Edit: I didn't like this lecture. Too many loose ends left, too many terms that are not clearly explained, slides kept jumping around.

Ethics is more than just "recognition that there are appropriate interests other than your own that should act as constraints on unbridled pursuit of self-interest"

The Cost of Ethics

  • When ethics is involved, there is a winner and a loser
  • This can be mitigated if you can turn an ethical problem into a non-ethical problem
    • Sharing a secret by asking for permission

Ethical Relativism

  • Ethics is not purely based on environmental factors
    • The idea of Ethical Relativism (ethics differ from time, culture, etc...) is fundamentally untrue
    • Some values remain true throughout all cultures
      • Honesty
      • Integrity
      • Fairness
      • Compassion
      • Openness

Descriptive Relativism

  • "it's what goes on"
  • culture-to-culture
  • Descriptive Ethics - What people do and how they think

Normative Relativism

  • All views are equally correct
  • We should not interfere with or judge other culture's values

Prescriptive Ethics

"What people should do and behave"

  • Normative Ethics (principles) - general
  • Normative Issues
  • Casuistry, Moralising - specific

An moral judgment must be backed by all three

  • Your moral opinion should be non-negotiable - isn't decided by a 'vote'

Ethics is a mixture of

  • Rules -- Individual Morality
  • Consequences, Outcomes -- Individual Morality
  • Codes, Laws -- Role Morality

Imannuel Kant (1785)

  • Must be talking about something other than consequences

  • Duty

  • Made the decision

  • Actions come from a principle

  • 'Perfect duty' - Allows no change

  • 'Imperfect duty' - Allows for change

Imperative - 'do this', 'do that'

'Maxims' - General principles
Maxims - why are you doing it

First formulation - Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that that it should become a universal law -i.e. everyone is required to do it "So act, that on the rule which though actest would admit of being adopted as a law by all rational beings"

Second formulation - Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end as never as a means only -i.e. requirement to respect people's personhood

  • Duty as basic moral feature

  • Duty is not an inclination or achievement of some particular result - it is the central notion of morality.

  • The agent is responsible for what they do

  • Good will -> Duty

    • Agent autonomy
    • Morality not a matter of luck or accident
  • Avoidance of hypocrisy

John Stuart Mill (1861)

We have an idea of what we're trying to accomplish

  • Consequences are what matters
  • Generalised: To achieve happiness
  • Anti-Kant

W.D Ross (1930)

  • 'Prima facie' duties - "at first glance"

    • duties resting on one's own previous acts (ie promises, reparation)
    • duties resting on other's previous acts (ie gratitude)
    • duties resting on the possible inappropriate distribution of pleasure/happiness
    • duties resting on the possibility of being able to improve people's conditions (virtue/intelligence/pleasure)
    • duties resting on the possibility of being able to improve our own conditions (virtue/intelligence)
    • duties resting on the recognition that there is a distinction between helping and not harming
  • Moral pluralism - There is no one single moral theory or principle that should be acceptable as preferable to others

  • Moral Pluralism != Moral Relativism

Thomas Hobbes (1651)

  • Without society, there is no ethics

  • Ethics is contractual

    • Requires a contract between the parties concerned
  • Equality - everyone has equal rights

  • Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged such that

    • Any benefits must benefit the least advantaged class
    • Fair equality of opportunity

Procedural Justice

A procedure for doing something can be just (or not just), depending on

  • Perfect procedural justice - You know a just outcome, and a procedure to always achieve it
  • Imperfect procedural justice - You know a just outcome, and you try to achieve it
  • Pure procedural justice - A just outcome is irrelevant of the procedure


Plato states that virtues are the things that enable something to function well.

i.e. a sharp edge is the virtue of a knife


  • Moral virtues - concerned with 'doing things'

  • Intellectual virtues - concerned with 'thinking'

  • Courage is the virtue concerned with the appropriate feelings of fear and confidence. It is the mean between feeling too little fear and feeling too much fear