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Ethics: Theory & Practice


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The belief that there is one and only one truth; those who espouse absolutism usually also believe that they know what this absolute truth is. In ethics, absolutism is usually contrasted to relativism.
The conviction that one simply does not know whether God exists or not; it is often accompanied with a further conviction that one need not care whether God exists or not.
A selfless concern for other people purely for their own sake. Altruism is usually contrasted with selfishness or egoism in ethics
The Greek word for "excellence" or "virtue." For the Greeks, this was not limited to human beings. A guitar, for example, has its areté in producing harmonious music, just as a hammer has its excellence or virtue in pounding nails into wood well. So, too, the virtue of an Olympic swimmer is in swimming well, and the virtue of a national leader lies in motivating people to work for the common good
The belief that God does not exist. In the last two centuries, some of the most influential atheistic philosophers have been Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, and Jean-Paul Sartre.
The ability to freely determine one’s own course in life. Etymologically, it goes back to the Greek words for "self" and "law." This term is most strongly associated with Immanuel Kant, for whom it meant the ability to give the moral law to oneself.
A calculus is simply a means of computing something, and a moral calculus is just a means of calculating what the right moral decision is in a particular case. Categorical Imperative. An unconditional comma
Categorical Imperative.
An unconditional command. For Immanuel Kant, all of morality depended on a single categorical imperative. One version of that imperative was, "Always act in such a way that the maxim of your action can be willed as a universal law."
The belief that both determinism and freedom of the will are true.
Any position in ethics which claims that the rightness or wrongness of actions depends on their consequences.
An example which claims to undermine or refute the principle or theory against which it is advanced.
A deductive argument is an argument whose conclusion follows necessarily from its premises. This contrasts to various kinds of inductive arguments, which offer only a degree of probability to support their conclusion.
Any position in ethics which claims that the rightness or
wrongness of actions depends on whether they correspond to our duty or not. The word derives from the Greek word for duty, deon.
Divine Command Theory.
Any position in ethics which claims that the rightness or wrongness of actions depends on whether they correspond to God’s commands or not.
Utilitarian units of pain or displeasure.
A philosophical theory which holds that moral judgments are simply expressions of positive or negative feelings.
(1) An intellectual movement in modern Europe from the sixteenth until the eighteenth centuries that believed in the power of human reason to understand the world and to guide human conduct. (2) For Buddhists, the state of Enlightenment or nirvana is the goal of human existence.
Ethical Egoism.
A moral theory that, in its most common version (universal ethical egoism) states that each person ought to act in his or her own Self-interest.
The explicit, philosophical reflection on moral beliefs and practices. The difference between ethics and morality is similar to the difference between musicology and music. Ethics is a conscious stepping back and reflecting on morality, just as musicology is a conscious reflection on music.
A person’s ethnicity refers to that individual’s affiliation with a particular cultural tradition that may be national (French) or regional (Sicilian) in character. Ethnicity differs from race in that ethnicity is a sociological concept whereas race is a biological phenomenon.
The is the word that Aristotle uses for "happiness" or "flourishing." It comes from the Greek "eu," which means "happy" or "well" or "harmonious," and "daimon," which refers to the individual’s spirit. Gender. A person’s gender refers to that individual’s affiliation with either male or female social roles. Gender differs from sex in the same
A person’s gender refers to that individual’s affiliation with either male or female social roles. Gender differs from sex in the same way that ethnicity differs from race: gender is a sociological concept, while sex is a biological one.
This is a term that utilitarians use to designate a unit of pleasure. Its opposite is a dolor, which is a unit of pain or displeasure. The term "hedon" comes from the Greek word for pleasure.
Of, or pertaining to, pleasure.
For Kant, heteronomy is the opposite of autonomy. Whereas an autonomous person is one whose will is self-determined, a heteronomous person is one whose will is determined by something outside of the person, such as overwhelming emotions. Etymologically, heteronomy goes back to the Greek words for "other" and "law."
Hypothetical Imperative.
A conditional command, such as, "If you want to lose weight, stop eating cookies." Some philosophers have claimed that morality is only a system of hypothetical imperatives, while others—such as Kant—have maintained that morality is a matter of categorical imperatives.
In ethics, an impartial standpoint is one which treats everyone as equal. For many philosophers, impartiality is an essential component of the moral point of view.
A command. Philosophers often distinguish between hypothetical imperatives and categorical imperatives; see the entries under each of these topics.
This is the word that Kant used (actually, he used the German word Neigung) to refer to our sensuous feelings, emotions, and desires. Kant contrasts inclination with reason. Whereas inclination was seen as physical, causally-determined, and irrational, reason was portrayed as nonphysical, free, and obviously rational. Integrationist. Any position which attempts to rec
Any position which attempts to reconcile apparently conflicting tendencies or values into a single framework. Integrationist positions are contrasted with separatist positions, which advocate keeping groups (usually defined by race, ethnicity, or gender) separate from one another.
According to Kant, a maxim is the subjective rule that an individual uses in making a decision.
The arithmetical average of items in a group.
Philosophers often contrast means and ends. The ends we seek are the goals we try to achieve, while the means are the actions or things which we use in order to accomplish those ends. A hammer provides the means for pounding a nail in a piece of wood. Some philosophers, most notably Immanuel Kant, have argued that we should never treat human beings merely as means to an end
Moral Ballpark.
The domain of actions, motives, traits, etc. that are open
to moral assessment, that is, can be said to be morally good or morally bad.
Moral Isolationism.
The view that we ought not to be morally concerned with, or involved with, people outside of our own immediate group. Moral isolationism is often a consequences of some versions of moral relativism. Moral Luck. The phenomenon that the moral goodness or badness of some of our actions depends simply on chance. For example, the drunk driver may safely reach home without injuring anyone at all, or might accidentally kill several children that run out into the street while the drunken person is driving home. How bad the action of driving while drunk is in that case depends in part on luck.
"Morality" refers to the first-order beliefs and practices about good and evil by means of which we guide our behavior. Contrast with Ethics, which is the second-order, reflective consideration of our moral beliefs and practices.
An excessive preoccupation with oneself. In mythology, Narcissus was a beautiful young man who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water.
Natural Law.
In ethics, believers in natural law hold (a) that there is a natural order to the human world, (b) that this natural order is good, and (c) that people therefore ought not to violate that order.
In ethics, naturalism is the theory that moral values can be derived from facts about the world and human nature. The naturalist holds that "is" can imply "ought."
Naturalistic Fallacy
According to G. E. Moore, any argument which attempts to define the good in any terms whatsoever, including naturalistic terms; for Moore, Good is simple and indefinable. Some philosophers, most notably defenders of naturalism, have argued that Moore and others are wrong and that such arguments are not necessarily fallacious.
The belief that there is no value or truth. Literally, a belief in nothing (nihil). Most philosophical discussions of nihilism arise out of a consideration of Fredrich Nietzsche’s remarks on nihilism, especially in The Will to Power.
A Kantian term that refers to the unknowable world as it is in itself. According to Kant, we can only know the world as it appears to us, as a phenomenon. We can never know it as it is in itself, as a noumenon. The adjectival forms of these two words are "phenomenal" and "noumenal," respectively.
In recent discussions, ethicists have contrasted particularity with universality and impartiality and asked how, if morality is necessarily universal and impartial, it can give adequate recognition to particularity. Particularity refers to specific attachments (friendships, loyalties, etc.) and desires (fundamental projects, personal hopes in life) that are usually seen as morally irrelevant to the rational moral self.
According to Aristotle, Phronesis is practical wisdom, the ability to make the right decision in difficult circumstances.
The belief that there are multiple perspectives on an issue, each of which contains part of the truth but none of which contain the whole truth. In ethics, moral pluralism is the belief that different moral theories each capture part of truth of the moral life, but none of those theories has the entire answer.

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