Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Final Report: Section 10
Intro to Philosophy
Dr. Phil Oliver
Dec. 2, 2014
The Philosophy of Ethics
Ethics can be defined as the study of what is right and wrong in human behavior. Ethics can be divided into three separate categories: metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics. Metaethics asks where personal ethics come from. On the more practical side, normative ethics is the study of ethical action. Finally, applied ethics analyzes specific controversial issues. It is important to analyze each category of ethics in order fully define the philosophy of ethics.
Where do ethics come from? That is what metaethics analyzes. Metaphysical ethics look to discover whether moral values exist in a spirit-like entity or simply from human conventions. Nigel Warburton states in his book Philosophy the Basics, “Our whole conception of what morality is has been shaped by religious doctrine, and even atheistic ethical theories are heavily indebted to it.” For example, the Ten Commandments tells a Christian what is morally wrong and what are forbidden activities. Those who follow the word of the Bible will relate what is right and wrong to the Ten Commandments.
On the other hand, moral relativism argues that moral values are only human inventions. This splits into two subcategories: individual relativism and cultural relativism. The Internet Encyclopedia states that individual relativism is when an individual creates his or her own morals, whereas cultural relativism is what morals are created in the approval of one’s society. This relativism denies the spiritual take on ethics and believes that morals will be different among various societies.
Philosopher Thomas Hobbes believed that every individual was driven by selfish desires (Little History). Even though an action such as donating to the poor seems selfless, Hobbes would say that it is still selfish because it could be done for the way that act would be perceive him or her. This is called egoism, which states that human actions are motivated by self-interest. These various areas of ethics all fall under metaethics because they are analyzing where one’s morals come from: religion, society, self-interest, to name a few.
Furthermore, normative ethics are moral standards that regulate right and wrong conduct. The Golden Rule is a prime example of this. One does not want to be robbed, therefore he or she should not rob others, for example. If one is starving, he or should would want someone to feed him or her. In that case, that person should be feeding those who are starving. This area could even reflect back to the Ten Commandments. Virtue ethics, which is among normative ethics, suggests that there is less focus on learning rules, but instead puts emphasis on developing habits of good character, according to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. This theory also advises that one avoids bad character, such as lying or vanity. Duty theories suggest that people do things because it is their duty to do so, such as caring for their children. The Internet Encyclopedia states,
“These theories are sometimes called deontological, from the Greek word deon, or duty, in view of the foundational nature of our duty or obligation. They are also sometimes called nonconsequentialist since these principles are obligatory, irrespective of the consequences that might follow from our actions.”
Lasty, the rights theory relates to the duty theory because it is doing what is wrong due to one’s duty to another.
Furthermore, consequentialist theory allow people to weigh their moral responsibility by the consequences of actions. This theory then divides into three subdivisions: Ethical Egoism, Ethical Altruism, and Utilitarianism. Ethical Egoism states that an action is of good morals if it favors the person performing the action. On the other hand, Ethical Altruism is the opposite. It states that an action is of good morals only if it favors everyone but the person performing the action. Utilitarianism mixes them both together and states that an action is morally right if it more favorable to everyone. These are all rivals of one another and will stir up much debate among philosophers.
The last area of ethics is applied ethics which is the analysis of controversial issues. Two features must be present for something to be considered applied ethics. According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, an issue, first off, must be “be controversial in the sense that there are significant groups of people both for and against the issue at hand.” Secondly, it must be a “distinctly moral issue.” On controversial issues such as abortion, one would look back on areas of the consequentialist theory. If abortion, if one referring to Utilitarianism, is more beneficial to everyone, then it is morally right to have abortions. This area of ethics result in much debate among not only philosophers, but others, such as politicians because it overlaps with both morality and social policy.
All in all, the philosophy of ethics is very popular among philosophers. There is no one specific set of morals. This is because people get their morals from many different areas such as religion or society, as metaethics analyzes. Furthermore, normative ethics will look at the standards that regulate right and wrong. Treat others how you want to be treated. Lastly, applied ethics will analyze controversial issues of ethics.
A Little History of Philosophy. Nigel Warburton. Yale University Press. 2011. Print.
"Ethics." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web. 2 Dec. 2014. <http://www.iep.utm.edu/ethics/#H1>.
Warburton, Nigel. Philosophy: The Basics. London: Routledge, 1992. Print.