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Fundamentals of Ethics Supplementary Notes

“Watch your thoughts, they become words.

Watch your words, they become actions.
Watch your actions, they become habits.
Watch your habits, they become character.
Watch your character, they become your destiny.”


A. Etymological: The word ethics comes from the Greek word “ethos” ,meaning : custom, a
habitual way of acting character, a meaning that the Latin terms “mos” , “moris” also connote.
Among the Greeks, “ethics” meant what concerns human conduct/human action.

B. Descriptive: Largely a concern of cultural anthropologists and sociologists. Its task is to

describe how some person, members of a culture or society address all sorts of moral issues,
what customs they have, and so, how they are accustomed to behave.

C. Meta-ethics: Concerns itself with the meanings of moral terms: like good and bad, right and
wrong, duties and rights, etc. Hence the concern is with the understanding of the use of these
terms, their logical forms and the objects to which they refer. Sometimes the concern of meta-
ethicist is even more fundamental: What is the possibility of moral philosophy.

D. Normative: Ethics is normative, not in the way that logic is, namely. With regard to the
correctness of our thinking, but with regard to the goodness of our living, the right orientation of
our existence. It is a practical science, not simply because it treats human action, but also
because it aims at guiding this. Moralists are not content to describe human conduct: they intend
to judge and rectify it. They propose rules and give warning, they provide counsels and issue
precepts, so as to make clear to men the path of right living and to help them walk upon it.

E. Normative can be understood in two ways:

1. Teleological (Telos) End, Goal, Fulfillment, Realization. It puts more emphasis on morality as
the attainment of man’s end, fulfillment and happiness. One can have in mind the art of living, the
technique for acquiring happiness. The terms good and bad has the teleological connotation of that
which is in conformity or not with the goal. Therefore good and bad signify fulfillment completion,
perfection or not.
2. Deontological: (Deon). They put more stress on the aspect of moral duty and obligation. It can be
understood as the science which is concerned what is worthy of a Human Being. To liver rightly will
not then be the equivalent of: to live happily, but: to live as one should. Thus, right and wrong has a
deontological implications which refer to morally binding and obligatory. Therefore, the right action
is that which we ought to do or ought to have done, the wrong action that which we ought to refrain
from or ought to have refrained from doing.

F. The need to study Ethics:

1. Ethics makes clear to us why one act is better than the other.
2. Ethics contributes an orderly social life by providing humanity some basis for agreement,
understanding some principles or rules of procedure.
3. Moral conduct and ethical system both of the past and of the present, must be intelligibly
appraised and criticized.
4. Ethics seeks to point out to men the true values of life.


G. Assumptions of Ethics:
1. Man is a Rational Being
2. Man as Free

H. The Objects of Ethics:

1. Physical: The doer of the act.
2. Non Physical: The act done by doer. Human acts- are said to be the formal objects of ethics
because they have moral value. Acts of man: Involuntary natural acts, Voluntary natural acts,
Amoral and Neutral Acts.

I. Classification of Human Acts

1. Moral or Ethical Acts: These are human acts that observe or conforms to the standards or norms
of morality.

2. Human Will: Moral acts stem from the human will that controls or influences the internal and
external actions of man. The will stirs a person to act or hampers him from acting. It colors the
motives for his engaging or disengaging in a certain action. Living against all odds, hoping in he
midst of hopelessness, finding meaning in great loss, selfless sacrifice for others-these are just few
cases that demonstrate the power of the will to motivate the human soul for goodness, hope and
determination or the reverse. It is this art of the soul that affects the freedom and reasoning of the
individual. The will is the agency of choice. The will may prompt reason to overpower passion or on
the other extreme, arouse passion and allow it to overrun reason. As such, the will is a potential force
for both good and evil. The strength and weakness of the will determines the strength and weakness
of a person’s character. Thus, the will affects one’s action, and that therefore, it must be brought
closer to reason and to the proper sense of morality and goodness. It is morality which directs the
will to its proper choice through the instruction of the moral sense which is borne out of human

J. ELEMENTS of Moral Dimension

1. Action: It is the moving of oneself and taking concrete means in view of the goal or end, which is
not yet but which somehow ought to be. It requires man to take the means and to set into motion a
course of events, starting from himself and moving into the world, toward what ought to be , toward
some future state of being, which eventually includes himself and the world. Tis moral end or goal
needs to be made more precise, but in any case, morality is primarily man taking up action, doing
something, realizing something which ought to be.
2. Freedom: Morality requires man to act , to realize what he must be and what his very being ought
to be. Morality therefore, presupposes freedom of action. Freedom of choice of the means, Freedom
of choice of intermediate goals, Freedom to follow or not man’s ultimate end, the freedom to
determine oneself to be truly he is.
3. Judgment: Action can be judge as good or bad; right or wrong, which can be classified as the
norms of morality, which refers to some ideal vision of man, an ideal stage or perfection of man,
which serves as the ultimate goal and norm. In this light, the good seems to be the kind of ultimate
norm, the measure of the ultimate meaning and worth of man’s existence. ( Norms: Technical,
societal, Aesthetic, Ethical/Moral)
4. Universality: The law of universality: “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the
same time will that it should become a universal law, that is: Action is moral in so far as one can say
that any man in one’s place should act in the same way. Morality therefore, of its very nature, is
infinitely open and inclusive of any and every human person, placing man in the context of the
community of all fellow human beings. For this reason, equality and justice are the direct corollaries
of moral experience.
5. Obligation: The state of being bound or required to do or not to do, a categorical imperative. In
this sense, the good is universally binding and obligatory on man so that his being is an “ought-to-
be” and an “ought to act” in view of his very being. That is the “good”.


K. Components of Moral Acts:
1. Intention: or motive of the act
2. The means of the act
3. The end

Fundamental Moral Principle

The Principle of Respect for Autonomy

Autonomy is Latin for "self-rule." We have an obligation to respect the autonomy of other persons,
which is to respect the decisions made by other people concerning their own lives. This is also called the
principle of human dignity. It gives us a negative duty not to interfere with the decisions of competent
adults, and a positive duty to empower others for whom we’re responsible. Corollary principles: honesty
in our dealings with others & the obligation to keep promises.

The Principle of Beneficence

We have an obligation to bring about good in all our actions. Corollary principle: We must take positive
steps to prevent harm. However, adopting this corollary principle frequently places us in direct conflict
with respecting the autonomy of other persons.

The Principle of Non-maleficence

It is not "non-malfeasance," which is a technical legal term, and it is not "non-malevolence," which
means that one did not intend to harm. We have an obligation not to harm others: "First, do no harm."
Corollary principles: Where harm cannot be avoided, we are obligated to minimize the harm we do.
Don't increase the risk of harm to others. It is wrong to waste resources that could be used for good.

Combining beneficence and non-maleficence: Each action must produce more good than harm.

The Principle of Justice

We have an obligation to provide others with whatever they are owed or deserve. In public life, we have
an obligation to treat all people equally, fairly, and impartially. Corollary principle: Impose no unfair

Combining beneficence and justice: We are obligated to work for the benefit of those who are unfairly



Conceived in the 19th century by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, the most popular in
business: the cost-benefit analysis in business is a form of this theory; Basis for the rightness of an
action: consequences or effect on all persons affected (including the agent).
UTILITARIANISM: an action is right if and only if the sum total benefits produced by that act is greater
than the sum total benefits produced by any other act the agent could have performed in its place.

UTILITARIANISM: An action is right if and only if the sum total benefits produced by that act is
greater than the sum total benefits produced by any other act the agent could have performed in its place.


Two main limitations

1. In its traditional form, it is difficult to use when dealing with values that are difficult and perhaps
impossible to measure quantitatively.
2. It ignores the questions of rights (individual entitlements to freedom of choice and to well being)
and justice (how benefits and burdens are distributed among people). Rule utilitarianism (vs.
case utilitarianism) tries to answer this by proposing the evaluation of rules instead of cases.

The individual’s entitlement to something; In contrast to legal rights, moral or human rights are
derived from a system of moral standards that specify that all human beings are permitted, empowered
to do something, or entitled to have something done for them.

The basis of moral rights is Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative, which, for our purposes,
has two formulations:

First formulation:

“I ought never to act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a
universal law.” An action is morally right for a person in a certain situation if, and only if, the
person’s reason for carrying out the action is a reason that he or she would be willing to have every
person act on, in any similar situation.

Two criteria, therefore, are necessary for determining moral right and wrong:



(similar to the Golden Rule: Do unto others what you would want them do unto you.)

Second Formulation:

“Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any
other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.” An action is morally right for a
person, if, and only if, in performing the action, the person does not use others merely as a means for
advancing his or her own interest, but also both respects and develops their capacity to choose freely
for themselves.


“Justice consists…in treating equals equally and unequals unequally, and in giving each person his due.”

Three categories of justice and fairness:

1. Compensatory Justice: concerns the just way in compensating someone for a past injustice or
what he/she lost when wronged by others.
2. Retributive justice: consists in the just imposition of punishment and penalties on those who do
wrong. This is related to procedural justice, referring to fair decision procedures, practices,
3. Distributive Justice: involves the fair distribution of benefits and burdens.

When issues concerning the common good are at stake, distributive justice comes into play. The
principle of distributive justice simply states:


Individuals who are similar in all respects relevant to the kind of treatment in question should be
given similar benefits and burdens, even if they are dissimilar in other irrelevant respects; and
individuals who are dissimilar in a relevant respect ought to be treated dissimilarly, in proportion to
their dissimilarity.

Virtues are dispositions, attitudes, habits that form the character of a person, developing his or
her highest potentials. Aristotle held that virtues are habits that enable a person to act in accordance
with reason, and acting in accordance with reason is choosing the mean between the two extremes, the
extreme of excess and the extreme of lack.

An action is morally right if in carrying out the action the agent exercises, exhibits, or develops a
morally virtuous character, and it is morally wrong to the extent that by carrying out the action the agent
exercises, exhibits, or develops a morally vicious character.

Virtue ethics then determines the rightness or wrongness of an action “by examining the kind of
character the action tends to produce or the kind of a character that tends to produce the action.”

One criticism of Kohlberg comes from Carol Gilligan, a psychologist who studied the moral
development of women. For Gilligan, the moral development for women is marked by progress towards
more adequate ways of caring.

(Most ethicists recently have pointed out the ethics of caring is not only for women but also for men.)

An ethics of care emphasizes two moral demands:

1. We should preserve and nurture those concrete and valuable relationships we have with specific
persons who have become part of our lives and have formed us as we are.
2. We should care for those with whom we are concretely related by attending to their particular
needs, values, desires, well-being as seen from their own personal perspective, and by
responding to these needs, values, desires, well-being, especially of those who are vulnerable and
dependent on our care.

Two important points:

1. An ethics of care should encompass larger systems of relationship leading to a “communitarian

2. An ethics of care provides a corrective to other ethical principles that emphasizes impartiality
and universality.

In Summary, when making a moral decision, ask the following questions:

1. Does the action maximize social benefits and minimize social injuries?
2. Is the action consistent with the moral rights of those affected?
3. Will the action bring just distribution of benefits and burdens?
4. What kind of person will one become if one makes this decision?
5. Does the action exhibit care for the wellbeing of those who are closely related to or dependent on