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Philosophy 2803 – Lecture II


Philosophy 2803 Lecture II Introduction to Ethical Theory Why Survey Ethical Theory At All? Different Aims in Different Courses In a course on ethical theory In ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Philosophy 2803 – Lecture II

Philosophy 2803 Lecture II
  • Introduction to Ethical Theory

Why Survey Ethical Theory At All?
  • Different Aims in Different Courses
  • In a course on ethical theory
  • In order to investigate what the correct theory
  • In a course like this
  • In order to acquire some tools to work with
  • The survey identifies a number of perspectives
    that should be taken into account when
    considering ethically difficult cases

Relativism vs. Objectivism Again
  • Last week, we primarily considered moral
  • Remember relativism is not just a descriptive
    theory. Its a normative theory.
  • It claims not just that peoples moral beliefs
    differ, but that all there is to the moral facts
    is the beliefs held in a particular culture.
  • Whats right what a culture believes is right
  • This week well focus on objectivism

Moral Objectivism
  • 'Moral facts' are like 'physical facts'.
  • What the facts are is independent of what anyone
  • They have to be discovered like the laws of
  • Discovery may be difficult (again, compare to
  • Note Believing in objectivism doesnt mean you
    know what the moral facts are

Why Focus on Objectivism?
  • A glib answer
  • Our culture places importance on justifying our
    moral beliefs.
  • It says we should, morally speaking, defend those
  • As such, even if relativism is true, it seems
    were morally obligated to defend our beliefs as
    though there were objective facts to uncover

What Are the Objective Facts?
  • Suppose for the moments that objectivism is true.
    What are the objective facts of morality?
  • Three Candidates
  • Consequentialism
  • Deontological Theories
  • Principilism
  • See text for other examples

Case 1
  • X, an emergency room physician, happens upon a
    roadside accident. A car has crashed leaving 4
    people seriously hurt
  • After calling 911, X begins examining the
    injuries of the 4 people
  • All are in danger of dying if they dont receive
    immediate attention.
  • A quick examination reveals that one person, K,
    will require so much attention the other three
    may well die before he finishes treating K
  • If K is left until last, his life is in serious
    danger, but X will likely be able to save the
    other three

  • Consequentialists maintain that whether an action
    is morally right or wrong depends on the action's
  • In any situation, the morally right thing to do
    is whatever will have the best consequences.
  • E.g., save 3 people, rather than 1
  • Consequentialist theories are sometimes called
    teleological theories.

What Kind of Consequences?
  • Consequentialism isn't very informative unless
    it's combined with a theory about what the best
    consequences are.
  • E.g., Creedism
  • consequentialism the theory that consequences
    should be assessed in terms of how they reflect
    on the career of Creed
  • Good for Creed good consequences

  • Utilitarianism is the most influential variety of
  • The 'Founders' of Utilitarianism
  • Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
  • John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
  • The Basis of Utilitarianism  ask what has
    intrinsic value and assess the consequences of an
    action in terms of intrinsically valuable things.

Jeremy Bentham
Intrinsic vs. Instrumental Value
  • Instrumental Value - a thing has only
    instrumental value if it is only valuable for
    what it may get you
  • e.g., money
  • Intrinsic Value - a thing has intrinsic value if
    you value it for itself
  • i.e., youd value it even if it brought you
    nothing else
  • It may, however, also possess instrumental value
  • What, if anything, has intrinsic value?

What Has Intrinsic Value?
  • What Utilitarians Think Is Intrinsically
    Valuable  happiness
  • Actually, not all utilitarians agree that
    happiness is quite the right way of putting
  • Other suggestions include satisfaction,
    well-being, pleasure. (See text)
  • Each variation yields a slightly different theory
  • For now, the general approach is what matters

The Greatest Happiness Principle
  • "actions are right in proportion as they tend to
    promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce
    the reverse of happiness. (John Stuart Mill)
  • In other words, judge an action by the total
    amount of happiness and unhappiness it creates
  • Note this means the total happiness (and
    unhappiness) of everyone affected

Act vs. Rule Utilitarianism
  • Notice that the GHP is a little vague. 
  • it's not clear whether Mill means
  • (i) an action is right if this sort of action
    tends to promote happiness or
  • (ii) an action is right if this particular action
    will promote happiness.
  • If you believe in version i, you're a Rule
  • If you believe in version ii, you're an Act

Case 2
  • X has inoperable lung cancer that is unresponsive
    to chemotherapy radiation therapy
  • X will most likely die within one year
  • Xs physician believes X could not handle this
  • Xs physician decides to lie about the diagnosis
    for a while in order to buy X a little more time

  • 'Duty Based' Ethics
  • Deontologists deny that what ultimately matters
    is an action's consequences. 
  • What matters is the kind of action it is.
  • What matters is doing our duty.
  • Identify principle(s) from which our duties arise

Kinds of Deontological Theory
  • There are many kinds of deontological theory
  • e.g., The Golden Rule' - "Do unto others as
    you'd have them do unto you."
  • Deontological theories may be identifed as monist
    or pluralist depending on the number of
    fundamental principles of duty the theory
  • Monist 1
  • Pluralist more than 1
  • See text for examples of pluralism

  • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is the most influential
  • Rejecting Consequentialism
  • "A good will is good not because of what it
    effects or accomplishes." Even if by bad luck a
    good person never accomplishes anything much, the
    good will would "like a jewel, still shine by its
    own light as something which has its full value
    in itself."

The Categorical Imperative
  • Kant claims that all our actions should be judged
    according to a rule he calls the Categorical
  • First Version  "Act only according to that maxim
    i.e., rule whereby you can at the same time
    will that it become a universal law."
  • E.g., telling a lie whenever you need to borrow
    money is morally wrong because this sort of act
    is not universalizable. 
  • If everyone acted this way, the whole practice of
    promising to repay a loan would collapse.

The Second Version of the C.I.
  • Second Version (The practical imperative)
    Act in such a way that you treat humanity,
    whether in your own person or in the person of
    another, always at the same time as an end and
    never simply as a means.
  • Note Kant is a monist since he thinks both
    versions of the C.I. ultimately say the same
  • This means there are certain ways we must not
    treat people (no matter how much utility might be
    produced by treating them in those ways)
  • E.g., dont lie to a patient

The Second Principle Medical Ethics
  • The second principle has been very influential in
    medical ethics
  • A medical reading of this principle
  • it is necessary to treat people as autonomous
    agents capable of making their own decision

  • A central element in many deontological theories
    is the idea of autonomy
  • Autonomy self rule
  • Autonomous decisions are ones which you make for
    yourself for your own reasons (ideally, your own
    well-informed reasons)
  • By respecting your autonomous decisions, we
    respect you as an end in itself

Group Work
  • 1. List the strengths of deontology
  • 2. List the weaknesses of deontology
  • 3. List the strengths of consequentialism
  • 4. List the weaknesses of consequentialism

Strengths of Consequentialism
  • Practical, Results-oriented View
  • Relatively clear how to make ethical judgments
  • simply reflect on consequences

Weaknesses of Consequentialism
  • How can we know all the consequences of an
  • How can we compare utility from person to person?
  • Do we include all generations?  All species?
  • Will utilitarianism lead us to repugnant
  • In theory, any kind of action could be justified
    if the consequences of the situation work out
    just right.

Strengths of Deontology
  • Sets clear moral boundaries
  • Some things just cant be done
  • Possibility of multiple principles allows for
  • Only on pluralist versions of deontology

Weaknesses of Deontology
  • If we dont rely on consequences for moral
    justification, then can we find a convincing case
    for identifying basic moral principles?
  • Deontologys basic approach is not as simple as
  • Deontology can seem overly legalistic
  • i.e., too focused on rules
  • too inflexible

The Point
  • Considerations raised by both theories are worth
    taking seriously
  • Well close by considering a theory that tries to
    encompass both principilism

  • Principilism attempts to have it both ways
  • Popularized by Beauchamp and Childress
  • Principles of Biomedical Ethics (1979)
  • The Georgetown Mantra
  • Now the dominant theory in medical ethics

Four Principles
  • 1. Autonomy
  • 2. Beneficence
  • 3. Non-maleficence
  • 4. Justice
  • The text might call this a pluralist
    deontological theory since it endorses a number
    of fundamental principles
  • I disagree. Conditions 2 3 identify this as a
    hybrid of consequentialism and deontology

The Principles
  • 1. Autonomy
  • The autonomy of patients (families, co-workers,
    etc.) must be respected
  • 2. Beneficence
  • Help others (i.e., benefit them)

The Principles
  • 3. Non-maleficence
  • Do no harm
  • 4. Justice
  • fair, equitable, and appropriate treatment in
    light of what is due or owed (Beauchamp
    Childress, 2001, 226)
  • Treating like cases alike

Assessing Principilism
  • Note while this is the orthodox theory in
    medicine these days, its not the be all and end
    all of medical ethics
  • Principilisms virtue takes consequences and
    principles seriously
  • Principilisms vice how do we balance
    consequences and principles when push comes to
  • This is a question well confront numerous times
    in this class

The Point (Again)
  • As noted, we will not attempt to settle the
    question of which ethical theory is correct
  • Think of the theories discussed tonight as
    identifying viewpoints that must be considered
    when taking a stand on issues in medical ethics
  • We must be prepared to consider challenges to our
    views and arguments from these viewpoints