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Philosophy 205

Updated 2007-01-31 02:11

Ethical Theory

This section is designed to test your knowledge of the three main ethical theories and the philosophers associated with them.

Ethics Theory

Term or PhilosopherDefinition
Ethics is the study of morality, which is defined as...People's beliefs about right/wrong (which applies to specific actions) and good/bad (either to character or goals/pursuits).
Descriptive ethicsStatements or reports of beliefs without bias or judgment.
Normative ethicsAttempt to establish criteria for right/wrong and good/bad.
3 Main Ethical TheoriesVirtue Approach (Aristotle), Utilitarianism (Bentham, Mill) and Formalism (Kant).
Ethical RelativismMoral truths are not absolute, but depend on the society or individual.
AxiologyAny theory of values; includes religion, aesthetics and ethics.

Virtue Approach


Questions and TermsAnswers and Definitions
Aristotle thought that ethics were a subdivision of...politics; they were used to establish correct relationships between people.
Theoretical WisdomUse to apply rules and principles, and to size up a person or situation.
Practical WisdomThrough rigorous training, wisdom, and thus actions become habit.
Virtuea virtuous thing does what it is supposed to do (performs it's function); a virtuous person is the one that is the ideal for their society. Virtue is defined as the Golden Mean on a scale from excess to defect: Excess -- Virtue -- Defect
Nichomachean EthicsAristotle's lecture notes as compiled by his son.
Instrumental Valuea value that leads to another value; only has worth because it has a function (e.g. an automobile). Instrumental Values can lead to intrinsic values.
Intrinsic ValueA value that is good in its own right; can be very broad (human beings) or strictly contextual (profit for a company). Can also be instrumental values, and may come from instrumental values, but don't necessarily need to.
If the mean is courage...Excess = reckless, Defect = cowardly
Mean = self-controlE = self-indulgent, D = insensitive (Aristotle's term)
Mean = magnificenceE = gaudiness/vulgarity, D = niggardliness
Mean = gentleness (with regards to anger)E = short-tempered, D = apathetic
Mean = righteous indignationE = envy, D = spite
Mean = truthfulnessE = boastfulness, D = self-deprecation
Mean = wittinessE = buffoonery, D = boor
Mean = friendlinessE = obsequious/flattery, D = quarrelsome, grouchy



Questions and TermsAnswers and Definitions
Who is the founder of Utilitarianism?Jeremy Bentham, a man that was both an economist and philosopher.
Bentham first tried to adopt what principle?The Principle of Sympathy and Antipathy, or the idea that humans should follow their inclinations. Bentham rejected this idea because there would be no check on one's impulses and thus behavior would be erratic.
What principle did Bentham use instead?The Principle of Utility, which states that if an action increases pleasure and decreases pain, that it is the right action.
Hedonistic CalculusA set of seven criteria that have to be determined and weighed against each other in deciding whether an action is right or wrong.
What are the four criteria of the Hedonistic Calculus that refer to the consequences of the act, specifically pleasure or pain?Intensity (pleasure and pain are measurable), Duration (how long the pleasure - or lack of pain - will last), Certainty (how sure one is that the pleasure will occur), and Propinquity/Remoteness (how soon or far in the future will the pleasure occur).
What are the three criteria of the Hedonistic Calculus that relate to the act itself?Fecundity (how much pleasure or pain will follow), Purity (a pure act gives only pleasure during and after the fact; an impure act gives pain after the pleasure), and Extent (how many individuals will derive pleasure from the act? Each person counts as one unit).
3 types of UtilitarianismEgoistic (puts their own pleasure first), Altruistic (puts other's pleasure first when given a choice between others and themselves), and Universalistic (simply the greatest good for the greatest number).
Who was John Stuart Mill?The son of one of Bentham's friends who later became famous as a Utilitarian writer and philosopher.
What changes did Mill make to Bentham's philosphy?Mill stated that some pleasures are qualitatively better than others, and since quality is an unmeasurable value, it was impossible to measure them at all.


Questions and TermsAnswers and Definitions
Who is the founder of Formalism?Immanuel Kant
Main statementThere is nothing absolutely, intrinsically good (in or out of this world ) except for good will. Therefore, the form of the action, the motive and the intent of the action make it right or wrong, not the consequences.
MotivesA person of good will has motives that are good and right. Motives are right if they come from the right principle: to obey moral law/rules such as "come to the aid of those in need," etc.
Categorical ImperativeAn imperative that is a moral absolute; there is only one moral choice in the matter.
Hypothetical Imperative"If...then,..." in order for an action to be taken, one must facilitate it through another action; however, one has a choice, and doesn't have to take the first action at all.
When does morality apply?Once one reaches maturity and becomes a rational being (implying one can form plans and have purposes), then one should have good will and perform morally.
What are the three ways of stating the categorical imperative?1. Act so that you could expect the rule of your action to become a universal law. 2. Act as though people, including oneself, are an ends to themselves (have intrinsic value), not only a means. 3. If an action is good only as a means to something else, then it is commanded by a hypothetical imperative; if it is conceived to be good in itself (have intrinsic value), then it is commanded by a categorical imperative. **Note: If the principle of an action contradicts itself when universalized, it is an immoral action.
Why is motive so important to morality?Kant says that, since a good will is intrinsically good, not because of what one does with it, that for an act to have moral worth, it must be done from a sense of duty alone. The Principle of Discrimination is used to determine what is or is not moral.
Prima facie dutyA duty which tends to be absolute and is absolute when no other prima facie duty conflicts with it; for instance, the Jewish friend example: telling the truth and helping someone in distress are both considered absolute duties, but in this case one must weight the rightness of each one since they are in conflict with each other.

Criticisms of Utilitarianism and Formalism

Why can't Utilitarianism handle problems of justice?One can do an action that gives the greatest pleasure to the greatest number and still do great injustice; arresting an innocent man for mass killings will please the people because they will feel safer, but he is being unjustly framed.
What did Mill have to say about quantitative analyses?In some cases they are inappropriate because the quality of the pleasure is what is relevant.
What is the problem of consequences?If you judge the right/wrongness of an action by its consequences, the problem arises that you can't always tell what the consequences will be.
What does W.D. Ross say about Utilitarianism and duty?Duty is more personal than Utilitarianism takes into account; if you have a relationship to someone, you have a stronger duty to them than a stranger. Also, duty is past-looking as well as forward looking; your history with someone will influence your duty to them.
What does W.D. Ross say about Formalism?Ross says that Kant made some prohibitions absolute, when in reality they are dependent upon the circumstances (Jewish friend scenario). Kant failed to realize thatmore than one principle or rule may be relevant in a particular situation and that one much choose the weightier of the two

Annette Baier

Influenced by...Carol Gilligan, an influential women's movement writer, Kohlberg, a phychologist, and Rawls, another philosopher.
Gilligan addition to justice, our society needs an ethics of care.
Baier looks at Rawls...who promotes the ethics of justice, to see what is left out; finds that the holes are filled by an ethics of care.
Care EthicsNecessary for relationships to one another that are intimate and personal (as opposed to formal ones).
Kohlberg's Developmental LevelsPre-Conventional: main worry is to please one's parents; Conventional: main worry is to please one's peers; Post-Conventional Critical: one moves to utilitarian and eventually formalist ethical maturity (generally between 24-26 years of age).
Baier's 4 reasons for women to pursue their own values within the liberal morality1. the dubious record of the liberal morality. 2. it's inattention to relations of inequality or its pretense of equality. 3. the exaggeration of the scope of choice, or its inattention to unchosen relations. 4. the emphasis on rational control of emotions, rather than cultivating desirable forms of emotion.