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1018 Ethical Theory I

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Spiritual-Inspirational

Published on December 30, 2008

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Ethical Theory I : Ethical Theory I Phil1000-02 10/18 Lecture Fall, 2006 introduction : introduction Ethics is: practical— it pertains to action. It is essentially the pursuit of good judgment about what to do. normative—(as opposed to descriptive). That is, it has to do with how things ought to be (not just how they are). Ethics provides answers to questions such as: What should I do? (gives rules for action) What should I be? (gives list of good traits/virtues and bad traits/vices Ethics uses terms such as: good, bad, evil, right, wrong, ought, should, may, must, obligation, duty, do, just, permissible, brave, acceptable, wise, responsible, kind, generous, nice (and so on)… ethics: A branch of philosophy : ethics: A branch of philosophy Normative ethics: the study of the values and the guidelines (e.g., principles) by which we live Applied ethics: application of those values/guidelines to particular (real-life) issues Theoretical (Meta)ethics: provides justification for those values/guidelines ethical theory: why do we need it? : ethical theory: why do we need it? A good moral theory should provide guidance (tell us what is right/wrong) justification (tell us why it is right/wrong) Resolve conflicts, justify claims Help us decide what to do and what to believe Framework for explaining the relation between non-normative (e.g., natural) and normative (e.g., moral) facts e.g., why torturing babies (natural fact) is wrong (moral fact) Aid in prediction, understanding, counterfactual reasoning types of ethical theories : types of ethical theories Ethical relativism Ethical subjectivism Cultural relativism Ethical objectivism Universalism (a.k.a “Absolutism”) Particularism ethical objectivism : ethical objectivism Psychological theories Piaget’s and Kohlberg’s Stage theory of moral development “Religious” theories Divine Command Theory – moral rules/norms determined by God Natural Law Theory – moral rules/norms determined by human nature (give to us by God) ethical objectivism : ethical objectivism Philosophical theories: the BIG THREE Consequentialism Deontology Virtue Ethics Slide 8: In any ethical situation you have – a PERSON whose ACTIONS bring about certain CONSEQUENCES. Slide 9: In any ethical situation you have – a PERSON (virtue ethics) whose ACTIONS (deontology) bring about certain CONSEQUENCES (consequentialism) Rachels, Divine Command Theory : Rachels, Divine Command Theory DCT claim: Something is morally right if and only if it is commanded by God. (Note: It could also be the slightly weaker claim: If something is morally right, then it is commanded by God. Being morally right is a sufficient condition for being commanded by God. Being commanded by God is a necessary condition for being morally right.) Slide 11: DCT is a version of absolutism: it claims that certain acts are right/wrong universally. Specifically, there is a truth-maker for ethical statements – namely, God’s commands. And God’s commands make certain things right/wrong universally. (Notice that according to DCT, this is true whether or not you believe in God.) divine command theory : divine command theory If something is morally right, then it is commanded by God. Being morally right is a sufficient condition for being commanded by God. Being commanded by God is a necessary condition for being morally right.) pros : pros V1. Accords with the Bible and other sacred texts. V2. Gives moral truth firm ground. V3. Provides motivation for moral behavior. V4. Consistent with God’s main characteristics. V5. Morality has characteristics that suggest a supernatural explanation: Normativity Impartiality Overridingness Non-natural content cons : cons P1. DCT presupposes God’s existence. But if God doesn’t exist, what about ethics? P2. There are many different interpretations of God’s commands one would think that since God is God he could make the truth explicit so that it could be known. Euthyphro dilemma : Euthyphro dilemma P3. In Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro, Socrates asks Euthyphro what makes an act right or wrong. Euthyphro answers that an act is right because the Gods command it. Socrates asks Euthyphro: “Is something morally right because God commands it or does God command it because it is morally right?” The idea is simple: the DCT theorist has two options, and she must choose one: O1. An act is right because God commands it. O2. God commands an act because that act is right. Slide 16: If the DCT adopts (O1), then she is saying that whatever God commands goes. But this means that an act is right because God commands it so, any act that God commands is (necessarily) right— even killing innocent children. Of course, this is highly counterintuitive, so it would seem she should not adopt (O1). Slide 17: Of course, there is a response to this: namely, that God would never command this act but, this forces the DCT theorist to say why God would not. And the answer is because killing innocent children is just wrong, and God would never command something that is wrong. But this means that the act is wrong independently of God’s commands. God doesn’t make it wrong – it is already wrong, and God just commands accordingly. Slide 18: This is (O2), which says that God commands an act because it is right and God forbids an act because it is wrong. So, God is not the truth-maker of ethical statements. God doesn’t make acts right/wrong: God is merely a spokesman for morality! Slide 19: Thus, (O2) is not consistent with DCT. So, the DCT theorist must “bite the bullet” and accept (O1) and its unhappy consequences. But this is not a good move. For according to (O1), God’s commands are completely arbitrary! God could just as easily have commanded everything he forbids, and forbidden everything he commands. Slide 20: Accordingly, the Christian philosopher/ scientist/theologian Gottfried Leibniz wrote, So in saying that things are not good by any rule of goodness, but sheerly by the will of God, …one destroys, without realizing it, all the love of God and his glory. For why praise him for what he has done if he would be equally praiseworthy in doing exactly the contrary? Rachels’ argument : Rachels’ argument P1) Suppose that God commands us to do what is right. Then either: (a) the right actions are right because God commands them, or (b) God commands them because they are right. P2) If we take option (a), then God’s commands are, from a moral point of view, arbitrary, and the doctrine of God’s goodness is rendered meaningless. P3) If we take option (b), then we have admitted that there is a standard of right and wrong that is independent of God’s commands, and we must reject DCT. C1) So, we must either regard God’s commands as arbitrary and regard the doctrine of God’s goodness as meaningless, or reject DCT. P5) From a religious point of view, it is undesirable to view God’s commands as arbitrary and regard the doctrine of God’s goodness as meaningless. C2) So, even from a religious point of view, we must reject DCT. historical note : historical note This argument has even persuaded great theologians, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, and Christian philosophers, such as Immanuel Kant and Gottfried Leibniz, that morality is not determined by God’s commands or will.

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