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Ethical Theories Of Different Philosophies Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 2124 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Ethical theory examines the different philosophies or systems used to explain and make judgments regarding right/wrong/good/bad. It attempts to introduce clarity, substance, and precision of argument into the domain of morality. They also argue on how we should value humans in our actions. Ethical theories propose justification for judgment regarding the morality or immorality of actions, and they provide a basis for claims about moral obligations. Ethical theories are based on the ethical principles. They each emphasize different aspects of an ethical dilemma and lead to the most ethically correct resolution according to the guidelines within the ethical theory itself. Generally ethical principles stem from ethical theories, and when defending a particular action, ethicists normally appeal to these principles, not the underlying theory. Ethical theory is applied to the philosophical examination, from a moral standpoint, of particular issues in private and public life that are matters of moral judgment. It is thus a term used to describe attempts to use philosophical methods to identify the morally correct course of action in various fields of human life. The aim of this is to reach at an ethically justified decision about what to do in a particular situation or a particular issue.

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Ethical theories and principles convey significant characteristics to the decision-making process. Although all of the ethical theories attempt to follow the ethical principles in order to be applicable and valid by themselves, each theory falls short with complex flaws and failings. For example, a utilitarian may use the casuistic theory and compare similar situations to his real life situation in order to determine the choice that will benefit the most people. The deontologist and the rule utilitarian governor who are running late for their meeting may use the rights ethical theory when deciding whether or not to speed to make it to the meeting on time. Instead of speeding, they would slow down because the law in the rights theory is given the highest priority, even if it means that the most people may not benefit from the decision to drive the speed limit. By using ethical theories in combination, one is able to use a variety of ways to analyze a situation in order to reach the most ethically correct decision possible.

Each ethical theory attempts to adhere to the ethical principles that lead to success when trying to reach the best decision. When one understands each individual theory, including its strengths and weaknesses, one can make the most informed decision when trying to achieve an ethically correct answer to a dilemma. That’s why different ethical theories are not compatible for different situation.

The two ethical theories that have been covered in the course are Utilitarianism and Kantian theory. Utilitarianism is the idea that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its contribution to overall utility that is its contribution to happiness or pleasure as summed among all people (Wikipedia 2009). It is established on the ability to predict the consequences of an action. This theory is also known as the ‘the greatest happiness principle’. To a utilitarian, the choice that yields the greatest benefit to the most people is the choice that is ethically correct. One benefit of this ethical theory is that the utilitarian can compare similar predicted solutions and use a point system to determine which choice is more beneficial for more people. There are two types of utilitarianism theory. These theories are act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism. Act utilitarianism holds the same definition of utilitarianism as described above. In act utilitarianism, a person performs the acts that benefit the most people, regardless of personal feelings or society laws. It also argues that the consequences of each action need to be weighed against possible alternative actions in order to determine which action is morally acceptable.

Rule utilitarianism, however, takes into account the law and is concerned with fairness. A rule utilitarian seeks to benefit the most people but through the fairest and most justifiable means available. Therefore, added benefits of rule utilitarianism are that it values justice and includes beneficence at the same time. However, both act and rule utilitarianism contains numerous errors. Although people can use their life experiences to attempt to predict outcomes, no human being can be certain that his predictions will be true. This uncertainty can lead to unexpected results making the utilitarian look unethical as time passes because his choice did not benefit the most people as he predicted. For example, if a person lights a fire in a fireplace in order to warm his friends, and then the fire burns down the house because the soot in the chimney caught on fire, then the utilitarian now seems to have chosen an unethical decision. The unexpected house fire is judged as unethical because it did not benefit his friends.

Kantian moral theory is a deontological theory which comes from a Greek word ‘Deon’ means duty (wikipedia, 2009). These theories look at morality in terms of duties to do or not to do certain types of action regardless of the possible consequences. Deontologists do not look at how much good might be caused by an action. They look at the action itself, deciding whether it is prohibited or made obligatory by one of their rules. Usually, the rules are expressed negatively, for example do not lie, do not steal, and do not harm the innocent. In a few cases, the rules are expressed positively such as keep your promises, treat all persons as human beings with rights, tell the truth. Deontologists have very strong feelings about the words, “right” and “good”. Right has to do with actions. Good has to do with outcomes. Good can be many things like happiness, pleasure, wealth, peace, chocolate, fast cars, and so on. Some people feel that when we are trying to decide what to do in a certain situation, the good comes before the right. In other words, we have to decide what good we want to see in the world and the right action is any action that brings this good about. For example, a poor man might decide that the good he wants to see is his children having warm clothes. If the only way he can get those clothes is by stealing them, then stealing them is right. Deontologists don’t have a lot of rules. In some cases, this gives them a fair amount of freedom. Since their rules forbid or require only certain actions, other actions are available to them. A deontologist would never say, “It is good to preserve the rain forest.” After all, preserving the rain forest is all about consequences and that is not what a deontologist looks at. So the deontologist might be able to chop away and not feel guilty.

Drawing on the following claim that “Business are moral obligation to treat people well; this is because treating people well will ultimately help the business be more profitable” Utilitarianism will deal with this claim simply by trying their best to maximize happiness by making their best estimates of the consequences. If the consequences of a decision are particularly unclear, it may make sense to follow an ethical rule which has promoted the most utility in the past. Utilitarian also note that people trying to further their own interests frequently run into situations in which the consequences of their decisions are very unclear. This does not mean, however, that they are unable to make a decision; much the same applies to utilitarianism. By treating people well, which will help the business to be more profitable, Utilitarianism will think that it is morally right thing to do if the consequences of this will generate more happiness and benefit more people. If the consequences will not benefit greatest number of people, then Utilitarianism will believe that it is not morally the right thing to do and will be against its theory. Utilitarianism has been criticized for looking at the result of their action not at the desire or intention. In this situation, the business is only treating people so that they can generate more profit. The intention of the business is focused on profit rather than people. Utilitarianism only sees that people are treated well so it will agree that the obligation is true and it is morally acceptable. Many utilitarian see morality as a personal guide rather than a means to judge the actions of other people, or actions which have already been performed. Morality is something to be looked at when deciding what to do. In this sense, intentions are all that matter, because the consequences cannot be known with certainty until the decision has been made.

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Kantian moral theory will see the claim differently than what utilitarianism has stated above. Kantian theory states that actions are morally right in virtue of their motives, which must derive more from duty than from inclination (Beauchamp & Bowie, 2004). Kantian theory argues that moral value of the action can only reside in a formal principle or “maxim,” the general commitment to act in this way because it is one’s duty. So it can be concluded that “Duty is the necessity to act out of reverence for the law.” Kant sees all people as having intrinsic moral value because they are rational being. It places moral importance on rationality because it is rationality that allows being moral agents. This simply means that each person is a reasoning being, each person is morally important as an end in them and must never be treated solely as a mean to an end. In the claim above, that people are treated well because it helps the business to be more profitable, Kantian theory will agree with the claim as far as the people are treated well. This theory does not look at business making profit rather looks at the people and how they are treated. Kantian moral theory is all about obligations and there main obligation is to respect the principle of the action for its own sake.

According to Beauchamp & Bowie, utilitarianism is an ethical and sociopolitical philosophy that maintains the standards of right and wrong and is determined by the consequences of the action or situation. Although many people find the theory appealing, it is very egalitarian and democratic philosophy. One traditional criticism of Utilitarianism is that an action or situation may be considered good or morally praiseworthy if it results in the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, even if this results in a single person or few people being ignored, inconvenienced or harmed. The implication of Utilitarianism may lead to unjust violation of human rights and injustice. Utilitarianism theory seems to overlook the rights of minority group and in some situations it might also ignore rights of majority. For example, a man might achieve such pure ecstasy from killing 100 people so that his positive utility outweighs the negative utility of the 100 people he murdered. Utilitarian argue that justification of slavery, torture or murder would require improbably large benefits to outweigh the direct and extreme suffering to the victims and excludes the indirect impact of social acceptance of inhumane policies. For example, general anxiety and fear might increase for all if human rights are commonly ignored. Utilitarianism can allow certain concepts of rights and justice if it is true that general respect for rules using these concepts does bring about the greatest overall good.

One of the major criticisms of Kantian moral theory is that it focuses on rational autonomy. The critics highlights that Kantian moral theory leaves any being who does not posses the capacity for rational autonomy as not independently morally considerable. This indicates that the theory suggests that there is nothing about human beings that we need to be taking into moral account. For example, consider the following scenario. You have a piece of candy which is unbreakable and two children are in front of you and want the candy. Both have the goal of wanting the candy, which seems rational (they both want the pleasure of eating the candy). However, if you give it to child A, you would be refraining from helping child B achieve his goal of getting the candy (or getting pleasure from the candy). In this situation, no matter who you give the candy to, you would be committing an act that is morally wrong (since in either case, you are preventing one of the children from achieving a rational goal).


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