Ethics: Preliminaries

Ethics is the study of the choices people make regarding right and wrong.

1. Two extremes:

Moral Relativism – the belief that decisions about right and wrong are purely personal and subjective.

Absolutophobia – the fear of saying unequivocally that certain behavior is unethical.

(ex. One is passionate about animal rights but can’t take a stand regarding abortion.)

2. Etymology:

Ethics: ethos (Gk.) – custom or particular behavior; mos,moris (Lat.) – custom

Custom – a more or less permanent behavior in accordance with the precepts of the natural moral law, which is universally known and common to all men.

3. Material and Formal Object of Ethics:

Material object: Human Acts

Formal object quod: Right Conduct – human acts are considered under the aspect of their being right or wrong.

Formal object quo: the principles and conclusions of ethics are derived From Human Reason Alone

4. Some Truths Presupposed in Ethics:

– The existence of God

– The dignity of the human person

– The immortality of the soul

5. Division of Ethics:

  1. General Ethics
    1. The ultimate end of man
    2. Human acts
    3. Morality of human acts
    4. Law and conscience
    5. Virtue in general
    6. Historical survey of the different ethical traditions
  1. Special Questions in Ethics
    1. Rights and duties
    2. Individual ethics
    3. Social ethics
    4. Political ethics
    5. Professional ethics

6. The Ultimate End of Man

What is the purpose of human life?

Anaxagoras: “to contemplate the sun”

Socrates: “to learn how to die”

Epicurus: “sensual and intellectual pleasures”

Zeno: “to be superior to sufferings”

Plato: “the right cultivation of the human soul”

End – that toward which an action tends.

Proximate End – an immediate end on account of which an action is immediately performed.

Intermediate End – a subordinate end sought for the attainment of another end.

Ultimate End – that on account of which other ends or means are sought.

Absolute Last End – “that end for the sake of which all other things are desired and which is not itself desired for the sake of anything else.” (St. Thomas Aquinas)

End of the Action – the intrinsic purpose of the action

End of the Agent – the intention or purpose that an agent has in mind.

7. Three principles concerning the end of human actions:

  1. Every agent that performs an action acts for the sake of an end to be attained.
  2. Every agent acts for an ultimate end.
  3. Every agent has the power of moving for an end which is suitable or good for him.

8. Good:

Good – that which satisfies the appetite, the object of our striving, the thing which can confer perfection and satisfaction to our powers or faculties.

9. Kinds of Goods:

Real Good – truly good in itself

Apparent Good – evil in itself but appears to be good

Conditional Good – good under a certain aspect

Simple Good – something perfect according to its own nature

Imperfect Good – anything that satisfies the appetites

Perfect Good – that which can satisfy human nature completely and to the highest degree and leaves nothing to be desired.

10. The Voluntary Act

An act is properly called a human act when it is voluntary.

Voluntariness – from the Latin word voluntas – which means “will”, the faculty proper to man.

11. Classifications of Voluntary Acts:

  1. Free or necessary – according as one can or cannot abstain from.
  1. Perfect voluntary­ – act performed with complete knowledge and full consent;

Imperfect voluntary – the act performed by a person who acts without fully realizing what he means to do, or without fully intending the act.

  1. Directly voluntary – willed as an end in itself;

Indirect voluntary – desired not as an end in itself but as a foreseen effect or sequence of the act

  1. Explicit or Expressed voluntary – happens when the consent to an action is externally manifested by words or by signs;

Tacit voluntary act – given by silence

  1. Pure or Simple voluntary – willed with full consent and without dislike;

Mixed or Conditional voluntary – willed under certain conditions but at the same time is not likeable under other conditions.

  1. Actual, virtual, habitual and interpretative voluntariness or intention

Actual intention­ – that which is present “here and now” in the mind while performing the action

Virtual intention – that which is made at some former time and still influences the act which is now being performed

Habitual intention – the retention in the unconscious mind of an intention made at some former time and which, although actually forgotten, has never been retracted

Interpretative intention – the result of interpreting the intention of one who is not present or of one who does not have the power of judgment to make a decision by himself

12. The Modifiers of the Voluntary Act:

The following factors either increase or lessen the voluntariness of a human act:

  1. Ignorance
  2. Passions or Concupiscence
  3. Fear
  4. Violence
  5. Habits

Principle: The greater the knowledge and freedom, the greater the voluntariness and moral responsibility involved. The lesser the knowledge and freedom, the lesser the voluntariness and moral responsibility involved.

13. The Sources of Morality:

Three elements composing the morality of the particular action performed by a free agent:

  1. The Object – the substance of the moral act
  2. The Motive/End – the purpose or intention for the sake of which something is done
  3. The Circumstances – the conditions modifying human actions, either by increasing or by diminishing the responsibility attending them
1 comment
  1. charlene said:

    thank you Sir ivan!

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