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Introduction to Ethical Theory I. Last session: “our focus will be on normative medical ethics, i.e., how people should behave in medical situations” We set aside the question: ‘ people should behave in medical situations, according to whom ?’. The Goal of Ethical Theory.

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introduction to ethical theory i
Introduction to Ethical Theory I
  • Last session: “our focus will be on normative medical ethics, i.e., how people should behave in medical situations”
    • We set aside the question: ‘ people should behave in medical situations, according to whom?’
the goal of ethical theory
The Goal of Ethical Theory
  • Generally: to provide a systematic answer to the question of how we should behave
  • Our project: to survey a variety of theories as to what matters morally
theory 1 moral objectivism
Theory 1. Moral Objectivism
  • Moral Objectivism: What is morally right or wrong doesn’t depend on what anyone thinks is right or wrong. 'Moral facts' are like 'physical' facts in that what the facts are does not depend on what anyone thinks they are.  They simply have to be discovered.
    • E.g., Divine Command Theory – what’s right is what God commands; what’s wrong is what God forbids
theory 2 moral relativism
Theory 2. Moral Relativism
  • Moral Relativism: What is morally right or wrong depends on the prevailing view in the society or culture we happen to be dealing with.
  • Often presented as a tolerant view: ‘if moral relativism is true, no one has a right to force his moral views on others.’
  • Increasingly popular in recent years
    • Did this change with Sept. 11?
a bad argument for moral relativism
A Bad Argument for Moral Relativism

The 'Cultural Differences' Argument

  • Claim: There are huge differences in moral beliefs from culture to culture and era to era.
    • E.g., Some cultures endorse the killing of elderly members of the tribe, we condemn such actions.
  • Conclusion: There is no objective fact as to which of these beliefs is correct, morality is relative.
why is the cultural differences argument weak
Why is the Cultural Differences Argument Weak?
  • I. Controversy regarding how much fundamental disagreement about morality there really is
  • II. Differing opinions regarding an issue don’t prove there is no fact of the matter about that issue
    • Imagine relativism about the shape of the earth (e.g., in the 1400s)
objectivist theories
Objectivist Theories
  • Suppose for the moments that objectivism is true. What are the objective facts of morality?
  • Main Candidates:
    • Consequentialism
    • Deontological Theories
    • Principilism
theory 3 consequentialism
Theory 3: Consequentialism
  • Consequentialists maintain that whether an action is morally right or wrong depends on the action's consequences. 
  • In any situation, the morally right thing to do is whatever will have the best consequences.
  • Consequentialist theories are sometimes called teleological theories.
      • Note: not ‘theological’ – this is a misprint in the notes (6-5)
what kind of consequences
What Kind of Consequences?
  • Consequentialism isn't very informative unless it's combined with a theory about what the best consequences are.
  • Utilitarianism is such a theory.
    • Utilitarianism is the most influential variety of consequentialism
  • The Basis of Utilitarianism:  ask what has intrinsic value and assess the consequences of an action in terms of intrinsically valuable things.
    • Instrumental Value - a thing has only instrumental value if it is only valuable for what it may get you
      • e.g., money
    • Intrinsic Value - a thing has intrinsic value if you value it for itself
      • i.e., you’d value it even if it brought you nothing else
  • What, if anything, has intrinsic value?
only happiness has intrinsic value
Only Happiness has Intrinsic Value
  • What Utilitarians Think Is Intrinsically Valuable:  happiness (or pleasure or satisfaction…)
  • "actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness." (John Stuart Mill's Greatest Happiness Principle)
  • In other words, judge an action by the total amount of happiness and unhappiness it creates
theory 4 deontology
Theory 4: Deontology
  • 'Duty Based' Ethics
  • Deontologists deny that what ultimately matters is an action's consequences. 
  • They claim that what matters is the kind of action it is. What matters is doing our duty.
  • There are many kinds of deontological theory
    • e.g., The 'Golden Rule' - "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you."
kantian deontology
Kantian Deontology
  • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is the most influential deontologist.
  • Rejecting Consequentialism:  "A good will is good not because of what it effects or accomplishes." Even if by bad luck a good person never accomplishes anything much, the good will would "like a jewel, still shine by its own light as something which has its full value in itself."
the categorical imperative
The Categorical Imperative
  • Kant claims that all our actions should be judged according to a rule he calls the Categorical Imperative. 
  • First Version:  "Act only according to that maxim [i.e., rule] whereby you can at the same time will that it become a universal law."
  • Second Version:  "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means."
      • Important to treat people as autonomous agents
  • Deontology: What if doing your duty has repugnant consequences?
    • Kant on telling lies
  • Consequentialism: What if you have to do something that seems wrong in order to produce the best consequences?
    • Convicting the innocent
theory 5 principilism
Theory 5: Principilism
  • Principilism attempts to have it both ways
  • Popularized by Beauchamp and Childress
    • Principles of Biomedical Ethics
    • The ‘Georgetown Mantra’
  • Now the dominant theory in medical ethics
four principles
Four Principles
  • 1. Autonomy
  • 2. Beneficence
  • 3. Non-maleficence
  • 4. Justice
    • 1 & 4 are deontological
    • 2 & 3 are consequentialist
  • It is really possible to have it both ways?
alternative approaches
Alternative Approaches
  • Virtue Ethics
  • Ethics of Care
the point
The Point
  • We won’t try to settle the question of what the best theory is
  • Think of them as tools to draw upon
  • Sept. 26 11-11:40 Small Group – CS Case 1
  • Sept. 26 11:45-12:20 Confidentiality
  • Read: Doing Right, Chapter 3