AOK: Ethics

Theory 1: Moral relativism 

According to moral relativism, there are no universal ethical values. 

Homosexuality, for example, is a capital offense in one country, whereas it is a human right in another.  Our perception of what is right or wrong is heavily influenced by the knowledge community we belong to, and the wide variety of moral practices in the world would support the notion of moral relativism.  Even though it may be challenging to come up with an honest absolute and universal truth in a post-modern world, there are intrinsic limitations with moral relativism. Moral relativism may imply tolerance regarding the range of cultural practices around the world. Still, it can also lead to a mere disinterest in the well-being of those who belong to a different knowledge community, which is in itself unethical. 


Theory 2: self-interest theory.

According to the self-interest theory, human beings are always and everywhere selfish. Since selfish behavior is usually seen as the opposite of moral action, this theory suggests that, even if there are objective moral values, we are incapable of living up to them.


1. The definitional argument:

It is right by definition that everyone is selfish. You are selfish when you do what you want to do, and you always end up doing that what you most want to do- otherwise, you wouldn’t do it... This is the Opposite is altruism: selfless behavior in which we put other people’s welfare before our own.


2. The evolutionary argument:

Human beings are naturally selfish creatures who are programmed to pursue their interests.


3. The hidden benefit argument:

We get various hidden benefits (such as gratitude, praise, and a positive image of ourselves) from being kind to others.


4. The fear of punishment argument:

The main thing that keeps us in line and prevents our doing wrong is fear of punishment.


Theory 3: Kantian ethics (Kantianism) 

Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher (1724-1804), believed that certain types of actions (including murder, theft, and lying) were prohibited, even in cases where the action would bring about more happiness than the alternative.  For Kantians, there are two questions that we must ask ourselves whenever we decide to act: 

1. Can I rationally will that everyone acts as I propose to act?  If the answer is no, then we must not act. 

2. Does my action respect the goals of human beings rather than merely using them for my purposes?  Again, if the answer is no, then we must not act. (Kant believed that these questions were equivalent).

Kant’s theory is an example of a deontological moral theory–according to these theories, the rightness or wrongness of actions does not depend on their consequences but on whether they fulfill our duty.

For a more in-depth explanation: (Or The Good Place TV show also has a good example)


Theory 4: Utilitarianism

The Doctrine That Actions Are Right If They Are Useful Or For The Benefit Of A Majority.

“The ethical theory of John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) is most extensively articulated in his classical text Utilitarianism (1861). Its goal is to justify the utilitarian principle as the foundation of morals. This principle says actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote overall human happiness. So, Mill focuses on consequences of actions and not on rights nor ethical sentiments.”

For a more in-depth explanation:


Theory 5: Nihilism

Nihilism derives its name from the Latin root nihil, meaning nothing, that which does not exist. This same root is found in the verb “annihilate” -- to bring to nothing, to destroy completely. Nihilism is the belief:

Ethical nihilism (moral nihilism) rejects the possibility of absolute moral or ethical values. Good and evil are vague, and related values are simply the result of social and emotional pressures.

For a more in-depth explanation:


Example: The trolley problem

The Trolly Problem:

Knowledge framework:

  1. Scope and applications: Are moral values built into the very quest for knowledge?

  2. Concept/language: Is the prescriptive “ ought” of moral discourse (communication of thought by words; talk; conversation)  fundamentally different from the descriptive “ is” of actual dialogue?

  3. Methodology: What role does intuition, empirical evidence, rational argument, emotion, and imagination play in the search for moral knowledge?

  4. Historical development: Is there any evidence that we have higher moral standards than our ancestors?

  5. Relation to personal knowledge: Can there be a general answer to the question, “ How should I live?”

For a more in-depth explanation:


View count: 2973