Ethical Theories. A comparison of the three main branches of normative ethics

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1 Ethical Theories A comparison of the three main branches of normative ethics

2 Three main Ethical Approaches Three main approaches to normative ethics: Virtue ethics (ethics of character) Consequentialism Deontology The difference between these three approaches to morality tends to lie more in the way of how moral dilemmas are approached, rather than in the moral conclusions reached.

3 Classification of Ethical Theories

4 Virtue Theory (ethics of Character) Virtue ethics emphasizes the role of one's character and the virtues that one s character embodies for determining or evaluating ethical behaviour The roots of this theory lie in the works of Plato and Aristotle Virtue ethics place an emphasis on being rather than doing. Another way to say this is that in virtue ethics, morality stems from the identity and/or character of the individual, rather than being a reflection of the actions (or consequences thereof) of the individual.

5 Virtue Theory A virtue ethics philosopher will identify virtues, desirable characteristics, that the moral or virtuous person embodies. Possessing these virtues, in virtue ethics, is what makes one moral, and one's actions are a mere reflection of one's inner morality To the virtue philosopher, action cannot be used as a demarcation of morality, because a virtue encompasses more than just a simple selection of action. Instead, it is about a way of being that would cause the person exhibiting the virtue to make a certain "virtuous" choice consistently in each situation

6 Virtue Theory Aristotle suggested we should focus on virtues which lead to what he called eudaimonia which roughly translates as human flourishing Virtue theorists stress that thinking, feeling and acting should be harmoniously merged, so that a person does what he wants, because for him there is no distinction between I want to and I ought to

7 Difficulties with Virtue Theory There is a great deal of disagreement within virtue ethics over what are virtues and what are not There are also difficulties in identifying what is the "virtuous" action to take in all circumstances, and how to define a virtue. A system of virtue theory is only intelligible if it includes an account of the purpose of human life, or in popular language, the meaning of life

8 In pairs, answer these questions: What sorts of characteristics do you think might lead to eudaimonia? Is eudaimonia an emotion? What is the relationship between the two concepts?

9 Deontological Ethics (Kantian Ethics or Duty Ethics) places the emphasis on adhering to ethical principles or duties and fulfilling obligations How these duties are defined, however, is often a point of contention and debate in deontological ethics Deontology also depends, at least partially, upon meta-ethical realism, in that it postulates the existence of moral absolutes that make an action moral, regardless of circumstances.

10 Deontological Ethics (Kantian Ethics or Duty Ethics) Immanuel Kant argued that the way to decide if something is a duty is to see whether or not you can consistently generalize it he used logic and reasoning For example: is it our duty to keep a promise? If we don t keep a promise then we can generalize this to allow anyone to break a promise which creates logical contradictions therefore we can generalize a rule that it is our duty not to break a promise

11 Deontological Ethics (Kantian Ethics or Duty Ethics) Kant s approach we should each adopt a dual conception of ourselves as individuals and as one among many This should lead us to some impartiality and objectivity Kant argued that no individual should be given preferential treatment and no individual should be discriminated against

12 Deontological Ethics (Kantian Ethics or Duty Ethics) Kant s ethics also say that the moral value of an action is determined by the motive rather than the consequence Our actions should be motivated by reason, rather than by emotions you should not only do good things when you feel like it There are three reasons why you might do something good: (1) you expect something in return (2) sympathy (3) duty according to Kant, only (3) gives moral value

13 Criticisms of Kantian Ethics Leads to moral absolutism, the belief that moral principles should always be followed irrespective of context - rule worship blindly following a rule without regard to its consequence Conflicts of duty two duties which suggest opposite actions -eg if your wife is dying of cancer and you cannot afford the drugs to cure her are you justified in stealing the drugs Moral coldness focuses too much on reason at the expense of feelings and emotions

14 In pairs answer these questions: Think of some situations where intention is more important than outcome or vice versa. Must intention play an important part in ethical theory? Kant claims that helping a friend just because you like him is not a moral action. Do you agree? What would Kant say about someone who, seeing a sick person, was overcome with pity and went to help them?

15 Consequentialism consequentialism bases the morality of an action upon the consequences of the outcome Instead of saying that one has a moral duty to abstain from murder, a consequentialist would say that we should abstain from murder because it causes undesirable effects The main contention here is what outcomes should/ can be identified as objectively desirable

16 Utilitarianism Utilitarianism is one form of consequentialism which has as its main tenet that we should seek the greatest happiness of the greatest number Greatest Happiness Principle of John Stuart Mill our determinant of the desirability of an action is the net amount of happiness it brings, the number of people it brings it to, and the duration of the happiness.

17 Arguments in favour of Utilitarianism Simple and coherent theory which is able to explain our beliefs in terms of the greatest happiness principle (GNH) simple way of solving moral dilemmas A democratic theory because each individual is considered the best judge of what makes him or her happy we take into account everyone in GNH

18 Arguments in favour of Utilitarianism A rational theory because it encourages us to take into account both short term and long term consequences eg. Smoking in the short term vs long term Egalitarian theory people are all considered equally regardless of status or wealth eg. It can lead to a better distribution of wealth

19 Criticisms of Utilitarianism How do we measure happiness? How can we compare the pleasure we get from radically different experiences or objects and equate them into happiness? Does pleasure even equate into happiness? How can we predict the consequences of our actions? For example, saving the life of a baby seems like a good thing what if that baby grows up to be Hitler?

20 Criticisms of Utilitarianism Bad pleasures or empty pleasures suppose someone gets pleasure from beating someone else up. Actions should be judged by motives not results evil intent which creates a good result should not be praised good intent which results in a bad result should not be condemned

21 Criticisms of Utilitarianism There does not seem to be any scope for consideration of moral obligations or human rights For example we can lie as long as we make more people happy however many people might feel uncomfortable with lying just to make people happy For example An orphan with no family is in hospital for a simple operation. Beside him are two individuals dying because one needs a liver transplant and the other needs a kidney transplant

22 In pairs, answer these questions: Make up an example of your own where it seems that utilitarianism leads to a terrible and unjust action.

23 Comparing the Three Ethical Approaches For example, a consequentialist may argue that lying is wrong because of the negative consequences produced by lying though a consequentialist may allow that certain foreseeable consequences might make lying acceptable. A deontologist might argue that lying is always wrong, regardless of any potential "good" that might come from lying. A virtue ethicist, however, would focus less on lying in any particular instance and instead consider what a decision to tell a lie or not tell a lie said about one's character and moral behavior. As such, lying would be made in a case-by-case basis that would be based on factors such as personal benefit, group benefit, and intentions (as to whether they are benevolent or malevolent).

24 In small groups, look at the moral dilemmas on the sheet and do the following: Try to decide what you would do from the approach of (i) virtue ethics (ii) Kantian (Duty) ethics (iii) Utilitarianism Which ethical approach would you choose? If you would not choose one of the three approaches explain why not.

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