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Ch0 Ethical Foundations


Altruism: You sacrifice to benefit others. Egoism: Maximize benefit or minimize harm ... Altruism. An unselfish regard or devotion to the welfare. of others. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Ch0 Ethical Foundations

Ch0 Ethical Foundations

"is not intended to change peoples basic set of
ethical values, but rather to assist users of
computers and data communications in clarifying
and applying their ethical values as they
encounter new, complex situations where it may
not be obvious how ethical values may apply or
where the appropriate application of one of
these values may conflict with other ethical
Parker, Donn, Susan Swope, and Bruce Baker.
Ethical Conflicts in information and Computer
Science, Technology, and Business. QED
Information Sciences, Inc. Wellesley,
Massachusetts, 1990, p1.
Ethics is the study of what it means to "do the
right thing." It is the study of ways to
distinguish right from wrong. Ethical theory is
based on the assumption that people are rational
and make free choices. If ethical rules are
followed and they are good ones then they tend
to make our lives better.
There are often very practical reasons for
behaving ethically. Ethics has to do with
making a principle-based choice between
competing alternatives. In the simplest ethical
dilemmas, this choice is between right and
wrong. Choosing right from wrong usually is not
very difficult, but right from right is an
entirely different matter.
Ethical principles are basically ideas of
behavior that are commonly acceptable to
society. We want to make decisions based
upon well-reasoned, defensible ethical principles
and avoid the problems associated with only
relying on intuition or personal preference.
Webster Says
Moral, Ethical, Virtuous, Righteous, and Noble
mean conforming to a standard of what is right
and good. Moral implies conforming to established
sanctioned codes or accepted notions of right
and wrong. Ethical may suggest the involvement of
more difficult or subtle questions of rightness,
fairness, or equity. Virtuous implies the
possession of manifestations of moral excellence
in character. Righteous stresses guiltlessness or
blamelessness and often suggests the
sanctimonious. Noble implies moral eminence and
freedom from anything petty, mean, or dubious in
conduct or character.
Voluntary/Ethical Acts
When we talk about right or wrong acts we are
always talking about voluntary acts. Here we
define an act to be voluntary if the person
doing the act could have acted differently if he
had chosen to. (Note all ethical theories deal
with voluntary acts.)
View all standards and judgments as relating to
a particular context with no general validity
outside that sphere. (When in Rome ..., Who's
to say?, It is all a matter of opinion, That may
be good for you but ..., If __ doesn't care it
shouldn't bother you. ) To the relativist all
moral evaluations are arbitrary preferences,
depending entirely upon the individual, the
situation, the culture, and the times.
In the past, there was little room for
relativism if you knew that the values you
possessed were universal and absolute because
your society or culture or religion had the
absolute right ones because they had obtained
them from the true god or gods. And then we
learned that the earth was not the center of the
universe and that there were other peoples and
1492 Columbus discovers the new world. 1543
Copernicus earth not center of universe. 1577
Kepler discovers a supernova. 1641 Rene
Descartes, the father of modern philosophy,
observes that much of what he has been told has
turned out to be false. 1517 Martin Luther starts
Protestant Reformation which leads to war
1618-1648. 1715? Leibniz proposes universal
language to be used to find common ground in
conflicting religious and philosophical beliefs.
Sources for Relativism
1. Tolerance There is a desire to practice
tolerance, to take an open-minded approach
towards other peoples ideas. 2. Freedom of
choice Maximize freedom of choice. If there are
no objective truths and correct moral principles
then our range of choices is considerably
Sources for Relativism
3. Intellectual uncertainty According to the
scientific attitude we should constantly analyze
and criticize our assumptions. 4. Awareness of
diversity We are acutely aware of the
multiplicity of societies in the world all with
their own set of beliefs.
Looking at Relativism
Vulgar Relativism is the doctrine that no
point of view about values is objectively better
than any other. The ancient Greeks refuted this
position by pointing out that claiming that the
best view about values was that there was no
best view was a contradiction.
Looking at Relativism
The claim that whatever a person believes to be
true is true to him leads to absurdity (a square
has three sides). We can't even argue that
relativism promotes tolerance because by
advocating the value of tolerance we give this
value objective worth and deny the relative
But if
But if relativism of values is interpreted to
mean that all values are good merely for
particular persons are groups or from
particular points of view, (not for all persons
and all points of view) implying you cant find
universal values because of an inability to rise
above all particular perspectives, then judgments
of good or evil, right or wrong, reduce to
reflections of personal view.
The Search
To refute real relativism, not the vulgar
kind, one needs to show how one can rise above
limited points of view to establish the
validity of some universal values and to say what
those values might be. In the past this was
easy because all that was needed was an appeal
to religious or other authorities. But now those
often conflict.
Social Contract Theories
Sentimentalist David Hume Adam Smith
Hobbesian Thomas Hobbes
Ideal John Locke Rousseau
Teleologism Consequentialism
Deontologism Formalism
Utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham John Stewart Mill
Kantianism Immanuel Kant
Sentimentalist Alternative
Ethical view attributed to David Hume
(1711-1776), his friend Adam Smith (1723-1790)
who was also know for work in economics, and
others, according to which ethical and other
judgments about right and wrong, virtue and
vice, are based upon sentiments of approval or
disapproval that are rooted in common human
sentiments of sympathy and benevolence.
Sentimentalist Alternative
Hume talks of common human virtues, such
as sympathy, beneficence, friendliness, kindness,
integrity, honesty, gentleness, and
cheerfulness, and has no doubt that all
right-thinking persons would prefer these
virtues and shun vices such as cruelty,
treachery, and dishonesty, because virtues are
socially beneficial and vices, harmful.
Sentimentalist Alternative
Adam Smith authored a book entitled A Theory of
the Moral Sentiments, in which he traced the
roots of morality to common human sentiments of
sympathy and benevolence. In economic theory he
argues for the benefits to society of
individuals pursuing their own economic
self-interest. He also felt that the human
sentiments of sympathy and beneficence would
curb the dangers of the marketplace.
Deontologism (Formalism)
Here we judge rightness by looking at the
behavior itself and not its consequences.
(Reason based ethics) Deontology is the study
of moral obligations. The name Deontology is
derived from the Greek word deon which means
Deontologism Formalism
Deontologism or Formalism can be defined as the
theory that we should live in accordance with
principles of right conduct. The rightness or
wrongness of actions is thought to lie outside
of ourselves and not in any subjective attitude
we might take. Certain acts are right to
do, others are wrong, and we are obliged to
pursue the one and avoid the other.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Kant exerted a profound influence on
philo- sophic thinking throughout the nineteenth
and well into the twentieth century. He was very
ordinary in his personal life, living a precise,
methodical existence as a professor of logic and
metaphysics. He never married, never traveled
more than forty miles from Königsberg, never
varied his daily routine, and when the King of
Prussia asked him not to publish anymore
"alarming" thoughts on religion he stopped and
started publishing again only after the king
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Kant argued that for an action to have moral
content it had to be done out of an obligation
(duty) to follow moral principles. His original
works are serious deep reading. Practical
reason is the tool we can use to gain insight in
ethics and moral law. Reason about what makes
sense and act accordingly.
Kants Categorical Imperative
(First formulation) Act only on that maxim which
you can at the same time will that it should
become a universal law for everyone to follow.
Note This can be viewed as a restatement of
the Biblical instruction Do unto others as you
would have them do unto you.
Kants Categorical Imperative
(Second formulation) Act so that you always use
humanity in your own person, as well as in the
person of every other, never as a means, but at
the same time as an end Note To treat someone
as an end is to respect their desires and
purposes, to treat them as means is to use them
for ones own purposes.
We will sometimes see Kants two formulations
of his categorical imperative expressed as It
is absolutely necessary for a person to treat
others equally (consistency) and with respect.
Consistency If an action is not right
for everyone then it is not right for
anyone. Respect Treat people with respect.
Consequentialism Teleologism
Here we judge the rightness of an action by the
outcomes. Altruism You sacrifice to benefit
others. Egoism Maximize benefit or minimize
harm to yourself. Utilitarianism Seek maximum
benefit for the group.
An unselfish regard or devotion to the welfare
of others. We will refer to altruistic acts or
even altruistic lives. Putting others first
with no expectation of reward for the act.
Psychological Egoism
Psychological Egoism argues that to pursue ones'
own advantage is a psychological law of nature
and because of this there is no choice to be
made. An interesting consequence of this thought
is that since moral actions are motivated by
concern for others (and we can't do that) that
moral judgments must be totally irrelevant.
Ethical Egoism
Ethical Egoism maintains that whether or not
people do act only for themselves nevertheless
they should. The best known proponents of this
position is Machiavelli who wrote a handbook on
manipulating people out of self interest (The
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Mill
(1806-1873) "the greatest amount of happiness
for the greatest number of persons." Everyone's
happiness is important including one's
own. Mill- "in the golden rule of Jesus of
Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of the
ethics of utility. 'To do as you would be done
by,' and 'To love your neighbor as yourself,'
constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian
Bentham worked for prison reform and revising
the crime-penalty structure. Mill was
politically active and helped take power away
from the landed gentry. He also introduced
legislation for women's voting rights. "A
sacrifice which does not increase the sum total
of happiness, is considered as wasted." Their
aim was to reduce the amount of misery for
mankind and increase the sum of human happiness.
A stakeholder is any person or organization with
a stake in the decision. Utilitarian Ethical
analysis should result in a defensible ethical
decision that on balance does the best for all
stakeholders. (note that stakeholders are not
guaranteed equal outcomes or even positive
Calculus of pleasures (Bentham)
hedon unit of pleasure or pain.(Bentham
def.) hedonism The doctrine that pleasure or
happiness is the sole or chief good in
life. hedonistic calculus a method of
determining the rightness of an action by
balancing the pleasures and pains it would
Calculus of pleasures (Bentham)
The seven factors for measuring
pleasure Intensity Why not have pleasures as
strong as possible? Duration If it's good
longer is better. Certainty or Uncertainty If
you know you are going to like it give more
points than if you are not sure.
Calculus of pleasures (Bentham)
Propinquity or Remoteness How long do I have to
wait? Fruitfulness Will the following sensation
be of the same kind? Purity Will the following
sensation be of the opposite kind? Extent How
many people are affected?
Act vs. Rule Utilitarianism
Act Utilitarianism Every act should be evaluated
in terms of the greatest happiness principle.
(Bentham) Rule Utilitarianism The greatest
happiness principle should be used to establish
general rules of behavior. (Mill)
Social Contract Theories
We will look at two types of contemporary social
contract theories, Hobbesian which comes from the
work of Thomas Hobbes and Ideal which comes in
large part from the work of Locke and Rousseau.
We will pick up John Rawls work (also ideal)
when we apply ethics to the question How Good
is Good Enough?
Social Contract Theories
Hobbesian social contract theories impose only
the requirement that the contractors rationally
seek their own enlightened self- interest. Ideal
social contract theories impose certain prior
constraints upon the contractors designed to
ensure that the agreement will be fair.
We Got Problems
By now we have a number of good thoughts by a
number of outstanding thinkers but there are
problems with each approach. With the
sentimentalist alternative we get to different
absolutes depending on the culture. Kants
always follow the rules puts us in situations
where actions such as lying to save a life
would be viewed as wrong. With
Utilitarianism does it become right to take money
forcibly from someone who doesnt need it as
Problems/Quest for wisdom
With the social contract theories they just
simply dont all the time and we get things
such as wars. Professor Kane (Univ. of Texas
Austin) offers us a promising approach to
discerning objective truths. He views the
approach as a means to solve a number of the
problems we have raised and while not an
approach which will yield final answers will
move us closer to final answers.
Consider the Sciences
In the sciences, openness and objectivity
require consideration of theories opposed to
ones own and restricting undue bias in favor
of ones own. We use openness and objectivity
in order to limit narrowness of vision and to
search for the objective truth about
nature. We can do this.
After really being forced into a position
of realizing that you use your point of view
on what is right or wrong will be limited by
your culture and history and the only supporting
argument you can give for your point of
view uses your point of view and since
everyone else is in the same situation then a
common response is openness/tolerance to other
points of view. This thought can bring us back
to vulgar relativism and the concept of no
objective truth. But as Professor Kane argues
this also can be used to move us away from
We cant be open and tolerant of everyone. You
notice someone being attacked and you can do
something even if all that is is to go for help.
Then you can respect the views of the attacker
or the victim, but not both. This is break down
of Kanes moral sphere where moral sphere is
the sphere in which every way of life can be
respected. You cant respect all views but you
can try to restore and preserve conditions in
which ideal respect for all can be followed
again. You choose. Openness has led us to
conclude some ways of life are not worthy of our
support or protection.
Now What?
When there is a guilty party, ie. someone who has
broken the moral sphere you punish the guilty
(not the innocent) using minimal force. When the
moral sphere breaks down and no one is at fault
negotiate. Openness has brought us to a way of
finding truth and value and brings us back to
treat other people as you would want to be
treated and dont kill, dont lie, dont steal,
Fundamental Moral Principle?
Confucianism --- Sixth
Century B.C. What you don't want done to
yourself, don't do to others. Buddhism
--- Fifth Century B.C.
Hurt not others with that which pains
thyself. Jainism
--- Fifth Century B.C. In happiness
and suffering, in joy and grief, we should
regard all creatures as we regard our own self,
and should refrain from inflicting upon others
such injury as would appear undesirable to us if
inflicted upon ourselves.
Fundamental Moral Principle?
Zoroastrianism --- Fifth
Century B.C. Do not do unto others all that
which is not well for oneself. Classical
Philosophy Plato --- Fourth Century B.C.
May I do to others as I would that they should
do unto me. Hinduism Mahabharata ---
Third Century B.C. Do naught to others which
if done to thee would cause thee pain.
Fundamental Moral Principle?
Judaism Rabbi Hillel --- First
Century B.C. What you don't want done to
yourself, don't do to others. Christianity
Jesus of Nazareth --- First Century A.D. Do
unto others as you would have them do unto
you. Sikhism ---
Sixteenth Century A.D. Treat others as thou
wouldst be treated thyself.
Comments on Golden Rule
The negative or dont do versions are often
referred to as the silver rule. There are
always two interpretations of the Golden Rule.
In the narrower interpretation you do unto
others as if they shared, or would share your
values. The wider interpretation is that one
should allow others to pursue their values, even
if those values are different from ones own.
Informal Guidelines
1. The Mom test 2. Shushers 3. The TV test 4.
The Market test 5. The Smell test
Formal Guidelines
1. Corporate policy 2. Corporate or
professional codes of ethics 3. The Golden Rule
Too Little Time!
We have not covered the evolution of ethics.
What we have done is a very cursory (and
shallow) attempt at laying a foundation for
talking about ethical decisions. We will use
the papers you write as a means of expanding
our understanding of the evolution of ethical
thought and the people who have contributed to
this evolution. But there is really too little
time to do this right.
Primary Sources
The Quest for Meaning Value, Ethics, and the
Modern Experience a course presented by
Professor Robert H. Kane of UT-Austin. A Gift
of Fire a text by Sara Baase published by
Prentice Hall.