Introduction to Ethics: phi 130-4555 Hannon



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Review Sheet:
Chapt. 1: The Moral Point of View

Moral concerns are unavoidable in life.



ETHICS: the conscious reflection on our moral beliefs.

How is ethics like nutrition?

a. the fields consist of everyday knowledge and specialists

b. specialists disagree on certain issues but provide firmer foundation and insight

c. we can’t avoid their questions in our lives

d. doing, not just saying, the right thing leads to joy


Ethics is an ongoing conversation.

  1. Professional discussions of ethical issues in journals.

  2. We come back to ideas again and again, finding new meaning in them.

Morality: first-order set of beliefs and practices about how to live a good life.

Ethics: a second order, conscious reflection on the adequacy of our moral beliefs.


Public and Private Moral Beliefs:

Distinguish between overt and covert moral beliefs (what I say I believe and what I demonstrate in action.

Self knowledge required for awareness of moral beliefs.

One aim of the course is discussion to promote this self-knowledge.


The goal of ethical reflection is moral health.

Thus we seek to determine what will nourish our moral life and what will poison it.


What makes something a moral issue?

  • Content: duties, rights, human welfare, suffering, character, etc.

  • Perspective: impartial, compassionate, etc.

Example: Cheating

Imagine a situation in which you see a classmate cheating. There are several elements from a moral point of view in this situation.


  • Some people are hurt by the cheating.

  • There is deception in the situation.

  • Cheating seems to be unfair to those who don’t cheat.

  • There are conflicting values—honesty, loyalty, etc.

  • There are questions of character.

Names of ethical theories.

a. Relativism

b. Absolutism

c. Pluralism

Language of moral concern: ought, must, should, right -- used by normative ethics.

Many philosophers have argued that the moral point of view is characterized by impartiality, that is, I don’t give my own interest any special weight. Immanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill


Other philosophers have seen the origin of the moral life to be in compassion, feeling for the suffering of other sentient beings.

Josiah Royce: “Such as that is for me, so is it for him, nothing less.”


Universally binding obligations:

Some philosophers maintain that moral obligations are universally binding and that is what gives them their distinctive character. Immanuel Kant.


Concern for Character

Philosophers from Aristotle onward have seen the primary focus of morality to be character.

What ought I to do (Kant and Mill)

What kind of person ought I to be? (Aristotle)


The Point of Ethical Reflection

  • Evaluate other people’s behavior

  • Search for meaning and value in our own lives

Ethics as the Evaluation of Other People’s Behavior



  • Ethics used as a weapon

  • Hypocrisy possibility of knowing other people

  • Right to judge other people

  • Right to intervene

  • Judging and caring

Ethics as the Search for Meaning and Value in Our Own Lives

  • Positive focus

  • Aims at discerning what is good

  • Emphasizes personal responsibility for one’s own life

What to Expect from a Moral Theory



  • Description – Descriptive ethics does not take a stand

  • Explanation

  • Strength

  • Prescription – new possibilities and wonder – normative ethics gives direction

Ethics is more like engineering than physics. Physics has clear-cut, definitive answers, where engineering offers several possible ways of doing things, including many ways that are wrong.


Ethics is like nutrition: One studies bodily health the other moral health.

There is significant disagreement in both fields but also common ground.






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