9: Ethical Pluralism


  • Define and appropriately use important terms such as absolutism, fundamental, pluralism, monism, non–absolutism, and ethical particularism.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of major arguments for and problems with absolutist and pluralist ethical approaches
  • Apply ethical concepts and principles to address moral concerns.
  • Reflect upon ways of living responsibly in a world where people have diverse ethical beliefs

I. Review and Introduction

Key Terms

Ethical Particularism

  • Unit 1 - Contractual theories of Ethics
  • Unit 2 - Absolutist Ethical theories
  • Absolutist ethical theories have absolute standards
  • Relativist ethical theories have moral flexibility
  • Ethical monism
    • All monist theories are absolute
      • Supreme moral rule that must be followed
    • All monist theories are fundamental
      • There is no deeper, more basic rule

II. Ethical Monism in Action

  • Ethical Monism - believes in an absolute moral rule that is fundamental
  • Divine Command Theory
    • Absolute moral rule = obey God
    • Fundamental = no higher rule than to obey God
  • Utilitarianism
    • Absolute moral rule = maximize happiness
    • Fundamental = no higher rule than to maximize happiness

III. Absolutist Ethical Pluralism

  • Disagrees with Monism
  • A theory ought to have more than one fundamental rule
  • Contradiction in absolutist theories are unacceptable
    • Pluralism resolves this conflict
  • Ethical dilemma: Polish family sheltering Jews during Nazi Germany
    • Merge ethical rules of Utilitarianism and Divine Command Theory
    • Maximize happiness: Lie
    • Obey God: Tell the truth

IV. Prima Facie Duties

  • W.D. Ross - primary theory for Absolutist Ethical Pluralism
  • Prima Facie - Latin "at first sight”
  • Duties, not rules that at times may supersede others
    1. fidelity
    2. reparations
    3. gratitude
    4. justice
    5. beneficence
    6. self-improvement
    7. non-maleficence
  • Could include more
  • Benefits
    • These duties overlap and complement without being exclusive
    • Reanalysis of Polish family’s dilemma
    • Multiple duties vs. one duty
  • Disadvantages
    • What happens when there are only 2 prima facie duties that conflict
    • Ross: use context

V. Ethical Particularism

  • There are no absolute rules
  • There are no primafacie duties
  • No actions are morally important
  • Context is all that matters
  • Disadvantages
    • Cannot be universalized
    • Premise that nothing is morally important all the time is highly questionable