What is the difference between an ethical philosophy that focuses on the criteria, or
standards, of right and wrong action, and an ethical philosophy, such as Confucius's,
that focuses on character?
What seems to be Socrates's ethical philosophy as portrayed in the Meno? Is it, for
example, an ethical skepticism, or an objectivism, or a conventionalism?
Would you say that Confucius is an ethical universalist or particularist, or, perhaps, is
he, with qualifications, both? Is Christian morality universalist or particularist?
A few general remarks:
Ethical statements are prescriptive or normative: they, for example, say how a person
SHOULD act, not merely how she or he acts.
Some normative terms: ought, should, good, bad, evil, duty, may,responsible,
Some general questions of ethical philosophy:
1. What should I do? Action: answer gives rules for action
2. What should I be? Character: answer in terms of virtues (good traits) and vices (bad
Note the following uses of the ethical adjective "good":
* Good community
* Good person
* Good character trait
* Good motive
* Good intention
* Good action
3. Is any one of these more basic than another?
Community: communitarianism. Develop account of good community; a good
person plays the right kind of role in such a community. "The philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is, to change it."
Person, character trait: virtue ethics. Develop an account of virtues and vices.
(Aristotle, Confucius, Lao Tzu) "One whose mind is set on virtue will not
practice wickedness." Confucius
Motive, intention: Develop an account of pure intention, motive.
Commandments of the heart. (Kant, Jesus, Buddha) "Love the Lord thy God
with all thy heart and mind and soul and strength, and love thy neighbor as
Action: Develop criteria for correct action. (Most common: John Stuart Mill,
Torah, Zera Yacob (?), Upanishads, Buddhism, Avicenna)
4. Do ethical judgments properly concern particular cases or general kinds?
Particular cases: value depends on specifics of action (or intention, etc.),
people, context. Rules are general guidelines, rules of thumb.
General kinds: value depends on general features of action (or intention,
etc.), people, or context. Rules define right and wrong.
Zera Yacob's Ethical Naturalism
I. Historical Background
B. Religious conflicts
II. Zera Yacob (1599-1692)
A. Debunking of religious belief: "they assume what they have heard from
their predecessors and they do not inquire whether it is true or false.