Normative Ethical Theories

NORMATIVE ETHICAL THEORIES Objective • Discuss the normative ethical theories L2: Normative Ethical Theories Beliefs about how people should behave can be classified into at least 2 major categories: Teleological theories (Consequentialism) Right actions are those that produce the most or optimize the consequences of one’s choices. Behaviour is ‘ethical’ if it results in desirable behaviour 1. 2. 3. 4. Ethical egoism Ethical elitism Ethical parochialism Ethical universalism Deontological theories (Duty and Rights) Duties are set down as rules which must be followed. Rights are behaviours that a person expects of others.
Actions are intrinsically right or wrong regardless of the consequences which they produce. 1. Theological ethics 2. Rationalism 3. Social contract theory Ethical Egoism • Based on the belief that people should act in a way that maximises the ‘good’ of the person making the decision. – For e. g. ethical egoists would not stop to help the victim of a road accident if that would make them late for a dinner reservation. They are not concerned with rules or accepted behaviour but behave in a way which is in their own interest. • Hedonism: Ethical behaviour for hedonist would be that which gratifies a desire for pleasure and minimises pain.
Ethical Egoism • Adam Smith: – Advocated the pursuit of maximum self-interest. – Believed that such a policy pursued by individuals would lead to the maximisation of society’s interest. – An invisible hand restrained the individual from behaviour that would damage the interests of society. • Milton’s Friedman’s Restricted Egoism: – “There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open nd free competition without deception or fraud”. – Suggests that the behaviour of individuals seeking to maximise their selfinterest should be constrained by the law and the conventions of competition and fair play. – Would not allow breaking the law or the violation of accepted codes of behaviour in pursuing self-interest. Ethical elitism • Suggests that society is stratified and that ethical behaviour should maximise the interests of only the top stratum or the elite. Examples: – (a) Sending thousands of soldiers to their deaths in a battle would be ethical behaviour if it improved the general’s reputation, – (b) The dismissal of a ‘mere’ accounts clerk to protect the reputation of the accountant would be regarded as ethical behaviour by a society that subscribed ethical elitism. Ethical parochialism • Assumes that ethical behaviour should protect the interest of the individual’s ‘in-group’. – The ‘in-group’ could be the individual’s family, friends, professional associates, religion, gender, etc. Ethical parochialism would regard lying to protect a family member as ethical behaviour. Similarly preferring as employees former students from the employer’s old school. Ethical universalism (John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism) • Suggests that ethical behaviour should be concerned with the good of all people and that individuals are all of equal value. • Any behaviour which pursues the interests of an individual at the expense of others would be unethical. • Mill modified Bentham’s theory. Bentham argued that when individuals seek to maximise their utility, the community’s utility is also maximised.

Mill’s greatest happiness principle meant that an individual should not act to maximise personal utility but the utility of the community as a whole. Ethical universalism (John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism) • Moral principle of utilitarianism: Persons ought to act in a way that promotes the maximum net expectable utility, that is, the greatest net benefits or the lowest net costs, for the broadest community affection by their actions. • An extreme example: This theory would accept an individual being killed to save the lives of many others.
Although the individual who was killed suffered a considerable loss of utility, the increase in the utility of those who survived more than compensated for that loss. • Mill’s utilitarianism is regarded as the most acceptable of the teleological theories – replaces blatant self-interest. Theological ethics • Relies on religion, where rules must be followed as set down, as established by God. – It is God’s command that we should behave in certain ways. Conforming to God’s rules is ethical. – It provides a powerful set of duties for people. Strictest interpretation: requires compliance with God’s rules regardless of the circumstances or consequences. – However, faith or beliefs are not universal, with many different religions and varying degrees of faith with each religion and interpretation. Rationalism Immanuel Kant • Sought a simple maxim based on a reason or rationality that would provide a rule for a general duty which would override all others. He suggested the categorical imperative as a universally valid ethical law, i. e. • Act as if the principle from which you act were to become through your will a universal law of nature
Immanuel Kant • First Maxim Note: Categorical imperative – it is absolute and does not allow for any exceptions Maxim – is an implied general principle underlying a particular action. • The categorical imperative is a philosophical formulation of the Christian Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. ’ Thus to decide whether a contemplated action is ethical, the categorical imperative must be applied to that action. For e. g. a person who is about to break a promise must ask, ‘Would I desire a law which says that everybody may break promises if they so choose? If the answer is ‘No’, then the proposed action is unethical. • Act so that you treat humanity whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only Immanuel Kant Second Maxim • People should not be ‘used’ to achieve an end no matter how worthy that end may appear to be. The end does not justify the means. • Kant proposed that applying these maxims to every proposed behaviour would lead to ethical behaviour. • Kant strongly implies that perfect duties are always obliged to be followed such as telling the truth or keeping a promise,
William Ross’ Prima Facie Obligation • Ross, in contrast to Kant, refused to accept these duties as absolute or prevailing without exception. • Argues that they are prima facie duties which means that they are moral imperatives that should apply most of the time under normal circumstances. • A prima facie obligation is a conditional one that can be superceded by a more important, higher obligation, usually under very exceptional circumstances. William Ross’ Prima Facie Obligation Ross’ Seven Basic Moral Duties on Moral Agents • One ought to keep promises and tell the truth (fidelity). One ought to right the wrongs that one has inflicted on others (reparation). • One ought to distribute goods justly (justice). • One ought to improve the lot of others with respect to virtue, intelligence, and happiness (beneficence). • One ought to improve the lot of others with respect to virtue and intelligence (self-improvement). • One ought to exhibit gratitude when appropriate (gratitude). • One ought to avoid injury to others (non-injury). Social contract theory • Assumes that there is a social contract between the individual and the state which requires both to perform certain duties and gives to both certain rights. A ‘social’ contract is an unwritten agreement based on custom and accepted without dissent. • A failure to perform the duties implied by the social contract would be unethical behaviour. It suggests fairness and equality, and relies on cooperation. – For e. g. by observing the road rules, one surrenders certain personal liberties in the hope of receiving safe road-driving conditions in return. – Another e. g. : If society wishes to receive well organised and skilful professional services, it must be prepared to relinquish a certain degree of autonomy and grant professionals special privileges of autonomy and power in return.

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