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Ethics - consistent with OCR A2 Level Religious Ethics


actions are right and wrong in themselves


actions need to be judged by their consequences ('end justifies the means')

Three examples of deontological ethics

Natural Law, Kantian, Divine Command

Two examples of teleological ethics

Utilitarianism, situation ethics


Investigation of the language and meaning of ethics, and the value of truth

Normative ethics

Deriving practical moral standards, good habits and rules to live by

Applied ethics

Ethics' application to specific issues


Subjectivist, c. 450 BC, said 'Man is the measure of all things'


No universally valid moral principles: truth is dependent on point of view, and all moral positions are equivalent

Cultural relativism

Ethics constructed on the basis of fitness for a particular society

Diversity thesis

Different rules of conduct apply in different societies

Dependency thesis

Right and wrong depend on the nature of society; judging objectively is impossible as all judgement frames depend on a certain, socially inscribed, way of looking at things

Five reasons for rise of relativism

decline of religious authority
exposure to, and increased understanding of, other cultures
unacceptable effect of interfering with other cultures
influence of meta-ethics, problematising notions of right/wrong
development of competing theories

Weaknesses of relativism

objective critique of atrocities is impossible
societies do not grow and progress - stifles change by acquiescing to the status quo
privileges social acceptability over moral behaviour
only a step away from subjectivism

Normative relativism

relativism which is assessed according to ethical theories and is therefore not culturally dependent


rightness/wrongness of an act judged by its consequences

situationism (Fletcher)

individual situations differ, only basis for making decisions is agape love

four working principles of Fletcher's situationism

pragmatism - must be practicable
relativism - no absolutes, judge each situation on its merits
positivism - make a value judgement which gives primacy to love
personalism - identify what is best for each individual

six fundamental principles of Fletcher's situationism

only absolute is agape
self-giving love
justice follows from agape
love has no favourites: strangers are as important as friends or family
love is the final end, not a means to an end
the situation will show what is the loving thing to do

founder of theory of Forms


Aristotle's 'living well'


natural law

eternal, absolute moral law, discoverable by reason

Aquinas's primary precepts

preserve life
learn (educate children)
peaceful living in society

doctrine of double effect

always WRONG to commit a bad act intentionally in order to bring about good consequences
sometimes RIGHT to a good act even though its consequences are bad (these consequences must be unintended, if they are foreseen)

naturalistic fallacy (G E Moore)

goodness is not natural so cannot be defined by reference to nature

strengths of Natural Law morality

easy to apply primary precepts
consistent with 'human nature' - fulfils human nature
clear rules, so easy to understand by all in society
flexibility in applying secondary precepts - applying wisdom
considers importance of both the intention and the act

criticisms of Natural Law

perhaps too simplistic a view of human nature and culture
divine telos: but what if there is no god?
eternal, absolute laws - but different cultures may have different laws
naturalistic fallacy (Moore)
predicated on human reason rather than God (Barth)

a posteriori

statement knowable only through experience

a priori

statement knowable without experience

single starting point for Kant's morality

good will

Kant's 'good will' finds its expression in acting according to ...


hypothetical imperative

an action that achieves some goal or end, ie. 'if I want to achieve x, then I should do y'

categorical imperative

moral commands, independent of everything but pure reason, and applicable to everyone

Kant's tests for whether action is consistent with pure practical reason

1) universalise principles without contradiction (Formula of Law of Nature)
2) treat humanity, including oneself, as an end (Formula of End in Itself)
3) act as if a legislator in universal Kingdom of Ends

Kingdom of Ends

Each person is free, automous, and thus has the ability to apply principles of pure practical reason

summum bonum

supreme good pursued by moral acts

strengths of Kant's theory of ethics

simple, based on reason and applicable by all
clear criteria to assess moral acts
moral value of an action comes from the action itself
categorial imperative provides rules for all
respect for human life: no treating others as means
observe duty rather than feelings
aims to treat all well (i.e. not utilitarian)

weaknesses of Kant's theory of ethics

universalisability: if act is right or wrong it applies to all regardless of situation
theory is abstract and does not tell you how to act in particular situations
(Macintyre) universability principle can be used to justify anything
clinical, cold notion of duty - devoid of compassion
does not consider consequences - but this may be an important part of ethical decision making
requires agreement about what pure reason actually is
does not show how to deal with potential conflicts, (e.g. stealing to preserve life is wrong???)

Ross's prima facie duties

1) fidelity, keeping promises
2) reparation for harm done
3) gratitude
4) justice
5) beneficence
6) self-improvement
7) non-maleficence

literal meaning of 'prima facie'

'at first glance'

characteristics of utilitarianism

principle of utility
consequentialist: measure consequences of action before deciding on act
(quantitative - Bentham)
(qualitative - Mill)

hedonic calculus (Bentham)

quantitative means of determining right thing to do in each situation

Greek philosopher associated with hedonism


Act utilitarianism

actions judged as means to an end
guided by principle of utility, not by a set of rules
relative - no notion of absolute right/wrong

main differences between Bentham's and Mill's utilitarianism

Bentham: quantitative, using hedonic calculus to judge how to act in each situation; 'act utilitarian'
Mill: qualitative (some forms of pleasure are superior to others), decision-making grounded in certain social rules; 'rule utilitarian'; universalisability

Rule utilitarianism

rules should be formed on the basis of utilitarian principles which can be applied to the benefit of society
strong rule utilitarians - principles should always be obeyed
weak rule utilitarians - act on principles, but disregard them when better consquences may result from doing so

weaknesses of act utilitarianism

difficult to predict consequences of actions, even by applying the hedonic calculus
any act potentially can be justified through the calculus
difficulty in defining what pleasure is
minorities have no defence
impractical/impracticable to apply the hedonic calculus to every choice

weaknesses of rule utilitarianism

difficult to predict consequences of actions
minorities have no defence
invoking rules means the process becomes deontological
strict rule following can lead to irrational decisions
weak rule following is more or less identical to act utilitarianism

philosophers associated with preference utilitarianism

R M Hare
Peter Singer
Richard Brandt

preference utilitarianism

moral actions are judged by how they fit in with the preferences of people involved

Hare's preference utilitarianism

need to consider our own preferences as well as others
everyone should be treated impartially

Singer's preference utilitarianism

take account of all people affected by actions
actions must reflect 'best interests' of all concerned
'best interests' is not necessarily the same as greatest pleasure - so is at variance with earlier utilitarians

Brandt's utilitarianism

preferences should be made free from psychological blocks, as if one had undergone cognitive psychotherapy
this would allow informed decisions, not prone to undue influences/desires (such as promoted through advertising)

criticisms of utilitarianism

consequences of actions are difficult to predict
ignores duty - ie. should promises be upheld and truth told?
can lead to injustice - ie victimising a minority for good of a majority
problems of measuring pleasure/happiness
ignores integrity - completely pragmatic (Bernard Williams - 'Jim and the Indians' scenario)
too impersonal, needs to consider individual rights (John Rawls)

central tenet of Paul's christianity

love thy neighbour

difference in Catholic and Protestant attitude to the Bible

Catholic: scripture cannot be your guide on every matter, so tradition is also important
Protestant: Bible is sole authority

Euthyphro dilemma (Plato)

Is something good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is good?

Problems for religion with accepting that God commands something because it is good ...

(1) seems to place limits on God's sovereignty (ie moral laws which God is bound by)
(2) seems to place limits on God's omnipotence: God cannot command us to do what is wrong
(3) seems to place limits on God's freedom of will - cannot violate moral requirements and so is not limitlessly free
(4) God is unnecessary - i.e. moral standards exist independently of God, so he is not a 'law giver' but only, at most, a communicator of laws

Problems for religion with accepting that something is good because God commands it ... (ie. divine command theory or voluntarism)

(1) no moral standards without God's commands - thus God could, in principle, command us to disregard God
(2) God's justice could be reduced (Thomas Hobbes) to irresistible power
(3) (William Paley) all moral actions predicated on self-interested urge to avoid hell and enter heaven

Divine command theory

actions are right or wrong depending on whether they follow God's commands or not; moral rules are true because God commands them


sense of right and wrong; way of recognising moral law; way of using reason to make decisions on how to act

key difference between Natural Law and utilitarianism

under utilitarianism it is possible to sacrifice a single person for the good of the many; natural law and christian ethics do not permit evil acts even if they lead to good ends

Jesus's Golden Rule

Do unto others ...

cognitivist position

moral statements describe the world and are objectively falsifiable

non-cognitivist position

moral statements are not descriptive, but expressions of feelings or opinions and so are essentially subjective

ethical naturalism/ethical cognitivism

theory that moral values can be derived from sense experience

ethical non-naturalism/ethical non-cognitivism

theory that ethical statements cannot be derived from sense experience

characteristics of ethical naturalism

cognitive and objective
ethical and non-ethical statements are the same
ethical statements can be falsified (tested against reality)

Moore's critique of ethical naturalism

goodness cannot be identified with a natural quality (to do so is to commit the naturalistic fallacy)

Moore's 'open question' argument

attempts to identify morality with observable properties of the world are always an open question: we can ask 'is it good?' of any action, and thus we cannot move from a factual objective statement 'Androcles saved the lion' to an irrefutable ethical statement of values

Moore's intutionism

good is a simple, unanalysable property, as fundamental and as elusive of description as a primary colour
we have a moral intuition about what is good, but we cannot define it (try defining 'yellow')
there are objective moral truths, but we only know these by intuition and cannot describe them

Prichard's intuitionism

moral obligations are obvious, but these obligations are as indefinable as 'good'
reason tells us the facts of a situation
intuition tells us how to decide what our moral obligation is
some people have 'better' intuition than others

Ross's intuitionism

agrees with Moore and Prichard over indefinability of 'good' and 'ought'
judgement must be used to decide what to do in a situation
one duty can be rejected in favour of another
deontologist who proposes seven 'prima facie' duties

criticisms of intuitionism

goodness unknowable except by 'intuition' which itself is undefined, so intutionism is obfuscating rather than precise
intuitionism is by definition unempirical, cannot have recourse to sense experience, so what happens if one person's 'intuition' conflicts with another's? who is right?
does 'intuition' arise from social and cultural conditioning?

emotivism (Ayer)

words like 'good' are meaningless
ethical judgements are not meaningful statements - they have no truth value
boo/hurrah: ethical statements are just emotional states of approval or disapproval

logical positivism

all truth claims must be tested by sense experience (verification principle)

Ayer's two types of meaningful statements

analytic: truth or falsity determined by the terms occurring in them (all bachelors are unmarried); logical and mathematical statements
synthetic: truth or falsity determined by checking facts (Socrates was Greek); scientific, historical statements, for example

emotivism (Stevenson)

ethical statements are based on emotions, but these are not arbitrary - they are shaped by our experience of the world and how we want it to be
ethical statements are subjective
ethical statements are attempts to influence others

criticisms of emotivism

by ascribing ethical statements to emotion alone, emotivism fails to recognise that they also appeal to reason and are thus not arbitrary
emotivism may be seen to allow everyone to have complete freedom of act on the grounds that all moral opinions are equally valid

prescriptivism (Hare)

ethical statements are not intended to be descriptive, but prescriptive - as such they say what OUGHT to be done
ethical statements are not statements of fact and are not true or false, but they are expressions of will
ethical statements are IMPERATIVES
'good', 'ought', 'right' are universalisable and prescriptive
boo/hurrah is added to - we are not simply saying boo to stealing, we are saying stealing is wrong and neither we, nor anyone else, OUGHT to steal

criticisms of prescriptivism

no way of judging the validity of one person's prescriptions over another's
because different opinions exist, prescriptions are not universalisable
prescriptions are not statements of fact, but then how account for the fact that most people feel that certain actions are wrong?

virtue ethics - agent centred or act centred?

agent centred

Plato's cardinal virtues


theological virtues


final end of virtuous person


another name for virtue ethics

aretaic ethics (arete = excellence, Gr.)

Aristotle's two types of virtue

intellectual: qualities connected to thought and reason, skill, intelligence
moral: qualities connected to character like courage, truthfulness

how to acquire virtue according to Aristotle

practice; especially use practical reason (phronesis)

Golden Mean (Doctrine of the Mean)

virtuous mean (VM) always found between two vices - a deficiency on one side and an excess on the other
D: Cowardice - VM: Courage - E: Rashness
D: Shamelessness - VM: Modesty - E: Shyness
D: Servility - VM: Proper Self-Love - E: Arrogance

Aristotle's practical reason

phronesis - the primary virtue that needs to be acquired so that one can get the balance right (i.e. achieve the virtuous mean) in all other respects

reasons for modern virtue ethics

Anscombe: act-based ethics ignore the agent (the person carrying out the act); deontological ethics have stopped making sense because fewer people believe in God
many modern proponents of virtue ethics agree broadly with Anscombe's argument

Philippa Foot's virtue ethics

individual reasoning is important in exercise of virtue: thus a virtue does not operate if it is turned to a bad end (e.g. courage may be needed to murder someone, but the end itself is not good)
the wise person directs their will to what is good
virtues are 'correctives' - if wood is left out to season it warps and needs straightening; virtues continually straighten human character
by constant exercise we can acquire virtue and straighten our character

Alisdair MacIntyre's virtue ethics

since the Enlightenment (17-18th century), rationalistic cause for morality had been sought by philosophers (eg. Kant, Hume) - however, theory had departed from reality

most moral statements nowadays are based in emotivism

meanwhile virtuous people remain in every day life, regardless of arguments of philosophers

virtuous life: developing moral habits to achieve virtue

moral goods are more important than moral ideas - moral goods include giving to charity

possible to have some virtues but still be prone to vices

three most important virtues: justice, courage, honesty - without them society's institutions become corrupted

Rosalind Hursthouse's virtue ethics

virtues shape virtuous person's reasoning in characteristic ways

being virtuous is most reliable path to flourishing

virtue ethics does not tell us how a virtuous person would ACT confronted by a moral dilemma, but about how they would THINK

Slote's virtue ethics

common-sense ideas and intuitions about virtues

prefers 'admirable/deplorable' rather than 'good/bad' to describe behaviours as these latter terms need explaining

virtue is inner trait of individual

agent-focused theories: moral life understood in terms of what it is like to be a virtuous person

agent-based theories: evaluate actions according to the inner life and motives of people doing such actions

feminism and vitue ethics (Annette Baier)

there are distinctly feminine virtues (caring, nurturing, self-sacrifice)

strengths of virtue ethics

- avoids need for formula to work out what to do in situation, but focuses on personal qualities to achieve
- distinguishes between good people and legalists (following the law does not make one a good person)
- stresses importance of motivating people to be good; imitating virtue
- enables integration of life (emotions, commitments, friends, social responsibility) with individual ethical reflection (ie. is holistic)
- teleological
- allows for learning for mistakes and personal development
- flexible, not absolutist
- allows for differing concepts of 'virtue' to be applied across different cultures

criticisms of virtue ethics

- no clear rules on how to act in particular situations
- (Robert Louden) VE cannot resolve moral dilemmas - though Rosalind Hursthouse contests this in an essay on abortion debate
- (Louden) may be difficult to decide/agree on who is virtuous, as those who appear good may not have good intentions
- what about people who think they are acting virtuously but are doing bad things?
- focuses too much on who we are rather than what we do

hard determininism

notion that all events have a prior cause - thus no body has any real choice in how they act, only the illusion of choice (cf. fatalism)

predestination (Augustine, John Calvin)

God has decided in advance who is saved and who is not, and our actions in the world are irrelevant. Everyone is sinful apart from those who God has chosen to do good in the world. We have neither control over, nor responsibility for our actions.

examples of hard determinism

Hospers - 'all a matter of luck'
Clarence Darrow (1924): punishment inadmissible unless the offender has free will


behaviours can be predicted and controlled as the universe is deterministic (Watson)

operant conditioning

form of learning in which individual modifies his/her behaviour based on the consequences of that behaviour

Pinker's determinism

all moral reasoning is result of natural selection; however, this is not the limit of moral responsibility - moral sense is innate

Locke's analogy on (lack of) freedom of choice

sleeping man in locked room - decides not open the door, not knowing that the door is locked anyway

Pavlov analogy of freedom

fly at front of heavy carriage, thinking he directed it

Honderich's determininism

the mind is an epiphenomenon, a bi-product of neural activity, so there is not even any 'self' to ascribe responsibility to

libertarianism (incompatibilism)

everyone has freedom to act and is morally responsible for his/her actions

soft determinism (compatibilism)

some of our actions are determined, but we are morally responsible for our actions

'ought implies can'

someone cannot be blamed for what he could not do, but only for what he was capable of doing but did not do

four influences

social pressure

synderesis (Aquinas)

repeated use of 'right' reason by which one acquires knowledge of moral principles


actual ethical judgement or decision made

Aquinas' decision making process

accept general principles - apply them, with the help of conscience, to particular situation

Butler's view of conscience

separates humans from animals
conscience has final moral authority in all decisions
hierarchy of impulses: basic drive for survival, self-love, benevolence, conscience

purpose of conscience (Butler)

guide one to happiness
harmonise self-love and benevolence
control human nature

Newman's/Augustine's view of conscience

conscience is 'divine law' - messenger from God

Freud's three drives


Piaget's view of conscience

morality develops through cognitive development

- heteronomous morality (5-10 years old): rules are not broken and punishment expected if they are; consequences show whether action right or wrong

- autonomous morality (> 10 years) autonomous moral sense develops

Kohlberg's view of conscience

influenced by Piaget
people move from conforming to authority to caring to others and finally to respect for universal principles

Fromm's authoritarian conscience

humans are influenced by authority - rules are internalised
guilty conscience is a result of displeasing authority
disobedience produces guilt which makes us more submissive to authority
can be manipulated (as Nazi government manipulated attitude to Jews)

Fromm's humanistic conscience

draw on our own experience, and teachings and examples of others
conscience is expression of authentic self

Macnamara's conscience

conscience is not a voice, but an attitude or awareness
conscience is what I am rather than some special attribute I can apply

Richard Gula's conscience

(following Macnamara) conscience is a way of seeing (vision) and making choices of action (choice)

Vernon Ruland's conscience

conscience is not necessarily the voice of a single God, but the individual's interpretation of religious or mystical wisdom

Timothy O'Connell's conscience

three levels:
1) personal responsibility for who we are
2) sense of obligation to seek out the good
3) concrete judgement we make in order to do good

Daniel Maguire's view of conscience

as Timothy O'Connell's
however, in making choices we need to consider the place of imagination, humour and tragic experiences of life as these enrich our perceptions of value

problems with conscience

if voice of God is conscience then why do people make mistakes by following their conscience?
if voice of God is conscience they why do we disagree over what is the right thing to do (for example, Christians disagree over abortion, women priests, etc)

Judaeo-Christian anthropocentric/'dominion' view of environment (Aristotle, Aquinas)

natural world is for benefit of human beings and has no intrinsic value (justified by, inter alia, Genesis 1:26)

Judaeo-Christian 'stewardship' view of environment (Assisi)

Humans have special role of caretakers of creation - and a duty of care
All creatures have the ability to worship God so no creatures should be harmed (Assisi)
Treating the world badly harms our relationship with God and each other

End-time (rapture) view of environment

Destruction of environment signals the beginning of the end times (Apocalypse) and second coming of Christ
Destruction of environment should therefore be welcomed

Three main (secular) approaches to environmental ethics (as set out by Alan Marshall)

deep ecology
ecologic extension or eco-holism (including Gaia)
shallow ecology (conservation ethics)

principles of deep ecology (Naess and George Sessions)

natural diversity has intrinsic value
species should be saved for their intrinsic value
prioritise decrease in pollution over economic growth
reduce population
resources are for all living things
decreate in quality of life is intolerable

principles of shallow ecology

natural diversity is a valuable resource
species should be saved as a resource for humans
pollution should be decreased if it threatens growth
population growth threatens ecological equilibrium
resources are for humans
decrease in standard of living is intolerable


philosophy (such as deep ecology) which has ecocentric or biocentric perspective
main principle: all beings have equal right to live and blossom (Naess)


emphasis on interdependence - the environment is a whole entity in itself

Gaia (Lovelock)

earth as living being
Gaia is regulated by the living organisms in it (much as a body is regulated by cells, bacteria, etc.)
survival of the fittest is NOT the determining principle - species are selected which suit the environment
life is indestructible - but human life is not

revenge of Gaia

Lovelock's later position: planet may not be able to self-regulate out of human change to environment
humans need to take action now to reduce global warning
nuclear power needs to be adopted on global scale

instrumental value

something has value only in that it is useful for others


variety of living things

Singer's humanistic view of environment

moral criteria based on sentience: should not cause pain to other species
as a preference utilitarian, Singer advocates that animals should receive equal preference
set up 'world heritage sites' to preserve environmental heritage and leave future generations the choice between unspoilt country and urban landscape

applying utilitarianism to environmental decisions

destruction of environment will result in harm to all species, so utilitarians will weigh up long-term harm against short-term benefits of environmental impact
quantitative utilitarianism will use cost-benefit measures, weighing economic benefits against cost (eg. is tranquillity of value?)
Mill - enjoyment and study of nature is one of higher pleasures, thus environmental preservation is imperative
preference utilitarian - maximise preference satisfaction for current generation

applying Kantian ethics to environmental decisions

rational nature alone has absolute value
however, domestic animals should not be treated only as tools
animals can be killed for food but not for sport (Kant)
we have moral duties to the natural world (treating animals badly makes us cruel and we will thus fail in our duties toward rational beings)
categorical imperative forbids exploitation and pollution of natural world (illogical to universalise this)
respect for nature is universal law for all rational beings (Paul Taylor), animals and plants should have legal rights (though not moral rights)

environmental virtue ethics

central question is what makes an environmentally good person
virtuous life in nature is essential to eudaimonia

examples of consumer impact on business ethics

Shell - Brent Spar
Nike - child labour
Monsanto - GM food

role of UCAS (1978)

to promote good and harmonious working relationships between employers and employees by negotiating in disputes

balance of interests between employer/employee

employer - profit, sustainability of business, productive employees
employee - good working conditions and good pay


reduction of difference between national economies so trade within and between different countries becomes increasingly similar

reasons for increase in pace of globalisation

technology change - especially ICT
transport faster and cheaper
deregulation (privaisation of nationalised businesses)
removal of capital exchange controls
free trade
consumer tastes
emerging markets in developing countries

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