PHIL 1040 Lecture 2: Ethical Theories

author and title of lecture excerpt

Audi, "The Place of Ethical Theory in Business Ethics

ethical theory vs. ethical theories

ethical theory is concerned with understanding morality (right and wrong)
an ethical theory is a morality system (a statement of standards of right and wrong)

3 layers of ethics

ethical theories, normative ethics, and meta-ethics

what we should do (in general, non-specific)

normative ethics

questions about the nature of ethics


what we should do in concrete situations

applied ethics

metaphysics of ethics deals with questions like...

Is ethics real? Are right and wrong real?


moral claims are true or false


moral claims are neither true nor false


moral claims are expressions of feeling, not fact


moral claims are commands or imperatives, not facts


some moral claims are objectively true


no moral claims are objectively true

moral relativism

some moral claims are true, but all of these are only relatively true (depends on circumstances), so no moral claims are objectively true

moral nihilism

all moral claims are false

author associated with moral nihilism

JL Mackie ("Moral Error Theory")


study of knowledge (true belief and justification)

epistemology of ethics

Can we justify moral claims?

ethical skeptics"...

can't get knowledge about moral claims, but maybe justification

strong ethical skeptics" believe...

can't even get justification about moral claims

2 modes of justification

empiricism (test by observation) and rationalism (test by rational processes)

example of using empiricism as justification for moral claims

utilitarianism: observe and predict effects on welfare

example of rationalism as justification for moral claims

Kantianism: apply categorical imperative

person who came up with "reflective equilibrium


premise of "reflective equilibrium

balance general principles and particular cases against each other (state of balance among set of beliefs) (reflection and revision of one's beliefs to make them coherent between a particular case and one's beliefs about a broader range of moral and factu

virtue ethics principle

as a person of good character would

origin of virtue ethics

Aristotle (esp. Nicomachean Ethics)

other names for deontological ethics

Kantianism, duty-based ethics

origin of deontological ethics

Immanuel Kant (esp. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals)

name of main principle of deontological ethics

Categorical Imperative

2 ways of stating main principle of deontological ethics

Act as you would if your actions became universal law (ie, if you were also subject to it)
Treat every person as an end, never just a means

other name for consequentialism ethics


origin of consequentialism

JS Mill (esp. Utilitarianism)

2 types of consequentialism

direct/act utilitarianism and indirect/rule utilitarianism

direct utilitarianism (act utilitarianism)

Act so as to maximize happiness, minimize unhappiness, or both

indirect utilitarianism (rule utilitarianism)

Act according to a set of rules that maximizes happiness