Week 1 - INTRODUCTION AND ETHICAL THEORY: UTILITARIANISM
1. What is theoretical ethics? Explain how it is useful.
• Ethics is a branch of philosophy that considers ideas about how humans should treat one
another, and how societies should be organized.
• Theoretical ethics asks questions about how we ought to act, what our responsibilities are to
other people, what sort of persons we should try to become, and the arguments that can be
given in support of any of the claims about these things being made.
○ Biomedical(Bio) ethics is a branch of ethics that applies these theoretical considerations
to specific issues that arise in connection to the body, with the practice of medicine, and
with technological developmentsthat have implications for human beings and how we
Issues range from reproductivetechnologies to euthanasia;
Responsibilities medical professionals have to other people;
• Because human beings and society are complex, sometimes ethical dilemmas arise. Ethical
dilemmas occur whenever we must make a decision and none of the possible courses of action
open to us is entirely satisfactory because each violatesa value we think important.
○ e.g. If our values are "I will not let my children starve" and "I will not steal", then stealing
for the purpose of feeding our children would become an ethical dilemma.
• The purpose of ethical theory is to help us think clearly about what is at issue and to make a
rational decision - a decision that has the best arguments in its favour - about what should be
done (provide guidance for decision making).
• Ethical theories help us to be conscientiousmoral agents by alerting us to our obligations, and
by providing guidance for our choices. The guidance these theories provide also allow us to
make consistent, not arbitrary (impulse) decisions and to justify them to others.
• Allow us to extend our judgements into less certain areas.
2. Are ethical relativismand subjectivismadequate theoretical approaches to ethics? Provide
two reasons why they are or are not adequate approaches to morality.
• Since the role of ethical theory is to provide guidelines for decision making, thinking in ethical
terms requires us to make moral judgements.
○ People these days avoid making judgements because they are afraid of evaluating
other's actions & choices and being disrespectful to others. To make judgements about
what people do, especially when their actions are rooted in their personal beliefs or
cultural and religious traditions, is seen as disrespectful and intolerant in our society.
• There are two approaches to moralitythat attempt to capture this perspective: ethical
○ Modern ethical relativismhas its roots in the discoveries of anthropologists,who
observed that different cultures have different beliefs about what is right and wrong and
manifest a variety of approaches to moral issues (e.g. views on the death penalty vary
from country to country).
Ethical relativism is the belief that we cannot make moral judgements about what
people do when their actions are rooted in cultural practices and beliefs.
A number of human behaviours are considered normal and morally acceptable in
some cultures and wrong and morally unacceptable in others.
Our claims about what is morallygood and morally bad is rooted in our culture.
○ Ethical subjectivismasserts that each individual creates their own morality.There are no
universal ethical principles that apply to everyoneeven within a culture, let alone to all
humans. This view treats moral judgements as essentially mattersof tast