Introduction: Films, Cases and Ethical Reasoning (Part I) Dr. Chan Ho Mun

Introduction: Films, Cases and
Ethical Reasoning (Part I)
Dr. Chan Ho Mun
Department of Public and Social
City University of Hong Kong
Dec 11, 2008
Moral Theories
• A moral theory consists of a set of moral
• These principles specify the conditions under
which an action is morally right or wrong, or what
makes a person or something good or bad.
• They purport to guide our moral reasoning by
providing justifications for our actions.
• Together with facts about an individual case, we
can further judge whether an individual act is
morally right or wrong, or whether a person or
something is good or bad.
Applied Ethics
• Applied Ethics: We can resolve any ethical
issues by a direct application of some relevant
moral theories.
• Applied ethics is akin to something like applied
• Individual cases serve as good illustrations of
moral theories.
• “a+b = b+a” can be illustrated by “2+3 = 3+2”.
• The approach is top-down.
Bottom-up Approach
(Case-based Approach)
• Start with an obvious (real or hypothetical) case
where we have a strong intuition or considered
judgement that it is morally right/wrong or
• Cases and our moral intuition (perception) have
their own voices and we don’t need to rely on
theories to know what is right/wrong or
• Analogical reasoning: compare it with a
problematic case that is structurally similar and
then draw a similar conclusion.
• Example: Thomson’s arguments for and
Marquis’s argument against abortion.
Bottom-up Approach
(Case-based Approach)
• A theory is under challenge if it is
inconsistent with our moral intuition.
• E.g., achieve social utility by punishing an
Third Way: Reflective Equilibrium
• A moral theory is acceptable if it can make
sense of and be compatible with our various
intuitively appealing beliefs and ideas or firmly
held judgements about morality.
• Some of the less obvious principles of a moral
theory will be modified if the theory fails to do
• Our less committed beliefs and ideas will be
modified or rejected if they cannot be made
compatible with the appealing principles of a
moral theory.
• Is reflective equilibrium something attainable?