• Moral reasoning has to do with ethics.
• Ethics: the study of right and wrong actions.
• Ethics has a theoretical and a practical side.
• What we’ll focus on here is:
• How to identify whether a question is an ethical one;
• When making an ethical argument is appropriate;
• What type, or level, of ethical question you are dealing with.
• The idea is that you are able to identify moral dilemmas, and attempt to resolve them in the best
• Two main objectivist/normative approaches to ethical questions:
• 1. Teleological/Consequentialist/Utilitarian:
• Right and wrong depend on the outcome/result/goal of one’s actions.
• Philosophers associated with this approach:
• Aristotle and John Stuart Mill.
• Aristotle (also the founder of ‘virtue ethics’and the ‘natural law’theory):
• -- humans are rational animals and as such performing rational acts is their ultimate ‘telos’ (goal,
• -- we flourish and are happy when we are virtuous;
• -- virtues, such as courage, objectivity, justice, temperance, etc., are achieved through reason;
• -- we become just by performing just acts; courageous by performing courageous acts, etc.
• John Stuart Mill and Utilitarianism:
• -- the principle of utility: greatest happiness for greatest number of people’
• -- example: if one saves a drowning child, one has done something moral, regardless of one’s
motives. • Act Utilitarianism: focuses on the consequences of one’s actions for maximizing happiness;
• Rule Utilitarianism: focuses on rules as guidelines to maximizing happiness.
• General criticisms to theAristotelian approach to ethics:
• -- virtues vary from culture to culture and time period to time period;
• -- what if humans aren’t the only rational animals?
• General criticisms to Utilitarianism:
• -- the principle of utility quantifies happiness, as well as moral agents (morally right is what
makes the greatest number of people happy);
• -- happiness is dictated by the majority; but what if the majority decided that torturing is going to
make them happy?
• 2. Deontological: right is right according to the moral principle/duty/obligation.
• Philosophers associated with deontology: Immanuel Kant.
• Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’: act only on such moral maxims which can become a universal
• Example: do not lie; if everyone does it there will be no truth; do not break your promise; if
everyone does it, promise will lose its meaning, etc.
• General criticism to the deontological approach:
• -- it is too rigorous; doesn’t allow for exceptions to the moral principle/law;
• -- e.g., according to Kant’s categorical imperative, one cannot lie under any circumstances; but
what if you had to lie to save a life?
• -- it puts the emphasis on the moral intention; but we often can’t get to the bottom of one’s
• When making moral arguments, ask yourself this:
• 1. Is this issue really an ethical one?
• 2. Is the issue relevant?
• 3. Is the issue sufficiently important to create a moral problem or put me in front of a moral
• Real moral dilemmas and fake moral dilemmas: • -- fake moral dilemmas do not tell you anything about the moral truth;
• -- ex., deciding whether to have a burger