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Published by Morgan Bird

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Published by: Morgan Bird on Mar 29, 2011
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Ethics Introduction and Utilitarianism
1. What is Ethics?What separates humans from animals?
Intelligence? Consciousness? Thought? Morality? – Moral decision making.
Humans think before making decisions and this is undeniably true when thesedecisions incorporate ethical or moral thinking. Depending upon our decisions andactions humans can feel guilt or satisfaction depending on how we feel about thecertain action – whether it is right or wrong.
So what is Ethics?
With these moral and ethical decisions there is much debate amongst all of humanityas to what is right or wrong; we disagree passionately with each other over how weshould live.
Ethics explores how humans decide what is right and wrong.It examines the ways in which different thinkers approach moral decision making andhave tried to define what it takes to be a good person.
i. DefinitionsEthics:
1. A system of moral principles, values or beliefs.2. The branch of philosophy that deals with values of humanconduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certainactions and to the value (good or bad) of their motives and/or consequences/outcomes.
The body of moral principles, values or beliefs (or principle, value or belief)governing a distinct entity e.g. an individual, a group or nation;the principle by which people live.
1. Conformity to the rules of right conduct.2. A doctrine or system of morals; a system of ideas of rightand wrong conduct.
The doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good;devotion to pleasure as a way of life.
The doctrine that, conduct should be directed towards creatingthe greatest happiness for the greatest number.
Ethical Theory:
Covers religious and philosophical systems for making moraldecisions/statements as well as the analysis of them.
Practical Ethics:
Focuses discussion on specific examples or dilemmas involved
with moral decision making, such as abortion and euthanasia.
Normative Ethics:
Establishes how people ought to act, how moral choices shouldbe made and how the rules apply.
ii. Common ethical questions
If I do a good thing for a bad reason, does it matter?Is it sometimes right to do a bad thing for a good outcome?Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of a few or the one?Is what’s wrong for you necessarily wrong for me?Does the rightness or wrongness of an action vary according to the situation?Are we free to make moral choices? - even if beyond political law?Is being moral about following rules?Should we use our heads or our hearts when deciding what’s right?Can we have morals without religion?Should I help my father before I help a stranger?Is ethics a special kind of knowledge or are moral views just personal feelings?Does the environment have any value beyond usefulness to human life?Is killing an unborn human as immoral as killing a born human being?Should people who want to die be allowed to die? - or even helped to die?Do animals have rights?At first glance of all these questions you may believe definitively/out rightly in your first conviction – but in Ethics you must be prepared to closely assess your presumptions and or assumptions; as we will see in Ethics nothing is ever ‘black or white.’
2. What is Ethics? Continued
The term
comes from the Greek word
, meaning ‘character’, but iscommonly translated as ‘custom’ or ‘usage’. Essentially ethics refers to the customaryway to behave in society. The term
comes from the Latin word
, andis concerned with which actions are right and which are wrong. Today the two termsare often used interchangeably but the subtle distinction is that ethics is moreconcerned with what the rules themselves are, whereas morality is how well oneconforms to those certain rules – the ethic is the rule and morality is obedience to thatrule.
that does not mean a morally good person simply adheres to a certainethical law – what if the individual deems the ethical law to be immoral in the firstplace? Then concordance with such an ethical principle cannot surely be morallyright!One cannot even really break it down to personal ethics as a justification for personalmorality as in the eyes of another individual the original ethic may be impossible tomorally justify; Ethics is highly complex and perhaps even more contentious – canany ethical principle or action be 100% morally good or bad?
i. 3 ways of doing ethics
the normative approach
the descriptive approach
metaethicsNormative ethics
was prevalent until the end of the 19
century. It begins by askingwhat is good and what is bad, and what behaviour is good/right or bad/wrong. Thesedecisions may be dictated by an established order within a society or culture, e.g. aparticular religious group, or they may stem from more philosophical or ideologicalthinking.
Descriptive ethics
looks at how different people and societies have answered moralquestions. It is more a form of sociology or moral anthropology than it is aphilosophy.
Metaethics (philosophical ethics)
is very popular today. It questions the veryconcepts and definitions of right and wrong or good and bad; it explores the meaningand function of moral language. It is more concerned with establishing a framework for moral legislation. See theories such as
Definism/Ethical Naturalism
.These are the 3 main components of Ethics as academic study.
How do theyconnect?
Essentially normative ethics seeks to establish correct moral conduct by means of descriptive ethics or other forms of analysis combined with philosophical andideological consideration of particular moral instances. Metaethics operates slightlydistinct to the other two and attempts to establish how we define good and bad or rightor wrong. Can morality be discussed or is it an unequivocally established law, likemathematics? –is Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection the means by which we shouldmeasure our moral practice? Other issues involved with metaethics could includeperception and reality as it relates to how we experience pain and such like: a standardphilosophical question surrounding experience is:
with an infinite number of events,which we cannot all experience, how can we definitively claim ‘x’?
Meaning incontext,
we cannot experience or witness every instance of a stabbing, so we cannot empirically confirm that every experience of a stabbing causes pain; perhaps in somesituations the experience of being stabbed brings about an absolute state of euphoria.

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