Ethical relativism There is no universally accepted ethical standard Different cultures have different ethical standards There is no objective standard of right or wrong (unlike natural sciences) “Personal ethical relativism” “Social ethical relativism” Reasons for ethical relativism Diversity of moral views Moral uncertainty Situation differences Morality is a set of believe individual or society have, nothing more Any problem with this theory?
Arguments against ethical relativism (Non-relativisism, Objectivism) Are there really differences in moral views? Disagreement on a moral issue does not mean that a “correct” moral stand about the issue does not exist. Moral uncertainty or moral skepticism means that moral decision is difficult but not impossible. Moral uncertainty leads to inaction. Perhaps someday, a solution can be found. Even under different situations there should be a "correct" moral practice. Some general values such as justice, compassion, happiness etc. do not change under any circumstances. Ethical relativism: intellectual laziness, lack of moral courage?
Objectivism The truth or falsity of typical moral judgments does not depend upon the beliefs or feelings of any person or group of persons. Moral propositions are analogous to propositions about chemistry, biology, or history.
Objectivism Moral realism: objective good is a reality independent of who view it, as in natural science. eg. Honesty, generosity etc. Moral pluralism: there may be more than one set of equally valid moral principles, and sometimes one has to choose between them. eg. Choice between health and justice in health care system some patients will be left out.
EGOISM AND ALTRUISM Ethical Theories
Egoism vs Altruism Psychological egoism People are basically self-centered. Even when people show concern about other people's welfare, it is only for show, with the ultimate aim of getting something in return. Ethical egoism One of the ethical theories assuming that humans are basically self-centered. Is this a viable principle? Everybody seeks his/her best interest? Unless one can take care of oneself, he/she cannot take care of others. What if the egoist considers what is good for the society would ultimately benefit himself/herself? Is there true altruism? Is Mother Teresa an altruist? Not rejecting altruism leads to guilt?
UTILITARIANISM Ethical Theories
Utilitarianism (1) Utilitarianism is an ethical theory put forward by Jeremy Bentham ( ) and Stuart Mill ( ) to promote social and legal reform in UK at the time. Our action should produce most happiness or reduce suffering or unhappiness. It is a cost-benefit analysis of moral judgment or decision. When there is a conflict of interests, the choice is that which promote the interests of greater number. It stresses the goal or consequence of an action (teleological), also called consequentialist moral theory. It does not consider the motive of the action.
Utilitarianism (2) Bentham: Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do. Wealth, health, education, freedom are just instrument of happiness. They are not intrinsically good. Happiness and pleasure are the only intrinsic goods.
Utilitarianism (3) Unlike egoism, utilitarianism considers not only oneself, but all others that might be affected. Our own happiness does not count more than others. Unlike altruism, utilitarianism considers sacrifice is a waste if it does not result in increased happiness. Happiness can be “quantified” Pleasure vs pain, quality, intensity, duration, number of people affected etc "Act utilitarianism" consider each act separately. "Rule utilitarianism" considers consequences of the act performed as a general practice.
Evaluating Utilitarianism Amount of happiness is difficult to calculate: difficult to consider all the variables and contributing factors. This theory does not allow us to consider our own happiness more important than others. “Ends justify the means”. Is a wrong act justifiable if it produces pleasure to a large number of people? Utilitarianist might argue that in the long run this is bad.
“Proof” of Utilitarianism The basis of utilitarianism is that happiness is the only thing we desire. Because we desire happiness, therefore it is desirable and good. All others (freedom, wealth, health etc) are just tools to achieve happiness. Is this true?
Modified Utilitarianism Preference utilitarianism Happiness is not the only intrinsic good. Peace, freedom, knowledge, beauty etc are all intrinsic goods to be maximized. The best action is the one that would lead to most of the preferred intrinsic goods. People’s preferences can be determined through polls or other means. However, people might not be well informed. Other variations include considering only self-regarding preferences. Cost-benefit analysis Useful for government and business policy determination. Every affected factor is assigned a money value. The best course or action is the one that cost the least and produces most. Insurance companies are using this approach to set their policy cost and payment.
KANT’S MORAL THEORY Ethical Theories
Kant’s Moral Theory (1) Proposed by a German philosopher Immanuel Kant ( ). The motive to do what is right is important. The consequences of an act is not. People ought not be used, but should be regarded as having the highest intrinsic value.
Kant’s Moral Theory (2) What is the right motive? Good intention is to do what one believes is the right thing to do, out of concern and respect for moral law. Without good intention such things as intelligence, wit, control of emotion etc can be used for evil purpose. Kant is not a relativist. He believed that there is a right and a wrong thing to do, whether or not we knew or agree about it. Example: a store keeper charges her customers a fair price, same for all customers. Motive 1. Good for business, in her best interest. Not praiseworthy. Motive 2. Sympathetic to her customers, wants to do them good. Not the highest. (makes herself feels better?). Motive 3. Because she believes that it is the right thing to do. Highest motive. The difference between 2 & 3 is that in 2 the storekeeper did not know why she did it, just feels that she ought to do it. Moral act is when we know that we are motivated by concern to do the right thing, which might lead to our own disadvantage. (Is this similar to altruism?)
Kant’s Moral Theory (3) What is the right thing to do? According to Kant, we must not only act out of a right motivation, but must also do the right thing. Both the motive and the act must be morally relevant. (Any contradiction with the previous condition that as long as the motive is good the consequences of the act is not important?) Categorical imperative (imperative is a statement that tells us what to do) Moral act that is unconditional and universally binding, as opposed to hypothetical imperative where it is only applicable under certain circumstances. First form: “Act only on the maxim that you can will as a universal law”. Second form: “Always treat humanity, whether in your own person or that of another, never simply as a means but always at the same time as an end.” Other forms: Autonomy: We should consider ourselves the authors of moral imperatives because they should flow from our own nature as rational beings. "Kingdom of ends": A community or kingdom of people in which all are rational beings who are authors as well as subjects of moral law. Universality: Applicable under all circumstances. Some of these moral principles might become laws of nature?
Evaluation of Kant’s Moral Theory Moral obligations. Kant believes that moral principles that are universal, and we ought to follow these moral principles. Being able to act out these moral obligations is the source of human dignity. Application of categorical imperatives. Moral acts are universal. How is this different from “rule utilitarianism”? Critics say some imperatives are meaningless (example of 2 way walkway in busy subway station) Second form is difficult to determine. It is not always easy to determine if one is using a person. Duty or obligation to moral principles. Should you lie to save a friend? Moral equality. Critics say that human are different from each other. Gender difference (rational vs emotional). Ref. Deontological ethical theories focus on both the motive and the action.
Variations on Kantian Moral Theory WD Ross ( ). Scottish philosopher. He also believes in things that we ought to do or ought not to do regardless of consequences. However, he believes that we have “moral intuition” that would help us decide the best course of action: choice between honesty/loyalty etc. John Rawls ( ). American philosopher. He extended Kant’s moral equality to social equality or social justice. We must consider ourselves as a group of equal rational beings (veil of ignorance) in choosing principles of justice for the society. Justice as Fairness; principles of justice are those everyone would accept and agree to from a fair position
NATURAL LAW & NATURAL RIGHTS Ethical Theories
Natural Law and Natural Rights Natural Law Theory. This was originate from Aristotle, a Greek philosopher and scientist, born in 384 BC. He held that human has certain characteristics that is distinct from other animals: the “rational element”. Our rational element allows us to seek knowledge (the truth) and guide us to make wise choice. We, as prudent being, make prudential choice. Thomas Aquinas ( ). He held that natural law is part of the divine law or plan (of God) for the universe, and that moral good is from the innate tendencies of our nature. Unique to human is the specific capacities of knowing and choosing freely. We therefore ought to treat ourselves and others as beings capable of understanding and free choice. (Therefore, education, pursue of the truth, freedom of expression are good. Deceit, and hindrance of free choice is bad). Natural law should not be confused with “Laws of nature”. The laws of nature describes the physical world, how nature behaves. Natural law, or moral laws, are prescriptive. They tell us how we ought to behave.
Evaluating Natural Law Theory One of the appealing characteristics of natural law is its believe in the objectivity of moral values and the notion that moral good is part of human nature. Criticisms: Are we really able to read nature? What are considered as moral good have changed through times. Even Aristotle thought that slavery could be justified. Some philosophers depicts human nature as deceitful, evil, and uncontrolled. If natural law also cover theories such as Social Darwinism (survival of the fittest), then the extremely rich and extremely poor are there by the design of nature, and one should not interfere. Natural law theory assumes that nature is teleological (it has certain directedness). However, can the way things are really provide the basis for knowing how they ought to be? The way nature is might not be a divine plan, but by chance and consequence of evolution. (Supporters of natural law might argue that evolution is part of the divine plan.)
Natural Rights Natural rights is an extension of the natural law. It argues moral law in nature If we are to function as human, with rational element, with the ability and desire to seek the truth and to make the right choice, we must have certain rights: right of life, liberty, and ability to pursue happiness. (This was part of the US Declaration of Independence) The key moral principle of western philosophy in the AD, exemplified by Stoics, was to “follow nature”, but meaning to follow reason, not human emotion. These natural law or “common elements” existed in all people, independent of their local customs or culture. The United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights and Geneva Convention’s principles for the conduct of war are expression of natural rights. They specified that human beings have these rights regardless of their country of origin, race, or religion.
Evaluating Natural Rights Need to demonstrate why human beings are so valuable that they can claim these rights. Because we are created by God? Because we are the highest form of evolution? Why should we have these rights more so than other animals? How do we know what kinds of rights we should have in order to function as human with “rational elements”? Is right to liberty sufficient? Right to food, shelter, decent living, health care, clean air etc?? Rationale for each of these rights needs to be elaborated. If these rights are justified, then government of all nations have the duty to provide them. Even nowadays women in many countries do not have the same rights as men. What is the justification for the gender differences?
VIRTUE ETHICS Ethical Theories
Virtue Ethics (1) What is virtue? Characters like honesty, loyalty, courage, generosity, compassion etc. Vice is opposite of virtue: deceitful, selfish, cowardice, stinginess etc. While previous ethical theories tells us what we ought to do, virtue ethics tells how we ought to be as a person. Virtuous person makes better ethical decisions. Aristotle’s idea of natural law includes the idea of human virtue, which he classified into two types: (1) Intellectual virtues encompasses excellence of mind, being able to reason and judge well. We learned these from our teachers. (2) Moral virtues dispose us to act well (honesty, courage etc). We acquire these virtues by repeated practice. Aristotle also held that virtue is a mean between two extremes Deficit (too little)Virtue (the mean)Excess (too much) FearFoolhardiness Courage Cowardice GivingIlliberalityLiberalityProdigality Self-regardHumilityPrideVanity Telling the truthDeceitfulHonestyUndisciplined openness
Virtue Ethics (2) Gender difference in virtue? Studies showed that male and female tend to have different moral reasoning on ethical issues. FemaleMale PersonalImpersonal PartialImpartial PrivatePublic FeelingReason CompassionateFair ResponsibilityRights RelationshipIndividual SolidarityAutonomy What is the purpose of identifying gender differences in moral reasoning? How much of these are due to cultural influence? Is there a danger of stereotyping male and female? Is this another reason to support relativism?
Evaluating Virtue Ethics How do we determine which traits are virtues? What are the virtues that are specific to human beings? Are these virtues dependent on situation, society, culture, gender? Example: Virtue of courage. The person who wanted to run away from danger but did not more courageous than the person who did not want to run away? One distinguishes the fears for which we are in some way responsible, and those we cannot help. Thus, the person who feels like running away because he/she has contributed by their own choices of being fearful is not more virtuous than the one who did not want to run away. Does a person who has the courage to rob a bank a virtuous person? In virtue ethics, the primary goal is to be a good person. It tries to determine what is essential to be a well-function person. It attempts to set up criteria for an “ideal person”. What if we fall short of these ideals? Are we a bad person then? Kant and utilitarians were well aware of virtues. Why did they not incorporate virtues into their theories? For them, doing the right things is the primary goal. Virtues only make it easier to do the right thing.
CONTRACT THEORY OF THE STATE Ethical Theories
Historical Background Breakdown of Medieval Feudalism Changes to Modern Economy Political Changes
Economic Changes Increase in the use of money Loans, Credit, Investments, Easier transactions Power transferred from the noble class (those with land and arms) to those with money – for example, the merchants Alliance of moneyed class with monarchs Small self-contained estates with restricted trade reorganized into large-scale nation states New political structure favorable to freer trade, commerce, investment, and profit making
Political Changes Nationalism Aggressive kings separated themselves from feudal lords and the church and created nation states with a single centralized power (For instance, Louis XI in France, and Henry VII and Henry VIII in England) People began to see themselves as English people or French people Printing in common languages, not just Latin One centralized military (under the king) that fights for the nation
Hobbes’ Theory In social contract theory, there is a conception of human interaction before society. It is usually called the state of nature. Human fear death and inclined to in peaceful status Contract theorists use the state of nature to Explain the nature of society and its origin Explain the need for government Legitimize the authority of rulers Explain the origin of social justice It’s not a historical explanation about how societies have actually arisen.
Hobbes’ Social Contract Hobbes says that there is only one way to set up such a civil power. People must give all their power to one man, or one assembly of men. They must reduce their wills to one will. They must make a covenant as if every man should say to every man: I authorize and give up my right of governing myself to this man on this condition Give up right(power) and could get some interest and security
Social Contract Theory What is the origin and nature of society? How do governments get their authority? Why should we obey governments? On what basis do governments have the right to rule? What is the origin of justice? Where does justice come from? Why should we obey the rules of justice?
Social Contract Theory “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another…. Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….”
Social Contract Theory Main influences on social contract theory Thomas Hobbes ( ) English philosopher (Leviathan) John Locke ( ) English philosopher (Essays on Civil Government) Jean-Jacques Rousseau ( ) Swiss-born French philosopher (The Social Contract) Recent influence John Rawls, Harvard philosopher (A Theory of Justice, 1971)
Nature of Man What is man like without restraint of law or morality? Hobbes: aggressive, selfish Locke and Rousseau: rational, sociable, cooperative Rousseau Comparison Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau
Condition of Man Within Nature What is life like for Man in the State of Nature? Hobbes: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” Locke: Frustrating… Rousseau: Arcadian
Extent of Natural Rights What Rights does Man possess by or in nature? Hobbes: self preservation Locke: God-given rights Rousseau: inalienable rights
Source of Sovereignty Where does Political Power come from? Hobbes: ruler is sovereign Locke:people are sovereign; government exists with the consent of the governed Rousseau: the people are sovereign
Purpose of Government What is the main role of the State? Hobbes:social control and keep order Locke:protect rights and serve the majority Rousseau: protect rights, serve the general will
Main Objections to Social Contract Theory Based on a historical fiction—modern anthropology show that human beings and ancestors were highly social creatures who have always lived in groups—in other words there was no “state of nature” in which people lived independent non-social lives from which they then choose cooperation Social contract Theory leaves out of consideration any beings that cannot be rationally held to contracts, such as: Infants, Animals…etc