Ethical Theories Part 1

Notes taken from Ethics and Religion by Joe Jenkins

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Ethical Theories For A level Religious Ethics (Religious Studies) part 1
Kant and The Categorical Imperative
Immanuel Kant (17241804) argued that morality is a matter of following absolute
rules rules that admit no exceptions and must be followed, appealing not to
religious considerations but to reason. Kant observed that the word `ought' is
often used nonmorally (e.g. `If you want to become a better artist you ought to
practice) we have a certain wish and, recognising that certain course of action
would help us fulfil this wish, we follow this course of action. This is known as
hypothetical imperative.
The Categorical Imperative is where `ought'' implies `can'. ` Act only according
to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a
universal law' or in other words:
Before acting, ask yourself what rule you would be following if you were to
do this action (the maxim)
Then ask whether you would be willing for that rule to be followed by
everyone all the time and in all places (making it a universal law)
If the maxim can be universalised, then do it. If it can't, then don't.
`Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe...the
starry heaven above and the moral law within me' Immanuel Kant
Situation Ethics
In 1966, Joseph Fletcher introduced and formulated situation ethics. The main
ideas include:
Only one thing is intrinsically good: that is love (agape) and nothing else.
Actions are good if they help human beings and bad if they hurt people.
There are no other criteria.
The overriding principle of decisionmaking is love (agape) and nothing
else Jesus and St. Paul replaced the strict Jewish Law with the principles
of love.
Love and justice are the same. Justice is love at work in the community.
Love wills the neighbour's good. It is irrelevant whether the neighbour is
liked or not. He or she is a member of the human family.
Only the end justifies the means. Love is the end, never the means to
something else.
Love's decisions are made situationally (in the circumstances of each
situation) and not prescriptively.
Fletcher rejects 2 other approaches to ethics:
1. The antinomian approach argues that the situation itself will show us what
we ought to do ­ we do not know until we are faced with it. We will have to

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­ or wait for that
`inner light' or the `inner voice' of the Spirit to guide us. Fletcher argues
that such an approach leads to moral anarchy ­ everyone claiming they
have seen the `inner light' or heard the `inner voice', yet still falling into
disagreement with those who have experienced a `different light'.
2. The legalistic approach ­ an approach to decisionmaking be the appeal
to rules.…read more

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