Ethics Areas discussed 1. 2. 3. • • • 4. • • • 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) • • • • • • 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 • • • • • • • • • 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 • • • • • • • • • 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 • • • • • • • • 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 • • • • • • • 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 • • • • • • • • • • • 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 • • • • • 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!