How Do We Come to Know a Moral or Ethical System? -- Part II

  • April 24, 2013 · 7:00 PM

We are exploring the different paths that we can use to develop a moral or ethical outlook and the obstacles that might undermine ours, or society's, efforts to develop a "good" outlook.

In Part I, we examined the concept of moral behaviors, analyzed some examples of rules and guidelines for their features and moral content, and conjectured on how the list of moral behaviors may have come into existence – either as evolutionary or cultural constructs.

In Part II, we will pick up with the contexts and conditions calling for moral judgments, identify some potential conflicts when two maxims are at odds for a particular situation, and discuss the nature of mechanisms that one might develop to resolve these conflicts. Finally, after establishing the epistemological requirements, we will examine the various institutions that society has developed to attempt to gain acceptance of all the principles and guidelines that society wishes to use to lay claim to its members behaviors.

Moral System (The Definition of Morality, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [SEP] / The Sources of Normativity, CM Korsgaard, 1996,)
...a. List of moral actions/behaviors – Code of conduct, guide
...b. Actions/behaviors – “Oughts” and “Ought Nots”
*------------------------ Part II -----------------------------*
...c. Contexts and conditions calling for moral judgments
...d. Scoring factors: happiness/joy/ecstasy, goodness, greater good; nonmalevolence, temperance, kindness, beneficence, love; desert, fairness, justice; veracity, loyalty (to whom), kinness; societal order (safety, et al); universality; courage; compassion, sympathy, empathy, altruism, charity; guilt, shame, disgust; dignity
...e. Mechanisms for resolving conflicts in moral principals – empiricism, rationalism, utilitarianism, pragmatism, Veil of Ignorance (Rawls, Kant’s Categorical Imperative); dile
...f. Sources of normativity (a claim on behavior) – Higher power ( God, Natural Law,…) and Rational Thinking; voting; force

“System” may not quite fit when considering personal moralities and self-reflection.

Normative Ethics – Required, forbidden, or permissible actions/behaviors
...a. Aretaic (virtue) Ethics – Virtue, practical wisdom, and eudaimonia (flourishing) ; emphasis is on individual character or becoming; acquiring knowledge, actualizing one’s full potential, happiness
...b. Deontological Ethics – Agent-centered (duty based) – Kant; patient (object)-centered (rights-based); and contractualist (social contract);
...c. Consequentialist (teleological) Ethics - Choices—acts and/or intentions—are to be morally assessed solely by the states of affairs they bring about -- Mill <> & <>

...a. Ontological Issues – The List; actions/behaviors/intentions on The List, or considered for The List; the agent; the object (person) of the action; the relationships between the agent and the objects; consequences; legal system
...b. Metaphysical Issues – Why The List and it’s contents are important to the agent and society (have affect); normativity; character
...c. Epistemological Issues - Features of the actions/behaviors/intentions, virtues, contexts/conditions, moral principles, consequences (possibilities, prior results), conflict resolution mechanisms; sources of normativity, natural laws, reasons, laws; deserts, rewards/punishments
...d. Institutions with capacity to teach; effectiveness; limitations
...e. Incorporation into character -- natural inclinations + influences + self-reflection

Evolutionary Issues
Primatologist Frans de Waal explores traits like empathy and fairness in our closest relatives, bonobos and chimpanzees, and argues that human morality is not the product of rational thought or religion, but evolved long ago. (Frans de Waal , The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates, 2013; Radio interview: < >)


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  • Craig Y.

    Our unconscious mind is bombarded with various stimuli, thereby forming prejudices that would influence what we do consciously. However, meditation may relax and re-adjust our mind to a more neutral state, without compartments. This often results in less self and more compassion.

    April 25, 2013

  • Paula L.

    I found this Executive Summary of "The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt. In it is a video about The Implicit Association Test and a link to that may interest you. This is a test of automatic response compared to reasoned response to show prejudice in various types of comparisons, not just race.­

    April 25, 2013

  • Mary M. E.

    As I said in the meeting, I have more questions after the meeting than those with which I came in. I thoroughly enjoy being in the presence of these other folks.

    April 25, 2013

  • Jimmy

    I look forward to returning to stimulating conversation and thought.

    April 19, 2013

  • Craig Y.

    In study philosophy we tend to study different schools how they are different from each other. May be we should ask how much they are similar to each other as human experience.
    The Western philosophies have always been struggling with body and mind, threaded debates on IDEAS/doctrines.
    In Tormach or in Taoism there are always two ways of looking at a problem, though there will be a union as in the Bible or in Tao. How to balance the different perspectives and reach the mean is the moral challenge to us humans.

    April 18, 2013

  • Denis Murray S.

    can I get a short report on Part I?

    April 18, 2013

  • Joel B.

    sorry can't make it -- houseguests.

    April 18, 2013

  • Gene R.

    + Sam

    April 18, 2013

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