Ethics Glossary for Test Two

absolutism - In ethics holds the good is universal, objective, real, and does not change. Absolutism is opposed to cultural relativism and non-cognitive ethical relativism, i.e., subjectivism

altruism - acting for the good or benefit of others rather than oneself

Bentham's Hedonic Calculus or Calculus of Felicity - see Bentham Overheads for a list of the key elements and a memory verse

ethical egoism - Individuals ought to act in their own interest; i.e., act to increase their own good or benefit. (See also, egoism handout)

Hobbes’ First and Second Laws of Nature:

First Law of Nature: "To seek peace, and follow it" (Leviathan in Solomon,Martin, Vaught 196).

Second Law of Nature: "that a man be willing, when others are so too, as far-forth, as for peace, and defense of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself" (Leviathan in n Solomon,Martin, Vaught 196).

Hobbes' Great Leviathan or commonwealth - "one person [or an assembly], of whose acts a great multitude by mutual covenants with one another, have made themselves everyone the author, to the end that he may use the strength and means of them all, as he shall think expedient for their peace and common defence" (Leviathan in Solomon,Martin, Vaught 200).

Hobbes’ right of nature: ". . . is the liberty each man hath to use his own power, as he will himself, for the preservation of his own nature; that is to say of his own life; and consequently, of doing any thing, which in his own judgment, and reason he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto" (Leviathan in Solomon,Martin, Vaught 195). The sum of the right of nature is "by all means we can to defend ourselves. (Leviathan in Solomon,Martin, Vaught 196)." In a state of nature where every man is at war with every other man, the best defense is a good offense.

Hobbes' social contract - The voluntary, mutual transfer of the right of nature (except defense when attacked) by individuals (following the first two laws of nature) to the Leviathan in order to secure peace at home and security from foreign enemies.

Hume's argument that one cannot derive on "ought" from an "is; i.e. a value from a fact. Reason alone is not the basis of our moral judgments. Passion determines morality. A factual premise such as "Fred killed every third person he met on Tuesday" must be accompanied by a value premise based on the passions, such as "Killing persons randomly is abhorrent" in order to reach a conclusion about obligation or "ought." See Solomon,Martin, and Vaught 225-226 and Angeles, "is-ought dichotomy".

Idealism - the position that ultimate reality is non-physical, non-material, non-corporeal. Reality is ultimately spiritual or mental. Various idealists have posited various relationships between the ideal or spiritual and what is popularly termed material reality. Plato and Hegel are idealists.

Materialism - In philosophy materialism holds that reality is essentially physical or corporeal, i.e. based on matter. Abstractions/ideas arise out of a material base. There is no transcendent/spiritual reality beyond matter. The Stoics and Marx are examples of materialists. The opposite of materialism is idealism.

Mill's principle of utility or greatest happiness - "...actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain (Mill, Utilitarianism in Solomon,Martin, and Vaught 331)."

"ought" implies "can" - to argue that someone ought to do something means one presumes they are able to do it and free to do it.

Psychological egoism - Individuals naturally act in their own interest; i.e., act to increase their own good or benefit. They cannot do otherwise.  (See also, egoism handout)

Utilitarianism judges the moral values of an act based on whether its consequences yield more pleasure than pain for those persons concerned. It is teleological because it is concerned with the consequences, results or ends of actions rather than with motives. One applies the standard of the principle of utility. Mill states this principle as follows: "actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain" (Mill, Utilitarianism in Solomon,Martin, and Vaught 331).

Act utilitarianism considers only the pleasures and pains produced for those concerned in a single case. E.g., one might ask, Would one act of cheating on one test produce more pleasure than pain for all affected (teacher, all students in class, future employers, etc.)?

Rule utilitarianism applies the principle of utility to the rule of action involved. One determines the balance of pleasure and pain if that rule were followed in all similar cases. For example, one asks: If society adopted the rule that all students may cheat on exams, would this produce more pleasure than pain for society? In a sense one asks, "What would be the consequences if everybody does it?" Traditional moral rules such as "do not steal," "do not lie," etc. are adopted because they produce more pleasure than pain when generally followed.

Act and rule utilitarianism may reach the same or different conclusions when presented with a moral dilemma. For example, it is possible that in a single case theft or lying may produce more pleasure than pain (A starving family might steal a loaf of bread from a wealthy person who does not miss it. Someone might lie when asked by the Nazis if they know the whereabouts of any Jews). However, rules that permitted theft or lying would likely produce more pain than pleasure if generally followed. The outcome may depend on how general or specific the rule is. For example, lying in order to save a life versus lying in general.

Quantitative and Qualitative: Some forms of utilitarianism assume that there are different kinds and varying qualities of pleasure (Mill); others do not (Bentham). Qualitative utilitarians argue that mental pleasures and pains are different in kind and superior in quality to purely physical ones. Qualitative utilitarians must consider both quality and quantity. Quantitative utilitarians argue that mental pleasures and pains differ from physical ones only in terms of quantity. For a quantitative utilitarian the pleasure from eating an ice cream cone or reading a classic novel are of the same type. However, reading the classic novel might produce a greater quantity of pleasure due to fecundity or other factors. For a qualitative utilitarian eating an ice cream cone and reading a classic novel produce different types/qualities of pleasure.

Thus we can divide utilitarians into at least four camps: Quantitative Act, Qualitative Act, Quantitative Rule, and Qualitative Rule.

Relativism (in ethics)- In ethics, the view that the definition of the good varies from person to person, place to place, or time to time. The good is not absolute, objective, or universal.  Note that relativism in ethics is often further subdivided.  Cultural relativism holds that ethics are relative to a specific social group. There are no universal cross-cultural norms.  Personal,non-cognitive ethical relativism (emotivism and prescriptivism) holds that moral judgments are non-cognitive. They express feelings of approval or disapproval and/or are performative language. This form of relativism often argues that ethics are relative to each person. Sometimes it is labeled subjectivism.