Ethical theories attempt to reason out which behaviors and decisions are morally “right.” To have a neat answer to the question, “Who do I emulate if I want to live an ethical life?” It is also difficult to answer the question, “What is moral?” The difference between moral and non moral depends on many variables in different situations. For this reason morality and ethics have been debated through the centuries. They have been organized into sets of theories in order to understand and consider them more easily. The author emphasizes the common sense necessity of respecting the use of facts and of conceptual clarity to understand and debate ethics.
Normative ethics includes three theories. Obligatory this is a teleological ethics. Moral and non-moral values which must be defined carefully with each situation as they non-moral theories are sometimes moral.
Using rules to guide society has many drawbacks. Many rules are bad rules for example, allowing innocent people to die from state executions or letting people die of malnourishment or hunger when there is good food surrounding them. Another problem with rules is that they are worded in a negative way rather than a positive, affirming way which seems like would be just as easy and certainly more attractive to people in the society.
Deontological and teleological theories are a way to try to sort out right from wrong. Teleological philosophers put an emphasis on non-moral values that are produced so that a deed that ought to be done brings about a better balance between good and evil. Some teleological philosophers though argue that pleasure (for pleasure’s sake) is good; they are hedonists. There are also teleological philosophers that are non-hedonists. The common thread is that both have an idea as to what is good and what is bad and that it is obligatory to use that knowledge to balance good and evil as much as possible.
Deontologist philosophers do not agree with the formulation of the teleologists. They assert that other more important, factors than the nonmoral values and their affect on the consequences of an act. The act itself can define whether it is moral or obligatory such as repaying a loan because it is the honest or trustworthy thing to do.
A type of teleological ethics is ethical egoism which states that the greatest bringing into balance what is good for the actor (the person) determines whether it is ethically obligatory; even when judging another person the actor should determine what is best for him (or her) in terms of balancing good and evil. Is ethical egoism self-contradictory or can it be universal? The author suggests that living “prudentially” may not even be a moral issue. An argument (Butler) is that prudential is not a moral view but a moral view must be “disinterested.” Clarke disagrees with Butler from the point of view that we have a desire for an object (food, eating, helping others) because we are made that way.
Psychological egoism comes into play when the act is done only for the actor’s better good without regard to correcting the imbalance in good and evil. Butler also proposes that one’s object of one’s desire can be food or the eating of food or it could be for someone else in his argument that primary appetites may be altruistic. A psychological egoist explains that the feeling of satisfaction (of helping someone) is the object. Butler argues that getting something in exchange is the object.
A rule Deontologist may use the Divine Theory Command to resolve conflict between principles. This is only possible if there is a way to use a single non-technological (theological voluntarism) as a moral standard (which are laws, a type of legal system). This is like a utilitarian, ethical egoist and a pluralistic rule-deontologist but the conflict of principles is still difficult to resolve. For instance God will need to resolve the conflict of principles that can result from following his rules. This is a very complicated issue because one’s belief about God and how one believes God shares his commands has to be resolved. Many questions arise such as if God orders killing is that moral because it is God who says to do it? The argument can become circular.
A rule-deontologist must accept that there are always exceptions (Ross). He has two categories the actual duty and the prima facie duty. What we ought to do and what we do aren’t always the same. He has developed standards to follow including the Golden Rule, Digwick’s Principles of Justice and Rashdall’s Axiom of Equity. Both Sedgwick and Rashdall feel that the Principle of Universalizability must be supplemented by two teleological axioms (Prudence and Utility).
Kant expresses another type of monistic rule deontology which tackles the question is the act necessary and is it “sufficient”? Can each person in the same situation act similarly and consistently given a moral act? But if the moral rule is universal than where does free will fit in? He sees duty as the object. This is an example from the chapter I like to consider. If I make a promise must a keep the promise to remain moral even if by breaking the promise I can make a positive impact on someone’s life?
The author demonstrates to us that Kant’s point that “being willing to universalize one’s rules” is only a piece of the broader picture that makes up the whole moral point of view.
Frankena, W.K. (1988) Ethics. 2nd Edition. Prentice Hall. (1988). Print.