Ethical Realism

September 10, 2014

Utilitarianism & Going Beyond the Call of Duty

Filed under: ethics — JW Gray @ 11:09 pm
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Utilitarianism is a type of moral theory (that is meant to help us know how to identify right and wrong actions). Utilitarianism states that an action is right only insofar as it maximizes good consequences, and it is wrong only insofar as it fails to do so (or causes bad things to happen). (Go here for more information.) There are different types of utilitarianism. Classical utilitarianism states that happiness or pleasure is the only good thing (at least in some ultimate sense), and that suffering or pain is the only bad thing (at least in some ultimate sense), but other utilitarians argue that desire satisfaction is the only good thing (at least in some ultimate sense). There are other differences as well. Many people have argued that utilitarianism fails to account for good actions that are beyond the call of duty because they think that utilitarianism states that our duty is to do ideally good actions. However, one of the founders of utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill, did think there were actions that went beyond the call of duty and he might have explained how utilitarianism could be compatible with actions being beyond the call of duty. I will discuss the idea of actions being beyond the call of duty, why people think utilitarianism fails to account for those actions, and how utilitarianism might actually be compatible with those actions. (more…)

May 5, 2014

Normative & Descriptive Ethics

Filed under: ethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 6:41 am
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I believe that one source of confusion can be solved by the distinction between normative and descriptive ethics. Whenever people talk about cultural relativism or evolutionary theories of ethics, I think they have descriptive ethics in mind, but they often jump to the conclusion that whatever they are talking about has certain obvious normative implications. In particular, some people claim that morality comes from evolution and others claim that morality is relative. What they have in mind often doesn’t actually make sense, as I will discuss in detail. (more…)

April 17, 2014

Can We Reason About Ethics?

Filed under: epistemology,ethics — JW Gray @ 7:51 am
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I think we can reason about what is good and bad (or right and wrong).

Let’s start off with a simple example. We have a choice to give to a charity that helps people or a charity we find out doesn’t really help people. Which charity should we give to? I think it is obvious. The one that actually helps people. There is no point to giving to a charity that doesn’t help anyone. (more…)

December 23, 2013

The View That Objective Morality Requires God

Filed under: ethics,metaethics,metaphysics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 8:48 am
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Theists often say that atheism is incompatible with objective morality. This point is not that atheists are bad people or can’t understand morality. The point is that they think there has to be a basis (found in reality) for morality to be objective, and they think only God can be that basis. Many atheists don’t think there’s objective morality, and they might agree that atheism is incompatible with objective morality. However, I will argue that atheism and objective morality are compatible.

I will provide some important terminology, introduce Plato’s “Euthyphro,” explain the possible connection between theism and objective morality, describe other types of objective morality, argue that atheism and objective morality are compatible, and briefly illustrate a view of objective morality. (more…)

May 26, 2013

Can ethics be a scientific domain?

Filed under: epistemology,philosophy — JW Gray @ 2:59 am
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Science has occasionally appropriated philosophical fields. Physics and psychology were originally discussed by philosophers rather than scientists. Right now ethics is considered to be a philosophical domain, but we could imagine science taking over the field. Will ethics ever be taught in a science class? Will we learn right and wrong from natural science?

People who reject that we could one day have a moral science generally do so due to skepticism, the gap between facts and values, and the is-ought fallacy. I will respond to these concerns and explain why I don’t think any of them are conclusive. (more…)

October 21, 2011

My Review of Lawrence Becker’s A New Stoicism

Filed under: ethics,philosophy,review — JW Gray @ 9:21 am
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In A New Stoicism Lawrence C. Becker attempts to develop a new form of Stoicism compatible with current scientific assumptions concerning reality—without the Ancient Stoic metaphysical or psychological assumptions (such as the existence of a deity). Becker argues that his new Stoicism will agree that virtue is the greatest good and that all virtuous people are happy. Becker does not spell out his new Stoicism’s moral psychology in detail, but he does describe his new Stoicism’s understanding of virtue as “ideal agency.” I will discuss his understanding of virtue and offer my objection to it. In particular, I find this understanding of virtue to be impractical. (more…)

October 19, 2011

A Second New Kind of Stoicism: Common Sense Stoicism

Filed under: ethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 8:12 am
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This is part 2. Go here to see part 1.

I have created a new form of Stoicism that doesn’t require a god that I call “Neo-Aristonianism.” I will now present a second new form of Stoicism (that doesn’t require a god) that I call “Common Sense Stoicism.” Neo-Aristonianism is a skeptical form of Stoicism that requires as few assumptions as seem necessary for a potentially comprehensive virtue ethics. Nonetheless, many assumptions are very plausible and many of us will prefer a more ambitious virtue ethics that involves some of these assumptions. (In particular, the existence of certain intrinsic values.) That’s where Common Sense Stoicism comes in. (more…)

October 16, 2011

A New Kind of Stoicism: Neo-Aristonianism

Filed under: ethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 6:25 am
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Stoicism is one of the most neglected philosophical traditions, but I think it’s informative and helpful. I also think it’s likely that Stoicism’s been neglected in recent times because the Stoics believed in a deity, and now philosophers shy away from any philosophy involving God. For these reasons I will present a new form of Stoic ethics I call “Neo-Aristonianism” that doesn’t require us to believe in a deity. (more…)

August 29, 2011

The Is/Ought Gap Part II

Filed under: ethics,metaethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 6:34 am
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This is part 2 of “The Is/Ought Gap.” If you don’t know anything about the is/ought gap, then you should read part 1 first.

I have already discussed how we might be able to get what morally ought to be the case from what is the case (via bridging premises). These are known as “solutions to the is/ought gap.” Even after we answer (or try to answer) how to get what morally ought to be the case from what is the case, there are more troubling questions left over. In particular: (more…)

July 19, 2011

The Is/Ought Gap: How Do We Get “Ought” from “Is?”

The is/ought gap illustrates the difficulty in understanding what it means to say that we ought to do something, and how we can know what we ought to do. What is the is/ought gap and what’s it all about? I will describe the is/ought gap, discuss its implications in meta-ethics, and discuss various solutions to the is/ought gap. (more…)

July 14, 2011

Do We Experience That Pain is Intrinsically Bad?

Filed under: ethics — JW Gray @ 4:55 am
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We experience that our pain (or suffering) is bad, but is everyone’s pain bad? Is it wrong to cause other people pain (at least some of the time) because their pain is bad? Many philosophers think that (at least some) pain is “intrinsically bad”—bad just for existing and worthy of being avoided for its own sake. If so, it seems reasonable to say that everyone’s pain is bad and it’s wrong to cause needless pain to others. However, this is an interpretation of our experience of pain and not everyone agrees with it. I will discuss various interpretations of what it means to experience that pain is bad: (more…)

June 26, 2011

Notes on Business Ethics Ebook (PDF) (Updated 6/12/2013)

Filed under: philosophy — JW Gray @ 3:47 am
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I have organized some of my essays (blog entries) to make a free ebook that tries to answer the question, How does morality relate to the business world? I discuss moral philosophy and how various moral principles seem to apply to business. (more…)

May 24, 2011

Ethics and Rationalization

Filed under: ethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 5:28 am
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We want to know how to be reasonable when thinking about morality, and “moral philosophy” is the specialization in doing exactly that. This requires that we know the difference between being reasonable and unreasonable. Sometimes people think like sophists—pretenders of wisdom—rather than philosophers and make use of poor reasoning without a serious attempt to be reasonable. “Sophistry” or “rationalization” is poor reasoning people use as if it were good reasoning when they are being negligent during the reasoning process. This is often unintentional because good reasoning requires training, careful thought, and research and few people have mastered their abilities of rationality. We can study moral rationalizations in an attempt to illustrate the difference between good reasoning and rationalization. I will discuss the importance of moral rationalizations, various rationalization techniques, and give illustrations of rationalizations in the business world. This discussion is based on “Business Ethics and Moral Motivation: A Criminological Perspective” (PDF) by Joseph Heath. (more…)

May 21, 2011

Five Meta-Ethical Theories

Meta-ethical theories are meant to explain moral psychology, moral reality, and moral reason. Moral psychology considers the actual moral judgments, moral interests, and moral motivation people experience. Moral reality refers to the nature behind true moral statements—what makes our statements true. Moral reason describes our moral knowledge and how we can decide which moral beliefs are best or “most likely true.” Moral realists believe that there are moral facts (moral elements of reality) and they are often optimistic about how well we can understand such facts, but moral anti-realists reject moral realism and don’t think we need moral facts to understand morality. I will briefly discuss five meta-ethical theories, two of which are forms of moral realism and three that are forms of moral anti-realism: Moral naturalism and moral intuitionism are both forms of moral realism; noncognitivism, relativism, and error theory are forms of moral anti-realism. There are many forms of each of these theories, but I will concentrate on one version of each theory. (more…)

May 20, 2011

What is Morality?

Filed under: ethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 3:18 am
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People discuss morality quite often and many of our actions are based on assumptions about morality. I will discuss the meaning of “morality” within ordinary language and illustrate the difference between morality and everything else by comparing moral and nonmoral standards. (more…)

May 19, 2011

Professional Ethics

Filed under: ethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 8:42 am
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What is often called “professional ethics” is a list of laws, rules, and regulations that professionals are supposed to live by, such as the Hippocratic Oath taken by doctors. These laws, rules, and regulations might be endorsed by many people, but that doesn’t prove that they are objective moral standards that professionals should accept. Nonetheless, I think there really are moral standards that many professionals have that are unique to their profession. These standards involve duties to customers or the public at large. I have already discussed how accounting auditors seem to have unique responsibilities beyond making profit. I will now suggest how farmers, doctors, teachers, and journalists seem to have unique responsibilities to the public as well. (more…)

Against Ethical Egoism & The Invisible Hand

Some people think we ought to only do what is best for ourselves, but I will present evidence that this is a misunderstanding of ethics. One argument for capitalism, libertarian justice, and ethical egoism is the invisible hand argument—if we do what is in our personal best interest, it will lead to a prosperous society. There is some truth to the invisible hand argument, but it’s not infallible. There are times that self-interest can lead to ethical actions and self-interest in a capitalistic society can lead to prosperity much of the time, but not always. I will discuss ethical egoism, the invisible hand, and reasons to reject ethical egoism and the invisible hand argument: (1) People who do wrong almost always do it because they think it’s in their self-interest, (2) what is in our self-interest isn’t always ethical, and (3) people live in an interdependent relationship. (more…)

May 18, 2011

W. D. Ross’s Intuitionism, a Moral Theory

Filed under: ethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 6:00 am
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W. D. Ross‘s theoretical understanding of morality explained in The Right and the Good was not meant to be fully comprehensive and determine right and wrong in every situation, but he doesn’t think it is ever going to be possible to do so. He denies that there is one single overarching moral principle or rule. Instead, he thinks we can make moral progress one step at a time by learning more and more about our moral duties, and do our best at balancing conflicting obligations and values.


May 17, 2011

Environmental Issues of Business Ethics

There are many environmental moral issues relevant to business. I will discuss (a) ecology, (b) traditional business attitudes towards the environment, (c) problems involving environmental abuse, (d) environmental protection, (e) methods to pay for environmental protection, and (f) other issues involving environmental ethics. This discussion is largely based on chapter eleven of Business Ethics (Third Edition, 1999) by William Shaw. (more…)

May 16, 2011

Moral Issues Related to Consumers

Filed under: ethics,philosophy — JW Gray @ 3:55 am
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There are many moral issues in the business world relevant to consumers. In particular, businesses have moral duties to consumers and some actions taken in business are morally preferable that have an impact on consumers. I will discuss (a) the responsibilities of business to consumers, (b) product safety, and (c) advertising. This discussion is largely based on chapter ten of Business Ethics (Third Edition, 1999) by William Shaw. (more…)

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