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Applied Ethics

Moral Theories
1. Kants deontology (Greek deon, means duty) is not about consequence, happiness.
To have genuine moral worth an action must be done from duty, and not just be in
accordance with duty. To act with a good will (which is an absolute good) is to act out
of duty; to act out of duty is to act with moral law. The idea of moral duty must carry
with it absolute necessity if it is to be valid morally. Something which one must
morally do is inescapable.
For Kant, it is not enough that we do the right thing. We must do the right thing
for the right reason, simply because it is right, not out of self-interest. We must act
from duty, not merely in accordance with duty; our action must not merely
conform to the moral law but must be done for the sake of moral law.
All duties or obligations can be translated into the language of imperatives or
commands, and moral duties have imperative force. One must perform moral duty
solely for its own sake. Some people conform to the moral law because they deem
it in their own self-interest to be moral, or because they feel good or enjoy the act,
or because they will get something they want. But they are not truly moral since
they do not act for the sake of the moral law.
Principles of morality are found in pure reason. It is not our desires or feelings that
ground morality but our rational will. Reason is sufficient for establishing the
moral law as something universally binding on all rational agents.
Moral duties are commands of reason, and moral laws are universal for all rational
beings. Our reason tells us what we ought to do, morality is not imposed by any
external authority, like, God, custom, or tradition. Rather, to be governed by
morality is to be governed by reason and thus to be self-governed. Everyone has
the capacity to do the right thing, for the right reason, because it is right.
A moral action is one performed out of a sense of duty, rather than out of feeling,
or desire, or some personal gain. Say, if I give money to charity because I have
strong feelings of compassion for the needy, I am not necessarily acting morally.
If I act purely from my feelings of compassion rather than from a sense of duty,
then my action is not a truly moral one.

Human beings are rational and autonomous, capable of making decision and
choice on the basis of reasons. A rational person is capable of moving herself to
act by reasons, not by passions or desires. Through morality we govern ourselves
that some actions we simply have to do. We impose a moral law on ourselves, and
the law gives rise to obligation or duty that we must act in certain ways. Our duty
overrides all other calls for action.
Persons have infinite worth or dignity which puts them above all inferior
creatures, and persons are what Kant calls ends-in-themselves. They are the
authors of moral rules, so that their obedience to duty is an act of autonomy.
People abide by the moral laws they make.
Human dignity plays a central role in Kants ethics. His ideas can be simplified
with this golden rule: Treat other people with the same respect and dignity that
you expect to be treated with.

2. Categorical Imperative is the fundamental principle of morality. Imperatives are

either hypothetical or categorical. Moral imperative does not say if you want a good
reputation, you must not lie; it says you must not lie. Morality does not say if you
do not want to be punished, you must not steal; it says you must not steal. Morality
commands certain conduct and action unconditionallyyou must do or not do
whatever your desires or goals may be.
A hypothetical imperative is conditional on (if) or subject to circumstances,
goals, and desires; and these change all the time, are relative to the individual. If
you have certain desires or want to achieve some specific goal, then do X. Say, if
you want to stay healthy and strong, then do more exercise. A utilitarian would
say, you should do X if doing X could produce greatest happiness for the greatest
number. So, doing X is conditional.
A categorical imperative is unconditional (no if) and independent of any
circumstances, goals, or desires. Do X. Your duty is your duty. Your moral duty
or obligation is unconditional. You ought to do X simply because it is your duty.
You are acting for the sake of duty when you do things that are required by moral
laws that everyone ought to follow. Only a categorical imperative can be a
universal and moral law, valid for all rational beings at all times. Kant expressed
his categorical imperative in two different formulations:

2.1 Formula of universal law: Act only on that maxim whereby you can at the
same time will that it should become a universal law.
A moral action must embody a maxim that is universalizable. A maxim, is a
personal rule or motivation by which the agent intends to act. To decide whether it
would be right to perform a particular action, you should ask yourself whether
your maxim could be a universal law. Moral acts can be universalized; immoral
acts cannot.
The formula itself is purely formal and leaves out any understanding about the
content or material aspect of morality. The universalizability test constitutes a
necessary condition for being a valid moral principle.
If any principle is to count as rational or moral, it must be universalizable. It must
apply to everyone and to every case that is relevantly similar. If it is wrong for
others to cheat on exams, then unless I am relevantly different from these others, it
is also wrong for me to cheat on exams.
2.2 To judge an action right or wrong with the Formula:
(i)When you are thinking about performing a particular action, you are required to ask
yourself what rule (maxim) you could be following if you were to do that action.
(ii)You are to ask whether you are willing for that rule to be followed by everyone all
of the time.
(iii)If you are willing for everyone to follow the rule, then the act you are
contemplating is morally permissible; if not, then the maxim must be rejected as selfdefeated, and the act is morally impermissible.
(a) Suppose Marys friend comes to her to borrow some money. If Mary refuses, she
would be following this rule: Dont lend out money to a person who has none.
Would Mary wish others to follow this rule all the time? No, she would not. She
may one day have no money, and desperately need to borrow money from others.
In refusing her friends request, Mary could not will that the maxim of her act be
made into universal law. So, Mary should not refuse her friends request.
Marys refusal is wrong not because it could produce a bad consequence if
everyone acts as she does, but because it is impossible for everyone to do the same

(or it is impossible for you to will that everyone acts as you do).
Moral laws must be universal and impersonal. If it is right for you to do
something, then it is right for anyone in similar situation to do the same thing. You
are required to be consistentdo not make exceptions for anyone, including
To say that we should act only on those rules we are willing to have everyone
follow is to say that we should treat all rational human beings as having equal
intrinsic value. Rational human beings should never be treated as mere means for
satisfying our desires.
(b) Kants example: Suppose you need money. You think of getting some by asking
your friend to lend it to you, but you have on intention of repaying himto make
a false promise to repay. Your maxim is something like this: Use a false promise
to get money I want. You then consider whether your maxim could be a universal
law, whether there could be a world in which everyone was moved to make false
promises to get what they want.
If everyone made false promises, it would be pretty obvious, and people would
stop believing promises. But in a world where no promises are trusted, it cannot
be rational to use a promise in this way. Therefore, you, as a rational person,
cannot coherently think a world for which your maxim is a universal law, and you
are not morally permitted to act on it.
The categorical imperative requires a kind of impartiality in our behaviour. We are
not permitted to make exceptions for ourselves, or to do what we would not
rationally permit others to do.
2.3 Formula of humanity as an end in itself: Act in such a way that you always
treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never
simply as a means but always at the same time as an end. It requires us to treat all
rational humans as ends, never merely as a means to an end. Humans, because they
are rational and autonomous, deserve to be treated as having value in themselves, not
merely as a means to something else that has value. Persons thus have intrinsic value,
independently of their value to others, and, they are above all price, that is, they
have dignity.

With the idea of human being as a rational and autonomous being, one can reason
that (i) one necessarily regards oneself as a rational and autonomous being, as an
end; (ii) one therefore has to accept that everyone else is justified in regarding
himself/herself as a rational and autonomous being and as an end; (iii) it is
therefore a valid principle that everyone should be treated as a rational and
autonomous being and as an end.
In valuing anything, I endow it with value. It can have no value apart from
someones valuing it. As a valued object, it has conditional worth, which is
derived from my valuation.
Every rational person has value in themselves. We who value an object are the
source of the value, and its value depends upon us. We, as valuers, must conceive
of ourselves as having unconditional worth. Since we have unconditional worth,
and so must treat all such value-givers as valuable in themselvesas ends, not
merely means.
Every man is to be respected as an absolute end in himself; and it is a crime
against the dignity that belongs to him as a human being to use him as a mere
means for some external purpose. (Kant)
To treat people as ends is to treat them as beings who have ends. I should not treat
people as mere means to my own ends, because I should recognize that they
themselves have ends of their own. They have ends because they are free, rational
and autonomous agents. They can act in accordance with moral law; they are
persons, not things.
It is morally wrong for A to use B merely as a means (to achieve As ends).
Kants principle does not rule out A using B as a means, only A using B merely as
a means, that is, in a way incompatible with respect for B as a person.
Each of us in various ways uses others as a means to achieve our ends. Say, a
college teacher uses students as a means to achieve her livelihood. A college
student uses teachers as a means of gaining knowledge and skills. Such human
interactions, based upon the voluntary participation of the respective parties, are
compatible with the idea of respect for persons. Both parties give their consent to
participate, and respect each others end or purpose. Thus, using another person
merely as a means can arise in at least two ways: via coercion or deception.

Joe coerced Doe at gun point to hand over $1000. Joe used Doe merely as a
means to achieve Joes end. Amy deceived Betty and persuaded her to buy a
phony diamond. Amy used Betty simply as a means. What Joe and Amy have
done is wrong.
Respect for persons involves respect for their rationality and autonomy. It is a
respect for the other persons own pursuit of her own ends through her own free
actions. We may make others serve our own purposes only when they, as moral
agents, consent to such use, as when someone willingly takes a job working for
Kant also holds the notion of rights. There is nothing more sacred in the wide
world than the rights of others. They are inviolable. We should not trespass upon
the right of another and not trample it underfoot! His right should be his security;
it should be stronger than any shield or fortress. We have a holy ruler and the most
sacred of his gifts to us is the rights of man. So, to respect a person, is to respect
her rights.

3. Rights-based ethics: Morality gives the individual certain powers over his pursuit
of the good: those moral powers are what is meant by rightsclaims or entitlements
against other people binding them not to interfere in certain ways with the individuals
pursuit of the good. Rights form the justifying basis of obligations because they
express the purpose of morality, which is the securing of liberties or other benefits for
a right-holder. Not to violate, or to respect a persons rights is to do the right thing;
whereas violating a persons rights is a serious wrong.
3.1 Being right and having a right: The word right has two different senses: (a)
right refers to moral righteousness, as in It is the right thing to do; (b) right
refers to entitlement or claim, we talk of having or holding rights, as in I have a
right to property. Rights are things that one has, holds and may exercise. Of
course, violating a persons right is wrong whereas it is right to respect a persons
When A has a moral right to x with respect to B, B is obliged by the right, and his
obligation is primarily to A. Bs obligation arises primarily from the fact that A
has a right to x. Failure to respect someones rights is not just bad or wrong but

also a failure to discharge a duty. Rights provide special protections, create special
obligations, and place their possessors in special position in seeking to obtain that
to which they are entitled.
The right governs the relationship between right-holder and duty-bearer. As a
claim, right places the right-holder in direct control of that relationship; the duties
correlative to rights belong to right-holder, who is free to dispose of them as she
sees fit. Rights thus create relations and interactions centered on the right-holder.
Obligation is derived from right, not the other way round.
Rights are valid claims or entitlements, to have a right is to have a claim to
something and against someone. Only beings who have interests are capable of
claiming rights. Indeed, respect for persons may simply be respect for their
rights. To respect a person, or to think of him/her as possessed of human dignity,
is to think of him/her as a potential maker of claims. (J. Feinberg)
To comprehend any genuine right fully, we must know who holds the right,
against whom it is held, and to what it is a right.
3.2 Negative or non-interference rights are rights to be left alone when pursuing
something. The right to publish an autobiography is a negative right. No one is
obliged to help you publish your autobiography, or to publish it for you. Other
peoples duty is negative, just leave you alone.
Freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of thought and faith, right to hold
property, right to be eligible for public office, and right to vote are negative rights.
3.3 Positive rights are ones that are not just non-interference rights, but actually
suppose an obligation on the part of others to help you obtain what is your right. We
might think of access to medical care as a positive right. Not only should we not
interfere with your attempts to have medical care, but we have an obligation that we
ought to be actively involved in helping you to get medical care if you are not able to
access it.
Right to welfare, right to housing, right to health care, and right to education are
positive rights.
3.4 Human rights or moral rights point clearly to their source: humanity, human

nature, being a human. The nature which underlies human rights is the moral nature
of a human. Society may develop or thwart this nature, and laws may respect or
repress it, but cannot be taken from, human. Human rights are essential to a life
worthy of a human being.
Human rights are moral rights, that is, people are held to have them whether or not
they are recognized in or in practice. Human rights are fundamentally important
they are about basic interests. They are held equally by all human beings, and they
are rights people have simply as human beings.
Human rights evolved from the notion of natural rights as formulated by John
Locke, and natural rights are rights that individuals would have in the state of
nature, without social institutions such as the state. Natural rights are claims that
individuals have against the state, and they are used to limit the authority of the
state. If the state does not honour these rights, its legitimacy is in question.
The moral virtues of humans that can give rise to considerations of human rights:
1) self-consciousness and rationality; 2) desires and interests; 3) voluntary and
purposive activity; and 4) a capacity to communicate.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) tells us little about what
life is like in most countries, but rather tries to set out the minimum conditions for
a dignified life worthy of a fully humanrequirements so basic that they must be
recognized as rights.
Human rights are universal, held equally by all simply because they are humans.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rightsEveryone is
entitled to all the rights and freedomswithout distinction ofrace, colour, sex,
language, religion, national or social origin. (UDHR)

Suggested readings:
(1) Chapters 1-2, Applying Ethics: A Text with Readings.(Course book)
(2) Onora ONeill, A Simplified Account of Kants Ethics, in Applied Ethics: A
Multicultural Approach. Larry May, Shari Collins-Chobanian, & Kai Wong (ed.)
Prentice Hall, 1998.
(3) United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10th Dec 1948.
(4) Joel Feinberg, The Nature and Value of Rights, in Political Philosophy: Classic

and Contemporary Readings, Louis P. Pojman (ed).McGraw-Hill, 2002.