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Deontological Theories

-"the end never justifies the means";
It is wrong to break a promise or lie for a good ending


-Influenced by Pietism, Rousseau (social contract), rationalism vs. empiricism, natural law theories, rule intutionism
-Wrote: The Critique of Pure Reason and the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
-Did not like empiricist ideas

Hypothetical commands

-If you want A than do B
-If you want a good job, get a good education
-Don't characterize moral actions

Categorical commands

-Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law
-Procedure for determining the morality of any course of action
-All specific moral duties can be derived from this single imperative


general rule in accordance with which the agent intends to act

Formulations of categorical imperative

-Principle of law of nature
-Principle of ends
-Principle of autonomy

Principle of law of nature

-act as through the maxim of your action were by your will to become a universal law of nature

Principle of ends

-so act as to treat humanity whether in your own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end and never as merely a means

Principle of autonomy

-so act that your will can regard itself at the same time as making universal law through is maxims


-opposite of autonomy; actions are motivated by the authority of others (religion, state, parents or other group)


-Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Wolf - all followers of rationalism
-Pure reason could tell us how the world is, independent of experience
-Experience may be necessary to open our minds to these ideas but essentially they are innate ideas that god
-Morals are metaphysic knowledge, implanted by God


-Locke, Hume
-Deny that we have innate ideas and all knowledge comes from experience
-Our minds are a tabula rosa - an empty slate
-Morals are founded on human nature and desire

Natural law theory

view that through rational intuitions embedded in human nature by God, we discover eternal and absolute moral principles


Thomas Aquinas argued that we have special mental process that gives us general knowledge and moral goodness


idea that humans have a natural faculty that gives us an intuitive awareness of morality

Act intuitionism

-Sees each act as a unique ethical occasion and holds that we must decide what is right or wrong in each situation by consulting our conscience or our intuitions or by making choice apart from any rules
-"let your conscience be your guide

Rule intuitionism

-We must decide what is right or wrong in each situation by consulting moral rules that we receive through intuition
-Accept principle of universalizability
-"we ought never to lie" "we ought to keep our promises"

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