Phil A301

William Jamison


Lecture 2

Notes on Philosophical Ethics

Part 1 Fundamental Questions

Chapter 1: Morality and Moral Philosophy

p. 3 The Watergate Coverup

Was this immoral? (In class we ended up discussing a different issue.)

What is Morality? On p.5 and p.6 questions morality as a social institution, or can we legislate morality? Isnít that what legislation is? But we really mean that we cannot make people moral by passing laws. Moral codes have to be internalized as part of the socialization process.

On p.6 and p. 7 the issue is the universal nature of morality. 

Ronald Dworkin - the concept of a moral position

p. 8 a. there must be some reason for it.

4 criteria for a good reason

i. cannot be based on prejudice (question: what is a prejudice in the first place?)

ii. not an emotional reaction (same puzzle as i.?)

iii. position based on a falsehood (question: how do we know?)

iv. cannot be based merely on "everyone knows that..." (why not?)

p. 10 b. if the reason is based on a moral theory - I must also accept that theory, i.e. Bible

c. presupposition of acts being immoral in themselves

d. one is less likely to recognize these illegitimate rationalizations in themselves than in others

p. 11 Dworkin's analysis brings up the question what is an acceptable moral theory?

p. 11 The Object of Morality

Morality is not like medicine, or business?

Aristotle and Mill - goal is a well structured and happy life

Kant create in individuals "good will"

Hume (and Warnock) - to counteract the tendency for things to "go badly" in human relationships

p. 12 G. J. Warnock - The Object of Morality

What is it done for?

(ex. of grading students based on what they've done or what they can do.) General object - the amelioration of the human predicament.

So what in the human predicament calls for amelioration? and what is the contribution of morality to this?

p. 15 no need to go as far as Hobbes - but the human predicament is such that things go badly.

Limited rationality (i.e. we are generally pretty stupid) focus on short run than long term.

Limited sympathies (i.e. we like our significant others and peers more than all the rest).

"It is easy enough to see in general terms how very different the situation would be if the beings concerned were less vulnerable, less aggressive, less egotistical, less irrational, more intelligent, more self-sufficient, and more favored by material circumstances." So object of morality is to countervail limited sympathies.

Warnock may be right but there may be alternative purposes as well.

p. 16 Approaches to the study of Morality

4 ways:

Nonnormative - Descriptive Ethics, Metaethics

Normative - General Normative ethics, Applied Ethics


Descriptive - factual description and explanation of moral behavior (phenomenology!)

Metaethics - analysis of meanings of terms

p. 17 Normative

General Normative ethics Utilitarian and Deontological (only two? or Virtue Ethics)

Applied Ethics - mostly has been left to theologians but last half of twentieth century have philosophers dealt with what morally ought to be done in a moral dilemma. Philosophical ethical theories are not now, and never have been, practical or policy-oriented WHY NOT?

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