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What is ethics?

The moral principles that govern a person's behaviour or the conducting of an activity.


Ethics is usually centralised in:

-Practical reasoning
-The person


Practical Reasoning:

-Plato: wrongdoing was always the result of ignorance. Moral life comes from the understanding of the form of good.
-Aristotle: Moral life requires practical reasoning, just like art.


Critique against Plato on practical reasoning:

-Smoking is harmful, but to continue to smoke does not prove an act of ignorance. Therefore, Plato's argument remains invalid.


Practical Reasoning: Conclusion:

Therefore, moral thinking is about what is manageable in particular circumstances.


The person:

Ethics is about the person in a community, there must be an agreement on how this person should perform their moral duties.


Ronald Dworkin (1931-2013):

Rights were not to be understood absolutely.


Ingold Dalferth (1948):

The basic rights and above all human dignity is central,. Human dignity cannot be taken away like freedom can be. We are dignified in being ourselves.



Language is used to phrase the world. We cannot think about morality without using language. Some words in language such as 'good' is usually conformed differently, doesn't entirely mean something is morally brilliant. Its an adjective.



Most religions aim to provide guidance on what it means to be moral.
Natural Law theory aims to argue that what is right and what is wrong is knowable by reason.


Theories of ethics:

-Normative: Sets norms on how we should behave and the character traits we should develop.
-Applied: Discusses ethical problems of living: i.e. medicine, politics or sanction.
-Metaethics: Questions language and meaning; i.e. what does it mean to be good or bad.


Metaethical theories can include:

- Subjectivism
-Divine Command Theory
-Vulgar Relativism
-Natural Law Theory


Developed by Rudolf Carnap and A.J Ayer.

- A theory that argues that ethical statements do not express emotions, but emotional attitudes.
- EXAMPLE: To say "Lying is good", means you approve of lying. To say Lying is bad" means you disapprove of lying.



- The view that all ethical judgements are simply statements of the speaker's beliefs and are right because the speaker says so.


Existentialists include: Soren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers and Jean- Paul Sartre.

A philosophical movement that believes that the universe just exists and has no meaning in itself. Any value it has is the meaning each individual chooses to give..


Divine Command Theory:
( Theological Voluntarism)

- The theory that something is right because God commands something is right, rather than believing that God commands something because it's right.


Divine Command Theory Rejected by:

The following Christian Philosophers: Aquinas, Martin Luther and Pope St John Paul II.


Vulgar Relativism:

- Relativism: The view that the rightness is culturally or religiously determined.
-All beliefs are relative, and all should be tolerated. This position is contradictory, because all tolerance should be a universal value, not a relative one.


Natural Law Theory:

- Belief that moral rightness can be determined through careful reflection on the facts of the world.
-Supported by: Aristotle, Cicero, Aquinas, Richard Hooker, Hugo Grotius, Today and John Finnis.


Theories of Normative Ethics:

-Deontic Ethics
-Aretaic Ethics


Deontic Ethics:

Any type of ethics, such Kantianism or Utilitarianism, which emphasises the actions we should perform.


Aretaic Ethics:

Term for virtue ethics which emphasises the types of person we should strive to be.


Deontic Ethics are split into two kinds:

- Teleological Theories (called consequentialist):
-Any theory in which goodness or rightness is determined by the outcome. (Focuses on outcome)
-Any ethical system which ignores outcomes, concentrating just on whether the act is good in itself. (ignores outcome)


Teleological theories include:

- Utilitarianism = The moral doctrine that one should always seek the greatest balance of good over evil.
- Egoism = We all should seek to act in our best interests.
- Situation ethics = in each situation which should do something which results in a loving outcome.


Deontological Theories include:

- Kantian Ethics = Emphasises the primary of ones duty regardless of the consequences.
- Agapism = "love is all you need" we should all just love.
-Divine Command Theory (can appear in Normative ethics as well as metaethics).



Believe that there are fixed and unchanging truths about right and wrong.
(Fixed Morals)



Believe that morals are flexible and not absolute. It depends on the individual society and circumstances.
(Morals are not fixed)