October 22, 2013
Introduction to Ethics
- We will study three ethical theories and the answers they give to an important question
- What comes to mind when you hear “ethics”?
o Codes of conduct
o Human rights
- Applied vs. Theoretical Ethics
o Applied ethics
Involves the application of ethical principles to moral problems
o Theoretical ethics
Involves the study of the principles themselves
o We will be engaged in theoretical ethics; our reflections will be distantly related to
ordinary moral thought and practice
- Theoretical (philosophical) ethics can study many issues
o What is the proper focus of moral evaluation?
o What is the proper response to moral sceptics?
o What is the meaning of terms like “right” and “duty”?
o What makes a life good for the person living it?
o How impartial must morality be?
- The broad question we will be examining
o What is the source of moral value?
That is, suppose something is morally good- say, an action or a person.
The question we will be considering is: what is it about that action or
person that makes it or her/him good?
The three moral theories we will be studying give very different and
incompatible answers to those questions
Consider the Following
- The idea expressed by Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov o If you have no god, what crime is there to speak of?
o Jean-Paul Sartre’s paraphrase of this passage
If god does not exist, then everything is permissible
The Major Claim of the First Moral Theory We Will be Studying
- Many people think that ethics depends on god
- We will explore the case for basing morality on god; there are two broad stages to our
1. We will begin by trying to clarify the meaning of claim that ethics depends on
2. Then, we will produce reasons for taking it to be true
A Danger Lurks
- But how can we know that god exists?
- For present purposes, we will assume that god does exist. We will return to this when we
look at the case against divine command ethics
What does or could it mean?
- What does or could it mean to say that ethics depends on god?
- Here’s one loose characterisation
o Things are morally good or bad, obligatory or prohibited, solely because of God’s
will or commands
- A second, stricter characterisation
o The moral status of at least some and perhaps all normative entities (acts,
events, character traits, etc.) depends on what god wills or commands
- More formally, we might use the following schema to formulate the idea that morality
depends upon god
o Moral status M stands in dependency relation D to divine act A
If that’s our understanding of what we may call the divine command
theory of ethics, then to understand it properly, we need to understand its
three main components: M, D, and A. October 23, 2013
- The various kinds of moral statuses can be divided into two broad groups
Things can be morally permitted, obligatory or prohibited. All of these
pertain to whether or not something is right
Things can be morally good, morally bad, or morally indifferent. All of
these pertain to whether or not something has value
- When we say that “Moral status M…”, then, we are speaking of things that are morally
right or morally good
o Note that divine command ethics is neutral as to whether it is deontological or
axiological in orientation. It could be one or the other or both.
- If the class of moral things have their status as moral because of god, what exactly is the
nature of their dependency on him? There are differ