Ethical reason involves a harmonious combination or open-ended synthesis of all our sources of possible insight, with an aim to determining what is right in an unprejudiced way. Determining what is right involves careful attention to particulars as well as a concern for principles. Our ability to appropriately attend to particulars is deeply intertwined with our ability to appropriately apply principles.
Determining what is right involves putting everything together in a certain way. Ethics in the small — concerned with concrete choices to do this or avoid that in this or that circumstance — implicitly depends on a lot of much bigger questions and developments. Actually doing right in the small requires us to be deeply and broadly thoughtful. “Right” behavior done by rote rule-following is certainly better than wrong behavior, but it is not yet ethical. Ethics is equal parts caring, thinking, and doing. (See also Truth, Beauty; Practical Judgment; Free Play; Practical Reason; Choice, Deliberation; Mutual Recognition Revisited; Feeling; Honesty, Kindness; Intellectual Virtue, Love; Rational Ethics.)