An Overview of Ethical Theory

  1. The Three Basic Questions of Morality

    1. What is 'good'? (or, What is the good?) - Epistemological
    2. What is the nature of goodness (or rightness)? - Metaphysical
    3. What does 'good' mean? - Logical/Linguistical

  2. The Major Subdivisions (or 'isms') of Ethical Theory

    1. Normative Ethics - the systematic/philosophical justification of moral intuitions

      1. Teleological (or, Consequentialism) - "rightness" is determined by the consequences of an action

        1. Hedonism
        2. Egoism
        3. Utilitarianism

      2. Deontological - "rightness" is an intrinsic feature of some actions

        1. Natural Law Theory -

          1. Stoicism
          2. Divine Command Theory:

            • Theocratic
            • Augustianian
            • Thomistic

        2. Kantianism
        3. Existentialism
        4. Situational Ethics

      3. Virtue ('Aretaic') - "rightness" is determined by an individual's character

        1. Eudaimonistic - Aristotelian
        2. Paradigmatic - Contemporary

    2. Nonnormative Ethics - the systematic evaluation of moral theory and language

      1. Descriptivism - the character or nature of moral values

        1. Objectivism - moral values are universal
        2. Relativism - moral values are relative (to ...)

      2. Metaethics - the nature of moral language

        1. Cognitivism - moral language is meaningful
        2. Noncognitivism - moral language is not meaningful

  3. Some Basic Terminology:

    Definition: 'Ethics' is the systematic philosophical study of morality.

    Definition: 'Morality' is the code of accepted/prohibited behavior within a group.


    NOTE: There are four related, but distinct, types of normative social systems:


    1. Moral Designators - terms used to label actions in an ethical system

      1. 'Right' - any action which is justified by and consistent with a moral framework; always implies an obligation on anyone within the moral system

      2. 'Wrong' - any action which fails to be justified by, or is inconsistent with a moral framework; an action forbidden to a anyone within the moral system

      3. 'Permissible' - any action which is justified by and consistent with a moral framework but which does not imply an obligation

        1. 'Neutral actions' - actions which have no moral implications (i.e., neither 'right' nor 'wrong')
        2. 'Supererogatory' - actions which are deemed good but which carry no obligations (ie., altruistic actions, good Semaritanism, etc.)

    2. Moral Principles - the foundational thesis of a moral code


NOTE: There are five generally recognized necessary features of an acceptable moral principle. These are the minimum criteria a moral principle must meet in order to be considered acceptable.



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