Moral Philosophy – primer

By Michael Gakuran | | Philosophy | 1 Comment |

scales-justiceI’ll be writing about the various main strands of Moral Philosophy over the coming days as a form of revision. I’ll be looking at Aristotle, Hume, Kant and Mill and their respective philosophies to do with ethics and morality. I may not be able to get through each of the 4 prominent philosophers due to time restraints, but I’ll give it my best shot! Bear in mind that I’m only a student of philosophy, so forgive me if I make some errors!

Philosophical ethics are concerned with what we ought to do and how we ought to live. Such questions are known as a ‘normative’, in contrast to ‘descriptive’ questions which are related to facts about people’s beliefs and practices. We can divide ethics into 3 categories:

Metaethics – concerned with abstract questions about the link between natural properties (facts about the world) and moral properties (moral ‘facts’). For example, is the property ‘good’ something to be found in the world in the same way we can define properties such as ‘hardness’ or ‘heaviness’? Further metaethical questions might be things like ‘what is the nature of ‘good’?’, and asking whether or not we have any genuine reason to behave morally in our lives.
Normative ethics – concerned with the content of morality; the ought questions such as how our actions may be right or wrong, how best to live our lives and whether it is okay to use people ‘as a means to an end’.
Applied ethics – concerned with applying normative ethics to real life and in difficult situations and dilemmas. Things like euthanasia, abortion, suicide, just wars and the environment might be considered here.

It is rather helpful to think of normative moral theory in terms of 3 categories:

Deontology – focussing on our duty to do certain actions and our principles. This area is often associated with Kant
Consequentialism – focussing on the consequences of our actions. This area is often associated with Mill
Virtue ethics – focussing on our personality and the cultivation of virtuous character traits. This area is often associated with Aristotle

Furthermore, I will examine Hume, who is not so easily classified.

Let’s get stuck in!


Source: Based on the lecture handout written by Dr. Gerald Lang

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