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THEO 303 (Su '15) T03 - Ethical Systems and Ways of Moral Reasoning

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Hartmut Scherer

on 26 August 2015

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Transcript of THEO 303 (Su '15) T03 - Ethical Systems and Ways of Moral Reasoning

Sources and Image Credit
Adopted chapter 3 of Scott Rae,
Moral Choices
, for this presentation.
Action-oriented theories in chapter 3
(e.g., divine command theory; natural law; ethical rationalism)
(e.g., utilitarianism; ethical egoism)
(e.g., cultural relativism; moral subjectivism)
Ethical Systems and Ways of Moral Reasoning
Philosophical commitments as a result of one’s moral theory
- commits a person to a certain
view of the world
- commits a person to a certain view of
epistemology (theory of knowledge)
- commits a person to a certain view of anthropology
Right and wrong in ethical egoism
- actions that advance self-interest are moral
Examples of ethical egoism:
abortion; euthanasia; sexual relations between adults; medical doctors (avoid being sued)
The pursuit of self-interest (biblical view)
- rational self-interest is used as motivation for
obedience (Lev. 26; Deut. 27-30)
Support for ethical egoism
1) Looking out for others is a self-defeating pursuit
2) the only moral system that respects the integrity
of the individual human life
3) It is the hidden unity underlying our widely
accepted moral duties
Shortcomings of ethical egoism
1) Has no means to settle conflicts of interest
2) Ultimately collapses into anarchy
3) Is an arbitrary ethical system
4) Often built on a false premise
5) Forgets to balance self-interest and altruism
Utilitarianism - a teleological system
- morality of an act is determined by the end result
- The most moral acts are those that maximize
pleasure and minimize pain (Jeremy Bentham,
hedonistic utilitarianism)
- refined by John Stuart Mill: The most moral acts
are those that maximize general happiness for the
greatest number of people
Act utilitarianism
uses the consequences of any given course of action to determine its morality
formulates rules based on the tendency of certain actions to produce a predictable set of consequences
Rule utilitarianism
What makes utilitarianism attractive?
(+) relative simple theory to apply
(+) avoids the rigidity of deontology
(+) doesn’t require special appeal to any religious
authority for morality
(+) consequences of one’s actions must be taken
seriously (common knowledge)
Shortcomings of utilitarianism
(-) cannot protect the rights of minorities
(-) can justify obvious injustices
(-) notions of benefit and harm are not value neutral
(-) no criteria for distributing benefits in a group
(-) offers no place for the idea of individual merit
Natural law
- revelation of God’s moral values outside of Scripture
Controversial aspects of natural law
- has been used to oppress some groups
- implies a “God’s-eye view” of morality
- Reformers were skeptical of natural law
Biblical basis
right and wrong
(wisdom and folly)
- see also Romans 1:18ff
human relationships
(Prov. 24:30-34)
(Prov. 6:6-11)
A non-religious form of deontological ethics
- Immanuel Kant popularized ethical rationalism
1) One must have power to constrain people without
being deterministic
The categorical imperative
(3 assumptions)
2) What is a valid duty in circumstance X is the same
for all rational beings
3) People cannot change their moral obligations by
changing their desires
If a certain moral rule can be comfortably made universal, then and only then is it a valid moral rule
Principle of universalizability
(-) too optimistic about the ability of reason to
formulate universal absolutes
Shortcomings of Kant’s categorical imperative
(-) produces a moral system without any exceptions
(-) only a procedural morality and does not offer
any guidance in terms of the content of morality
- a theory about moral language which does not
provide moral direction
Both, emotivism and subjectivism share the idea that
- moral judgments are not normative statements
- objective moral facts are nonexistent
(-) fails its own test of meaning (empirical verification)
Shortcomings of Emotivism
(-) only a theory of the use of moral language,
not of its meaning
(-) cannot account for the place of reason in ethics
- different cultures have widely varying moral
codes and concepts
Cultural relativism
- all values are
culturally created
Moral subjectivism
- not objective, universal
moral principles
- morality is determined
by the individual’s own
tastes and preferences
- Once you begin to promote tolerance and
understanding of a culture’s distinct values, you
must accept their values as equally valid as your
values (cultural relativism)
Relativism and Multiculturalism
- the prima facie absolutist (lit. at first appearance)
allows for periodic exceptions to objective moral
A prima facie absolutist
(+) morality does not develop in a sociological
Appeal of relativism
(+) it is often presented as polar opposite to
(+) emphasis on multiculturalism with its tolerance
for the distinctives of other cultures
(+) modern emphasis on scientific objectivity
(-) the degree of moral diversity is overstated and the
high degree of moral consensus is understated
Weaknesses of relativism
(-) many of the observations of moral diversity were
differences in moral practices
(-) a normative system cannot be drawn from the
observations of the cultural relativist
(-) cannot settle competing cultural value claims
(-) allows no room for moral reformers or prophets
(-) cannot morally evaluate any clearly oppressive
(-) relativism with its premise that moral absolutes
do not exist, defeats itself, since the premise
itself is an absolute
- emphasizes being rather than doing
Virtue theory
Virtue Theory compared with Act-Oriented Ethics
- act-oriented ethics reduce ethics to solving moral
dilemmas and difficult cases
- act-oriented ethics focus on the act and tend to
minimize the character of the moral agent
- act-based systems provide little motivation for
doing the right thing
- action-based systems can become legalistic
- act-based ethics overemphasize the ability of
people to arrive at their moral duties by reason or
revelation alone
Relationship between virtues and principles
- virtue theory on its own fails to give clear
directions for resolving moral dilemmas
- Many hold that virtues and principles must
somehow co exist.
What comes first, virtues or principles?
- virtues derive from principles
Correspondence view:
- the role of virtues is to motivate one to perform
right actions and eliminate wrong actions
- virtues complement principles as equals
Complementary view:
- people have a moral obligation to be a certain kind
of person
- Please write down 3 words that you consider
important of today's lesson
Free Writing
(class exercise)
- Select 1 of the 3 words and do some free
writing (~ 3 minutes)
- In groups of 3-4 share what you have written (~10
minutes); each group should come up with 1-2
questions to ask in class
deontological systems
teleological systems
Full transcript