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AS Ethics

A brief overview and basic revision of the material covered in the OCR AS Ethics course

Martin Brown

on 15 January 2015

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Transcript of AS Ethics

The study of right or wrong behaviour
The investigation of what makes a "good" life
Genetic Engineering
Warfare & Pacifism
Right to a Child
Embryo Research
How someone ought to act
An action is right iff (if and only if)...
An act is right if it
is motivated
a "good will"
(out of a sense of
to the moral law)
The moral law is presented to our wills in the form of Categorical Imperatives (unconditional commands)
There a 3 formulations of the Categorical Imperative.
1. Universalise your maxim
2. Do not treat other persons merely as a means to an end
3. Act as though you were a legislating member in a universal kingdom of ends.
An act is right if it creates the greatest amount of good for the greatest number
If your
personal plan of action
) cannot coherently exist as a "
Law of Nature
" (an action that
everybody should perform
), then you have a duty to avoid that act.
Out of
for others, you cannot morally
use a person
in order to achieve a desired end.
Maxim (M)
: "
I wish to make a false promise
Universalised Maxim (UM)
: "
I wish all people to make false promises
must be
- it would be impossible to tell what is true from what is false and it would become impossible to make any type of promise at all!
uses the person
in order to achieve the end of
sexual gratification
False promises
uses the person
in order to achieve the end of
happiness/avoiding pain
Our duty is to
perform acts
that would be
accepted in a community
where all persons create laws and are treated as ends in themselves.
As a CEO,
I cannot enforce
policies that would
benefit the minority
shareholders and not the majority stakeholders.
Natural Law
An act is right if it fulfills
natural human inclinations
Thomas Aquinas
: argued that purpose of a human was to use reason and live a life of virtue
Teleology: argued that the existence of an object is its function/goal (a knife is to cut, rain is to water crops)
Cicero (a Roman jurist) wanted to create a law that all the various citizens of the Roman Empire could abide by...
...so he appealed to a common 'human nature'...he appealed to 'natural laws'
Cicero argued that 'natural laws' were embedded in the universe by the divine; natural laws were divine eternal laws
An investigation into the nature of morality
Exploring the purpose and meaning of moral utterance
The ETERNAL LAWS govern two aspects of the universe
The principles that govern physical processes.
“Scientific laws” or “laws of nature”
The principles that govern MORALITY.
“Goodness” and “right behaviour”
The principles that govern
Revealed to mankind through scripture
Old Law
(Old Testament)
New Law
(New Testament)
The participation of RATIONAL creatures in the ETERNAL LAW
Human Laws
Civic Laws
Laws of nations
God has made humans to be by their very nature rational beings
TELEOLOGICAL : goal based
goal/purpose of humans is to be rational
Rationality informs us what our God-given natural human inclinations/purposes are
“REAL” goods
Good in each circumstance
Basic humans goods
Acts which fulfil basic human goods
Preservation of Life
Do not murder
Do not commit suicide
As the Secondary Precepts uphold the absolute good of the Primary Precepts, we have a DUTY to perform them.
Consequences, situation and culture do not matter. Only whether the action supports a “Real” good matters.
The universe was created by God.
He ordered the universe according to his divine mind.
There are principles that God wills the universe to be governed by…
…but what happens if an act both supports and goes against the Primary Precepts?
I save my life
…by killing someone
I give birth to a child
…conceived outside of sexual intercourse
When a person intentionally acts in a way to end the life of an innocent human, they forfeit their own right to life
Aquinas potentially argued that any attack on the “state” (including that by ‘heretics’) could be punishable by death…for the “common good”
(killing an innocent) is
Killing out of self-defense
(not a murder as
attacker is not an innocent
Aquinas uses the principle of ‘forfeiture’ to justify going to war
(Just War Theory)
An act which both supports and conflicts with a “Real” good is morally permissible if it is able to satisfy
of the following criteria:
1. The act itself must be morally permissible

(Nature of Act)

2. The bad effect cannot be avoided if the good effect is to occur
(Last Resort)

3. The bad effect is not the means of producing the good effect
(Right Intention)

4. The good effect is at least equal in importance to the bad
Case 1: Therapeutic abortion

1. Killing an innocent human (
Nature of Act

2. Death of human fetus cannot be avoided to save the mother's life (
Last Resort

3. Death of human fetus is the means of saving the mother's life (
Right Intention

4. Saving the mother's life is at least equal in importance to the death of the human fetus (
Case 2: Euthanasia?

1. Giving a pain-relieving drug (
Nature of Act

2. No other way to relieve pain other than lethally high dose of morphine (
Last Resort

3. Death of patient is an unintended but foreseen side-effect of pain-relieving drug (
Right Intention

4. Death of a terminal patient is at least of equal importance to the relief of intense pain (
but what is "good"?
sentient beings?
Jeremy Bentham
John Stuart Mill
Peter Singer
Was the first to use the term "Utilitarian"
Was a legal reformer
Argued that humans are
motivated by self-interest
Argued that humans are
ruled by pleasure & pain
- pleasure is good
Hedonic calculus - pleasure ("good") is
- did not differentiate between types of pleasure
- animals can also experience pleasure and need to be considered in our moral calculations
- only the consequences of the action matter
A child prodigy and the godson of Bentham
Defended Utilitarianism from the accusation it was a 'doctrine worthy of swine'
Argued that humans are not motivated by self-interest alone. People can be motivated by patriotism, duty and friendship.
Argued that humans desire to be happy.
- happiness that leads to a flourishing life is good
- differentiated between
lower pleasures
(more carnal in nature) and
higher pleasures
(intellectual, artistic and moral)
Argued that higher pleasures should be maximised as experience tells us they are superior to lower pleasures.
Argued that character is important in ethical decision making, not just consequences.
A controversial contemporary Utilitarian
' - good is the satisfaction of interests and preferences, rather than happiness or pleasure
- there are many non-human animals that have interests and should be considered in our moral calculations.
- all sentient beings have a preference to avoid pain/suffering. Though humans have far more complicated interests & preferences this does not entitle them to treat animals without equal consideration. To favour humans over other animals is '
- ethics are not cultural. Moral principles should be applied universally.
"A full grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversible animal, than an infant of a day, a week, or even [a] month old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?"
"The quantity of pleasure being equal, push-pin is as good as poetry."
"Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think."
"It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question"
"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse."
"Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals for a promise of the fullest allowance of a beast’s pleasures; no intelligent human being would consent to be a fool, no instructed person would be an ignoramus, no person of feeling and conscience would be selfish and base, even though they should be persuaded that the fool, the dunce, or the rascal is better satisfied with his lot than they are with theirs."
"The universal aspect of ethics, I suggest, does provide a ground for at least starting with a broadly Utilitarian position"
"My very natural concern that my wants, needs and desires – henceforth I shall refer to them as ‘preferences’ – be looked after must, when I think ethically, be extended to the preferences of others"
"Killing a person who prefers to continue living is therefore wrong, other things being equal…the wrong is done when the preference is thwarted."
Divine Command
An act is immoral if it is prohibited by God. An act is moral if it is commanded by God
but how do we know what God's commands are?
God has revealed moral principles in scripture (the divinely inspired "Word of God")
Does a moral code exist that all people at all times should live their lives by?
Are there some types of action that can never be moral?
Ethical Relativism: the view that there is no absolute or universal moral principles.
William Frankena
Usefully broke the term "Ethical Relativism" into three distinct parts
Descriptive Relativism (DR)
Metaethical Relativism (MR)
Normative Relativism (NR)
Factual observations (made by anthropologists) of different moral codes
A philosophical conclusion about the nature of morality
Culture A
does a
Culture B
does b
No universal, absolute standard of morality
depends upon
Ancient Greek Historian
Wrote about King Darius' observations of differing customs between his people (Ancient Greek) and the Callatians
Ancient Greek cremated their dead
Callatians ate their dead
Concluded "
Custom is king over all
If there is no absolute, objective standard of ethics, we cannot judge others
We should be
of other culture's ethical codes
Actions have intrinsic value
It is the act which is of value - not the situation, culture or consequences
Practical guidance
Joseph Fletcher
Controversial Christian Writer & Episcopal Priest
Wrote that the right act depended upon the situation it was performed in.
In each situation you should increase love (agape) even if it means disobeying rules such as "Do not steal" or "Do not lie"
Ted Bundy
Serial murderer and rapist
Argued in various interviews that morality was a matter or personal taste. Some find eating ham offensive, others do not.
Bundy believed he had done nothing immoral in murdering and assaulting young women.
See Normative theory of "Utilitarianism"
God has commanded it
It is 'natural'
It is rational
Is war ever justifiable?
What makes a 'Just War'?
Is there such a thing as an 'innocent' victim of war?
Is war inevitable?
Are pacifists a danger to national security?
Do pacifists reward aggression by refusing to fight?
Pacifists: enjoy the benefits of security but won't get their hands dirty defending it?
Is there a moral response to war?
Do we have a right to end our lives?
Euthanasia = Murder?
What is a 'dignified' life?
A 'slippery slope' to non-voluntary euthanasia?
A release from pain...for who?
Personhood? What makes a person and when does it start/end?
What rights does a mother have?
What rights does a fetus have?
Act Utilitarianism
Rule Utilitarianism
Perform the
which in that situation would create the best consequences for the greatest number
Follow the
which in that type of situation generally creates the best consequences for the greatest number.
Do ALL women have the right to have children?
Is it moral to choose the biological qualities of your child?
Will fertilisation techniques only favour the wealthy?
Can I use another person to provide me with a baby?
Will GMOs save us or destroy us?
Should a corporation own nature?
Is it wrong to change nature and create new species?
Is it moral to destroy an embryo to create a cure?
Full transcript