What does the word ethics mean ?
Etymology: Middle English ethik,
from Middle French ethique,
from Latin ethice,
from Greek EthikE,
1 plural but singular or plural in construction :
the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation
2 a :
a set of moral principles or values b :
a theory or system of moral values <the present-day materialistic ethic
> c plural but singular or plural in construction :
the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group <professional ethics
> d :
a guiding philosophy. – From the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
What are ethics concerned with?
What is the nature of the life of excellence? What is the ultimate worth of the goals you seek? How do you rightly obtain your life goals?
What is the difference between morals and ethics?
Morals are beliefs, feelings, statements or opinions about right and wrong, or good and bad. Ethics are the rules, principles or values to which a person or a group refers in settling moral questions. This is done by studying, arguing, conversation, or any other process in order to work out the answers to the moral questions.
What are the three types of ethics?
Ethics are usually divided into three subject areas: metaethics
, normative ethics
, and applied ethics
1. What is metaethics?
means after or beyond, and metaethics involves a removed, view of the entire project of ethics. Metaethics is the study of the origin and meaning of ethical concepts, where they come from, and what they mean. It has two main issues. One is a metaphysical
question of whether morality exists independently of humans, and the other is a psychological
issue about the underlying mental basis of our moral judgments and conduct.
So what’s metaphysics about?
Metaphysics is the study of the universe including both physical objects such as rocks and non-physical things such as thoughts. Metaethics uses metaphysics to discover whether moral values are eternal truths that exist independently of humans or are a human convention.
There are two views about this subject. The otherworldly,
or objective view, states that moral values exist in a spirit-like realm, which is beyond subjective human conventions. They are eternal, never change, and are universal as they apply to all rational creatures in the world throughout time. These are natural eternal laws. Plato subscribed to this view. Another way to explain the otherworldly view is through voluntarism.
Voluntarism believes that moral law comes from an all-powerful God’s will, in the form of divine commands. William of Ockham, believed this.
The second view is called moral relativism.
Moral relativism argues that moral values are strictly human inventions with no spirit-like component at all. There are two types of moral relativism, individual
. Friedrich Nietzsche argued that the individual creates his or her morality distinct from the value system of the masses. Sextus Empiricus thought that morality is based on the approval of one’s society.
What are the psychological issues in metaethics?
The first part of this issue involves understanding what motivates us to be moral. Some reasons might be to avoid punishment, to gain praise, to attain happiness, to be dignified, or to fit in with society.
Thomas Hobbes thought our actions are prompted by selfish desires. This is called psychological egoism.
Another view is that of Psychological hedonism
, which is that pleasure is what is behind all of our actions. Joseph Butler had a third idea. He agreed that instinctive selfishness and pleasure prompt much of our conduct but also thought that we have an inherent psychological capacity to show benevolence to others. This view is called psychological altruism
The second part concerns the role of reason in making moral decisions. David Hume thought that moral actions involve our emotions, not our reason. Immanuel Kant argued that although emotions influence our actions, true morals are free from emotions and desires.
2. What are normative ethics?
task is to arrive at moral standards that regulate right and wrong conduct. This may involve stating good habits, performing duties, and/or considering the consequences of our behavior to others. The Golden Rule is a normative principle.
Normative ethics states that there is only one
ultimate criterion of moral conduct, whether it is a single rule or a set of principles.
Normative ethics relies on three strategies: virtue
theories, nonconsequential or duty
theories, and consequentialist
What are virtue theories?
Morality consists of following defined rules of conduct, such as "don't kill," or "don't steal." These rules must be learned, and then actions are taken that correspond to those rules. Virtualist place less emphasis on learning the rules, and instead develop good habits of character
, such as benevolence. Once benevolence is acquired you will then act in a benevolent manner by habit.
What are nonconsequentialtheories?
theories are based on principles of obligation, or duty. They are sometimes called the deontological
theory from the Greek word deon
, or duty. The principles involved are nonconsequentialist because they are obligatory, irrespective of the consequences that might follow.
There are four central nonconsequential duty theories: Duties to God, to oneself, and to others
; Rights theory
(a justified claim against another person’s behavior); Categorical imperative
(this mandates an action, irrespective of one's personal desires, “Treat people as an end, and never as a means to an end.”); and Prima facie
duties (they are "part of the fundamental nature of the universe.").
So, the consequential theories…?
… are based on the consequences of our actions. These are sometimes called teleological
theories, from the Greek word telos
, or end. Moral actions are determined by considering the end result. We first compare the possible good results to the possible bad results and then decide if the good outweighs the bad. There are three theories: Ethical Egoism
(an action is moral if good results are obtained by the actor); Ethical Altruism
(an action is moral if good results are obtained by everyone but the actor); and Utilitarianism (
an action is moral if good results are obtained by everyone).
3. Finally, what is applied ethics?
looks at specific controversial issues, such as abortion, animal rights, environmental concerns, homosexuality, capital punishment, etc. The issue needs to be controversial to large groups of people and it must be a moral issue not a social policy. Social policies might prohibit jay walking and a law prohibiting it might be controversial, but there is nothing morally wrong with the act of jay walking
By using metaethics
and normative ethics
, applied ethics attempts to resolve these issues.
These questions are offered as a simple introduction to Ethics.
They are presented as an opportunity for further exploration and understanding. No claim is made as to their accuracy or validity.