Ethics - academic discipline whose subject matter is morality; "acted ethically" = according to the rules

Morality - required - a set of rules of behavior - allows social cooperation - usually a "do or don't" decision (i.e., traffic lights) = social control system

Society - agreed upon rules of behavior

Moral rules have purpose - general benefit for collective individuals - not always for the benefit of the individual - performance evaluations or grades

People accept rules - society's existence, stability, endure over generations

Religion: another mechanism of control - not required or necessary for ethics or morals (i.e., eating pork or divorce)
Morality is a required part of society
argument: "abortion is wrong bc the pope says so"
problem: if you base the argument on moral authority of religion you lose ability to communicate

Morality/social institution - understand internal structure

Student recently asked me: Is it ethical for males and females to share a hotel room when attending a conference?

Normally, common beliefs or behaviors imply a "truth" to the matter.

Relativism implies there is no truth, i.e., there is no better way or opinion, all are equally good (thus, it's all relative).

In this class, "check your guns at the door" - we can't let emotional, religious, or pre-disposed beliefs to get in the way

You can have those beliefs, but let's try ato focus on at ethics and not morality.

Descriptive ethical relativism People/cultures differ in their moral beliefs

Factual plane on which people disagree - no argument over the merits of the opinions - no judgments of the facts

People may disagree over moral matters (i.e., it is wrong to eat pork). People may disagree about some ethical matters (it is wrong to kill an animal for food), but not others (it is wrong to kill a human).

Problem: "Politicization" of any claim - reject any factual claim that is based on a political issue that you disagree with

This is a dangerous place - lots of land mines these days

Even if people disagree, there may be situations in which they do agree (i.e., It is wrong to kill a human) -

Eskimos: leave dying to die in snow... we do not do that, but we may have a similar moral belief, but have evolved different practices. (Can't keep up with food source) - people, in error, point to differences between cultures as an example of cultural differences

Disagreement may be at such a fundamental level that we cannot reach agreement, but we must venture to find agreement, and analyze the merit of the relativistic arguments.. what principle is that based on, are you willing to accept implications of accepting all cases where this principle applies... however, the alternative is unacceptable... cannot presuppose the outcome of the argument.

"I have the right to my opinion" - are you willing to accept all aspects where... you must analyze opinions and undergo the process of analyzing views... not morality, but pure logic...

Philosophical ethical relativism

Looks like beliefs are incompatible: which side has preponderance of evidence? When you have incompatible beliefs, bring to descriptive level...

Moral beliefs or judgments are not right or wrong - I believe what I believe, there is no right or wrong

Normative ethical relativism:
Moral beliefs are a matter of personal taste. We should not impose our beliefs on others who disagree with us.

There is a way to treat others if you say we should not impose our beliefs on others = internally incoherent

Factual versus normative comments: eg: scandals: "there are no ethics in business" but this is descriptive... we want to talk about what people should be doing, not what they are doing. Distinction between describing how things are and how they should be.

A strategy or methodology for moral reasoning - to achieve a certain state of affairs.

To provide the greatest good for the greatest number. Guarantee that the net level of satisfaction for the collective individuals is the best that it can be.

It is an argumentative strategy but is not wed to a particular moralistic or social theory.

Distinction between aggregate consequential and non-aggregate consequential approaches... Utilitarianism is an aggregate approach... tries to make systematic sense out a mass of beliefs.

Identify most fundamental belief and show that everything else follow. The goal of all morality is to maximize inter-satisfaction. Fundamental goal of ethics is to maximize human interests.

Leave grandma in the snow...

Does not imply that the number of individuals benefit, but that the net amount of benefit is maximized. Example: welfare or redistribution of income program. Tax everyone $5 per year, and give a few people who have nothing $40 per week. Summed harms are much less than the benefit to one individual.

Example: Ok to tax everyone, and distribute money in case there are natural disasters?

Consider benefit not just for people in the sample, but in the population, and not just now but for the future as well.

Strategy: account for the 7 levels of analysis (you need not memorize this):

  1. intensity
  2. duration
  3. certainty of uncertainty
  4. propinquity or remoteness
  5. fecundity, or chance of being followed by sensations of the same kind
  6. purity, or the chance it has of not being followed by sensations of the opposite kind
  7. extent, that is, the number of persons to whom it extends.

There is only one moral principle: unity.

Sometimes hard to see when an argument is utilitarian.

Important to define the community. Why are you limiting the community?

Some may call this "socialism" or "socialistic thinking"

Do we have to purchase "Police care" or "Fire care" or "Road care"?

No: Having Police and Fire and Streets Departments is for the greater good, thus, it is Utilitarian

Act and rule Utilitarianism

Common good/aggregate welfare question/argument/approach: What would you rather do: cause pain to some individuals now (lost jobs for some) or cause loss of jobs for everyone in the future.

Ask a series of questions:

Difficulties with utilitarianism:
Pragmatic difficulty of predicting, measuring, and comparing consequences (costs, etc)

  1. May be difficult to get at the facts: which choice will cause greatest future welfare
  2. "What is right is a function of the predicted end result" - the end justifies the action you took
  3. does not capture that sometimes the means used were wrong even if they maximize aggregate welfare
  4. It allows that anything be done to an individual person with no limits whatsoever if it increases aggregate welfare

Utilitarian often comes into conflict with the rights and dignity of the individual, i.e., a moral belief that people hold, 3 responses:

  1. No rights beyond aggregate welfare, (i.e., too bad - you want to send your kid to private school, you still pay school tax)
  2. Conflict never happens, so the conflict is only theoretical, since act that maximizes aggregate welfare will respect individuals. Whatever rights require will be what is required to maximize happiness. Rejoiner: Not merely theoretical - there are cases of conflict where attempting to maximize aggregate welfare will conflict with individuals rights (i.e., DUI laws)

Adopt a global rule on the basis of aggregate welfare decisions. These rules should maximize happiness. Eg., we do not kill Phil. Not because it violates his rights, but because not killing Phil leads to a happier more comfortable stable society as people will not be afraid of being killed.


Role of legal rights; legal and moral rights often have overlapping membership. Need to distinguish between the two. Legal rights may be based on moral rights.

Right: a characteristic or set of characteristics that is possessed by the members of the society; an interest of a person (within a social system) that is protected or should be protected from interference/intervening from others.

Which interests? Why bother with this? Why should we imagine that individuals have rights that should be protected (i.e., utilitarian approach to aggregate welfare)?

Persons should be treated with dignity = touchstone of the social system.

Basis of a right- how distinguish from frivolous claim

2 different aspects of rights-negative and positive:

Negative: Right not to be interfered with. Emphasis in our culture? (Libertarians=right to liberty, thus no distribution of capital). Right to have a car and not have it stolen. Imposes obligations on other equally.

Positive: Right to receive something (aid, "stuff") - imposes obligations on others differentially.

Conditions (criteria to help determine when one is obligated to act): must be a serious need, must be ability by the person to do something about it, responsibility to help cannot put you at comparable risk, is anyone else around (i.e., last resort - less likely aid will be given if this is primary need).
For each case or rights we can have corresponding duties (negative and positive rights/duties) (Examples?) Loud music, marijuana

Plugging specific rights into one category will be difficult and controversial. Decision should be based on what kinds of reasons can you give for protecting a right.

Basic rights: Those rights essential for treating person with dignity as an autonomous agent. (e.g., right to life, free speech). Rights that would supercede a utilitarian model looking for aggregate welfare (moral trump card).

Derivative rights: Rights that are instrumentally valuable for achieving something else we value.

Example: Property (private control over things, use/benefit/exclusion of others from use or benefit)

Questions you can ask when rights arguments are raised:

Free Speech:

AFSCME Case: Blocked traffic on Walnut Street @5:00 PM

Republican Convention:

In class:

  1. What is basic right?
  2. What are limits of the right?
  3. How does preventing you from exercising this right in this specific case damage the foundations of the right?