Ethical Theories

  • The concepts of absolutist and relativist morality
  • What it means to call an ethical theory absolutist or objective
  • What it means to call an ethical theory relativist or subjective
  • The terms deontological and teleological
  • To be able to discuss critically these concepts and their strengths and weaknesses

Absolute:           A rule that is true in all situations.

Relativist:          A judgement that depends on the circustances. No universal right or wrong or fixed truth.

Objective:          Based on a fact.

Subjective:          Based on opionion.

Deontological:   Duty, obligation to act. Concerned with the action, regardless of the consequences.

Teleological:      End or purpose. Consequences of the action determine whether it is right or wrong.

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Natural Law

  • The origins of Aquinas' Natural Law in Aristotle's idea of purpose
  • Aquinas' ideas of purpose and perfection
  • The use of reason to discover Natural Law
  • The primary and secondary precepts
  • To be able to dicuss critically these views and their strengths and weknesses

Aristotle (philosopher) believes happiness is our purpose, we aim to find happiness in everything we do. Aristotle believes that everything in nature has a function, purpose and end. The Bible taught Thomas Aquinas (Priest of the Roman Catholic Church) that God created the universe with order and purpose and that an object achieves its Final Cause (purpose) when it does what God intended it to do, and that God deigned us for perfection. We were made in God's image and should reflect this image perfectly.

Primary Precepts:                      Secondary Precepts- Set out the way in which Primary Precepts are implemented

  • Preservation of life               Do not commit suicide. Do not switch off life support.
  • Reproduction                       Contraception is a sin. IVF and surrogacy is permitted.
  • Educating the young            Education is free. Schooling is compulsory.
  • Living in society                   Build more homes. Encourage community activities.
  • Worshipping God                 One day a week just for worship. Hold school assemblies for worship.
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Kantian Ethics

  • The difference between the Categorical and Hypothetical Imperatives
  • The various formulations of the Categorical Imperative
  • Kant's understanding of the universalisation of maxims
  • Kant's theory of duty
  • Kant's ideas of moral law, good will and the summum bonum.

The categorical impertives are commands that must be obeyed, the hypotetical imperatives ought to be obeyed. There is no obligation to obey the hypothetical imperative unless you are able and want to achieve the outcome. e.g. it would not be right to make abortion acceptable in every circumstance, so we could not make this categorical. However, the hypothetical impertive can cover issues such as ****, which would permit abortion. The formualtion of the categorical imperative undergoes three tests. 1) The universal law principle which states that if a law can be made universal, it must be correct. 2) The principle of humanity as an end not a means which prevents people from being exploited. 3) The principle of the universal kingdom of ends which states that ALL members of society must desire the same good.

Kants theory of duty concerns the following; our duty is to act morally, if we act out our duty, it is our desire to be moral, it is not our duty to do things we are unable to do, to do our duty we must be free, not forced. This links with good will which Kant states is the highest good and is innate. When we act with good will we act with the intention of being moral, meaning that the key element is the intention behind the act.

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  • The classical forms of Utilitarianism from Bentham and Mill, and the differences of the two
  • The Hedonic Calculus; higher and lower pleasures, quantity vs quality and act and rule utilitarianism
  • The Preference Utilitarianism of Peter Singer.

Act Utilitarianism was devised by Jeremy Bentham who measured happiness through pleasure and pain. Bentham was a hedonistc and believes that pleasure was the chief good, and developed the Hedonic Calculus. The Hedonic Calculus is made up of 7 points concerning how much happiness will result from an action, made up of the acronym 'DRPRICE'; Duration- how long will it last? Remoteness- how near is it? Purity- how free from pain is it? Richness- to what extent will it lead to other pleasures? Intensity- how powerful is it? Certainty- how likely is it to result in pleasure? Extent- how many people does it affect?  This was followed by the Utility Principle which determined if an action was right or wrong based upon how useful it was.

Rule Utilitarianism was devised by Stewart Mill who believed Benthams calculus was unreasonable. Mill distinguished between higher and lower pleasures. Higher pleasures were concerned with the quality of a pleasure and how much they develop the self e.g. reading a novel. Mill states that pleasures of the mind are prefered but recognised people often choose the pleasures of the body. Rule utilitarianism focuses on general rules that everyone should follow to bring about the greatest good for the community.

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Religious Ethics (Christianity)

  • The main ethical principles of the religion studied and how followers make an ethical decision
  • The ways in which religion and mortality may seem to be linked or be seen as separate
  • How far mortality may be seen as dependant on God (Divine Command Theory)
  • How far religious ethics are seen as absolutist or relativist
  • How ethical theories may be considered religious

How does a Christian make an ethical decision? Situation ethics, the Bible, conscience (the voice of God), the church, the Decalogue and the leading examples of the parables.

The Divine Command Theory poses the question is an act wrong, because God commands it, or does God command it, because it is wrong? This poses the problem that if God commands it because it is wrong then a greater being must have determined whether it is wrong, yet the alternate option allows for God to choose arbitary subjects as good or bad i.e he could command murder as being good.

The Relationship between Ethics and Relion; AUTONOMY- Morally existing independantly of religion. It's ideas are shaped by reason alone. Christian Example: free will. HETRONOMY- Morality shaped by religious beliefs. Rules taken from religious teachings. Christian Example: the Decalogue. THEONOMY- The principles and values behind both religious and ethical rules are the same. Christian Example: Situation ethics.

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