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Introduction to Ethics

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Title: Introduction to Ethics


1
Introduction to Ethics
  • January 23, 2008
  • Robert Streiffer, Ph. D.
  • University of Wisconsin Madison
  • Medical History and Bioethics, School of Medicine
    and Public Health
  • Philosophy, College of Letters and Sciences
  • Affiliate Appointments
  • Agricultural and Applied Economics, College of
    Agricultural and Life Sciences
  • Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
  • rstreiffer_at_wisc.edu / http//philosophy.wisc.edu/s
    treiffer/

2
Overview
  • The Parts of Ethics
  • Metaethics
  • Ethical Theory
  • Applied Ethics
  • Ethical Theory
  • Value Theory
  • Virtue Theory
  • Theories of Rights Action
  • Theories of Right Action
  • Consequentialism
  • Deontology
  • Virtue Ethics
  • Lessons

3
The Parts of Ethics
  • Metaethics
  • Ethical Theory
  • Applied Ethics
  • Examples of moral properties moral and immoral
    right and wrong just and unjust merciful and
    cruel fair and unfair morally required and
    morally prohibited
  • A moral judgment a judgment to the effect that
    some person, institution, action, practice, or
    state of affairs has or does not have a moral
    property
  • Moral assessment trying to find out for
    ourselves whether or not some moral proposition
    is true

4
Metaethics
  • Metaethics seeks to step back and reflect on the
    general nature of moral assessment itself.
  • Is it ever possible to succeed in moral
    assessment?
  • In what ways is moral assessment similar to
    scientific assessment?
  • Are there always reasons to care about the
    results of moral assessment?
  • Do the results of moral assessment necessarily
    depend on contingent details of the culture in
    which the assessment is made or on the contingent
    details of the culture in which the activity
    being assessed takes place?

5
Ethical Theory
  • Ethical theory seeks to engage in moral
    assessment, but at a very high level of
    generality.
  • What is the basis of all value?
  • Is there a fundamental principle of right action,
    from which all of our duties can be derived?
  • What marks a character trait as a virtue?

6
Applied Ethics
  • Applied ethics also seeks to engage in moral
    assessment, but at a detailed enough level to
    have explicit implications for our day to day
    activities.
  • When is it permissible to alter a research photo?
  • Is it permissible to use animals in harmful
    research?
  • Are researches morally required to share data
    created with public funds?

7
Applied Ethics Research Ethics
  • Research ethics critically reflecting on
    ethical questions that researchers face, in their
    capacity as researchers (Regan)
  • Research ethics is a part of applied ethics, and
    so most of what we are doing will be applied
    ethics.
  • However, applied ethics often draws on the other
    parts of ethics as well.

8
Ethical Theory
  • Value Theory What has intrinsic value?
  • A Theory of Right Action Which actions are
    morally permissible, which are morally required,
    and which are morally prohibited?
  • Virtue Theory What character traits make a
    person a virtuous person (doctor, researcher,
    etc.)?

9
Traditional Theories of Value
  • Pleasure
  • Happiness
  • Preference Satisfaction
  • Objective List Views

10
Theories of Right Action
  • Some cases will help illustrate some differences
    between the two main ethical traditions about
    right action and how to reason using them and
    about them.

11
Right Action Case 1
The Scarce Drug Case
12
Consequentialism
  • Consequentialism The right action is the one
    that has the best overall consequences viz., the
    one that produces the highest overall amount of
    intrinsic value.
  • Utilitarianism The right action is the one that
    maximizes the overall amount of individual
    welfare.
  • Utilitarianism Consequentialism Individual
    welfare is the only thing intrinsically valuable.

13
Utilitarianism
  • Utilitarianism The right action is the one that
    maximizes the overall amount of individual
    welfare.
  • Proposed by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John
    Stuart Mill (1806-1873).

14
Counterexample to Utilitarianism
  • Utilitarianism The right action is the one that
    maximizes the overall amount of individual
    welfare.
  • Mill says In all ages of speculation one of the
    strongest obstacles to the reception of the
    doctrine of utility or happiness as the criterion
    of right and wrong has been drawn from the idea
    of justice.

15
Right Action Case 2
The Transplant Case
16
Options
  • Remember that Utilitarianism Consequentialism
    Individual welfare is the only thing
    intrinsically valuable.
  • So we have only three options
  • Reject the claim that it is wrong to cut up
    Bloggs in the Transplant Case
  • Reject Consequentialism
  • Reject the claim that individual welfare is the
    only thing intrinsically valuable

17
Option 3
  • Reject the claim that individual welfare is the
    only thing intrinsically valuable
  • Other things being equal, killing one person is
    intrinsically worse than allowing even five
    people to die.
  • Compare failing to give aid vs. sending poison to
    a famine aid victim

18
Right Action Case 3
The Trolley Case
19
Deontology
  • Immanuel Kant (1724 1804) there are rules that
    places constraints on how we may treat ourselves
    and other people in the pursuit of our own
    interest or in the pursuit of the common good.

20
The Formula of the End in Itself
  • Act in such a way that you always treat
    humanity, whether in your own person or in the
    person of any other, never simply as a means, but
    always at the same time as an end.

21
Right Action Case 1
The Scarce Drug Case
22
Right Action Case 2
The Transplant Case
23
Right Action Case 3
The Trolley Case
24
Right Action Case 4
  • Combined Scarce Drug/Transplant Case Bloggs has
    a mild case of pneumonia. If you refuse to give
    him antibiotics, he will die, and he could then
    be used as an organ donor to save five people.

25
Right Action Case 5
The Loop Case
26
Theories of Right Action
  • Consequentialism The right action is the one
    that has the best overall consequences viz., the
    one that produces the highest overall amount of
    intrinsic value. Utilitarianism is a kind of
    Consequentialism.
  • Deontology An action is right only if it
    complies with the moral rules that place
    constraints on how we may treat people in the
    pursuit of the overall good. Individual rights
    are a paradigm example of a deontological
    constraint.

27
Lessons Ethical Reasoning
  • A lot of ethical reasoning consists in trying to
    find general moral principles that are consistent
    with a wide range of clear cases, and then
    bringing those principles to bear on more
    controversial cases.
  • You can use clear cases to suggest plausible
    general moral principle, which can then be tested
    against other clear cases.
  • You can use analogies to clear cases to try to
    establish your own view about a particular case.

28
Lessons Theory Helps
  • Even though none of the theories are without
    difficulties, the concepts employed by the
    theories are obviously crucial to ethical
    reasoning individual welfare, the greatest good,
    respect for persons, etc.
  • Identifying when an author is appealing to a kind
    of theory can tip you off as to the likely
    weaknesses of the reasoning.

29
Lessons Typical Weaknesses
  • Typical weaknesses in consequentialist reasoning
  • Ignores rights
  • Ignores how benefits and burdens are distributed
  • Overly narrow conception of what is valuable
  • Imposes excessively strong duties on others
  • Fails to impose important constraints on peoples
    actions

30
Lessons Typical Weaknesses
  • Typical weaknesses in deontological reasoning
  • Treats rights as if they were absolute
  • Fails to explain the exact nature and scope of
    the right being appealed to
  • Fails to justify the claim that people actually
    have that right

31
Other Theories of Right Action
  • Egoism The right action is the one that
    maximizes the long-term satisfaction of my own
    interests viz., the one that has the best
    overall consequences for me
  • Virtue Ethics The right action is the one that
    would be performed by a virtuous person (doctor,
    researcher, graduate student, etc.).
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