Deontological Ethics

Deontological Ethics - Sam Black PHIL 120 Introduction to...

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Sam Black, PHIL 120 Introduction to Deontological Ethics: Kant, W.D. Ross, C. Korsgaard SB : This is our first lecture in ethical theory. I will set the stage for examining different kinds of ethical theories by explaining some of their differences. That will require some conceptual analysis. Conceptual analysis may bore you out of your skull. (I will try not to do that.) But I think you will want to refer to some of these definitions later in the course when trying to make sense of the relationships between different readings. NB. Arthur and Cohen presuppose without real argument that ethics is deontological . Def’n Deontological Ethics: The right action (the act we are morally required to do) sometimes does not require bringing about the most good. Formula: ‘the right is prior to the good’ meaning that ‘right action’ is defined partly independently from bringing about the most good. Def’n Consequentialist Ethics : The right action always requires bringing about some good (or positive consequences). Formula: ‘the good is prior to the right’ meaning that ‘right action’ is defined as bringing about some good. Both deontological and consequentialist ethics are normative ethical theories.
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Def’n Normative Ethical Theories: Normative ethical theories aim to explain the contents of our duties : they are proposals about how people should act in any particular circumstance. NB . Normative ethical theories are proposals about how people should act. It is a separate question whether there is reason to accept any particular normative theory and whether that proposal is justified. Q: when might it be wrong or at least not required to aim for the good consequences? A: Some intuitions that bolster the case for deontological ethics i) Special Obligations : obligations that we have to particular persons or groups, which may or may not be voluntary. Ex: one of your parents has fallen out of a canoe, but so have two strangers, and you can only save one group – perhaps you are required to save your parent. ii) Constraints : obligations that we have to avoid harming others Ex.1 : a murderer is about to kill three children, you can get a clean shot at him with your high caliber rifle, but only by shooting through the skull of one child. Ex. 2: a conflict between constraints and special obligations and good consequences Both your parents have fallen out of canoe (they can’t swim and there are no life vests around), the only way you can save them is to throw the other large person out of your canoe (they can’t steer the canoe on their own so jumping into the water yourself would be useless, neither of you can swim) and giving their place to your parents. Or you could save 3 children who
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have fallen out of their canoe.
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