Let us begin by first locating our fields in relation to other fields that study ethics. Consider the following taxonomy: Kinds of ethical inquiries

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1 ON NORMATIVE ETHICAL THEORIES: SOME BASICS From the dawn of philosophy, the question concerning the summum bonum, or, what is the same thing, concerning the foundation of morality, has been accounted the main problem in speculative thought John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism THE BIG IDEAS TO MASTER Normative ethics Value judgement Normative standard/criterion Ethical foundationalism Value property Intrinsic value Instrumental value Moral realism Naturalistic ethics As I noted in the course introduction, we will focus our attention on attempts by philosophers to answer the question what is the welllived life? by attempting to answer (in part) two other all-important questions, namely: what is justice? and what, if any, good reasons are there to be just rather than unjust (or vice versa)? These two questions (what we re calling the justice questions) are at the heart of developing a philosophical theory of morality. But what exactly are we looking to figure out when we ask these two questions? We will focus on attempts to answer the moral versions of these questions, that is, about moral justice. As such, we will focus on ethics. What, however, does such an ethicist hope to figure out exactly by answering these questions (and related questions) about moral justice? To determine that, we need to make sure we understand which are and which are not the relevant fields of study. Kinds of ethical inquiries Let us begin by first locating our fields in relation to other fields that study ethics. Consider the following taxonomy: Kinds of ethical inquiries Non-philosophical inquiries Philosophical inquiries Descriptive ethics Moralizing / Moral Training Applied ethics Normative ethics Metaethics Sociology Psychology Anthropology Philosophical inquiries the three branches of philosophical ethics Applied ethics: that branch of philosophical ethics that seeks to determine the moral status of specific actions/practices in light of one or more general normative moral principles. Normative ethics: that branch of philosophical ethics that seeks to develop a theory regarding the nature of moral rightness and wrongness. In so doing, it seeks to provide a complete, consistent, and authoritative general framework to determine how, morally speaking, a person ought and ought not live. Metaethics: that branch of philosophical ethics that seeks to answer specific questions about the nature of normative ethics. On normative ethics: a closer look Since this is a course primarily on normative ethics, we need to understand what exactly is means to develop and defend a normative ethical theory. So let us ask what it means to say that we re seeking a general framework for determining how we ought and ought not live.

2 On the concept of a normative theory We evaluate things all the time, e.g., smart phones, movies, surfing conditions, rock climbing routes, people and their behaviors, etc. That is, we decide whether they have value or not, and if so, what value we think that they in fact have. In so doing, we are making what philosophers call value judgements. So, what is a value judgement? We can t answer that unless we first get clear on what it is to make a judgement in general. As we all know, the word judgement as used in English-speaking societies is often thought of a bad thing. We simply don t like judgmental people. However, as we ll see, what we really don t like are people who make value judgements of a certain sort. For there is nothing problematic about making judgements per se. In fact, not only do we do this everyday of our lives, but we have to do so. Why? The answer is this: When a person makes a judgement, she simply has decided on how she thinks things are. That is, she decides what she thinks the world is actually like. More precisely, we can say: Judgement: When a person S judges that x is F, S decides that x is in fact F. Consider some examples of garden-variety judgements: A. Jones judges that there is enough distance between two cars to park her car, B. Smith judges that the chair will not break under his weight when he sits in it, C. Brown judges that every even positive integer greater than the number 2 is the sum of two primes. In each case, in making any one of these judgements, Jones, Smith and Brown decide, respectively, what each thinks is true. Of course, that this is what it is to make a judgement does not imply that a given judgement is correct. No, Smith might judge that the chair will hold his weight and be wrong; he might sit in it and it collapse underneath him. So, when you and I make judgements, that does not imply that our judgements are correct; no, in so doing we simply decide what we each think is true. 1 Now back to the concept of a value judgement. Given what we just said, we can see that a value judgement is simply one type of judgement; it is a judgement involving values. That is, when someone makes a value judgement, she makes a decision about the value status of the thing in question, namely, she decides whether it is (actually) good or bad, right or wrong, how it ought to be or not. In other words, she makes a judgement as to whether or not a thing has a given value property. Consider a few examples of value judgements that people make: and 1. Happiness is good, 2. It s wrong to require Cal Poly students to take philosophy in order to graduate, 3. The President of the United States should listen to the people, 4. Jones ought not torture Canadians for pleasure. 1 It s easy to think that judgement making implies no one is right or wrong, or that no person is more (or less) reasonable than someone else. But that s incorrect. There s a difference between making a judgement and having adequate support for making a given judgement. At this point, we are not saying when a judgement is right or wrong, reasonable or not.

3 As we can see, each of these sentences asserts that the subject in question has a value property. Each of these sentences describes an evaluation of the things in question, e.g., (1) asserts that happiness has the property of being good, (2) asserts that a certain requirement to graduate from Cal Poly is wrong, etc. 2 Now, whether we realize it or not, whenever we make these value judgements, we do so on the basis of a standard or criterion that describes a norm, that is, we determine the value of something against a normative standard/criterion. We do so because we correctly or incorrectly take this normative standard to describe the actual ideal for that type of thing. And because of this, it means we are employing a normative theory. What is a normative theory? Let us say that NT: A theory T is a normative theory just in case T specifies the ideal with respect to some issue, i.e., how things ought or ought not be with respect to the issue in question. So, for instance, let us look again at our example sentences (1) (4). A person accepts or rejects (1) (4) on the basis of the normative theory that they accept regarding such things. Consider (2), for instance. Some Cal Poly students think (2) is true because they accept a normatively theory that says that a college education should (ideally) prepare a student for a obtaining a job but they do not think that taking a philosophy class serves that end. Of course, one of the all-important questions is this: from where do these norms come? To answer this, we must specify the type of normative theory with which we are concerned. Since we are focusing our attention on the study of moral philosophy, we will focus our question on moral norms. The first principle of morality So, let us re-ask the question: from where do moral norms come? This is one of the primary questions for our thinkers. And it turns out that to answer this is just to answer the first justice question, namely, what is justice? As we will see, there are a variety of answers offered to that question. But before we get into that more, it s important to note that no matter the answer one offers, every answer takes the form of a normative theory and in so doing, that theory specifies a first principle of morality. Given this, the all-important question we just asked is really: from where does this first principle of morality come? We will more to say about this later since our course will devoted to exploring how various moral philosophers have answered that. Given that every normative theory of morality is committed to there being a first principle of morality, those theories are committed what we are going to call ethical foundationalism. What is that view? It is the view that EF: There is exactly one ultimate criterion of moral conduct (call it C ), such that: (i) C tell us how, morally speaking, things ought to be (that is, it describes the ideal), and (ii) it is upon and in relation to C that we rank and organize any other moral principles that are derived from C. So, according to ethical foundationalism, we see that there is a criterion of moral conduct, that that criterion serves as the foundation for the whole of the moral theory, i.e., it serves as the basis or ultimate determining factor about the moral status of the things in question by specifying the ideal, and any moral principle other than that criterion is both derived from and also ranked and organized according to the requirements of that criterion. This is why that criterion is the first principle of morality. It s the basis of the entire moral theory. 2 Note well. Whether a person accepts or rejects a given value judgement is irrelevant; what is relevant is that no matter how one comes down on such sentences, she is still making a value judgment, she is still engaged in an evaluation of the thing in question.

4 Now, as we will see, while there are a number of things upon which moral philosophers agree, it still turns out that every normative theory of morality will argue for a different the first principle of morality and it is a theory s particular version of first principle of morality that distinguishes it from the others. To help us make sense of this, let us first consider the following. Every first principle of morality will have the following form: CM: A has a morally positive status iff A satisfies the required condition c. The important questions that we need to address are: what exactly is A?, and what exactly is condition c? To figure out what each theory says, we can begin by considering the following taxonomy of normative theories of morality. A taxonomy of normative theories of morality Normative Theories of Morality Act-Centered Agent-Centered Consequentialism Deontology Virtue Ethics Utilitarianism Ethical Egoism Ethical Egotism Act Utilitarianism Rule Utilitarianism The Big Three : what makes them different? Consequentialist ethical theories: consequentialists argue that what makes an action morally permissible or not is the consequences of the action (i.e., what the world is like after S does act A). Such theories assert that the ends justify the means. As such, these types of theories tell us that condition C of FPM is nothing other than producing the right consequences. Deontological ethical theories: deontologists argue that what makes an action morally permissible or not is whether the agent has a moral duty to do the action. As such, these types of theories tell us that condition C of FPM is nothing other than doing acts that are our moral duties. Virtue ethical theories: virtue ethicists argue that what makes an action morally permissible or not is whether the virtuous person would so act. Such theories found morality on character traits and motives of agents. As such, these types of theories tell us that condition C of FPM is nothing other than doing the agent having the right dispositions of character. Consider the following passage by Richard Foley concerning these differences. Says Foley: Virtue ethics is ordinarily contrasted with both consequentialist ethics, which is closely associated with but not limited to utilitarianism, and deontological ethics, which is closely associated with but again not limited to Kantianism. In trying to say what makes an action or decision [morally] right, consequentialists focus on its consequences, actual or apparent, whereas proponents of deontological ethics instead emphasize the agent s moral duties, which are typically captured in a set of rules. The proponents of virtue ethics, by contrast, emphasize neither consequences nor rules but rather moral virtues, which are typically thought of as behavioral dispositions; an action is [morally] right insofar as it is [a] product of such virtues.

5 But to talk of what each of these approaches emphasizes is to mark the distinctions among them in only a very loose way. Consequences, rules and virtues all play an important role in our moral lives, and thus, any approach to ethics, if it is to be at all plausible, must do justice to all three. So, consequentialists must be able to account for the importance of rules and virtues, just as deontologists must be able to account for the importance of consequences and virtues, and just as virtue theorists must be able to account for the importance of consequences and rules. What separates consequentialists, deontologists, and virtue theorists is their views about the theoretical foundations of ethics. They disagree on what is to be taken as fundamental consequences, rules, or virtues. Consequentialists insist that it is consequences that are to be taken as fundamental, and it is in terms of them that they try to give an account of moral rules and moral virtues. By contrast, deontologists and virtue theorists take duty and virtue to be fundamental, respectively, and then try to treat the other two notions as derivative. Keeping this in mind, let s ask, what is a virtue ethics? Suppose an ethicist says that a [morally] right action is a virtuous action, i.e., an action that is a product of moral virtues, and when we ask what a virtue is, the ethicist tells us that a virtue is a habit or disposition that tends to produce good consequences. This is not enough to make the view an instance of virtue ethics. On the contrary, consequentialists can and often do endorse this kind of view. In a genuine virtue-based ethics, virtue cannot be defined in terms of consequences, or for that matter in terms of rules, and the good cannot be defined independently of the virtues. For an approach to ethics to be virtue-based, it must treat virtue as the fundamental notion, not rules or consequences. 3 As you can see from Foley s remarks, the issue upon which normative ethicists focus is on the theoretical foundations of moral rightness. What is more, these three varieties of normative ethical theories are incompatible as the ultimate moral maker. That is, there s no hybrid theory regarding the foundations of ethical rightness, e.g., there is no virtue deontology. Again, that s not to say that each respective theory cannot or even does not attempt to make sense of the alternative ethical concepts; the key is that they are to be understood as derived from the basic concept. Three requirements on normative theorizing A normative ethical theory T is true only if T is (i) normatively authoritative, (ii) normatively complete and (iii) normatively consistent. In other words, unless a normative ethical theory satisfies these three requirements, it cannot be true. These three requirements are to be understood as follows: Normatively authoritative: A moral theory T is normatively authoritative iff, whenever T entails that you should/should not do act A, then it is actually true that you should/should not do A. Normatively complete: A moral theory T is normatively complete iff, whenever it is actually true that you should/should not do act A, then T tells you that should/should not do A. Normatively consistent: A moral theory T is normatively consistent iff T does not say that you should do act A at some times and should not A at other times based on arbitrary grounds. 4 3 The Epistemology of Sosa, Philosophical Issues 5: Truth and Rationality, ed. Enrique Villanueva (Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview Press, 1994), , Richard G. Graziano. All rights reserved. This material may not be used, or duplicated in part or whole without express written permission by the author.

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