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Arts and Humanities
Topic 2: INTRODUCTION TO ETHICAL THEORIES
Terms in this set (28)
What is Society?
An association of people organised under a system of rules designed to advance the good of all its members over time.
What is Law?
-an attempt to codify the most important morals (as agreed by a society).
-However, not all are "absolute" rules.
What is the Goal of an Ethicist?
-A guide to establishing a fair and just society,
enabling everyone to prosper.
-A guide to decision‐making when confronted by dilemmas: those awful situations where "good" for one or some is at the same time "bad" for another, or others.
-IS: reflecting especially on issues brought into play by the development of technology, and issues faced directly by professionals working in IS.
What is the Difference between ethics and law?
• Not all laws are considered ethical by
everyone, and not all laws encode moral
• Laws can be misused by tyrants in order to
enforce behaviour beneficial to the tyrant rather
than to "the people".
• It is often wrongly, assumed that in Western
democracies, the law is inherently ethical.
What are the 3 ways of approaching ethical dilemmas?
-Tradition: basing our ethical compass on
religions, customs, families and friends.
-Enlightenment: applying rules and precepts, developed according to reason.
-Virtue/Ethics: rejecting the "rule‐based" approach, but trying to develop our moral character such that we are better equipped to resolve ethical dilemmas.
What are some similarities between tradition, virtue/ethics and enlightenment approaches?
• Tradition and Enlightenment are similar in that they attempt to develop rules and precepts, i.e. the ten commandments, deontological ethics,
• Tradition and Virtue/Ethics are similar in that they generally set limits on human ability (Tradition is according to god; Virtue/Ethics there is no "right" answer for humans to find)
• Enlightenment and Virtue/Ethics are similar in that they apply reason.
What is the Divine Command Theory?
good actions are aligned with the will of God
What are the arguments for Divine Command Theory?
- We owe our allegiance to our creator.
-"God" is all good and all-knowing.
-"God" is the ultimate authority.
-"Do unto others as you would have them do
unto you" (the "golden rule") is a common
feature of the major religions, and is essentially
accepted universally as a first principle of ethical
What are the arguments against Divine Command Theory?
-There are many holy books and they sometimes
-Interpretation of scripture not straightforward and some moral problems are not addressed in
-Appeals to God in a secular society have little
-Equivalence fallacy (Do not equate "God" with
"good" as good can come from other places as
-Based on faith and obedience not reason.
What is the Enlightenment Period?
-Period from 1650s to the 1780s in which cultural
and intellectual forces in Western Europe emphasized reason, analysis, and individualism rather than traditional lines of authority.
-Started at the end of Europe's 30 year War and ended with the French Revolution.
-At same time revolution in physics (Newtonian kinematics) and wider availability of Encyclopedias.
Why are enlightenment theories good?
-With the Enlightenment critique and subsequent loss of custom and tradition, the Enlightenment thinkers argued we need a reasoned and reasonable method from which to determine how to act.
-Explicit belief in human capacity (simply accepting scriptural instruction from "God") or following tradition, is not good enough: humans can deduce what is right using reason based on first principles.
What is Social Contract Theory?
-"Morality consists in the set of rules, governing
how people in a society are to treat one
another; that rational people will agree to
accept for their mutual benefit, on the condition
that others follow those rules as well"
-Everyone living in a civilised society has
implicitly agreed to:
1) the establishment of a set of moral rules to
govern relations among citizens.
2) a Government capable of enforcing these
What are the arguments for Social Contract Theory?
-Framed in language of rights (we have been raised believing in individual rights).
-Explains why people act in self interest in absence of common agreement (i.e., "rights seeking")
-Provides clear ethical analysis of important moral issues.
-Law used to enforce ethical (or not!) behaviour, as well as allows for civil disobedience against an unethical law (segregation laws in USA).
What are the arguments against Social Contract Theory?
-Not a legally binding contract (no signatures).
-Some actions may be characterised differently from different perspectives.
-There can be a conflict of rights: how is this to be resolved?
-Unjust for people who cannot uphold their
side of the contract.
What are the 2 major tenets of Social Contract Theory?
1. Rights: all morally significant beings have certain rights: life, liberty, property, privacy; two types negative and positive.
2. Duties: If someone has a right to something it is your duty to see that they receive it.
What is the first part of Kant's Categorical Imperative?
-Our focus should always be on our will to be good: what we ought to do, not what we want to do.
-"Act only from moral rules that you can at the same time will to be universal moral laws."
-Provides the moral compass for action.
-If an action is not right for everyone to do, in all
situations, then it is not a right action.
how do we evaluate moral rules?
-we universalise it.
-What would happen if everyone lied whenever they felt like it?
-What would happen if everyone published government and corporation secrets?
-What would happen if everyone sold information about others to corporations and governments?
-But there is no concern for consequences, just concern that the universal law can produce a logical contradiction.
What is the second part of Kant's Categorical Imperative?
-"Act so that you always treat both yourself and other people as ends in themselves, never a means to an end."
-It is wrong to use others.
-Humanity is an end in itself.
-Kant draws explicitly on the Judeo-Christian tradition of the Golden Rule.
What are the arguments for Kant's Theory?
-Produces universal moral guidelines.
-Treats all people as moral equals (no
What are the arguments against Kant's Theory?
-Sometimes a rule doesn't characterise an action (e.g. stealing to feed someone starving - is this stealing or is this caring for another)
-No way to resolve conflict between rules: each rule has the same weight.
-No exceptions: it is too rigid.
What is Utilitarianism?
-"An action is right (or wrong) to the extent that it
increases (or decreases) the total happiness of the affected parties."
-An action is good if it benefits, bad if it harms.
-A Consequentialist theory.
What is Consequentialism?
-approach to ethics focused on the outcomes of decision‐making.
-The idea is that one chooses an action based on the likely/ intended consequences of the action, with little regard for the side.
‐Effects of the action itself (although,
generally, the totality of all consequential outcomes has to be evaluated - including the side effects).
-The motive behind the action is irrelevant.
What is Act Utilitarianism?
-"An action is good if its net effect is to produce
more happiness than unhappiness".
-Considers individual actions on their own merits (case by case basis).
-Does not aim to develop universally-applicable rules.
-Identical in principle to Cost-Benefit Analysis
-Appears to underlie much contemporary political philosophy and business decision-making.
What are the arguments for Act Utilitarianism?
-It focuses on happiness.
-It is down-to-earth.
-It is comprehensive, objective and rational.
What are the arguments against Act Utilitarianism?
-Where one draws the line might change the
-Performing the utilitarian calculus is difficult.
- not practical.
-Ignores our innate sense of duty.
-Problem of moral luck, some actions don't
have the intended consequences.
-Cannot predict all possible consequences of
What is Rule Utilitarianism?
-"We ought to adopt moral rules which, if followed by everyone, would lead to the greatest increase in happiness".
-Overlaps with Deontoglism but still distinct.
-Utilitarians consider the consequence on happiness.
-Kantians on motive and treating people as an end in themselves.
What are the arguments for Rule Utilitarianism?
-Performing the calculus is simpler
-Exceptional situations don't overthrow the rules.
-Solves the problem of moral luck.
-Appeals to a wide cross section of society.
-It is all right to do anything as long as no one gets hurt.
-It's the actual consequences that count, not some silly rules.
-No bias, as there is no action under consideration.
What are the arguments against Rule Utilitarianism?
-Similar to Act
-Forces a single measure to evaluate all different
kinds of consequences (intangibles?).
-Ignores the problem of unjust distribution of good consequences.
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