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Ethical Theories Jessica Purath Lindsey Rasmussen Douglas Sass

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1 Ethical Theories Jessica Purath Lindsey Rasmussen Douglas Sass
Amber Schmidt-Bedker Wendy Sloan

2 Ethical Dilemma Sulina just returned from a long day of shopping in another city, an hour’s drive from her home. She purchased several things and as she is unpacking her purchases, she realizes the clerk included a fifty dollar item of clothing in one of the bags that Sulina didn’t pay for. What should Sulina do about the unpaid-for purchase?

3 Utilitarian Theory A normative ethical theory where right and wrong is determined solely by the consequences of choosing one behavior or action over another. It moves beyond the scope of self-interest and takes into consideration the interests of other people. (Cavalier, 2006)

4 Utilitarian Theory Values
Justice: the fairest choice in the eyes of the law Fairness: wanting the best possible choice for the group as a whole Equality: wanting everyone to have a fair choice or chance Concern for others: wanting the best possible outcome for society as a whole

5 Utilitarian Theory Vocabulary
Fecundity: will more of the same follow? Purity: pleasure will not be followed by pain Hedonism: pursuit of or devotion to pleasure and self-gratification Utility: concern for maximizing the value of the universe Act utilitarianism When faced with a choice, the principle of utility is applied to each alternative The right act is defined as that which brings the best results (or least amount of bad results) Rule utilitarianism The principle of utility is used to determine the validity of rules of conduct or moral principles Right and wrong are defined as following or breaking those rules or principles (Cavalier, 2006)

6 Utilitarian Theory Contributors
Jeremy Bentham ( ) Developed the principle of utility Pleasure and pain play a fundamental role in human life Approval or disproval of an action is based on the amount of pleasure or pain its consequences bring Good equates with pleasure and evil with pain Pleasure and pain can be quantified and are thus measurable Introduced criteria to measure pleasure and pain (Cavalier, 2006)

7 Utilitarian Theory Contributors
John Stuart Mill ( ) adjusted the hedonistic qualities of Bentham’s philosophy by emphasizing the following The quantity of happiness is what is central to utilitarianism not the quantity of pleasure Quantities cannot be quantified but distinctions can be made between ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ pleasure Utilitarianism refers to the Greatest Happiness Principle because it seeks to promote happiness for the most amount of people (Cavalier, 2006)

8 Utilitarian Theory Strengths
Utilitarians can compare past situations with what is currently happening to decide what choice is the most useful for the most people, regardless of personal feelings or the law Rule utilitarians want the best conceivable result for the most amount of people but they take into consideration people’s feelings (kindness) and they respect the law (justice), all of which is better for society

9 Utilitarian Theory Criticisms
As humans we are not capable of knowing the exact outcome of a situation. It is highly unlikely that all people will devote their lives to helping other people for the common good of all Not all Utilitarians are concerned with justice as long as an action benefits most people There exists the potential of conflicting or counteracting laws, especially in rule utilitarianism, thus making an ethically correct answer difficult to determine (if one exists at all).

10 Utilitarian Theory Sulina’s Dilemma
According to Utilitarianism, Sulina should return the unpaid-for item of clothing because this would be the best possible outcome for society. As a result of this choice, Sulina would be acting in accordance with the law (justice) and could help the employee not get in trouble for his/her mistake (kindness).

11 Rights Theory A right is a justified claim that individuals or groups can make upon others wherein the right of one implies the duties of another. Typically moral rights have four features; natural, universal, equal, and inalienable. (Fieser, 2009) In rights theory, rights are determined to be ethically correct and valid because the majority of people accept them as so. As a result, society protects these rights and gives them high priority. (Rainbow, 2002)

12 Rights Theory Values Justice: each person gets what s/he deserves
Rights: a justified claim that individuals or groups can make upon others or society Duty: an obligation one person has to another Equality: rights are the same for all people, regardless of gender, race, etc. Validity: having a premise from which a conclusion may logically derived

13 Rights Theory Vocabulary
Right: a justified claim that individuals or groups can make upon others or society (Edwards, 2003) Correlativity of rights and duties: the rights of one person imply the duties of another Features of moral rights Natural: not invented or created by government Universal: are the same across different societies Equal: rights are the same for all people Inalienable: cannot give our rights over to another person (Cavalier, 2006)

14 Rights Theory Contributors
Thomas Hobbes ( ) Conceived natural rights as an extension of man’s “state of nature” and argued the essential human right was to use power as a means of self-preservation Further stipulated that humans won’t follow the laws of nature without first being subjected to a sovereign power John Locke ( ) argued that our natural rights, laws of nature given to us by God, shouldn’t harm anyone’s life, health, liberty, or possessions Immanuel Kant ( ) claimed to derive natural rights from reason alone Thomas Jefferson ( ) maintained that we derive more specific rights from our natural ones, including rights of property, movement, speech, and religious expression (Fieser, 2009)

15 Rights Theory Strengths
Rights provide protection for life, health, liberty, and property and thus provide a moral framework for law Moral, legal, and institutional rules are developed to distinguish valid rights from those which are invalid Rights and duties are correlative which provides clarity for action This theory is widely accepted and therefore can provide a common basis for discussing ethical problems (Edwards, 2003)

16 Rights Theory Criticisms
This theory is complicated by the fact that society has to determine what rights to uphold and what rights to give its citizens Determining rights requires society to first decide what its goals and ethical priorities are As a result, rights theory must be used in addition to another which establishes and explains the goals and priorities of society (Rainbow, 2002)

17 Rights Theory Sulina’s Dilemma
According to Rights Theory, Sulina should bring the unpaid-for item of clothing back to the store. She should do this because society’s goal is to have working order and no theft. Sulina should bring the item back because she did not pay for it. Furthermore, the employee has a right to make an honest mistake and it follows that Sulina has a duty to inform the employee of his/her mistake so s/he can learn from the experience and not make the same mistake again.

18 Fairness/Justice Theory
The theory of justice as fairness and a form of social contract theory. Essentially, in the original position, behind the veil of ignorance, the rational choice of fundamental principles for society would be those which provide the highest minimum standards of justice for all people. (Kay, 1997)

19 Fairness/Justice Theory Values
Fairness: the ability to make specific judgments about something particular; the ability to judge without referring to feelings or interests Justice: giving each person what s/he deserves (i.e. “their due”); used to refer to a standard of what is right Liberty: the freedom from control and restrictions Equality: the existence of being equal to others

20 Fairness/Justice Theory Vocabulary
Equal Liberty Principle When someone has more of something it means someone else has lost an equivalent amount One principle of justice = equality Veil of ignorance Not knowing who we are or where our standing in the social hierarchy is Main distinguishing feature of the original position Original position: a fair and impartial perspective required to reason about the principles of justice Difference Principle Behind a veil of ignorance we try to make sure that any inequalities which arise bring those least well-off, up as far as possible A second, more subtle principle of justice (Weston, 2008, p )

21 Fairness/Justice Theory Contributors
John Rawls ( ) Author of the classic work A Theory of Justice where he developed the concept of justice as fairness Key components of his theory include the veil of ignorance and original position Both integral in determining the construction of a fair society without any preconceived notions or prejudices (Wenar, 2012) Envisioned a society of free citizens holding basic equal rights cooperating with one another within an egalitarian system Fairness regardless of social status is emphasized Conservatives have argued that the American political system gives everyone an equal chance and that most would choose this system from behind a veil of ignorance (Travis, 2010)

22 Fairness/Justice Theory Strengths
The two principles of justice (Equal Liberty Principle and the Difference Principle) mean that everyone benefits from cooperation These principals also ensure a sense of self-respect (an important good) through the respect for others (Chilton, 2005)

23 Fairness/Justice Theory Criticisms
People cannot really forget who they are and what society is like, thus any conclusions reached from the original position or from behind the veil of ignorance will be influenced by self-interest Primary concern is social institutions and the equal distribution of goods

24 Fairness/Justice Theory Sulina’s Dilemma
According to one interpretation of this theory, Sulina would bring the unpaid-for item back to the store. She would put her feelings aside as well as any thoughts of what she has to gain by keeping the item, and look at the situation from behind a veil of ignorance. Essentially she would take a step back and try to consider the situation from the perspective of what would she do if she didn’t know which side of the issue she were on – the person given an extra item or the employee who has made a mistake. After thoughtful consideration she would decide that the just and fair thing to do is bring the item back.

25 Care Based Theory The moral concern of attending to and meeting the needs of people we take responsibility for. This theory values the emotions and relational capabilities which help the morally concerned person – the caregiver – determine what would be in the best interest of the person(s) s/he is caring for. (Bagnoli, 2006)

26 Care Based Theory Values
Concern for others : looking out for the welfare of others and loving them as we love ourselves Relationship: being connected to another person Responsibility: having the duty of dealing with something; being accountable for our behavior Best interest of others: being responsible for taking action we think is the most advantageous for others in any given situation

27 Care Based Theory Vocabulary
Interdependence: a reciprocal relationship between at least two individuals who depend on one another to get their needs met Caring for: face-to-face encounters where one person takes care of another Caring about: something more general that takes us into the public realm An example: caring about people who are going hungry and wanting to do something about it, like start a food pantry According to Noddings, this is the foundation upon which our sense of justice is built on (Smith, 2004)

28 Care Based Theory Contributors
Nel Noddings (1929-present) In her first major work Caring (1984) she explores a “feminine approach to ethics and moral education” Believes care is basic to all human life and all people want to be cared for Also asserts that women are guided by ‘natural’ caring and this is a significant aspect of their experiences Concludes ‘natural’ care is essentially a moral attitude – “a longing for goodness that arises out of the experience or memory of being cared for” More recently has highlighted the differences between the ‘caring for’ and the ‘caring about’ Argues ‘caring about’ needs more attention because it is a significant force in society Concludes ‘caring about’ is “the foundation for our sense of justice” (Smith, 2004)

29 Care Based Theory Contributors
Carol Gilligan (1936-present) Founder of “difference feminism” Believes women have different moral and psychological tendencies than men Men think in terms of rules and justice Whereas women tend to think in terms of caring and relationships Outlines three stages of moral development that women go through Moral thinking begins with selfishness The “conventional” middle stage is the opposite: self-sacrifice Final stage is where women find a balance between self and others and understand how they are intertwined with others (i.e. an ethics of relationships) (Weston, 2008, p.200)

30 Care Based Theory Strengths
Highlights the fact that people, especially women, think about others in a humane and caring way The validity of emotions, feelings, and virtues in ethics is recognized Particular attention is given to the family and has brought the home to the forefront of moral discourse Starts its reasoning from the moral obligation to meet the needs of others instead from some universal principle (Noda, 2001)

31 Care Based Theory Criticisms
The concept of care, which is central to the ethics of care, is vague and may require an external principle to determine whether the care is right or wrong Care ethics cannot solve the problem of the conflicts of virtues, a problem in all virtue ethics There isn’t a mechanism to deal with feelings of vengeance (Noda, 2001)

32 Care Based Theory Sulina’s Dilemma
According to this theory, Sulina should take the unpaid-for item back to the store. This decision is based on Sulina’s desire to do what is in the best interest of the employee who mistakenly gave her an unpaid-for item. Sulina doesn’t want the employee to get into any trouble for his/her mistake and wants to continue to have a good customer-employee relationship.

33 Virtue Theory This theory is based on traits. It is the belief that virtues are the kinds of character traits we should seek and sustain, perhaps because they originate from something deep within human nature or the world. It is thought that there exists a relationship between virtues and happiness: maybe virtues make us happy simply because they are virtues. (Weston, 2008, p.173)

34 Virtue Theory Values Commitment: being dedicated to a particular behavior or course of action Rational self-regulation The ability to discern an appropriate response or course of action when faced with extreme emotion or behavior The ability to follow the middle path, that of moderation

35 Virtue Theory Vocabulary
Virtues The appropriate, rational middle between extremes of emotion, behavior, or action Character traits that allow us to act in ways that develop positive and good morals, values, and attitude Habit that once acquired become characteristic of a person Vice Excessive emotion , behavior, or action A practice, behavior, or habit considered immoral, depraved, or degrading in society Examples are insensitivity, discontent, insatiability, willful ignorance, denial, and bad temper Defect: too little emotion, behavior, or action (Weston, 2008, p )

36 Virtue Theory Contributors
Aristotle ( BCE) Believed everything in the world has a distinct and essential function, a function which in turn determines its admirable traits (i.e. virtues) Suggested the characteristic which defines human function is rational self-regulation, the function which in turn determines our moral virtues (Weston, 2008, p.174)

37 Virtue Theory Contributors
Saint Thomas Aquinas ( ) Borrowed Aristotle’s “logic of virtue” Derived virtue from human activity or function However, understood human activity in very different terms According to Aquinas, “reason is not an end in itself” Rather, reason is a means to better understand ourselves and God Believes our ultimate purpose is “communion with God, as far as we can achieve it in this life” Added the virtues of faith, hope, and charity to the “natural” virtues like justice and temperance (Weston, 2008, p )

38 Virtue Theory Strengths
Virtues are beneficial and not just because they’re admirable traits; virtues are valuable They’re socially and ethically valuable and seen as positive characteristics of people They’re valuable because of the good or positive consequences they tend to bring with them We should cultivate virtuous dispositions because such dispositions tend to maximize benefits and positive outlooks of people

39 Virtue Theory Criticisms
There exists a potential difficulty in establishing the nature of virtues People from different cultures and societies often have differing opinions on what constitutes a virtue Virtues are considered ideal character traits and may conflict with one another

40 Virtue Theory Sulina’s Dilemma
According to Virtue Theory, Sulina should return the item of clothing that she didn’t pay for but was mistakenly placed in her shopping bag. Returning the item would make her a morally good and virtuous individual. By returning the item, she would appear honest and caring, character traits which are deeply valued in our society.

41 Divine Command “What’s good is good because God says so. God’s commanding something defines it as good” (Weston, 2008, p.49). Divine Command essentially teaches that something (i.e. action, behavior, choice, etc.) is good because God demands it to be done and evil because God forbids it to be done. Thus, to say it is good to love our neighbors is semantically equivalent to saying God Commands us to love our neighbors. Similarly, it is evil to commit murder because God forbids us to murder.

42 Divine Command Values Trust: faith; the belief that God and his commandments are good Faith: reliance that if He commands it, it is good Courage: resolution to what God deems is good even if it goes against our values Commitment: obligation to follow God’s will Loyalty: consistent allegiance to God’s will Fortitude: courage to do God’s will

43 Divine Command Vocabulary
Divine: transcendent or transcendental power Religion: views established with symbols, beliefs, spirituality, and moral values Morality: the difference between right and wrong Moral absolution: the ethical view which states certain actions are absolutely right or wrong

44 Divine Command Contributors
Augustine ( ) Believed ethics to be the pursuit of supreme good, which provides the happiness that all humans are looking for Claimed the way to obtain this happiness is to love the right objects in the right way and this requires we love God Thus, according to Augustine, our love of God helps us love everything else in a way proportional to their value (Austin, 2006)

45 Divine Command Contributors
Immanuel Kant( ) Claimed the requirements of morality are too much for us to bear alone so we must believe in the existence of God who will help us live moral lives Also believed that being moral does not guarantee happiness, so we must believe in a God who will reward the morally righteous with happiness Did not use his concept of faith as an argument for Divine Command Theory, but contemporaries could use his reasoning to do so (Austin, 2006)

46 Divine Command Strengths
Provides an objective metaphysical foundation for morality Good and bad are relevant to God and our sense of what is good or bad corresponds to God’s sense of good and bad Those who do evil will be punished and those who live moral lives will be vindicated and even rewarded (Austin, 2006)

47 Divine Command Criticisms
Morality based entirely on God’s whim makes morality arbitrary We are morally blind and have no direct knowledge of good and evil, so have to rely solely upon God and His guidance It is contingent upon the existence of a person’s religion and beliefs

48 Divine Command Sulina’s Dilemma
According to this theory, Sulina would need to return the item because keeping something that does not rightfully belong to her is stealing; even though it was mistakenly put in her bag, she did not pay for it. One of God’s commandments states “thou shalt not steal”. In other words, God forbids stealing, making it wrong and as a result, Sulina must return the item

49 Natural Law Theory Moral perspective: the moral standards which govern human behavior derive from the nature of human beings and the nature of the world Legal perspective: the authority of legal standards derives from the consideration their moral merit

50 Natural Law Theory Values
Justice: conformity to moral rightness in action or attitude Obedience: compliance with that which is required and subject to rightful restraint or control Rights: we much respect the rights of others Responsibility: that for which someone is responsible or answerable Self-discipline: making ourselves do things when we should, even if we don’t want to Law abiding: abiding by the rules of society

51 Natural Law Theory Vocabulary
Self preservation: behavior that ensures the survival of an organism Moral judgment: evaluations or opinions formed as to whether some action or inaction, intention, motive, character trait, or person as a whole is more or less good or bad as measured against some standard of good Legal norm: a mandatory rule of social behavior established by the state

52 Natural Law Theory Contributors
Thomas Aquinas ( ) Catholic priest and an important philosopher and theologian His goal was to make people good by following the order that exists in nature, obeying what nature has taught all animals, and by pursuing inclinations and tendencies of human reason Believed a person does anything and everything because that ‘thing’ at least appears to be good (Garrett, n.d.)

53 Natural Law Theory Contributors
Hugo Grotius ( ) Defined natural law as a perceptive judgment in which things are good or bad by their own nature Law is what God has shown to be His will Believed God to be an active, creative God, persistent in the management and application of Divine or natural law Believed that human nature, including traits of reason, are divine gifts from God (Miller, 2011)

54 Natural Law Theory Strengths
Natural law is based on reason and is a “clear-cut” ethical theory Attempts to connect ethics to the general structure of the universe It is not based on feelings or emotions but on the mind working out what is natural, according to a rational process For both the religious and non-religious, making a moral judgment is a matter of listening to one’s reason There is no need to look at an individual’s situation to determine what is right and wrong, it’s straightforward

55 Natural Law Theory Criticisms
What happens when it contradicts Christian teachings? Jesus taught us to ‘turn the other cheek’ when abused Natural Law suggests we have a right to self-preservation Shows what a moral life should be like, on the assumption we are rational beings living in a world designed by a rational creator If this is challenged, so is the theory Do really know what our purpose is? The idea of a single human nature is rejected by many How do we decide what is natural and normal?

56 Natural Law Theory Sulina’s Dilemma
Sulina knows that the extra item does not belong to her. Natural law states that deep down inside herself, Sulina knows the right thing to do – return the unpaid-for item. However, the moral perspective of natural theory also says we make our own choices, thus giving Sulina the choice to do what natural law says or not.

57 Ethical Relativism The belief that nothing is objectively right or wrong because the definition of what is right or what is wrong depends on the view of the individual, cultural, or historical period.

58 Ethical Relativism Values
Loving kindness: treat others the way you want to be treated Accountability: taking responsibility for your behavior Care for others: feeling and exhibiting concern and empathy for others Honesty: fairness and straightforwardness of conduct Fairness: consistent with rules, logic, or ethics

59 Ethical Relativism Vocabulary
Prevailing view: the view shared by most people of a group or ‘the most commonly accepted view’ Primitive notion: an undefined concept Ethical universals: a set of principles which apply to all humans

60 Ethical Relativism Contributors
Immanuel Kant ( ) Formulated a standard that would identify moral laws Believed generations that failed this test would contain a logical contradiction or would somehow be self-defeating (Ess, n.d.) G. E. Moore ( ) Believed the term ‘good’ was a primitive notion and could not be analyzed into parts Concluded that ‘good’ referred to a “non-natural” property of things Melville Herskovits ( ) Believed evaluations are relative to the culture they come from Believed there might be ethical universals that were the same across cultures (DeLapp, 2011)

61 Ethical Relativism Strengths
Encourages tolerance of other cultures Promotes respect for other individuals and societies Helps keep societies from falling apart Allows individuals to choose their own values

62 Ethical Relativism Criticisms
Confuses what should be done with what is currently being done No universals or absolutes There can be no moral progress Upholds morality of things like slavery, sexism, and racism as long as the culture accepts them

63 Ethical Relativism Selena’s Dilemma
According to this theory, Sulina’s decision to keep or return the unpaid for item is not objectively right or wrong, but instead depends on what she values and society supports. In this case, Sulina values honesty, a trait that is also valued in society. As a result, the right thing for her to do is return the unpaid-for item.

64 Social Contract Theory Sulina’s Dilemma
According to Social Contract Theory, Sulina has willfully agreed to follow the laws of society and to hold herself accountable for her behaviors. As a result, she will return the unpaid-for item; keeping it would essentially be stealing, which is in violation of the law. Furthermore, she would not want the employee who mistakenly put the item in her bag, to get in any trouble, as another key tenet of Social Contract Theory is preserving our rights and freedoms by cooperating with other individuals.

65 Ethical Egoism Sulina’s Dilemma
According to Ethical Egoism, Sulina has the personal freedom decide whether or not she will return the unpaid-for item. On one hand she could keep it, which at first glance appears to be in her best interest – she has a shirt she didn’t have to pay for; however, with the freedom to choose comes the obligation to allow others this same right. And furthermore, ethical egoism also states it is in Sulina’s best interest to look long-term at how her actions affect other people. If Sulina keeps the shirt, other people in the same situation may do the same, and over time this could lead to a price increase which is not in the best interest of anyone. As a result, Sulina returns the unpaid-for item.

66 References Austin, M. (2006). Divine command theory. In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from divine-c/. Bagnoli, C. (2006, June 4). The ethics of care: Personal, political, global [Review of the book The ethics of care: Personal, political, global]. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. Retrieved from Cavalier, R. (2002). Utilitarian Theories. In Online Guide to Ethics and Moral Philosophy. Retrieved from cavalier/80130/part2/sect9.html. Chilton, S. (2005). Notes on John Rawls a theory of justice. Retrieved from Rawls.ATheoryOfJustice.full.html. DeLapp (2011). Metaethics. In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from

67 References Edwards, C. (2003). An assessment of rights theory in a specific health care context. Retrieved from Ess (n.d.). Three approaches to Kant. Retrieved from Fieser, J. (2009). Ethics. In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from Garrett, J. (n.d.). Aquinas on law. Retrieved from Kay, C. (1997). Justice as fairness. Retrieved from Miller, J. (2011). Hugo Grotius. In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from Noda, K. (2011). An ethics of care from a unificationist perspective. Journal of Unification Studies, 12. Retrieved from

68 References Rainbow, C. (2002). Descriptions of ethical theories and principles. Retrieved from edu/people/kabernd/Indep/carainbow/Theories. htm. Smith, M. (2004). Nel Noddings, the ethics of care, and education. Retrieved from thinkers/noddings.htm. Travis, C. (2010, March 12). Explanation of John Rawls theory of justice. Retrieved from Wenar, L. (2012). John Rawls. In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from entries/rawls/. Weston, A. (2008). A 21st century ethical toolbox (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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