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Intro to Ethics
Transcript of Intro to Ethics
Ethics - that branch of philosophy
investigating issues of "the good"
: the attempt to judge ethical theories
: attempts to derive standards of rightness or wrongness
The key assumption in normative ethics is that there is only one ultimate criterion of moral conduct, whether it is a single rule or a set of principles. Three approaches will be discussed:
(1) virtue theories,
(2) duty theories, and
(3) consequentialist theories.
Virtue theory is one of the oldest normative traditions in Western philosophy. In the West, it is rooted in ancient Greek civilization.
Plato emphasized four virtues in particular, which were later called cardinal virtues:
wisdom, courage, temperance and justice.
Other virtues include fortitude, generosity, self-respect, good temper, and sincerity.
Aristotle argued that virtues are good habits which temper our emotions. For example, in response to natural feelings of fear, we ought to develop the virtue of courage which allows us to be steadfast when facing danger. Looking at 11 specific virtues, Aristotle argued that most fall within a mean between extreme character traits
: cowardice, insensibility, injustice, and vanity.
After Aristotle, medieval theologians added to Greek lists of virtues with three Christian ones: faith, hope, and charity. Interest in virtue theory continued through the middle ages and declined in the 19th century with the rise of other moral theories.
Virtue theory emphasizes moral education given that virtuous character is supposedly developed when young
Many people feel that there are clear obligations we owe as humans, such as to care for our families, and to not murder. Duty theories base morality on specific, foundational principles of duty.
17th century German philosopher Samuel Pufendorf, classified duties under three headings:
Duties to God
Duties to Oneself
Duties to Others
(1) a theoretical duty to know the existence and nature of God, and (2) a practical duty to both inwardly and outwardly worship God.
(1) duties of the soul, which involve developing one's skills and talents, and
(2) duties of the body, which involve not harming our bodies, such as through gluttony or drunkenness, and not killing oneself
(1) Absolute duties to others are of three sorts:
a) avoid wronging others,
b) treat people as equals,
c) promote the good of others.
(2) conditional duties, which are the result of contracts between people.
David Koepsell, TU Delft, TBM
Another duty-based approach to ethics is “rights theory.” Most generally, a "right" is a claim against another person's behavior which is somehow justified - such as my right to not be harmed by you.
Locke argued that the laws of nature mandate that we should not harm anyone's life, health, liberty or possessions. For Locke, these are our natural rights.
not invented or created by governments
do not change from country to country
same for all people, regardless of gender, race, or handicap
one cannot hand over ones rights to another person
Kant argued that there is a foundational principle of duty that encompasses our particular duties.
There is a self-evident principle of reason that he calls the "
" A categorical imperative is fundamentally different from hypothetical imperatives that hinge on some desire, for example, "If you want to get a good job, then you ought to go to college." Instead, a categorical imperative mandates an action,
regardless of desires.
“Treat people as an end, and never as a means to an end.”
- We should always treat people with dignity, and never use them as mere instruments. For Kant, we treat people as an end whenever our actions toward someone reflect the inherent value of that person.
"Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law."
- Each individual agent regards itself as determining, by its decision to act in a certain way, that everyone (including itself) will always act according to the same general rule in the future
According consequentialists, good conduct is determined solely by a cost-benefit analysis of an action's consequences. An action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable.
Consequentialist theories are sometimes called teleological theories, from the Greek word
, or end or purpose, since the end result of the action is the sole determining factor of its morality.
: an action is morally good if the consequences of that action are more favorable only to the person performing the action.
: an action is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable to everyone except the agent.
: an action is morally right if the consequences of that action increase the overall happiness.
Jeremy Bentham developed one of the earliest systems of utilitarianism. Bentham proposed that we tally the consequences of each action we perform and thereby determine case by case basis whether an action is morally right or wrong. This aspect is known as
pleasure and pain are the only consequences that matter in determining whether our conduct is moral. This is called hedonistic utilitarianism.
J. S. Mill
John Stuart Mill refined a theory of utility to place certain pleasures above others. Specifically, the aesthetic and intellectual pleasures were valued more than the base or bodily pleasures.
offers a test only for the morality of rules, such as "stealing is wrong." Adopting a rule against theft clearly has more favorable consequences than unfavorable consequences for everyone