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Ethics and Philosophical Ethics

Abstract: Overviews of the notes on the readings from philosophical ethics are listed for reference.

Even though philosophy has not been able to prove conclusively the existence of God, still, the related question of how we ought to lead our lives is a philosophical question of some gravity.

If an ethics problem is thought of as a situation which has the potential to help or harm other persons (including ourselves), then determining how we should act is partly based on empirical factors.

In philosophy, our task is to examine to what extent our ethics can be based on reason alone. Simply because different cultures have different religions, it does not follow logically that they should have different ethical standards.

Online Notes in this Section:

Some Varieties of Free Will and Determinism. As a precursor and a background to our study of ethics, some of the common philosophical and theological doctrines concerning the extent to which persons have choices are briefly characterized.

Human Beings Are Determined. Existence as the unity of God and Nature entails that human beings do not have free will and that the world is entirely good.

The Will to Believe. James argues that when some hypotheses of ultimate concern arise, if we do not choose, we lose any possibility for meaningful encounters because our faith pragmatically shapes future outcomes.

Human Beings Are Selfish. Glaucon argues that all persons are egoistic and selfish; the only reason people do not always do the unjust thing is the fear of being caught and harmed.

Egoism Is Mistaken. Psychological egoism, the view that people act solely in their own interest, is defined and shown not to be a meaningful ethical philosophy.

Ethics Are Relative. The objectivity of moral judgments cannot be proven; moral judgments are not arbitrary even though they are based on emotion.

Objectivity of Moral Judgments. Ethical emotivism and consensus gentium as a basis for ethics leads to contradictions. Moral judgments cannot neither be based on popular appeal nor feelings.

The Life of Excellence. Aristotle's ethics is a common sense ethics built on naturalism and self-realization.

The Greatest Good. Bentham supports the principle of utility with the hedonistic or felicific calculus: a method or calculating the right thing to do by means of a quantitative scale.

Slave and Master Morality. Master morality creates its own values and stands beyond good and evil; slave morality values kindness, humility, and sympathy. The master transcends the mediocrity of the common person.

Existential Ethics. Through our choices we create ourselves in accordance with what we think a person ought to be.

Further Reading:
  • Classic Texts in Ethics Links to philosophical works in ethics from Lawrence M. Hinman at the University of San Diego.
  • Ethics A summary overview of metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics from the Wikipedia.
  • [An Ethics] Glossary Many of the key ethical terms and concepts are concisely defined by Lawrence M. Hinman. The entries are drawn from his book Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory. The definitions are recommended for use in this course.
  • Ethics Updates Extensive resources on ethical theory, applied ethics, and other material.
  • Sixth Form Ethics Extensive notes and resources on ethics, ethical issues, and ethical philosophers produced by the staff at Arnewood School's Religious Studies program.
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Reverence for Life does not allow the scholar to live for his science alone, even if he is very useful to the community in so doing. It does not permit the artist to exist only for his art, even if he gives inspiration to many by its means. It refuses to let the business man imagine that he fulfils all legitimate demands in the course of his business activities. It demands from all that they should sacrifice a portion of their own lives for others. --Albert Schweitzer, Civilization and Ethics, trans. Charles Thomas Campion (London: A & C Black: 1946), 269.

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