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Applied Ethics Introduction to the course Consequentialism Deontology Virtue ethics.

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Presentation on theme: "Applied Ethics Introduction to the course Consequentialism Deontology Virtue ethics."— Presentation transcript:

1 Applied Ethics Introduction to the course Consequentialism Deontology Virtue ethics

2 Contact details Simon Scott Room: S Advice and feedback hour: Thursdays 2pm Teaching assistants: Sid Grewal: Dave Allen:

3 Consequentialism It’s not a single theory, but a name we give to a collection of similar moral theories. Consequentialism holds that we are morally obligated to act in ways that produce the best consequences. This means that, for the consequentialist, the only things that have any value are not actions but states of affairs. The most famous version of consequentialism is utilitarianism (cf. Bentham, Mill and Sidgwick)

4 The utilitarian principle “that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question.” (Bentham) “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain, by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.” (Mill)

5 The utilitarian principle “the only reason for performing action A rather than an alternative action B is that doing A will make mankind (or, perhaps, all sentient beings) happier than will doing B” (J.J.C. Smart).

6 Hedonistic utilitarianism Traditional utilitarianism is a hedonistic version of consequentialism. Pleasure (happiness) is the only thing to have intrinsic worth (i.e. everything else is a means towards happiness). One state of affairs is better than another if it involves the best distribution of pleasure over pain (i.e. bringing about as much happiness as possible and as little suffering as possible).

7 Some problems with utilitarianism Uncertainty and probability: How are we to determine what the consequences are? There are direct and indirect consequences. Where do we draw the line? We have to calculate the likelihood of consequences arising. Human nature: Are we really calculating machines? Are we not creatures of habit, conditioned by social factors? Impersonal: We’re required to put the interests of others before our own. Doesn’t allow for partial interests (e.g. friends, family).

8 Two responses Human nature: A moral theory should be demanding and idealist (?) Our moral perspective is loaded with interests and preferences, but perhaps to be a good person requires putting the interests of others first and the greater good ahead of those we love. Rule-based utilitarianism: Recognises that humans are naturally followers of rules. Focuses on the practices and institutions of a society, not the individual acts we perform. The rightness or wrongness of a particular action is a function of the correctness of the rule of which it is an instance. Unlike act-utilitarianism, rule-utilitarianism contains principles.

9 Argument against pleasure as an intrinsic good Robert Nozick: experience machine Imagine there’s a machine that can give you pleasurable experiences, which are just as real to you as if you experienced them in the real world. We wouldn’t want to be permanently hooked up to the machine, for 3 reasons: 1.We don’t just want to have the experience of doing certain things, we actually want to do them. 2.We want to be a certain kind of person. 3.If we stay hooked up to the machine, then we’re being limited to a manmade reality. We’re not connected to a deeper reality. Therefore, there is more to life than pleasure.

10 Deontology ‘Deon’ (duty), ‘logos’ (logical). Deontology means the study of duties. It is a duty- or rule-based ethics.

11 Kant: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals “nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good without qualification, except a good will”. “a good will is good not because of what it accomplishes or effects, not by its aptness for the attainment of some proposed end, but simply by virtue of the volition – that is, it is good in itself.”

12 Aim of Kantian ethics His work refers to the ‘metaphysics of morals’ because what he’s trying to do is to reason, a priori, from the concept of what it is to be a human person as a rational agent. He wants to reason his way to a moral law through pure practical reason. He wants a moral principle that is not conditional on anything.

13 Categorical imperative Moral requirements apply to everyone, and so cannot be hypothetical imperatives. The categorical imperative requires us to “act only on that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it become a universal law”. The task is: Figure out what would be the general principle that you would be acting on if you were to perform an action Universalise the principle (so it applies to everyone) Can you will that the maxim be a universal law?

14 Never treat a person as a means, only as an end “So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in another, always as an end, and never as only a means.”

15 Never treat a person as a means, only as an end We shouldn’t treat people as a mere means because we are rational agents We are capable of deliberation (we have reasons for why we do what we do) It follows from this that we are free (to question our actions and behave autonomously). Freedom is understood in terms of reason. As free beings, we shouldn’t choose things as a means to an end, but as an end.

16 Free actions A morally good action must be done for the sake of the moral law. Doing something for the right reason means doing it as an end in itself. Performing an action out of duty is what gives it its moral worth. Only when we act in accordance with the categorical imperative are we acting freely. To be free is to determine your will.

17 Free actions To act according to a categorical imperative is to act according to a law that you give yourself: you have chosen this law. What’s important is that we exercise pure, practical reason: it is abstract from our interests and desires. Anyone reasoning in this way will arrive at the same moral principles.

18 Key problem with Kantian ethics Example: murderer at the door If we lie to the officer, we regard him as a means to our end goal. The categorical imperative requires that we tell the truth; it is not our responsibility. We must fulfil our duty in a way that is compatible with respecting others.

19 Virtue ethics: reasons for re- emergence in 20 th century Reasons for dissatisfaction with utilitarianism (U) and Kantian (K) ethics: We are partial and we place value on loyalty. The ideal offered by U. and K. is too demanding and unappealing. Kantianism doesn’t make the question of how to live central to its concerns (perhaps ethics should focus on personal development). They have nothing to say about emotions, yet we live our lives as emotional beings. U and K take an aspect of morality and interpret the whole of morality in this way.

20 Eudaimonia and virtue ‘eudaimonia’ loosely translates as happiness It’s more objective (living a flourishing a life). The focus is on your own well-being. For Aristotle, it’s not just humans that have virtue (arête). Anything can have virtue. There isn’t a list of virtues set in stone. Generally recognised virtues include: courage, honesty, temperance (or moderation), and justice. For a virtue ethicist, what makes an action right is that it is done from virtue.

21 Human function He asks ‘what is it to live a good life’ in practical terms: what is the function of humans? Everything has a function, including humans. Performing that function well is what makes a good human.

22 Doctrine of the mean “to feel [emotions] at the right times, with reference to the right objects, towards the right people, with the right motive, and in the right way, is what is both intermediate and best, and this is characteristic of virtue” (NE, 1106b,21-23).

23 Habits and dispositions We learn by doing, and so Aristotle places great importance on habits Moral behaviour is explained in terms of dispositions

24 Practical wisdom We also need good judgment or ‘practical wisdom’ (phronesis). That is, we must be able to judge what situation we’re in and what kind of response is required. Virtue ethics gives us a method, but it’s a complex one that is context-dependent.

25 Practical wisdom and the unity of the virtues The virtues are compatible. You can’t have one virtue until you have them all (a virtuous person isn’t lacking in other virtues). According to this idea of the unity of the virtue, the doctrine of the mean requires that we evaluate a situation so that we act appropriately, but this is a multi-faceted evaluation. Practical wisdom enables us to correctly determine how the different kinds of virtues inform and constrain each other. Practical wisdom is the working out of what’s appropriate for a situation.

26 “If happiness is activity in accordance with virtue, it is reasonable that it should be in accordance with the highest virtue; and this will be that of the best thing in us…this activity is the best (since not only is reason the best thing in us, but the objects of reason are the best of knowable objects)” (10.7,1177a,12-14; 18-21).

27 Summary: 3 moral theories 1.Utilitarian: maximises welfare 2.Kantianism: respect the freedom of all rational humans 3.Aristotelianism: promotes virtue Each of these moral theories leads to very different ways of thinking about justice.

28 Consequentialism Benefits: Does not contain mysterious notions like ‘intrinsically good’ Compatible with naturalism As sentient beings, we are attracted to pleasure and repelled by pain; this moral theory recognises this and makes this idea central It leads to greater equalisation and impartiality, and this has helped fight prejudices

29 Consequentialism Problems: How do you measure the goodness of consequences? Where do we draw the line? Good consequences for the majority might lead to a marginalised minority that suffers Focuses on results and judges intentions to be irrelevant Prepared to treat individuals as a means to an end Regards character as irrelevant

30 Deontology Benefits: Places equal importance on every individual Impartial: safeguards the interests of individuals even if they occupy a minority position Prescribes that certain actions are wrong, no matter what the context or consequences Provides certainty, which is not the case when we determine right and wrong actions on the basis of consequences

31 Deontology Problems: Absolutist Allows for actions that don’t maximise happiness How do we decide in cases where different (absolute) moral laws come into conflict?

32 Virtue ethics Benefits: Places central importance on the individual. Emphasis is not placed on specific actions but on a person’s life (holistic approach). This ethics is grounded in our desires. It recognises the importance of our desires. Appreciates the complexity of a moral situation. An action is virtuous depending on whether it’s appropriate to the situation.

33 Virtue ethics Problems: It’s a formal moral theory and doesn’t tell us how to act; it tells us how to be a good person, and a good person knows how to act) There isn’t agreement on what the virtues are It seems to deny altruism: everything I do is for the sake of my eudaimonia

34 Take-home questions 1.Can happiness be measured? Is it so important that maximising happiness constitutes the whole of our moral duty? 2.Would slavery be wrong if it made society happier overall? 3.In September 2014, the British bombed Islamic State targets. What might the maxim of this action be? 4.According to Kant, any actions done entirely out of inclination (i.e. without any consideration of duty or the moral law) have no true moral worth. But can they be evil? Are they morally bad? Should we subject them to moral appraisal?

35 Take-home questions 5.Is it right that humans should have a different kind of value to animals? 6.Is it an advantage or a problem that virtue ethics does not simplify the complexity of moral situations? 7.Should a moral theory be concerned with character? And emotions?


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