Ethical Theory

1. Utilitarianism

Theory in detail
The Greatest Happiness Principle

the greatest happiness for the greatest number
The Greatest Happiness Principle, stated above, is at the heart of a number of ethical theories that fall under the umbrella of ‘Utilitarianism’. Utilitarianism is an incredibly useful, and increasingly popular, ethical position. Its many benefits are matched with some serious flaws. However, modern Utilitarianists have repeatedly adapted the theory rather than discard it. Peter Singer is one example of a Utilitarian whose ideas have gained great popularity in recent years.

Bentham Bentham equated happiness with pleasure and the absence of pain. This was an empirical observation - people desire pleasure and seek to avoid pain. His scientific mind led him to believe that the study of ethics could be undertaken in a practical way, carefully measuring the possible consequences or outcomes of an action before deciding which choice to take. Bentham’s theories led to extensive social reform affecting Parliament, criminal law, the jury system, prisons, savings banks, cheap postage etc, etc. What was revolutionary about Bentham’s theory was that it resulted in all people being considered when making laws. His felicific calculus (also called the ‘hedonic’ or ‘utility’ calculus) was helpful in determining how to measure different amounts of pleasure:


The Hedonic Calculus REMOTENESS – how near it is PURITY – how free from pain it is RICHNESS – to what extent it will lead to other pleasures INTENSITY – how powerful it is CERTAINTY – how likely it is to result EXTENT – how many people it affects DURATION – how long it lasts John Stuart Mill Mill believed that quality was more important than quantity when it came to pleasure. For example, the pleasures of the mind are far superior to the gratification of the body’s desires. This deals with the problem of sadistic torturers, as their pleasure is of a significantly lower kind. ‘It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.’ Act Utilitarianism You look at an action to determine what is moral, and from this general rules can be derived. E.g. when faced with a road traffic accident (rta) a paramedic will treat a pregnant woman first. This is because in any given situation, the pregnant woman and her unborn child have a greater potential for future happiness than any individual involved in the crash. By deciding how to act in a specific case, the general rule ‘Always treat a pregnant woman first’ can be derived. This rule is only a guideline, and should be discarded if doing so will bring about more happiness (e.g. if a brain surgeon is in need of treatment). A big criticism of Act Utilitarianism is that it is impossible to make the sorts of calculations it requires, although Bentham talked of a 'rule of thumb' which meant that you could repeat a previous decision under similar circumstances. Another is that people need rules - if you allow people to lie, steal etc. this could become too great a temptation e.g. to lie to avoid looking bad rather than because it genuinely brought better consequences.


On the plus side, it has most integrity, as it allows you to stick with the greatest happiness principle unswervingly – simply do whatever brings the most happiness in any given situation. Rule Utilitarianism Some general principles are formulated. From these, certain actions will be ruled out as unacceptable. The principle of utility is therefore applied to a rule, so the rule will hold if in general following it leads to greater happiness. This means that in an individual case, even though an injustice might bring about greater happiness, if it goes against the general principle that injustice tends to lead to misery and a reduction in happiness, it is deemed wrong. Bentham is generally seen as an Act Utilitarian, as the Greatest Happiness Principle seems to demand. As we saw, he is open to the criticism that Utilitarianism goes against justice and human rights, as it allows abuses of rights if they bring enough happiness. Mill may be seen as a Rule Utilitarian, as he clearly thinks certain rules have a Utilitarian justification. In his book 'Utilitarianism', Mill defends the idea of rights: "To have a right, then, is, I conceive, to have something which society ought to defend me in the possession of. If the objector goes on to ask, why it ought? I can give him no other reason than general utility." Ultimately, Mill would break a rule if breaking it lead to the greatest happiness. Elsewhere in the book, Mill says: " save a life, it may not only be allowable, but a duty, to steal, or take by force, the necessary food or medicine, or to kidnap, and compel to officiate, the only qualified medical practitioner." Does this make him an Act Utilitarian? Peter Vardy says this is how most people view Mill. Others describe him as a 'soft' Rule Utilitarian, 'Hard' Rule Utilitarians would disagree with breaking a rule even if doing so led to the greater good. Many criticise 'soft' Rule Utilitarians, saying that this is effectively the same as Act Utilitarianism. Mill strongly believed that the individual is sovereign over himself, which is an unusual principle for a Utilitarian! This means that, for example, we should allow people to smoke in private (banning smoking is an attack on the individual's sovereignty) even though smoking leads to terrible illness etc. Mill's belief in individual sovereignty could be justified by a Rule Utilitarian (can you explain how?)


Other forms of Utilitarianism Utilitarianism started out from the basic assumption by Bentham that man desires pleasure and seeks to avoid pain.This basic assumption can be challenged, as it seems to be wrong in at least some cases. People who wallow in self-pity seem to want to be in pain, and many people who have sinned or broken the law feel the need to be punished – they need to suffer in some way to put right what was wrong. Although it is possible to argue that in some long and complicated way the desire for punishment brings pleasure, it is easier and more satisfying to refine the Utilitarian theory further. Rather than talk about pleasure and pain or happiness, some modern Utilitarianslook at the degree to which an action fulfils the preferences of others. This avoids making any judgement about the suitability of the desires of others or the ‘level’ of their happiness. It doesn’t avoid the problem of being incredibly difficult to calculate, though. In summary, people have adapted Utilitarianism in the following ways:
  

Hare – preferences: the morally right action is the one that maximizes that satisfaction of the preferences of all those involved. Sidgwick – motives: it is the motive (intending to bring about the greatest good) rather than the outcome that is good Singer – interests: you need to look at what is in the best interests of those affected (some people call Singer a 'welfare Utilitarian')


Theory in detail 2. KANT

The Good Will and Duty In the search for intrinsic ‘good’, Kant did not believe that any outcome was inherently good. Pleasure or happiness could result out of the most evil acts. He also did not believe in ‘good’ character traits, as ingenuity, intelligence, courage etc. could all be used for evil. In fact, he used the term goodto describe the ‘good will’, by which he meant the resolve to act purely in accordance with one’s duty. He believed that, using reason, an individual could work out what one’s duty was. Free Will, God and Immortality If our actions are pre-determined and we merely bounce around like snookerballs, we cannot be described as free and morality doesn’t apply to us. Kant could not prove that we are free – rather, he presumed that we could act morally, and for this to be the case we must be free. He also thought that it followed that there must be a God and life after death, otherwise morality would make no sense. Synthetic A Priori We do not follow predetermined laws. However, we must act according to some laws, otherwise our actions are random and without purpose. As a result, rational beings must determine for themselves a set of laws by which they will act. These laws are not analytic (true by virtue of their meaning), but they cannot be determined through experience (a posteriori). Hume pointed this out when he said that you couldn’t move from an is (a synthetic statement about the world) to an ought (a statement about the way the world should be). The rational being has to determine the synthetic a priori – the substantive rules that can be applied prior to experience. The Categorical Imperative – Universalisability An imperative is a statement of what should be done. We have said before that Hume realised you can’t get a should statement out of an is statement. In other words, experience can only give us hypothetical imperatives (If you want to be healthy, then you should exercise and watch what you eat). A description of the way the world is cannot tell us the way we should act.


It is like that with the categorical imperative: certain actions are logically inconsistent and would make no sense as universal laws. It is difficult to see how these two statements are different. Kant states the categorical imperative as follows: I ought never to act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law. This understanding that our mind plays an active role in ordering and shaping our experience was revolutionary. However. never as means only. I think they give a real insight into how Kant perceived the Categorical Imperative. We therefore could never demonstrate or prove this through experience. whether in your own person or in that of any other. The Categorical Imperative – Law of Nature Kant also states the categorical imperative as follows: Act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature. such as lying. He put this two different ways: So act as to treat humanity. So act as if you were through your maxims a law-making member of a kingdom of ends. In another area of thinking. As a result. ‘Do not lie’ is a categorical imperative. However.A Categorical Imperative is a should statement. it logically precedes experience. and many texts treat them as though they say the same thing. and is Kant’s greatest achievement. Have a look at how the categorical imperative can be applied to euthanasia. Kant showed that we must presume that time moves forwards – our mind imposes this on our experiences to make sense of them. as good is defined in terms of rationality. The Categorical Imperative – Ends and means A good will is one that acts in accordance with rationally-determined duty. No character trait or consequence is good in itself. but it is not based on experience. and doesn’t rely on a particular outcome. Kant argued that all rational beings were ends in themselves and should never be treated purely as a means to an end. or helps us make sense of experience. 6 . Rather. in every case as an end in itself.

would result in my being treated merely as a means to end. As a result. stated four different ways above. The categorical Imperative. I cannot prescribe a rule that. Put another way. could be seen as a rational justification for following the golden rule that is the cornerstone of Christian morals (as well as most other religions): Love your neighbour as yourself. 7 . it would be contradictory for any rule to treat a rational being as a means to some greater end: there can be no greater end. if held by someone else.These latter statements of the Categorical Imperative are really an extension of the statements regarding universalisability – we hold laws if we would will that all other rational beings would also follow them.

and from these the right course of action in a particular situation can be deduced. which I have arranged so it makes a word. fulfilling the purpose of our design is the only ‘good’ for humans. and that mankind was made by God with a specific design or objective in mind (although it doesn’t require belief in God).absolute deonotological principles . regardless of the consequences.3. Natural Law says that everything has a purpose. The theory of Natural Law was put forward by Aristotle but championed by Aquinas (1225-74). In more detail. 8 . Whilst you probably think of Natural Law as a deontological position (deon. or ‘good’ and ‘bad’. come first.duty. Natural Law Theory in detail Everything has a purpose Ethics is the struggle to determine what is right or wrong. As a result. they argue. looking at the intent behind an action and the nature of the act itself. as 'protect and preserve the innocent' should. not its outcomes. this part is teleological.purpose.the Primary Precepts In four words. It says that this purpose can be known through reason. Some Christian ethicists argue that following God’s will – as revealed through prayer. The purpose of humans . deontological ethical positions have absolute rules that it is our duty to follow). Some of my students favour PROWL.. scriptures and prophecy – is the ultimate good. the teleological principle "Protect and preserve the innocent" leads to rules such as "Do not abort. What is our purpose what are we designed for? What follows is an acrostic. Telos. It is a deductive theory – it starts with basic principles. Aquinas talked of Primary Precepts. 'Do good. Some ethical theories are hedonistic – they say that pleasure (and the absence of pain) are the only ultimately ‘good’ ends towards which to aim. For example." "Do not commit euthanasia" etc. avoid evil'.that are derived from the Primary Precepts. These rules cannot be broken.      Worship God Ordered society Reproduction Learning Defend the innocent Secondary Precepts These are the rules .. I prefer WORLD. They are absolute laws. It is deontological.

did the target die? These are descriptive points. Real and Apparent Goods Aquinas argued that the self should be maintained. psychological needs etc. Reason is used to determine the ‘real’ goods. was the shot effective.we are evaluating his intent. justice. We may decide that killing innocent people goes against God’s design for us. the species has survived through procreation. There are many apparent goods that may be pleasurable (e. it is the accomplishment of the end product that equates to ‘good’. The final cause is a matter of intent – what was God’s purpose behind sex? The final cause assumes a rational mind behind creation. and should be at the centre of Natural Law thinking. Similarly there are many vices (the seven deadly sins) that must be avoided as they prevent the individual from being what God intended them to be. With humans. God Aquinas believed in life after death. the final cause of sex (the thing God designed it for) is procreation. 9 . Natural Law can be upheld by atheists. the efficient cause is a statement of fact or a description. However. but there seems no good reason for keeping to Natural Law without God. fortitude and temperance) that allow the self to fulfil its purpose. so it is always wrong to kill innocent people. Therefore sex is only good if procreation is possible. As a result. An example is sexuality – an efficient cause of sex is enjoyment: because humans enjoy sex. drugs) but ultimately lead us to fall short of our potential. We can then look at whether that cause is consistent with God’s design for human beings. getting nearer to the ‘ideal human nature’ that God had planned. This is why humans were made. Following a ‘real’ good will result in the preservation or improvement of self.g. and are asking about the final cause. When we look into this area – was it right to kill? . If we ask why people have sex. Another example – did the soldier shoot well? The efficient cause deals with the set of events around the shooting – did he aim well.‘Efficient’ and ‘Final’ Causes This is Aristotle’s distinction between what gets things done (efficient cause) and the end product (final cause). we might talk about attraction. Put another way. and clearly don’t tell us about the morality of the shooting. and as such moves from descriptive ethics (saying what is there) to normative ethics (statements about what should or should not be the case). which leads to a different understanding of God’s plan for humans. Natural Law supports certain virtues (prudence. Aquinas holds that the one goal of human life should be ‘the vision of God which is promised in the next life’.

10 . if it is accepted that killing in self defence is okay. The unintended effect has to be PROPORTIONATE. it follows that bombing civilian targets (such as Dresden in WW2) is wrong. According to Natural Law. However. Double effect would not allow you to perform an action where an unintended outcome had devestating effects. so the doctrine of double effect comes in to play. For example. if it is in principle wrong to kill innocent human beings. is that Natural Law becomes like Utilitarianism. we could justify an air attack on Afghanistan on these grounds. but that is not the aim of the action. Innocent people might die. not the consequences of our actions. What this actually means. it is our intentions that are important. Double effect refers to situations where there is an intended outcome and another significant but unintentional outcome. as some principles have logical consequences.Causistry and Double Effect Causistry is the name given to the process of applying Natural Law principles to specific situations. critics say. This is done in a logical way.

Why do I study ethics? Maybe to get a qualification.. big-heartedness. To become a generous person. Aristotle believed that everything has a purpose . intuition. Moral virtues are cultivated by habit. courage. judgement. and is desired for its own sake. resourcefulness. right ambition. or 'happiness'. and a good knife is one that cuts well. It is very difficult to translate some of Aristotle's moral virtues. In the same way. These virtues work together. friendliness. 'Liberality' and 'Magnificence' (popular in many translations) both seem to mean generosity. patience. I need to practice patience. I must get into the habit of being generous. understanding. modesty. wisdom. Virtue Ethics Theory in detail Aristotle Eudaimonia Eudaimonia. common sense. I get the qualification to get a good job. These are subordinate aims. Put another way. truthfulness. They are: practical skill. righteous indignation Intellectual Virtues Intellectual virtues are qualities of mind developed through instruction. At some point you stop and say 'because that would make me happy' .4. The following list is an attempted translation: courage.. 'Eudaimonia' is the end goal or purpose behind everything we do as people. To become patient. cleverness Cardinal Virtues The cardinal virtues are temperance. temperance. wittiness. knowledge. and I want a good job because.the good for a knife is to cut. it is not enough to be told that I should be patient. generosity. Moral Virtues The good life involves developing a good character. high-mindedness. wisdom and justice.and this becomes the superior aim. and it would not be enough to have one of these 11 . Eudaimonia is the 'good' for a person. is the supreme goal of human life. Aristotle draws a distinction between superior and subordinate aims.

it keeps them trapped in dependency. This would be a virtuous response. say. Aristotle sees our communal relationships as an essential part of our moral growth and flourishing. talking and listening to them and maybe even sharing lunch with them. Kant says we should work out moral rules rationally.alone. the culmination of years of learning. We should each aim at acheiving eudaimonia in our own lives.Temperance and courage are moral virtues . You may argue that there is still a sense of community in the city you live in . Friendship and the community Our relationships are an important part of the 'good life'. Kant here. You might respond to the beggar by stopping and giving some time. defending your land against invaders is courageous.Aristotle's on your side here . In out courts. You can put this another way and say that the society we live in helps to form and shape us as individuals. say. not belonging to anything and turning to drugs. and it was clearly not a numerical middle. For example. but if you're outnumbered fifty to one. you don't need to have a specific amount of. but it doesn't require everyone to do the same thing. Aristotle is very different from. judges don't just learn on the job. one of the greatest cities 12 . Developing rightjudgement requires training . giving a few pounds to a beggar is not a good thing . but that you can have too much courage. We learn self-control by practicing restraint. generosity. Aristotle did not say what the midpoint was. that's just foolhardy. ignoring our feelings or what the outcomes of our actions would be. but it allows us each to make our own responses to situations life throws at us. Sociologists will tell you the difference between living in a close-knit community or a big city.he lived in Athens. The Doctrine of the Mean Aristotle said that it is good to be courageous. crime etc. Wisdom sits above all of the other virtues. It's much better to give to a charity like Shelter. the 'golden mean'. Clearly it is therefore a much better thing to acheive the greatest good for a whole society. but we can see it for ourselves. Each of the moral virtues is a midpoint between excess and deficiency. It was more about being generous at the right time. In other words. There is far less crime and drug abuse in smaller. Aristotle says that our friendships are a very important part of who we are and how we should behave. People in cities often get 'lost'.we are educated in the skill of weighing up a situation.we get into the habit of acting bravely. Virtue ethics is criticised for not giving clear answers to ethical dilemmas. they require years of training before they earn the title 'Justice'. For example. rural communities.

He wouldn't like this website. and which decisions to make. if we are talking about an ethical issue. In small 13 . courage. the girl came from a Catholic country where abortion is illegal in all circumstances. In this particular case. either abandoning our principles or allowing terrible things to happen. To better understand what sort of people we should be. the important thing is to develop good relationships with those around need to appreciate the 'narrative context' (seeing the development of ethics as a story). we have to find out about the context of the issue. This can be seen by looking at different societies. We need to understand the historical context of ethics. cunning and friendship. he does want ethics to do its job and tell us how we ought to live our lives.. Finding out about the context of an issue helps us understand the decisions people make. such as the Nicaraguan 9-year old who became pregnant and had an abortion. Students of ethics should immerse themselves in the past masters before looking at recent ethical theories . The doctors who carried out the abortion were condemned by the Church. and excommunicated themselves (kicked themselves out of the church). tens of thousands of Nicaraguans excommunicated themselves from the church. The context is also important for understanding issues. MacIntyre doesn't like 'quandry ethics' where theories are tested by looking at implausible dilemmas. Put another way. We end up not knowing what to do. because it's summarise everything without explaining where the theories came from and how they developed. we need to look at our own context. Ethics has become a bizarre 'lose-lose' game that many of us have simply stopped playing. He threatens to use the bomb unless. and MacIntyre explains the reasons why virtues change. Whether you live in a village or a city. the Prime Minister and an atomic bomb. MacIntyre urges us to remember where ethics came from. virtues change over time.. Following this. MacIntyre Ethics in context Morality has lost it's way. However. "Imagine a terrorist has taken your children." These sorts of moral dilemmas force us to choose between keeping absolute rules that we want to live by (such as 'do not kill') and preventing serious harm to many. The Homeric virtues included physical strength. Relative Values It follows from this that different societies have different values. For MacIntyre.of the world.

clothing. such as painting. the sort of understanding of human behaviour that could navigate through complex conflicts that might arise with so many people living together. Christianity adopted the cardinal virtues. 14 . Physical well-being. As villages developed into large cities. and physical strength was no longer so important. To summarise MacIntyre in one sentence (which is exactly the sort of thing he hates). However. Aristotle would ask if the house. He says that certain activities. other goods) that they lead to. are good in and of themselves and not merely because of the pleasure (i..they contribute to the good life. a decent place to live and clothes to wear is all part of the eudaimon life. He says we also place value on 'external goods'.e. MacIntyre also talks of 'practices'. He believed that we should try to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number (the principle of utility). Whereas cunning used to be prized. Aristotle would have agreed here. he says that we value different qualities of character. Internal and External Goods MacIntyre calls the virtues or qualities of character 'internal goods'. and that by understanding historical and social context. more value would now be put on Wisdom. are called 'external goods'. these virtues changed. food. She believes that ethics should not be about dry theorising but about making the world a better place (she was one of the founders of Oxfam). The virtues are beneficial to the individual and the community . he thought that the best way to bring about the greatest good was by developing the virtues. we can understand ethical issues that arise. Ben Franklin Franklin was a utilitarian virtue theorist. but added faith. practices and physical things. the opera etc. If they would. housing etc. cunning. The idea that we could be 'penniless but happy' did not come from Aristotle. He would have said that having good food. hope and love (charitable love) to these. even ruthlessness may be virtuous. Put another way. as eudaimonia is as good as it gets. She believes that goodness should be seen as the natural flourishing of humans as living beings. The Athenian virtues included Justice and Temperance.tribal communities that could be attacked at any time. they must be part of eudaimonia. strength. Philippa Foot Foot is a contemporary British philosopher who is trying to modernise Aristotle. clothes and food would make a poor person happier.

The reason why MacIntyre gets more attention is that he actually developed a theory of Virtue Ethics rather than merely criticising other forms of ethics. Temperance. Many trace the modern development of Virtue Ethics back to this paper.she claims that Justice.Elizabeth Anscome Before MacIntyre wrote After Virtue (1981). Martha Nussbaum Nussbaum interprets Aristotle's virtues as absolutes . 15 . generosity etc. She was critical of a 'law conception of ethics' where the key focus was obligation and duty. are essential elements of human flourishing across all societies and throughout time. Nussbaum is clear that she believes a relativist approach is incompatible with Aristotle's virtue theory. GEM Anscome wrote a paper entitled "Modern Moral Philosophy". Although it may be too much to describe all of the above as moral relativists. This is a sharp contrast to the general attitude among modern virtue theorists.

The situationist has respect for the laws. Absolutes like ‘Do not steal’ become relative to love – if love demands stealing food for the hungry. It would be of more use. you steal. Situation Ethics Theory in detail Situationist Fletcher quoted a St Louis cab driver who said “Sometimes you’ve gotta put your principles to one side and do the right thing”. in the case of Jodie and Mary. Rules (or principles) aren’t the same thing as doing what is right. not an outcome ... To kill one. This is wrong as it makes rules more important than people. Some ethical theories suggest legalistic rules that mustn’t be broken. He doesn’t take a relative ‘Do whatever the situation 16 . trying to do the best to serve their interests. Fletcher uses the term ‘best interest’. it does not absolutize the relative’. This is wrong as it leads to complete chaos with no laws at all. Fletcher would have disagreed. Agape is concern for others. saving the other. it doesn’t mean ‘anything goes’. Letting both girls die is not pragmatic. We act out of love for others. It must work. This means that rules (absolutes) don’t always apply. The Four Working Principles Pragmatism For a course of action to be right. conjoined is love that is good. to save one girl at the expense of the other. may often follow the laws and be informed by tradition. would be an evil or bad act. Relativism ‘It relativizes the absolute. Whilst this is not consequentialist . However. they said. more practical. so this seems much the same as Singer’s utilitarianism. There are antinomians who reject rules entirely. and doesn’t allow exceptions.5. However. and no way of choosing between two courses of action. Best Interests Agape . it has to be practice it makes Fletcher's theory very similar indeed to Singer's utilitarianism.". he is free to make the right choice according to the situation. goodwill at work in partnership with reason" in seeking the "neighbour's best interest with a careful eye to all the factors in the situation". they depend on the situation. For example. the Catholic church wanted to let both of the girls die.

redemptive goodwill to all men’. There is no rational answer to the question “Why should I love?” Personalism Situation Ethics puts people first. nothing injustice. what makes the lie right is its loving purpose. “Man was not made for the Sabbath”. there would be no justice is love distributed.  Love and justice are the same There can be no love without justice. Love is good. it has inherent worth. Consider any injustice – a child starving.demands’ and make it into an absolute [read the quote above again to check you understand this] Positivism Kant and Natural Law are based on reason – reason can uncover the right course of action. else. namely. ‘Thou shalt not lie’."  Love is not liking Love is discerning and critical. He said "Love wills the neighbor’s good it would be nonsense to ask people to like their whether we like him or not. love: nothing else at to help persons (thus being good) or to hurt persons (thus being bad)’.’ Jesus summarized the entire law by saying ‘Love God’ and ‘Love your neighbour’. He says ‘There ‘The ruling norm of Christian are no [natural] universal laws held by all men decision is love: nothing else’ everywhere at all times. It all’ is wrong if it harms people. ‘For the Situationist. a man arrested without "Love and justice are the same. but may sometimes be right. If love was properly shared out. [they are] not hypnotised by some abstract law. Nothing else has intrinsic value but ‘it gains or acquires its value only because it happens ‘Only one ‘thing’ is intrinsically good. People are more important than rules. Situation Ethics disagrees."  Love only is always good 17 . not for the law’s sake! Fletcher rejects Natural Law. You have to start with a positive choice – you need to want to do good. The law should only be obeyed in the interests of love. for charge etc. A lie is not intrinsically wrong. The problem with this is that it allows the individual to do anything in the name of love – there are no rules to say that someone has done the wrong thing. Six Fundamental Principles Love is intrinsically valuable.’  Love is the only norm (rule) Love replaces the law. Martin Luther King described Agape love as a ‘creative. These are examples of a lack of love. not sentimental. Love is the only law.

violent oppressors. good comes of it.  Love decides there and then There are no rules about what should or shouldn’t be done – in each situation. If an action causes harm. Christian love is a non-selfish love of all people. Fletcher says you can’t nothing else. Only the end or outcome can justify your action. you decide there and then what the most loving thing to do is. it is right. 18 . If "Only the end justifies the means.  Love justifies the means When someone said to Fletcher ‘The end doesn’t justify the means’. it is wrong." claim to be right by following a rule (like ‘Do not lie’) knowing it will cause great harm. he said ‘Then what on earth does?’.

In other words. This gives a better explanation of why people disagree strongly about morality – their ideas are based on fundamental social. but were based on deeply held beliefs. sentimental statements based on personal values (personal values because there is no absolute. ‘Argument is possible on moral questions only if some system of values is presupposed’. For example. we could ask of it whether it was itself good. any observation of how people actually behave cannot tell us about how people SHOULD behave. was about observation and analysis. If ‘good’ was a complex idea. pleasure can’t mean the same as good. Statements of fact are either logically necessary (true by definition) or observable – moral statements are neither analytically or synthetically verifiable. well. Intuitionism Naturalism held that ethical terms could be explained in the same ‘natural’ terms as science or maths. they said. Bentham defined good as pleasure (the greatest pleasure for the greatest number). views or beliefs. objective value in the world – we decide what we value). Unlike Ayer. He called this the ‘naturalistic fallacy’. so there are no moral facts. However. “Abortion is wrong” is the same as saying “I don’t like abortion”. Therefore to say that something is wrong is to say that I disapprove of it or that it goes against my values. in Principia Ethica (1903) famously refuted naturalism. GE Moore. ‘good’ is not a complex term that can be broken down further. Ethics. political or religious beliefs. Stevenson is an emotivist because he believes moral statements are the result of subjective opinions. Moore went on to say that ‘good’ is indefinable. we express approval or disapproval. you just recognise that something is good by intuition. But you can ask “Is pleasure good?” Because the question makes sense. CL Stevenson said the purpose of a moral statement was to persuade someone of the rightness or wrongness of an action.METAETHICS Theory in detail Emotivism AJ Ayer agreed with Moore (see Intutionism) that you can’t get values or moral judgements from descriptions. ‘Good’ is a persuasive definition. In other words. 19 . He said that you can’t move from is to ought. He said that when we talk about moral issues. Ayer argued that moral statements are merely subjective. In the same way as yellow is just. yellow. he said moral statements were not merely expressions of emotion.

Intuition identifies our prima facie duties. Hare thinks that reason plays an important role in ethics. we need to use our own judgment to determine which obligation is our absolute duty. He agrees with Kant that moral rules should be universalisable.HA Prichard said there were two kinds of thinking: reason brought together the facts about a situation. as they can contradict one another He said that we have prima facie (at first appearance) duties: keeping promises. When I say “Murder is wrong”. Prescriptivism RM Hare argued that moral statements weren’t merely descriptive (describing our beliefs) and persuasive. self-improvement and non-maleficence. beneficence. WD Ross argued that moral principles can’t be absolute. I am writing a law which I believe others should follow. 20 . making up for harm done. gratitude. and intuition perceived the right thing to do. he said they were prescriptive and universal. justice. and that we should ‘do unto others as you would have done unto yourself’. but when they conflict.

happiness or 'the greatest good'.what is right or wrong depends on the end or outcome of an action .we can work them out logically prior to experience. Apart from Kantian Ethics (thoroughly absolutist and deontological) and Situation Ethics (clearly relativist and teleological). unwanted pregnancies etc. the secondary precepts. The primary precepts .for example. as it is interested in our design or 'end'. for Aristotle. These rules are absolutist. but it it not that simple. No character quality is absolutely good (good without exception) . ethics seems to involve an uneasy mix. Aquinas' Natural Law Theory says we should try to fulfil our Godgiven purpose. Absolutist ethical theories Kant and the Categorical Imperative Kant says that we should act according to maxims that we would want to see as universal laws. regardless of consequences such as the spread of AIDS. and someone might act heroically without any guarantee that the consequences will be good. living in an ordered society. the categorical imperative. This is teleological. Natural Law Natural Law is often described as deontological because. 'Eudaimonia'. . it is possible to act kindly but do the wrong thing. in Natural Law. These laws are absolutist .for Kant. they are not verified through experience (they are known 'a priori'). The primary precepts are also absolutist . in practice.Absolute and relative morality Theories Introduction Some ethical theories are teleological . The consequences of our actions are irrelevant to whether they are right or wrong . Other theories are deontological doing what is right means doing your duty or following the rules . because they know of no exception. For example. pleasure.Aquinas believed we were all made by God with a shared human purpose.are teleological: they are the ends to which all our actions should aim. The only good thing is a good will that does what is logically the right thing to do. 21 .evil actions may have unintended good consequences. It is easy to think of teleological theories as relativist and deontological theories asabsolutist. it leads to a set of rules that people have a duty to follow. using contraception to prevent conception is absolutely wrong.worshipping God. reproducing etc. However.for utlitarians.

It is teleological. Virtue Ethics Aristotle came up with a list of virtues that we need to acquire. but you may need to ignore the rules in order to do the right (loving) thing . describe Aristotle's theory as absolutist. it is whatever has the best consequences (teleological). Situation Ethics says that what is right and wrong is relative to the situation.the thing that is in the best interests of the people affected. claiming that we need to make laws based on the principle of utility (choose the laws that lead to the greater good) and then follow those laws. such as Martha Nussbaum. Aristotle is saying (according to Nussbaum) that certain ends or goals are absolute . Rules may be useful. 22 . have adapted Bentham's 'act' utlitarianism. Some modern virtue ethicists. because it is about the ends or purposes of our actions. What is right or wrong is relative to the situation. It can be seen asabsolutist because there are no exceptions to the rules (if you were allowed to break the rules. for example. if you asked "Is it wrong to abort a foetus?" I would ask "Under what circumstances?" Clearly the outcome of my actions is of central importance here. this would be act utilitarianism). and many since. In other words. through education and habitually.Moral relativism Situation Ethics This must not be confused with cultural relativism. This means I have a duty to. The theory is easily refuted. because it deals with the duty to follow rules. However. Cultural relativism is a very weak moral theory that says things are right and wrong relative to our culture. tell the truth because it generally leads to greater happiness. Mill. he had developed a theory that allowed you to work out what was right or wrong in any given situation. kind. Theories that can be either absolutist or relativist Utilitarianism When Bentham came up with his Hedonic Calculus. even if in this case it will lead to more unhappiness. in order to have a 'Eudaimon' or happy life. courageous is always good to be honest. Euthanasia might lead to the greatest happiness for one person and yet lead to greater unhappiness in another situation. This is deontological.

varying throughout history.relative to culture.Other modern virtue ethicists say that values change. is relative to the context . and different societies hold up different virtues as desirable. These ends or purposes vary from one society to another throughout time. focussing on the ends or purposes of our actions. according to MacIntyre. Virtue ethics is teleological. 23 . What is virtuous.

This is partly because Christianity is. there is still a strong sense of following rules within most Christian denominations. 1917 "The law of love is the ultimate law because it is the negation of law. by far the largest religion in the UK.Religious Ethics Christian Ethics Introduction OCR does not specify which religion you study. For students of other faiths or no faith. William Temple. In discussing medical ethics. For Christian students. the vast majority of statements. Many Christians adopt deontological positions and think we should act according to God's design or purpose for our lives. many theologists supported a 'love ethic': "There is only one ultimate and invariable duty. and Protestants tend to be less sure about moral absolutes. However. Natural Law theology still has a significant impact. The most influential politicians (Blair and Brown at the time of writing) are Christians. and the sense of duty towards other commandments and obligations. Within Catholic theology. Natural Law holds a dominant position. Natural Law [more] The Roman Catholic Church accounts for the majority of Christians in the world. most text books discuss Christian Ethics. are strongly in-line with Natural Law. encyclicals etc.they refer to 'the religion you have studied' or 'religious ethics'. and the exam questions are open . Situation Ethics [more] It is difficult to guage the influence of Situation Ethics. Even before Fletcher wrote his book. However. Situation Ethics and Virtue Ethics) originated with or were developed by Christians. but he said we need to be ready to abandon them when love demands this. 1951 There is a tension within the Christian faith between the command to love. They may be less influenced by Aquinas in this. it gives the opportunity to challenge traditional views (for example about homosexuality) in an informed and thoughtful way. Fletcher saw the need for rules. and its formula is "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself". Proportionalism The challenge of situation ethics is so great that some Catholic theologians believe there needs to be a compromise between Natural Law and Situation 24 . The Church encourages a range of different approaches. Christianity has had a greater influence on the law in the UK than any other faith. but when it comes to offical church teaching. in terms of number of adherents. studying Christian ethics gives a better understanding of the current legal position in the UK. Within other denominations. and is the largest religious organisation of any religion." Paul Tillich. but all must include Christianity). Also three of the ethical theories studied (Natural Law. and is to my knowledge the only religion that must be studied at school (locally agreed syllabuses vary.

and courage. as was Aquinas. Within Protestant churches. there will always be debate about the true meaning of some difficult passages. Christians have to put faith in the translators. In practice this means that Catholics tend to listen to the church on ethical issues as the church interprets the Bible in the modern world. temperance and fortitude. without the ability to read scripture in the language in which it was written. 'Proportionalism' (the title of a book by Brtitish philosopher Bernard Hoose) accepts. There are also the 7 capital virtues (although the accompanying 7 deadly sins are better known): Virtue Vice Humility Pride Liberality Avarice Brotherly love Envy Meekness Wrath Chastity Lust Temperance Gluttony Diligence Sloth The Bible The Bible clearly has a significant role in shaping Christians' ethical responses. It is common to see them called prudence. and proportionalism ends up looking a lot like situation ethics. that certain acts are wrong or evil acts in themselves. as Natural Law does. There are the theological virtues: faith. Proportionalists claim that doing a 'bad' action out of love makes an action morally good but not morally right. judgment. However. temperance. A 'bad' action is only morally right if it is proportionate. the translators' bias comes through in the translation. listed on this site as wisdom.Ethics. or merely inspired by God? Is it possible to dismiss large chunks as having been written for people in an entirely different society? The best way to read the Bible is to look at the context of any passage. and are inspiring to many Christians. Within the Christian traditions there has been great support for the 'cardinal virtues'. the Bible's authority is the same as the church. Virtue Ethics [more] Virtue ethics sits very comfortably next to Natural Law . What is that passage meant to mean to the person who was going to read it? While parts of the Bible have a clear meaning. although they refer to the same virtues. if there is a proportionate reason. a much greater emphasis is put on the Bible. However.Aristotle was a proponent of both theories. Christianity added to the virtues. Without a God-given authority to put faith in. with words such as 'abomination' used with no justification. On issues such as homosexuality. Is it the literal word of God. to perform such acts. Within the Catholic tradition. This is familiar from Just War thinking. The arguments here get quite tricky. 25 . Reading the Bible raises other issues. it says that it might be the right thing to do. justice. hope and love. Christians are expected to read the Bible for themselves and make their own decisions about important ethical issues.

26 . Within Protestant churches. the church has an advisory role. The Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church has a magisterium . which may mean seeing a vision. Conscience. it can condemn certain actions entirely . Christians can get inspiration from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. All of these factors can have a profound effect on the individual and can contribute significantly to the ethical decision-making process. Many Christians believe the conscience to be 'the voice of God'. and it has been passed down ever since. Prayer.statements that cannot be questioned. Some Christians have had a direct. the Bible has a much greater authority than the church. life-changing experience of God. and that this can lead to a wide variety of different Christian responses.its teachings have a God-given authority that is equal to the authority of scripture. The vast majority of Christians pray for guidance even when they wouldn't pray for intervention (some Christians don't ask God to actually solve their problems. The Pope has even got the power (rarely used) to make infallible statements . there is very little to say other than to recognise their importance. currently lying with Pope Benedict.The Church Catholics believe Jesus gave His authority to Peter. the individual is still left to decide where to stand in relation to church teaching. In Protestant churches. but those who pray tend to believe that God responds or gives answers to prayer).you can even be kicked out of the church for certain actions. However. because they are personal and individualised. hearing a voice or feeling God's presence. However. This is a large number of important factors to lump together. It can recommend one action over another. Religious Experience etc.

Psychology. but may it not be that there is some combination of factors that regularly leads to homicide? Someone commits a crime and is punished by the state. John Locke Locke gave the example of a man who wakes up in a room that. He chooses to stay in the room. an A level student at the Arnewood School. Hard Determinism The theory of Universal Causation maintains that everything in the universe (including human action) has a cause which precedes it. when in fact we are 27 . and blueberry pie. scientific observation. B = heat occurs or A = rubbing hands together. unknown to him. he has eaten a certain combination of foods—say. What if we were to track down the factors common to all murders committed in this country during the last twenty years and found this factor present in all of them. is locked from the outside.Free Will and Determinism Theory in detail This page was written by Jem Page. sociology and anthropology can account for human behaviour and emotions. In reality. If a doctor cannot explain the cause of a set of symptoms. believing he has chosen freely. he has no option. and only in them? The example is of course empirically absurd.g. he doesn't presume that they have no cause. 2007. e. A = friction. ‘he deserved it.’ we say self-righteously—as if we were moral and he immoral.if it wasn't the case that one event or set of circumstances lead to another. mushroom soup. However. but that the cause is unknown. would be pointless and meaningless. B = hands warmer This is the basis of science . and the conclusions drawn. sometime during the previous week. tuna fish salad at a meal also including peas. Hospers Let us suppose it were established that a man commits murder only if. his ignorance of this gives him an illusion of freedom.

A is faster than B. gives the example of three runners. The argument here is that contingent truths about the world make the future unpredictable.when we say "A is faster than B" this is a contingent truth. Other truths are no less true . It means that in the past. but that doesn't mean it necessarily had to happen. The act of decision making All of our actions are based on the assumption that we are free. We can only make decisions about what to do if:   we do not already know what we are going to do it is in our power to do what we are thinking of doing Necessary and contingent truth There are statements that are necessarily true. in 'Moral Problems'. e.lucky and he is unlucky—forgetting that there. A youth in a ghetto may be likely to become a gangster because it is in his interests. For example. but that this would not influence human choice. It doesn't mean that A will necessarily run faster than B in the future. analytic truths such as "All bachelors are unmarried". his moral self may override this and he might become a policeman. Something may actually happen in the future (A may actually beat B). We cannot know the future from contingent predictions. and a man being locked up without food. Libertarianism Libertarians accept that universal causation would apply to a mechanistic world. there is a difference between Ghandi choosing to fast. but has the choice not to. the actions are is sunny today. However. but it is only contigently true. A kleptomaniac may be inclined to steal. Soft Determinism/Compatibilism Soft Determinism accepts that all of our actions are determined. This is true.g. however. There is a difference between the empirically analysable personality and one's moral self. but for the grace of God and a fortunate early environment. Michael Palmer. What would happen if they raced? The answer is that we cannot know for certain . go we. A has run faster than B. and the men could 28 . B is faster than C. it could conceivably be false. In both cases.

he is not morally responsible. However. then he is to be held responsible. a combination of his conditioning. if he chooses not to because of his personality. 29 . an event in his childhood etc.not do otherwise. If X does not save a drowning child because X cannot swim. who believes that determinism and free will are compatible. would draw a distinction between actions caused or determined by our personalities ('free' actions) and actions with external causes (where we are 'co-erced') Compatibilism. what determines Ghandi's actions is internal. A compatibilist. unlike hard determinism. where as the man locked up has been externally caused to be without food. However. allows for moral responsibility.

For God is greater than our hearts. Dear friends. and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. He taught that all people." Most famously. that is what makes him 'unclean' . There is something deep within them that echoes God's yes and no. we can 'put on the mind of Christ'. and he knows everything. Aquinas Aquinas held reason in the highest describe the human ability to know and choose the good. imposed on us from without. the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart. right and wrong. (Romans 2:14. Aquinas claimed: To disparage the dictate of reason is equivalent to condemning the command of God. Matthew 15:11. whether or not they are Christians. but woven into the very fabric of our creation. conscience is the universal knowledge of God's law. They show that God's law is not something alien. Jesus taught his followers to have a pure heart: God blesses those whose hearts are pure. at other times they experience him probing or judging their hearts. but through Christ's redeeming love. Matthew 5:8 What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean'. Our conscience can be corrupted. 1 John 3:19-21 Paul uses the term συνειδησις . but it does speak of the true heart that interiorizes the divine law. they confirm its truth by their obedience. we have confidence before God. and the action of the Holy Spirit.15. The Message).. know what is right and wrong. He said "Reason in man is rather like God in the world.18 This then is how we know that we belong to the truth. for they will see God. Some Old Testament figures experience God calling them to live his will or Law. an inner guiding of our external behaviour. and these make a man 'unclean'.often translated as 'conscience' and 'heart' . He said it is written on our hearts: When outsiders who have never heard of God's law follow it more or less by instinct. More Translations For Paul. but what comes out of his mouth. 30 .Conscience Theory in detail The Bible and Conscience The Old Testament has no word for ‘conscience’. if our hearts do not condemn us.

Aquinas said that a person's conscience could err (go wrong). If I had considered my actions carefully. and they are responsible for what happened. or 'vincibly' .000 innocent people. my actions would keep him on the streets longer. as I would have done differently if I'd thought about it. if I give money to a man who is begging on the streets. through no fault of their own. holding that conscience has binding was their fault.I erred or got it wrong 'invincibly' . can determine primary moral principles (which he called the 'Primary Precepts'). For example. through reflection on human nature.through our own fault. but I couldn't have known this . but my actions are actually wasn't my fault.if anything. balancing ours and others' needs As with Paul. He held that this was faulty. killing up to 60. However. Our 'conscience' then derives secondary principles ('Secondary Precepts') which are applied. A different example .an innate knowledge of human nature and primary precepts through practical reason conscientia . as it wasn't the fault of the British in this scenario .the virtue of right-reasoning in moral matters. The British government terror bombed Dresden.Augustine had used the term 'synderesis' to mean an innate knowledge of right and wrong. I would have seen that I wasn't helping him to improve his situation .they couldn't have known about the school. like the guilt you feel when confronted with a homeless 31 . due to the fall. consider a bomb dropped on a weapons factory. This is a vincible error. Aquinas disagreed. As we practice balancing our needs against the needs of others. either 'invincibly'. Aquinas thought that practical reason. Unknown to the British forces. However. Imagine if I'd given the money instead to a homeless charity. A much better thing to do.deriving secondary precepts. as they should have known it was wrong . This example also illustrates what Aquinas thought about Conscience. and applying them prudence . synderesis . I erred 'vincibly'. a school was hidden under the factory. help conquering his addictions etc. It isn't a 'feeling' in your heart. and that Christians should look to the authority of the Church and Scripture. we develop Prudence. I have good intentions. but this is invincible error. It was wrong to bomb the school. Supporting the charity was actually the wrong thing to do. who would be able to help this man to find accommodation. I did not know that workers at this charity were abusing the homeless people in their care.the bombing of Dresden.

Had it strength. but it. that it is our natural guide. as from its very nature manifestly claiming superiority over all others. the guide assigned us by the Author of our nature: it therefore belongs to our condition of being: it is our duty to walk in that path. Newman's view on the conscience can be seen as intuitionist. a 32 . that we have a God-given ability to reason. moving from the Primary Precepts (such as 'It is right to protect and preserve the innocent') to secondary precepts (such as 'It is wrong to give money to people who beg on the streets'). it is an ability to use reason to weigh up factors in a moral decision. and either approve or disapprove our own heart. as it has right. He believed. of the lowest appetites: but likewise as being superior. Butler Natural Guide Butler was a Bishop in the Church of England. Newman Newman was an Anglican theologian who converted to Roman Catholicism and became a Cardinal. The conscience is not a set of rules. it would absolutely govern the world. Butler would say that we must listen to our conscience because it allows us to act as a moral judge. It is the process of reasoning. but he did not see it as giving us commandments to follow. and actions. which may be said of every passion. had it A law of the mind Newman described conscience as a 'law of the mind'. It is an innate principle planted in us before we had the ability to reason. That principle by which we survey. as it has manifest authority. He says that our conscience is "the voice of God" completely distinct from our will or desires. but the conscience should not be seen as merely one among many drives or passions. likewise carries its own authority with it. which makes his approach quite different from Butler and Aquinas. It is not an intuitive feeling about what is right .. temper. Conscience does not only offer itself to show us the way we should walk in. is not only to be considered as what is in its turn to have some influence. and follow this guide Ultimate Authority Butler says we have a number of influences. as Aquinas did. The conscience should have ultimate authority over all of our instincts.

of a threat and a promise. It is a clear indication of what is right: It was not a dictate. Freud would argue against allowing the conscience tohave control over our decisions about how to act. Freud Freud was a psychiatrist most famous for founding the psychoanalytic school of psychology. of duty. To be ruled by your superego would make you overly judgmental. or not in those with healthy minds. still. part of and sometimes equated with the 'superego'. It certainly isn't something that humans are born with. usually balanced the pull of the 'id' (our desires) and the 'superego' (our guilt). as Newman wasn't about to drink to either: Certainly. and believed that it arose as a result of bad experiences early in life. and the importance of the unconscious mind..feeling of guilt or something that we obey in order to gain a reward from God. Piaget was a developmental psychologist. Newman was merely saying. Freud taught that 'ego'. if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts. most continue to reject the notion of a God-given conscience. However. inflexible and irrational. Piaget Many psychologists have come to question Freud's understanding of the conscience. Newman is often quoted as saying he would drink a toast to the Pope. is not usually in control of our actions. Two key aspects of his approach are the assertion that sexual desire is the prime motivating drive in all humans. our conscious personality. Seeing the full quote. you could see how conscience develops over time. He highlighted four developmental stages: 33 . to Conscience first. He believed that by studying human behaviour. This negative aspect of the human psyche. nor conveyed the notion of responsibility. (which indeed does not seem quite the thing) I shall drink to the Pope.. and see a well-developed conscience as part of a healthy human mind. and to the Pope afterwards. but to the conscience first. this is an unfortunate epitaph. Freud's theory of the conscience is entirely at odds with all of the positions above. if you please. that the conscience should have ultimate authority. like Butler and Aquinas before him. as well as disapproval from parents and society. He saw the conscience as part of the unconscious mind.

Veritatis Splendor (1993) §32. the hypothetical and ideological issues. They can reason using abstract concepts. During this stage. There he is alone with God. For man has in his heart a law written by God.and learn about the permanence of objects. They are able to think logically to develop explanations about the world around them. According to this model. 8-11 years. yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity. shun that. Pope John Paul II. But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear. a person doesn't have a fully functioning conscience before the age of 11.    0-2 years. VATICAN II. although they find it hard to see the world from a viewpoint other than their own. children develop language. Catholic Church In the depths of his conscience. authenticity and ‘being at peace with oneself. to obey it is the very dignity of man. They begin to think about the future. During this stage. 2-7 years. according to it he will be judged. They become able to differentiate themselves from the worldaroundthem. man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil. but which holds him to obedience. Gaudium et spes §16. Whose voice echoes in his depths. 11-15 year. They classify things by single shared features. The individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgment which hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil. To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one’s conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one’s moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience. the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this.’ so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivist conception of moral judgment. Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. 34 . babies would learn about the world around them through their senses and by moving about.

[Comments in brackets are from the site editor] Utilitarianism Kant Natural Law Situation Ethics Virtue Ethics 35 .APPLIED ETHICS SEX AND RELATIONSHIPS Ethical responses to Sex What is Sex?What are the issues?Case studiesEthical responsesChristian responsesResources Find out more BooksLinksMultimediaIn the news Test yourself InteractExam practice This page was written by Jem. an A level student at Arnewood.

if an opinion poll was taken in New York then the more liberal population would conclude that same sex marriage is acceptable or ‘good’. I might feel that my views are more important than those of less-educated people. prejudiced opinions are dominant. then consent was not necessary or ‘good’. However. For example. This is because utilitarianism has evolved and most utilitarianists are what we call rule utilitarianists as they support the formation of rules which bring about the greatest good for the greatest number. thus forbidding the action which we clearly feel is ‘bad’ anyway.Utilitarianism The consequentialist nature of utilitarianism and its focus on the pleasure/ pain which arises from an action. qualitative utilitarianism. but the idea of democracy is that everyone has a right to their own opinion. Bentham’s quantitative outlook. may say it is ‘good’ for one to masturbate over a picture of a rape victim if it brings about pleasure as the victim will never know therefore she cannot feel any pain. preference v.homosexuality was unacceptable 50 years ago but is now acceptable. When considering the issue of homosexuality the failings of Hare’s preference theory become evident. quantitative v. rule utilitarianism. if one asked a utilitarian whether it was good to have sex with someone who has not consented then the overwhelming opinion would be that it was not. However. developments in the utilitarian movement have accounted for this flaw in the theory. It may in fact be a strength of Hare's theory that it considers all preferences. If one was to be involved in a sexual act without their consent but they got pleasure from this act. However. traditional utilitarianism) the general principle of utility remains and we do not look at acts but their outcomes. racist or homophobic people. 36 . this view is induced from Bentham’s theory and by using an act utilitarian stand point.] On the issue of consent. This is a fault in Hare’s theory as we view some people’s opinions as simply wrong. For example. leads us to analyse sex in a way of merely considering how pleasurable it is. whether a person consents to sex does not seem relevant to a utilitarian. Although differences arise (in act v. For example. [Some people would disagree with this analysis. traditional utilitarianism. in the deep south of America where conservative. homosexuality would almost certainly be declared wrong if a cross section of beliefs were considered. For example. Hare’s focus on preferences in utilitarianism now considers what the victim's preferences would have been. for example. What results is a relativist theory . In general utilitarians consider issues surrounding sex in a way which examines outcomes not moral imperatives. should a paedophile’s preference be taken into account just as a heterosexual who was attracted to people his/her own age.

37 . Kant would look for a universal law that could be applied to all instances of sex. Similarly. This position can be maintained by Catholics as that every sexual act should have the possibility of ending in pregnancy (NB the church’s position on contraception). and in doing so one would be using one's self merely as a means to an end. some people have sex in a way that fulfils them and involves them on a spiritual level that is not merely using themselves as a means to an end.Kant's Ethical Theory Kant believed that masturbation was satisfying an animal urge. however. Other Kantians may suggest:  Only have sex in a commited relationship by mutual consent and not merely to satisfy lust We're acknowledging here that people can have meaningless sex which can leave them feeling cheapened and used. It recognises that. Natural Law The popular Catholic response to masturbation using natural law is that it is blunting God’s purpose and is using the penis or vagina in a way that God did not intend. progressive Catholic theologians may point to the need for a structured society as a way of permitting masturbation and even contraception. Situation Ethics When considering issues surrounding sex. However. In other words whilst rules can be broken in certain circumstances to do the most loving thing. whilst rules can exist they are not deontological or immovable as 'love is the only norm (rule)' and is good in itself. Situation Ethics does not bring the rigidness of a Natural Law or Kantian approach. Some people may be unable to have children. having promiscuous sex would be using one's self and another person merely as a means to an end. the will to do the most loving thing cannot be. However. as sex can be unitive as well as used merely for reproduction. bringing two people closer together. Possibilities may include:  Only have sex with someone if you are prepared to have a child with them This may run contrary to the will. and yet would want to have sex as it deepens a relationship. The absolute nature of the secondary precepts drawn from the primary precept seeking reproduction. satisfies most Catholics that contraception and masturbation are evil.

is absolute. When considering homosexuality. show us that love. This decision can be justified also by the pragmatic nature of the theory. situation ethics also provides a satisfactory answer as. Clearly the most loving. Positivism. although this may seem to suggest that a conservative line may be taken to topic of homosexuality this is not necessarily the case. which tells us you need to put the people first. for example. positive thing to do is to allow masturbation and to break the rule forbidding it. Virtue Ethics Virtue theory focuses on our telos. If a person is gay then they will not have children. rape. to deny homosexual couples the right to build relationships. one may use masturbation when one’s sexual needs are not being fulfilled in a relationship. Instead of viewing that it is unnatural or against God’s will and our purpose. a person who does not masturbate is likely to become sexually frustrated and therefore may leap into a relationship with another when they are not ready or committed to this relationship. Personalism. For example. not the rule. However. 38 . purpose and how we should act to be useful and potent in society. What we may look for using virtue theory is a golden mean. taking this into account it seems that both theories would prefer it here for relationships between two men or two women to be allowed as this way the couples can play a role in society which is structured and similar to straight couples.In the case where a man is locked in jail and his wife comes to visit [Midnight Express]. get married and have sex is wrong as in a situation where a man is gay. the possibility of him having a reproductive relationship is not great nor is it desirable. when considering masturbation we do not look out our telos in the same way in which natural law would. Although Natural Law views reproduction as a purpose this is not going to be fulfilled under any circumstance then surely it is less evil to fulfill the primary precepts of achieving an ordered society than to condemn gays and outlaw or try to change them. When considering the issue of homosexuality the parallels between Natural Law and Virtue theory become evident. however. we view masturbation in terms of its virtue. although it may be held that heterosexual relationships should usually be encouraged because of the reproductive possibility. sexually fulfilling and child bearing relationship. or does not contribute at all. it would be considered by Situation Ethics absurd to forbid this man to masturbate and thus share a sexual experience with his wife simply because a rule would be broken. which are Relative to the case. As both ethical systems were founded by Aristotle they have a focus on the telos of human beings. masturbation should never be used as a substitute for the seeking of a committed. or alternatively frustration can lead to an uncontrolled desire. For example. which means to do the most loving thing and the Pragmatism of the facts. someone who masturbates too frequently and does not lead a normal life or pursue a relationship because of this also contributes negatively to society.

with Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 an excellent example. Strictly speaking. a country wouldn't need a just cause to go to war as long as they had the right intention .Ethical responses to War What is War?What are the issues?Case studiesEthical responsesChristian responsesResources Find out more BooksLinksMultimediaIn the news Test yourself InteractExam practice Utilitarianism Kant Natural Law Situation Ethics Virtue Ethics Utilitarianism In Utilitarianism. the end justifies the means. Since the Iraq War began. 39 .the greatest good for the greatest number. However. there has been a vast amount of cynicism surrounding the decision to go to war and the motives of people like Bush. A utilitarian would not support selfish motives. utilitarians would be happy for the military or the President to make up a threat so long as the ensuing war made the world a better place.

Augustine said that while we may go to war. we should love our enemies (as Jesus instructed) even as we kill them. using nuclear. as it would mean willing that I might be shot. We could happily universalise a maxim that said we should go to war to defend another country from attack . The principles of Natural Law are based on the concept of the sanctity of life . It is worth noting. 40 . this may justify our retaliation. However. Natural Law theorists would see this very much as a last resort. so every other possible solution must be sought before war is declared. Kant also said we should never treat humanity 'merely as a means to an end'. This may mean going to war . They would also criticise the way in which wars are fought. However. This means we would have to look closely at the justification for going to war to see if Kant would support it. however.all life is sacred. arguing that a world where people go to war without a just cause would be an unstable world. Kant's Ethical Theory Kant would not support needlessly going to war. If an attack threatens the structure and authority of our society. Situation Ethics Situation Ethics demands that we do the most loving thing. and they are paid. However. chemical or biological weapons etc. although in many cases not utilitarian. his theory would support declaring war in defense of others. However. may be necessary to make the world a better place. Another Primary Precept says that we should live in an 'ordered society'. It is impossible to fight a war without some innocent people being killed. that early Catholics were largely pacifist.Rule Utilitarians may have a different approach. which is contrary to the will. Natural Law One Primary Precept is that we should 'protect and preserve the innocent'. soldiers are fighting for their own safety. with a lack of respect for human beings. If soldiers had no vested interest in making the world a safer place. then they would be merely being used.because we too would want to be defended if we were attacked. which would justify going to war to defend others. situation ethics would be against the use of excessive force. Therefore the Just War Criteria.

which would be part of eudaimonia.the first film featuring Rambo. you develop that trait. one of the cardinal virtues. However. Virtue Ethics focusses on character. a soldier returning from Vietnam who starts killling people one by one. Virtue ethics has something interesting to say about the training of soldiers. An example from film is 'First Blood' . so is it any surprise that this is what they did? 41 . the realities of being a soldier are that you just follow orders . as they stand up for the poor and weak.Virtue Ethics War is not part of eudaimonia. If you behave a certain way. and may argue that soldiers are brave and just. and real. Virtue Ethics may suggest that it is wrong to train soldiers to hate and kill. example is the treatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Grhaib. it may be possible to go to war in order to achieve peace. A more recent.These soldiers were trained to hate. as they will continue to behave that way. However.not an example of wisdom.

and is probably the sort of argument used to justify embryo research. This reasoning appears pretty sound. where the amount of research has slowed significantly under Bush's administration (his Christian beliefs have been held by some to be responsible). 42 . In America. and if we get any use out of them at all.they would otherwise be discarded. the majority of prolife Christians actually support embryo research because of the potential benefits.Ethical responses to Embryo Research What is Embryo Research?What are the issues?Case studiesEthical responsesChristian responsesResources Find out more BooksLinksMultimediaIn the news Test yourself InteractExam practice Utilitarianism Kant Natural Law Situation Ethics Virtue Ethics Utilitarianism It may be assumed that utilitarianism would have no problem with using spare embryos . the end justifies the means.

that rational being could not will the destruction of artificially created embryos. and not creating it at all. wouldn't the outcome be better if you attempted to implant it rather than experiment on it? This argument is more easily dismissed. but if you look at how far Singer is willing to assign interests in terms of the environment. Certainly some people would argue that it is in an embryo's interests to be implanted. when doing a utilitarian calculation. Every aborted foetus could yield hundreds of eggs from which hundreds of embryos could be produced. If it could. However.It would be easy to assume that utilitarianism would therefore support the creation of embryos for research. To be clear about why this is. which recognised only pleasure as being of value. If this was the case. This response is not entirely based on the assumtion of the value of an embryo from conception. seing whether one could will the maxim as a universal law of nature. This may not apply if an embryo is created artificially. this may not be such an easy argument to win. and the Primary Precept 'Protect and preserve the innocent' would mean that anything done to an embryo that would prevent it from developing would be seen as wrong. and much good could be done. A different way of finding out what Natural Law thinks is by asking what the purpose is of somethng. I might never have been born. for example to produce embryonic stem cells. and therefore none of us should. imagine if embryos were experimented on as a law of natue. and therefore to destroy or experiment on an embryo would be to prevent a specific person from being born. merely the recognition that my genetic code was distinct from the earliest stages. Further. The purpose of human life is summed 43 . Natural Law supports this. For an embryo. You are choosing between creating it and experimenting on it. The question is whether the embryo could have developed into a rational being. No harm is being done (embryos feel no pain). and no amount of positive consequences could justify this. This doesn't require any assumption about the status of an embryo. if we move past Bentham's theory. as the embryo was never going to be implanted. Natural Law The Catholic Church teaches that an embryo should be treated as a human being from the moment of conception. you would need to weigh up different possibilities. The destruction of embryos would be contrary to this. we would need to ask whether an embryo has any interests. The counter-argument is that embryos have no interests. Kant's Ethical Theory Kant's theory takes a suggested maxim and universalises it.

it is difficult to find a source that is without bias. As such. This approach o embryology can be found on the excellent Canadian website ReligiousTolerance. and how to become such a person. which would make it morally justifiable. kind. so it would be wrong to experiment on an embryo. and such a state would not be possible with the agony of such conditions. Just as we should strive to develop our character. A situationist who believed the embryo was a person would respond very differently from one who didn't . "what does?" Personalism. one should be courageous. believing that having a better understanding of an issue helps us in making the right choice. and many other seriously debilitating conditions. With many of these issues. It presents the facts.individual circumstances can justify going against principles such as "Do not destroy embryos". Embryonic stem cell research could potentially help millions. This website sets out to explain the ethics surrounding controversial Virtue Ethics is the most difficult theory to apply here. It is not clear what value a situationist would give to an embryo . as well as acting justly. Stem cell research offers cures to paralysis. is the belief that people are important. As with utilitarianism. the wise person whould know! The concept of eudaimonia may be helpful here. It is designed to grow into a person. the purpose of an embryo can be considered separately. He attempts to understand a dilemma in its context. one of the four principles Fletcher's of Situation Ethics.up by the primary prescetps. we should prevent things that stand in the way of eudaimonia. temperate.the theory cannot be used to comment on the status of the embryo. Parkinson's disease. These conditions are not part of the eudaimonian ideal. ReligiousTolerance. explains the different viewpoints and says why people disagree. Situation Ethics is relativist . When considering embryo research. Virtue Ethics As is often the case. Situation Ethics The principle of agape love is usually used by situationists to argue against moral absolutes such as 'do not kill'. The theory can't tell us what a wise person would do. but. the end can justify the means. However. Fletcher asked. with wisdom. "If the end doesn't justify the means". Virtue Ethics tells us what sort of people we should strive to manages to stay impartial. 44 .situation ethics does not give specific guidance. MacIntyre's approach is worth commenting on here. Eudaimonia is complete happiness. saying that the right course of action would be to do the loving thing in any situation. it does not say that euthanasia or abortion or samesex marriage is right or wrong. being wise. merely on what to do if the embryo were a person.

Pro-life groups actively protest against stem-cell research (which could benefit millions) but make little fuss about IVF (which helps only individual couples). We are at a loss to understand why pro-lifer leaders in the U.. [read the full article] Even though MacIntyre is a relativist. there is speculation that hundreds of thousands of additional unused embryos have been actively destroyed.. using much the same approach as above. Attention has been concentrated on the few dozen embryos whose stem cells were removed and used to create cultures in medical research labs. They say: . ReligiousTolerance. while almost ignoring the hundreds of thousands of embryos who have died in other ways in IVF clinics. in addition to the hundreds of thousands of embryos that have been deepfrozen in fertility clinics. 45 . he may argue against the way stem cell research is makes one point very strongly. 2 But very few of prolife demonstrations are directed at the labs that have killed these massive numbers of embryos. have concentrated on the few dozen embryos used in stem cellresearch.On the issue of embryo research.

Ethical responses to Genetics What is Genetics?What are the issues?Case studiesEthical responsesChristian responsesResources Find out more BooksLinksMultimediaIn the news Test yourself InteractExam practice Utilitarianism Kant Natural Law Situation Ethics Virtue Ethics Utilitarianism Utilitarianism looks at the benefits and risks associated with genetics. Bentham considers all sentient creatures. Genetically modified crops could potentially affect all farming. Singer would want 46 . and therefore may have problems with using animals for pharmaceuticals or to grow human organs. but how likely is this to occur? The hedonic calculus allows us to weigh up extent and certainty. but relies on us having a good idea what the extent will be and how likely the problems are to occur. GM crops. say. One of the problems with this sort of approach is that it is impossible to know the effects of.

The justification may be that one of the primary precepts of Aquinas' Natural Law Theory is to protect and preserve human imperfect duty. in which case 'pharming' and xenotransplantation would be seen as acceptable. it could mean that you had been experimented on instead of being implanted. to ask "Would you will that you be used to grow organs for humans if you were a pig?" would make no sense as pigs aren't capable of willing this at all. which is clearly not what they were designed for. Natural Law may well support GM Foods. This is contrary to the will . Natural Law has no problem with artificial limbs. Animals have no intrinsic value for Kant as they are not rational. Rather than asking what the benefits of embryonic stem-cell research might be. feed humans.    Natural Law would therefore be against enhancement genetic engineering. for example. All of medicine involves changing the way the world is in some way. Natural Law may be against using animals to produce pharmaceuticals or to grow organs for transplant as this runs contrary to their God-given purpose. many of these technologies involve harming a much larger number of animals. Kant's Ethical Theory Kant takes a very different approach from utilitarianism. Natural Law Genetic Engineering at first seems to run contrary to Natural Law. Kant would be happy with xenotransplantation (using animals to grow organs for humans) as long as there were no risks to humans. which would be a concern for Singer. However. Natural Law is based on the principle that God designed the world. If it were simply a case of a single pig dying to save a human life. synthetic fibres etc. Singer is likely to value the human far more than the pig. Put another way. We mustn't get confused between natural and artificial with this theory. or to carry out some other purpose. Genetic Engineering involves tampering with or changing the way the world is. The real question is whether a therapy or procedure is intended to allow an organ or part of the body to fulfil its purpose. This isn't clear cut. I don't know of any Natural Law theologians who are against the use of animals to test pharmaceuticals. he would ask whether there was anything in principle wrong with such research. as they help humans fulfil 47 .to consider the interests of animals alongside humans. Kant's theory deals in absolute rules. as the human has far more and greater interests. However. Most Natural Law theologians tend to see animals as lower beings and accept that they may be used to. Could you will that embryonic stem-cell research became a universal law? If it was. but may be happy with somatic-cell therapies that corrected disorders. we need to be cautious here.

their purpose. the most loving thing to do may be enhancement gene therapy.. Do xenotransplantation and 'pharming' work? There is good evidence to suggest they do work very successfully. rather than expensive enhancement therapies for those with money while the poor die of treatable conditions due to lack of funding. temperate etc. The real question with these therapies is: is it Pragmatic (another of the four Ps). should be habitually kind. The real question is.. Therefore situationists would be more than happy to use animals to grow organs or pharmaceuticals. Situation Ethics Situation Ethics instructs us to love.available to the wealthy and poor alike. courageous.. concerned with outcomes. so Situation Ethics would support them. modifying food to increase yield could reduce costs. as they may affect many future generations. complex ethical dilemmas. but there are no absolutes here. It is a theory concerned with humans (one of the four Ps is Personalism). Ethicists. and informed debate may well be helpful in some of these very difficult areas. and the uneven distribution of knowledge (already western companies are patenting genes and charging developing countries to use them). situation ethics is Relativist (pRelativism is another of the easy-to-remember four Ps. but situation ethics is happy to 'throw away [its] principles and do the right thing' . It may be too risky as a general rule to make changes to a germ-line. Virtue Ethics Virtue Ethics is never easy to apply to concrete. feeding more people in Africa and reducing human suffering. will GM food be better at feeding the world? Potentially.contrary to one of the primary precepts).the rules are only guidelines and the right course of action is relative to the particular circumstances. The concerns from a Natural Law point of view would therefore be the unknown effects (will it harm humans . which may lead to right decisions made in difficult cases. Justice was one of the cardinal virtues. and doctors.). In special individual cases. A situationist is likely to argue that the money could be better spent on those who are sick (this would certainly be more loving). Aristotle also prized wisdom above all else. Germ-line therapies are more problematic. It is more difficult to say where situation ethics would stand with enhancement gene therapies. and Situation Ethics is teleological. 48 . so new therapies would have to be fair . However. What about human genetic engineering? Gene therapies that are somatic (in one person's body [soma]) would doubtless be seen as a loving alternative to letting someone suffer and die.

What decision would you reach about growing a human heart in a pig for a Jewish patient? This may seem an unusual way of deciding what is ethical. MacIntyre says you must understand the context. kind etc. We have new technologies. and no agreed ethical principles to help direct our actions. how have animals been used in the farming industry? What principles have been applied? What about in medical testing? Do these principles carry across to xenotransplantation? MacIntyre may come to the conclusion that xenotransplantation would work in America and Europe. However. MacIntyre starts by looking at the context. MacIntyre's approach to ethics can be very useful here. but my students are generally impressed with it. but would not be appropriate for countries with predominantly pagan belief systems where people may feel they have spirits from animals in them if the organ grew in an animal. agreeing that we should all strive to be courageous (but not foolhardy). Aristotle's theory may be difficult to apply. and that what may be valued in one society may not be in another. For example. 49 .MacIntyre's Virtue Ethics is relativist. which many ethics students don't like.

Ethical responses to the Right to Life What is the Right to Life?What are the issues?Case studiesEthical responsesChristian responsesResources Find out more BooksLinksMultimediaIn the news Test yourself InteractExam practice Utilitarianism Kant Natural Law Situation Ethics Virtue Ethics 50 .

and would. what would it be like?" The simple answer . Kant asks "If there were such a thing as morality. We should ignore our emotions. it is wrong to kill them. that as soon as human life is genetically distinct. 51 . they will be able to ask "Would I want to have been destroyed as a foetus?" This means. how much pleasure are we talking about for a whole lifetime? Kant's Ethical Theory Kant knows that we cannot prove moral principles based on experience. In other words. a foetus. it seems wrong to value one person more than another simply because they are capable of having more preferences. They are not part of the 'kingom of ends'. it is easy to imagine a universal rule that allows you to kill terminally ill people with no hope of recovery who want to die. grow into a rational being. we would need to look at the consequences of the killing. so if we want to decide whether in this specific case it is wrong to kill. There is no sanctity of life principle here. or even a baby. As such. they will develop reason. it isn't at all clear how you could say how much pleasure or pain was lost if an embryo was not implanted. experiencing a greater amount of pleasure etc. the action is a good one. However. as rational people don't usually want to be killed. and once they have that faculty they will be able to act according to universalisable maxims. not the acts themselves. Morality is synthetic a priori . does not rate above an animal.) that the person is likely to experience. if allowed to. Killing someone to end their pain would be to use them. Firstly. Secondly. You also get a thorough use of looks at the 'end' or 'purpose' of our actions. they will die. The end justifies the means. However.we should all treat people as we would like to be treated. We could make a law of nature that said as soon as a terminally ill person loses the will to live. This leads to an obvious sanctity of life position. disregard the outcomes of our actions and do the right thing. What you get with Kant is a strong sense of moral duty.Utilitarianism Utilitarianism is teleological .statements about the world that cannot be confirmed by looking at the world. Even if we assumed an average amount of pleasure. using Kant's theory. Kant is likely to come back here with his third statement of the categorical imperative never treat anyone merely as a means to an end. If the outcomes are good. It may be the importance of reason that explains how Kantians respond to the question "Where does life begin?" Rationality is what separates us from other animals. One of the problems with this approach is the need to ascribe a value to a human life based on the amount of pleasure/pain (or interest/preferences etc.

and they argue that this is the same as not doing lung transplants on smokers. It deals with absolute moral principles that look at whether an action is right or wrong. Life and Death issues are much more black and white with Natural Law. The idea of 'rights' . However. They simply 'unpack' the issue. Virtue Ethics It's important to remember that Virtue Ethics is advocated by Natural Law theorists (Aristotle and Aquinas) who have a very strong belief in the sanctity of human life. Aquinas would disagree. whether abortion or euthanasia. but in some situations (each situation is different) love will motivate you to break the rules. He would say that we need to understand the context of decisions about the sanctity of life. is seen as equivalent to murder. An ethicist could explain whether they were actually the same arguments. Natural Law Natural Law is. Increasingly in hospitals. explaining what the decision really is. It's a good rule. ethicists are being employed to advise on medical cases with complex ethical dimensions. For example.universal. Wisdom and Justice are cardinal virtues. In the case of Baby Theresa. and to end a human life would not be just or wise. surely a murderer or rapist would be less deserving.It is important to remember that Kant came up with the idea of the United Nations (League of Nations) with common moral rules. This explains why the Catholic Church is opposed to abortion. Situation Ethicists would probably have advocated ignoring rules about sanctity of life in order to do the pragmatic thing. We simply do not make medical 52 . Killing. absolute deontological principles . deontological. and would look at what is in people's best interests. You could argue that doctors are courageous to carry out abortions in places where anti-abortionists threaten entirely consistent with Kant's ethical theory. euthanasia. Situation Ethics is Pragmatic. in one hospital they will not put patients with Downs' Syndrome on the waiting list for a lung transplant. useful thing to do. Situation Ethics Situation Ethics demands that you do the most loving thing in any circumstance. The Catholic Church said it was wrong to kill Mary to save Jodie. That doesn't mean that you should discard the rule about not killing one person to save others. MacIntyre is a relativist. Embryo Research etc. There are no hard and fast rules. and works very differently. We may think that a smoker doesn't deserve a transplant. like Kant's theory. or that euthanasia is an act of kindness. using her organs to help other babies would be a practical. the ethicists generally don't say what the right course of action is. However.

Smokers are likely to die younger.what would bring about the greatest good? For this reason. So. just that the arguments don't contradict themselves. people can move up the transplant list if their life is at threat . People with Downs' Syndrome are also likely to die younger. Young people go higher up the list than the elderly . waiting would be a greater risk. and get less use out of new lungs. 53 . This doesn't mean that the decision is right or wrong. Lungs are allocated on utilitarian grounds . and will therefore get less use out of new lungs. the ethicist may conclude that the reasons for refusing lung transplants for smokers and people with Downs' Syndrome are consistent.decisions based on what people deserve.they will get more use out of the lung.for them.

however. Utilitarians would ask whether having an abortion brings about the greatest good. I don't think this is Mill's point. Either way. a utilitarian response should accept that it may in some circumstances be right to deny a woman the right to choose to have an abortion if doing so would bring about the greatest good. and Mill strongly believed in individual sovereignty: “Over himself.any of these reasons may be justified by the hedonic calculus. the pro-choice movement argument that a woman has the right to choose is not supported by classical utilitarianism. but not utilitarianism. education. Utilitarianism challenged traditional views that abortion was an 'evil' act. Mill can be seen as arguing for rule utilitarianism. Having an abortion because of financial pressures. The concept of absolute rights is compatible with deontological ethics such as Kant or Natural Law. concerned with ends or outcomes. over his own body and mind. Utilitarianism generally supports a prochoice position. saying we should give freedom of choice to all people. work . the individual is sovereign” However. arguing instead that the end justifies the means. 54 . other family members' needs.Ethical responses to abortion What is abortion?What are the issues?Case studiesEthical responsesChristian responsesResources Find out more BooksLinksMultimediaIn the news Test yourself InteractExam practice      Utilitarianism Kant Natural Law Situation Ethics Virtue Ethics Utilitarianism Utilitarianism is teleological. Rule utilitarianism says that we should make rules that bring about the greatest good.

If there were mental illnesses that prevented a person from imagining maxims as universal laws. A further potential exception would be foetuses with severe learning disabilities. this must be a contradiction of the will. such as "People who have been raped should have abortions" and you no longer have a self-contradiction. You wouldn't be willing a law that would have 55 . you have a duty (perfect or imperfect) not to act according to that maxim. For example.clearly even an infant isn't capable of the sort of rationality that following the categorical imperative requires. If it is a self-contradiction or a contradiction of the will. It couldn't possibly work. so it wouldn't be contrary to their will to have a law of nature that prematurely ended ectopic pregnancies. if I willed such a law of nature. as there are undoubtedly rational agents who have been born as a result of rape. In ectopic pregnancies. it should. it could never be contrary to the will to will that these pregnancies naturally terminated before birth. There are potential exceptions.people who have been raped would almost certainly prefer not to be pregnant. However. Could a Kantian will that abortions happened naturally in ectopic pregnancies? Yes. I might be willing myself out of existence. the foetus and infant will be able to imagine different universal laws. Does the foetus count as 'humanity'? For Kantians. at some stage. the foetus will not survive. There are no rational agents alive after ectopic prenancies.Kant's Ethical Theory The best place to start with Kant is to take a maxim and universalise it. because such a law could not have prevented that agent from being born. Would you want to make a law of nature that ended pregnancy naturally if it arose out of rape? At first we might think this would be a perfectly desirable state of affairs . The maxim "You should have an abortion" becomes a self-contradictory universal maxim "Everyone should have abortions". but Natural Law sees abortion as an evil act even in this case. Choose a different maxim. Could Kant's theory ever support abortion? It seems that even in the case of a threat to the mother's life. However. It would be contrary to the will to universalise a law that would have prevented me from being born. it would be 'using humanity merely as a means to an end' to have an abortion. This does not depend on whether the foetus has brain activity . A lot hinges on the status of the foetus. if allowed to live. I couldn't will a universal law of nature that would have prevented my own existence. and ask whether they could will them to be laws of nature. even though it may save the mother's life. However. Natural Law holds that abortion in ectopic pregnancies is wrong. as there would be no people to have abortions.

abortion may be an act of love. Imagine an ectopic prenancy . In other words. A transplant surgeon needs a dozen organs to save the lives of 12 people. Abortion is an evil act. Although being very closely linked to utilitarianism. and we may be required to 'push our principles aside and do the right thing'. One of the primary precepts is to protect and preserve the innocent. Imagine a different issue. it is unethical to abort an ectopic pregnancy (which would leave the woman able to have another child). would leave her unable to have future children).there are no exceptions.they are a useful guide in most situations. Natural Law Natural Law asks what our design or purpose is as humans. but ethical to remove an ovary (which.the foetus is growing in the fallopian tube. Situation Ethics Situation Ethics grew out of a tradition that viewed abortion as an evil act. in cases where a woman has one working ovary. It doesn't see pleasure as good in itself. but it may appear as though there are because of double effect. with the secondary effect that the pregnancy ends. you ask whether the second effect is proportionate.' Secondary precepts are absolute deontological principles . so you don't have to even consider it. the only thing good in itself is love. as the mere willing of it means that the law would not have applied to you. He sees a healthy man who has all of these organs. situation ethics should give quite different results. However. However. In this case it is. Situation 56 . There are no exceptions. Abortion is not an option. removing a fallopian tube. and both the mother and foetus will die. This is where a Christian ethics will include the idea that God created us.prevented you from being born. that abortion is evil but may be the 'lesser of two evils' is consistent with a situationist approach. is not an evil act. Fletcher said we should not get rid of rules . such as a woman whose pregnancy is threatening her life. both Singer's utilitarianism and Fletcher's situation ethics say you should act in the 'best interests' of those affected. Many Catholics say that this takes the pressure off people faced with difficult decisions. The real question is what counts as being in someone's best interests. This alone leads to a secondary precept 'Do not abort. Seen in this light. and therefore not an option. A utilitarian calculation says the greater good would be served by secretly killing this man and saving the other 12 people with his organs. However. If a woman has been raped. When carrying out an act with two (or double) effects. instructed us to reproduce etc. Natural Law says that killing an innocent person is not an option. The Church of England's position.

America and most other countries. courageous people campaigning against abortion. and justice doesn't include them in this way. nurturing and educating our children. Abortion would be an exception in extreme circumstances. the status of the foetus is key here. temperate. where a foetus has a serious disability and the parents are worried that they would be unable to bring up the child financially. If justice includes the foetus. Again. Would a courageous person let someone kill a foetus? Well. abortion is wrong. 57 . not a method of birth control (as it has become in some countries). For example. courageous people performing abortions to help others. in exceptional circumstances the situation might demand a different. There must equally be kind.Ethics will start from the belief that it is generally in our interests to create families. If the foetus was a person. if the foetus wasn't a person yet. In an exam. However. noble. in the UK. Put a different way. it would surely be more courageous to prevent their being killed. As with many ethical responses. Watch Vera Drake or The Cider House Rules and you will see compassionate. virtue ethicists see justice as a cardinal virtue. loving response. However. then yes they might. it would be helpful to consider case studies. the foetus does not have the rights of a person. as it is concerned with the sort of people we should be. Virtue Ethics It is always a more difficult to apply Virtue Ethics. What would a kind. the status of the foetus affects the response you give. courageous person do? This is not at all clear. or that doing so might take time away from their other children. it may be a compassionate response to abort the foetus to take away such a great burden.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful