Ethical Theories Part I

Jan 25, 2013 by

     Over the next series of articles, I will examine several Ethical Theories that are present in Ethical philosophy and, from them, hopefully derive a theory which, in comparison to the rest, seems to be the most plausible theory available.  To do this, I shall examine each theory for its strengths and weaknesses.  Once a theory is established I shall compare it to the other theories so far as they have been presented.

     To begin, let us examine a theory called Common Sense Morality (CSM).  CSM comes in two forms Naive Common Sense Morality (NCSM) and Sophisticated Common Sense Morality (SCSM).  I will start with NCSM.  NCSM would state that morality is not to be derived from a bunch of complex rules, but rather the rules are those which are common sense to all of man-kind.  These rules can be simplified into five simple rules:

1.  Do not kill.

2.  Do not steal.

3.  Do not lie.

4.  Keep your promises.

5.  Help others in need.

These rules are not listed in any particular fashion and, according to NCSM, are to be equally upheld by the agent who is deciding on a course of action.  These rules are simple enough and I don’t think many people, if any, would disagree with the morality of any one of these rules.  They certainly appear to be common beliefs held by most of the people of the world.  And, with these rules, it appears as though many actions can easily be decided.  You see a man drowning, you save him because you have to help others in need.  You see a person’s wallet on the table, you leave it because you don’t steal.  You get angry at someone, you let them live because you don’t kill.  Easily this appears to help with many moral decisions a person needs to make.

     However, let us examine some more specific cases.  It is World War II and you are in Nazi Germany.  A Jew comes to the door asking for protection from the Nazis.  He is someone in need so you help him hide.  The next day, the Nazis come to the door and ask you if you know where the Jew is.  Now it appears NCSM arrives at a dilemma.  Do you lie to the Nazis and help the Jew in need, or do you tell the truth to the Nazis and not help the Jew in need.  There seem to be many examples like this.  You promise to kill someone.  You need to steal medicine to help a sick person.  You promise to lie.

     Among the different Moral theories, there seem to be traits that theories possess that make them more or less desirable.  Here, NCSM outlines one such trait.  A moral theory needs to be able to resolve conflicts.  When two or more of its rules come into conflict, it needs a system for how to resolve which course of action is the moral one.  In these examples, it appears as though there is no moral action possible if one believes in NCSM.  That makes this trait undesirable, and thus makes NCSM not a desirable system.

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