15: A Satisfactory Moral Theory


  • Read, analyze, and critique philosophical texts.
  • Define and appropriately use important terms such as relativism, virtue, duty, rights, utilitarianism, natural law, egoism, altruism, autonomy, and care ethics.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of major arguments and problems in ethics.
  • Present and discuss ethical positions in well-reasoned writing.
  • Apply ethical concepts and principles to address moral concerns.
  • Demonstrate an ability to discuss and reflect upon the application of the course material to various aspects of life.
  • Reflect upon ways of living responsibly in a world where people have diverse ethical beliefs. 

I. Review of Conflicting Theories

  • A. Theories of Relativism
    • Cultural Relativism - morality varies from culture to culture
    • Ethical Subjectivism - morality varies from person to person
  • B. Divine Command Theory
    • Morality comes from a divine source
    • Being moral means following divine command
  • C. Theory of Natural Law
    • Morality comes from following natural laws, ordained by a divine source
    • Reason to determine moral acts
  • D. Egoism
    • Psychological Egoism - individuals serve their own interests by nature
    • Ethical Egoism - individuals ought to serve their own interests
  • E. Mill’s Thoughts on Liberty
    • Ought to have free speech or we descend into rote, meaningless conversation
    • Cicero agreed, but because we can better argue against opposition if we understand their opinions
    • Only what harms others ought to be punished
  • F. Social Contract Theory
    • Morality comes of self-preservation
    • Humanity is competitive
    • Even pity is self-motivated
    • Locke disagreed: morality is based on the natural state of nature, which is cooperative
    • Mandeville’s Beehive Analogy: economic motivations for the common good
  • G. Mill’s Utilitarianism
    • Morality comes of examining consequences
    • The ends justify the means
    • What is good and pleasurable ought to be pursued
  • H. Kant’s Deontology
    • Morality comes of determining universal laws of duty
    • Focus on public responsibilities, becoming an autonomous lawmaker (one who follows the categorical imperative)
  • I. Noddings’ Care Ethics
    • Morality comes of caring for those closest to you
    • Focus on private responsibilities
  • J. Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics
    • Morality comes of determining what is virtuous and the mean between two extremes in behavior
    • Balance public and private responsibilities

II. Finding a Satisfactory Theory

  • Realistic
    • Humanity’s importance in the universe
    • Significance of reason in humanity
  • Justice
    • Treating people the way they deserve
    • Respect to those who earn it
  • Motives for right conduct
    • Impartial concern for others
    • Personal concern for family and friends
    • Personal investment of time and effort
  • Consider community
    • What we do affects others
    • Present and future
  • Consider the future
    • Growth of technology
    • Raising new ethical questions

III. On Failures of Ethical Theories

1. Automation

  • Irrelevance of certain jobs due to automation
    • Cashier
    • Sales
    • Bank Tellers
    • Couriers
    • Telephone Operators

Privacy Links

Online Privacy Fact Sheet LINK

2. Privacy

  • Freedom of thought and expression on the internet
  • Thought crimes explored in Minority Report (2002)

3. Surveillance

Surveillance Links


CNN Article - Pros and Cons LINK

  • Cameras - public and private
  • Explored in Doctor Who episode "The Bells of St John" (2013)
  • London's "Ring of Steel"
  • Lower Manhattan has 4,000 security cameras and license plate readers
  • Positive and negative aspects to this

4. Cloning

  • Cloning to prevent wildlife extinction
  • One extinct species cloned in 2000 LINK
  • What animals have been cloned?
    • 9/11 police dog, afghan hound, Anatolia Grey bull, beagle, Boer goat, Brahman bull, buffalo, calf, carp, cat, deer, ferret, frog, fruit flies, Gaur (wild cattle), Hereford calf, Holstein heifer, horse, Jersey cows, mice, Mouflon (goat), mules, pashmina goat, pigs, Pyrenean Ibex, rabbit, rat, Rhesus monkey, sheep, Spanish fighting bull, water buffalo, wolf
  • 2012 Nobel prize winning scientist predicts we could clone humans in the next 50 years LINK
  • Explored in The Island (2005)

Eugenics Links

In 90% of the cases, a positive test for Down Syndrome leads to an abortion LINK

5. Eugenics

  • Science of manipulating genes
  • Explored in many science fiction stories
  • NYTimes columnist wrote the issue frequently becomes one of abortion

6. Genetic Modifiction

  • Injesting modified food
  • Bigger, faster, more colorful, less seeds, etc.
  • Ongoing studies of the effects on nutrition and health
  • 2013 BIO International Convention debate LINK

7. Artificial Intelligence

  • Humanity creating technology or species capable of intelligence and self–awareness
  • Explored in many science fiction stories

8. Colonization

  • Interstellar or interplanetary colonies
  • Public or private funding?
  • Should we colonize? 
  • What would it do to the new location's environment? 
  • How would it change humanity itself?