Ethics and identity: it’s about choices and making the “right” thing

Ethics and identity: it’s about choices and making the “right” thing

On June 15th 2020 we hosted a webinar dedicated to ethics called: “Etica e identità, una prospettiva sistemica nel mondo globale” featuring attorney Bruno Balestra as keynote speaker. This course gave the participants the opportunity to deep dive into the perception and definition of good and bad behaviour, to think about the dilemma of choices and to also discuss how artificial intelligence is dealing with it. A popular example which was discussed was: how can a smart car – one that drives itself – make a right choice in a complex situation? Imagine a child walking on the sidewalk who, suddenly, jumps right on the middle of the street. Hypothetically, the car has two options: (1) Avoid the impact with the child and crash into the wall, causing the driver to almost certainly die; or (2) Run the child over and save the driver. A simple dilemma that shows ethics issues applied on new technologies.

Here are some extracts from Bruno Balestra’s speech:

When we talk about ethics, we talk about choices, about making the “right” thing. The word ethics comes from the Greek “ethos” and indicates a pattern, a repeated behaviour that becomes a habit. A habit is an automatic behaviour, almost an instinct, that does not require any effort nor reflection. Acting by imitation, due to the fact that it has always been done and everybody does it, makes both the behaviour and the person who «chooses» that behaviour normal, and therefore well accepted by the community. Its actions don’t break the tradition and don’t interfere with the culture that the group had generated. Acting differently would stir things up and lead to objection, bad feelings, conflicting reactions and it would be perceived as abnormal. For that reason, people who break the rules and who go against what is considered normal, are usually classified as abnormal, sick or even criminal.

When we talk about rules, we talk about endless regulations that different societies give themselves to normalize and formalizes behaviours of various subjects to make coexistence possible. Beside ethics, we created other categories, such as moral education and the law. The law defines regulations and penalties, structured and shared by an organized community. It defines relations between the State and the citizens and between the citizens themselves. Ethics aims for universal principles that go beyond the habits of each culture and religion. State law aims for measures that help you to make better decisions in different circumstances with different people. The ethic choice is the conscientious objection that compel the legislator to question themselves. For this reason, it is recognized as a source of law next to the habit.

Habit doesn’t interrogate us over our choices. It allows us to keep recognizing ourselves in what we have always done. It’s inevitable that individual or group identities, based on habits, for its nature are afraid of changes that would transform them. This way to determine identity, leads to an autarchic closure that to defend its own vision, rejects confrontations with ideas and people that offer different choices in politics, economics or religions. The meaning that we give to ethics, is to look for a right choice beyond habits that shape laws and morals in a community. The quest is meeting a joint point that can fit different perspectives in comparison.


Text by: Mirko Lanzi, Head of Internal Audit, Ente Ospedaliero Cantonale