics are relative to people and cultures
- value and ethical questions cannot be settled in a rational manner
- ethics cannot provide answers
- arguments about value and ethical issues move in circles, taking us nowhere
- values and ethics are so intertwined with emotions and biases that one cannot take them seriously in any process of public decision-making.

S. Afr. J. Philos. Vol.23(3) 2004: 213-225
AJOL African Journals Online