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  • 1. Revision Powerpoint – Moral –Isms in 60 Minutes
  • 2. Flavours of Ethics • Metaethics – focuses on whether moral properties really exist and hence whether ethics itself is possible. – Moral realism (Platonism, Naturalism, Secondary properties, Kantianism, Mill etc) – Vs Relativism, Emotivism, Prescriptivism • Normative ethics – attempts to provide a general theory that tells us how we ought to act. – Deontology, Consequentialism, Virtue Theory • Applied or Practical ethics – focuses on specific instances where there is ethical debate. – Abortion, Death Penalty etc
  • 3. Cognitivist vs. Non-cognitivist • Ethical cognitivism: a metaethical view that – ethical statements are propositions which can be truth-tested. – Hence moral knowledge exists and can be known e.g. Kant, Utilitarianism • Ethical non-cognitivism: a metaethical view that – ethical statements are not propositions – therefore are neither true nor false. e.g. Ayer/Emotivism, Intuitionism
  • 4. Types of Normative Ethical theory • Acts are analysed into three parts: – the agent, the person performing the act; – the act itself; – the consequences of the act. • Virtue theory focuses on the agent’s moral character • Deontology focuses on the nature of the act itself • Consequentialism (Utilitarianism) focuses on the consequences of the act
  • 5. Virtue Theory • Key utilitarian/Kantian ethical question: “How should I act in this specific circumstance?” • Key Virtue Theory question “How should I live my life?”, “What kind of person should I be?” – and “How do I get there?” • Not so much a guide for moral decision-making, more a description of the moral life: a life which cultivates virtue.
  • 6. Eudaimonia • Aristotle: ethics describes Eudaimonia = ‘the good life’, ‘Human Flourishing’, ‘happiness’ (loosely…) • Yet Aristotle defines the good relationally: “the good for human beings is an activity of the soul in accordance with arete (virtue or excellence)” – we are actors as well as contemplators – we have practical as well as abstract reason – practical wisdom takes a while to develop
  • 7. Sophia and Phronesis • • • Sophia is Aristotle’s word for our abstract, intellectual knowledge (of universals) Phronēsis is Aristotle’s word for our power of practical thought a.k.a. "practical wisdom”, "prudence". Sophia can be taught; phronesis is acquired through experience. – • • “Whereas young people become accomplished in geometry and mathematics, and wise within these limits, prudent young people do not seem to be found. The reason is that prudence is concerned with particulars as well as universals, and particulars become known from experience, but a young person lacks experience, since some length of time is needed to produce it.” (Ethics) It moderates between our faculties (our emotions, appetites, rationality) as our developed executive power to act in a balanced way. Phronesis is acquired over time, through practice: – “We acquire virtues by first doing virtuous acts. We acquire a skill by practising the activities involved in the skill. For example, we become builders by building and we learn to play the harp by playing the harp. In the same way, we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts & courageous by doing acts of courage.” (Ethics)
  • 8. Judging Character • For Aristotle, we judge character, not specific actions. – “The ethical condition is not the condition of having a certain right theory; rather the ethical condition is having a certain character.” (Alasdair MacIntyre, “After Virtue”) • An individual who has developed excellent character traits (virtues) is (judged as) a morally good person. • An individual who has developed poor character traits (vices) is (judged as) a morally bad person. • Most of us have a mixture or virtues and vices. • So we need to take a holistic approach to ethical judgement – ‘One swallow does not make a summer’.
  • 9. Cultivating Character: the Doctrine of the Golden Mean • Aretaic qualities or virtues arise from following the middle way/’Golden Mean’ between two extremes (the ‘Goldilocks theory’ – neither too hot, nor too cold, but ‘just right’). • To follow the Golden Mean = using phronesis, decide which emotions and intellectual insights to act on in a balanced way  eudaimonia • Virtues are not absolute, but relative midpoints on a scale between excess and deficiency: “Virtue…is a state of deliberate moral purpose consisting in a mean that is relative to ourselves, the mean being determined by reason, or as a prudent man would determine it.”
  • 10. Virtue Theory compared • Modern-day virtue ethicist Alastair Macintyre points out that different positive character traits/virtues have been prized by different societies, and at different points in history. • Virtue Ethics is a non-cognitivist account of ethics, as the virtuous person is able to act virtuously without needing to think about it (non-cognitivist). • But what counts as virtue might change over time, or between societies (morally relativist). • So, not an ethical theory in the same way that Utilitarianism or Kantianism are: both U and K are cognitivist theories.
  • 11. Some advantages of Virtue Ethics • Emphasis on pleasure and emotion – it is good that we should enjoy acting virtuously • Moral education – being moral is a developmental process • Consideration of life as a whole – “One swallow does not make a spring” (Aristotle) • No decision procedure to get hung up on – moral decision making is too complicated to have a single criterion for decision. • Reflects social change.
  • 12. And some disadvantages… • Offers no solution to specific moral dilemmas. • Not everyone has the equal opportunity to develop morally – do we judge them the same? • Many non-virtuous people live happy lives, many virtuous people are miserable. • Cultural relativism – whose virtues are best? • We recognise that some non-virtuous people are useful in our society; life would be dull without them.
  • 13. Deontology: Kant • Morality is purely a matter of duty or obligation. – Whether something is right or wrong doesn’t depend on its consequences or the kind of person acting. – Actions are right or wrong in themselves. • We each have duties regarding our own actions: we are all autonomous moral agents.
  • 14. Hypothetical and Categorical Imperatives • hypothetical imperative e.g. “If I want to be rich, then I will work hard”. – Can be ignored, although could be unwise to do so. – Exceptions are allowed. • categorical imperative e.g. “Do not lie”. – Irrational and immoral not to obey. – Exceptions are not allowed • Morality is rationally derived and categorical. • So our individual actions arise because we act on universal maxims, principles of action, which are universal:
  • 15. Kant’s Categorical Imperative: three flavours • so “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”.
  • 16. Testing a moral maxim • ‘contradiction in conception’: a maxim is wrong if the situation in which everyone acted on that maxim is somehow self-contradictory e.g. stealing can’t be universalised, as it abolishes property • ‘contradiction in will’: a maxim is wrong if it is logically possible to universalize the maxim but we can’t will it consistently e.g. ‘not to help others in need’ can’t be consistently willed, because we might need help ourselves.
  • 17. Ends not means • ‘Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end’ • Kant totally rejects Consequentialism, which says that the end justifies the means. • To treat someone’s humanity simply as a means, and not also as an end, is to treat the person in a way that undermines their power of making a rational choice themselves. • This cannot be willed universally, as it denies the rationality of all agents.
  • 18. Objections to Kant • Any action can be justified, as long as we phrase the maxim cleverly. – But the test is what our maxim really is. • Conflict of duties – Duties never really conflict, but knowing how to apply the CI requires judgment. • Strange results: ‘I shall never sell, but only buy’ is immoral! • Exceptionless duties are problematic – cases of inhumanity/coldness – duty excludes family… – cases where consistency should be broken - lying to a Nazi etc
  • 19. Utilitarianism: Definition • Hedonism: Only pleasure is intrinsically good, and only pain intrinsically bad. “Pleasure, and freedom from pain, are the only things desirable as ends” - Mill • The proper aim of morality is therefore to promote happiness and diminish misery. • Classical hedonic utilitarianism (Mill): We ought to do whatever maximizes the balance of pleasure over pain for everyone. Focus is on consequences.
  • 20. Utilitarianism: rationale • Rejects exceptionless rules – it’s not always wrong to lie, steal, break your promises, or disobey your parents. • Human happiness and misery give a solid basis for evaluating the norms of different cultures. • Can be reconciled with Christianity etc; (Singer) arguably any non-egoistic moral theory must consider outcomes for others, so utilitarianism is basic. • “The principle of utility can weigh conflicting utilities against one another.”
  • 21. Utilitarianism: modern flavas • Act vs Rule – Richard Brandt - Act-based approach sums up likely benefits and harms for each act. Easy to rationalize, difficult to apply, potentially erratic (Mill: ‘Godless expediency’). • Rule-based approach follows rules of thumb established in advance (e.g. stealing usually doesn’t have the best consequences) Quicker, less erratic, might not be responsive to circumstances. • Preference/pluralist Utilitarianism (Peter Singer) evaluate consequences in terms of various goods, not just hedonism: virtue, knowledge, pleasure, life, and freedom, or animal desires.
  • 22. Utilitarianism: Issues • Could have bizarre implications: would slavery/racism, killing miserable rich and giving the money to charity be right if they maximized the total pleasure? • Right results, wrong reasons (= Kant’s attack). • Bernard Williams: George and the Chemical Warfare job; Jim and the Mexican Massacre…Isn’t it wrong in itself to kill an innocent person, even if it had the best consequences? • Nozick and the Experience Machine: do we choose a life of pleasure?
  • 23. Non-cognitivism – Ethical Intuitionism: G.E. Moore • Intuition not definition, as “Good” is indefinable – see Open Question Argument. • an attack on Ethical Naturalism (= that moral values are known cognitively, derived from nature – Kant, in a way?, also Utilitarianism) • True that some natural qualities (e.g. colour terms – ‘red’, ‘yellow’ etc) are known non-cognitively, but these are observable and public. • But moral terms are known non-cognitively, and privately, though intuition. • objective moral truths (analogous to mathematical ones) are ‘intuitively self-evident to a mature mind’.
  • 24. The Open Question Argument • Moore – ‘Naturalistic Fallacy’ – the silly idea that moral values are natural properties of the world. • All moral questions are open questions (i.e. ‘Is it true that the good is X?’ is not analytic.) • So you can’t reduce morality to a set of observable natural properties. • But we do have sound moral intuitions, particularly if we are Cambridge Professors of Philosophy • Advantages over Kant: gut feeling resolves moral impasses/conflicts/exceptionless promise problems – following instinct is easy! • Advantages over Utilitarianism: morality without the tedium of the hedonic calculus
  • 25. Issues with Moore • Is there sufficient agreement over what moral principles are ‘self-evident’? • What could be wrong with a ‘gut feel’? • Intuitionist moral education inculcates parental (and perhaps Nazi or terrorist) norms – which later will seem to be “selfevident truths.” • Surely we need some way to rationally criticise inherited moral intuitions?
  • 26. W.D. Ross – Prima Facie (“On the face of it”) obligations • Ross avoids instrumentalism of utilitarian approach (some deeds are intuitively ruled out) • But also avoids issues over exceptionless promises • “The moral just as much part of the fundamental nature of the universe…as is the spatial or numerical structure expressed in the axioms of geometry or arithmetic.” • These objective features are known through intuition… • Seven strong but not exceptionless obligations - Fidelity, Reparation, Gratitude, Justice, Self-improvement, Beneficence, Nonmaleficence • So, like Moore, an intuitionist, but these intuitions can then be rationally assessed/weighed. So e.g. we have a duty to keep our promises, but it isn’t exceptionless.
  • 27. Advantages of Ross’s Approach • Ross’s approach solves moral dilemmas: – in any given situation, any number of these prima facie obligations may apply. – In the case of ethical dilemmas, they may even contradict one another. – Nonetheless, there can never be a true ethical dilemma, Ross would argue, because one of the prima facie obligations in a given situation is always the weightiest, and overrules all the others. – This is thus the absolute obligation, the action that the person ought to perform. • Ross accepts a pluralistic view of value: virtue, knowledge, pleasure, life, and freedom (etc…) are good in themselves – and ought to be promoted for their own sake (sounds like preference util…)
  • 28. Problems with Ross • Why are ‘prima facie’ moral obligations any better than Moore’s ‘moral intuitions’? • Hence, all the problems of Moore’s intuitionism might apply…see previous slides… • ‘prima facie’ or ‘on the face of it’ may not carry the kind of genuine moral weight Ross wants – modern commentators often prefer the phrase ‘pro tanto’ or ‘as far as it is able, as far as it will go’ instead. – But doesn’t this sound like the kind of moral pragmatism that lacks ultimate grounding?
  • 29. A conclusion about Ross • Might not Ross’s approach offer a middle way between Kant and Utilitarianism? • Or: might it not sound very like pluralistic rule utilitarianism? • Intuition could simply provide the basis for the rules which we then systemically apply…
  • 30. Emotivism: where it fits in • A non-cognitivist theory: morality is non-propositional, and so can’t be known to be true or false. • Hume’s is/ought gap: you can't go from a factual statement (an "is") to a moral one (an "ought"). • Is/ought gap means that ‘sentiment’ or emotion is the source of our feeling of right and wrong. It is the only ground for our moral judgements. • If moral judgments aren’t true or false, we can’t reason about basic moral principles. • “X is good” simply means “Hurrah for X!”
  • 31. Ayer’s arguments for Emotivism: • To be meaningful, a proposition must be empirically verifiable or analytically true. All other statements (which might look meaningful) are meaningless. • ‘My favourite trousers are Lycra’ (verifiable) • “Married people are partnered” (analytic) • Moral opinions, being neither factually verifiable, or reducible to tautologies, are meaningless (as are religious, aesthetic claims) • “There is a God.”, “Hefner are a good band”, “Terrorism is wrong” = neither verifiable nor analytic, so meaningless.
  • 32. Ayer’s conclusions • Moral arguments are just expressions of feeling. • Ethical statements and moral judgements are emotive responses: they seek to arouse feelings or express pain. • So moral judgements are persuasive, but they are not factual – they just assert an emotion, that’s all. • Mind! Emotivism isn’t subjectivism: • Emotivism: “X is good” means “Hurrah for X!” • Subjectivism: “X is good” means “I like X.” (=proposition, hence T/F, hence meaningful…but psychological not ethical claim (according to Ayer))
  • 33. Reasons for Emotivism • Explains strength of our ethical feelings, their shared nature etc • Offers clear criterion for sense vs. nonsense. • doesn’t appeal to mysterious entities (God, the transcendental…) that make morality mysterious • explains why we can’t define “good”, why we can’t prove moral beliefs: we can’t reason about basic moral principles. • we can only reason about morality if we assume a shared system of values. • but we can’t establish the correctness of any system of values. • Stresses importance of persuasive language and emotion in the expression of moral sentiment.
  • 34. Issues with emotivism • • • • • The logical positivist argument for emotivism is self-contradictory, as it is not itself verifiable or tautologous… Emotivism can’t explain unemotional moral judgments, which we have and value We do reason about moral judgments. The claim that they are merely expressions of emotion seems odd (Ayer: here we are reasoning about the meaning of our moral terminology rather that its application) Our moral feelings aren’t subjective or personal, necessarily. They are natural, and shared…common reactions to horrific crimes (e.g. the holocaust) suggests the possibility of a reasonable basis for moral behaviour. Atrocities like genocide, rape and murder aren’t wrong just as matters of feeling reduces moral discussions to a shouting match if we can’t reason about basic moral principles.
  • 35. Cultural Relativism • The belief that there is no moral truth that applies to all peoples at all times. There are no absolute moral standards for moral judgement. • But ethical structures are needed for stability and order. So, follow the norms of the culture in which you live: “when in Rome do as the Romans do” • But we should not impose our standards on outsiders. E.g Infanticide is wrong here, but not everywhere.
  • 36. Advantages of Cultural Relativism • • • • promotes tolerance/’live and let live’ attitude. recognises differences but does not judge them fits post-Colonial world. avoids problems with Moral Realism, Kant etc
  • 37. Issues with Cultural Relativism • Don’t all cultures embrace similar ethical norms? • Easy to find contradictions: what if a culture has an intolerant world view, and rejects the relativistic view that we must be tolerant of other cultural standards? • How absolute is relativism?... • Does away with idea of moral progress – we can’t judge past societies as worse than our own…e.g. slave-owning isn’t wrong… • Destroys possibility of discussion over human rights • Allows intolerance that is internal to a society • Presumes that a ‘society’ is uniform, consistent, closed.