Welcome to Ethics (overview of ethical principles, etc.)



okay welcome to the study of ethics you can begin your study of ethics by reading a book like Russ Shaffer Linda is a fundamental of ethics or enrolling in a course like mine in this overview video I'll give you a sense for what the study of ethics is about and I'll specially emphasize understanding the major ethical principles at work in the minds of most people in the end I hope this course and book will enrich your intellectual understanding of ethics and also help you live the best life possible there are several areas of focus in this course for four areas logic ethical principles wisdom traditions and applied ethics but most of the course focuses on ethical principles so let's start there well later return to logic wisdom traditions applied ethics and science and so on ok now you can see the ethical principles listed on the screen as I go through them keep in mind that this part of the course the major part is very cerebral analytic and intellectual we're not reading Aesop's fables here to make you a better person nor are we training you to have good habits rather we're exploring the ethical principles that not only shape the morality of most people but also the ethical principles that shape the laws in most countries or at least the ethical principles people use to try to justify their moral and legal opinions again since philosophy is a game of reason we will look at the rational arguments for and against these principles ok principle one is normative or prescriptive relativism so if we were debating slavery a relativist of this type what might argue that slavery is wrong with my culture disapproves of it and slavery is ok with my culture approves of it many people often take this position when they argue ethics is all about how I'm raised or my upbringing and so on that is the reason that if ethics is not objective and then it's completely up to each culture in this course we'll look at the problems with this type of prescriptive relativism with attempting to justify your moral opinions by peeling to your culture alone I guarantee you that you'll find deeper arguments both for and against your position whatever it is then you ever consider before so be humble and open-minded and ready to studying these arguments alright number two principle two is individual relativism which we call subjectivism so supposing there's no objective truth and it's relative to each person then the question is what do I feel is right so let's consider slavery again slavery is wrong if I feel it's wrong slavery is okay if I feel it's okay that's house Objectivists describe their moral opinions and this is different from the first type of relativism because this type is based in the individual instead of the culture many people say things like it's up to each person it's all opinions all about how you feel and so on and these people may be expressing a subjectivist principle here again will consider the strongest arguments for and against this position and you may be surprised at the strength of arguments against these first two principles now if you disagree about the definition of relativism we're using here in philosophy and normative ethics you're probably confusing it with meta ethical relativism or cognitive relativism where Einstein's relativism I don't know and these are the first two our views that we'll briefly briefly consider later in the course okay principle three is ethical egoism what's in my self-interest where are the best consequences for me me me me according to ethical egoism slavery is wrong if it's not in my long-term and objective self-interest but it's okay if it is so in this course will examine the strengths and weaknesses a base in your morality solely and what's in your self-interest now this discussion can get rather abstract and really interesting and many people will confuse psychological egoism with ethical egoism but the bottom line is this is your morality all about self-interest and should it be there are really crude and deep arguments and answers on both sides of this debate and you're in for some surprises here okay and we'll also see a role that science plays in this particular debate ok principle 4 is utilitarianism utilitarians consider what will produce the best consequences for everyone so in the case of slavery slavery is wrong if it doesn't maximize the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people and right if it does according to utilitarianism it doesn't matter what my culture says what matters is whether it will maximize net happiness or not it doesn't matter what you feel is right what matters is what will truly maximize greatest happiness for everyone and that's why utilitarianism is not the sort of relativism that we just looked at utilitarianism is not because it gives you independent criteria by which to judge the customs of your culture or any culture or the preferences of any particular individual for example if a utilitarian calculates that slavery will not maximize net happiness then slavery is wrong no matter what a culture or individual believes and feels it's not relative them in the sense discussed above finally utilitarianism is not egoism because it doesn't matter if it's in your self-interest what matters is what's in everyone's self-interest so egoism all about me me me you told Terry nism is about everyone so we'll examine the strengths and weaknesses of utilitarianism which is the major form of consequentialist ethics and by the way most ethicists believe that you told terry anism deontology and virtue theory are the three strongest ethical approaches also understanding utilitarianism will not only help you better understand how people form moral beliefs it'll also help you understand the foundation of many laws in every single culture on this tiny planet in the vast cosmos ok let's go to the next principle principle 5 which is deontological or categorical ethics so deontologists focus on fairness rights and the dignity of every individual in the case of slavery they ask is slavery fair to everyone does it protect rights for everyone does slavery treat people as ends and not merely as means to ends if the answer is no then slavery is wrong according to deontologists you can see my slavery video for more on the historical arguments for and against slavery if you're interested in that now deontology is an interesting and often misunderstood theory deontology at which kantianism in Ross's intuition ISM are major forms it's not relativism or individual relativism because it gives it gives us a way to judge what a culture or individual feels is right for example slavery may be wrong because it violates the categorical imperative it doesn't matter if you feel it's right here if your culture feels it's right so deontologists do not get their morality from culture or individual feelings rather deontologists believe they get it from a deeper source of duty based on pure reason itself they believe they are judging culture and feelings based on this deeper sense of duty that no culture can instill or take away cultures can only cultivate or not cultivate it now deontology is not egoism either since everyone counts and deontology not just me nor is it utilitarianism since utilitarianism is basing morality and consequences whereas deontologist focus more on them our focus on the motive in the act itself again most philosophers believe deontology virtue ethics and utilitarianism are the three strongest theories in deontology two is a foundation of many laws not just morals right and some of these laws conflict with laws founded on utilitarianism ok interestingly most people unknowingly or knowingly but usually unknowingly use deontological arguments to argue against slavery another gross and justices principle six is a virtue theory virtue theory is different from the other theories it doesn't reduce morality to a principle but it outlines what it means to be a moral person so virtue theorists explore what a human should be not so much what a human should do virtue ethics begins with the question what sort of person should I be in the case of slavery do I want to be the person who owns slaves and then finds reasons to justify or rationalize this practice or do I want to be a different sort of person so virtue theory does not begin with the question what should I do the other theories begin with that question and then they determine what sort of person I should be virtue Theory reverses it and begins with the question what sort of person should I be after they paint a holistic and irreducible picture of the good person in a sort of transcultural way they then define duty in reference to this picture now one beautiful aspect of virtue theory is it focuses on persons more than principles and rules intellectual principles and roles and one major form is Aristotle's golden mean now of course this may be a weakness as well focusing on persons instead of principles and so we'll extraor the strengths and weaknesses of this virtue theory principle seven is intuition ISM an intuitionist is a type of deontologists that believes we can immediately into it right and wrong in intuition in philosophy is a truth that you immediately grasp no reasoning is required for example an intuitionist may argue that slavery is just obviously wrong you into it that the relativistic utilitarian egoistic arguments supporting slavery are just wrong like jazz you either get it or you don't okay by the way that's one weakness of intuition ISM you either get it or you don't it seems to cut off reasoning more than some of the other theories but it has strengths too so for example intuitionists usually believe you can develop your intuitions over a lifetime of experience much like a great doctor musician or coach can develop intuitions over a lifetime and then they can immediately into it at a truth that others cannot into it or even intellectually discover right there's a great book by Malcolm Gladwell called blink which kind of explores how intuitions are sometimes sometimes should be trusted and he tells you when you should trust them okay very interesting book anyway the main form of intuition ISM that we'll explore is that of W D Ross okay and this form will have strengths and weaknesses okay principal aid is natural law theory natural law theories focus on what's in what is in harmony with the order nature and purpose of the world so in the case of slavery if the purpose of some humans is to serve others without pay then slavery is good and if not slavery is bad so many popular moral arguments as well as legal arguments appeal to natural law but there's a lot of confusion about what natural law is so we'll clarify it in this course now notice natural law is not relativism because it gives us a way to judge any culture or individual belief it's closest to deontological ethics now notice that in this course I'll often ask you to contrast a theory with some other theory like relativism because many people tend to inflate the meaning of these theories so they all blend together in a scatterbrain mess so keep that in mind okay returning to natural law one criticism of natural law is that we can which should be the case from what is the case we can never infer an art Fuhrman is alone we'll examine this and other criticisms of natural law theory I can guarantee you that your first thoughts are probably not very deep the arguments for and against this and other theories principles that we you know these arguments have been developed over thousands of years and they continue to be developed by highly intelligent people if you think it's quite simple and silly you probably just haven't understood their arguments all right principle nine is religion so many religious people are natural law theorists but not all of them those that are not natural law theorists often use arguments based more on Authority like an authority of the Bible the Koran the priest the rabbi and so on so some slave owners quoted the Bible to support slavery and abolitionists quoted the Bible to oppose it okay there's much to say about religion you can see some of it in my videos on slavery or the Euthyphro dilemma but for now keep in mind that religion is not prescriptive relativism of the kind we mentioned earlier because if God tells you what is right and wrong then what God tells you may conflict with what your culture or individual feelings and beliefs are and religion is not utilitarianism because God may tell you the good act is the one that doesn't maximize the greatest happiness for the greatest number the good act may create holiness or justice not happiness and religion is not necessarily egoism because God may require you to give up self-interest and help others Iran absolutely hates this aspect of religion right so in this course we will not seek to prove or disprove God's existence okay we're not going to look at those arguments in depth rather we'll think about the strengths and weaknesses of basing your morality on religion alone religious authority alone I should also add that many religious people use other principles because they believe God gave them reason to discover right and wrong not simply cite authorities for example there are religious utilitarians religious virtue theorists and so on so in short we'll explore the relationship between religion and morality and again it's much deeper and more interesting than most people assume and just to get a feel for that deepness just go look at the Euthyphro video okay principle ten is the ethics of care most philosophers consider ethics of care a type of virtue theory because it doesn't attempt to reduce morality to a law or principle or an authority rather it's focused on care and relationships not intellectual principles those are the foundation of morality not intellectual principles so this is where we'll explore also the possible gender differences in morality and consider what people mean by feminist ethics all right principle eleven I threw in here as ethical pluralism so throughout the course will consider pluralism many of my students like this pluralism is the rejection of monism it's the rejection of the idea that ethics can and should be reduced to one principle one principle like utilitarianism or one principle like relativism or even one approach like maybe even science so plural is seek to harmonize several principles to live the best life possible or to discover ethical truth so that's pluralism alright one last principle is existentialism existentialism it's partly I the idea that none of these theories are true or false rather it's your choice on how you will live so will you choose to be a utilitarian in the trolley dilemma will you choose to support slavery or oppose it whatever you choose to become the existentialist wants to remind you that you have free will you have choice and since you have free will don't hide behind your culture don't hide behind your feelings religion science of bringing genetics or nihilistic tendencies don't hide behind those choose to be responsible for your life in each case in every time you have a moral dilemma and you make a choice you are choosing one or more of the ethical principles mentioned above whether you know it or not so become aware of it and own it so as the existentialist okay all right so those are the principles now for a couple of days we'll also explore the role of science and ethics what's the relationship between ethics and science what are the problems with basing for exam while your morality and survival of the fittest our children born bias are good or evil why is it impossible to derive logically and odd Furman is alone and why is it logically fallacious to drive a value from a fact okay what's the naturalistic fallacy can science and form but not ground moral principles so the relationship between science and ethics is really interesting and people make one of two mistakes usually they mistakenly think that science and facts play no role in ethics because I think this is all about values opinions feelings or upbringing whereas science is about facts okay or they mistakenly think that science can explain and justify all of ethics and we'll explore both misconceptions and more in this course so these are the ethical principles we'll cover and the first week we'll also explore the fundamentals of logic and then apply them apply them throughout the course so the this is the two ways to evaluate arguments the informal fallacies the idea of falsifiability in a Socratic method and then you apply them in your papers and in their discussion forums and so on so when you look at all the ethical principles in this course it's not necessarily a matter of figuring out what's true or false it's also about which principles will you choose which principles have you unknowingly been choosing and which principles are our laws based on which should they be based on how can they be harmonized what should we do when these principles conflict so this course can clarify your thinking on the moral legal issues that you knowingly or unknowingly engage in on a daily basis okay so what about applied ethics well as you learn these principles will directly and indirectly explore issues and applied ethics issues like genetic engineering cloning war euthanasia animal welfare abortion death penalty the theories that we study the principles that we study will help us clarify our moral and legal ideas and these issues so you may notice that most of the course is intellectual we're exploring and evaluating ideas it's it may feel like exploring the physics of swimming without ever getting wet right so understanding these ideas though might enrich your life in practical ways but only if you apply them only if you jump in the wall so I had to help you jump in we'll also look at wisdom traditions specifically we'll spend one week on stoicism one week and Epicureanism and one week on Buddhism you will explain evaluate and apply these classic wisdom traditions this classic advice for living well so these three traditions may help you live a richer life and they'll give it a more experiential feel to the course there may be some things that the intellect just cannot really understand and rather you must experience and live them and these wisdom traditions will point us in that direction they'll be our guide so in short for the course my hope is you'll put forth the effort in this course and where it's a deepen your ability to think rationally and to deepen your understanding of the nature of ethics moral reasoning law I believe you'll more deeply understanding yourself too if you apply yourself in this class and you'll more deeply understand other people and where they're coming from you'll also find some material in the wisdom tradition that might kind of bypass a logical mind and impact you in a positive way it may give you some other strategies by which you can immediately enrich your life and become aware in a different way okay so I look forward to it the next video to check out is some misconceptions and ethics and then you can move on to chapter 1 social contract theory and so on thanks you

7 thoughts on “Welcome to Ethics (overview of ethical principles, etc.)

  1. Hey Paul, I was wondering if there were any philosophers who's ethical theory depends on people hood or rights. I'm drawing a blank right now and would like to prepare a lesson for my ethics class. :]

  2. Can you do videos elaborating Intuitionism, Ross's Intuitionism, and Natural Law? I feel like those were skipped when I took your ethics course.

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