Key Words • Ethics = ethos ‘character’ • Morality = moralis ‘customs’ or ‘manners’ Two parts of Ethics: • ‘Ethical Theory’ = Methods for making moral decisions • ‘Applied Ethics’ = Debates about specific dilemmas
3 Ways of ‘Doing’ Ethics • Normative • Asks whether actions are right or wrong • Descriptive • Describes and compares different ethical practices • Meta-ethics • Study of meaning of ethical language
Normative Ethics • Teleological ethics • Telos = end. Determine whether an action is right or wrong depending on the consequence or end result. Consequentialist. • Examples: Utilitarianism; Situation Ethics • Deontological ethics • Actions are intrinsically right or wrong due to an absolute law. Outcome is not important, even if it is good. • Examples: Kantian ethics; Natural Moral Law
To Kill or not to Kill? During the 2nd World War, a man called Adolf Hitler is going to be the force behind the extermination of 9 million civilians If it were possible to go back in time, would it be right to kill Adolf Hitler before he committed the atrocities?
G.E. Moore You can give a definition of a horse because a horse has many different properties and qualities, all of which you can enumerate. But when you have enumerated them all, when you have reduced a horse to its simplest terms, then you can no longer define these terms… ‘Good’, then, if we mean by it that quality which we assert to belong to a thing… is incapable of definition… ‘good’ has no definition because it is simple and has no parts. It is one of those innumerable objects of thought which are themselves incapable of definition, because they are the ultimate terms of reference by which whatever is capable of definition must be defined… There is no intrinsic difficulty in the contention that ‘good’ denotes a simple and indefinable quality (Principia Ethica, p.7)
Absolutism and Relativism • Absolutism = something that applies to everyone all of the time. • Ethical absolute = moral command that is true for everyone, all the time in all situations. • What is right or wrong cannot change. There are no special circumstances. • Objective point of view, not from a personal viewpoint. • UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Absolutism and Relativism • Relativism = Subjective. There is no objective truth or if there is, it cannot be found. • What is right in one situation might be considered wrong in another. • Cultural Relativism = moral rules are expressions of culture. • When in Rome, do as the Romans do! • Changes in from the past to present • What was considered acceptable 100 years ago is not necessarily acceptable today.
Some Problems • Relativism • Different value systems, so there can’t be one moral truth. • Which do we follow? • Can’t condemn practices that are accepted by society. • Absolutism • Cannot take circumstances into account. • Intolerant of cultural diversity. • No room for manoeuvre.
Natural Moral Law Absolute Deontological Theory
Cicero • Cicero in On the Republic describes natural law as follows: • True law is right reason in agreement with nature. It is applied universally and is unchanging and everlasting… there will be no different laws in Rome and in Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and ruler, that is God…
Aristotle • Laws may vary from place to place, but natural justice is independent and applies to everyone no matter where they are / where they live • The natural is that which everywhere is equally valid, and depends not upon being or not being received… that which is natural is unchangeable, and has the same power everywhere, just as fire burns both here and in Persia • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book V, Chapter 7, Natural Justice
Aquinas • Natural law is the moral code which human beings are naturally inclined to • This moral code exists within the purpose of nature, created by God: • ‘Law is nothing else than an ordination of reason for the common good promulgated by the one who is in charge of the community.’
Natural law exists to help humans act in such a way that they reach their eternal destiny which is with God • The law covers both the outward eternal view of actions and the internal motivation for doing so
Task Does it mater if I do a good thing for a wrong reason, such as giving to charity for the admiration and praise that I’ll receive? Why might some say this isn’t the best way to act?
Reason and Human Purpose • Eternal law of divine reason is perceived through revelation, in the form of the Word of God and through the use of human reason • To live in according to and accordance with reason is to live a moral life • To live at odds with reason is to live an immoral life • Do good and avoid evil!
God makes human beings with a certain nature and this nature enables human beings to use their reason and their expertise to understand what is right • Self-preservation – first rule that humans should live by • Primary precepts are required to ensure this goal of self-preservation and this will ultimately lead to fellowship with God
Task • Consider the following and decide, with reference to the primary precepts why Aquinas would think them wrong: • The use of contraception • Murder • Homosexual sex • Rape • Adultery • Which, if any are unclear? Why?
Real and Apparent Goods • Human nature is essentially good • Natural law is innate • Humans never knowingly pursue evil • ‘ideal’ human nature which we all have potential to live up to • When humans do bad ‘things’ or ‘acts’ they are pursuing apparent goods, falsely believing them to be really good
Hitler = apparent good • Hitler did not seek to do evil • He did what he thought was good • He was mistaken • It was an apparent good rather than a real good
Strengths • Same as strengths of absolutism • Enables people to establish common rules in order to structure communities • Different cultures can be seen to have same basic principles • Judges actions (torture, rape) irrespective of consequences • Not just a set of rules, but a way of life
Weaknesses • Some philosophers have disputed the presence of a common natural law and whether humans have a single nature • Humans may have different natures • Aquinas could be wrong about his primary precepts • Secondary precepts may change in some aspects
Utilitarianism Principle of Utility Theory of Usefulness Sophie's Choice
Developed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. • Utility = usefulness • Teleological theory • Consequentialist • Very famous, used very widely • Common sense approach
Humans motivated by pleasure and pain = Hedonistic • ‘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.’
As humans, we seek pleasure and seek to avoid pain • Pleasure and pain identifies what we should and shouldn’t do • Pleasure is sole good, and pain the sole evil. • Hedonistic utilitarianism
An action is right if it creates the greatest good for the greatest number. • Good = greatest pleasure or happiness • Least good = pain or sadness • Greatest number = majority of people • Good = maximisation of pleasure, minimisation of pain
Hedonic Calculus • Its intensity • Its duration • Its certainty or uncertainty • Its propinquity or remoteness • Its fecundity, or the chance it has of being followed by sensations of the same kind • Its purity, or the chance it has of not being followed by, sensations of the opposite kind • Its extent; the number of persons to whom it extends
Imagine you are a doctor driving to one of your patients, a young mother about to give birth. She is in great pain and difficulty and it looks as though she will need a Caesarean section. It is late at night and you come across a car accident down a country road. Two cars are involved and both drivers are injured and unconscious. One of them is the pregnant woman’s husband. The other is an elderly man. Without medical help, them both may die. Who to help first?
Problems with Bentham • Quantative pleasures • Rather than quality • Predictive value • We don’t actually know what is going to happen in the future. • What counts as pleasure?
John Stuart Mill • Focus on Qualitative pleasures • Higher and lower pleasure • Higher = mind • Lower = body
How can we properly distinguish between higher and lower pleasures? • How do we distinguish one higher pleasure from another? • Cannot rely on one single factor equation: the greatest good for greatest number - Justice
Act Utilitariansim • Jeremy Bentham • Principle of utility applied to each individual situation • Flexible = result of individual act • Problem: • can justify almost any act • Impractical to measure every moral choice we make every time • Can have extreme results
Rule Utilitarianism • John Stuart Mill • General principles or rules • Rules take priority • Problems: • Does not allow for flexibility • Somewhat absolute
Kant Deontological Ethics The Moral Law Categorical Imperative
Deontological Ethics • Actions not consequences • Based on duty • ‘Ought’ implies ‘can’ • Summum bonum – supreme good • Morality leads to God
The Moral Law • Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe… the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me • A priori – knowledge without reference to experience • A posteriori – knowable through experience • Analytic – statement true by definition • Synthetic – true/false through experience • Moral statements – a priori synthetic
Good Will and Duty • Good will = highest form of good • To have good will is to do your duty • We don’t do duty for consequences, but for the duty itself • Moral for duty, not love • Moral person = rational being • Act out of duty alone • How do we know which actions are obligatory and which actions are forbidden?
Categorical Imperative • Categorical Imperative • You should do Y • Absolute • Non-conditional
Categorical or Hypothetical? • I ought not to murder • I ought not to lie because it’s wrong • I ought to help my parents • I ought to give to charity because there are people starving in the world • I ought to help the man cross the road • I ought to study as it will get me into a better university
The Universal Law • Do not act on any principle that cannot be universalised • Something that is right for me has to be right for everyone • If it’s wrong for one person, it’s wrong for everyone • I should only do something if I am prepared for everyone else to act in the same way
Treat Humans as Ends in Themselves • So act that you treat humanity, both in your own person and in the person of every other human being, never merely as a means, but always at the same time as an end • Cannot use humans as means to ends • We are rational – highest point of creation. Demand unique treatment • Cannot use individual for sake of many • Promote happiness of others if it allows freedom of others
Act as if you Live in a Kingdom of Ends • So act as if you were through your maxim a law-making member of a kingdom of ends • Kant argues that to preserve the moral integrity of each individual, every individual should behave as though every other individual was an “end” • You don’t do what everyone else does. You do what you think is morally right
Freedom • Humans free to make rational choices • Ability to rationalise sets us apart from animals, who lack this ability • Have to be free to do our duty • Duty is to follow categorical imperative • Every moral action must be possible • If we’re not free, possibility of making choices would be denied
Right or wrong action? • You are pushing a car up a hill with three other people and you think ‘I could just pretend to be pushing, only three people are needed for this job’, and so you stop pushing. • You go to the supermarket to buy some washing powder and buy the own-brand budget powder, because it’s slightly cheaper than the environmentally-friendly powder • You avoid paying fares on the train, because you know you can get away without paying them • You want to listen to some good music, so you borrow a CD from a friend and tape it
Criticisms • Cannot sacrifice few for many. War? • No exceptions – restrictions on behaviour • Many people carry out good acts out of love, not duty • Conflict in duties: Abortion • No flexibility