You are on page 1of 78




Ana Cludia Campos

1 Semestre

2.1 Normativity of Ethical Theories

2.2 Traditional Ethics

2.3 Contemporary Ethics

2.1 Normativity of Ethical Theories

Ethical theories can be said either

descriptive or normative .





general rules
and principles
of behaviour

A descriptive approach to ethics

attempts to describe the moral systems
of groups or societies.
As such it involves empirical research
on individuals, groups, and societies in
order to uncover moral beliefs.

Research Topics Covered by

Descriptive Ethics


Ethical ideals

Moral virtues

Wrong and right actions and behaviours

Moral systems (relativism)

Disciplines Related to the Study of

Descriptive Ethics





Cultural Studies

Ethical theories are said to be

normative if they propose to prescribe
the morally correct way of acting.
(Crane & Matten, 2010)

Normative theories of ethics or

moral theories are meant to help
us figure out what actions are right
and wrong.
(Gray, 2010) []

Ethical theories are the rules and

principles that determine right and
wrong for a given situation.
(Crane & Matten, 2010)

Normative ethical theories attempt to

answer two main questions:
(1) What is the good life for men?
(2) How ought men to behave?

Normative ethical theories might be

interpreted as answers to requests for
advice on how to deal with aspects of
daily living

2.2 Traditional Ethics

Traditional ethical theories developed

mainly in Europe due to the work of
many philosophers, from ancient times
until modernity (e.g.: Aristotle,
Epicurus, Seneca, J. Locke, A. Smith,
J. Stuart-Mill)

These traditional theories have their origins in

modernism, which emerged roughly during the
18th century Enlightenment era. Modern thinkers
strove for a rational, scientific explanation of the
world and aimed at comprehensive, inclusive,
theoretically coherent theories to explain nature,
man, and society
(Crane and Matten, 2010)

Traditional ethical theories are the

normative theories adopting an
absolutist point of view on ethics
(ethical absolutism)

Ethical Absolutism
There are eternal, universally applicable
moral principles to concrete situations and
contexts. Right and wrong are objective
qualities we can rationally determine in
human actions, and so, as such, they exist
outside individuals







(Kant, Ross)

Agents Virtue


Non-consequentialist ethics



Consequentialist ethics

p. 97

Consequentialist Ethical Theory

An ethical theory which bases moral
judgement on the outcomes of an
action is called Consequentialist (or

General Principle
Of all the things a person might do at
any given moment, the morally right
action is the one with the best overall
(Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

 Whether an act is right or wrong depends only
on the results of that act;
 The more good consequences an act produces,
the better or more right that act is;
 A person should choose the action that
maximizes good consequences
 People should live so as to maximize good

An action is morally right if it results in
the greatest amount of good/happiness
for the greatest amount of people
affected by the action
(Crane & Matten, 2010)

After assessing as best we can the likely

results of each action, not just in the short
term but in the long run as well, we are to
choose the course of conduct that brings
about the greatest net happiness
(Shaw, 2011)







GOOD/HAPPINESS may be understood as:

 Political Rights

Main Corollaries
 The rightness or wrongness of an action is
separated from the goodness or badness of the
agent (worth of action worth of agent)
 The right moral action is the one that maximizes
the good
 The general principle of utility does not provide a
rule to decide on the moral worth of an action in
face of actual consequences and foreseen
consequences, except that we should do what we
have most reason to believe will bring about the
best consequences of the known available

Act Utilitarianism
The measure of the value of an act is the amount by which it
increases general utility or happiness. An act is to be preferred
to its alternatives according to the extent of the increase it
achieves, compared to the extent the alternatives would
achieve. An action is thus good or bad in proportion to the
amount it increases (or diminishes) general happiness,
compared to the amount that could have been achieved by
acting differently. Act utilitarianism is distinctive not only in the
stress on utility, but in the fact that each individual action is the
primary object of ethical evaluation.

Rule Utilitarianism
It maintains that the correct principles of right and
wrong are those that would maximize happiness if
society adopted them. Rule utilitarianism applies the
utilitarian standard not directly to individual actions
but rather to the choice of the moral principles that
are to guide individual action.
(Shaw, 2011)

Prominent Proponents
J. Bentham

J. Stuart-Mill

The doctrine according to which the
correct moral action is the one that
meets the self-interest of individuals.

Main Corollary
The most important moral principle is the
principle of self-interest, personal advantage
or gain

 Moral egoism is based on psychological









(=welfare, well-being).
 Self-interest is understood as either:
ones desire (self-regarding / not selfregarding)


possession of states independently of being

desired (virtue, knowledge, peace)

Moral egoists do not necessarily claim:

 that all people should be egoists and act
egoistically (=every individual should pursue

 that seeking pleasure, doing harm to others,

behaving disonestly and so on are good things
in themselves but only as far as doing so brings
us any kind of personal advantage

Prominent Proponents

H. Sidgwick
(1838 -1900)

A. Rand

F. Nietzsche
(1844 -1900)

The doctrine that pleasure is the sole
good. ()
Men not only in fact seek pleasure, but
further they ought to do so since
pleasure alone is good. ()
(Popkin & Stroll, 1956)

Main Corollaries
 To say "all pleasure is intrinsically good" is not to say
"all pleasure is good, simply."
 Though pleasure is the only intrinsically and ultimate
good, it is not the only thing desirable, other things
are desirable at least as a means to something
(peace, money, education)
 Some pleasures are not good because they lead to
pain instead of pleasure (taking drugs, getting drunk,
making fun of other people)

Prominent Proponents

(341BC - 270BC)

Aristippus of Cyrene
(435BC 356 BC)

Non-consequentialist Ethical Theory

Any ethical theory which bases moral
judgement not on the outcomes
(consequences) of an action but on its
principle (intrinsic properties) or on the
agents character.


(Kant, Ross)

Agents Virtue

An ethical theory which bases moral
judgement on the moral principle (duty)
underlying the action, and thus the actions
intrinsic features, is called Deontological.

Main Corollaries
 Morality is a matter of duty, compliance to a
moral law
 Whether something is right or wrong doesnt
depend on its consequences
 Actions are right or wrong in themselves
 We have duties regarding our own actions

The ethical theories proposed by I. Kant

and W. D. Ross are called a
deontological philosophies because they
assume the moral value of an action to
depend on the agents intention relative
to it (namely, complying to the moral
principle) rather than its consequences.

Prominent Proponents

I. Kant

W. D. Ross

Kant believed that moral reasoning is not

based on factual knowledge and that the
results of our actions do not determine
whether they are right or wrong.
(Shaw, 2011)

 According to Kant, human action is motivated

either by reason or happiness
 So morality depends either on reason or
 Happiness is conditional because it differs
from individual to individual and it can be
either good or bad






unconditional, so morality must be based on

reason in order to become truly universal

 Kant named this moral universal reason the

Good Will (= the power of rational moral

 The Good Will is good because it motivates

us to act out of duty, not of inclination, desire
or personal interest/gain

 The Good Will makes us act according to the

moral law, and in order to know it we must
check if it conforms to the Categorical

 The CI is imperative because it is a command. It

commands us to exercise our wills in a particular
way, not to perform some action or other.
 The CI is categorical in virtue of applying to us
unconditionally, or simply because we possess
rational wills, without reference to any ends that we
might or might not have. It does not apply to us on
the condition that we have antecedently adopted
some goal for ourselves.

Kants Categorical Imperative

Formula of Universal Law: "Act as if the maxim of your action
were to secure through your will a universal law of nature"

Formula of Humanity: "Act so that you treat humanity,

whether in your own person or that of another, always as an
end and never as a means only"

Formula of Autonomy: Act as if you were through your

maxims a law making member of a kingdom of ends."

 According to W. D. Ross, there are several prima

facie duties that we can use to determine what,
concretely, we ought to do.

 A prima facie duty is a duty that is obligatory

other things equal, that is, unless it is overridden
by another duty or duties. Where there is a prima
facie duty to do something, there is at least a
fairly strong moral reason in favor of doing it.

 An example of a prima facie duty is the duty to






considerations override, one ought to keep a

promise made.

 By contrast with prima facie duties, our actual or

concrete duty is the duty we should perform in
the particular situation of choice. Whatever one's
actual duty is, one is morally bound to perform it.

Rosss Prima Facie Duties (The Right and the Good, 1930)
 Fidelity: obligation to keep a promise
 Reparation: obligation to repair the harm
 Gratitude: obligation to recognize a granted benefit
and express it
 Justice: obligation to fairly distribute the good
 Beneficence: obligation to do good to someone
 Self-improvement: obligation to make yourself a
better person
 Non-maleficence: obligation to not harm anyone

The Agents Virtue

According to a Virtue Theory, the central
moral concept is that of the morally good
character or morally good disposition. It
analyzes the rightness or wrongness of
individual choices indirectly in terms of the
character or dispositions of the agent making
the choices

Virtue ethics contends that morally correct

actions are those undertaken by actors with
virtuous characters. Therefore, the formation
of a virtuous character is the first step towards
morally correct behaviour.
(Crane & Matten, 2010)

Main Corollaries
 Moral virtue is simply a matter of performing well
in the function of being human
 Practice is very important to achieve excellence
 The motivation for being good is not based in a
divine legislator or a set of moral laws but rather
in the same kind of perception of excellence that
might be found in anything else that exists to
perform a function

 We can only be held responsible for actions we

perform voluntarily and not for cases involving
physical compulsion or ignorance.
 The best measure of moral judgment is choice,
because choice is made voluntarily by means of
rational deliberation.
 People always choose to aim at the good, but
theyre often ignorant of what is good and so aim
at some apparent good instead, which is in fact a

(384 BCE 322 BCE)

"So it follows, since virtue of character itself is a

mean state and always concerned with pleasures
and pains, while vice lies in excess and deficiency,
and has to do with the same things as virtue, that
virtue is the state of the character which chooses the
mean, relative to us in things pleasant and
(Eudemian Ethics, Book II, Chapter 10)

 Virtue is, in a moral sense, a product of habit

 Virtue is a mean state or a middle ground
between two other states, one involving excess
and the other deficiency
 The middle ground that virtue encompasses is






pleasure and pain

 A portion of this is inherited naturally and another
portion is expectation towards punishment.

According to Aristotle's ethical theory, the

virtuous person exhibits the joint excellence of
reason and of character. The virtuous person
not only knows what the good thing to do is,
she is also emotionally attached to it. In
addition, these two excellences, or virtues, are
intimately connected, so that the one cannot
be had without the other.

2.3 Contemporary Ethics

Contemporary ethical theories and

approaches developed mainly in the
western world from early 20th century on

These new approaches to ethical thinking

and theorizing mirror changes in how people
think about societies and their relations with
cultural/intellectual achievements, such as
philosophical thinking..

Since scientists and philosophers started

criticizing modernist views on knowledge,
scientific, universal truths, and human
progress based on reason, the path was
open to alternative ways of thinking about

Traditional ethics have been considered:

 Too abstract, objective and impersonal
 Too rational
 Too reductionist
 Too imperialist

Ethical Theories





Ethical Relativism
The theory according to which right and wrong are
determined by what ones society says is right and
wrong. ()
For the ethical relativist there is no absolute ethical
standard independent of cultural context, no
criterion of right and wrong by which to judge other
than that of particular societies. In short, what
morality requires is relative to society. (Shaw, 2011)

Ethical relativism is the theory that holds that morality is

relative to the norms of one's culture. That is, whether an
action is right or wrong depends on the moral norms of the
society in which it is practiced. The same action may be
morally right in one society but be morally wrong in another.
() The only moral standards against which a society's
practices can be judged are its own. If ethical relativism is
correct, there can be no common framework for resolving
moral disputes or for reaching agreement on ethical matters
among members of different societies.

Some problems with ethical relativism:

 It undermines any moral criticism of the practices of
other societies as long as their actions conform to their
own standards;
 There is no such thing as ethical progress: although
moralities can change, they cannot get better or worse;
 It makes no sense for people to criticize principles or
practices accepted by their own society; whatever a
society takes to be right really is right for it; reformers or
minorities can never be right in moral matters
(Shaw, 2011)

Postmodern Ethics
Postmodern ethics is an approach that locates
morality beyond the sphere of rationality in an
emotional moral impulse towards others. It
encourages individual actors to question everyday
practices and rules, and to listen to and follow their
emotions, inner convictions, and gut feelings about
what they think is right and wrong in a particular
situation. (Crane & Matten, 2010)

Postmodern ethics emphasize the following in terms

of ethical reasoning and analysis:

Holistic approach: in ethical judgement and decision making,

there is no separation between private and professional

Examples rather than principles: ethical reasoning is not

embodied in rules and principles but in peoples experiences,
narratives and inner convictions

Think local, act local: ethics is about local rules applicable to

single issues and contexts

Preliminary character: since ethical decisions go far beyond

rationality, ethical reasoning is a constant learning process

Analytical Ethics
Analytical approaches to ethics have
concentrated on meta-ethics. They tend ()
not to answer moral questions or to address
substantive moral problems directly but
rather to be concerned with the status of
ethical judgements and the character of
moral reasoning.

A term for any analysis of moral concepts, but as a

distinct approach it starts with G. E. Moore 's
Principia Ethica (1913). It claims that the
fundamental task of ethics is not to discuss
substantive moral questions and to seek solutions
for them, but rather to examine the meaning of
moral terms such as good, duty, right, ought
and to make them as clear and precise as possible.

It then evolved into the linguistic analysis of moral

judgments, their types and their functions. This
development was represented by Ayer 's account of
morality, Stevenson 's emotivism , and Hare 's

Another dimension of analytic ethics is to examine moral

reasoning and the basis for distinguishing moral
judgments from other value judgments. This is
represented especially in the work of Stephen Toulmin.
Analytic ethics can be viewed as synonymous with metaethics . In the 1960s, as the distinction between metaethics and normative ethics came into question, analytic
ethics as a distinctive approach also lost favor. Many
moral philosophers now believe that ethics should
investigate both moral terms and moral questions.


 Feminist ethics (Maier, 1997, Borgerson, 2007)

 Ethics of discourse (Habermas, 1990)
 Contemporary virtue ethics (MacIntyre, 1984)

Further Readings
Blackburn, S. (2009). Ethics: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press
Blackburn, S. (2003). Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics, Oxford University
Borgerson, J. L. (2007). On the Harmony of Feminist Ethics and Business Ethics,
Business and Society Review , 112(4), 477509
Copp, D. (ed.) (2006). The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory, Oxford University
David Gottlieb, P. (2009). The Virtue of Aristotle's Ethics, Cambridge UP
Hare, R. (1952). The Language of Morals, Oxford
Maier, M. (1997). Gender Equity, Organizational Transformation and Challenger,
Journal of Business Ethics, 16(9), 943-962
Russell, D.C. (ed.) (2013). The Cambridge Companion to Virtue Ethics , Cambridge
University Press
Singer, P. (1979). Practical Ethics, Cambridge