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Transcript
Ethics
Areas discussed
1.
2.
3.
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4.
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5.
Introduction
Virtue Ethics
Deontological Ethics
God
Natural Law
The Categorical Imperative
Consequential Ethics
Act Utilitarianism
Rule Utilitarianism
Preference Utilitarianism
Ethical Relativism
1. What is ethics?
• The study of moral
• Ethics can be:
statements and issues  Descriptive
of right and wrong
• “People think X is good”
 Normative
• “You should do X for reason Y”
 Meta-ethics
• “the word good means X”
 Applied
• “you should do X in a
particular situation”
The is-ought problem
• Associated with David
Hume
• You cannot argue from an is
to an ought
• You cannot base moral
statements on facts alone
• Often used with the word
“natural”
• = the Naturalistic Fallacy
• “X is natural – therefore it is
right”
• “X is not natural – therefore
it is wrong”
• Example:
• Evolution is the survival of
the fittest
• It is therefore right that the
strong live and the weak die
• Homosexuality is not
natural
• Therefore it should be
illegal
The three main theories of normative
ethics
• Which deeds are good?
• What makes a deed good?
• Virtue ethics
= Good deeds are what virtuous people do
• Deontological
= Good deeds are those that follow a rule
• Consequentialist (or Teleological)
= Good deeds are those that lead to good
consequences
2. Virtue Ethics
• Plato and Aristotle
• Plato sees the “good” as a
form
• Knowledge of the good is
available to those trained in
philosophy
• (Aristotle) The aim of human
life is to achieve eudaimonia
• = happiness (?)
• More properly “human
flourishing”
• The study of ethics is to reach
this end (“teleological”)
• The focus on ethics is not
abstract ideas
• But how to live well
• You live well by displaying
virtues
• (e.g. courage, justice,
patience)
• We call this “virtue ethics”
• These are the mean between
excess and deficiency
• E.g. courage is the mean
between cowardice and
rashness
Confucius
• Most important Chinese
philosopher?
• The Analects (possibly not
by Confucius)
• Ethics similarly focused on
character
• And also on day-to-day lived
experience
• (Virtue ethics tends to avoid
“What should someone do
when …?” questions of the
pre-reading)
•
•
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•
•
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The ideal is the junzi
= Exemplary person?
= Ethical noble?
Filial piety
Respect for rituals (li)
Knowledge of what to do in
a situation
• The junzi also has a quality
called ren
• Sometimes translated as
benevolence
Problems with Virtue Ethics
• 1) The good act is what a virtuous person would do
• How do non-virtuous people decide what actions are
good?
• What if you are a virtuous person who is unsure?
• Can virtuous people act badly? How do we know when
this happens?
• How do you work out what should be illegal and legal?
• 2) Is not the focus of morality how we deal with other
people?
• Might it not be possible to “flourish” and yet treat
other people badly?
Problems with Virtue Ethics
•
•
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3) For both Confucius and Aristotle
To be virtuous is only really possible for the rich
Confucius’ junzi is quite explicitly a noble
Aristotle’s moderation virtues are only really available for
people who have no immediate financial problems
What are poor people meant to do?
4) Each rung in society explicitly has its own set of virtues
For Aristotle, women are meant to be quiet, obedient and
industrious
In this way, virtue ethics seems to welcome inequalities in
society
Nor can it allow us to critique society in general
3. Deontological ethics
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Good comes from obeying a rule
Which rule? Where do we get it from?
Example:
“We should obey the law”
Doesn’t really work!
Are laws always just?
Are all legal acts right?
How does this help people who write/amend the law?
Possibly the dominant deontological ethical theory is …
God
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All good comes from God
The good is what God commands
This is revealed in scripture
Gives a clear, objective and detailed account of what is good
Problems?
1) God may not exist
2) Different religions give different accounts of ethics
3) The Euthyphro dilemma (from Plato’s dialogue of the same
name):
• Is “the pious or holy […] beloved by the gods because it is holy, or
holy because it is beloved of the gods”?
• Does God command the good because it is good or is it good
because God commands it?
A) God commands the good because it is good
• Some actions are good in themselves so God
commands them
• Why? What makes them good?
• It does not help us to define what the good is
• God becomes irrelevant!
• This theory erodes:
 God’s sovereignty
 (Because God cannot do evil) his omnipotence
and freedom
B) The good is good because God
commands it
• “Divine command theory”
• Many Christian thinkers believe in
this
• (Augustine, Calvin, Aquinas)
• It is implicit in most Islamic
thought
• A clear objective metaphysical
foundation for morality
• Provides a solid answer to anyone
asking “Why should I be moral?”:
• You will be punished or rewarded
for it
• (This answer can be criticised as
being essentially selfish)
• More positively
• God has designed humans to
flourish only in the context of
morality
• Augustine: “Love God and do
what you want”
Problems with Divine Command
Theory
• 1) (Obviously) the theory
depends on the existence of
God
• 2) It deprives holy texts of
meaning
• “God is good” becomes a
tautology
• “God is good” = “God does
what he commands”
Meaning?
• “God saw that it was good”
(Genesis 1) – what can this
mean?
• 3) What God commands may
seem arbitrary
• In theory he could command
us to kill each other
• Unlikely?
• Some of his commands do
seem evil:
• (Controversially) Biblical
proscription of homosexuality
/ punishments for adultery
• Genocide (the Book of Joshua)
• On what basis do we say that
genocide is wrong if God has
commanded it?
The sacrifice of Isaac
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•
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• Abraham is praised for this act:
Genesis 22
• Abraham’s faith in God is seen as stronger
than his moral duty to his son
God commands Abraham to
sacrifice his son Isaac
• Implications:
Abraham obeys
• God is an absolute that cannot be bound
by any rule that humans can grasp
At the last minute a lamb is
sacrificed instead
• God’s commands are conditional and
time-bound (unlike God!)
A clear instance of the
arbitrariness of God’s
• All God’s (ethical) commands are open to
morality
God’s own suspension of these
commands; this means they are arbitrary
God would normally say
killing our own children is
• Our duty is to obey God and ignore our
bad
conscience
• Good (the ethical) is not the highest value;
there is something better than good (?)
Caravaggio’s The Sacrifice of Isaac from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binding_of_Isaac
Natural law
• Another deontological theory
• God has established the world
and all things in it for a
purpose
• The good is what fulfils this
purpose
• Thomas Aquinas = Roman
Catholic morality
• Uses Aristotle’s teleological
vision – morality depends on
purpose
• Example: sexual intercourse
• Purpose: to produce children
• Sex to produce children is right
• Sex without the possibility of
children is wrong, including
• Homosexuality
• Non-vaginal sex
• Contraception
• Post-menopausal sex?
Drawbacks to this theory
• Fundamental objections:
• It depends on the existence
of God
• Without God, why should
we believe that what is
natural is good?
• It is not clear that “nature”
actually has a purpose
• If you are seriously ill, it is
natural for you to die; are
doctors therefore bad?
• Secondary objections:
• It seems to rest on biology,
making morality incidental
on biology
• Those who defend it are not
really interested in biology
• Many animals do not have
monogamy; why is it natural
for humans to have it?
• Sex also involves pleasure
and the strengthening of
relationships – are these
not part of the purpose of
sex?
Immanuel Kant
• An attempt to provide a deontological morality
without God
• (NB He believed in God)
• Instead it is based on rationality
• Divides things we ought to do (=imperatives) into
two categories
• Hypothetical (“if I want good grades, I ought to
study”)
• Categorical – obligations without conditions
http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1287258849p5/11038.jpg
The “categorical imperative”
• Three formulations
• First formulation:
• Act only according to
that maxim by which
you can at the same
time will that it should
become a universal law.
• = Only do things if you
would be happy when
everyone does them
• Things you should not
do:
• Murder
• Commit suicide
• Commit euthanasia
• Steal
• Break a promise
• Lie
Second and third formulations
• Universalising the principles by which you act
• Implies that you see other human beings as autonomous
moral agents
• Second form of the categorical imperative =
• Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your
own person or in the person of another, always at the same
time as an end and never simply as a means.
• This rules out: exploitative labour; prostitution; casual sex
• Third form =
• A rational being must always regard himself as giving laws
either as member or as sovereign in a kingdom of ends
which is rendered possible by the freedom of will (Kant
1785)
Implications
• The form of the categorical imperative is
inevitable for rational beings
• In that sense they are logically prior to those
beings
• They are universal
• The most important aspect of a moral act is
the intention
Drawbacks to Kantian ethics
 Ignores the idea of consent
• (works for exploitative labour/casual
sex/prostitution/suicide)
 Things that are wrong are wrong in all circumstances
• You cannot take the situation into account
• If someone comes to your front door to murder your
mother and she is upstairs
• It is wrong to say “She is not at home”
 Different societies/groups have different rules
• 9/11 attacks!!
 “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions”
 Depends on free will
4. Consequentialist ethics
• Another attempt to base morality on rational
principles
• Intentions are irrelevant
• What makes an act good or bad is the
consequences of the act
• Telling the murderer that your mother is at
home is wrong
• Lying in order to prevent your own mother’s
murder is good
The most influential type of
consequentialist ethics
• Utilitarianism
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Jeremy Bentham 1748-1832
The right thing to do
“produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people”
=the greatest happiness principle
Acts which produce more happiness than pain are good acts
=the utility principle
The principle is ethical and legal
Bentham thought that you could decide this for every act
= Act utilitarianism
Working out which acts are right =
The felicific calculus
Act utilitarianism
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•
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A way of deciding which acts are good or not
Clear
Rational
Does not need supernatural support
It also does not need any idea of “human
rights”
Bentham does not believe in natural
human rights
• “nonsense on stilts”
• Rights come from human laws and not from
nature
• Natural rights are from “imaginary laws, from
laws of nature, fancied and invented by poets,
rhetoricians, and dealers in moral and
intellectual poisons”
Problems with Act Utilitarianism
• In a choice between saving 100 people and their own
family, most people would choose the latter – it is hard
to condemn them for this.
• It is sometimes difficult to predict the consequences of
an act, particularly if you need to make a quick
decision.
• A focus on the happiness of the many may allow
actions that cause the unhappiness of the few:
• Capital punishment; torture (see CTS lecture)
• There is no idea of human rights in the theory to
prevent this
• Why is Happiness so important? Aren’t there other
important factors?
John Stuart Mill
• Argues that some pleasures are more
worthwhile than others
• People’s consciousness of their goals is as
important as happiness
• “Better to be a human being dissatisfied than
a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates
dissatisfied than a fool satisfied”
• Mill suggested that rules not acts should
conform to the utility principle
Rule utilitarianism
• We live our lives by rules that increase general
happiness
• Allows for human rights:
• “To have a right, then, is, I conceive, to have
something which society ought to defend me in
the possession of. If the objector goes on to ask,
why it ought? I can give him no other reason than
general utility.” Mill Utilitarianism 1861
• We have rights because if people possess rights,
then society will be happier
Problems with rule utilitarianism
• Once the rules are validly established, we cannot break
them
• E.g. Stealing is wrong; so it is wrong to steal even if that
is the only way to save someone’s life
• Mill disagrees with this point
• “to save a life, it may not only be allowable, but a duty,
to steal, or take by force, the necessary food or
medicine”
• But if you start making exceptions, you will never finish
• So it is the same as act utilitarianism
Other consequentialist theories
• There are other consequentialist theories
• E.g. State Consequentialism
• “It is the business of the benevolent man to
seek to promote what is beneficial to the
world and to eliminate what is harmful” Mozi
(470-391 BC)
• We should evaluate the morality of an action
• Based on its effect on society as a whole
5. Modern ethics
• Has turned back to virtue ethics (“the aretaic
turn”)
• A reaction to the problems behind rationalist
ethics:
• The overall approach is wrong
• A feeling that morality is something integral to
society and cannot come out of thinking about
individuals alone
• Moral rules come out of the traditions and the
forms of life of particular societies
• There is therefore no universal ethics
• Post-modernism
• =Relativist ethics
Relativist ethics
• There are no absolute rules
• What is right and wrong
depends on the society
• Drawbacks to this
• You cannot impose your
rules on anyone else
• You cannot say that another
society’s rules are wrong
• You can never say “the rules
of my society are wrong”
• Flaws in the position
• Is this prohibition absolute
or relative?
• What if another society
claims its rules are absolute
and universal? Are they
right or wrong?
• To say that the society is
right contradicts your
position
• To say that it is not right
contradicts your position
Conclusion
• There are many
different approaches to
the question “What
makes an act good?”
• None of them entirely
satisfactory
• This does not mean that
good and bad are not
important!