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Annotated List of Ethical Theories

user 6899431
Silver Spring, MD
Post #: 112
Philosophy has many specializations, among which are the philosophies of mind, language, science, law, aesthetics, and logic (the last is more a tool of philosophy, used to evaluate the truthfulness of propositions). Almost all can be viewed as subsets of three major categories: metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. As much as I enjoy studying each of these, my favorite is ethics, primarily because what one learns can be applied both to interpersonal relationships and to public policy. Since our group began we have studied Virtue Ethics (Aristotle), Deontological Ethics (Kant), Utilitarianism (Bentham and Mill), and Moral Nihilism (it is a matter of debate whether Nietzsche, who attacked it, was himself a nihilist). Next month we will be discussing G. E. Moore, whose philosophy of non-naturalism challenges any universal definition of goodness.

Over the years, as I have tried to determine how to best make ethical decisions, I have realized that my ignorance of different ethical systems undermines the deliberative process. For example, if I ever have to vote on abolishing capital punishment (I live in Maryland), what will I do? An atheist, I am not swayed by Divine Commandment injunctions (“Thou Shall Not Kill”), which I find anyway inconsistently applied in the Bible. The same inconsistency exists for Utilitarianism, which many actually regard as its virtue. Pragmatic arguments have been raised in favor of abolition, chiefly that innocent people have been executed, that capital punishment has not proven to be a deterrent, and that the cost of legal appeals is a burden to the state. Yet others have argued that life imprisonment is itself cruel, inducing profound mental illness in prisoners isolated in cramped cells for twenty-three hours a day (here, execution is ironically viewed as the humane response).

I’m uncertain that exposure to a variety of ethical systems has made my decisions any wiser, yet I do think they are more informed, which itself is a virtue. To that end I have created an “Annotated List of Ethical Theories” on our web site. I hope you find time to consult it and to suggest additional theories you think worthy of acknowledgement. Here is the link:

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