Normative ethics

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Normative ethics is the study of ethical action. It is the branch of philosophical ethics that investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how one ought to act, morally speaking.

Ethics branch of philosophy that systematizes, defends, and recommends concepts of right and wrong conduct

Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct. The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concerns matters of value, and thus comprises the branch of philosophy called axiology.

Philosophy Study of general and fundamental questions

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

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Normative ethics is distinct from meta-ethics because it examines standards for the rightness and wrongness of actions, while meta-ethics studies the meaning of moral language and the metaphysics of moral facts; and it is distinct from applied ethics in that the former is more concerned with 'who ought one be' rather than the ethics of a specific issue (such as if, or when, abortion is acceptable).

Meta-ethics is the branch of ethics that seeks to understand the nature of ethical properties, statements, attitudes, and judgments. Meta-ethics is one of the three branches of ethics generally studied by philosophers, the others being normative ethics and applied ethics.

Applied ethics refers to the practical application of moral considerations. It is ethics with respect to real-world actions and their moral considerations in the areas of private and public life, the professions, health, technology, law, and leadership. For example, the bioethics community is concerned with identifying the correct approach to moral issues in the life sciences, such as euthanasia, the allocation of scarce health resources, or the use of human embryos in research. Environmental ethics is concerned with ecological issues such as the responsibility of government and corporations to clean up pollution. Business ethics includes questions regarding the duties or duty of 'whistleblowers' to the general public or their loyalty to their employers.

Normative ethics is also distinct from descriptive ethics, as the latter is an empirical investigation of people’s moral beliefs. In this context normative ethics is sometimes called prescriptive, rather than descriptive ethics. However, on certain versions of the meta-ethical view called moral realism, moral facts are both descriptive and prescriptive at the same time.

Descriptive ethics, also known as comparative ethics, is the study of people's beliefs about morality. It contrasts with prescriptive or normative ethics, which is the study of ethical theories that prescribe how people ought to act, and with meta-ethics, which is the study of what ethical terms and theories actually refer to. The following examples of questions that might be considered in each field illustrate the differences between the fields:

Most traditional moral theories rest on principles that determine whether an action is right or wrong. Classical theories in this vein include utilitarianism, Kantianism, and some forms of contractarianism. These theories mainly offered the use of overarching moral principles to resolve difficult moral decisions.[ citation needed ]

Utilitarianism is a family of consequentialist ethical theories that promotes actions that maximize happiness and well-being for the majority of a population. Although different varieties of utilitarianism admit different characterizations, the basic idea behind all of them is to in some sense maximize utility, which is often defined in terms of well-being or related concepts. For instance, Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, described utility as

Kantianism Kantianism

Kantianism is the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher born in Königsberg, Prussia. The term Kantianism or Kantian is sometimes also used to describe contemporary positions in philosophy of mind, epistemology, and ethics.

Normative ethical theories

There are disagreements about what precisely gives an action, rule, or disposition its ethical force. There are three competing views on how moral questions should be answered, along with hybrid positions that combine some elements of each. Virtue ethics focuses on the character of those who are acting, while both deontological ethics and consequentialism focus on the status of the action, rule, or disposition itself. The latter two conceptions of ethics themselves come in various forms.

Virtue ethics normative ethical theories which emphasize virtues of mind and character

Virtue ethics are normative ethical theories which emphasize virtues of mind and character. Virtue ethicists discuss the nature and definition of virtues and other related problems. These include how virtues are acquired, how they are applied in various real life contexts, and whether they are rooted in a universal human nature or in a plurality of cultures.

In moral philosophy, deontological ethics or deontology is the normative ethical theory that the morality of an action should be based on whether that action itself is right or wrong under a series of rules, rather than based on the consequences of the action.

Consequentialism class of ethical theories

Consequentialism is the class of normative ethical theories holding that the consequences of one's conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment about the rightness or wrongness of that conduct. Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right act is one that will produce a good outcome, or consequence.

Aristotle philosopher in ancient Greece

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, the founder of the Lyceum and the Peripatetic school of philosophy and Aristotelian tradition. Along with his teacher Plato, he has been called the "Father of Western Philosophy". His writings cover many subjects – including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theatre, music, rhetoric, psychology, linguistics, economics, politics and government. Aristotle provided a complex synthesis of the various philosophies existing prior to him, and it was above all from his teachings that the West inherited its intellectual lexicon, as well as problems and methods of inquiry. As a result, his philosophy has exerted a unique influence on almost every form of knowledge in the West and it continues to be a subject of contemporary philosophical discussion.

Thomas Aquinas Dominican scholastic philosopher of the Roman Catholic Church

Saint Thomas Aquinas was an Italian Dominican friar, Philosopher, Catholic priest, and Doctor of the Church. He is an immensely influential philosopher, theologian, and jurist in the tradition of scholasticism, within which he is also known as the Doctor Angelicus and the Doctor Communis. The name Aquinas identifies his ancestral origins in the county of Aquino in present-day Lazio, Italy.

G. E. M. Anscombe British analytic philosopher

Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe, usually cited as G. E. M. Anscombe or Elizabeth Anscombe, was a British analytic philosopher. She wrote on the philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, philosophical logic, philosophy of language, and ethics. She was a prominent figure of analytical Thomism.

Binding force

It can be unclear what it means to say that a person "ought to do X because it is moral, whether they like it or not". Morality is sometimes presumed to have some kind of special binding force on behaviour, but some philosophers think that, used this way, the word "ought" seems to wrongly attribute magic powers to morality. For instance, G. E. M. Anscombe worries that "ought" has become "a word of mere mesmeric force". [2] British ethicist Philippa Foot elaborates that morality does not seem to have any special binding force, and she clarifies that people only behave morally when motivated by other factors.

If he is an amoral man he may deny that he has any reason to trouble his head over this or any other moral demand. Of course, he may be mistaken, and his life as well as others' lives may be most sadly spoiled by his selfishness. But this is not what is urged by those who think they can close the matter by an emphatic use of 'ought'. My argument is that they are relying on an illusion, as if trying to give the moral 'ought' a magic force.

—Philippa Foot [3]

Foot says "People talk, for instance, about the 'binding force' of morality, but it is not clear what this means if not that we feel ourselves unable to escape." [3] The idea is that, faced with an opportunity to steal a book because we can get away with it, moral obligation itself has no power to stop us unless we feel an obligation. Morality may therefore have no binding force beyond regular human motivations, and people must be motivated to behave morally. The question then arises: what role does reason play in motivating moral behaviour?

Motivating morality

The categorical imperative perspective suggests that proper reason always leads to particular moral behaviour. As mentioned above, Foot instead believes that humans are actually motivated by desires. Proper reason, on this view, allows humans to discover actions that get them what they want (i.e., hypothetical imperatives)—not necessarily actions that are moral.

Social structure and motivation can make morality binding in a sense, but only because it makes moral norms feel inescapable, according to Foot. [3] John Stuart Mill adds that external pressures, to please others for instance, also influence this felt binding force, which he calls human "conscience". Mill says that humans must first reason about what is moral, then try to bring the feelings of our conscience in line with our reason. [4] At the same time, Mill says that a good moral system (in his case, utilitarianism) ultimately appeals to aspects of human nature — which, must themselves be nurtured during upbringing. Mill explains:

This firm foundation is that of the social feelings of mankind; the desire to be in unity with our fellow creatures, which is already a powerful principle in human nature, and happily one of those which tend to become stronger, even without express inculcation, from the influences of advancing civilisation.

Mill thus believes that it is important to appreciate that it is feelings that drive moral behavior, but also that they may not be present in some people (e.g. psychopaths). Mill goes on to describe factors that help ensure people develop a conscience and behave morally, and thinkers like Joseph Daleiden describe how societies can use science to figure out how to make people more likely to be good.

See also

Related Research Articles

The argument from morality is an argument for the existence of God. Arguments from morality tend to be based on moral normativity or moral order. Arguments from moral normativity observe some aspect of morality and argue that God is the best or only explanation for this, concluding that God must exist. Arguments from moral order are based on the asserted need for moral order to exist in the universe. They claim that, for this moral order to exist, God must exist to support it. The argument from morality is noteworthy in that one cannot evaluate the soundness of the argument without attending to almost every important philosophical issue in meta-ethics.

Moral absolutism is an ethical view that all actions are intrinsically right or wrong. Stealing, for instance, might be considered to be always immoral, even if done for the well-being of others, and even if it does in the end promote such a good. Moral absolutism stands in contrast to other categories of normative ethical theories such as consequentialism, which holds that the morality of an act depends on the consequences or the context of the act.

This Index of ethics articles puts articles relevant to well-known ethical debates and decisions in one place - including practical problems long known in philosophy, and the more abstract subjects in law, politics, and some professions and sciences. It lists also those core concepts essential to understanding ethics as applied in various religions, some movements derived from religions, and religions discussed as if they were a theory of ethics making no special claim to divine status.

Is–ought problem Philosophical problem articulated by David Hume in 1739

The is–ought problem, as articulated by the Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume (1711–76), states that many writers make claims about what ought to be, based on statements about what is. Hume found that there seems to be a significant difference between positive statements and prescriptive or normative statements, and that it is not obvious how one can coherently move from descriptive statements to prescriptive ones. The is–ought problem is also known as Hume's law, Hume's guillotine or fact–value gap.

Philippa Foot British philosopher

Philippa Ruth Foot, FBA was a British philosopher. She was one of the founders of contemporary virtue ethics, inspired by the ethics of Aristotle. Her later career marked a significant change in view from her work in the 1950s and 1960s, and may be seen as an attempt to modernize Aristotelian ethical theory, to show that it is adaptable to a contemporary world view, and thus, that it could compete with such popular theories as modern deontological and utilitarian ethics. Some of her work was crucial in the re-emergence of normative ethics within analytic philosophy, especially her critique of consequentialism and of non-cognitivism. A familiar example is the continuing discussion of an example of hers referred to as the trolley problem. Foot's approach was influenced by the later work of Wittgenstein, although she rarely dealt explicitly with materials treated by him. She was the granddaughter of American President Grover Cleveland.

Rule utilitarianism is a form of utilitarianism that says an action is right as it conforms to a rule that leads to the greatest good, or that "the rightness or wrongness of a particular action is a function of the correctness of the rule of which it is an instance". Philosophers Richard Brandt and Brad Hooker are major proponents of such an approach.

Secular ethics is a branch of moral philosophy in which ethics is based solely on human faculties such as logic, empathy, reason or moral intuition, and not derived from supernatural revelation or guidance—the source of ethics in many religions. Secular ethics refers to any ethical system that does not draw on the supernatural, and includes humanism, secularism and freethinking. A classical example of literature on secular ethics is the Kural text, authored by the ancient Tamil Indian philosopher Valluvar who lived during the 1st century BCE.

Kantian ethics Ethical theory of Immanuel Kant

Kantian ethics refers to a deontological ethical theory ascribed to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. The theory, developed as a result of Enlightenment rationalism, is based on the view that the only intrinsically good thing is a good will; an action can only be good if its maxim – the principle behind it – is duty to the moral law. Central to Kant's construction of the moral law is the categorical imperative, which acts on all people, regardless of their interests or desires. Kant formulated the categorical imperative in various ways. His principle of universalizability requires that, for an action to be permissible, it must be possible to apply it to all people without a contradiction occurring. If a contradiction occurs the act violates Aristotle's "Non-contradiction" concept which states that just actions cannot lead to contradictions. Kant's formulation of humanity, the second section of the Categorical Imperative, states that as an end in itself humans are required never to treat others merely as a means to an end, but always, additionally, as ends in themselves. The formulation of autonomy concludes that rational agents are bound to the moral law by their own will, while Kant's concept of the Kingdom of Ends requires that people act as if the principles of their actions establish a law for a hypothetical kingdom. Kant also distinguished between perfect and imperfect duties. A perfect duty, such as the duty not to lie, always holds true; an imperfect duty, such as the duty to give to charity, can be made flexible and applied in particular time and place.

"Modern Moral Philosophy" is an article on moral philosophy by G. E. M. Anscombe, originally published in the journal Philosophy, vol. 33, no. 124.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to ethics:

Ethics is the branch of philosophy that examines right and wrong moral behavior, moral concepts and moral language. Various ethical theories pose various answers to the question "What is the greatest good?" and elaborate a complete set of proper behaviors for individuals and groups. Ethical theories are closely related to forms of life in various social orders.

Negative consequentialism is a version of the ethical theory consequentialism, which is "one of the major theories of normative ethics." Like other versions of consequentialism, negative consequentialism holds that moral right and wrong depend only on the value of outcomes. That is, for negative and other versions of consequentialism, questions such as "what should I do?" and "what kind of person should I be?" are answered only based on consequences. Negative consequentialism differs from other versions of consequentialism by giving greater weight in moral deliberations to what is bad than what is good.

References

  1. D. O. Thomas, Obedience to Conscience, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, New Series, Vol. 64 (1963 - 1964), pp. 243-258.
  2. Elizabeth Anscombe. (1958). "Modern Moral Philosophy". Philosophy 33, No 24.
  3. 1 2 3 Foot, Philippa. (2009). Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives. In S. M. Cahn, & P. Markie,Ethics: History, Theory, and Contemporary Issues (pp. 556-561). New York: Oxford University Press.
  4. John Stuart Mill (1863). Utilitarianism. Chapter 3: Of the Ultimate Sanction of the Principle of Utility.