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Key Concepts:

Terms in this set (47)

In this view humans have reasoning and the Laws of Nature are discernable by human reason. Thus, humans are morally obliged to use their reasoning to discern what the laws are and then to act in conformity with them.

Humans have a natural drive to eat, drink, sleep and procreate. These actions are in accord with a natural law for species to survive and procreate. Thus activities in conformity with such a law are morally good. Activities that work against that law are morally wrong. As an example consider that to eat too much or too little and place life in jeopardy is morally wrong.

Two types of Natural Law Theory:

Natural Law Theory can be held and applied to human conduct by both theists and atheists. The atheist uses reason to discover the laws governing natural events and applies them to thinking about human action. Actions in accord with such natural law are morally correct. Those that go against such natural laws are morally wrong.

For the theists there is a deity that created all of nature and created the laws as well and so obedience to those laws and the supplement to those laws provided by the deity is the morally correct thing to do.

For atheists there is still the belief that humans have reasoning ability and with it the laws of nature are discernable. For atheists who accept this approach to act in keeping with the laws of nature is the morally correct thing to do.

What are the laws of nature that provide guidance for human actions? These would include: the law of survival, the natural action for living things to maintain themselves and to reproduce, etc..

It is a major problem for this theory to determine what exactly those laws are and how they apply to human circumstances.
An ethical philosophy in which the happiness of the greatest number of people in the society is considered the greatest good. According to this philosophy, an action is morally right if its consequences lead to happiness (absence of pain), and wrong if it ends in unhappiness (pain).
Since the link between actions and their happy or unhappy outcomes depends on the circumstances, no moral principle is absolute or necessary in itself under utilitarianism.
Utilitarianism is mainly characterized by two elements: happiness and consequentialism. Utilitarian happiness is the biggest happiness which (supposedly) every human being looks for. In utilitarianism everything useful to happiness is good. Therefore, the name of the doctrine is utilitarianism, based on the principle of utility. Utility is found in every thing which contributes to the happiness of every rational being. The criterion of good and evil is balanced between individual's happiness and the happiness of the community, "each counting in an equal way" (Bentham, Introduction in the principles of morality and legislation). Consequentialism in utilitarianism is in the fact that an action must be judged for its consequences on the happiness of the largest number. That is: my search for happiness stops when it decreases the happiness of another individual or the happiness of the largest number, of the society or the community. As personal freedom is considered in respect of the freedom of other individuals and of the community, my freedom stops when it diminishes the freedom of another individual or the well-being of the society. We could say that utilitarianism is the continuation of Roman legislation, and its modern aspect is shown in the fact that utilitarianism adds an economical, legislative and political dimension to an ethical concept, that of happiness and well-being. The modern aspect of the doctrine will evolve throughout the 19th century, with Bentham, Mill and Sidgwick who succeeds in giving to this doctrine a practical and rational dimension which we can find in our modern society, in economics, politics and ethics.
Kant, unlike Mill, believed that certain types of actions (including murder, theft, and lying) were absolutely prohibited, even in cases where the action would bring about more happiness than the alternative. For Kantians, there are two questions that we must ask ourselves whenever we decide to act: (i) Can I rationally will that everyone act as I propose to act? If the answer is no, then we must not perform the action. (ii) Does my action respect the goals of human beings rather than merely using them for my own purposes? Again, if the answer is no, then we must not perform the action. (Kant believed that these questions were equivalent).

Morality and imperatives: What does it mean for one's duty to be determined by the categorical imperative?

What is an imperative? An imperative is a command. So, "Pay your taxes!" is an imperative, as are "Stop kicking me!" and "Don't kill animals!"

Hypothetical Imperatives: these imperatives command conditionally on your having a relevant desire. E.g. "If you want to go to medical school, study biology in college." If you don't want to go to medical school, this command doesn't apply to you. Another example, your father says, "if you are hungry, then go eat something!" - if you aren't hungry, then you are free to ignore the command.

Categorical Imperatives: These command unconditionally. E.g. "Don't cheat on your taxes." Even if you want to cheat and doing so would serve your interests, you may not cheat.

What is the connection between morality and categorical imperatives? Morality must be based on the categorical imperative because morality is such that you are commanded by it, and is such that you cannot opt out of it or claim that it does not apply to you.
How does the categorical imperative work? The categorical imperative has three different formulations. That is to say, there are three different ways of saying what it is. Kant claims that all three do in fact say the same thing, but it is currently disputed whether this is true. The second formulation is the easiest to understand, but the first one is most clearly a categorical imperative. Here is the first formulation.


1) First formulation (The Formula of Universal Law): "Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law [of nature]."


a) What is a maxim? A maxim is the rule or principle on which you act. For example, I might make it my maxim to give at least as much to charity each year as I spend on eating out, or I might make it my maxim only to do what will benefit some member of my family.


b) Basic idea: The command states, crudely, that you are not allowed to do anything yourself that you would not be willing to allow everyone else to do as well. You are not allowed to make exceptions for yourself. For example, if you expect other people to keep their promises, then you are obligated to keep your own promises.


c) More detail: More accurately, it commands that every maxim you act on must be such that you are willing to make it the case that everyone always act on that maxim when in a similar situation. For example, if I wanted to lie to get something I wanted, I would have to be willing to make it the case that everyone always lied to get what they wanted - but if this were to happen no one would ever believe you, so the lie would not work and you would not get what you wanted. So, if you willed that such a maxim (of lying) should become a universal law, then you would thwart your goal - thus, it is impermissible to lie, according to the categorical imperative. It is impermissible because the only way to lie is to make an exception for yourself.