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COMP 381. ethical systems: SURVEY 17 January. Class Criteria. gives me free choice (happiness, creator not follower) adaptable (flexible as society changes) should not impede individual choice, it shouldn't  overweigh individual preferences should be just protect the weak

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Comp 381

COMP 381

ethical systems: SURVEY17 January

Class criteria
Class Criteria

  • gives me free choice (happiness, creator not follower)

  • adaptable (flexible as society changes)

  • should not impede individual choice, it shouldn't overweigh individual preferences

  • should be just

  • protect the weak

  • re-evaluate unjust laws

  • independent of varying belief systems

  • not based on unfounded beliefs

Studying ethics
Studying Ethics

  • Three Approaches

    • Philosophical ethics (meta-ethics): looks at the logic behind the decisions

    • Descriptive ethics: what people believe to be right and wrong

    • Normative ethics: what people should believe is right and wrong

  • Meta-ethics addresses whether there is a single morality

  • Examples where descriptive and normative ethics differ?

Meta ethics
Meta Ethics

  • Psychological: why be moral

    • Egoism, altruism and hedonism – what motivates us?

    • Right and duties vs care-based – is there anything here?

Theories that we will look at
Theories that we will look at

  • Ethical relativism – very briefly

    • Individual (or subjective)

    • Cultural

  • Normative ethical theories

    • Deontological (duty-based)

      • Kantianism

      • Contractualism

    • Teleological (result-based)

      • Utilitarianism

  • Two more recent theories

    • Just consequentialism

    • Social justice: political philosophy

Ethical relativism
Ethical Relativism

  • Is there anything universally right or wrong?

  • How is right or wrong decided?

Individual relativism
Individual Relativism

  • Is this the same as tolerance?

  • For

    • Well-meaning, intelligent people can disagree

  • Against

    • Does not provide moral distinction.

      • What does morality mean?

    • Not based on reason

    • People are good at rationalization

Cultural relativism
Cultural Relativism

  • Hampden-Turner & Trompenaars(organizational)

  • For

    • Different social contexts

    • Arrogance to judge

  • Are there examples when we should impose views on a society?

  • Against

    • Evolution of practices

    • Societies do share core values

Normative ethical theories
Normative Ethical Theories

  • Deontological: based on the sense of duty

    • Right because of the act

  • Teleological: based on the result

    • Right because of the result

Deontological theory
Deontological Theory

  • What is it?

    • Based on our duties and responsibilities

    • Actions are fundamentally right or wrong

  • Classic Examples

    • Kantianism (Kant)

    • Contractualism (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau)





Kantianism ethics of duty
Kantianism: Ethics of Duty

  • Duty as freely imposing obligation on one’s own self

    • Duty is internal

    • We impose duty on ourselves

  • What we SHOULD do, not what we WANT to do

Kant s categorical imperatives vs hypothetical
Kant’s Categorical Imperatives(vs hypothetical)

  • Universality: “Always act in such a way that the maxim of your action can be willed as a universal law of humanity.”

  • Respect: “Always treat humanity, whether in yourself or in other people, as an end in itself and never as a mere means.”

  • Are these the same? Which do you prefer?

Strengths of kantianism
Strengths of Kantianism

  • Rational

  • Produces universal moral guidelines

  • Treats all people as moral equals


  • Practical

    • Actions may need to be characterized by multiple rules and there is no way to resolve a conflict between rules

    • Allows no exceptions

  • Philosophical

    • Moral minimalism: requirements are not heartfelt

    • Moral alienation: alienated from feelings


  • Social Contract Theory

  • Morality consists in the set of rules, governing how people are to treat one another, that rational people will agree to accept, for their mutual benefit, on the condition that others follow those rules as well.

    James Rachel, The Elements of Moral Philosophy

Rights and duties
Rights and Duties

  • Duty not to interfere with others rights

  • Negative and positive rights

    • Negative right: duty is to not interfere

    • Positive right: duty is to provide

  • Absolute and limited rights

    • Typically, negative rights are absolute and positive are limited

Moral rights
Moral Rights

  • Natural

  • Universal

  • Equal

  • Inalienable

Strengths of contractualism
Strengths of Contractualism

  • Framed in terms of rights

  • Explains acting out of self-interest when there is no common agreement

  • Provides framework for moral issues dealing with government (civil disobedience)


  • Doesn’t address actions that can be characterized multiple ways

  • Doesn’t address conflicting rights

Comparing the two theories
Comparing the Two Theories

  • Both believe that there are universal moral rules

  • Basis of those moral rules

    • Kant

      • can be universalized

      • based on duties

    • Contract

      • would benefit the community

      • based on rights

Teleological theory
Teleological Theory

  • What is it?

    • Something is good based on its consequences

  • Primary example: Utilitarianism

    • Jeremy Bentham

    • John Stuart Mill




  • Greatest Happiness Principle

  • Compute the costs and benefits

    • Simple calculation: do positives outweigh the negatives?

  • Two forms

    • Act – judge the consequence of a specific act

    • Rule – judge the consequence of the generalized rule


  • Focus on happiness

  • Down to earth

  • Appeals to many people

  • Comprehensive

Problems of act that rule addresses
Problems of Act that Rule Addresses

  • Too much work to make a decision on each act

  • Susceptible to happenstance


  • Ignores our sense of duty

  • Range of effects that one must consider

  • Calculus requires that we balance very different aspects

  • Unjust distribution of good results