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What is the definition of ethics (moral philosophy)?

  • Study of the concepts and principles that underlie our evaluations of a person's action into the categories of
    • morally permissible (you may do)
    • morally impermissible (you may not do)
    • morally obligatory (you must do)


Who are some moral philosophers?

  1. Ancient
    1. Socrates = father of moral philosophy
    2. Plato
    3. Aristotle
    4. Epictetus
    5. Marcus Aurelius
    6. St. Augustine
  2. Medieval
    1. St. Anselm
    2. St. Aquinas
  3. Modern
    1. Hobbes
    2. Hume
    3. Kant
    4. J.S. Mill
    5. Nietzche
  4. Contemporary
    1. Russell
    2. Hallie
    3. Mortimer
    4. Arthur
    5. Williams
    6. Rachels
    7. Pojman


What are some features of moral theories?

  • It has to do with persons
    • What a person does vs. what a person ought to do
    • ethics is concerned with what acts are praiseworthy or blameworthy
  • Moral principle
  • Rational principle


What is the moral principle?

  • articulates the reason or what is necessary for an action to be moral or right ("only if")


What is the rational principle?

  • articulates how a person must use reason to discover how they ought to act in accordance with their moral principle


What are the two types of moral theories?

  1. Moral objectivist
  2. Moral nonobjectivist


What is a moral objectivist?

  • some actions are ALWAYS impermissible or obligatory
  • Objective truth:
    • applies to everyone, everywhere, all the time with no exception


What are the three main types of moral objectivism?

  1. Divine Command Theory
  2. Virtue-based Ethics
  3. Duty-based Ethics


What is the divine command theory?

  • An action is right only if it accords with God's will
  • Rational principle:
    • appeal to authority


What is the virtue-based ethics?

  • an action is right only if it is virtuous
  • rational principle:
    • golden mean


What is duty-based ethics?

  • an action is right only if it is a duty
  • rational imperative:
    • categorical imperative


What is a moral nonobjectivist?

  • NO action is ALWAYS permissible, impermissible or obligatory.


What are the three main types of moral nonobjectivism?

  1. Relativism
  2. Consequentialism
  3. Moral Nihilism


What is relativism?

  • an action is right only if someone considera the action right
  • two kinds:
    • moral subjectivism
      • rational principle: "me"
    • moral relativism
      • rational principle: "we"


What is consequentialism?

  • an action is right only if the predicted consequences of performing that action are "good"
  • two kinds:
    • moral egoism
      • you should do that which maximizes your best self-interest
      • rational principle: "my"
    • utilitarianism
      • you should do that which maximizes happiness for the greater number of people
      • rational principle: GHP


What is nihilism?

  • Everything is permissible


What are two kinds of moral relativism?

  • Cultural relativism
  • Moral (ethical) relativism


What are cultural relativism?

  • the empirical fact that some actions are permissible or obligatory in some societies but not in others
    • slavery
    • female circumcision


What is moral (ethical) relativism?

  • the normative view that whether an action is permissible or obligatory ought to rest with the members of society in which the action is to be performed


Who was Ruth Benedict?

  • Anthropologist
  • Patterns of Culture (1934)


What is the difference between normal vs abnormal according to Ruth Benedict?

  • Abnormal (deviant)
    • actions that fall outside the limits of expected behavior for a particular society


What are some conclusions of Ruth Benedict?

  • normality is culturally defined
  • "most individuals are plastic to the moulding force of the society into which they are born"


What is morality according to Ruth Benedict?

  • "morally good" and "it is habitual" (customary) are the same thing


Who is James Rachels?

  • American moral philosopher


What was his aim?

  • "We will try to identify what is correct in cultural relativism, but we will also be concerned to expose what is mistaken about it."


What is the cultural differences argument?

  1. Different cultures have different moral codes
  2. Therefore, there is no objective "truth" in morality.


What are Rachels criticisms to the cultural differences argument?

  1. does it follow from the mere fact that they disagree that there is no objective truth?
  2. customs ≠ values
    1. "We cannot conclude, merely because customs differ, that there is a disagreement about values."
    2. All cultures have some values in common:
      • protecting infants
      • truth-telling
      • Prohibition of murder


What are the consequences of taking CR seriously according to Rachels?

  1. We would no longer say that the customs of other societies are morally inferior to our own.
    • condemining, critizicing slavery, genocide
  2. We could decide whether actions are right or wrong just by consulting the standards of our society.
    • apartheid
  3. The idea of moral progress is called into question.
    • reformers are immoral (MLK)