Lecture 2-Absolutism vs Relativism Jan 19

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10 Aug 2010

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Week 2
Absolutism vs relativism
- limitation is faith [God]
- extreme form: all social norms and moral norms are culture-specific and no one can judge what is right or
wrong outside of the definition and cultural meanings of a particular society
- those in the middle, attempt to build inter-subjective agreements and understanding among human beings
based upon appeal to ethical theories, reason, and judgement
consequentialism or utilitarianism
- utilitarianism s referred to as a kind of consequentialist theory
Æ evaluates what actions they should take or what rules they should follow based upon the best info and
estimate of what consequences will follow from adopting particular actions or rules
- the action was right if and only if such action, on balance, brought more good over bad than any other action
that was possible
act utilitarian : is committed to analyzing each particular act or action and determining its rightness based on
maximizing, on balance, and good over the bad of performing that action over all other possible actions
rule utilitarian: does not evaluate the consequences of each particular act or action but rather evaluates the
consequences of following a rule more generally
Æ actions are only evaluated to assess their concordance with general rules that themselves are evaluated in
terms of good consequences over bad
- diff: rule is willing to accept that individual actions can cause more harm than good, but if the following rule
on balance produces more good, then the individual harm s justified
criticisms of utilitarianism
- what is good for one person is not good for another
- maximizing good for all may only apply to the lowest common denominator of good and never approach
higher order good and values that are unimportant to the avg person
- made by feminist ethics of care theorists ± there is a clear limitation to always assuming that impartiality and
disinterest leads to the greater good
the paradox of the harms of act and rule utilitarianism
- if, as an act of utilitarian, one looks at each particular act and evaluate it in isolation, then one may never see
that the cumulative impact of these isolated acts is harmful
- conversely, in obeying the rule that , overall optimizes welfare, one may , n many instances, do harm
- an action is moral, independent of its consequences and based solely on purely rational ethical believe,
derived through the reason that is available to all mature, intelligent, reasoning human beings
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