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Three Takes on Ethics - Essay Example

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The author of this essay claims that Western Philosophy has a rich history of ethical thought dating all the way back to the days of Plato and Aristotle. Yet through this entire history, there has yet to be any true consensus even on the fundamental underlying theory of how ethics should be judged…
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Three Takes on Ethics
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Prof’s Three Takes on Ethics Western Philosophy has a rich history of ethical thought dating all the way back to thedays of Plato and Aristotle. Yet through this entire history, there has yet to be any true consensus even on the fundamental underlying theory of how ethics should be judged. Simple questions, such as whether an outcome or an intention is more important, remain fundamentally unanswered, with many brilliant thinkers advocating for each individual position. Each ethical philosophy differs in what it values, what it thinks should dictate actions, where the locus of control for forming a moral code rests and so on. Thus, when studying western ethics, it is incredibly important to be able to understand not just one but several ethical codes. Three of the most important ethical codes are virtue theory, deontological ethics, and utilitarianism.
Virtue theory is an ethical code that rests on the intrinsic virtues of an individual. This theory has, in some ways, a highly internalized locus of control, and in other ways an externalized one. This is because one can evaluate virtue either on the individual level (meeting one’s own expectations of virtue) or on a societal level (mirroring societal constructs of virtuous behavior). The most important thing about virtue theory is that it is almost completely unrelated to individual action taking (Crisp & Michael, 1997), focusing more on the internal character of a person than background or consequence of actions. Virtue ethics remind me of times in which I try to improve myself for no reason other than being a better person – holding doors open, for example.
Deontological ethics differ greatly from virtue ethics on a number of levels. The fundamental idea of deontological ethics is that one must comport one’s self in a method that complies with a set of rules. The origins of these rules can change drastically from philosopher to philosopher, ranging from highly variable understandings of rules as basic obligations to uphold certain philosophical principles, to highly restrictive understanding of rules such as those in moral absolutism, in which certain actions are either considered unambiguously moral or amoral. This philosophy obviously seems prone to an externalized locus of control. This kind of philosophy reminds me of occasions when, as a child, I would behave in a certain way (eating my vegetables, for instance) out of an obligation without necessarily agreeing with that action.
The final major mode of ethics discussed in this paper is utilitarian ethics. Utilitarian ethics rest on the idea of doing what will bring the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest number of people (Mill 1861). It differs from the first two ethical codes in several ways. Firstly, it attempts to be abstract, while each other code tends to be culturally bound. Secondly, it is highly action-based, not conforming to ideals or codes but addressing the eventual consequences (in terms of happiness) of an action. This reminds me of becoming an organ donor when getting a drivers license: I do it not out of obligation or because I’m a “good person” but because it will add to the pool of happiness in the world.
References
Crips R. and Slote M (1997). Virtue Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kamm, F. M. (2007). Intricate Ethics: Rights, Responsibilities, and Permissible Harm. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mill, J.S. (1861). Utilitarianism. Oxford: Oxford UP. Read More
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