Ethical Theory

Revision Cards based on Ethical Theory concepts: Deontology, Natural Moral Law, Kantian Deontology, Virtue Ethics and Prima Facie Duties.

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Natural Moral Law: Origins

origins in the Greaco Roman world.

Antigone- In this play by Sophocles, Antigone intends to bury her dead brother, who was executed for deserting battle. Creon, king of Thebes, forbids Antigone's brothers burial, yet Antigone buries her brother anyway (an illegal act) because she felt moved to do so by her 'natural morality.'

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Natural Moral Law: Aquinas

Influenced by Aristotle, who observed everything in existence had a purpose. This purpose could be understood through examination of the natural world and study of the Bible.

Aquinas reasoned that the ultimate purpose of humanity is to reach God. He denounced other goals such as the search of hedonist pleasure and the search for superior intellect.

The steps of Aquinas' rationale: God made the uinverse. This fact can be understood through obsevation of the world and study of the Bible. Humanity was given freedom and reason to follow good. He calls this NML.

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The Precepts

Primary Precepts: To Live, To Learn, To Reproduce, To Worship God and To Order Society.

Aquinas produced Secondary Precepts to direct people towards the Primary Precepts: Do not murder, Attend school, Do not abort the unborn, Attend church, Follow the law (if it accords with NML).

The Secondary Precepts flow logically from the Primary Precept and are therefore self evident. Reason is God given to accomplish these purposes.

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Tiers of Law + Authority and Justice

Eternal Law: God's will and wisdom and rational ordering of the universe 5 ways.

Divine Law: Contemplation of Eternal Law given in scripture (the Bible) and doctrine. Guides humans to happiness in heaven.

Natural Law: Divine Laws source of fulfillment on Earth.

Human/Positive Law: derived from Natural Law.

Human law regulates human behaviour in society and is exercised through state and govt. When Human law opposes Natural law, then the current system may not be obeyed. If immorality is engaged, a Christian is not obliged to obey the govt. However in a stable, Christian society there are those that rule and those that are to be governed.

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Quotes + Explanation

Cicero: 'right reason in agreement with nature.' Ties in with the Primary Precepts. Cicero's quote implies that he beleived these precepts were both reasonable and natural. For example, the desire to live and reproduce is very much natural for the great majority of humanity.

St Paul: 'written in the hearts of man.' Can be used in an introductory paragraph explaining how long the NML theory has been around. Could be linked to how NML intends to be natural, or the purpose of humanity according to Aquinas. 

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Strengths

Deontology= Clear rules. It judges actions, such as torture, **** and murder irrespective of consequence.

Potent mix of nature and reason. The primary precepts all seem reasonable, natural and achievable.

A common nature and morality for all gives NML a universality beyond any one religion or culture. Different cultures have the same basic principles, especially regarding education.

NML is a way of life. All the primary precepts are concerned livng: life, education, sex, worship and social control.

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Weaknesses

Kai Neilson= A common nature and morality does not exist, eg. Extermination camp gaurds or Eskimos who kill stragglers.

Homosexuals are classified as unnatural by Aquinas, yet they may fulfill all the other precepts. Should we condemn them? Aquinas was a celibate priest.

Vardy and Grosch= Not every discharge of ***** is needed for reproduction. If it was God would have made us differently. Reproductive organs have more uses, human beings are more complex then Aquinas admits.

NML is a christian ethic, yet Jesus opposed legalistic morality and lived his life by two moral laws rather than the many laws one formulates with NML.

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Deontology Introduction

Concerned with right and wrong action. The deontologist is not simply obliged to perform actions which are good in themselves, they must also refrain from performing actions which are known to be wrong. These are called deontological constraints , or what we call rules. Obediance to these constraints is typically inflexible. A deontologist will maintain that we are not permitted to violate a constraint or rule even if serious harm will otherwise occur. Deontology is often morally absolute.

Deontology of the West is often grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition and the moral authority and guidance it gives. However, many see the tradition as harsh and out dated. Furthermore, the source of morality is often  questioned. As well as this, deontology is criticised for placing an emphasis on wrond doing and avoidance of evil, rather than a positive way of life. True morality goes beyond upholding the law eg Jesus and the Pharisees 'Woe to you Pharisees...you neglect justice and love of God.' (Luke 11:42)

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Kantian Deontology

Westphal= It is revealed in Westphal's text that Kant believes the kernel of religion is its morality.

The existence of God is a neccesary requirement of a just universe for the moral law to be balanced.

A Categorical Imperative is an end in itself. These are:

1. 'Do to others what you would have them do to you' (Matthew 7:12)

2. Treat people as ends in themselves

3. Act as if you live in a kingdom of ends, laws are universal.

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Strengths of Kantian Deontology

Humans cannot be abused. Prohibits wrong action eg **** and murder. Corrects the problem found in Utilitarianism wherein a minority can be oppressed by the majority.

It binds us to a set of rules that apply to everyone. Do not change with time or culture.

It doesn't need lengthy calculations to determine the possible outcomes.

Justice is impartial and justice for individuals is safeguarded by the Categorical Imperative.

Humans as the high point of creation have intrinsic worth, therefore all are equal and no one can be sacrificed  for the greater good, enslaved or exploited.

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Weaknesses of Kantian Deontology

Moral duties appear unexplainable. We are told to do our 'duty' but are never told why.

Humans are motivated by many things and its questionable whehter people are motivated by duty.

Duty could lead to disasterous outcomes, Inflexible.

Severe restrictions on behaviour eg a govt can't sacrifice a few for the many, which sometimes, like in a war, it is neccesary to do so. Therefore his theory is not suited to world politics.

What happens when duties conflict? eg when a hospital runs out of money it can only treat some patients. Kant would find it difficult to decide who.

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Virtue Ethics

Most ethical theories focus on right or wrong action. However, virtue ethics asks 'how can you be a better person?'

Founded by Aristotle: believed all humans had a purpose to which they work.

While people need food+water like other beings, we are also reasonable and have the capacity for rational thought. The highest form of virtue is intellect. People also live in a real world and have emotional values, named moral virtues eg good temper and modesty. Living a life of virtue will bring happiness and good will. This is desirable for its own sake, rather than a particular good (eg to create 'the greatest happiness for the greatest number').

Key: The Golden Mean= This is a balance between extreme behaviour that lead to a virtous life. The middle ground between a 'vice of defficency' and a 'vice of excess.' Aristotle saw excessiveness as an arrogance and deficency (while humble) could lead to ghastliness.

A virtous person learns from virtuous role models to help them to know a life of virtue. Through this role model one can then develop/practice habits. One must continously practice virtue. Aristotle calls this 'prudence.'

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Criticisms of Virtue Ethics

How do we decide which duties are most valuable? eg Physical prowess may be highly valued in one society whilst intellectual prowess may be valued in another. Therefore a value judgement must be made as to which virtues are most desirable and even the most self evidently virtuous person might not be considered by everyone to be a desirable role model, you may have doubtful inner motives. It becomes relativist, causing confusion.

Not everyone wants to cultivate these virtues. Susan Wolf: 'I don't know if there are many moral saints, but if there are I'm glad I'm noy one of them.'

Is there a Golden mean of compassion or loyalty? Even if there is as mean, how do we figure out what it is? At what point does courage become foolhardiness?

What do we do when virtues conflict? Aristotle gave no guidance on this.

Because the approach identifies with being rather than doing, it could be seen as selfish; having a individual focus on developing themselves rather how they're actions affect others.

Many of the virtues are masculine ones, eg Bravery and honour, often associated with battle. One can accuse the theory of being chauvinistic, giving little credit to feminine virtues such as empathy or humility.

Virtue ethics is only attractive to those who have the time, inclination, and ability to engage is speculative philosophy-Robert Louden.

Doesn't offer answers to specific moral dilemnas such as euthanasia, nor does it provide a list of intolerable acts such as murder.

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Strengths of Virtue Ethics

It can be accomodated by religous AND secular morality. Despite Richard Taylor's observations Jesus could be held up as a virtuous man.

Rather than simply looking for rules, it looks at the fundamental issue of being human. Rather than focusing on specific actions, it sees every moment as an opportunity to develop a virtue.

What we do is what we are. This is a more proactive approach than dilemna based ethics, which can be seen as reactionary.

In holding up models of virtuous people it is not unrealistic.

It is accessible by the real world. If courage is a virtue it generates an immediate idea of someone who is courageous and suggests how we could do this as well.

It is a simple system based on the universal well being of the individual and the community.

Attempts to link theoretical and practical approaches to ethics and maintains that theories of moral behaviour have value in helping to develop a good life.

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Strengths of Virtue Ethics

It can be accomodated by religous AND secular morality. Despite Richard Taylor's observations Jesus could be held up as a virtuous man.

Rather than simply looking for rules, it looks at the fundamental issue of being human. Rather than focusing on specific actions, it sees every moment as an opportunity to develop a virtue.

What we do is what we are. This is a more proactive approach than dilemna based ethics, which can be seen as reactionary.

In holding up models of virtuous people it is not unrealistic.

It is accessible by the real world. If courage is a virtue it generates an immediate idea of someone who is courageous and suggests how we could do this as well.

It is a simple system based on the universal well being of the individual and the community.

Attempts to link theoretical and practical approaches to ethics and maintains that theories of moral behaviour have value in helping to develop a good life.

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Prima Facie Duties

Prima Facie= At first appearance

Formed in the 20th century by W D Ross

Focuses on what happens when duties conflict and attempts to deal with this problem.

Ross said we don't choose why we act, only how. He did not believe consequence was the only way to determine the morality of an action= a middle ground between deontology and consequentionalist thinking.

Basis: We follow a particular duty unless a higher duty compells us to pursue that instead. We decide which duty matters more in a particular situation.

The Prima Facie duties (he admitted they were not a complete list, but the ones he had formed were correct).

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The Prima Facie duties (continued)

1 Promise keeping

2 Reperation for harm done

3 Gratitude

4 Justice

5 Benificience (the act of doing good and helping others)

6 Self improvement

7 Non-Malificence (doing no harm)

These duties emphasise a personal character of duty, rather than a set of absolutes. These duties don't tell us what to do and have no order. They should be considered in any situation, but ultimately choosing is a matter of judgement. In moral decision making, our intuition identifies our prima facie duties although our action isn't self evident.

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S+W of Prima Facie duties

Strengths: Solves the problems that arise when two duties conflict.

Easily deployable.

Allows for the personal nature of duty to override the greater good.

Weaknesses: Seems to take no account of rights. If duties are open to interpretation, anything can be justified and no one has absolute rights.

Ross admitted the duties are incomplete.

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