JSB175 Lecture Two Notes
Five Basic Ethical Systems (there are others…)
Religious Ethics – based on a wilful and rational God or gods. This God makes or prescribes
judgements of right and wrong.
Ethical Formalism – when each person lives up to his or her role and follows rules, then
society is good and in order. It is only the motive or intent that is important in making
decisions about how to act – the consequences of the act are not important.
Utilitarianism – that which is good is the action which contributes to the good of the
majority. All action should therefore be aimed at producing the greatest good for the
greatest number of people.
Egoism – that which is good is that which promotes one’s own personal happiness, well-
being or survival.
Ethical Relativism – that which is good changes with the changing circumstances of the
individual or the group. ‘Good’ is an individual decision – there are no universal moral laws.
On What Basis Should We Make Our Moral Decisions?
The Golden Rule? Respect?
Divine Command? Utility?
Ethical Theories (Systems of Moral Reasoning)
o Moral decisions should be based on the right motive or intent.
o Moral decisions should be based on the best outcome or consequence.
o Moral decisions should be based on good of character and virtue.
o Moral decisions should be based on what is best for you. Immanuel Kant
Possibly one of the most notable Deontologists of all time.
1724 – 1804 lived in Konigsberg (then Germany).
Religious upbringing, engaged in a lot of work for others.
Kant was born during the Enlightenment – the period in Western history when traditional authorities
(church, state) were being challenged by the emerging science and accompanying theories of human
rationality and free will.
Kant was committed to the power of reason.
From the Greek word ‘deon’ meaning duty and ‘logia’ meaning body of knowledge.
Deontologists believe that each person has a duty to treat others with fairness and respect.
For Kant, duty was confined to laws which have universal applicability under all circumstances.
Thus, Kant’s views have been criticised for being too strict and unreasonable.
o For example, as far as Kant is concerned, lying is not okay under any means whatsoever. This included anything
from a white lie such as ‘that dress looks good on you’ to refusing to tell a serial killer where your children are
located so that he can then murder them.
Kant believed that in order to determine whether or not an act was morally correct and should be
committed we must first ask ourselves if the act has universal applicability. If I want to sleep with a co-
worker whilst married, I must first ask if it would be okay for every married person to sleep with their co-
workers. If the answer is no, then I must not commit the act myself as it would be morally incorrect.
Means vs. Ends
A means is an action taken to achieve an objective. The objective is also called the end.
For Deontologists such as Kant, you cannot ever use another person as a means to an end. Rather, you
should treat every individual as the end within themselves.
By treating a person as a means to an end, we are essentially using them and in doing so, disrespecting
them. This is unethical.
For Consequentialists however, it is acceptable to treat others as means to an end if the end is for the
Fundamental Aspects of Kant’s Approach Priority of what is right over what is good.
Duty – he believed that individuals have the capacity to act apart from their wants and desires and should do
so when duty requires.
Respect – he believed that we are all rational human beings and are moral agents. People should therefore
be treated as equals and as the end, not as a means to an end.
Kant believed in maxims – that is, subjective general rules that guide all actions
He maintained that all actions whether moral or not have maxims. In other words, the