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Ethical Theory. Consequentialism versus Non-consequentialism. Consequentialism – Consequences alone determine whether an option is morally correct. Moderate non-consequentialism – Consequences sometimes determine whether an option is morally correct.

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Consequentialism versus non consequentialism
Consequentialism versus Non-consequentialism

  • Consequentialism – Consequences alone determine whether an option is morally correct.

  • Moderate non-consequentialism – Consequences sometimes determine whether an option is morally correct.

  • Extreme non-consequentialism – Consequences never determine whether an option is morally correct.


  • Founders are Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.

  • One of the first purely secular ethical theories.

  • It has deeply influenced economics and political science.

Utilitarianism consequentialism
Utilitarianism (Consequentialism)

  • Two parts:

    • Theory of intrinsically valuable – pleasure, satisfaction of desire, etc.

    • Principle of right action: Choose the action of those available which has the best consequences


  • Example:

    • Suppose I am a train operator and I notice someone on a train track who I cannot alert of the oncoming train. If I divert the train, then many will die but if I don’t then the one will die. Which should I do?

Utilitarianism problems
Utilitarianism -- problems

  • Too demanding!

  • Too much calculation!

  • Incommensurability!

  • Doesn’t fit our moral convictions!


  • Immanuel Kant (1724—1804) argued morality is founded on reason and that it always was contrary to reason to break a moral rule.

  • Moral obligations take the form of categorical imperatives not hypothetical imperatives.

    • You should do y, period.

    • If want x, then you should do y.


  • The Categorical Imperative:

    • Act only according to a rule which can be consistently be willed as a universal law.

  • Kingdom of ends:

    • Always treat a rational agent as an end and never treat a rational agent as merely a means.


  • Thus, if you want to know if an act if morally permissible, then:

    • Ask what rule (“maxim”) you would be following if you were to take that action.

    • Ask whether everyone could follow that rule all the time. If so, then it would be a universal law and thus the act is permissible; otherwise, it is not.


  • Promising: Suppose Joe needs to borrow some money but cannot honor that promise. What is he to do?

  • First, the relevant rule is:

    • Promise to repay regardless of whether you can repay it.

  • Could this rule become a universal law?

    • No. It would be self-defeating. If this became a universal practice, then no one would believe such promises and so no one would provide the loans.

Deontology problems
Deontology - Problems

  • Kant wrote that lying in any circumstances is “the obliteration of one’s dignity as a human being”.

    • We should do only those actions that conform to rules that we could will to be adopted universally. If we were to lie, we would be following the rule “It is permissible to lie.” This rule could not be adopted universally, because it would be self-defeating: people would stop believing one another, and then it would do no good to lie. Therefore, we should not lie.

Deontology problems1
Deontology - Problems

  • During WWII, Dutch fisherman smuggled Jewish refugees in their boats. Nazi patrol boats would stop them and ask where they were going and who was aboard. It appears that we have a genuine moral conflict between two rules.

    • It is wrong to lie.

    • It is wrong to facilitate the murder of innocent people.

  • Kantian sometimes claim this is simply moral tragedy – but are these are they equally wrong?

  • Is this form of absolutism plausible?

Virtue ethics
Virtue Ethics

  • Aristotle argued that the primary question of moral philosophy is:

    • What sort of person should I be?

  • Any moral theory that takes the first question as primary is a virtue-ethicaltheory.

Virtue ethics1
Virtue Ethics

  • Virtues have three features:

    • They are a relatively fixed trait of character or mind.

    • They typically involve a disposition to think, act, or feel in certain ways in certain circumstances.

    • They are the primary basis for judging the overall moral goodness or worth of a person.

  • The virtues are character traits that are cultivated – they are not something that one is born with. We learn what is good or bad, right or wrong in virtue of (no pun intended) observing virtuous individuals act, feel, and behave.

Virtue ethics2
Virtue Ethics

  • Aristotle argued that all human activities have some purpose or end. But what is the purpose of human life?

  • He argued that the purpose of human life must several characteristics:

    • It is an end for which all other ends are pursued,

    • It is pursued for itself,

    • It is never pursued as a means for any other end.

  • Aristotle argued that eudaimonia or human flourishing (happiness) is the end of human life.

Virtue ethics problems
Virtue Ethics - Problems

  • An action is right just in case it is what a virtuous agent would, characteristically, do in the circumstances.

    • How does one know what to do in a particular circumstance?

    • What makes a virtue good?

    • Is there an essential human nature or stable characters?

Social contract theories
Social Contract Theories

  • Moral rules are a matter of agreement among rational individuals and that agreement is the sole source of moral authority (for example, John Rawls).

  • We thus avoid either the state of nature or prisoner’s dilemmas.

  • Prudence and morality are the same thing; moral behavior is a species of rational behavior.


  • Social contract theory asks,

    • Under what conditions is the basic structure of society just?

  • Rawls’ answers,

    • The basic structure of a society is just if, and only if, it satisfies principles that would be agreed to under fair conditions.

  • So, he must specify:

    • Fair initial contractual conditions, and

    • The principles that would be chosen under those conditions.

Social contract theories1
Social Contract Theories

  • Assumptions:

    • We act out of self-interest (e.g., maximize expected utility)

    • If we do better cooperating rather than by not cooperating, then it is in our interest to cooperate.

    • We do better cooperating rather than by not cooperating since we avoid the state of nature and prisoner’s dilemmas.

  • Hence, it is in our interest to cooperate.

Social contract theories problems
Social Contract Theories - Problems

  • Why should someone not “free-ride”?

    • It is in our interest to be constrained maximizers rather than straightforward maximizers.

    • However, this is true only if we are morally “translucent” to one another which is dubious.

Contractarianism problems
Contractarianism - Problems

  • There are no moral rules concerning who bargains. The moral rules which are determined through the bargain apply only to the bargainers.

  • Animals and infants are accorded no direct moral status since they cannot bargain.

Moral relativism
Moral Relativism

  • The moral code of a society consists in the set of accepted norms shared by the moral codes of the individuals.

  • An action is permissible in a society when it is consist with the moral code of that society.

Moral relativism1
Moral Relativism

  • Moral differences argument:

    • Different societies have different moral codes.

    • Therefore, morality is relative to one’s society.

Moral relativism problems
Moral Relativism -- Problems

  • Intercultural criticism

  • Intracultural criticism

  • Progress