Ethical Theory- Why do we need ethical theories?
We often face difficult, but important, moral choices. Ex- do I keep my promise to lend my friend
money or do I give this money to a very deserving charity? Again, is it right under any circumstances
to punish a crime by death?
There is genuine disagreement. It does not do concerning such debates to say “Well, let’s just
accept that capital punishment is wrong for you and acceptable for me. (good and bad) Why
can we not say this?
Two parts- we need to have answers to moral questions because we have to settle or agree on
something. We can’t do nothing and there has to be a resolution. Also, we feel that these
things are true or false, right or wrong. It is how we feel about it.
In order to provide an explanation of our moral claims we need conceptual framework ex- a
theory that allows us to make sense of them. For example- in order to explain why the moon
orbits the earth we need a theory of gravitation
By theory we mean a set of ideas that are presupposed to supply an explanation for
something. Ex- science.
Ancient Greeks formulated a theory based on spheres; they moved in circles and were
nestled within one another. They tried to explain what was what before science could
There are different theories to explain the same thing, such as ethical theories
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 wrong.
Often moral statements can be rephrased in terms of how things should or ought to be. For
example- in asserting that it is wrong to steal we might say instead, without loss of meaning
that one ought not to steal.
We say that one ought to stop at a red light. It is wrong to go through a red light. Why is it
wrong? Is it enough to reply that it is against the law not to stop?- suggestions: maybe if it
does no harm, who is allowed or not allowed (exceptions) such as for cops, some ethical
theories say that it is okay to do something incorrect (not seen as wrong)
Ludwig Wittgenstein (philosopher)-
Guys says- You play badly, answer- I know, but I don’t want to play any better, response- ah,
that’s alright then
Guy comes up says- you acting like a beast, response- I know I behave badly, but then I don’t
want to behave better, response- that’s not alright BUT instead- well you ought to behave
better. ...Here you have an absolute judgement of value, whereas the first instance was one of relative
Moral judgements are absolute in the sense that they are good or bad in their own right ex-
intrinsically good or bad, what pleases us- sensory pleasure such as love, etc. Definition- Of or
relating to the essential nature of a thing; inherent. Such as money is a thing BUT holds value.
Other judgements about actions are relative in the sense that they are good/bad for some end
(purpose) ex- they are extrinsically good/bad. Such as money, we value it for what we can
purchase, a mean to get other things. Def-external, outwards.
We would say it is wrong to kill a baby (infanticide) regardless of whether it is illegal or not. In this
sense our moral claims are universal in scope- they apply to everyone at any time
This is not an uncontentious claim. There are societies that do practise infanticide and some
argue that quite generally we have no right to judge if such a society sanctions immoral acts.
This is to espouse a relativism. Ex- such a