Lecture 1

Lecture 1
Summary of Ethical Thought
We are not going to spend a lot of time on the various ethical theories, but you will see
them on your quiz where you will be expected to answer objective questions about the
various theories. You will also have another situation to analyze using the Ethics
Analysis Form like on your last quiz.
It's important that we have some background in the history of ethics, but this is not a
philosophy course. It is instead a course on how to recognize and analyze situations in
order to make ethical decisions. We will do a quick review of some of the more familiar
ethical theories.
Morals and ethics are the same thing. They are the rules we choose to live by that make it
possible for us to live together safely. The study of ethics is broken into two parts: Metaethics (Where the principles come from) and Normative Ethics (What the principles
should be).
Meta-ethics: Asks where do we get the ethical principles?
Subjectivism: Some people believe that moral beliefs are based on what we feel.
What I feel is right, what you feel is also right for you. It's just a matter of personal
preference. If we are subjectivists, how do we solve the abortion dilemma? Assisted
suicides? Euthanasia? (Individuals can make their own choices.)
Emotivism: What we like is expressed emotionally and not considered either true
or false. So we can both like different things without having to decide which is right. Do
you see any problems with Emotivism? (Chaos?) Do we have any need to agree on right
and wrong? Why or why not?
Cultural Relativism: Ethical principles are not relative but, rather, determined by
culture. "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." What are some examples of Cultural
Relativism? What are some negative examples? (The accepted treatment of Jews in Nazi
Supernaturalism: Good or right comes from God. The will of God is the right
thing to do. We don't decide, God decides. Can you think of any instances when the will
of God may have been interpreted incorrectly? (the Crusades, schizophrenic murderers)
Any problems with this theory? (What if you don't believe in God? Is it because God
wills something that makes it good, or is it good so God wills only already good things?)
Theory of Natural Law: Everything in nature has a purpose. As rational beings we
can determine what we are supposed to do within the natural universe. We are to live our
moral lives according to reason, conscience being the dictate of reason. What does this
mean? Examples? How does this differ from Supernaturalism? (Nature is God, so we can
be atheists and accept this theory.) Any problems with this theory?
Intuitionism: There are self-evident objective truths within us that any mature
person can know. What do you think of this theory? Do we all intuit the same selfevident truths?
The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. This is a
practical rule that helps us to behave in ways we believe to be right. It does not have
anything to do with others’ behavior, however. Is this a good rule? Why?
Normative Ethics: What should our ethical principles be?
Utilitarianism: Right or good actions are those that result in happiness - - i.e.,
pleasure and the absence of pain.
Act Utilitarianism: Every time we act we ought to calculate and determine
which among all the options open to us would promote the greatest net happiness for the
most people. Do you see any problems with this theory? (The calculations would be
endless and how could we be sure we addressed every possible consequence?) An
example here might be that it would be okay to shoot a criminal who was holding 15
people at gunpoint, threatening to kill them. The ends justify the means.
Rule Utilitarianism: Every time we act we obey the set of rules that
promote the greatest happiness for all. We only have to do the calculations when two
rules are in conflict.
Can you think of any examples of where Rule Utilitarianism is in use today? (Ethics
codes like the Ethical Principles for Hospitality Managers)
Social Contract Theory: good or right is solely determined by the rules we need to
make and follow in order for us to live together peacefully. Governments exist to
administer the rules. What are some examples of this? (This was the argument put forth
to justify the American Revolution. No rules = chaos.)
Categorical Imperative: Moral rules are absolute and do not change according to
the situation. There is only one law of morality and it is that we should act in ways that
we would want our acts to become laws for everyone else's behavior. The means are
more important than the ends. An example of this is that it is wrong to kill a person for
any reason in any situation. So, it would be wrong to kill a criminal who was holding 15
people at gunpoint, threatening to kill them. There are rules without exceptions.
Virtue Theory: A virtue is a character trait such as wisdom, courage, temperance,
or justice that results in habitual good behavior. Do we all agree on which character traits
are virtues?
Teleological: When we try to make ethical decisions by considering in advance the
possible consequences of the decision, we are using a teleological approach where ends
justify the means. Utilitarianism is a teleological approach for determining right and
wrong. Right is what is best for the most people.
Deontological: Deontological theories for determining right and wrong rely on
exceptionless rules and must be done from duty without any selfish motivations. The
means are more important than the ends. The Categorical Imperative is a deontological
Lawrence Kohlberg is an educational psychologist who studied the moral development of
children. His six levels of moral development allow us to classify some of the previous
ethical theories and also help us to look at where we are in our own moral development.
Lawrence Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development of Children
1. Stage of Punishment and Obedience: the right or good thing to do is to obey
authority and avoid punishment.
2. Stage of Individual Instrumental Purpose and Exchange: the right or good
thing to do is that which gets us what we want. At the same time, we allow others to
do what they do to get what they want.
3. Stage of Mutual Interpersonal Expectations, Relationships, and Conformity:
the right or good thing to do is that which society expects us to do.
4. Stage of Social System and Conscience Maintenance: the right or good thing to
do is that which is good for society. Our personal needs are less important than the
group’s needs. We should conform to society.
5. State of Prior Rights and Social Contract or Utility: the right or good thing to
do is that which upholds the values and rights of society. Do what is best for the
6. State of Universal Ethical Principles: the right or good thing to do is to live the
universal ethical principles such as the Golden Rule. We must do the right thing
Let's take the ethical theories we just went over and identify which of Kohlberg’s levels
they each fit in. Do this on your own to help you to understand both the ethical theories
and Kohlberg's Levels. Then check your answers below.
Which level does Subjectivism fit? Why?
Emotivism? Why?
Cultural Relativism? Why?
Supernaturalism? Why?
Theory of Natural Law? Why?
Intuitionism? Why?
The Golden Rule? Why?
Which level does Utilitarianism fit? Why?
Social Contract Theory? Why?
Categorical Imperative? Why?
Virtue Theory? Why?
Level 2
Level 2
Level 3 or 4
Level 6, except, is there agreement on what the rules from God are?
Level 6, except, is there agreement on what the natural laws are?
Level 6, except, is there agreement on what we intuit?
Level 6
Level 5
Level 5
Level 6
Level 6, except, is there agreement on which of the character traits are virtues?
The highest level of moral development finds us doing the right thing because it's the
right thing to do. It is our duty to do the right thing, and moral/ethical people do the right
thing even when it is personally painful.
Which ethical theory does this textbook teach? (Utilitarianism) Why might Utilitarianism
be an appropriate approach in a college hospitality program? (Without shared ethics,
some students might not know what the right thing is and, if told what the right thing is,
they might not feel that it is necessary to do it. Utilitarianism may make more practical
sense to students and hospitality managers.)
The text listed some bad decisions that made the news. Did the decisions these executives
made take into consideration any of the ethical theories, and did the executives appear to
have considered, in advance, whether what they were doing was right or wrong? What do
you think? What do you think these executives were trying to do? What do you think
motivated these executives' behavior? Do you think they are sorry they got caught? What
happened to them and to all the stakeholders affected by their decisions? Could all the
negative consequences of their decisions have been avoided by better analysis of possible
outcomes? Do we ever want to find ourselves in their shoes because of bad decisions?
How can we avoid making bad decisions? (Think before we act. Analyze our decisions
before we make them.)