Chapter 1 – Introduction to Ethical Theory 1
Ethical egoism – your only moral duty is to look out for your own happiness, to do the best job I can of getting
what I want
“I ought to do whatever makes ME happiest.”
NOT to be confused with psychological egoism – all people always act so as to maximize their own
Two versions of ethical egoism:
1. Everyone else ought to do whatever makes ME happiest. (Non-universalizable)
2. Each person ought to do whatever will make THEM happiest. (Universalizable / universal ethical egoism)
The first view has two problems:
(1) Egoism is not a moral view everyone can agree on.
(2) This sort of egoism doesn’t satisfy what seems to be a fundamental feature of any moral theory worthy of
the name. This feature, associated with Kant, is universalizability. It is the notion that if an action is wrong
for one person in a given situation, it is also wrong for anyone else in the same situation.
The second view:
A view everyone in a society could share
A view that does not involve regarding oneself as morally different from anyone else
It makes being moral a good deal easier and more natural than most natural theories claim
Has been argued that it is inconsistent/incoherent
Radically false view of morality
Most of us cannot believe in the correctness of egoism; its consequences are simply too morally
o Consider: some people are made happy by killing, torturing, or tormenting others.
A case occurred in San Antonio in which an entire family tormented a small child.
One of the “games” they played, “The Color Purple Game,” consisted of taping the
child’s nose and mouth shut, watching the child struggle until it turned purple, and
then removing the tape.
An egoist would say that they are doing the morally right thing by torturing that
child. They would say there is no ground on which they can be criticized because
they are doing what makes them happy.
It also provides us with no principled way of setting issues when different people’s interests conflict.
Egoism provides us with no satisfactory means of making such decisions.
Deontological vs. Teleological Theories
Two primary ways to evaluate possible actions:
1. The main task is to identify what counts as good (known as “the good” in philosophical discussions”)
2. After that, we can say that everyone is obligated to participate in a scheme that brings about as much
good as possible. Chapter 1 – Introduction to Ethical Theory 2
Teleological theories – views that identify the good independently from a specification of our obligations and that
define our obligations in terms of the good
According to hedonistic utilitarianism, only pleasure and the absence of pain counts as good, and we
are morally obligated to do what we can to maximize the total amount of pleasure.
Deontological theories – gives the concept of right conduct priority over the concept of the good; any approach
that is not teleological; essentially, any theory that doesn’t specify the good independently of the right or that
doesn’t specify the right in terms of the good is deontological.
Kant (most prominent deontologist) maintained that the only things that are good without
qualification are good wills, where one has a good will, roughly, if one always intends to meet one’s
o He also maintained that a specification of the right must be included with what is good.
Aristotle and Character Ethics
Two main teleological traditions in ethics:
1. Virtue/character ethics – developed by Aristotle
2. Utilitarianism – most famous proponent is John Stuart Mill
A defining characteristic of teleological views is that they regard the good as fundamental and define right action in
terms of it
They, however, vary widely in what they classify as good and in the precise way they relate the good
and the right.
One distinction between teleological views concerns relative priority of character and conduct.
o According to utilitarians, someone is a good person or has a good character if they tend to
act rightly; the most basic thing is the morality of actions, and whether someone is a good or
bad person has to do with what sorts of actions he or she performs
This view isn’t limited to teleological views.
Aristoteleans say that character traits are fundamental and that right actions are those that result from a good
Utilitarians look to the effects of our actions to determine the rightness of those actions, while
Aristotelians look to the causes of actions.
o Utilitarians say that a right action is one that produces or tends to produce good states of
affairs, while Aristotelians would claim that a right action is one that is or tends to be
produced by a good character.
Aristotle says the one and only intrinsic good is happiness (Greek: eudaimonia)
Aristotle draws a connection between goodness and function.
o i.e., “a good chair is one that is comfortable to sit in” or “a good person is one that performs
a function well”
Aristotle believes the one characteristic that makes us unique is rationality. Therefore, a good person
will be one whose activities are rational.
o Distinguishes two ways in which our lives may be governed by reason, and correspondingly,
two sorts of virtue, two ways of excelling. Chapter 1 – Introduction to Ethical Theory 3
Distinction between these two virtues is based on a distinction between different
faculties, “parts of the soul.”
o A capacity that we have is reason, which is used in reasoning and engaging in philosophical
o Intellectual virtue – when we are disposed to philosophize in a rational manner
o We also have various appetites, desires. These may go along with reason or conflict with