Moral Philosophy and Ethical Theory

Moral philosophy also popularly known as the field of ethics entails the organization, shielding, and advocating the perception of correct and incorrect conduct based on the various theories. This branch of philosophy relates to practical duty, to achieve moral standards by involving the articulation of good habits that should be acquired, the obligations which should be fulfilled, and the result that our behavior can have on other people.

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The religious codes of conduct popularly known as ‘Metaethics’ deal with and explore the origin of our ethical principles and subsequently their meaning by seeking answers to questions stressing the matters relating to universal truth, the will of God, and the function of rationale in moral judgment. Religious codes of conduct outline the behavior of a person in a community or society, failing which the repercussions have to be faced in the life after death or hereafter.

Law on the other hand entails the principles of applied ethics and examines the precise contentious issues ranging from abortion to rights of animals to ecological concerns and even going as far as issues dealing with homosexuality, capital punishment, and even nuclear war. Applied ethics or law aims to resolve these controversial issues by putting to use the theoretical tools both metaethics as well as normative ethics. Applied ethical issues have been subdivided into medical ethics, environmental ethics, and sexual ethics. Whereas the use and application of moral ethics become a rather personal choice the inculcation of law binds the people in the sense that there is a compulsion to behave or not to behave in a particular manner failing which the law will take decisive action in penalizing the person who is charged guilty of a deed or misdeed.

For example, the way we behave with our elders relates to the domain of moral ethics and there is no law governing it, while our behavior or rather misbehavior sometimes involving the killing of animals can even result in a severe penalty by the law.

Consequentialism is the establishment of an action as being morally right if that action yields more favorable than unfavorable consequences. We thus tend to verify our moral responsibility by evaluating the consequences of our actions and the correct moral code is therefore determined solely by the analysis of the consequences of the action. The philosopher G.E. Moore offered the theory of ‘ideal utilitarianism’, which engages in calculating any outcome that we instinctively distinguish as good or bad and not merely as pleasing or hurting).

Nonconsequentialism on the other hand refers to doctrines or principles in life that are compulsory or mandatory, and which have to be fulfilled, irrespective of the consequences that follow from the actions that we undertake. Duties such as caring for our children and the principle to not murder someone fall in this category the basis of which is morality and the essential doctrines of obligation.

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British philosopher W.D. Ross established a duty-based theory which emphasizes ‘prima facies duties of ‘Fidelity’ which is the duty to keep one’s promises, ‘Reparation’ which includes the duty to pay compensation to those that we harm, ‘Gratitude’ which is the duty to thank those who help us, ‘Justice’ which is the duty to identify worth, ‘Beneficence’ which includes the duty to improve the circumstances of others, ‘Self-improvement’ which is the duty to enhance our good qualities and intellect and ‘Nonmaleficence’ which is the duty to not harm others.

‘Cultural relativism’ propagates that morality is based on the authorization of the society one inhabits and not merely on the individual’s preference. The theory fails because it advocates uncertainty and relativism, consequently denying the complete and collective character of morality and supports the fact that moral values modify from society to society all through time and all over the world.

According to Hobbes, Ethical-egoism advocates moral values for an individual purely for selfish reasons as he states that, devoid of moral rules individuals could be subject to the egocentric interests of other people further stressing that in the absence of these moral values, property, families, and even the lives of people are in constant danger. He believes that self-centeredness by itself inspires every person to take up a fundamental set of conventions that permits the establishment of a sophisticated society.

The failure of the theory lies in the emphasis of selfish motive in the theory which states that these set of laws will guarantee security for each individual only if the rules are made obligatory because then, we as selfish beings, would loot our fellow citizens’ possessions as soon as their security was down thus putting every one of us at the persistent threat from the neighbor. Hence, for solely selfish reasons, we formulate a system of implementing these rules by creating a law enforcement bureau that penalizes them in the event of a breach of these rules.

Utilitarianism can be defined as expressing an action to be morally correct if it yields more favorable than unfavorable consequences to every person. Therefore according to act utilitarianism, the action of watching television would be morally wrong as time would be wasted on leisure activities, which could alternatively be spent in more productive ways for better communal advantage, such as charity work. But the ban on leisure activities is not a practical decision. Responding to this problem, G.E. Moore proposed the notion of ideal utilitarianism, which engages in summarizing any result that we can naturally distinguish as being good or bad and not as delightful or agonizing.

Kant’s moral philosophy highlights that the morality of all deeds can be established by alluring to a sole theory of duty which is a solitary, obvious principle of rationale that he terms as the ‘categorical imperative’. It fundamentally contrasts with the supposed essentials that center around some personal desire which we may possess, for example, “If you want to get good marks, you ought to study well.” Contrastingly, a categorical imperative only commands an act, irrespective of one’s wishes, such as “You ought to do this.” Kant provides a minimum of four accounts of the categorical imperative. The direct one is: ‘Treat people as an end, and never as a means to an end.’

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What he means to declare is that we should at all times treat people with respect, and on no account use them as sheer tools. Charitable donations, for example, are morally correct since this recognizes the intrinsic worth of the beneficiary. The categorical imperative also controls the morality of actions that influence us personally. According to this theory, committing suicide would be immoral as this would be a means to the easing of unhappiness.

According to this theory correctness or unfairness of action is established by the equilibrium of good quality over immorality that is created by that action. John Stuart Mill acknowledged high-quality with happiness and vice with sorrow and also held that the maximum number of people should be happy. The utilitarians endeavored to verify whether a punishment is justifiable, by trying to foresee the probable outcome of performing the penalty.

Conventionally, utilitarians have paid attention to three customs by which punishment can lessen crime the foremost being the threat of the punishment which will be able to dissuade possible criminals. In case a person is lured to commit a particular crime but knows the punishment attached to breaking that law, by and large, there will be a lesser likelihood of the potential offender committing the crime. Secondly, if an offender is jailed for a fixed time, there will be a reduction of harm caused to others by him during that tenure. Thirdly, punishment has the potential of rehabilitating offenders.

The libertarian theory of justice outlines libertarianism as a political philosophy stressing the severe limitation of the role of the state in society, impounding fundamentally to police protection, national defense, and the administration of courts of law, with all other tasks commonly performed by modern governments which include education, social insurance, welfare, and others undertaken by religious bodies, charities, and other private institutions working in a free market. The strongest reason for advocating a libertarian society is pure that such promotion endorses the individual rights of a person.

According to Rawls’ theory of justice, centering societal practices and institutions, a few social institutions can incite jealousy and bitterness along with promoting estrangement and abuse. Rawls proposes that impartiality should be dealt with as a background matter by legal and official conditions that constitute societal organizations which will, in turn, enhance the equal number of likelihood to each person in society leaving people liberated to implement their fundamental freedom. Rawls proposes that we all should put our endeavors into bearing in mind the rules of the game of life are fair to every one of us. He firmly believed that when this purpose of organizing the society around a set of fair rules is achieved all the people can easily go about looking for opportunities to attain success freely and without any hindrance or bias.


Anscombe,Elizabeth “Modern Moral Philosophy” (1958), Philosophy, 1958, Vol. 33, reprinted in her Ethics, Religion and Politics (Oxford: Blackwell, 1981).

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Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, in Barnes, Jonathan, ed., The Complete Works of Aristotle (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984).

Ayer, A. J., Language, Truth and Logic (New York: Dover Publications, 1946).

Bentham, Jeremy, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789), in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, edited by John Bowring (London: 1838-1843).

Hare, R.M., Moral Thinking, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981).

Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan, ed., E. Curley, (Chicago, IL: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994).

Hume, David, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-1740), eds. David Fate Norton, Mary J. Norton (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Kant, Immanuel, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, tr, James W. Ellington (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1985).

Locke, John, Two Treatises, ed., Peter Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963).

Mackie, John L., Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, (New York: Penguin Books, 1977).

Mill, John Stuart, Utilitarianism, in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed., J.M. Robson (London: Routledge and Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1991).

Moore, G.E., Principia Ethica, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1903).

Rawls John A Theory of Justice, rev. ed., Harvard University Press, 1999.

Samuel Pufendorf, De officio hominis et civis juxta legem naturalem (1673), tr., The Whole Duty of Man according to the Law of Nature (London, 1691).

Stevenson, Charles L., The Ethics of Language, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1944).

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