“How does one make in the moment ethical decisions?” is the only question popular ethics ever seems to explore. It may be argued that intent or consequence or some other factor is most important for the ethical calculus of the decision, but in the center of the exercise is always a decision that must be made. The unspoken assumption within the question is that there is an agent who is capable of making a decision regardless of the context and narrative in which that person operates. But, the narrative of the agent’s life is the only context in which an agent can have agency.
The context that creates the agent is thereby the necessary and sufficient arena in which ethics is able to meaningfully determine or describe right from wrong. Changing the context changes the agent, which changes the calculus surrounding any decision. The more important question is something like, “what kind of people should be created such that the moment of decision is no longer a meaningful point at which to make an argument about what ought to be done and how then do we create the world that creates that kind of person?”
The greatest shortcoming of popular ethical debates is the notion that there can be a distinct moment or act of decision that can be analyzed in any meaningful way. All behavior makes sense in context and it is the context that must be challenged and changed if we are to create ethical people.