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Mrunal Ethics (E1/P1): Judgement Types, Pre-requisites,Meta-ethics

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- Mrunal - -

[Ethics] E1/P1: Human Interface: Types of Judgments, Prerequisite

for Ethical scrutiny, Meta Ethics, Applied ethics, NormativeDescriptive ethics
Posted ByMrunalOn 20/09/2015 @ 6:00 pm In Ethics | 82 Comments
1. Prologue
2. 3 Types of Judgments
3. 3 Areas in Study of Ethics
1. S1:Meta-Ethics / Critical Ethics
2. S2: Applied Ethics
3. S3: Normative vs. Descriptive Ethics
4. Ethics vs. Morality?
5. Legality vs. Morality
4. 3 Preconditions for Ethical Scrutiny
1. Pc1: Free Will
2. Pc2: Knowledge
3. Pc3: Voluntary Action
5. Case study: Memento
6. Case Study: Crank

This article series based on Ethics Lectures by Mr.Kavan Limbasiya (AIR-198, IRS-IT) at SPIPA,
The Syllabus of UPSC General Studies Paper-4 Ethics is available here click me. Accordingly, we
can divide the Ethics topic into 8 parts

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Mrunal Ethics (E1/P1): Judgement Types, Pre-requisites,Meta-ethics

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First part would be Ethics and Human interface- further subdivided into three articles
E1/P1: Types of Judgments, Pre-requisite for Ethical scrutiny, Meta Ethics, Applied ethics,
Normative-Descriptive ethics.
E1/P2: Theories of Ethics: virtual ethics, deontological vs. teleological ethics, utilitarianism,
hedonism, epicureanism, egoism, conduct ethics etc.
E1/P3: Values, Role of family-society-educational institutions in inculcating values, ethics and
private and public relationships.

3 Types of Judgments

1.Factual or

Earth rotates around Sun. Whether you test or an alien species tests, the fact
will remain the same. There are only two outcomes: True / False
Theyre not morally right or wrong. Theyre morally empty, theyre amoral.


Concept of beauty, taste, color, sensualities.

One person may like red color the other person may like blue color.


Our sense of good/bad/right/wrong.

IN GS paper 4, we are concerned with this.

Question: Are these three judgments inter-related?

Traditional thinkers considered them one and same i.e. what is true (factual) is beautiful
(aesthetic) and therefore it is Good (moral). Something like Satyam-Shivam-Sundaram.
They believed, just as facts are not dependent on us, the morals are not dependent on us. The
morals are created by the God.
Now we dont see things in the same manner. Consider following question: Was Amitabh
involved in Bofors case? (Factual judgment)

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If youre a bigB fan, youd say no he cant be involved because he is a good guy (Moral
judgment). And youd say this without verifying the facts. So, youve internal inconsistency- you
like this guy, so you cant believe he can be bad.
Similar case about Sanjay Dutts involvement in 1992 bomb blasts.

3 Areas in Study of Ethics

The study of Ethics is subdivided into three areas: (1) Meta Ethics (2) Applied (3) Normative Ethics

S1:Meta-Ethics / Critical Ethics

If we steal, is it good thing? That is an example of ethical question.
What is good? That is meta-ethical question. In other words, Meta-ethics is one step above
If you begin evaluating the ethics itself, then its meta-ethics.
Nature=> philosophy of nature => physics.
Similarly here morality =>ethics => meta-ethics.

S2: Applied Ethics

In subsequent lecture, well discuss various theories of ethics. One such theory is Utilitarianism,
which says if a decision leads to maximum happiness for maximum people then its an ethical
Now if we apply this utilitarianism theory to a specific field, then itd become Applied Ethics
step cell therapy is good or bad?
Environmental ethics cutting trees and displacing the tribal for highway projects is good or bad?

S3: Normative vs. Descriptive Ethics

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Mrunal Ethics (E1/P1): Judgement Types, Pre-requisites,Meta-ethics

Einsteins equation is E=MC2
Newtons third law: action and reaction are opposite.
It describes this is whats happening.

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Normative / prescriptive
Should we use that equation or knowledge
to build nuclear weapon?
Should we use Newtons third law to build
a rocket or a gun?
It prescribes what should be done or what
ought to be done.

e.g. in imperialist age, white men enslaved

However, Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery so
Mr.ABC historian lauds him an ethical president.
However, Lincolns motive to abolish slavery was
to win the war against confederates, rather than
freeing black people so Mr. xyz Historian in his
xyz book doesnt concur with the views of
As you can see, only describing, rather than

In the Imperialist age, white men

enslaved Africans and sold them to
American plantation owners, wherein
theyre exploited in the most inhuman
It was wrong on part of the White
men to exploit other humans for
personal gains. No one should
enslave another human being.
As you can see- prescribing about
what should have been done.
Examples of Normative theories:
Virtue ethics theory, the views of
Plato and Aristotle
Nishkam Karmayoga (Gita)

Ethics vs. Morality?

Subject matter of Physics = Natural phenomenon. It studies nature and derives formulas.
So subject matter nature=> its study is called physics.
Same way subject matter morality => its study is called ethics.

Legality vs. Morality

Gay marriage is
Every illegal thing
may not be
One and same
throughout the

Perhaps in some ethical school of thought, gay marriage could be considered
ethical because everyone has right to have a life partner to provide him/her
emotional support.
Every moral things may not be legal. If we make lying illegal, then everyone
will be jailed.
Varies from culture, religion and region.

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Mrunal Ethics (E1/P1): Judgement Types, Pre-requisites,Meta-ethics

Murder is illegal

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Murder is immoral so its in the intersecting region of legality and morality.

3 Preconditions for Ethical Scrutiny

For case studies- Before we can decide where an action is worth ethical debate or not, you should first
test whether given case passes 3-preconditions or not?

Pc1: Free Will

In Delhi zoo, a mentally instable person falls in Tiger enclosure. The white tiger kills him, while
the crowd is busy capturing the MMS video of the event.
If a person has multiple choices, and freedom to pick one within those choices, only then we can
debate it on ethical ground.
When that white tiger killed the mentally instable man, Tiger didnt have free will or
knowledge. Nature has designed tiger to act that way. Hence tigers action cant be judged as
ethical or immoral. He cant /shouldnt be punished for that.
While crowds action can be termed as unethical- because they had free will: Option A- help the
person or option B- record MMS on mobile. They chose option A, hence unethical.

Pc2: Knowledge
A Child takes iphone 6s plus from table and dips it in a fishbowl. Phone is permanently
damaged. Was Childs action unethical?
Well, Child had free will- (A) Take selfi and upload on facebook (B) dip it in a fishbowl
She chose optionB. But she didnt have the knowledge that iPhone are not waterproof.
We cannot exercise free will in an ethical/unethical manner, unless and until we have
knowledge of its consequence. Hence babys action cant be termed as ethical or unethical.

Pc3: Voluntary Action

If someone puts a gun on your head or straps a bomb on your waist and then orders you to commit
a crime, then its an involuntary action by you, hence we cant judge it on ethical grounds.
Apart from above three, following conditions also make it difficult to evaluate an action on ethical

Fear /

If someone tries to kill/loot you and you kill/injure him in self-defense, youre

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acting under fear for your life. So, its subject to legal scrutiny but not ethical
scrutiny. Because it was either you or him.


Foreigner comes to Gujarat and drinks in a desi-liquor den. This is illegal but not
unethical IF the foreigner was unaware of the prohibition law in Gujarat.


A husband finds his wife in a compromising position with another man, he gets
enraged and murders both of them. Illegal but difficult to scrutinize on ethical
grounds, since his passion was not aroused by himself.
A man takes narcotic drugs and under its influence he rapes/murders/maims
someone, it is both illegal and unethical because he himself aroused his passion.
Hence, In murder cases, court looks at aggravating and mitigating factors.


Husband suffering from schizophrenia mistreats his wife/children.

This is not subject to ethical scrutiny because hes suffering from a mental
disorder so he lacks the knowledge and free will.
Same way the mistake of mentally instable person falling in tiger enclosure in
Delhi is, is beyond ethical scrutiny.


Since childhood, Japanese are trained to apologize profusely even for slightest
mistake or discomfort caused to another human.
If an American executive working in Japan, doesnt behave in similar fashion, it
cant be termed as unethical. Because its not in American habits.


A fallen Samurai would prefer to commit ritual suicide (seppuku) rather than
suffering torture/humiliation by his enemies. Because it is part of his Bushido
honor code.
If a fallen American soldier doesnt commit suicide, it cant be evaluated on
ethical grounds.

Now you can see the broad picture- consider following Case: Mr.X murders Mr.Y to acquire his
He killed Mr.Y
Mr.Xs action is morally wrong.
It is wrong to murder another human
No person shall be deprived of his

Moral Agent
Human Action. (Recall 3 types of assumptions: if he had
done with out free will, knowledge and voluntary action, wed
have called it non-human action and topic would end here.
Moral Judgment. (Recall 3-types of Judgments-factual,
aesthetic and moral)
Moral Standard=> Ethics => Meta-Ethics.

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life or personal liberty except

Article 21, Constitution of India
according to procedure established by
Whoever commits murder shall be
punished with death, or
Section 302, Indian Penal Code (IPC)
imprisonment for life, and shall also
be liable to fine.

Case study: Memento

In the movie Memento, the protagonist- Mr. Leonard Shelby suffers from short-term memory loss.
Following people take advantage of his mental conditions:
A waitress: by making the protagonistkill her abusive boyfriend after court and police fails to give
her protection or justice.
A Cop: by making the protagonist kill various criminals for cleansing the society as well as
looting the money from dead corpses. He uses this money to tip-off informants and fight against
A motel-receptionist: by charging the protagonist multiple rooms not used by him, because
receptionists boss had ordered him to increase revenue by doing so, else threatened to fire him
from job. This receptionist has a daughter for marriage and a son in expensive coaching at
Delhi/Kota so he cant afford to lose job.
In above case, whose action(s) is/are subject to ethical scrutiny? If yes, then are they ethical or

Leonard Shelby
Motel receptionist

Case Study: Crank

In the movie Crank, Chinese Mobsters inject our protagonist Jason Statham with a synthetic drug
which inhibits the flow of adrenaline, slowing the heart and eventually killing the victim. Jason enters a
hospital trying to explain his condition to staff but nurses refuse to believe him and doctor says hed
need to run 24 hours medical tests before giving him any drug, despite repeated requests by Jason that
he requires immediate shot of Adrenaline. Impatient Jason breaks into the storeroom and tries to steal
vials containing synthetic adrenaline, so he can inject them to survive. But the staff and policemen try to
apprehend him. Jason fights back, injures a few of them before escaping the hospital. In above case,
whose action(s) is/are subject to ethical scrutiny? If yes, then are they ethical or unethical?

Jason Statham

In the next part (E1/P2) well look at various theories of Ethics. Visit for more study

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material on Ethics.
Article printed from Mrunal:
URL to article:
Copyright 2014 Mrunal. All rights reserved.

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