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Learning Module 1

Ethics: Definition, principles, areas

Philosophy is a system of ideas about human nature and the nature of the reality we
live in. It is a guide for living, because the issues it addresses are basic and pervasive,
determining the course we take in life and how we treat other people.
The topics that philosophy addresses fall into several distinct fields. Among those of
fundamental concern are:
Metaphysics (the theory of reality).
Epistemology (the theory of knowledge)
Ethics (the theory of moral values)
Politics (the theory of legal rights and government)
Aesthetics (the theory of the nature of art)


While the whole of philosophy is extensive and complicated, it can be reduced to the search for
the answers to the 10 issues below.
What is the nature of the universe? Where does it come from? Of what is it made? How did it
come to exist? What is its purpose? By what process does it change? Is it evolving or
devolving? Does it function by itself or would it degenerate to chaos without some kind of
intelligent control?
Is there a Supreme Being? If so, what is his nature? Did he create the universe? Does he
continue to control it personally and if so, at what level? What is his relationship with man? Does
he intervene in the affairs of man? Is this Being good? If this Being is good and all-powerful,
how can evil exist?
What is the place of man in the universe? Is man the highest fruit of the universe or is he just an
insignificant speck in infinite spaceor something in between? Does the spirit of man descend
into matter from higher spiritual realms, or has it evolved from matter? Is the universe conscious
or unconscious of man? If it is aware, is it warm and friendly to him, or cold and indifferent, or
even hostile?
What is reality? What is mind; what is thought? Is thought real? Which is superior: mind or
matter? Has mind created matter or has matter evolved mind? Where do ideas come from?
Does thought have any importance--does it make any difference in our lives--or is it just
fantasy? What is Truth? Is there a universal Truth, true for all men forever, or is Truth relative or
What determines the fate of each individual? Is man a creator and mover of his life, or does he
live at the effect of forces over which he has little control? Does free will exist or are our lives
determined by outside factorsand if so, what are those factors? How does life work: is there a
Supreme Force that intervenes in our lives? Or is everything pre-determined from the beginning
of time? Or is life just random, full of coincidence and accident? Or is there some other control
mechanism we do not perceive?
What is good and what is bad or evil? What is moral? What is ethical? Who decides good and
bad, right and wrong; and by what standard? Is there an absolute standard of good and bad
beyond ones the personal opinions? Should good and bad be determined by custom, by
rational law, or by the situation? What if the decisions of others (society, authorities, laws, etc)
determining good and bad are contrary to ones personal beliefs or freedoms? should you
obey others or follow your own conscience? Moreover, if as an answer to FIVE, we do not have
free will but are ruled by outside factors, what difference does good and bad make? we have
no choice. If so, we have no responsibility for doing bad.
Why are things the way they are? How should things be ideally? What is the good life for the
individual and for the many (society)? What would a Utopian society, a heaven on earth, be
like? Is it even possible to create a Utopia? If so, how? Would not a Utopia assure personal
freedom? What, then, should you do with those who dont cooperate and violate the Utopian
system? If you control or punish them, is there no longer a Utopia?
What is the ideal relation between the individual and the state? Should the individual serve the
state or the state serve the individual? What is the best form of government and what is the
worst? When is a man justified in disobeying the dictates of the state? To what extent should
the majority rule and thereby act against the freedom of the minorities? When is a man justified
in rebelling against the established order and creating a new state? What are the relative merits
of the different economic systems (capitalism, communism, etc.).
He who controls education controls the future. What is education? How should the young be
educatedwhat is important and what not? Who should control education: the parents, the
student, the society or the state? Should a student be taught to think for himself or to adopt the
beliefs of the society? Should man be educated to be free and live for his own interests; or to
subjugate his desires to serve others or the state? see Question EIGHT.
What happens at death? Is death the end of everything or is there a soul in man that continues
to exist beyond death? If so, is that soul immortal or does it too eventually cease to exist? If the
soul does continue to exist after death, what is the nature of that existence? If there is an
existence after death, is good rewarded and bad punished? If so, how do you reconcile this
with the concept of predestination? And if there is a God of INFINITE LOVE and
FORGIVENESS, how to you reconcile punishment?


Ethics or "moral philosophy", it is a major branch of philosophy, it is the study of values

and customs of a person or group. It covers the analysis and employment of concepts
such as right and wrong, good and evil, and responsibility. It is divided into three
primary areas: meta-ethics (the study of the concept of ethics), normative ethics (the
study of how to determine ethical values), and applied ethics (the study of the use of
ethical values.

Ethics comes from the Greek word ethos - moral character or custom. Morality comes
from the Latin word moralis - custom or manner. The words both deal with the customs
or the manner in which people do things. Their modern meanings relate to the way
people act either good or bad.

Morality, strictly speaking, is used to refer to what we would call moral conduct or
standards. Morality is looking at how good or bad our conduct is, and our standards
about conduct. Ethics is used to refer to the formal study of those standards or conduct.
Sometimes, one refers to the study of conduct as moral philosophy, but that is less
common than just saying "ethics." Hence, in most chiropractic colleges, there is an
ethics class, rather than one named "morality." One might say that morality is ethics in
action, but in the end, the two terms can be used interchangeably. The study of ethics
or moral philosophy can be divided into three broad areas: descriptive, normative and
analytical (or metaethics).

Descriptive ethics is simply describing how people behave. For example, people might
say that they think that stealing is bad, but descriptive ethics might tell us, from
observing these people, that they may have "downloaded" hundreds of media (in such
forms as .mp3 audio or .bmp image) files from file-sharing programs on the Internet.
Descriptive ethics let us see if we "walk the walk," and if we are just rationalizing our
way past our own moral beliefs.

Sometimes it takes an unbiased observer to point out to us where we are not meeting
our own standards. For some, discovering the hypocrisy might just get us to change
what we say is good or bad, and adopt and lessen our professed moral code to fit our
actions. Hopefully, descriptive ethics can lead to some moral self-reflection and an
improvement in our own behavior.

Normative ethics tries to establish norms or typical appropriate behaviors people

should perform. In ethics class, I call these the "shoulda,' gotta,' needa,' hafta' do"
things. One should be honest; in the language of ethics, this is called "veracity." We
know that as health care providers, we should strive to help our patients; this is called
beneficence. "Above all, do no harm" (or, as Hippocrates wrote: "primum non nocere")
is called "nonmaleficence" in ethics (not "nonmalfeasance"). Fairness, or justice, is
another norm. Gratitude and reparations are often mentioned.

Metaethics often looks at how people determine for themselves what norms to follow. I
think all parents would agree with me that they have a significant impact on what their
children grow up to believe are right and wrong actions. There are many other sources
of people's personal ethical beliefs. Generally, we learn good behaviors from our
teachers and our religions. In fact, despite all the strife due to religions, the commonality
is that they teach norms. The Ten Commandments, for example, is basically a list of
norms. For better, or often, for worse, our ethics are also influenced by our peers, and
our culture, as seen through the media. Lastly, we have the ability to make changes
though moral self-reflection.

What roles do guilt and fear play in ethics? They are the two great guardians of the
"straight and narrow." Some maintain their conduct within accepted ethical norms
because of the fear of getting caught. These people often do whatever they think that
they can "get away with." If they know they are not being watched and are unlikely to
get caught, they will violate almost any ethical norm. Of course, if they are a bit paranoid
or "chicken," they will not stray, as they are not prepared to follow the criminal's dictum:
"Don't do the crime if you can't do the time."

Guilt, on the other hand, is the motivator of honest people. Their decision to comply with
ethical norms is not based on whether they will get caught, but because they will know
that they did something they think is wrong. Sociopaths do not feel guilt because they
do not believe their actions are wrong. Ultimately, those who feel guilt as children
decide to be "good" because they don't want to feel guilty again. As they get older,
being good becomes a habit.

Need for Global Ethics

A. Do we need a new ethics ?

The suggestion is frequently voiced that since the moral corpus inherited from the
Christian legacy cannot cope with the needs of modern society we now have to
elaborate new codes better adapted to contemporary problems. Kolakowski 2 aptly
dismisses the idea by presenting convenient examples demonstrating no reason for
change -- indeed his examples do not validate the need. Indeed moral codes should not
conform to actually prevailing customs since ethics has always been about how people
ought to behave irrespective of how they behave in fact. Moreover, availability of new
techniques does not make, e.g., the problem of war more or less soluble by, e.g.,
making it easier to justify. He ignores, however, certain new discoveries that explain on
a biological basis, independent of human decisions, that what was once assumed to be
morally evil, e.g. homosexuality. But he contradicts himself saying that "the body of
Christian ethics is not construed in such a way that it can settle all our particular moral
conflicts" -- historically it pretended just to do so.

B. Ethical revolution, process of democratization and globalization

There is also another need for a new ethics connected with global processes. Each
religion or culture tended to be very certain that it alone had the complete explanation of
the ultimate meaning of life, and how to live accordingly. In non-democratic societies it
was easy to impose dominion of ideologies through political control of life. But from the
XVIIth century a process of democratization of societies was set in motion accompanied
by revolutions in understanding the limitedness of all statements about the meaning of
things. So now different religions, cultures and ideologies are drawn into dialogue with
each other. As the globe becomes more and more a small village there is an additional
need for a new unifying tendency toward universally accepted rational premises. A first
step in this direction would be the formulation of a universal declaration of global
ethics. It seems that declaration of global ethics in every detail is impossible -- but what
is possible is the consensus on fundamental attitudes toward good and evil in terms of
basic and middle principles. This consensus must be arrived at through a dialogue.

Leonard Swidler5 even proposes a plan of action in drafting this universal declaration of
global ethics which would serve as a minimal ethical standard for humankind to live up
to much as the United Nations' 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. It would serve as a
complementary document. The guidelines for drafting such a Declaration should
1. The language should be acceptable to major religious and ethical groups, and
therefore it ought to be anthropo-cosmo-centric.
2. The affirmation must be susceptible to being reinterpreted in a larger framework.
3. The declaration should set an inviolable minimum and open-ended maximum.
4. The declaration should be focused first on the self and then expanded to the family,
friends, community, nations, world and cosmos.
5. Human beings should be always treated as ends not mere means i.e., as subjects,
never as objects.
6. The declaration should be a kind of constitutional set of basic and middle ethical
principles from which more detailed applications could be drawn.
7. The starting point and the practical basis for evaluation of moral statement could be
the anthropic universal principle known as the Golden Rule.6 It was popularized in the
western world via the Judean culture ("Do to no one what you would not want done to
you," Leviticus 19:18; Tobit 4:16) but is found empirically in all cultures and religions
of the world: from Zoroastrianism through Confucianism, Buddhism, Judaism, New
Testamental Christianity and Islam, to modern religious and secular ethical systems.
Its rational basis was discovered by Kant as the universal moral law. Though Kant
did not recognize this rule as a universal law in the strict sense, he most certainly
would agree on its practical value. The golden rule has advantages over the Kantian
imperative: It is accepted in all cultures and religions, is practical and easy to
understand. Moreover, it was the underlying fundamental principle for morals in the
theistic ideologies before they became corrupted by the secondary doctrines.

Universal Declaration of Global Ethics

The Universal Declaration, though proposed for the first time by a Roman Catholic, was
promulgated in the ecumenical spirit to unite religious and non-religious positions, thus it
is fundamentally a humanist endeavor. The following text is based on the Declaration
published by Swidler.5
All women and men from various ethical and religious traditions recognize common
convictions: support of universal human rights -- freedom and equality before the law --
a call to work for justice and peace, support of democracy and concern for conservation
of the earth.

The conditions of the global order demand that the mankind should look beyond the
divisions of particular groups and build a global ethic based on the universally
recognized norms and principles. Therefore the Universal Declaration of a Global Ethics
is proposed as a document standing in conjunction with the 1948 Declaration of Human

Rights of the United nations. This document takes for granted several fundamental

1. Every human possesses an inalienable and inviolable dignity.

2. No person or social institution exists beyond the scope of moral order.
3. Humans as beings endowed with reason and conscience should act rationally.
4. Humans are an inextricable part of the universe and as such should act in harmony
with nature.

Basic Rule
The basic rational principle of morals is the axiom of moral law formulated in the
principles: of universality, of humanity and of the autonomy of the human will.
This principle, as the supreme criterion of moral acts, was recognized, accepted and
empirically formulated in all cultures, religious and secular ethical traditions as a
practical precept of the Golden Rule:
What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others.

Basic Principles

1. Every person is free to experience and develop every capacity as long as it does not
infringe on the rights of others or does not disrupt the harmony with the rest of the
2. All humans should treat each others as ends, never as means, respecting their
intrinsic dignity. This respect should be extended to the community, nation, world and
cosmos -- to all living creatures and non-living parts of the universe according to their
intrinsic values.
3. All humans should be granted a right to hold their own beliefs and strive to achieve
explanations for meaningful life. A rational dialogue is the only method of arriving at a
consensus whereby people can live together.

Middle Principles

1. Legal Responsibilities
All individuals and communities should be treated equally before the law. They should
follow all just laws arrived at through a democratic process and consensus.
2. Responsibilities Concerning Conscience
All individuals and communities should have the right to freedom of thought, inquiry,
conscience and a belief. At the same the exercise of these freedoms should respect the
rights of others.
3. Responsibilities Concerning Speech and Information
Individuals and communities should be granted the right to free expression and
information. At the same time this right should be exercised with a sense of
responsibility avoiding distortions, falsifications or manipulations of others.

4. Responsibilities Concerning Participation in the Political Process and Self-
All individuals and communities should have a right to free participation in all aspects of
the political process and self-governance. They should at the same time exercise their
right responsibly for the benefit of all involved.
5. Responsibilities Concerning the Relations between Women and Men
All humans, women and men, should have equal civil rights and the opportunity to
develop fully their talents. Marriage, as an institution, should be a partnership of equal
individuals with mutual respect of each other's dignity, equality and freedom.
6. Responsibilities Concerning Property
All individuals and communities should have the right to own property of various kinds.
At the same time society should be organized in such a way that the property would be
used to benefit not only the owners, but also their fellow humans and the world at large.
7. Responsibilities Concerning Work and Leisure
All individuals and communities should strive to organize society as to provide
meaningful work and recreative leisure for authentic human life. At the same time it is
the responsibility of the individuals to work appropriately with their obligations and
8. Responsibilities Concerning Children and Education
All individuals and communities have an obligation to strive to provide the most humane
care possible, physical, mental and social to children. They should strive to provide
education directed to full development of the human person.
9. Responsibilities Concerning Peace
All individuals and communities should respect the need for justice and peace, and
should strive to further their growth.
10. Responsibilities Concerning the Preservation of the Environment
All individuals and communities should respect the ecosphere within which they live,
preventing its destruction and replacing materials that were used.

Descriptions of Ethical Theories and Principles

Created by Catherine Rainbow for Biology 372 at Davidson College

Ethical theories and principles are the foundations of ethical analysis because they are
the viewpoints from which guidance can be obtained along the pathway to a decision.
Each theory emphasizes different points such as predicting the outcome and following
one's duties to others in order to reach an ethically correct decision. However, in order
for an ethical theory to be useful, the theory must be directed towards a common set of
goals. Ethical principles are the common goals that each theory tries to achieve in order
to be successful. These goals include beneficence, least harm, respect for autonomy
and justice (1,2,3,4).

Ethical Principles

The principle of beneficence guides the ethical theory to do what is good. This priority to
"do good" makes an ethical perspective and possible solution to an ethical dilemma
acceptable. This principle is also related to the principle of utility, which states that we
should attempt generate the largest ratio of good over evil possible in the world (2). This
principle stipulates that ethical theories should strive to achieve the greatest amount of
good because people benefit from the most good. This principle is mainly associated
with the utilitarian ethical theory found in the following section of this paper. An example
of "doing good" is found in the practice of medicine in which the health of an individual is
bettered by treatment from a physician (1,2).
Least Harm
This is similar to beneficence, but deals with situations in which neither choice is
beneficial. In this case, a person should choose to do the least harm possible and to do
harm to the fewest people. For instance, in the Hippocratic oath, a physician is first
charged with the responsibility to "do no harm" to the patient since the physician's
primary duty is to provide helpful treatment to the patient rather than to inflict more
suffering upon the patient (3,4).
One could also reasonably argue that people have a greater responsibility to "do no
harm" than to take steps to benefit others. For example, a person has a larger
responsibility to simply walk past a person rather than to punch a person as they walk
past with no justified reason (3,4).
Respect for Autonomy
This principle states that an ethical theory should allow people to reign over themselves
and to be able to make decisions that apply to their lives. This means that people
should have control over their lives as much as possible because they are the only
people who completely understand their chosen type of lifestyle. Each man deserves
respect because only he has had those exact life experiences and understands his
emotions, motivations and body in such an intimate manner. In essence, this ethical
principle is an extension of the ethical principle of beneficence because a person who is
independent usually prefers to have control over his life experiences in order to obtain
the lifestyle that he enjoys (1,4).
There are, however, two ways of looking at the respect for autonomy. In the
paternalistic viewpoint, an authority prioritizes a dependent person's best interests over
the dependent person's wishes (1). For example, a patient with terminal cancer may
prefer to live the rest of her life without the medication that makes her constantly ill. The
physician, on the other hand, may convince the patient and her family members to
make the patient continue taking her medication because the medication will prolong
her life. In this situation, the physician uses his or her authority to manipulate the patient
to choose the treatment that will benefit him or her best medically. As noted in this
example, one drawback of this principle is that the paternalistic figure may not have the
same ideals as the dependent person and will deny the patient's autonomy and ability to
choose her treatment. This, in turn, leads to a decreased amount of beneficence.

A second way in which to view the respect for autonomy is the libertarian view. This
standpoint prioritizes the patient's wishes over their best interests. This means that the
patient has control over her life and should be content with her quality of life because
she has chosen the path of life with the greatest amount of personal beneficence.
Although this viewpoint is more mindful of the patient's desires, it does not prevent the
patient from making decisions that may be more harmful than beneficial (1).
The justice ethical principle states that ethical theories should prescribe actions that are
fair to those involved. This means that ethical decisions should be consistent with the
ethical theory unless extenuating circumstances that can be justified exist in the case.
This also means that cases with extenuating circumstances must contain a significant
and vital difference from similar cases that justify the inconsistent decision. An ethical
decision that contains justice within it has a consistent logical basis that supports the
decision (1,3,4). For example a policeman is allowed to speed on the highway if he
must arrive at the scene of a crime as quickly as possible in order to prevent a person
from getting hurt. Although the policeman would normally have to obey the speed limit,
he is allowed to speed in this unique situation because it is a justified under the
extenuating circumstances.

Ethical Theories
Ethical theories are based on the previously explained ethical principles. They each
emphasize different aspects of an ethical dilemma and lead to the most ethically correct
resolution according to the guidelines within the ethical theory itself. People usually
base their individual choice of ethical theory upon their life experiences (1,2).

The deontological theory states that people should adhere to their obligations and
duties when analyzing an ethical dilemma. This means that a person will follow his or
her obligations to another individual or society because upholding one's duty is what is
considered ethically correct (1,2). For instance, a deontologist will always keep his
promises to a friend and will follow the law. A person who follows this theory will
produce very consistent decisions since they will be based on the individual's set duties.
Deontology provides a basis for special duties and obligations to specific people, such
as those within one's family. For example, an older brother may have an obligation to
protect his little sister when they cross a busy road together. This theory also praises
those deontologists who exceed their duties and obligations, which is called
"supererogation" (1). For example, if a person hijacked a train full of students and stated
that one person would have to die in order for the rest to live, the person who volunteers
to die is exceeding his or her duty to the other students and performs an act of

Although deontology contains many positive attributes, it also contains its fair number of
flaws. One weakness of this theory is that there is no rationale or logical basis for
deciding an individual's duties. For instance, businessman may decide that it is his duty

to always be on time to meetings. Although this appears to be a noble duty we do not
know why the person chose to make this his duty. Perhaps the reason that he has to be
at the meeting on time is that he always has to sit in the same chair. A similar scenario
unearths two other faults of deontology including the fact that sometimes a person's
duties conflict, and that deontology is not concerned with the welfare of others. For
instance, if the deontologist who must be on time to meetings is running late, how is he
supposed to drive? Is the deontologist supposed to speed, breaking his duty to society
to uphold the law, or is the deontologist supposed to arrive at his meeting late, breaking
his duty to be on time? This scenario of conflicting obligations does not lead us to a
clear ethically correct resolution nor does it protect the welfare of others from the
deontologist's decision. Since deontology is not based on the context of each situation,
it does not provide any guidance when one enters a complex situation in which there
are conflicting obligations (1,2).

The utilitarian ethical theory is founded on the ability to predict the consequences of an
action. To a utilitarian, the choice that yields the greatest benefit to the most people is
the choice that is ethically correct. One benefit of this ethical theory is that the utilitarian
can compare similar predicted solutions and use a point system to determine which
choice is more beneficial for more people. This point system provides a logical and
rationale argument for each decision and allows a person to use it on a case-by-case
context (1,2).
There are two types of utilitarianism, act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism. Act
utilitarianism adheres exactly to the definition of utilitarianism as described in the above
section. In act utilitarianism, a person performs the acts that benefit the most people,
regardless of personal feelings or the societal constraints such as laws. Rule
utilitarianism, however, takes into account the law and is concerned with fairness. A rule
utilitarian seeks to benefit the most people but through the fairest and most just means
available. Therefore, added benefits of rule utilitarianism are that it values justice and
includes beneficence at the same time (1,2).
As with all ethical theories, however, both act and rule utilitarianism contain numerous
flaws. Inherent in both are the flaws associated with predicting the future. Although
people can use their life experiences to attempt to predict outcomes, no human being
can be certain that his predictions will be true. This uncertainty can lead to unexpected
results making the utilitarian look unethical as time passes because his choice did not
benefit the most people as he predicted (1,2). For example, if a person lights a fire in a
fireplace in order to warm his friends, and then the fire burns down the house because
the soot in the chimney caught on fire, then the utilitarian now seems to have chosen an
unethical decision. The unexpected house fire is judged as unethical because it did not
benefit his friends.
Another assumption that a utilitarian must make is that he has the ability to compare the
various types of consequences against each other on a similar scale. However,

comparing material gains such as money against intangible gains such as happiness is
impossible since their qualities differ to such a large extent (1).
A third failing found in utilitarianism is that it does not allow for the existence of
supererogation or heroes. In other words, people are obligated to constantly behave so
that the most people benefit regardless of the danger associated with an act (1). For
instance, a utilitarian who sacrifices her life to save a train full of people is actually
fulfilling an obligation to society rather than performing a selfless and laudable act.
As explained above, act utilitarianism is solely concerned with achieving the maximum
good. According to this theory an individual's rights may be infringed upon in order to
benefit a greater population. In other words, act utilitarianism is not always concerned
with justice, beneficence or autonomy for an individual if oppressing the individual leads
to the solution that benefits a majority of people. Another source of instability within act
utilitarianism is apparent when a utilitarian faces one set of variable conditions and then
suddenly experiences a change in those variables that causes her to change her
original decision. This means that an act utilitarian could be nice to you one moment
and then dislike you the next moment because the variables have changed, and you are
no longer beneficial to the most people (1).
Rule utilitarianism also contains a source of instability that inhibits its usefulness. In rule
utilitarianism, there is the possibility of conflicting rules (1). Let us revisit the example of
a person running late for his meeting. While a rule utilitarian who just happens to be a
state governor may believe that it is ethically correct to arrive at important meetings on
time because the members of the state government will benefit from this decision, he
may encounter conflicting ideas about what is ethically correct if he is running late. As a
rule utilitarian, he believes that he should follow the law because this benefits an entire
society, but at the same time, he believes that it is ethically correct to be on time for his
meeting because it is a state government meeting that also benefits the society. There
appears to be no ethically correct answer for this scenario (1).

In the rights ethical theory the rights set forth by a society are protected and given the
highest priority. Rights are considered to be ethically correct and valid since a large or
ruling population endorses them. Individuals may also bestow rights upon others if they
have the ability and resources to do so (1). For example, a person may say that her
friend may borrow the car for the afternoon. The friend who was given the ability to
borrow the car now has a right to the car in the afternoon.
A major complication of this theory on a larger scale, however, is that one must
decipher what the characteristics of a right are in a society. The society has to
determine what rights it wants to uphold and give to its citizens. In order for a society to
determine what rights it wants to enact, it must decide what the society's goals and
ethical priorities are. Therefore, in order for the rights theory to be useful, it must be
used in conjunction with another ethical theory that will consistently explain the goals of
the society (1). For example in America people have the right to choose their religion
because this right is upheld in the Constitution. One of the goals of the founding fathers'
of America was to uphold this right to freedom of religion. However, under Hitler's reign

in Germany, the Jews were persecuted for their religion because Hitler decided that
Jews were detrimental to Germany's future success. The American government
upholds freedom of religion while the Nazi government did not uphold it and, instead,
chose to eradicate the Jewish religion and those who practiced it.
The casuist ethical theory is one that compares a current ethical dilemma with examples
of similar ethical dilemmas and their outcomes. This allows one to determine the
severity of the situation and to create the best possible solution according to others'
experiences. Usually one will find paradigms that represent the extremes of the situation
so that a compromise can be reached that will hopefully include the wisdom gained from
the previous examples (2).
One drawback to this ethical theory is that there may not be a set of similar examples
for a given ethical dilemma. Perhaps that which is controversial and ethically
questionable is new and unexpected. Along the same line of thinking, a casuistical
theory also assumes that the results of the current ethical dilemma will be similar to
results in the examples. This may not be necessarily true and would greatly hinder the
effectiveness of applying this ethical theory (2).

The virtue ethical theory judges a person by his character rather than by an action that
may deviate from his normal behavior. It takes the person's morals, reputation and
motivation into account when rating an unusual and irregular behavior that is considered
unethical. For instance, if a person plagiarized a passage that was later detected by a
peer, the peer who knows the person well will understand the person's character and
will be able to judge the friend. If the plagiarizer normally follows the rules and has good
standing amongst his colleagues, the peer who encounters the plagiarized passage
may be able to judge his friend more leniently. Perhaps the researcher had a late night
and simply forgot to credit his or her source appropriately. Conversely, a person who
has a reputation for scientific misconduct is more likely to be judged harshly for
plagiarizing because of his consistent past of unethical behavior (2).
One weakness of this ethical theory is that it does not take into consideration a person's
change in moral character. For example, a scientist who may have made mistakes in
the past may honestly have the same late night story as the scientist in good standing.
Neither of these scientists intentionally plagiarized, but the act was still committed. On
the other hand, a researcher may have a sudden change from moral to immoral
character may go unnoticed until a significant amount of evidence mounts up against
him or her (2).
Ethical theories and principles bring significant characteristics to the decision-making
process. Although all of the ethical theories attempt to follow the ethical principles in
order to be applicable and valid by themselves, each theory falls short with complex
flaws and failings. However, these ethical theories can be used in combination in order
to obtain the most ethically correct answer possible for each scenario. For example, a
utilitarian may use the casuistic theory and compare similar situations to his real life
situation in order to determine the choice that will benefit the most people. The

deontologist and the rule utilitarian governor who are running late for their meeting may
use the rights ethical theory when deciding whether or not to speed to make it to the
meeting on time. Instead of speeding, they would slow down because the law in the
rights theory is given the highest priority, even if it means that the most people may not
benefit from the decision to drive the speed limit. By using ethical theories in
combination, one is able to use a variety of ways to analyze a situation in order to reach
the most ethically correct decision possible (1).
We are fortunate to have a variety of ethical theories that provide a substantial
framework when trying to make ethically correct answers. Each ethical theory attempts
to adhere to the ethical principles that lead to success when trying to reach the best
decision. When one understands each individual theory, including its strengths and
weaknesses, one can make the most in formed decision when trying to achieve an
ethically correct answer to a dilemma.

1. Andrew G. Oldenquist. Moral Philosophy. Text and Readings. (Prospect Heights,
Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc., 1978).
2. Leszek Kolakowski, "Ethics," in Dialogue and Humanism, The Universalist Journal,
Vol. IV, No. 4, 1994, pp. 5-44.
3. Immanuel Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals and What is
Enlightenment. Translated, with Introduction, by Lewis White Beck. (New York, London:
Macmillan Publishing Company, Collier Macmillan publishers, 1988).
4. Blaise Pascal, Provinciales, in Oeuvres compltes. Prface d'Henri Gouhier de
L'Institut. Prsentation et notes de Louis Lafuma. (Paris: Aux ditions du Seuil, 1963).
5. Leonard Swidler, "Toward a Universal Declaration of a Global Ethic," in Dialogue and
Humanism, The Universalist Journal, Vol. IV, No. 4, 1994, pp. 51-64.
6. Marian Hillar. "Justification of Morals in the Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas," in
Ethics and Humanism. Anthology of Essays, (Houston: Humanists of Houston, 1992).

Internet links


Ethics (ethics cases)