PHI 1370 Study Guide - Virtue Ethics, Act Utilitarianism, Rule Utilitarianism
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1. What is meant by the term “moral theory”?
A branch of philosophy concerned with principles that allows us to make decision
about what is right and wrong. There are 2 types of moral theory consequentialism:
the rightness of an act depends only on its consequences and non-consequentialism:
consequences are not the only thing that affects the morality of an act. Within the
moral theory there are five major ethical theories, which includes Utilitarianism,
Kant’s ethics, Ross’s ethics, Rawl’s ethics and Natural law and moral theology. Each
of these theories represents an attempt to supply basic principles that can be
employed as guides for making moral decisions and as standards for evaluation of
action and policies.
2. How Utilitarian would justify the principles of utility (i.e., their theory of value)?
The principle of utility focuses it’s attention on the consequences of actions, rather
then upon some features of action themselves. The utility or usefulness of an action
is determined by the extent to which it produces happiness; therefore no action is in
itself right or wrong. Nor is an action right or wrong by virtue of the actor’s hope,
intentions or past actions. Using the principle we are suppose to consider the
possible results of an action, then we are to choose the action that produces the
most benefits (happiness) at the least cost (unhappiness). The action may produce
some unhappiness but it is a balance of happiness that the principle seeks. The key
concept of the principle of utility is happiness and the aim of ethics then is to
increase the amount of pleasure in the world to the greatest extent.
3. Two major objections against act Utilitarianism?
One of the major objections against act utilitarianism is that it requires us to know
what the consequence of our action will be, but this is impossible because we cannot
predict the future. We can only make reasonable efforts to get relevant information,
and predict probable consequences of our action.
Another objection to act utilitarianism is the notion that we are obligated to keep a
promise only if keeping it will produce more utility that some other action. For
example a surgeon promises a patient that he would the one to preform his/her
operation but during surgery the surgeon allows a well-qualified resident to
perform parts of it and everything goes well. From a utilitarian point of view that is
nothing wrong with his failure to keep his promise. Critics charge that his action is
wrong because in making a promise it has become an obligation.
Act utilitarianism is unable to account for obligation engendered by action such as
promising, pledging for such actions involve something other than consequence.
4. The difference between act and rule utilitarianism
According to act utilitarianism it is the value of the consequences of the particular
act that counts when determining whether the act is right. For instance an AU might
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say "it is moral to murder someone if they are a danger to society." Even though
there is a law against citizens murdering each other, AU's think that murdering a
serial rapist is moral because more people would be safe. AU thus condones
Rule utilitarianism maintains that an action or policy is morally right if and only if it
is consistent with the set of rules (moral code) that would maximize happiness, if
generally followed. For example, there is a law in our country that murder is
wrong. A RU would say, "Murder is wrong because if everyone follows the law, no
one will have to be afraid of being murdered in their sleep. Or society will be more
orderly, because people won't kill each other randomly and we can be in public and
private spaces without fear.
5. The respect for person’s version of the categorical imperative.
The second formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative asks us always to act in
such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in any other
person, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means. This version
illustrates Kant’s notion that every rational creature has a worth in itself and that
morality consists of doing one’s duty to treat people, including yourself, as an end,
never only as a means to an end. To treat other people as an end is to respect people
as rational moral agent who also have their own goals, projects and other life
pursuits; to recognize their humanity, and how they freely and knowingly choose to
be treated. For example putting your self in medical experiment that you know may
physically harm or compromise your well being in order to make some money is
using yourself as a means to an end therefore we are morally wrong and not acting a
rational moral agent.
6. Kant’s universalizability test for the rightness of an act.
The first formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative suggests that we act only on
maxims that can be used as a universal law. The central idea of the test is that a
moral maxim is one that can be generalized to apply to all cases of the same kind.
That is, you must be willing to see your rule adopted as a maxim by everyone who is
in a situation similar to yours. You must be willing to see your maxim universalized,
even though it may turn out on some other occasion to work to your disadvantage.
The test is one that requires us to avoid inconsistency or conflict in what we will use
as a universal law. For example if you adopt a maxim that it is wrong to steal and it
used as a universal law. Everyone as well as your considered to follow this law even
if you are hungry on a particular day and your only option was to steal.
7. Explain the moral theory known as virtue ethics
Virtue ethics is based on character. Its fundamental ideas is that a person who has
acquired the proper set if disposition will do what is right when faced with a
situation involving a moral choice. Therefore, virtue ethics does not involve
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