Why should I be moral?

AS AQA Philosophy Unit 1

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  • Created by: Laurel
  • Created on: 27-03-11 12:26

Morality as a social contract

Social Contract Theory

  • Hobbes' social contract theory sees morality as being in our long-term self-interest.
  • If we are moral people will treat us in the same way in return
  • Morality is a contract in which we all benefit
  • Morality is a man-made thing so moral rules are whatever we make them
  • Hobbes claims that without a social contract there would be a 'war of all against all' and life would be 'nasty, brutish and short'.


  • This is a straight forward, simple theory. We all understand contracts as a normal part of everyday life and so it seems reasonable to think morality works in this way too.
  • The social contract theory explains why people have different thoughts on morality and why cultures have differing moral codes.
  • Criticised by Kant's claim that the only moral actions are those motivated by duty; an action done as part of a social contract is motivated by self-interest so isn't moral.
  • The contract in implicit/not real. No one really agrees to the contract or can opt out of it.
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Morality as constitutive of self-interest

Virtue Approach

  • Morality involves developing virtues and so becoming more fulfilled.
  • Aristotle:
    • Virtue is a disposition to behaving in a positive way willingly with no ulterior motives.
    • The doctrine of the mean - 'and through good judgement and reasoning we can establish the right balance'. For example, courage comes between cowardice and foolhardiness.
    • The function of human beings is to reason, and function makes us fulfilled. Only through reason can we flourish.
    • Eudaimonia is the goal of life which is achieved through the development of our virtues and out talents so we can flourish.
  • Plato:
    • Three parts of the soul - reason, apetite and will.
    • Each part of the soul has a counterpart - wisdom for reason; temperence for apetite and courage for will.
    • Morality = reason psychic harmony. The moral soul is obtained when parts of the soul work in harmony with reason ruling and apetite and will working together. This allows us to have mental well-being which is necessary for eudaimonia.
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Virtue Approach - Evaluation

  • Being virtuous is linked to well-being since virtues mean we can do more with our lives, e.g. courage leads us to take more chances
  • For Plato: Metal health and mental balance are linked to well-being
  • For Aristotle: Most activities we engage in require us to reason, so it seems reasonable to say our function is to reason.
  • For Aristotle: Criticised by Sartre who claims that we don't have a fixed nature since we can define and choose our own nature.
  • For Plato: Some moral people aren't mentally balanced; Princess Diana and Winston Churchill are viewed by many to be moral people, but they suffered problems such as depression and bullimia.
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Being moral means putting self-interest aside

  • Essence of being moral is about putting self-interest aside and doing good things because they are right.
  • According to Kant, morality cannot be defined in terms of self-interest.


  • Most examples of morality can't be explained in terms of self-interest. For example, a man jumping in front of a train in New York, to save someone else, risked his life. This could not have been in his self-interest.
  • We praise moral actions because they disregard self-interest. If these were based on self-interest then we wouldn't feel the need to praise them.
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  • The most important thing about moral actions is the motivation, not the consequence. The only intrinsically good motivation is duty.
  • Actions motivated by emotions are not moral. This is human desire; we are only moral if we act against our desires.
  • Duty comes from the categorical imperative. "Act only on that maxim that you can, at the same time, will as a universal rule".
  • This is important in showing that we should not make an exception for ourselves.
  • This provides us with a clear way of distinguishing between wrong and right. It is a rational measure of morality.
  • In some cases we agree with Kant that the motive for an action is important.
  • Kant is wrong in saying action motivated by emotions are not moral. In most situations we would regard the will to help others as admirable.
  • As long as an action has a positive effect, does is matter what the motive is?
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  • Who created the 'Social Contract' theory?
  • What does the social contract mean?
  • What problem about morality does the theory explain?
  • Who criticised the social contract theory?
  • Who created the 'Doctrine of the Mean'?
  • What is the function of human beings?
  • Name the three parts of the soul according to Plato.
  • What does morality equal according to Plato?
  • Which philosopher criticised Aristotle?
  • Who argued that morality can't be defined in terms of self-interest?
  • Who came up with the theory of 'psychological egoism'?
  • According to Kant, where does duty come from?
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  • Hobbes
  • If we act morally we'll be treated in the same way
  • Why different cultures have differing moral codes
  • Kant
  • Aristotle
  • To reason
  • Reason, apetite and will
  • Reaching psychic harmony
  • Sartre
  • Kant
  • Hobbes
  • The Categorical Imperative
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Julia Freytag

this is super!

Katy Passmore

Thank you very much, very good and helpful :D

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