Glossary of Ethical Terms ©Lawrence M. Hinman Absolutism.

The belief that there is one and only one truth; those who espouse absolutism usually also believe that they know what this absolute truth is. In ethics, absolutism is usually contrasted to relativism. Agnosticism. The conviction that one simply does not know whether God exists or not; it is often accompanied with a further conviction that one need not care whether God exists or not. Altruism. A selfless concern for other people purely for their own sake. Altruism is usually contrasted with selfishness or egoism in ethics. Areté. The Greek word for "excellence" or "virtue." For the Greeks, this was not limited to human beings. A guitar, for example, has its areté in producing harmonious music, just as a hammer has its excellence or virtue in pounding nails into wood well. So, too, the virtue of an Olympic swimmer is in swimming well, and the virtue of a national leader lies in motivating people to work for the common good. Atheism. The belief that God does not exist. In the last two centuries, some of the most influential atheistic philosophers have been Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Autonomy. The ability to freely determine one’s own course in life. Etymologically, it goes back to the Greek words for "self" and "law." This term is most strongly associated with Immanuel Kant, for whom it meant the ability to give the moral law to oneself. Calculus. A calculus is simply a means of computing something, and a moral calculus is just a means of calculating what the right moral decision is in a particular case. Categorical Imperative. An unconditional command. For Immanuel Kant, all of morality depended on a single categorical imperative. One version of that imperative was, "Always act in such a way that the maxim of your action can be willed as a universal law." Compatibilism. The belief that both determinism and freedom of the will are true. Consequentialism. Any position in ethics which claims that the rightness or wrongness of actions depends on their consequences. Counter-Example. An example which claims to undermine or refute the principle or theory against which it is advanced. Cultural Relativism. See Relativism, Cultural.

" which means "happy" or "well" or "harmonious. which offer only a degree of probability to support their conclusion. A moral theory that. Ethics. Also see Psychological Egoism. deon. (2) For Buddhists. Utilitarian units of pain or displeasure. Ethical Egoism. Dolors. while sex is a biological one. the state of Enlightenment or nirvana is the goal of human existence. philosophical reflection on moral beliefs and practices. See hedons. A person’s ethnicity refers to that individual’s affiliation with a particular cultural tradition that may be national (French) or regional (Sicilian) in character." It comes from the Greek "eu." which refers to the individual’s spirit. Any position in ethics which claims that the rightness or wrongness of actions depends on whether they correspond to God’s commands or not. Gender. A person’s gender refers to that individual’s affiliation with either male or female social roles. The difference between ethics and morality is similar to the difference between musicology and music. A deductive argument is an argument whose conclusion follows necessarily from its premises. A philosophical theory which holds that moral judgments are simply expressions of positive or negative feelings. Deontology." and "daimon. The is the word that Aristotle uses for "happiness" or "flourishing. (1) An intellectual movement in modern Europe from the sixteenth until the eighteenth centuries that believed in the power of human reason to understand the world and to guide human conduct. See eudaimonia. Any position in ethics which claims that the rightness or wrongness of actions depends on whether they correspond to our duty or not. Gender differs from sex in the same way that ethnicity differs from race: gender is a sociological concept. in its most common version (universal ethical egoism) states that each person ought to act in his or her own Self-interest. just as musicology is a conscious reflection on music. This contrasts to various kinds of inductive arguments. Flourishing. Eudaimonia. The explicit. Emotivism. Divine Command Theory. Enlightenment. Ethics is a conscious stepping back and reflecting on morality. The word derives from the Greek word for duty. Ethnicity differs from race in that ethnicity is a sociological concept whereas race is a biological phenomenon.Deductive. Ethnicity. .

. heteronomy is the opposite of autonomy. Whereas inclination was seen as physical. while others—such as Kant—have maintained that morality is a matter of categorical imperatives. Also see categorical imperative. while the means are the actions or things which we use in order to accomplish those ends. The arithmetical average of items in a group. Etymologically. a heteronomous person is one whose will is determined by something outside of the person. Of. Maxim. impartiality is an essential component of the moral point of view. See Rights. which is a unit of pain or displeasure. have argued that we should never treat human beings merely as means to an end. Hypothetical Imperative. and desires. According to Kant. The term "hedon" comes from the Greek word for pleasure. For Kant. reason was portrayed as non-physical. Hedonistic.Hedon." Human Rights. A conditional command. Integrationist positions are contrasted with separatist positions. This is a term that utilitarians use to designate a unit of pleasure. such as overwhelming emotions. causally-determined. he used the German word Neigung) to refer to our sensuous feelings. "If you want to lose weight. Integrationist. Philosophers often contrast means and ends. Kant contrasts inclination with reason. and obviously rational. and irrational. free. an impartial standpoint is one which treats everyone as equal. Inclination. Any position which attempts to reconcile apparently conflicting tendencies or values into a single framework. ethnicity. stop eating cookies. a maxim is the subjective rule that an individual uses in making a decision. which advocate keeping groups (usually defined by race. heteronomy goes back to the Greek words for "other" and "law. or gender) separate from one another. In ethics. such as. Imperative. Philosophers often distinguish between hypothetical imperatives and categorical imperatives. Some philosophers." Some philosophers have claimed that morality is only a system of hypothetical imperatives. Impartiality. Whereas an autonomous person is one whose will is self-determined. most notably Immanuel Kant. The ends we seek are the goals we try to achieve. Its opposite is a dolor. A hammer provides the means for pounding a nail in a piece of wood. For many philosophers. Means. This is the word that Kant used (actually. or pertaining to. Heteronomy. see the entries under each of these topics. A command. pleasure. emotions. Mean.

Moral Ballpark. naturalism is the theory that moral values can be derived from facts about the world and human nature. The view that we ought not to be morally concerned with. and (c) that people therefore ought not to violate that order. The phenomenon that the moral goodness or badness of some of our actions depends simply on chance. (b) that this natural order is good. See Rights. Moral isolationism is often a consequences of some versions of moral relativism. Moral Isolationism. that are open to moral assessment. In mythology. traits. negative and positive. Nihilism. E. especially in The Will to Power." Naturalistic Fallacy. as a noumenon. Good is simple and indefinable. can be said to be morally good or morally bad. The belief that there is no value or truth. Moral Luck. Moore. Narcissus was a beautiful young man who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water. The domain of actions. According to G. people outside of our own immediate group. Natural. for Moore. In ethics. have argued that Moore and others are wrong and that such arguments are not necessarily fallacious. Moral Rights. including naturalistic terms. the drunk driver may safely reach home without injuring anyone at all. In ethics. any argument which attempts to define the good in any terms whatsoever. . An excessive preoccupation with oneself. Natural Law. we can only know the world as it appears to us. According to Kant. or might accidentally kill several children that run out into the street while the drunken person is driving home. believers in natural law hold (a) that there is a natural order to the human world. motives. most notably defenders of naturalism. or involved with. See Rights. Literally. Naturalism. Moral. Contrast with Ethics. Some philosophers. The naturalist holds that "is" can imply "ought. Negative Rights. A Kantian term that refers to the unknowable world as it is in itself. Morality." respectively. See Rights. etc. which is the second-order. as a phenomenon. We can never know it as it is in itself. How bad the action of driving while drunk is in that case depends in part on luck. that is. Most philosophical discussions of nihilism arise out of a consideration of Fredrich Nietzsche’s remarks on nihilism. "Morality" refers to the first-order beliefs and practices about good and evil by means of which we guide our behavior. Narcissism. Noumenal. The adjectival forms of these two words are "phenomenal" and "noumenal. For example. Natural Rights. reflective consideration of our moral beliefs and practices. a belief in nothing (nihil).

Phenomenal. some rights (legal rights) belong to people by virtue of their membership in a particular political state. In recent discussions.Particularity. this phrase means "at first glance. Psychologism Egoism. Satisficing. Normative ethical relativism claims that each culture’s (or group’s) beliefs are right within that culture. the ability to make the right decision in difficult circumstances. According to Aristotle. Phronesis is practical wisdom. Positive Rights. A prima facie duty is one which appears binding but which may. and that it is impossible to validly judge another culture’s values from the outside. there are two main type of relativism. The doctrine that all human motivation is ultimately selfish or egoistic. other rights (moral rights) are based in acceptance of a particular moral theory. The belief that there are multiple perspectives on an issue. stronger duties. It’s analogous to the difference between taking a course with the goal of getting an "A" and taking it pass-fail. loyalties. Relativism. See Rights. turn out to be overridden by other.) and desires (fundamental projects. Positive. if morality is necessarily universal and impartial. it can give adequate recognition to particularity. moral pluralism is the belief that different moral theories each capture part of truth of the moral life. personal hopes in life) that are usually seen as morally irrelevant to the rational moral self. it usually occurs in discussions of duties. See noumenal. Prima Facie. In the original Latin. Whereas maximizing utilitarians claim that we should strive to maximize utility. each of which contains part of the truth but none of which contain the whole truth. Rights are entitlements to do something without interference from other people (negative rights) or entitlements that obligate others to do something positive to assist you (positive rights). satisficing utilitarians claim that we need only try to produce enough utility to satisfy everyone. Particularity refers to specific attachments (friendships. Phronesis. upon closer inspection. ethicists have contrasted particularity with universality and impartiality and asked how. but it takes no stand on whether those beliefs are valid or not. In ethics. Descriptive ethical relativism simply claims as a matter of fact that different people have different moral beliefs." In ethics. etc. human rights) belong to everyone by nature or simply by virtue of being human. A term utilitarians borrowed from economics to indicate how much utility we should try to create. . but none of those theories has the entire answer. Pluralism. Some rights (natural rights. In ethics.

The only maxims which are morally good are those which can be universalized. A moral theory that says that what is moral right is whatever produces the greatest overall amount of pleasure (hedonistic utilitarianism) or happiness (eudaimonistic utilitarianism). Some utilitarians (act utilitarians) claim that we should weigh the consequences of each individual action. "above the call of duty. while others (rule utilitarians) maintain that we should look at the consequences of adopting particular rules of conduct. that demand that we always do the act that yields the most good have no room for supererogatory acts. deriving from Kant. we have to believe that we are free when we perform an action. while modern skepticism is skeptical primarily about experience. that guide our actions.Skepticism. A maxim is universalizable if it can consistently be willed as a law that everyone ought to obey. or subjective rules. Subjectivism. There are two senses of this term. . skeptics have been wary of the trustworthiness of sense experience. An extreme version of relativism. such as certain versions of utilitarianism. Thus classical skepticism was skeptical primarily about theories. Some ethical theories. Transcendental Argument. thus belief in freedom is a necessary condition of the possibility of action. Supererogatory. the skeptics were inquirers who were dedicated to the investigation of concrete experience and wary of theories that might cloud or confuse that experience. which seeks to establish the necessary conditions of the possibility of something’s being the case. Literally. Universalizability. In ancient Greece. A type of argument. which maintains that each person’s beliefs are relative to that person alone and cannot be judged from the outside by any other person." A supererogatory act is one that is morally good and that goes beyond what is required by duty. In modern times. Immanuel Kant used this term when discussing the maxims. For example. Utilitarianism. The test of universalizability ensures that everyone has the same moral obligations in morally similar situations.

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