Philosophy of Ethics Pt.1


“Opinions alter, manners change, creeds rise and fall, but the moral law is written on the tablets of eternity” – Lord Acton 1895 quoted by TorbjornTannsjo Understanding Ethics 2010

Is Moral truth absolute or relative?

‘What from one cultural or temporal perspective is right may from another cultural or temporal perspective be wrong?’ – TorbjornTannsjo Understanding Ethics 2010


First studied as a branch of philosophy beginning in 500-400 BC in Ancient Greece

‘Philo’ means to love, or like

‘Sophia’ means wisdom

To study philosophy requires analysis – it means not accepting something at face value


To gain knowledge about the correct action to take in a practical situation true or reasonable moral principles should be applied.

Deciding on which action to take means:

Accepting a moral principle


Considering the relevant facts


An ethical, practical solution to a problem or question

A true or reasonable moral principle can explain why we ought to do such and such in a practical situation.  Unless we have recourse to a unique principle, or at least a consistent set of principles, we have no explanation at all.

ALL QUOTED FROM TorbjornTannsjo Understanding Ethics 2010

Different types of Ethical Theories.

Examples are:

  • Virtue Ethics: the basic question in ethics is not what we ought to do but what kind of person we ought to be
  • Deontological Ethics: There are duties and prohibitions binding on us all irrespective of the consequences of following them
  • The Ethics of Rights: each moral subject has certain rights that no-one is entitled to violate.
  • Egoism: We should always act to maximise our own benefit
  • Utilitarianism: We should always act to maximise the universal benefit


Classic Utilitarianism: Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

-Bentham’s best known claim implies an act is morally right ifthat act causes ‘the greatest happiness for the greatest number’

-An action is judged pragmatically by its effects. The results of an action determine its rightness

-In the utilitarian view, it may be considered ethical to harm one person for the benefit of the larger group



-In ethical egoism we have no duties to anyone but ourselves.

-Every individual ought to maximise his or her own happiness.

-If people’s goals are in conflict, each individual ought to maintain his or her own goal.

-Does an artist or photographer have a right to work according to their own goals in the system of ethical egoism?


Information from University powerpoint lecture.


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