Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of [1]

  • truth values (if any) may be determined;
  • Normative ethics, about the practical means of determining a moral course of action;
  • Descriptive ethics, also known as comparative ethics, is the study of people’s beliefs about morality;
  • Applied ethics, about how moral outcomes can be achieved in specific situations;


[edit] Defining ethics

According to Richard Paul and Linda Elder of the [4]

[edit] Meta-ethics

Meta-ethics is a field within ethics that seeks to understand the nature of normative ethics. The focus of meta-ethics is on how we understand, know about, and what we mean when we talk about what is right and what is wrong.

Meta-ethics came to the fore with facts and values.

Studies of how we know in ethics divide into cognitivism and non-cognitivism; this is similar to the contrast between descriptivists and non-descriptivists. Non-cognitivism is the claim that when we judge something as right or wrong, this is neither true nor false. We may for example be only expressing our emotional feelings about these things.[5] Cognitivism can then be seen as the claim that when we talk about right and wrong, we are talking about matters of fact.

The ontology of ethics is about value-bearing things or properties, i.e. the kind of things or stuff referred to by ethical propositions. Non-descriptivists and non-cognitivists believe that ethics does not need a specific ontology, since ethical propositions do not refer. This is known as an anti-realist position. Realists on the other hand must explain what kind of entities, properties or states are relevant for ethics, how they have value, and why they guide and motivate our actions.[6]

[edit] Historical ethical theories

[edit] Virtue ethics


Virtue ethics describes the character of a moral agent as a driving force for ethical behavior, and is used to describe the ethics of [7]


Aristotle asserted that man had three natures: vegetable (physical/metabolism), animal (emotional/appetite) and rational (mental/conceptual). Physical nature can be assuaged through exercise and care, emotional nature through indulgence of instinct and urges, and mental through human reason and developed potential. Rational development was considered the most important, as essential to philosophical self-awareness and as uniquely human. Moderation was encouraged, with the extremes seen as degraded and immoral. For example, courage is the moderate virtue between the extremes of cowardice and recklessness. Man should not simply live, but live well with conduct governed by moderate virtue. This is regarded as difficult, as virtue denotes doing the right thing, to the right person, at the right time, to the proper extent, in the correct fashion, for the right reason.[9]

[edit] Stoicism

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus posited that the greatest good was contentment and serenity. Peace of mind, or Apatheia, was of the highest value; self-mastery over one’s desires and emotions leads to spiritual peace. The “unconquerable will” is central to this philosophy. The individual’s will should be independent and inviolate. Allowing a person to disturb the mental equilibrium is in essence offering yourself in slavery. If a person is free to anger you at will, you have no control over your internal world, and therefore no freedom. Freedom from material attachments is also necessary. If a thing breaks, the person should not be upset, but realize it was a thing that could break. Similarly, if someone should die, those close to them should hold to their serenity because the loved one was made of flesh and blood destined to death. Stoic philosophy says to accept things that cannot be changed, resigning oneself to existence and enduring in a rational fashion. Death is not feared. People do not “lose” their life, but instead “return”, for they are returning to God (who initially gave what the person is as a person). Epictetus said difficult problems in life should not be avoided, but rather embraced. They are spiritual exercises needed for the health of the spirit, just as physical exercise is required for the health of the body. He also stated that sex and sexual desire are to be avoided as the greatest threat to the integrity and equilibrium of a man’s mind. Abstinence is highly desirable. Epictetus said remaining abstinent in the face of temptation was a victory for which a man could be proud.[10]

[edit] Epicureanism

Epicurean ethics is a hedonist form of virtue ethics. [12]

[edit] Hedonism

Hedonism posits that the principal ethic is maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. There are several schools of Hedonist thought ranging from those advocating the indulgence of even momentary desires to those teaching a pursuit of spiritual bliss. In their consideration of consequences, they range from those advocating self-gratification regardless of the pain and expense to others, to those stating that the most ethical pursuit maximizes pleasure and happiness for the most people.[13]

[edit] Cyrenaic hedonism

Founded by Aristippus of Cyrene, Cyrenaics supported immediate gratification or pleasure. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” Even fleeting desires should be indulged, for fear the opportunity should be forever lost. There was little to no concern with the future, the present dominating in the pursuit for immediate pleasure. Cyrenaic hedonism encouraged the pursuit of enjoyment and indulgence without hesitation, believing pleasure to be the only good.[13]

[edit] State consequentialism

State consequentialism, also known as Mohist consequentialism,[14] is an ethical theory which evaluates the moral worth of an action based on how much it contributes to the social harmony of a state.[14] The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes Mohist consequentialism, dating back to the 5th century BC, as “a remarkably sophisticated version based on a plurality of intrinsic goods taken as constitutive of human welfare.”[15] Unlike utilitarianism, which views pleasure as a moral good, “the basic goods in Mohist consequentialist thinking are… order, material wealth, and increase in population”.[16] During Mozi‘s era, war and famines were common, and population growth was seen as a moral necessity for a harmonious society. The “material wealth” of Mohist consequentialism refers to basic needs like shelter and clothing, and the “order” of Mohist consequentialism refers to Mozi’s stance against warfare and violence, which he viewed as pointless and a threat to social stability.[17] Stanford sinologist David Shepherd Nivison, in the The Cambridge History of Ancient China, writes that the moral goods of Mohism “are interrelated: more basic wealth, then more reproduction; more people, then more production and wealth… if people have plenty, they would be good, filial, kind, and so on unproblematically.”[16] In contrast to Bentham’s views, state consequentialism is not utilitarian because it is not hedonistic. The importance of outcomes that are good for the state outweigh the importance of individual pleasure and pain.[16]

[edit] Modern normative ethics

Traditionally, normative ethics (also known as moral theory) was the study of what makes actions right and wrong. These theories offered an overarching moral principle one could appeal to in resolving difficult moral decisions.

At the turn of the 20th century, moral theories became more complex and are no longer concerned solely with rightness and wrongness, but are interested in many different kinds of moral status. During the middle of the century, the study of normative ethics declined as meta-ethics grew in prominence. This focus on meta-ethics was in part caused by an intense linguistic focus in logical positivism.

In 1971 A Theory of Justice, noteworthy in its pursuit of moral arguments and eschewing of meta-ethics. This publication set the trend for renewed interest in normative ethics.

[edit] Modern virtue ethics

Modern virtue ethics was popularized during the 1980s.[18]

[edit] Consequentialism

Consequentialism refers to moral theories that hold that the consequences of a particular action form the basis for any valid moral judgment about that action (or create a structure for judgment, see rule consequentialism). Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right action is one that produces a good outcome, or consequence. This view is often expressed as the aphorism “The ends justify the means”.

The term “consequentialism” was coined by G.E.M. Anscombe in her essay “Modern Moral Philosophy” in 1958, to describe what she saw as the central error of certain moral theories, such as those propounded by Mill and Sidgwick.[19] Since then, the term has become common in English-language ethical theory.

The defining feature of consequentialist moral theories is the weight given to the consequences in evaluating the rightness and wrongness of actions.[20] In consequentialist theories, the consequences of an action or rule generally outweigh other considerations. Apart from this basic outline, there is little else that can be unequivocally said about consequentialism as such. However, there are some questions that many consequentialist theories address:

  • What sort of consequences count as good consequences?
  • Who is the primary beneficiary of moral action?
  • How are the consequences judged and who judges them?

One way to divide various consequentialisms is by the types of consequences that are taken to matter most, that is, which consequences count as good states of affairs. According to hedonistic political liberty instead of something like the more ephemeral “pleasure”. Other theories adopt a package of several goods, all to be promoted equally. Whether a particular consequentialist theory focuses on a single good or many, conflicts and tensions between different good states of affairs are to be expected and must be adjudicated.

[edit] Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is a hedonistic ethical theory that argues the proper course of action is one that maximizes overall “happiness”. [22]

Hedonistic utilitarianism is the paradigmatic example of a consequentialist moral theory. This form of utilitarianism holds that what matters is the aggregate happiness; the happiness of everyone and not the happiness of any particular person. John Stuart Mill, in his exposition of hedonistic utilitarianism, proposed a hierarchy of pleasures, meaning that the pursuit of certain kinds of pleasure is more highly valued than the pursuit of other pleasures.[23]

[edit] Deontology

Deontological ethics or deontology (from rule utilitarianism). For deontologists, the ends or consequences of our actions are not important in and of themselves, and our intentions are not important in and of themselves.

Immanuel Kant’s theory of ethics is considered deontological for several different reasons.[28] Second, Kant argued that it was not the consequences of actions that make them right or wrong but the motives of the person who carries out the action.

Kant’s argument that to act in the morally right way, one must act from duty, begins with an argument that the highest good must be both good in itself, and good without qualification.[29] Something is ‘good in itself’ when it is intrinsically good, and ‘good without qualification’ when the addition of that thing never makes a situation ethically worse. Kant then argues that those things that are usually thought to be good, such as intelligence, perseverance and pleasure, fail to be either intrinsically good or good without qualification. Pleasure, for example, appears to not be good without qualification, because when people take pleasure in watching someone suffering, this seems to make the situation ethically worse. He concludes that there is only one thing that is truly good:

Nothing in the world—indeed nothing even beyond the world—can possibly be conceived which could be called good without qualification except a good will.[29]

[edit] Pragmatic ethics

Associated with the pragmatists, Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and especially John Dewey, pragmatic ethics holds that moral correctness evolves similarly to scientific knowledge: socially over the course of many lifetimes. Thus, we should prioritize social reform over attempts to account for consequences, individual virtue or duty (although these may be worthwhile attempts, provided social reform is provided for).[30]

[edit] Role ethics

Role ethics is an ethical theory based on [32]

[edit] Postmodern ethics

The 20th century saw a remarkable expansion and evolution of critical theory, following on earlier Marxist Theory efforts to locate individuals within larger structural frameworks of ideology and action.

Jean Baudrillard theorised that signs and symbols or simulacra mask reality (and eventually the absence of reality itself), particularly in the consumer world.

Post-structuralism and genealogy) to be a helpful tool for understanding ethics because narrative is always about particular lived experiences in all their complexity rather than the assignment of an idea or norm to separate and individuated actions.

Zygmunt Bauman says Postmodernity is best described as Modernity without illusion. The illusion being the belief that humanity can be repaired by some ethic principle. Postmodernity can be seen in this light as accepting the messy nature of humanity as unchangeable.

Derrida‘s meditations on the relevance of death to ethics are signs of the “ethical turn” in Continental philosophy that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. Hoy describes post-critique ethics as the “obligations that present themselves as necessarily to be fulfilled but are neither forced on one or are enforceable” (2004, p. 103).

Hoy’s post-critique model uses the term ethical resistance. Examples of this would be an individual’s resistance to consumerism in a retreat to a simpler but perhaps harder lifestyle, or an individual’s resistance to a terminal illness. Hoy describes Levinas’s account as “not the attempt to use power against itself, or to mobilize sectors of the population to exert their political power; the ethical resistance is instead the resistance of the powerless”(2004, p. 8).

Hoy concludes that

The ethical resistance of the powerless others to our capacity to exert power over them is therefore what imposes unenforceable obligations on us. The obligations are unenforceable precisely because of the other’s lack of power. That actions are at once obligatory and at the same time unenforceable is what put them in the category of the ethical. Obligations that were enforced would, by the virtue of the force behind them, not be freely undertaken and would not be in the realm of the ethical. (2004, p.184)

In present day terms the powerless may include the unborn, the terminally sick, the aged, the insane, and non-human animals. It is in these areas that ethical action in Hoy’s sense will apply. Until legislation or the state apparatus enforces a moral order that addresses the causes of resistance these issues will remain in the ethical realm. For example, should animal experimentation become illegal in a society, it will no longer be an ethical issue on Hoy’s definition. Likewise one hundred and fifty years ago, not having a black slave in America would have been an ethical choice. This later issue has been absorbed into the fabric of an enforceable social order and is therefore no longer an ethical issue in Hoy’s sense.

[edit] Applied ethics

Applied ethics is a discipline of philosophy that attempts to apply ethical theory to real-life situations. The discipline has many specialized fields, such as business ethics.

[edit] Specific questions

Applied ethics is used in some aspects of determining public policy, as well as by individuals facing difficult decisions. The sort of questions addressed by applied ethics include: “Is getting an abortion immoral?” “Is euthanasia immoral?” “Is affirmative action right or wrong?” “What are human rights, and how do we determine them?” “Do animals have rights as well?” and “Do individuals have the right of self determination?”

A more specific question could be: “If someone else can make better out of his/her life than I can, is it then moral to sacrifice myself for them if needed?” Without these questions there is no clear fulcrum on which to balance law, politics, and the practice of arbitration — in fact, no common assumptions of all participants—so the ability to formulate the questions are prior to rights balancing. But not all questions studied in applied ethics concern public policy. For example, making ethical judgments regarding questions such as, “Is lying always wrong?” and, “If not, when is it permissible?” is prior to any etiquette.

People in-general are more comfortable with dichotomies (two opposites). However, in ethics the issues are most often multifaceted and the best proposed actions address many different areas concurrently. In ethical decisions the answer is almost never a “yes or no”, “right or wrong” statement. Many buttons are pushed so that the overall condition is improved and not to the benefit of any particular faction.

[edit] Particular fields of application

[edit] Bioethics

Bioethics is the study of controversial ethics brought about by advances in “the ethics of the ordinary”) which arise in primary care and other branches of medicine.

[edit] Geoethics

Geoethics is an interdisciplinary field between Geosciences and Ethics which involves Earth and Planetary Sciences as well as applied ethics. It deals with the way of human thinking and acting in relation to the significance of the Earth as a system and as a model. [34]Geoeducational, scientific, technological, methodological and social-cultural aspects are included. e.g.:

  • sustainability and development
  • geo-diversity and geo-heritage
  • prudent consumption of mineral resources
  • appropriate measures for predictability and mitigation of natural hazards
  • geoscience communication
  • museology

In addition, the necessity of considering appropriate protocols, scientific integrity issues and a code of good practice – regarding the study of the abiotic world – is covered by this discipline. Studies on planetary geology (sensu lato) and astrobiology also require a geoethical approach.

[edit] Business ethics

Business ethics (also corporate ethics) is a form of professional ethics that examines ethical principles and moral or ethical problems that arise in a business environment. It applies to all aspects of business conduct and is relevant to the conduct of individuals and entire organizations.

Business ethics has both [37]

[edit] Relational ethics

Relational ethics are related to an contextual therapy.

[edit] Machine ethics

In Moral Machines: Teaching Robots Right from Wrong, Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen conclude that issues in machine ethics will likely drive advancement in understanding of human ethics by forcing us to address gaps in modern normative theory and by providing a platform for experimental investigation.[42] The effort to actually program a machine or artificial agent to behave as though instilled with a sense of ethics requires new specificity in our normative theories, especially regarding aspects customarily considered common-sense. For example, machines, unlike humans, can support a wide selection of learning algorithms, and controversy has arisen over the relative ethical merits of these options. This may reopen classic debates of normative ethics framed in new (highly technical) terms.

[edit] Military ethics

Military ethics are intended to guide members of the armed forces to act in a manner consistent with the requirements of combat and military organization.[43] While Just war theory is generally seen to set the background terms of moral debate, individual countries have more specific methods of upholding these ethical principles.

Military ethics involves multiple subareas, including the following among others:

  1. what, if any, should be the laws of war
  2. justification for the initiation of military force
  3. decisions about who may be targeted in warfare
  4. decisions on choice of weaponry, and what collateral effects such weaponry may have
  5. standards for handling military prisoners
  6. methods of dealing with violations of the laws of war

[edit] Political ethics

Political ethics (also known as political morality or public ethics) is the practice of making moral judgements about political action and political agents.[44]

[edit] Public sector ethics

Public sector ethics is a set of principles that guide public officials in their service to their constituents, including their decision-making on behalf of their constituents. Fundamental to the concept of public sector ethics is the notion that decisions and actions are based on what best serves the public’s interests, as opposed to the official’s personal interests (including financial interests) or self-serving political interests.[45]

[edit] Moral psychology

Moral psychology is a field of study that began, like most things, as an issue in [48]

[edit] Evolutionary ethics

Evolutionary ethics concerns approaches to ethics (morality) based on the role of evolution in shaping human psychology and behavior. Such approaches may be based in scientific fields such as evolutionary psychology or sociobiology, with a focus on understanding and explaining observed ethical preferences and choices.[49]

[edit] Descriptive ethics

Descriptive ethics is a arbitration as more fundamental, percolating “bottom up” to imply the existence of, rather than explicitly prescribe, theories of value or of conduct. The study of descriptive ethics may include examinations of the following:

  • moral core developed through art and storytelling as very influential in one’s later ethical choices.
  • Informal theories of etiquette that tend to be less rigorous and more situational. Some consider etiquette a simple negative ethics, i.e., where can one evade an uncomfortable truth without doing wrong? One notable advocate of this view is common sense social decisions.
  • Practices in arbitration and law, e.g., the claim that ethics itself is a matter of balancing “right versus right,” i.e., putting priorities on two things that are both right, but that must be traded off carefully in each situation.
  • economics.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^
  2. 0-944-583-17-2.
  3. 0-944-583-17-2.
  4. ^ John Deigh in Robert Audi (ed), The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 1995.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Miller, C. (2009). The Conditions of Moral Realism. The Journal of Philosophical Research, 34, 123-155.
  7. ^ Sahakian, William S. & Sahakian, Mabel Lewis. Ideas of the Great Philosophers. pp 32-33. Barnes & Noble Books (1993). ISBN 978-1-56619-271-2.
  8. ^ Sahakian, William S. & Sahakian, Mabel Lewis. Ideas of the Great Philosophers. pp 33-35. Barnes & Noble Books (1993). ISBN 978-1-56619-271-2.
  9. ^ Sahakian, William S. & Sahakian, Mabel Lewis. Ideas of the Great Philosophers. pp 35-37. Barnes & Noble Books (1993). ISBN 978-1-56619-271-2.
  10. ^ Sahakian, William S. & Sahakian, Mabel Lewis. Ideas of the Great Philosophers. pp 38-41. Barnes & Noble Books (1993). ISBN 978-1-56619-271-2.
  11. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  12. ^ Sahakian, William S. & Sahakian, Mabel Lewis. Ideas of the Great Philosophers. pp 37-38. Barnes & Noble Books (1993). ISBN 978-1-56619-271-2.
  13. ^ ISBN 978-1-56619-271-2.
  14. ^ 978-0-87220-780-6. “”he advocated a form of state consequentialism, which sought to maximize three basic goods: the wealth, order, and population of the state”
  15. ^ Fraser, Chris, “Mohism“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy , Edward N. Zalta.
  16. ^ 978-0-521-47030-8.
  17. 978-1-60384-468-0.
  18. ^ 978-0-230-35709-9.
  19. ^ Anscombe, G. E. M. (1958). “Modern Moral Philosophy”. Philosophy (1958) 33 (124): 1–19. doi:10.1017/S0031819100037943.
  20. 0-14-013558-8.
  21. ^ Bentham, Jeremy (2001). The Works of Jeremy Bentham: Published under the Superintendence of His Executor, John Bowring. Volume 1. Adamant Media Corporation. pp. 18.
  22. Mill, John Stuart, Utilitarianism (Project Gutenberg online edition)
  24. ^
  25. ^ Olson, Robert G. 1967. ‘Deontological Ethics’. In Paul Edwards (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Collier Macmillan: 343.
  26. ^ Orend, Brian. 2000. War and International Justice: A Kantian Perspective. West Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press: 19.
  27. ^ Kelly, Eugene. 2006. The Basics of Western Philosophy. Greenwood Press: 160.
  28. ^ Kant, Immanuel. 1780. ‘Preface’. In The Metaphysical Elements of Ethics. Translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott
  29. ^ Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals.
  31. ^ 978-0-8248-3576-7.
  32. ^
  34. ^ Silvia Peppoloni and Giuseppe Di Capua (Eds), Geoethics and geological culture. Reflections from the Geoitalia Conference 2011, 2012. Annals of Geophysics, Vol. 55, No 3 (Special Issue), ISSN 2037-416X:
  35. ^ Smith, A (1776/ 1952) An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, p. 55
  36. ^ Berle, A. A., & Means, G. C. (1932). The Modern Corporation and Private Property. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. In this book, Berle and Means observe, “Corporations have ceased to be merely legal devices through which the private business transactions of individuals may be carried on. Though still much used for this purpose, the corporate form has acquired a much larger significance. The corporation has, in fact, become both a method of property tenure and a means of organizing economic life. Grown to tremendous proportions, there may be said to have evolved a ‘corporate system’—as there once was a feudal system—which has attracted to itself a combination of attributes and powers, and has attained a degree of prominence entitling it to be dealt with as a major social institution. […] We are examining this institution probably before it has attained its zenith. Spectacular as its rise has been, every indication seems to be that the system will move forward to proportions which stagger imagination today […] They [management] have placed the community in a position to demand that the modern corporation serve not only the owners […] but all society.” p. 1.
  37. Jones, Parker & et al. 2005, p. 17
  38. ^ Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different Voice: Pscychological theory and women’s development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  39. ^ Ellis, C. (2007). Telling secrets, revealing lives: Relational ethics in research with intimate others. Qualitative Inquiry, 13, 3-29.
  40. ^ Ellis, C. (1986). Fisher folk. Two communities on Chesapeake Bay. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.
  41. ^ Ellis, C. (1995).Final negotiations: A story of love, loss, and chronic illness. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  42. 978-0-19-537404-9.
  43. 0-8131-2159-0.
  44. ^ Thompson, Dennis F. “Political Ethics.” International Encyclopedia of Ethics, ed. Hugh LaFollette (Blackwell Publishing, 2012).
  45. ^ See, for example, work of Institute for Local Government, at
  46. ^ See, for example, Lapsley (2006) and “moral psychology” (2007).
  47. ^ See, for example, Doris & Stich (2008) and Wallace (2007). Wallace writes: “Moral psychology is the study of morality in its psychological dimensions” (p. 86).
  48. ^ See Doris & Stich (2008), §1.
  49. ^ Doris Schroeder. “Evolutionary Ethics”. Retrieved 2010-01-05.

[edit] References

[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

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