Ethical Theories and Major Moral Principles

  • Category: Philosophy,
  • Words: 1497 Pages: 6
  • Published: 29 March 2021
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Ethical theories have been put in place by philosophers to give us moral principle guidelines to making ethical decisions with. When considering a moral problem, we can turn to ethics to give us an answer to justify the actions that we make. As we review the seven ethical theories from this past section, we consider the flaws and problems that go along with the moral standards put in place.  

 Utilitarianism founded in the 19th century by philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill states “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong if they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” (Munson and Lague 903). Looking deeper into the concept we see that utilitarianism is broken down into two sections: act and rule utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism states that an act is right if and only if no other act could be performed that would produce a higher amount of joy. Problems to consider with act utilitarianism is that there is no way to know for certain that we have chosen the act that will produce the most utility, and there is no way to account for obligations such as promises, or pledges made. Rule utilitarianism is based on conforming to rules. The idea is that having a set of rules for society to conform to creates the greatest amount of utility for everyone. One example mentioned by Julia Markovits in the assigned YouTube video is the concept of having only 5 drugs left with 6 patients, one patient needing 5 doses and the other 5 patients only needing one dose. Utilitarianism tells us to save the 5 patients and let the one die, as saving the 5 with produce the most happiness for the most people. Problems that come along with utilitarianism as a whole is that it is an overly demanding theory suggesting no possible way to calculate all outcomes of an event to find the best one. Other problems suggest that it does not respect persons, violates rights, is unfair, and is not sensitive.   

Kantianism created by German philosopher Immanuel Kant in 1755 states that “The consequences of an action are morally irrelevant. Rather, an action is right when it accords with a rule satisfying a broader principle that he calls categorical impermeant.” (Munson and Lague 911). To break down Kantianism into clearer terms the only way to be moral is to have a will to do good. Meaning that if you do an action for the benefit of yourself or because a rule told you to it is not moral, you need to do it because you want to. Categorical impermeant is used in term to distinguish from the idea of a hypothetical impermeant (ideas to follow if you want something, optional). Rather categorical impermeant is moral obligations from pure reason, whether you want to be moral or not it is a part of us all to be moral. Kant completely disregards religion in his teachings because he believed that if we all looked to religion for our morality, we will not all get the same answers; and we should all know the correct answer based on our moral intellect. On Kant’s principles good results do not make an action morally right, rather we are either perfect or imperfect. An example of this taken from the book was being a research subject, even if there is a good outcome of it, Kant states that we must treat ourselves as an end to preserve our dignity and value as human beings. Even if we view being a research subject as morally right, in the views of Kant it is an imperfect duty. Although Kant's ideas are a thorough source of principles we still find many philosophers in controversy over the theory. Popular among many theories along with Kant's, is that real life situations are so varied that it is hard to always distinguish the best results, and in moral reasoning imperfect duties sometimes outweigh perfect duties.  

Apart from Utilitarianism and Kantianism Virtue Ethics is based on character rather than a set of rules or laws. Founded by Aristotle in the fourth century his theory is based on if we can all just be good people, then the correct actions will follow. This theory is based on practice just like any other action is learned; that humans have a fixed nature to do good. If we all practice being good people, then eventually it will become a habit. Just as any other action one might learn it can come natural to somewhere it is difficult to others at first. It is said that a person's upbringing influences how quickly these habits can be learned, roles such as families and social upbringings being the most influential. Virtue comes from the Greek word arete which is loosely translated as the word “excellence” and you must achieve this excellence before being completely virtuous. Aristotle states that there is a mean behind each characteristic that we must achieve to meet “excellence” such as knowing how to be courageous, without being destructive or cowardice. Other moral virtues that may apply are compassionate, considerate, sympathy, respect, kindness, and so forth. Being so vague there are many criticisms of Virtue Ethics the most sought out one is that there is no clarification on how to make specific decisions or solve moral conflict. Others correlate more to society such as changes in society that require new moral responses and the conflicts if someone holds more than one social role.  

The oldest and most widely held theory in the world based solely on religion, known as Divine Command Ethics. This theory states that there is a divine being, God(s), who has placed a series of rules to provide guidance for most or all moral decisions. This also states that anything that God has commanded is right. Examples of this could be Jews and Christians 10 Commandments, Islams 5 pillars, or the Eightfold Path of Buddhism. These religions have a “no exceptions'' clause either, where post people pray to their God for forgiveness. Being that this is a religion-based theory there have been several objections to it some being that this is based on the assumption that there is a God, or that the theory cannot cover all possible moral decisions. Another rejection to this theory is the “Euthyphro Problem” which states that if God put these commandments into place that something outside of God binds him and his commands, which creates the question of why can we not go straight to the source.  

Developed by Aquinas before the common era, Natural Law Ethics simply states that the human good was built into human nature. Based on the idea that God wants us to want things, specifically known as “the basic goods” a list of things we are “designed” to seek. Listed as life, reproduction, educate one’s offspring, seek God, live in society, avoid offense, and shun ignorance; these are put into place so that we may achieve our ends. Important principles to recognize within the Natural Law Ethics is the principle of double effect and the principle of totality. The principle of double effect is when a conflict arises that performing an action will create a good and bad effect, such as giving a sedative to a terminally ill patient to ease pain but with one of the side effects being hastening the death. The principle of totality, the individual has a right to dispose of their organs only for the wellbeing of the body as a whole, a conflict of this principle is cosmetic surgery. Based on Natural Law Ethics these actions are not permissible however it also states that “The outcome of an action is not the sole feature to consider in determining the actions moral character” (Munson and Lague 929). A problem that arises with natural law theory is the assumption that everything has a goal or purpose.  

With philosophers focusing on the moral ethics and laws and purpose behind each theory they seem to forget that most people have an obligation to another human being besides themselves. Not placed into formal statements or rules, Care Ethics focuses on the moral responsibility that you may have to another based on character or values. Relationships such as marriage and parenthood see that we provide assistance and care to those we are bound to. Agreeing that it would be both inappropriate and bizarre to treat relationships as just a means. Care Ethics are said to be beyond rationality, blind emotions that we cannot have an effect over. An example of this within the medical field is caring for patients. Problems that arise with care ethics are the different caring styles in men versus in women. This theory also does not depict a full theory with any actions to follow or rules to look to in any situation.  

Personal Ethics refer to what an individual identifies with in everyday life. Although some aspects of all of the theories previously discussed take part in my everyday personal life, I feel that I mostly identify with Natural Law Ethics. Not only does it place the idea of God in society, but it also utilizes a list of achievements and goals to be made. Although there are flaws with Natural Law Ethics there are flaws and doubts within every theory. One of the problems that I mentioned was that “everything has a goal or purpose” although this is a potential problem discussed. I personally do believe that everything we do in life has a purpose. Whether to provide serotonin, calm us, educate us, or teach us everything we do has a meaning to it.


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