Theories of Morality - Fort Thomas Independent Schools

Theories of Morality
Morality: Action for the sake of principle
Guides our beliefs about right and wrong
Sets limits on desires and actions
Where does Morality get its Authority?
(1) God
 (2) Parents (i.e., commands, threats, modeling)
 (3) Society (i.e., laws, mores, folkways)
Common Considerations in Morality
Should we follow rules/laws when it
conflicts with our conscience?
Ought we follow our conscience?
Why/Why Not?
Should we emphasize rules/principles or
What makes a law/principle moral?
3 Key Groups of Moral Theory:
1). Duty-Defined Moralities (Immanuel Kant)
Based on Authority
 The principle itself that ought to be obeyed
2). Consequentialist Moralities (J. Bentham)
Based on the results of actions
Principle/Authority holds no moral weight
3). Virtue Ethics (Aristotle)
Based in Authority & results of actions
Virtues benefit the overall community & individual
One should avoid excess and deficiency
Immanuel Kant’s
Categorical Imperative
Categorical: Without Qualification
Imperative: Command/Order
Kant believed that our actions were not as
important as our intentions in morality
Kant also believed all humans were capable,
through reason, of figuring out right/wrong.
Reason is an authority ‘in’ us but it transcends us
Why be Moral?: “It is the rationale thing to do.”
Kant’s Categorical Imperative
1). Act only on that maxim [intention] whereby you can at
the same time will that is/should be a universal law.
2). Act as if the maxim of your action were to become by
your will a universal law of nature
3). Always act so as to treat humanity, whether in yourself
or others, as an end in itself, never merely as a means
4). Always act as if to bring about, and as a member of, a
Kingdom of Ends (that is, an ideal community)
The Utility Principle:
“Always act for the greatest good for
the greatest number of people.”
Places all emphasis on the actual consequences
and insists morality is only justified by positive
effects (how happy they make us)
 For Bentham (pictured above) one shouldn’t ask
the Kantian question: “What if everyone lied?” but
instead: “What would be the actual
consequences of me lying?”
 Duty-defined makes no appeal to
happiness/actual consequences (usually
intended consequences)
Key Difference between Bentham & Mill:
Quantity vs. Quality
For Bentham factors include: length, intensity,
certainty of result, speed of result, number of
people affected, mixture of pleasure/pain
For Mill: He insisted that there are different
qualities of pleasure and pain as well as
different quantities. It is better to be satisfied
with a lower amount of a higher pleasure.
I.E.: “It is better to be a human being
dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be
Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”
Aristotle: Virtue Ethics & The
Doctrine of the Mean
Virtue: Morally good habits  needs teaching & repetition
Why be moral? So our lives go well (achieve Eudemonia)
Usually we think of this as a selfish want, but Aristotle points out that people
only think of their life as going well when the one’s they care about are also
doing well. Are you happy when ________ is upset?
Morals must be habituated (made habit) through practice
What does this say about “Protecting our children from tough material?”
The Virtues of Living
Aristotle tries to create a list of universal virtues that any
human needs to ensure their life goes well (achieves
Eudemonia). He attempts to use only those which are
fundamental, universal facts about human nature.
Courage, Temperance, Generosity, Self-control,
Honesty, Sociability, Modesty, Fairness (Justice)
Character plays a large role in Aristotle’s model as
well. It ties into habit. Our character is what we
repeatedly do (e.g. I am a thief because I often steal).
Character is built up in our actions whenever we
choose between what we would like to do and what
we should do
The Doctrine of the Mean
Each of the virtues lies at a mean between two extremes
(excess or deficiency).
Courage, therefore, lies at the mean before the excess
(rashness) and deficiency (cowardice).
This is not a mathematical system. If eating 100 apples is too
many and eating 0 apples is too few, that does NOT mean that
eating 50 apples is the mean. Instead, mean is determined
rationally (“as a prudent man would determine it”)
Thus, the proper mean is relative to the individual, not the
“In this way, then, every knowledgeable person avoids excess
and deficiency, but looks for the mean and chooses it”