“And the Moral Is…”
After reading "Ethics in a Nutshell," you should be able to discuss the following:
Is stealing always wrong? Compare and
contrast various schools of thought on the matter. (Include
Kohlberg and Gilligan.)
What are the pros and cons of each school of
Who makes the rules about what’s right and wrong?
Who has the ultimate power to proscribe moral righteousness and who has
the ultimate authority to institutionalize legal rights, rules, and
If we are not acting freely, is it possible to
consider actions either moral or immoral? (Is it ever possible not to be
acting freely?) What do you think Kant would say? What about
How are beliefs and values passed along from
generation to generation?
What is the justification for any form of
government? By what right do the “powers that be” come to power?
By what authority do they decide what rules govern society?
Does absolute power corrupt
Is it wise or advisable to rule through
fear? What would Plato say? Hammurabi? Machiavelli?
Is war ever ethical? If not, why not?
If so, under what circumstances?
Whose rights, interests,
and privileges should we safeguard more: those of the one or the
ETHICS IN A
Ethics: A branch of philosophy that comes
from the Greek word ethos (εθος )
meaning habit or custom. In common English usage, it refers to a
code or set of principles by which people live righteously. Ethics
are the principles that regulate a “just” society and prescribe how one
ought to behave.
Ancient Ethical Theories -Because of its clear and plainspoken discussion of the heady moral philosophers, this straightforward, succinct Stanford encyclopedia provides perhaps the best resource available to philosophical neophytes. Simply put, it's scholarly yet accessible. Not only that, but the bibliography provides a treasure trove of scholarship worth its weight in academic gold.
“What is the good life for all?” Most philosophers would answer, “The good life is a life of happiness,” though they would disagree (in matter or degree) on how that happiness might be achieved.
- Plato’s teacher, Socrates, is responsible for reframing philosophical inquiry from the basic question of the pre-Socratic philosophers: “What is everything made of?” or “What is the essence of reality?” to “What is the good life?” or “What is justice?”
- Platonic ethics states that “the good” is born of knowledge and “evil” is born of lack of knowledge. In other words, finding the nature of the good life is a purely intellectual task, something akin to the discovery of mathematical truth.
- Plato’s absolutism dictates that there is one and only one “right” course of action, one that is true in every case and exists independent of human opinion or interpretation. (See Plato’s “Theory of Form”)
- Information, contemplation, and intellectual training will lead to happiness.
- doctrines of Plotinus (205-270 CE) and his followers
- more generally the tradition of such thought stretching from late antiquity into the Middle Ages and early Renaissance
- emphasis on Plato's dualism and idealism, even to the point of a spiritualism that early Christian theologians like Augustine found congenial despite the basic pantheism of neo-Platonic ideas
- modern understanding of Aristotelianism is heavily influenced by neo-Platonic interpretations
"All philosophy lies in two words, sustain and abstain."
""No one is master of another's prohairesis [moral character], and in this alone lies good and evil. No one, therefore, can secure the good for me, or involve me in evil, but I alone have authority over myself in these matters."
"All religions must be tolerated... for every man must get to heaven in his own way."
"It is the nature of the wise to resist pleasures, but the foolish to be a slave to them."
"It takes more than just a good looking body. You've got to have the heart and soul to go with it."
"Only the educated are free."
- lived c. 55-135 a.d.
- 3 branches of Stoic thought:
- logic, physics and ethics
- role of the Stoic teacher: encourage students to live the philosophic life, whose end was happiness
- supreme happiness comes from living a life of reason, which – for Stoics – meant living virtuously and living according to nature.
- eudaimonia (happiness) consists of
- ataraxia (imperturbability),
- apatheia (freedom from passion--apathy in a good way;-),
- eupatheiai ('good feelings')
- [note: in Greek, eu means good]
- key to transforming oneself into the Stoic sophos (wise person) is to learn what is 'in one's power'
- 'the correct use of impressions' (phantasiai), which involves not judging as good or bad anything that appears to one
- only thing that is good is acting virtuously (that is, motivated by virtue)
- only thing that is bad is the opposite, acting viciously (that is, motivated by vice)
- Someone who seeks to make progress as a Stoic (a prokoptôn) understands that their power of rationality is a fragment of God whose material body – a sort of rarefied fiery air – blends with the whole of creation, intelligently forming and directing undifferentiated matter to make the world as we experience it.
- The task of the prokoptôn, therefore, is to 'live according to nature', which means
(a) pursuing a course through life intelligently responding to one's own needs and duties as a sociable human being
(b) wholly accepting one's fate and the fate of the world as coming directly from the divine intelligence which makes the world the best that is possible.
- virtue lies in tolerance and forbearance
- happiness is the result of understanding that we own our own action
“Happiness is an activity of the soul in accord with perfect virtue.”
“People ought to behave so as to achieve happiness.”
Plato’s student and teacher of Alexander the Great.
Aristotle loved to categorize things.
In fact, he’s considered to be the greatest literary biologist of all time because his Poetics have been instrumental in defining the guidelines for literature.
He wrote philosophical treatises on practically everything, and the term “metaphysics” is derived from the writings he did after he wrote about “physics,” or the nature of things in the material world. (In Greek, meta (μετα) is a preposition that means “after”.) Of course, the word metaphysics has taken on much broader meaning since its inception.
Believed that in order for our actions to be judged as moral or immoral, we must have a certain degree of health and wealth.
Aristotle adopted a scientific, empirical approach to ethical problems.
His primary work on ethics is called Nicomachean Ethics.
How do we achieve happiness?
The answer for Aristotle was to apply the “golden mean,” which, when applied to ethics rather than mathematics, means that in order to achieve happiness, we must act moderately, always striving for the harmonious balance between two extremes.
Happiness, he argues, is not something static or stationary, but rather is an activity, a way of doing things.
If one engages in the activities of life in a virtuous manner, then happiness accompanies these activities (though it should never be the goal of the activity).
Happiness is the path taken on the journey to “the good live” and should not be confused with the destination itself.
Moreover, what is good for one person may not be good for another, and without experimentation and trial and error, through the use of reason alone, one cannot determine what is best.
- Aristotle was the first philosopher to create a more-or-less complete system of thought
- Aristotle's writings in the West disappeared for centuries only to be rediscovered again around 1200 CE at the height of the logicism of the Middle Ages
- Aristotle often is blamed for the mistakes and views of his interpreters
- popular conception of Aristotelianism sometimes closer to neo-Platonism or especially scholasticism than anything Aristotle argued for in his writings
- Aristotle was something of a conservative (and was seriously wrong about some things, such as the intellectual powers and moral worth of women)
- views on most topics scientific and realistic
- founded the science of logic
- performed significant research in biology, political science, rhetoric, literary theory, and many other disciplines.
“The good life of happiness must be pleasurable.”
“Live moderately and pleasurably but without pain.”
To live pleasurably means that one must not suffer any undesirable effects from living in such a manner.
If one engages in a life of pleasure that ultimately leads to some sort of pain, then such a life cannot be said to be pleasurable and thus is not “good.”
are all BAD by virtue of the fact that they are all accompanied by pain.
better to avoid pain than to seek pleasure if it will produce pain.
are good because they do not produce pain and suffering
when people suffer great catastrophes, they instinctively seek pleasure as a means of comfort as well as a means of providing security in a collapsing world.
Proposes that moral law requires that people be rewarded (not necessarily on earth, but rather in heaven) in direct proportion to their virtue.
identifies the “essence of morality” as being in the motive behind the act
gauges morality in terms of intention rather than consequence
No matter what turns out to be the consequence of the action, it is moral if the person acting has good intentions
believes the path to reward in heaven (not the path to hell) is paved with good intentions
only voluntary actions (volition) can be described as being either moral or immoral.
If we were acting under duress, then our actions are simply amoral, outside of morality.
categorical imperative: states that everyone should act in a righteous manner as if each action were to become a universal law.
SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT
contends that there is fundamentally one and only one good life for all to lead because goodness exists independently of human inclinations, desires, wishes, and opinions. There exists an objective truth that is absolute and can only be found by training the intellect.
Platonism and utilitarianism (see below) both presume objectivist viewpoints.
Remember, Plato supposes that moral truths exist in the same sense as mathematical truths. He also states that goodness is a moral fact.
contends that there can be no absolute determination of morality based on some objective truth.
Truth is relative to the individual circumstances and can only be determined by taking into consideration the psychology and context of the person faced with the moral dilemma.
A theory is subjectivist if it posits that ethical or moral judgments are neither true nor false or if it suggest that truth and falsity apply and can only be interpreted by each particular person.
Thomas Hobbes's moral theory is considered subjectivist because he believed that moral language was just another way to express desires, inclinations, feelings, etc. In other words, a statement like “This is good” can be translated as “I desire this.”
- cultural relativism claims that different cultures have different but perfectly legitimate and equally valid standards of truth and value
comes from the Greek word for
belief that pleasure alone is good and that all
happiness is a function of pleasure.
the hippie motto, “If it feels good, do it!” would
be considered hedonistic.
Epicureanism differs because it says that pain
negates pleasure, whereas hedonism makes no such
an eastern/Oriental ethical philosophy
roots in stoicism as well as a Christian philosophy in 17th century Europe
comparable to Buddhist nirvana
advises us to accept and succumb to adversity
- inner passivity essential for perfecting the spirit
even though we suffer throughout our lives, our ethical duty is to make the best of things.
promotes mental stillness and submersion in tranquility and meditation will help us achieve this goal
based on the idea that the physical world of the senses is an illusion and that truth and happiness transcend the material world.
assumes that the world is fundamentally
therefore, in order to live righteously, we must withdraw
from participation in the world.
must not let our possession of material goods
determine whether or not we are happy, for if we do, we will be doomed to a
state of constant striving and continual disappointment and
True happiness can only be found in the virtue
that resides within each of us.
By rejecting material things, we are liberated
Practitioners of cynicism live frugal, solitary
lives shunning the world’s goods.
proposes that in order to find true happiness, we must
learn to be indifferent to external influences.
if we can learn this indifference to external
events, no matter how horrible (like slavery, torture, rape, imprisonment,
etc.), then others will have no power over us in any significant
virtue resides in the will; therefore, the exercise of
free will alone determines what is good and what is evil.
good life comes from being able to free oneself
from desires and passions (stoicism shares this value with Hinduism and
One’s essential character cannot be destroyed by
external events in one’s life
Virtue consists in a will that is in agreement
with the happenings of nature in which all is part of a divine design that is
Stoics believe that all behavior is ultimately
determined by natural laws, but without free will no one can be held
responsible for their own actions.
Responsibility for becoming good or bad resides
with the individual and not with society at large.
proposes that an action is right as long as it tends to
produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number.
is a numbers game, pure and simple: majority rules!
In some ways, this is an offshoot of hedonism
because it identifies happiness in terms of pleasure.
separates the action and its consequence from the person
who performs the action. In other words, a child who burns the house
down is not necessarily a bad child, but rather is a child who has done a bad
stresses the effects of actions rather than their
motives (the opposite of Kant)
If something has undesirable effects, it is wrong
regardless of whether or not the person had good
Because the “good” hinges on the happiness of the
majority, utilitarianism is often associated with democracy. On further
contemplation, however, also consider how it might just as easily be
associated with Hitler’s Germany.