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Ethics: A Brief Overview
Alyse Andalman
Christine Smith
Lindsay Wuller
Refresh our memory…
• Which framework do you think you
use the most?
Having Read the Trolley
• We’re going to take a vote!
• Pre-Historic
– Hunter-Gatherer Behavior
• Mythology
– Hesiod’s Theogony
• Pre-Socratic “Texts”
– Heraclitus and Parmenides
– Not much about Ethics
Socrates & Plato
• Euthyphro Dilemma:
– Is it pious because the Gods love it?
– Do the Gods love it because it’s pious?
• The Theory of the Forms
– The Form of the Good
• That by virtue of which all other Forms
are true qua form
ex. Beautiful (the form) v. beautiful
Socrates & Plato
• The Form Virtue
– Virtue = Knowledge = Happiness
– Being virtuous requires one to tend to the health of
his soul which results in happiness
– Those who know the right thing to do will always
act accordingly
• From the Apology:
No one knowingly harms himself or does evil
things to others because that would harm his
Real World Application
• Is it ethical to give medications to people
who do not have a “disease”?
– Enhancement?
Socrates & Plato
Assumptions and Premises:
• The soul is immortal.
• The body is not immortal.
• THEREFORE, the soul does not permanently
reside in one particular body.
– Parallel to The Matrix : The soul is placed in the
body at the moment of birth and leaves the body at
the moment of death, only to be inserted into
another body
• Ergon: function
• Arete: skill (that allows it to function well)
• Telos: purpose or ultimate end/goal
Example: A knife
Ergon- to cut
Arete- its sharp edge
Telos- to cut steak with clean edges
Per his knowledge of biology, Aristotle
believed in the following, as regards living
– 3 Degrees of Souls
• Nutritive – plants
• Sensitive – animals
• Rational – humans
– The purpose of life is the pursuit of
• Overall happiness, fulfillment, flourishing, doing
well, living to your highest potention
Human Soul:
• Ergon: To live
• Arete: Justice
• Telos: Eudaimonia
According to Aristotle, the just live well and
are happy, but happiness is not the
purpose of life, as later theories might
In summary, his ethical framework consists
of two main principles:
1. Humans must live a life consisting of acting
well according to our natural human
2. Doctrine of the Mean:
• Individuals must act appropriately rational AND
emotional in a given situation.
Real World Application
“Teaser” for next class…
If animals have a different purpose from
humans, does this change the “rules” for
Real World Application
What does Aristotle consider a full human?
How does this impact the way we view
those with mental illness?
Major Ethical Frameworks
• Consequentialism
• Kantianism
• Virtue Ethics
Comparing Ethical
Main Proponents:
• Jeremy Bentham
• John Stuart Mill
“The ends justify the means.”
“All’s well that ends well.”
Basic Tenets:
-The moral worth of an action is to be
judged by its consequences or utility;
intentions do not matter.
-Utilitarianism: The act which is “right” is the
one that provides for the greatest good for
the greatest number—the maximization of
pleasure and the minimization of pain.
Greatest Happiness Principle: “Act so as to
achieve the greatest happiness for the
greatest number”
Problems: How do we calculate happiness?
Is utilitarian calculus inherently flawed?
Can we know the exact consequences of an
action beforehand?
Act Consequentialism:
-Act by act evaluation of what would
provide for the greatest good for the
greatest number (Situational)
Rule Consequentialism:
-There is a given set of rules governing
behavior which maximizes the greatest
good for the greatest number.
Problems with these?
Ethical Egoism:
-The well-being of an individual has more
weight than the happiness of society as a
Ethical Altruism:
-When performing the utilitarian calculus,
you must consider all individuals’ wellbeing equally and always give to others
whenever possible as long as that
provides for the greatest amount of
Kantian Deontology
Main idea:
The only thing which is good without
conditions is good will or rationality.
*If a person with good will cannot
bring about good consequences, the
individual is still acting morally.
Kantian Deontology
According to Kant, we have basic “duties”
that he describes in ethical rules he calls
The First Formulation:
-An individual ought never to act except in
such a way that he could also will that his
maxim become a universal law.
“Will” means to rationally desire
Sustainability & Universalizability
Real World Application
• Suicide
-You cannot rationally will suicide
upon yourself because rationality/the
will desires to preserve itself.
Kantian Deontology
The Second Formulation:
-We ought to treat human beings
always as ends in themselves, never
merely as means to another end.
-e.g. Trolley Problem and the Fat
Real World Application
“Savior Siblings”
-My Sister’s Keeper
W.D. Ross
Prima facie duties
- “Other things being equal”
- “On its first appearance”
- e.g. lying
- not absolute
Virtue Ethics
• We ought to act in accordance with
– Based on rules which govern how we
should act in any given situation
– Ex. Aristotle’s ethical framework
The question remains…
Who decides what is virtuous?
Who decides the rules?
Modern Divide
• Cognitivism: Ethical statements express
propositions that are truth-apt (meaning
they can either be true or false)
• Non-cognitivism: Ethical statements are
not truth-apt, suggesting that moral
propositions reduce to “Boo!” or “Hooray!”
or the expression of an emotion but NOT
something objective in the world.
Moral Relativism
• Different Levels
– Between societies
– Between members of the same society
or group
– Within the same person (intrapersonal)
Real World Example
• Eskimo/Inuit babies
Trolley Problem
• Judith Jarvis Thomson
Do you still believe that you
make decisions based off of
the same ethical framework
as when we started this
Why or why not?