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An introduction to the ethics in which we work

Ethics is concerned with other people's interests, with the interests of society, with God's interests, with "ultimate goods", and so on. So when a person 'thinks ethically' they are giving at least some thought to something beyond themselves.

Ethics as source of group strength One problem with ethics is the way it's often used as a weapon. If a group believes that a particular activity is "wrong" it can then use morality as the justification for attacking those who practice that activity. When people do this, they often see those who they regard as immoral as in some way less human or deserving of respect than themselves; sometimes with tragic consequences.

Good people as well as good actions Ethics is not only about the morality of particular courses of action, but it's also about the goodness of individuals and what it means to live a good life.

Virtue Ethics is particularly concerned with the moral character of human beings. Searching for the source of right and wrong At times in the past some people thought that ethical problems could be solved in one of two ways: But now even philosophers are less sure that it's possible to devise a satisfactory and complete theory of ethics - at least not one that leads to conclusions.

Modern thinkers often teach that ethics leads people not to conclusions but to 'decisions'. In this view, the role of ethics is limited to clarifying 'what's at stake' in particular ethical problems. Philosophy can help identify the range of ethical methods, conversations and value systems that can be applied to an introduction to the ethics in which we work particular problem. But after these things have been made clear, each person must make their own individual decision as to what to do, and then react appropriately to the consequences.

Are ethical statements objectively true? Do ethical statements provide information about anything other than human opinions and attitudes? Ethical realists think that human beings discover ethical truths that already have an independent existence.

Ethical non-realists think that human beings invent ethical truths. The problem for ethical realists is that people follow many different ethical codes and moral beliefs.

So if there are real ethical truths out there wherever! One form of ethical realism teaches that ethical properties exist independently of human beings, and that ethical statements give knowledge about the objective world. To put it another way; the ethical properties of the world and the things in it exist and remain the same, regardless of what people think or feel - or whether people think or feel about them at all.

On the face of it, it [ethical realism] means the view that moral qualities such as wrongness, and likewise moral facts such as the fact that an act was wrong, exist in rerum natura, so that, if one says that a certain act was wrong, one is saying that there existed, somehow, somewhere, this quality of wrongness, and that it had to exist there if that act were to be wrong.

That's the sort of question that only a philosopher would ask, but it's actually a very useful way of getting a clear idea of what's going on when people talk about moral issues. The different 'isms' regard the person uttering the statement as doing different things. We can show some of the different things I might be doing when I say 'murder is bad' by rewriting that statement to show what I really mean: I might be making a statement about an ethical fact "It is wrong to murder" This is moral realism I might be making a statement about my own feelings "I disapprove of murder" I might be expressing my feelings "Down with murder" I might be giving an instruction or a prohibition "Don't murder people" This is prescriptivism Moral realism Moral realism is based on the idea that there are real objective moral facts or truths in the universe.

Moral statements provide factual information about those truths. Subjectivism Subjectivism teaches that moral judgments are nothing more than statements of a person's feelings or attitudes, and that ethical statements do an introduction to the ethics in which we work contain factual truths about goodness or badness.

If a person says something is good or bad they are telling us about the positive or negative feelings that they have about that something.

So if someone says 'murder is wrong' they are telling us that they disapprove of murder. These statements are true if the person does hold the appropriate attitude or have the appropriate feelings. They are false if the person doesn't. Emotivism Emotivism is the view that moral claims are no more than expressions of approval or disapproval.

This sounds like subjectivism, but in emotivism a moral statement doesn't provide information about the speaker's feelings about the topic but expresses those feelings. When an emotivist says "murder is wrong" it's like saying "down with murder" or "murder, yecch! So when someone makes a moral judgement they show their feelings about something.

  1. Is there an even playing field?
  2. Take the action that achieves the most good. In fact, most professional organizations have adopted a code of ethics, a large percentage of which address how to handle information.
  3. So good things are the things that a sensible person realises are good if they spend some time pondering the subject.
  4. When resolving differing laws in different jurisdictions, give preference to the laws of the jurisdiction in which you render your service.

Some theorists also suggest that in expressing a feeling the person gives an instruction to others about how to act towards the subject matter.

Prescriptivism Prescriptivists think that ethical statements are instructions or recommendations. So if I say something is good, I'm recommending you to do it, and if I say something is bad, I'm telling you not to do it.

There is almost always a prescriptive element in any real-world ethical statement: Where does ethics come from? Philosophers have several answers to this question: God and religion a rational moral cost-benefit analysis of actions and their effects the example of good human beings a desire for the best for people in each unique situation political power God-based ethics - supernaturalism Supernaturalism makes ethics inseparable from religion.

It teaches that the only source of moral rules is God. So, something is good because God says it is, and the way to lead a good life is to do what God wants. Intuitionism Intuitionists think that good and bad are real objective properties that can't be broken down into component parts.

Something is good because it's good; its goodness doesn't need justifying or proving. Intuitionists think that goodness or badness can be detected by adults - they say that human beings have an intuitive moral sense that enables them to detect real moral truths. They think that basic moral truths of what is good and bad are self-evident to a person who directs their mind towards moral issues.

So good things are the things that a sensible person realises are good if they spend some time pondering the subject. Consequentialism This is the ethical theory that most non-religious people think they use every day. It bases morality on the consequences of human actions and not on the actions themselves. Consequentialism teaches that people should do whatever produces the greatest amount of good consequences.

Ethics: a general introduction

One famous way of putting this is 'the greatest good for the greatest number of people'. The most common forms of consequentialism are the various versions of utilitarianism, which favour actions that produce the greatest amount of happiness. Despite its obvious common-sense appeal, consequentialism turns out to be a complicated theory, and doesn't provide a complete solution to all ethical problems. Two problems with consequentialism are: It's the theory that people are using when they refer to "the principle of the thing".

It teaches that some acts are right or wrong in themselves, whatever the consequences, and people should act accordingly. Virtue ethics Virtue ethics looks at virtue or moral character, rather than at ethical duties and rules, or the consequences of actions - indeed some philosophers of this school deny that there can be such things as universal ethical rules.

Virtue ethics is particularly concerned with the way individuals live their lives, and less concerned in assessing particular actions. It develops the idea of good actions by looking at the way virtuous people express their inner goodness in the things that they do. To put it very simply, virtue ethics teaches that an action is right if and only if it is an action that a virtuous person would do in the same circumstances, and that a virtuous person is someone who has a particularly good character.

Situation ethics Situation ethics rejects prescriptive rules and argues that individual ethical decisions should be made according to the unique situation. Rather than following rules the decision maker should follow a desire to seek the best for the people involved. There are no moral rules or rights - each case is unique and deserves a unique solution. Ethics and ideology Some philosophers teach that ethics is the codification of political ideology, and that the function of ethics is to state, enforce and preserve particular political beliefs.

They usually go on to say that ethics is used by the dominant political elite as a tool to control everyone else. More cynical writers suggest that power elites enforce an ethical code on other people that helps them control those people, but do not apply this code to their own behaviour. Top Are there universal moral rules? One of the big questions in moral philosophy is whether or not there are unchanging moral rules that apply in all cultures and at all times.

Moral absolutism Some people think there are such universal rules that apply to everyone. This sort of thinking is called moral absolutism. Moral absolutism argues that there are some moral rules that are always true, that these rules can be discovered and that these rules apply to everyone.

Immoral acts - acts that break these moral rules - are wrong in themselves, regardless of the circumstances or the consequences of those acts.

  1. Treat others as you wish to be treated.
  2. It supports a completely free-market approach to the exchange of and access to information.
  3. Let the people affected decide. Generally, the shatterproof fallacy is the belief that what a person does with a computer can do minimal harm, and only affects perhaps a few files on the computer itself; it is not considering the impact of actions before doing them.
  4. If an action is not repeatable at all times, it is not right at any time.

Absolutism takes a universal view of humanity - there is one set of rules for everyone - which enables the drafting of universal rules - such as the Declaration of Human Rights. Religious views of ethics tend to be absolutist. Why people disagree with moral absolutism: Therefore it makes sense to say that "good" refers to the things that a particular group of people approve of. Moral relativists think that that's just fine, and dispute the idea that there are some objective and discoverable 'super-rules' that all cultures ought to obey.

They believe that relativism respects the diversity of human societies and responds to the different circumstances surrounding human acts. Why people disagree with moral relativism: Many of us feel that moral rules have more to them than the general agreement of a group of people - that morality is more than a super-charged form of etiquette Many of us think we can be good without conforming to all the rules of society Moral relativism has a problem with arguing against the majority view: Many of the improvements in the world have come about because people opposed the prevailing ethical view - moral relativists are forced to regard such people as behaving "badly" Any choice of social grouping as the foundation of ethics is bound to be arbitrary Moral relativism doesn't provide any way to deal with moral differences between societies Moral somewhere-in-between-ism Most non-philosophers think that both of the above theories have some good points and think that there are a few absolute ethical rules but a lot of ethical rules depend on the culture.