Introduction to Ethics

Introduction to Ethics
Brief History
 Sophists, Socrates and Plato.
 The Dark ages, Middle Ages. Quran, Bible and Torah written.
 Renaissance Period
 Modernism
 Post-modernism
The word ‘ought’
The word ought is derived from Scottish Philosopher David Hume in the 18th
Century. Until the renaissance period, understanding of what is right and wrong
was governed by religious texts. Right and wrong is prescribed, and in this way
we would say that an action IS right or wrong. There is a definite truth. However,
with the creation of individualism, it became more prominent for individuals to live
their lives outside of a strict moral code (e.g. Quran, Bible etc), while maintaining
‘the good life’. Therefore the actions that may be considered right and wrong are
not definite truths. This now means in order to act virtuously, we now say that
one OUGHT to perform a given action e.g. ‘one ought to repay a favour when a
favour is given to them’.
If someone offers you food/drink, do you have to offer them food/drink in return?
Everyday we are presented with decisions that may not be clear what is the right
decision to make.
Pertaining to, or concerned with the principles
or rules of right conduct or the distinction
between right and wrong.
Concerned with or derived from the code of
behaviour that is considered right or acceptable
in a particular society
of or relating to principles of right and wrong in
Of or concerned with the judgment of the
goodness or badness of human action and
Summary: Morals are an established set of
universal rules for what is right and wrong.
Rules of conduct recognized in respect to a
particular class of human actions or a particular
group, culture.
Moral principles that govern a person’s
behaviour or the conducting of an activity
The principles of conduct governing an
individual or a group.
The specific moral choices to be made by a
Summary: Ethics are how an
interprets what is right and wrong.
Ethical Principles
There are many ethical principles, however in this course we will focus on 3:
 Categorical imperative
 Deontological ethics
 Utilitarianism
The categorical imperative (from Immanuel Kant) states that an action is right if
could become a universal law i.e. if everyone in the world did the same action
and society would still be able to function well.
Deontological ethics is choosing to act because it is your duty to act in this way.
This means being dutiful is virtuous and is it’s own reward.
Utilitarianism (from Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill) states that an action
is right if it maximizes net happiness.
Small-scale ethical decisions at BISS
 5 minutes late to class with no excuse.
 1minute late to class 3 times in a week.
 Choosing not to participate in the school Musical/sports.
 Allowing students in homerooms before 8am.
 Using skype (or similar) during class.
 Making a rule about appropriate length of shorts/skirts.
 Running and yelling in the hallway.
 Playing online games at school.
 Playing online games with the sound up in a communal area.