The Fundamentals of Ethics
Introduction: The Lay of the Land
Ethics - also known as moral philosophy - is the branch of knowledge concerned with
answering questions such as: what sort of life is worth living, how should we treat one
another, what should our guiding ideals be?
Value theory - The area of ethics concerned with identifying what is valuable in its own
right, and explaining the nature of well-being. (What is the good life? What is worth
pursuing for its own sake? How do we improve our lot in life?)
Normative ethics - The area of ethical theory focused on identifying which kinds of
actions are right and wrong, examining the plausibility of various moral rules, and
determining which character traits qualify as virtues and which as vices.
(What are our fundamental moral duties? Which character traits count as virtues, which
as vices, and why? Who should our role models be? Do the ends always justify the
means, or are there certain types of action that should never be done under any
Metaethics - The area of ethical theory that asks about the status of normative ethical
claims. It asks, for instance, about whether such claims can be true and, if so, whether
personal, cultural, or divine opinion makes them true (or none of the above). It also
considers issues about how to gain moral knowledge (if we can), and whether moral
requirements give us reasons to obey them.
(What is the status of moral claims and advice? Can ethical theories, moral principles,
or speciﬁc moral verdicts be true? If so, what makes them true? Can we gain moral
wisdom? If so, how? Do we always have good reasons to do our moral duty?)
Golden rule - The normative ethical principle that says that your treatment of others is
morally acceptable if and only if you would be willing to be treated in exactly the same
Skepticism about Ethics:
• Major temptation is to regard the entire enterprise as bankrupt, or to think that all
ethical views are equally plausible.
• It is a serious mistake to assume that morality is a ﬁction, or that personal or cultural
opinion is the ultimate measure of what is right and wrong.
• Morality is like art. Everyone has their own opinions on what good art is but their taste
can always be educated and improved. Reasonable constraints that can guide us when thinking about how to live:
• Pg. 6-7 in book
• Any morality worth the name will place some importance on justice, fairness,
kindness, and reasonableness.
• Argument - Any chain of thought in which premises (reasons) are offered in support
of a particular conclusion.
• Premise - Any reason that is used within an argument to support a conclusion.
• We can land at the wrong conclusion or arrive at the right one by means of terrible
• Our moral thinking should have two complementary goals:
• 1. Getting it right
• 2. Being able to back up our views with ﬂawless reasoning
• Two tests for good moral reasoning:
• 1. We must avoid false beliefs
• The logic of our moral thinking must be rigorous and error-free
Logical validity - The feature of an argument that indicates that its premises logically
support its conclusion. Speciﬁcally, an argument is logically valid just because its
conclusion must be true if its premises were all true. Another way to put this: logically
valid arguments are those in which it is impossible for all premises to be true while the
conclusion is false.
• 3 Part Test: How to tell a valid from an invalid argument
• 1. Identify all of an argument's premises
• 2. Imagine that all of them are true (even if you know that some are false)
• 3. Then ask yourself this question: supposing that all of the premises were true,
could the conclusion be false? If yes, the argument is invalid. The premises do not
guarantee the conclusion. If no, the argument is valid. The premises offer perfect
logical support for the conclusion.
• An argument's validity is a matter of the argument's structure. It has nothing to do with
the actual truth or falsity of an argument's premises or conclusion. Valid arguments
may contain false premises and false conclusions.
• Soundness - A special feature of some arguments. Sound arguments are ones that
1). are logically valid and 2). contain only true premises. This guarantees the truth of
• Moral agent - One who can guide his or her behavior by means of moral reasoning,
and so someone who is ﬁt for praise or blame.
Chapter 1: Hedonism
Instrumental goods - Those things whose value consists in the fact that they help to
bring about other good things. Examples include vaccinations, mothballs, and money. Intrinsically valuable - Those things that are good in and of themselves, considered
entirely apart from any good results they may cause. It is controversial which things are
intrinsically valuable, but happiness, desire satisfaction, virtue, and knowledge are
frequently mentioned candidates.
Hedonism - The view that pleasure is the only thing that is intrinsically valuable, and
pain (or unhappiness) is the only thing that is intrinsically bad.
• A good life is a happy life
There are 2 fundamental kinds of pleasure: physical pleasure and attitudinal pleasure
• Physical pleasure: tasting an apple, letting the jets from a hot tub dissolve the tension
in our backs. These feelings usually make us happy for the moment but are not the
same thing as happiness.
• Unhappiness is the only thing that directly reduces our quality of life.
• As the hedonist understands it, happiness is attitudinal pleasure: the positive attitude
of enjoyment. It can range in intensity from mild contentment to elation.
• Being happy does not necessarily feel like anything
• The good life is seen as one that is full of sustained enjoyment, containing only
minimal sadness and misery.
The Attractions of Hedonism:
• Epicurus - ancient Greek, the ﬁrst great hedonist, argued that pleasure was the only
thing worth pursuing.
• Epicurus argued that the most pleasant condition is one of inner peace.
• The ideal state of tranquil