PP110 Ethical Theory
Ethics – The philosophical sub-discipline, which examines morality.
Normative ethics (right/wrong), applied ethics (how norms ought to be applied),
meta-ethics (applies philosophical scrutiny to a part of philosophy)
Why do we need ethical theories?
We must make difficult, but important, moral choices.
Example: Is it right to punish a crime by death?
There is a genuine disagreement. We cannot simply say, “Let’s just accept that
capital punishment is wrong for you and acceptable for me.”
In order to provide an explanation of our moral claims, we need a conceptual framework: a
theory that allows us to make sense of them.
An ethical theory provides us with grounds to support our moral claims. Without such a
theory, we cannot justify why we think some particular action, for example, is right or
Often, moral statements can be rephrased in terms of how things should or ought to be.
Example: In asserting that it is wrong to steal, we might instead say, without loss of
meaning, that one ought not to steal.
Moral judgments are absolute in the sense that they are good or bad in their own
o Intrinsically good or bad.
Other judgments are relative in the sense that they are good or bad for some end
o Extrinsically good or bad.
We say it is wrong to kill a baby, regardless of if it is legal or not. In this sense, our
moral claims are universal in scope – they apply to everyone at anytime.
o This is not an uncontentious claim. There are societies that do practice
infanticide and some argue that quite generally we have no right to judge if
such a society sanctions immoral acts. This is to accept relativism.
There are 3 basic types of ethical theories/approaches to moral judgments:
consequentialist, deontologist, and vi