Critical Thinking And Ethics
Ethics and the Examined Life
Copyright © 2019 W. W. Norton & Company
Also called “moral philosophy”
The philosophical study of morality
What Does “Doing Ethics” Mean?
Deliberating about the rightness or wrongness of actions
Judging the goodness of your character or intentions
Examining the soundness of your moral outlook when it
conflicts with that of others •
Examining your own and other people’s moral outlook
Questioning whether your moral decision making rests on
coherent supporting considerations
Beliefs concerning right and wrong
These beliefs can include: o Judgments o Values o Rules o Principles o Theories
Morality helps o Guide our actions o Define our values o Give us reasons for being the persons we are
The Questions of Ethics – 1
What is the greatest good?
Also, What goals should I pursue in life?
What virtues should I cultivate?
The Questions of Ethics – 2
What duties should I fulfill?
What value should I put on human life?
How important is it to pursue the common good, do justice, and respect rights?
The Risks of Not Doing Ethics
Loss of personal freedom
Incomplete, confused, or mistaken responses
Stunted intellectual and moral growth
Although perhaps embodying an uncritically embraced
morality, one will be incapable of defending one’s beliefs by rational argument against criticisms
Of course, “[e]thics does not give us a royal road to moral truth. Instead, it shows us how to ask critical questions about morality and systematically seek answers supported by good reasons.”
Descriptive ethics: the scientific study of moral beliefs and practices
Its aim is to describe and explain how people actually behave
and think when dealing with moral issues and concepts.
Philosophical divisions of ethics: Philosophers distinguish three major divisions in ethics, each one representing a different way to approach the subject. 1. Normative ethics 2. Metaethics 3. Applied ethics
Divisions of Ethics – 2
1. Normative ethics
The study of the principles, rules, or theories that guide
Purpose: to try to establish the soundness of moral norms
Questions include “Is happiness the greatest good in life?”
and “Should the rightness of actions be judged by their consequences?”
2. Metaethics •
Study of the meaning and logical structure of moral
Purpose: to question assumptions that inform normative
Questions such as “On what grounds can a moral
principle be justified?” and “Is there such a thing as moral truth?”
3. Applied ethics
Application of moral norms to specific moral issues or
Purpose: In applied ethics we study the results derived
from applying a moral principle or theory to specific circumstances. The purpose of the exercise is to learn something important about either the moral characteristics of the situation or the adequacy of the moral norms.
• Considers questions such as “Is physician-assisted suicide morally permissible?” and “Is the consumption of animal flesh morally wrong?”
Obligation: what is a duty, or what one should or ought to do
Kinds of value
Moral value: reference to a person as good in the moral
Nonmoral value: other uses of “good” that hold no moral
sense (e.g., a good work of art)
Extrinsically valuable: instrumentally valuable, or valuable
as a means to something else
Intrinsically valuable: valuable in themselves because of
what they are, without being a means to something else
Also, The preeminence of reason: Ethics involves, even requires, critical reasoning.
The universal perspective: Logic requires that moral judgments follow the principle of universalizability—the idea that a moral statement that applies in one situation must apply in all other situations that are relevantly similar.
The principle of impartiality: Also The welfare and interests of each individual should be given the same weight as those of all others.
The dominance of moral norms: When moral norms conflict with nonmoral norms, moral considerations usually win.
Religion and Morality – 1
Believers need moral reasoning. Many religious commandments and edicts on ethical issues are at best ambiguous, and at times contradictory. Only by doing ethics—thinking critically about the situation—can religious believers interpret religious directives and try to apply general rules to specific cases.
Some typical examples of moral conflicts:
Adherents of one religion may disagree with adherents of
Believers within a religious tradition may disagree with one
Believers sometimes disagree with their religious leaders on
Sincere devotees in a religious tradition may wonder if its
moral teachings make sense.
Religion and Morality – 3
• Intelligent resolution of conflicts among moral claims can be achieved only by applying a neutral standard.
• Moral philosophy—the practice of doing ethics—provides that neutral standard in the form of critical thinking, well- made arguments, and careful analysis.
Ethics enables productive discourse. Only with a common set of ethical concepts and agreed-upon procedures for deciding issues and making judgments can people from different religious traditions (or people from no religious tradition) talk fruitfully about moral issues.
1. Moral positions should be explained.
2. Claims should be supported by reasons.
3. Reasoning should be judged by common rational standards.
Divine Command Theory – 1
• Right actions are those willed by God.
Both religious and nonreligious thinkers accept it.
Religious and nonreligious critics reject it. o The Euthyphro dilemma: Is an action morally right because
God wills it to be so, or does God will it to be so because it is morally right?
Divine Command Theory – 2
Criticism of the theory:
1. If actions are right only because God wills them, then many
evil actions would be right if God willed them (God’s commands would be without reason, or arbitrary).
2. But, many philosophers claim, God’s commands cannot be arbitrary.
3. Therefore, actions are not right only because God wills them (divine command theory is false).
This concludes the PowerPoint slide set for Chapter 1 Doing Ethics: Moral Reasoning and Contemporary Issues Fifth Edition (2019) by Lewis Vaughn.
Copyright © 2019 W. W. Norton & Company