Clarifying the distinctions between ethical theories : with special attention to consequentialism and deontologism
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AbstractMy overall project is to clarify the distinctions among ethical theories. In doing this I am improving our ability to assess which moral considerations are legitimate. I firstly give an account of the traditional distinctions among ethical theories. I explain how specific ethical theories have been grouped together, which makes evident the significance given to the distinction between Consequentialist and Deontologist theories. I then argue that the Consequentialist/Deontologist distinction is problematised by considerations in action theory. The specific consideration in action theory (which I argue is true) is that there is no principled way to determine where an act ends and a consequence begins. Thus, since the distinction between acts and consequences can be vague, so too is the distinction between the ethical theories of Consequentialism and Deontologism, which relies on this distinction. In the following chapter 1 elucidate the usefulness of the concepts 'Consequentialism' and 'Deontologism' by analysing the relationship between the concepts they are constructed upon: goodness and rightness. I argue that to hold a state-of-affairs good to exist entails that one also holds that one ought to (it is right to) bring this state-of-affairs about. Hence, goodness entails rightness. However, this claim is heavily qualified. Moreover, I affirm that it is perfectly intelligible and coherent that an act can be considered right independently of the value of a state-of-affairs. Finally, I catalogue a number of intelligible and coherent characteristics of ethical theories, and demonstrate how the existence of such moral considerations will greatly complicate moral theorising. My intention here is to appreciate the complexity of our moral experience, rather than impose a false order. Giving too much significance to the Consequentialism/Deontologism distinction is an imposition of false order. Hence, I argue that the Consequentialism/Deontologism distinction is not the fundamental distinction between ethical theories, rather it is one distinction among many.
Restricted Access: University of Melbourne Staff and Students Only
TypeMasters Research thesis