Religious Ethics Revision pack A2 Entire Course

My revision notes for the A2 OCR exam, pretty  useful and set out clearly enough for anyone to use .

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May 2011 Religious Ethics Harry Townsend
Religious Ethics for A2 ­ OCR
Free Will and Determinism:
There are three main approaches to freedom:
1. Hard Determinism: Humans cannot be morally blameworthy because their actions are determined.
2. Soft Determinism: Some human actions are determined but we still have moral responsibility.
3. Libertarians: Humans are free to act and as such are morally responsible for their actions.
Hard Determinism:
Baruch Spinoza: "In the mind there is no absolute or free will; but the mind is determined to
will this or that by a cause, which has been determined by another cause ... and so on to
Hard determinism holds that everything in the universe has a cause. This includes all human
If we know all the events that lead to an action then we theoretically should be able to
predict the action. Freedom is an illusion.
It is incompatible with both free will and moral responsibility.
Hard Determinism poses a real problem for morality ­ what we ought and ought not to do.
The problem is ­ what if they could not have done anything else? Does it make sense to
punish people for their crimes?
John Hospers: believed that we cannot be held morally blameworthy for our actions. We
recognise a kleptomaniac as having a powerful compulsion to steel, but it is unfair on the
person because we do not fully understand what motivates them. He is quoted saying
`morality is a victim of circumstances and it is all a matter of luck'.
Clarence Darrow: was an American defence lawyer who defended to boys (Leopold and
Lobe) who murdered a 14 year old boy. He convinced the court that the boys should have a
life sentence as opposed to the suggested death sentence, as they were `a product of their
upbringing.' Darrow believed people should be sent to prison for their actions but it
shouldn't be assumed they are responsible. `I know nothing happens in this world without a
John. B. Watson: behaviour can be predicted and controlled as people live and act in a
determined universe so that all human behaviour including ethical decisions is controlled by
prior causes which are knowable (in principle).
John Locke: `Freedom is an illusion.' We only think we chose freely because we don't know
the causes that lie behind the choices. Illustrates this with the analogy of a sleeping man who
wakes up in a locked room. On awakening he decides to stay where he is, not realising the
door was locked. He believes he's making the decision but in reality he has no choice.
Ted Honderich: everything is determined, no choice or responsibility, not even any `self'
within us that is the origin of our actions. No room for moral blame, therefore no point for
punishment, no room for freewill.
Critical Evaluation:
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May 2011 Religious Ethics Harry Townsend
+ Promotes the idea of rehabilitation over punishment. This will mean those who `do wrong'
will be fixed and can then be forgiven.
+ It is wrong to punish people if they are not responsible so if you're fixing them then you
avoid an injustice.
+ Evidence for it is presented by Derren Brown ­ He convinces Simon Peg that he wanted a
BMX bike by using outside influences to convince him he wanted something else.…read more

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May 2011 Religious Ethics Harry Townsend
sense to us, forces on us the idea that we are free so we cannot get rid of the idea we are
free without ceasing to see ourselves as the originator of our actions.
Steven Pinker: looked at it from another angle. We Looked at Darwin's ideas that emotions
such as guilt/love/anger etc. have a biological basis.…read more

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May 2011 Religious Ethics Harry Townsend
Main Arguments for Libertarianism:
1. Most common argument is that we see ourselves as free agents, not robots. We commonly
have the experience of a self- determining creature. We blame ourselves when we do
wrong and we have the experience in deciding between `tea and coffee', `which book to
read' etc. we consciously know that we are making that final decision.
2. The second argument analyses the way in which we make decisions.…read more

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May 2011 Religious Ethics Harry Townsend
Learning Approach:
Also known as the `behavioural approach'.
"It's all due to experience."
John Watson said `behaviour can be predicted and controlled' and that we learn from
observing our environment and the people in it.
Physiological Approach:
Also known as the `biological approach'.
Looks into the physical influences on our behaviour.
Our genetics and our endocrine system (hormones).
Our nervous system including the brain.
Psychodynamic Approach:
It is all in our subconscious.
It all stems from Freud.…read more

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May 2011 Religious Ethics Harry Townsend
Historically our climate contributes to our actions as it affects the behaviour of our society.
E.g. tropical climates = laziness and promiscuity; Europe = Hard working.
The Role of the Conscience
Conscience is our moral sense of right and wrong.…read more

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May 2011 Religious Ethics Harry Townsend
Critical Evaluation:
Aquinas' view has certain weaknesses:
1. The same natural yet ethical laws guide all human beings. Different societies may have
different moral laws and as a result their consciences may vary.
2. The conscience of each human-being points to the `Telos' of goodness, which is not variable
from person to person.…read more

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May 2011 Religious Ethics Harry Townsend
Didn't believe in any absolute moral laws, and held that all our moral codes are shaped by our
experiences. Culturally dependent, explaining the varieties of moral codes in different
1. The Super-Ego: Set of moral controls given to us by outside influences. It is our moral code or
conscience and is often in conflict with the `id'.
2. The Ego: The conscious self; the part seen by the outside world.
3.…read more

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May 2011 Religious Ethics Harry Townsend
- How is it possible to rise above alienation if we are determined to be alienated?
+ Fromm argued that to be set free it is necessary to be conscious/a person of conscience.
- Critics argue Fromm analysed the situation but didn't establish the cause.
- They also question whether the conscience works to give hope, love and joy.
- Michael Foucault argued the conscience acts to condemn, not liberate, the individual.…read more

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May 2011 Religious Ethics Harry Townsend
It is the analysis of ethical language. It goes beyond the ethical theories to look at what is
meant by the terms we use in ethics.
Ethical statements are not just about observable facts, but are often statements about what
we believe should happen and so are not very easy to establish as true or false, as they may
be expressions of points of view that are not shared by everyone.…read more


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