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PHILOSOPHY : Characteristics of Ethics

PHILOSOPHY :-Definition,Scope, Nature, & Characteristics of Ethics

Ethics : Definition , Scope , Nature and Characteristics of Ethics

Ethics is mainly known as the principle of moral conduct that makes a distinction between good and bad / evil , right and wrong , virtue and non virtue . The word ethics is derived from a Greek word ' ethos ' meaning character . It is a branch of knowledge that governs right and wrong conducts and behaviours of an individual , profession, group or organization. It is a core of the professional and personal lives of people . Different scholars have defined ethics differently . However different their definitions might be , ethics is always concerned with morality and right vs wrong and good vs evil . It is applied universally . There is also ethics in professions such as journalism , advertising , education , medicine , etc.

Karen L. Rich defines ethics as a systematic approach to understanding , analyzing , and distinguishing matters of right and wrong , good and bad , and admirable and deplorable as they relate to the well being of and the relationships among sentient beings .

As per paper published by Science Direct - " Ethics is the most important and functioning branch of philosophy in today . In general , ethics s moral philosophy . It is related to our values and virtues. We have the capacity to think about our choices , so we re responsible for all our decisions and actions . "

It does not enquire into the origin and growth of human conduct .

The scope of ethics indicates its subject matter . Ethics as normative science deals with moral ideal or the good in order to enquire the nature of our conduct . It enquires into the nature of the springs of actions , motives , intentions , voluntary actions and so on . It determines rightness or wrongness of human actions . Ethics is concerned with the highest good or absolute good . It investigates the nature of its fundamental notions i.e. right , duty and good . Moral sentiments and feelings are arising in our mind when we contemplate about the moral judgment and therefore , ethics has to discuss the nature of moral sentiments to moral judgment .

The scope of ethics includes whatever has reference to free human acts , whether as principle or cause of action ( law , conscience , virtue ) , or as effect or circumstance of action ( merit , punishment , etc. ) Ethics discusses the nature of human freedom . Ethics investigates what constitutes good or bad , just or unjust .

A man may be a good artist or orator and at the same time a morally bad man , or , conversely , a morally good man may be a poor artist or technician . Ethics has merely to do with the order which relates to man as man and which makes of him a good man . The ' meta - ethical " problems fall within the scope of philosophical aspect of Ethics .

The applied dimension of Ethics is known as " Applied Ethics ' that falls within the broad field of Ethics . These comprise the areas of situational Ethics while Meta Ethics deals with logical and semantic questions like ' What do we mean by " freedom " and " determinism " etc. Ethics is essentially related to all other branches of knowledge like sociology , political science , jurisprudence , law and legal study , psychology , anthropology , culture study , ecology and environmental study , economics , religion , aesthetics and other similar areas . Ethics is concerned with political , sociological , cultural , psychical , economic , environmental , religious problems in pursuit of highest good . So these problems have an additional place in the scope of ethics . With the emergence of new technology there is scope for widening the scope of ethics to address new issues .

There are 3 different scopes of ethics . They are : .

Meta - Ethics

Normative Ethics

Applied Ethics

1. Meta - Ethics : Meta - ethics comprises the area of situational ethics and deals with logical questions like What do we mean by ' freedom ' and ' determinism ' etc. It delves into the nature of ethical properties , attitudes and judgements . For example , a media critic's description of a TV series as ' good drama ' does not necessarily denote that the program is morally sound . It is the function of metaethics to define such vague concepts in ethical terms . Some of the theories of Meta - Ethics are Naturalism , Non Naturalism , Emotivism and Prescriptivism .

Moral skepticism ( or moral scepticism ) a class of metaethical theories all members of which entail that no one has any moral knowledge . Many moral skeptics also make the stronger , modal claim that moral knowledge is impossible . Moral skepticism is particularly opposed to moral realism : the view that there are knowable and objective moral truths . Some proponents of moral skepticism include Pyrrho , Aenesidemus , Sextus Empiricus , David Hume , Max Stirner , Friedrich Nietzsche , and J.L. Mackie . Moral skepticism divides into three subclasses : moral error theory ( or moral nihilism ) , epistemological moral skepticism , and non cognitivism . All three of these theories share the same conclusions , which are :

( a ) we are never justified in believing that moral claims ( claims of the form " state of affairs x is good , " " action y is morally obligatory , " etc. ) are true and , even more so

( b ) we never know that any moral claim is true .

However , each method arrives at ( a ) and ( b ) by different routes .

Moral error theory holds that we do not know that any moral claim is true because

( i ) all moral claims are false ,

( ii ) we have reason to believe that all moral claims are false , and

( iii ) since we are not justified in believing any claim we have reason to deny , we are not justified in believing any moral claims .

Epistemological moral skepticism is a subclass of theory , the members of which include Pyrrhonian moral skepticism and dogmatic moral skepticism . All members of epistemological moral skepticism share two things : first , they acknowledge that we are unjustified in believing any moral claim , and second , they are agnostic on whether ( i ) is true ( i.e. on whether all moral claims are false ) .

Pyrrhonian moral skepticism holds that the reason we are unjustified in believing any moral claim is that it is irrational for us to believe either that any moral claim is true or that any moral claim is false . Thus , in addition to being agnostic on whether

  • is true , Pyrrhonian moral skepticism denies

  • Dogmatic moral skepticism , on the other hand , affirms

  • and cites

  • ' s truth as the reason we are unjustified in believing any moral claim .

Dogmatic moral skepticism , on the other hand , affirms ( ii ) and cites ( ii ) ' s truth as the reason we are unjustified in believing any moral claim .

Noncognitivism holds that we can never know that any moral claim is true because moral claims are incapable of being true or false ( they are not truth - apt ) . Instead , moral claims are imperatives ( e.g. " Don't steal babies : Boo ! " ) , " stealing babies ! " ) , expressions of emotion ( e.g. or expressions of " pro - attitudes " ( " I do not believe that babies should be stolen . " )

2. Normative Ethics :

Normative ethics is the study of ethical action . It is the branch of ethics that investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how one ought to act , morally speaking . Normative ethics is distinct from meta - ethics because normative ethics examines standards for the rightness and wrongness of actions , while meta - ethics studies the meaning of moral language and the metaphysics of moral facts . Normative ethics is also distinct from descriptive ethics , as the latter is an empirical investigation of people's moral beliefs . To put it another way , descriptive ethics would be concerned with determining what proportion of people believe that killing is always wrong , while normative ethics is concerned with whether it is correct to hold such a belief . Hence , normative ethics is sometimes called prescriptive , rather t han descriptive . However , on certain versions of the meta - ethical view called moral realism , moral facts are both descriptive and prescriptive at the same time .

Traditionally , normative ethics ( also known as moral theory ) was the study of what makes actions right and wrong . These theories offered an overarching moral principle one could appeal to in resolving difficult moral decisions .

At the turn of the 20th century , moral theories became more complex and were no longer concerned solely with rightness and wrongness , but were interested in many different kinds of moral status . During the middle of the century , the study of normative ethics declined as meta - ethics grew in prominence . This focus on meta - ethics was in part caused by an intense linguistic focus in analytic philosophy and by the popularity of logical positivism.

Normative ethics deals with standards or norms by which we can judge human actions to be right or wrong . It deals with the criteria of what is morally right or wrong . For example , if someone murders a person , everyone will agree that it is wrong . The question is : Why is it wrong to murder someone ? There are a lot of different answers we could give , but if we want to specify a principle that stated why its wrong , the answer might be : Murder is wrong because when we kill someone , we violate their right to live . Another perspective might be To inflict unnecessary suffering on the person being murdered or their family is wrong , that's why to kill a person is wrong . There are three elements emphasized by normative ethics : .

  • The person who performs the act ( the agent )

  • The act .

  • The consequences of the act

3. Applied Ethics : Applied ethics is the problem - solving branch of moral philosophy . It uses the insights derived from metaethics and the general principles and rules of normative ethics in addressing specific ethical issues and cases in a professional , disciplinary or practical field . Applied ethics is the vital link between theory and practice , the real test of ethical decision making . Applied ethics often requires not only theoretical analysis but also practical and feasible solutions .

Applied ethics is a discipline of philosophy that attempts to apply ethical theory to real - life situations . The discipline has many specialized fields , such as engineering ethics , bioethics , geoethics , public service ethics and business ethics .

Specific questions

Applied ethics is used in some aspects of determining public policy , as well as by individuals facing difficult decisions . The sort of questions addressed by applied ethics include : " Is getting an abortion immoral ? " ; " Is euthanasia immoral ? " ; " Is affirmative action right or wrong ? " ; " What are human rights , and how do we determine them ? " ; " Do animals have rights as well ? " ; and " Do individuals have the right of self - determination ? "

A more specific question could be : " If someone else can make better out of his / her life than I can , is it then moral to sacrifice myself for them if needed ? " Without these questions , there is no clear fulcrum on which to balance law , politics , and the practice of arbitration - in fact , no common assumptions of all participants - so the ability to formulate the questions are prior to rights balancing . But not all questions studied in applied ethics concern public policy . For example , making ethical judgments regarding questions such as , " Is lying always wrong ? " and , " If not , when is it permissible ? " is prior to any etiquette .

People , in general , are more comfortable with dichotomies ( two opposites ) . However , in ethics , the issues are most often multifaceted and the best - proposed actions address many different areas concurrently . In ethical decisions , the answer is almost never a " yes or no " or a " right or wrong " statement . Many buttons are pushed so that the overall condition is improved and not to the benefit of any particular faction .

And it has not only been shown that people consider the character of the moral agent ( i.e. a principle implied in virtue ethics ) , the deed of the action ( i.e. a principle implied in deontology ) , and the consequences of the action ( i.e. a principle implied in utilitarianism ) when formulating moral judgments , but moreover that the effect of each of these three components depends on the value of each component .

Particular fields of application

Bioethics :-Bioethics is the study of controversial ethics brought about by advances in biology and medicine . Bioethicists are concerned with the ethical questions that arise in the relationships among life sciences , biotechnology , medicine , politics , law , and philosophy . It also includes the study of the more commonplace questions of values ( " the ethics of the ordinary " ) that arise in primary care and other branches of medicine . Bioethics also needs to address emerging biotechnologies that affect These developments basic biology and future humans . include cloning , gene therapy , human genetic engineering , astroethics and life in space , and manipulation of basic biology through altered DNA , RNA and proteins , e.g. " three parent baby , where baby is born from genetically modified embryos , would have DNA from a mother , a father and from a female donor . Correspondingly , new bioethics also need to address life at its core . For example , biotic ethics value organic gene / protein life itself and seek to propagate it . With such life - centered principles , ethics may secure a cosmological future for life .

Business ethics

Business ethics ( also corporate ethics ) is a form of applied ethics or professional ethics that examines ethical principles and moral or ethical problems that arise in a business environment , including fields like medical ethics . Business ethics represents the practices that any individual or group exhibits within an organization that can negatively or positively affect the businesses core values . It applies to all aspects of business conduct and is relevant to the conduct of individuals and entire organizations .

Business ethics has both normative and descriptive dimensi ons . As a corporate practice and a career specialization , the field is primarily normative . Academics attempting to understand business behavior employ descriptive methods . The range and quantity of business ethical issues reflect the interaction of profit - maximizing behavior with non - economic concerns . Interest in business ethics accelerated dramatically during the 1980s and 1990s , both within major corporations and within academia . For example , today most major corporations promote their commitment to non - economic values under headings such as ethics codes and social responsibility charters . Adam Smith said , " People of the same trade seldom meet together , even for merriment and diversion , but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public , or in some contrivance to raise prices . " Governments use laws and regulations to point business behavior in what they perceive to be beneficial directions . Ethics implicitly regulates areas and details of behavior that lie beyond governmental control . The emergence of large corporations with limited relationships and sensitivity to the communities in which they operate accelerated the development of formal ethics regimes . Business ethics also relates to unethical activities of interorganizational relationships , such as strategic alliances , buyer - supplier relationships , or joint ventures . Such unethical practices include , for instance , opportunistic behaviors , contract violations , and deceitful practices . Some corporations have tried to burnish their ethical image by creating whistle - blower protections , such as anonymity . In the case of Citi , they call this the Ethics Hotline . Though it is unclear whether firms such as Citi take offences reported to these hotlines seriously or not .

Machine ethics

In Moral Machines : Teaching Robots Right from Wrong , Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen conclude that issues in machine ethics will likely drive advancement in understanding of human ethics by forcing us to address gaps in modern normative theory and by providing a experimental investigation . The effort to actually program a machine or artificial agent to behave as though instilled with a sense of ethics requires new specificity in our normative theories , especially regarding aspects customarily considered common - sense . For example , machines , unlike humans , can support a wide selection of learning algorithms , and controversy has arisen over the relative ethical merits of these options . This may reopen classic debates of normative ethics framed in new ( highly technical ) terms .

Military ethics

Military ethics are concerned with questions regarding the application of force and the ethos of the soldier and are often understood as applied professional ethics . Just war theory is generally seen to set the background terms of military ethics . However individual countries and traditions have different fields of attention .

Military ethics involves multiple subareas , including the following among others :

1. what , if any , should be the laws of war .

2. justification for the initiation of military force .

3. decisions about who may be targeted in warfare .

4. decisions on choice of weaponry , and what collateral effects such weaponry may have .

5. standards for handling military prisoners .

6. methods of dealing with violations of the laws of war . Philosophy ( Strictly for private circulation only .

Nature of Ethics

Scientific Nature : Ethics is a normative science which determines norms , moral values in a person and an individual's character . It is a systematic explanation of what is right and what is wrong .

Not Art : Ethics is not art as art deals with the acquisition of skill to produce objects , while morality deals with motive , intention , purpose and choice which are considered right or wrong in the light of goodness . ( web ) Variable Nature : Ethics is not static . It is not always the same . Human beings change and the morality and ethical perspective in them also changes .

Exclusively for Human Beings : Ethics can only be applied to human beings as we are the ones who have the capacity for moral judgement . We cannot expect ethical behaviour from animals , as they are not as intelligent as human beings are so ethics is exclusively for human beings .

Objectives of Ethics

Ethical objectives are based on the following factors :




Public Accountability



The objectives of ethics are to study and assess human behaviour . It is also to establish principles and moral standards of behaviour . Ethics is not compulsory in a person's life and it is not forced upon anyone but being ethical is one step forward towards being a good person .

2 ) Moral Concepts Good , The Absolute Good , Right , Duty , Virtue , Moral Obligation .

The most basic aim of moral philosophy , and so also of the Groundwork , is , in Kant's view , to " seek out " the foundational principle of a " metaphysics of morals , " which Kant understands as a system of a priori moral principles that apply the Cl to human persons in all times and cultures . Kant pursues this project through the first two chapters of the Groundwork . He proceeds by analyzing and elucidating commonsense ideas about morality , including the ideas of a " good will " and " duty " . The point of this first project is to come up with a precise statement of the principle or principles on which all of our ordinary moral judgments are based . The judgments in question are supposed to be those that any normal , sane , adult human being would accept on due rational reflection . Nowadays , however , many would regard Kant as being overly optimistic about the depth and extent of moral agreement . But perhaps he is best thought of as drawing on a moral viewpoint that is very widely shared and which contains some general judgments that are very deeply held . In any case , he does not appear to take himself to be primarily addressing a genuine moral skeptic such as those who often populate the works of moral philosophers , that is , someone who doubts that she has any reason to act morally and whose moral behavior hinges on a rational proof that philosophers might try to give . For instance , when , in the third and final chapter of the Groundwork , Kant takes up his second fundamental aim , to " establish " this foundational moral principle as a demand of each person's own rational will , his conclusion apparently falls short of answering those who want a proof that we really are bound by moral requirements . He rests this second project on the position that we or at least creatures with rational wills possess autonomy . The argument of this second project does often appear to try to reach out to a metaphysical fact about our wills . This has led some readers to the conclusion that he is , after all , trying to justify moral requirements by appealing to a fact autonomy that even a moral skeptic would have to recognize .

Kant's analysis of the common moral concepts of " duty " and " good will " led him to believe that we are free and autonomous as long as morality , itself , is not an illusion . Yet in the Critique of Pure Reason , Kant also tried to show that every event has a cause . Kant recognized that there seems to be a deep tension between these two claims : If causal determinism is true then , it seems , we cannot have the kind of freedom that morality presupposes , which is " a kind of causality " that " can be active , independently of alien causes determining it " .

Kant thought that the only way to resolve this apparent conflict is to distinguish between phenomena , which is what we know through experience , and noumena , which we can consistently think but not know through experience . Our knowledge and understanding of the empirical world , Kant argued , can only arise within the limits of our perceptual and cognitive powers . We should not assume , however , that we know all that may be true about " things in themselves , " although we lack the " intellectual intuition " that would be needed to learn about such things .

These distinctions , according to Kant , allow us to resolve the " antinomy " about free will by interpreting the " thesis " that free will is possible as about noumena and the " antithesis " that every event has a cause as about phenomena . Morality thus presupposes that agents , in an incomprehensible " intelligible world , " are able to make things happen by their own free choices in a " sensible world " in which causal determinism is true .

Many of Kant's commentators , who are skeptical about these apparently exorbitant metaphysical claims , have attempted to make sense of his discussions of the intelligible and sensible worlds in less metaphysically demanding ways . On one interpretation ( Hudson 1994 ) , one and the same act can be described in wholly physical terms ( as an appearance ) and also in irreducibly mental terms ( as a thing in itself ) . On this compatibilist picture , all acts are causally determined , but a free act is one that can be described as determined by irreducibly mental causes , and in particular by the causality of reason . A second interpretation holds that the intelligible and sensible worlds are used as metaphors for two ways of conceiving of one and the same world ( Korsgaard 1996 ; Allison 1990 ; Hill 1989a , 1989b ) . When we are engaging in scientific or empirical investigations , we often take up a perspective in which we think of things as subject to natural causation , but when we deliberate , act , reason and judge , we often take up a different perspective , in which we think of ourselves and others as agents who are not determined by natural causes . When we take up this latter , practical , standpoint , we need not believe that we or others really are free , in any deep metaphysical sense ; we need only operate " under the idea of freedom " ( G 4 : 448 ) . Controversy persists , however , about whether Kant's conception of freedom requires a " two worlds " or " two perspectives " account of the sensible and intelligible worlds

Although the two most basic aims Kant saw for moral philosophy are to seek out and establish the supreme principle of morality , they are not , in Kant's view , its only aims . Moral philosophy , for Kant , is most fundamentally addressed to the first - person , deliberative question , " What ought I to do ? " , and an answer to that question requires much more than delivering or justifying the fundamental principle of morality . We also need some account , based on this principle , of the nature and extent of the specific moral duties that apply to us . To this end , Kant employs his findings from the Groundwork in The Metaphysics of Morals , and offers a categorization of our basic moral duties to ourselves and others . In addition , Kant thought that moral philosophy should characterize and explain the demands that morality makes on human psychology and forms of human social interaction . These topics , among others , are addressed in central chapters of the second Critique , the Religion and again in the Metaphysics of Morals , and are perhaps given a sustained treatment in Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View . Further , a satisfying answer to the question of what one ought to do would have to take into account any political and religious requirements there are . Each of these requirement turn out to be , indirectly at least , also moral obligations for Kant , and are discussed in the Metaphysics of Morals and in Religion . Finally , moral philosophy should say something about the ultimate end of human endeavor , the Highest Good , and its relationship to the moral life . In the Critique of Practical Reason , Kant argued that this Highest Good for humanity is complete moral virtue together with complete happiness , the former being the condition of our deserving the latter . Unfortunately , Kant noted , virtue does not insure wellbeing and may even conflict with it . Further , he thought that there is no real possibility of moral perfection in this life and indeed few of us fully deserve the happiness we are lucky enough to enjoy . Reason cannot prove or disprove the existence of Divine Providence , on Kant's view , nor the immortality of the soul , which seem necessary to rectify these things . Nevertheless , Kant argued , an unlimited amount of time to perfect ourselves ( immortality ) and a commensurate achievement of wellbeing ( insured by God ) are " postulates " required by reason when employed in moral matters .

Throughout his moral works , Kant returns time and again to the question of the method moral philosophy should employ when pursuing these aims . A basic theme of these discussions is that the fundamental philosophical issues of morality must be addressed a priori , that is , without drawing on observations of human beings and their behavior . Kant's insistence on an a priori method to seek out and establish fundamental moral principles , however , does not always appear to be matched by his own practice . The Metaphysics of Morals , for instance , is meant to be based on a priori rational principles , but many of the specific duties that Kant describes , along with some of the arguments he gives in support of them , rely on general facts about human beings and our circumstances that are known from experience .

In one sense , it might seem obvious why Kant insists on an a priori method . A " metaphysics of morals " would be , more or less , an account of the nature and structure of moral requirements - in effect , a categorization of duties and values . Such a project would address such questions as , What is a duty ? What kinds of duties are there ? What is the good ? What kinds of goods are there ?, and so on . These appear to be metaphysical questions . Any principle used to provide such categorizations appears to be a principle of metaphysics , in a sense , but Kant did not see them as external moral truths that exist independently of rational agents . Moral requirements , instead , are rational principles that tell us what we have overriding reason to do . Metaphysical principles of this sort are always sought out and established by a priori methods .

Perhaps something like this was behind Kant's thinking . However , the considerations he offers for an a priori method do not all obviously draw on this sort of rationale . The following are three considerations favoring a priori methods that he emphasizes repeatedly . The first is that , as Kant and others have conceived of it , ethics . initially requires an analysis of our moral concepts . We must understand . the concepts of a " good will " , " obligation " , " duty " and so on , as well as their logical relationships to one another , before we can determine whether our use of these concepts is justified . Given that the analysis of concepts is an a priori matter , to the degree that ethics consists of such an analysis , ethics is a priori as a well .

Of course , even were we to agree with Kant that ethics should begin with analysis , and that analysis is or should be an entirely a priori undertaking , this would not explain why all of the fundamental questions of moral philosophy must be pursued a priori . Indeed , one of the most important projects of moral philosophy , for Kant , is to show that we , as rational agents , are bound by moral requirements and that fully rational agents would necessarily comply with them . Kant admits that his analytical arguments for the CI are inadequate on their own because the most they can show is that the CI is the supreme principle of morality if there is such a principle . Kant must therefore address the possibility that morality itself is an illusion by showing that the CI really is an unconditional requirement of reason that applies to us . Even though Kant thought that this project of " establishing " the CI must also be carried out a priori , he did not think we could pursue this project simply by analyzing our moral concepts or examining the actual behavior of others . What is needed , instead , is a " synthetic " , but still a priori , kind of argument that starts from ideas of freedom and rational agency and critically examines the nature and limits of these capacities .

This is the second reason Kant held that fundamental issues in ethics must be addressed with an a priori method : The ultimate subject matter of ethics is the nature and content of the principles that necessarily determine a rational will . Fundamental issues in moral philosophy must also be settled a priori because of the nature of moral requirements themselves , or so Kant thought . This is a third reason he gives for an a priori method , and it appears to have been of great importance to Kant : Moral requirements present themselves as being unconditionally necessary . But an a posteriori method seems ill - suited to discovering and establishing what we must do whether we feel like doing it or not ; surely such a method could only tell us what we actually do . So an a posteriori method of seeking out and establishing the principle that generates such requirements will not support the presentation of moral " oughts " as unconditional necessities . Kant argued that empirical observations could only deliver conclusions about , for instance , the relative advantages of moral behavior in various circumstances or how pleasing it might be in our own eyes or the eyes of others . Such findings clearly would not support the unconditional necessity of moral requirements . To appeal to a posteriori considerations would thus result in a tainted conception of moral requirements . It would view them as demands for which compliance is not unconditionally necessary , but rather necessary only if additional considerations show it to be advantageous , optimific or in some other way felicitous . Thus , Kant argued that if moral philosophy is to guard against undermining the unconditional necessity of obligation in its analysis and defense of moral thought , it must be carried out entirely a priori .

Good Will , Moral Worth and Duty

Kant's analysis of commonsense ideas begins with the thought that the only thing good without qualification is a " good will " . While the phrases " he's good hearted " , " she's good natured " and " she means well " are common , " the good will " as Kant thinks of it is not the same as any of these ordinary notions . The idea of a good will is closer to the idea of a " good person " , or , more archaically , a " person of good will " . This use of the term " will " early on in analyzing ordinary moral thought prefigures later and more technical discussions concerning the nature of rational agency . Nevertheless , this idea of a good will is an important commonsense touchstone to which Kant returns throughout his works . The basic idea , as Kant describes it in the Groundwork , is that what makes a good person good is his possession of a will that is in a certain way " determined " by , or makes its decisions on the basis of , the moral law . The idea of a good will is supposed to be the idea of one who is committed only to make decisions that she holds to be morally worthy and who takes moral considerations in themselves to be conclusive reasons for guiding her behavior . This sort of disposition or character is something we all highly value , Kant thought . He believes we value it without limitation or qualification . By this , we believe , he means primarily two things .

First , unlike anything else , there is no conceivable circumstance in which we regard our own moral goodness as worth forfeiting simply in order to obtain some desirable object . By contrast , the value of all other desirable qualities , such as courage or cleverness , can be diminished , forgone , or sacrificed under certain circumstances : Courage may be laid aside if it requires injustice , and it is better not to be witty if it requires cruelty . There is no implicit restriction or qualification to the effect that a commitment to give moral considerations decisive weight is worth honoring , but only under such and such circumstances .

Second , possessing and maintaining a steadfast commitment to moral principles is the very condition under which anything else is worth having or pursuing . Intelligence and even pleasure are worth having only on the condition that they do not require giving up one's fundamental moral convictions . The value of a good will thus cannot be that it secures certain valuable ends , whether of our own or of others , since their value is entirely conditional on our possessing and maintaining a good will . Indeed , since a good will is good under any condition , its goodness must not depend on any particular conditions obtaining . Thus , Kant points out that a good will must then also be good in itself and not in virtue of its relationship to other things such as the agent's own happiness , overall welfare or any other effects it may or may not produce A good will would still " shine like a jewel " even if it were " completely powerless to carry out its aims " .

In Kant's terms , a good will is a will whose decisions are wholly determined by moral demands or , as he often refers to this , by the Moral Law . Human beings inevitably feel this Law as a constraint on their natural desires , which is why such Laws , as applied to human beings , are imperatives and duties . A human will in which the Moral Law is decisive is motivated by the thought of duty . A holy or divine will , if it exists , though good , would not be good because it is motivated by thoughts of duty because such a will does not have natural inclinations and so necessarily fulfills moral requirements without feeling constrained to do so . It is the presence of desires that could operate independently of moral demands that makes goodness in human beings a constraint , an essential element of the idea of " duty . " So in analyzing unqualified goodness as it occurs in imperfectly rational creatures such as ourselves , we are investigating the idea of being motivated by the thought that we are constrained to act in certain ways that we might not want to simply from the thought that we are morally required to do so .

Kant confirms this by comparing motivation by duty with other sorts of motives , in particular , with motives of self - interest , self - preservation , sympathy and happiness . He argues that a dutiful action from any of these motives , however praiseworthy it may be , does not express a good will . Assuming an action has moral worth only if it expresses a good will , such actions have no genuine " moral worth . " The conformity of one's action to duty in such cases is only related by accident to morality . For instance , if one is motivated by happiness alone , then had conditions not conspired to align one's duty with one's own happiness one would not have done one's duty . By contrast , were one to supplant any of these motivations with the motive of duty , the morality of the action would then express one's determination to act dutifully out of respect for the moral law itself . Only then would the action have moral worth .

Kant's views in this regard have understandably been the subject of much controversy . Many object that we do not think better of actions I done for the sake of duty than actions performed out of emotional concern or sympathy for others , especially those things we do for friends and family . Worse , moral worth appears to require not only that one's actions be motivated by duty , but also that no other motives , even love or friendship , cooperate . Yet Kant's defenders have argued that his point is not that we do not admire or praise motivating concerns other than duty , only that from the point of view of someone deliberating about what to do , these concerns are not decisive in the way that considerations of moral duty are . What is crucial in actions that express a good will is that in conforming to duty a perfectly virtuous person always would , and so ideally we should , recognize and be moved by the thought that our conformity is morally obligatory . The motivational structure of the agent should be arranged so that she always treats considerations of duty as sufficient reasons for conforming to those requirements . In other words , we should have a firm commitment not to perform an action if it is morally forbidden and to perform an action if it is morally required . Having a good will , in this sense , is compatible with having feelings and emotions of various kinds , and even with aiming to cultivate some of them in order to counteract desires and inclinations that tempt us to immorality . Controversy persists , however , about whether Kant's claims about the motive of duty go beyond this basic point .

Suppose for the sake of argument we agree with Kant . We now need to know what distinguishes the principle that lays down our duties from these other motivating principles , and so makes motivation by it the source of unqualified value .

3. Duty and Respect for Moral Law :- According to Kant , what is singular about motivation by duty is that it consists of bare respect for the moral law . What naturally comes to mind is this Duties are rules or laws of some sort combined with some sort of felt constraint or incentive on our choices , whether from external coercion by others or from our own powers of reason . For instance , the bylaws of a club lay down duties for its officers and enforce them with sanctions . City and state laws establish the duties of citizens and enforce them with coercive legal power . Thus , if we do something because it is our " civic " duty , or our duty " as a boy scout " or " a good American , " our motivation is respect for the code that makes it our duty . Thinking we are duty bound is simply respecting , as such , certain laws pertaining to us .

However intuitive , this cannot be all of Kant's meaning . For one thing , as with the Jim Crow laws of the old South and the Nuremberg laws of Nazi Germany , the laws to which these types of " actions from duty " conform may be morally despicable . Respect for such laws could hardly be thought valuable . For another , our motive in conforming our actions to civic and other laws is rarely unconditional respect . We also have an eye toward doing our part in maintaining civil or social order , toward punishments or loss of standing and reputation in violating such laws , and other outcomes of lawful behavior . Indeed , we respect these laws to the degree , but only to the degree , that they do not violate values , laws or principles we hold more dear . Yet Kant thinks that , in acting from duty , we are not at all motivated by a prospective outcome or some other extrinsic feature of our conduct except insofar as these are requirements of duty itself . We are motivated by the mere conformity of our will to law as such .

To act out of respect for the moral law , in Kant's view , is to be moved to act by a recognition that the moral law is a supremely authoritative standard that binds us and to experience a kind of feeling , which is akin to awe and fear , when we acknowledge the moral law as the source of moral requirements . Human persons inevitably have respect for the moral law even though we are not always moved by it and even though we do not always comply with the moral standards that we nonetheless recognize as authoritative .

Kant's account of the content of moral requirements and the nature of moral reasoning is based on his analysis of the unique force moral considerations have as reasons to act . The force of moral requirements as reasons is that we cannot ignore them no matter how circumstances might conspire against any other consideration . Basic moral requirements retain their reason - giving force under any circumstance , they have universal validity . So , whatever else may be said of basic moral requirements , their content is universal . Only a universal law could be the content of a requirement that has the reason - giving force of morality . This brings Kant to a preliminary formulation of the Cl : " I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law " . This is the principle which motivates a good will , and which Kant holds to be the fundamental principle of all of morality .

Virtue and Vice

Kant defines virtue as " the moral strength of a human being's will in fulfilling his duty " ( MM 6 : 405 ) and vice as principled immorality ( MM 6 : 390 ) . This definition appears to put Kant's views on virtue at odds with classical views such as Aristotle's in several important respects .

First virtue , Kant's account of virtue presupposes an account of moral duty already in place . Thus , rather than treating admirable character traits as more basic than the notions of right and wrong conduct , Kant takes virtues to be explicable only in terms of a prior account of moral or dutiful behavior . He does not try to make out what shape a good character has and then draw conclusions about how we ought to act on that basis . He sets out the principles of moral conduct based on his philosophical account of rational agency , and then on that basis defines virtue as a kind of strength and resolve to act on those principles despite temptations to the contrary .

Second virtue is , for Kant , strength of will , and hence does not arise as the result of instilling a " second nature " by a process of habituating or training ourselves to act and feel in particular ways . It is indeed a disposition , but a disposition of one's will , not a disposition of emotions , feelings , desires or any other feature of human nature that might be amenable to habituation . Moreover , the disposition is to overcome obstacles to moral behavior that Kant thought were ineradicable features of human nature . Thus , virtue appears to be much more like what Aristotle would have thought of as a lesser trait , viz . , continence or self - control .

Third virtue , in viewing virtue as a trait grounded in moral principles , and vice as principled transgression of moral law , Kant thought of himself as thoroughly rejecting what he took to be the Aristotelian view that virtue is a mean between two vices . The Aristotelian view , he claimed , assumes that virtue typically differs from vice only in terms of degree rather than in terms of the different principles each involves ( MM 6 : 404 , 432 ) . Prodigality and avarice , for instance , do not differ by being too loose or not loose enough with one's means . They differ in that the prodigal person acts on the principle of acquiring means with the sole intention of enjoyment , while the avaricious person acts on the principle of acquiring means with the sole intention of possessing them .

Fourth virtue , in classical views the distinction between moral and non moral virtues is not particularly significant . A virtue is some sort of excellence of the soul , but one finds classical theorists treating wit and friendliness alongside courage and justice . Since Kant holds moral virtue to be a trait grounded in moral principle , the boundary between non - moral and moral virtues could not be more sharp . Even so , Kant shows a remarkable interest in non - moral virtues ; indeed , much of Anthropology is given over to discussing the nature and sources of a variety of character traits , both moral and non - moral .

Fifth , virtue cannot be a trait of divine beings , if there are such , since it is the power to overcome obstacles that would not be present in them . This is not to say that to be virtuous is to be the victor in a constant and permanent war with ineradicable evil impulses or temptations . Morality is " duty " for human beings because it is possible ( and we recognize that it is possible ) for our desires and interests to run counter to its demands . Should all of our desires and interests be trained ever so carefully to comport with what morality actually requires of us , this would not change in the least the fact that morality is still duty for us . For should this come to pass , it would not change the fact that each and every desire and interest could have run contrary to the moral law . And it is the fact that they can conflict with moral law , not the fact that they actually do conflict with it , that makes duty a constraint , and hence is virtue essentially a trait concerned with constraint .

Sixth , virtue , while important , does not hold pride of place in Kant's system in other respects . For instance , he holds that the lack of virtue is compatible with possessing a good will ( G 6 : 408 ) . That one acts from duty , even repeatedly and reliably can thus be quite compatible with an absence of the moral strength to overcome contrary interests and desires . Indeed , it may often be no challenge at all to do one's duty from duty alone . Someone with a good will , who is genuinely committed to duty for its own sake , might simply fail to encounter any significant temptation that would reveal the lack of strength to follow through with that commitment . That said , he also appeared to hold that if an act is to be of genuine moral worth , it must be motivated by the kind of purity of motivation achievable only through a permanent , quasi - religious conversion or " revolution " in the orientation of the will of the sort described in Religion . Until one achieves a permanent change in the will's orientation in this respect , a revolution in which moral righteousness is the nonnegotiable condition of any of one's pursuits , all of one's actions that are in accordance with duty are nevertheless morally worthless , no matter what else may be said of them . However , even this revolution in the will must be followed up with a gradual , lifelong strengthening of one's will to put this revolution into practice . This suggests that Kant's considered view is that a good will is a will in which this revolution of priorities has been achieved , while a virtuous will is one with the strength to overcome obstacles to its manifestation in practice .

Kant distinguishes between virtue , which is strength of will to do one's duty from duty , and particular virtues , which are commitments to particular moral ends that we are morally required to adopt . Among the virtues Kant discusses are those of self - respect , honesty , thrift , self improvement , beneficence , gratitude , sociability , and forgiveness . Kant also distinguishes vice , which is a steadfast commitment to immorality , from particular vices , which involve refusing to adopt specific moral ends or committing to act against those ends . For example , malice , lust , gluttony , greed , laziness , vengefulness , envy , servility , contempt and arrogance are all vices in Kant's normative ethical theory .

3 ) Kinds of Action - Voluntary , Involuntary , Non Voluntary .


Here the word moral is used in a wider sense . It is used in the sense of either right or wrong . The word moral means that in which moral quality or rightness or wrongness , is present . The word non moral means that which is devoid of moral quality . All actions are not objects of moral judgment . Only voluntary and habitual actions of rational persons are objects of moral judgement . We cannot speak of the phenomena of nature , e.g. hurricanes , floods , famines etc. , as either moral or immoral . Inanimate things and events of nature are beyond the pale of moral judgement .

The actions of animals also are neither moral nor immoral .Animals are devoid of reason , and cannot discriminate between right and wrong . So their actions are non - moral . Actions of children insane persons and idiots , who are not capable of reflection and discrimination are devoid of moral quality . Actions done under coercion are non moral if they cannot be resisted .

Only voluntary actions and habitual actions of rational persons are objects of moral judgement . Voluntary actions are performed knowingly and intelligently by self conscious free agents with desire , prevision and choice of ends and means . Therefore , they are objects of moral judgement .

Habits are the results of repeated voluntary actions . By repetition voluntary actions are fixed as habits . They become automatic and irresistible .

The object of moral judgement for two reasons :

1 ) Habits are voluntarily , acquired ;; they are formed by repeated acts of will ; they could be checked before they were ingrained in the organism .

2 ) Habitual actions are begun with a volitional impulse . Even when they become firm , they can be overcome by a strong effort of will .


Voluntary actions are actions performed by an agent deliberately and intentionally in order to realise some foreseen ends . They are actions performed by the self with volition or will . A voluntary action has three stages viz . the mental stage , the bodily stage and the external stage of consequences .


1) The Mental Stage : - Every voluntary action in actuated by a spring of action . It is a feeling of want , actual or ideal . It is either an instinct , or an appetite , or an intellectual , moral or aesthetic craving . A feeling of want is always painful , and generates an impulse . But it is usually mingled with pleasure which arises from the anticipation of satisfaction of the want in future .

2 ) The feeling of Want : E.g. an appetite , is converted into a desire . Self Consciousness supervenes upon an appetite and turns it into a desire . It is not blind like an appetite . It is enlightened by self - consciousness . Desire is a craving to satisfy an appetite by attaining its proper object . In desire there is the idea of the object or end or motive which will satisfy the feeling of want . There is also the idea of the means for realising the end , whether the means is desirable or undesirable . And there is craving for the attainment of the object . There is also an impulse to attain the object . In the case of a simple action in which there is no conflict of motives , a choice is made at once and it is followed by actions . But in the case of complex action in which there is a conflict of motives the desire is not immediately followed by choice .

3) In a complex action - Sometimes the self is confronted with different motives , competing with one another . Many wants demand satisfaction at the same time . They suggest many ends simultaneously to the mind . Thus many desires pull the mind in different directions . All ends cannot be realised at the same time ; all desires cannot be satisfied simultaneously . Sometimes they are inconsistent with one another . If one is satisfied , the other has to be rejected altogether . Thus there arises in the mind of a competition rivalry , or conflict of motives of desires .

4) When there is a conflict of motives : The self - arrests actions and deliberates upon the merits and demerits of the different courses of action suggested by different motives . The self weighs them in the balance , as it were , and considers the pros and cons . This is called deliberation . It does not mean the trail of strength among desires apart from the self which are but the states of the self - deliberation is the mental process of considering the merits and demerits of the different courses of action suggested by different desires on the part of the self in order to choose one and reject the rest .

5 ) Sometimes decision is at once carried out:- In that case there is no scope for resolution . But sometimes the action is postponed and so there is a scope for resolution . Resolution means the power of sticking to the decision already made . It is determination to carry out the decision and fight indecision and vacillation .


When choice or resolution has been made and kept up by resolution , it is converted into bodily action . The idea of movement attended to carries itself out into actual movement by its impulsive character of the idea of movement . This explanation is offered by William James .


The bodily action produces changes in the external world . These are called consequences which include the following Realisation of the chosen end or motive , realization of the chosen or intended means , desirable or undesirable or both , certain foreseen consequences and certain foreseen consequences , and certain unforeseen ; unintended , accidental consequences .


Desire is a craving of an agent for the attainment of an object to relieve some want . It is a state of tension between the actual state of the self and the idea of a future state not yet realized . It is , a complex mental state consisting of cognitive , affective and conative elements .

1) The cognitive elements are the following ; idea of the end which will remove the feeling of want ; the idea of the means , either desirable or undesirable , or both , which will lead to the attainment of the end ; the cognition of the distinction between the actual and the ideal , or comparison of the present state of want with the anticipated state or realization .

2) The affective elements are the following ; a painful feeling of want which is the spring of action ; a pleasant feeling arising from the anticipation of satisfaction . These are the elements of feelings or affection .

3) The conative elements are the following ; a yarning for the attainment of the end to remove a feeling of want ; an active impulse to action to realise the end . These are the elements of conation in desire .


Plants are unconscious ; animals are conscious ; men are conscious and self conscious . Plants have organic wants ; they have a blind tendency to strike their roots into the soil to draw in sap or to spread out their branches to catch light . They do not feel the organic needs because they are unconscious . The organic wants of wants of plants are blind and unconscious impulses .

But animals appetites are blind but conscious tendencies . Animals are conscious ; they feel pleasure and pain . Therefore , an appetite is felt by an animal ; it is not a merely blind tendency towards a particular object ; but it is , to a certain extent , present to consciousness . There may be a definite idea of the kind of the object that will satisfy a want . In the higher animals there is a dim consciousness of the object or end , but the element of feeling is predominant .

For Ex : A hungry dog may be more or less clearly conscious of the nature of the object that it wants . But in lower animals the consciousness of the object or end is somewhat dim and vague .

The feeling of pleasure or pain is prominent element in their conscientistess rather than any definite idea of an object . In a desire there is not merely the consciousness of an end with an accompanying feeling of pleasure and pain but also a recognition of the object as good . There is a merely organic want of nutriment in plants . There is an appetite of hunger in animals . But in men it is converted Juster a desires ten food


Desires belong to rational agents . They are not blind appetites of ISIS Impulses . But they are enlightened by self consciousness . They are conscious cravings of the self for realizing an end which it recognizes as good . The self chooses to realise a definite object or end which it recognizes as it's good and which it feels to be in harmony with its character Munhead rightly observes that desires are always for some objects which have a value for a self , because they are in harmony with its character . Objects are desired by a self because they have a value for it . They are valuable to the self because they fit in with its character . Hente destres are meaningless apart from a self and its character . For instance , a philosopher feels a strong desire for reading books on philosophy . This dodne for reading is organically related to his soll and character . Reading philosophical works has value for his sell , because it is in . Harmony with the philosophie al bent of his mind or his settled disposition or character .


Mackenzie speaks of a universe of desire . A desire belongs to a particular universe constituted by the character of a person . It loses its meaning a part from that universe . The universe of desire is the universe of a person's ethical point of view at the moment every person lives habitually in a particular universe of desire . This universe is constituted by his permanent character . Thus his desires are not isolated phenomena in his mind . They belong to a universe of desire constituted by his character of dominant disposition . But the same person does not live constantly in the same universe of desire . Different desires dominant our minds in different moods in different conditions in different states of health .


Desire is a factor in the act of volition . First , there is a feeling of want ; it is converted into a desire by the self ; when a desire is chosen by the self after deliberation , there is choice . Thus there can be no volition without desires . In a complex action there is a conflict of desires .

In such a state the self arrests action and deliberates on the merits and demerits of the different desires and chooses one to the exclusion of others which thus becomes dominant and effective . Mackenzie call such a dominant desire a wish .

A ineffective desire is simply called a desire . A dominant desire is called a wish . But a dominant desire may not be in harmony with the universe of desire in which a person lives . Therefore , it may be rejected by him . But when it fits in with his universe of desire , it is chosen by him and converted into an act of will , A poor apothecary sells poison . He does not like to sell poison . But his extreme poverty compels hum to do so . His dominant single desire is opposed to the sale of poison . But the dominant universe of desire which is constituted by his poverty compels him to will the sale of poison . The will or volition depends on a dominant universe of desire , whereas a wish is a dominant single desire .


The word motive literally means what moves us to act in a particular way . A motive may mean an efficient cause of action or a final cause of action . It is either what moves , incites , or urges us to act or what induces us to act in a particular way . It is either a spring of action or an end of action . In the former sense , a motive is a spring of action or feeling of want . In the first sense , a Persons motive may be said to be a feeling of pleasure or pain or a motion of anger , fear , or hate . The Hedonists , like Hume , bentham , J.S.Mill and Bain , hold that feelings of pleasure and pain alone are motives of action , they are the only determinants of voluntary actions . Men always seek pleasure and avoid pain . Feelings and emotions are the springs of actions .

Bentham says , " A Motive is substantially nothing more than pleasure or pain, operating in a certain manner "

J.S. Mill defines a motive as " the feeling which makes him ( the agent ) will to do " .

Green defines motive as " an idea of an end , which a self-consciourealize subject presents to itself and which it strives and ends to realise ".

Mackenzie says , the motive that which includes us to act is the thought of a desirable end.

Muirhead takes motive in the sense of the idea of the end chosen by the self which is in harmony with its character . Motive is the chosen desire or end . Sometimes there is a conflict of desires . such a case , many ends present themselves to the self , which deliberates upon their merits and demerits and choses one of them and reject the rest .

This chosen end is the true motive of action . Muirhead observes that a motive is the idea of an end which is in congruence with the universe of desire in which a person lives at the moment . Thus a motive is the idea of end which is chosen by the self and felt to be in harmony with the universe of desire in which it lives at the time . This seems to be the correct view . This view does not really conflict with Mackenzie's view . It simply restricts his meaning of motive .


Bentham and J.S.Mill take the term motive in the sense of spring of action or feelings and emotions , and the term intention in the sense of the aim , object or end of action . Motive is the efficient cause of action , whereas , intention is the final cause of action . But this is wrong . Motive and intention both are the final causes of action . Only intention is wider that motive . Motive is a part of intention . The motive of a voluntary action is the chosen end which is realised by it induces the self to act .

The motive of an action is the idea of the and that induces a person to perform it . This must be included in the intention , but is not identical with the whole of it . Intention includes the idea of the means which may dissuade the agent from performing the action . Thus intention is wider than motive . It includes the idea of the chosen end , the idea of the chosen means , and the idea of the foreseen consequences .


A habit is the product of repeated voluntary action . Voluntary actions , involve at first an effort of will ; but when they are repeated , they become habitual and come to be performed without the guidance of consciousness or the effort of will . When a habitual action becomes thoroughly ingrained , it seems to become almost wholly automatic and suspense wholly with conscious guidance .

Habits have a great ethical significance . They are results of a series of voluntary actions . Therefore they are object of moral judgment . We are morally responsible not only for our voluntary actions but also for our habitual actions , which are the results of voluntary actions . The slaves of bad habits cannot be excused from their moral guilt . They are responsible for their habits . Habits imply settled mental dispositions or character . Character is an object of moral judgment . Conduct is an expression of character . It implies knowledge and habit both . Thus habit is of great moral significance .


Conduct covers voluntary and habitual actions . It does not include non voluntary actions , because they do not imply deliberation , choice resolution , or purpose . They are non purposive actions and as such devoid of moral quality . Conduct does not include actions which are performed under constraints or external compulsion . Conduct is willed involving choice and purpose . Choice is an act of volition . Each choice is not an isolated act of volition . But several choices constitute a connected series , which is an expression of character . The term " Conduct " should be confined to those acts that are not merely adjusted to ends , but also definitely willed . A persons conduct is the expression of his character . Conduct is free and conscious adjustment of acts to ends deliberately chosen by the self .

Herbert Spencer uses the word " Conduct " in a wider sense He defines conduct as adjustment of acts to ends ,


Character is the permanent bent of the mind , constituted by the settled habits of will . It is a system of permanent tendencies or dispositions to actions voluntarily acquired . It is different from nature . Character is acquired by a person by his voluntary actions . Nature is innate but character is acquired . Character is built up by a person out of his natural tendencies and dispositions by controlling and regulating them by reason .

Thus character is built out of innate nature . Character is the inner side of conduct . Conduct is the outer expression of character . So Ethics is said to be the science of morality of conduct of the science of goodness or badness of character .


A person's conduct partly depends upon his character , and partly upon the condition and circumstances in the physical and social environment . External circumstances partly determine conduct . Even a person of strong character cannot avoid the influence circumstances . What , then , is the ethical significance of circumstances ? They are not simply the external environment in which a person lives . The position of the planets , the strata of the earth in the locality , the mountains and the sea , the wind and the tides are not to be regarded as circumstances , if they do not influence the conduct of a person . But the climate , the fertility of the soil , the presence of coal or iron , and the like , are regarded as circumstances , because they influence the conduct of a person . Teacher's friends , companions , customs and manners , literature and religion are more important circumstances , because they mould the conduct of a person considerably .

Circumstances are not mere external conditions . They are the external conditions in so far as they influence a person's conduct . Circumstances depend upon a person's character . He takes note of , and responds to those circumstances alone which fit in with his character . The either conditions in the environment he ignores altogether and does not take into account . They do not influence his actions . They are not in any way , circumstances to him . Thus circumstances depend upon character ; they are not entirely foreign to it .


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