Shineups for Course Introduction
Project of Medical Ethics:
to discover the answers to the moral questions raised by the practice of medical and biological science.
Q1: What are the moral questions raised by the practice of medical and biological science?
Q2: What does it mean to call the questions “moral questions”?
Q3: How do we go about discovering the answers to them?
Some moral questions raised by the practice of medical and biological science:
1. The Abortion
Question: Under what conditions, if any, is it morally permissible to have an
2. The Euthanasia Question: Under what conditions, if any, is it morally permissible to euthanize a human being?
3. The Physician Assisted Suicide Question: Under what conditions, if any, is it morally permissible for a physician to assist a patient in committing suicide?
4. The Human Cloning Question: Under what conditions, if any, is it morally permissible to clone a human being?
5. The Animal Experimentation Question: Under what conditions, if any, is it morally permissible to perform experiments on animals?
6. A Question about Resource Allocation: How should limited medical resources be distributed?
7. A Question about Truth Telling: Under what conditions, if any, is it morally permissible for a physician to conceal medical facts about a patient from that patient?
a particular moral judgment (PMJ) is a belief about the normative status of some act token
An act token is a non-repeatable concrete individual action; something that is performed by just one person (or group acting together), on just one occasion, and in just one place.
An act type is a kind of action; something repeatable in that can be performed by different people at different times and places.
The three normative statuses for actions are morally right (or morally permissible), morally wrong, and morally obligatory.
Examples of PMJ’s:
“It would be morally wrong to remove Baby Theresa’s organs in order to help the other children.”
“The parents and doctors are morally obligated to remove Baby’s Theresa’s organs in order to help the other children.”
“It was wrong for the United States to invade Iraq on March 19, 2003.”
“There was nothing morally wrong with Ian Wilmut’s 1997 cloning of that sheep.”
“President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky was morally despicable.”
“You shouldn’t have stolen that candy bar.”
a general moral principle (GMP) is a statement that says that some kind of action always has a certain normative status.
Examples of GMP’s:
Total Honesty: It is always morally wrong to tell a lie.
Pacifism: Every act of war is morally wrong.
Nihilism: No act is morally forbidden.
SHL: It is never ok to kill an innocent human being.
WKS: It is wrong to kill one person to save another.
Exception: It is ok to kill an innocent human being if (a) the person will die soon no matter what, (b) the person has no wish to go on living, and (c) doing so will save the lives of others.
GHP: An act is morally right if and only if it produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number.
Virtue Ethics: An act is morally right if and only if it is an act that a perfectly virtuous person would perform.
(Rachels, p. 3)
The Parents’ PMJ:
“We ought to transplant the organs.”
The GMP the Parents Appealed to In Support of Their PMJ:
Benefit: If an act benefits someone without harming anyone else, it ought to be performed.
The Benefits Argument
1. If an act benefits someone without harming anyone else, it ought to be performed.
2. Transplanting the organs would benefit someone without harming anyone else.
3. Therefore, we ought to transplant the organs.
What is Ethics?
1. Normative Ethics
a. The Normative Ethics of Behavior
What makes an action morally right?
(Ethical Theory, Normative Theory, Theory of Right and Wrong)
b. Axiology / Value Theory
What things are good in themselves?
What makes one situation better than another?
(Theory of Value, Axiological Theory)
What makes one life better than another for the person who lives it?
(Theory of Welfare, Theory of Self-Interest)
c. Virtue/Vice Theory
What makes a person a good person?
What makes a person a bad person?
(Theory of the Virtues)
d. Other important questions in normative ethics:
What is the nature and significance of justice?
What, if any, are the fundamental human rights?
Under what conditions is a person morally responsible for the consequences of some action?
Sample Theories in the Normative Ethics of Behavior
1. The Ten Commandments Theory
10C: an act is morally right if and only if it does not violate any of the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments:
1. Don’t worship other gods.
2. Don’t take God’s name in vain.
3. Don’t make or worship carved images.
4. Keep the Sabbath holy.
5. Honor your mom and dad.
6. Don’t kill.
7. Don’t cheat on your spouse.
8. Don’t steal.
9. Don’t bear false witness against your neighbor.
10. Don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff.
An Argument Against 10C: “Abe the Abuser”
1. If 10C is true, then it is always morally permissible for Abe to beat up his kids.
2. But often it is not morally permissible for Abe to beat up his kids.
3. Therefore, 10C is not true.
2. The Golden Rule
GR: an act is morally right if and only if in performing the act the agent treats others as he or she would like to be treated.
More Sample Theories in NEB
3. Cultural Relativism
CR: an act is morally right if and only if it is permitted by the moral code of the society of the agent of the act.
a society is a group of people, living in proximity to each other, sharing a language, religion, cuisine, and culture
the moral code of a society is the system of moral rules that is accepted among the members of the society
GAU: an act is morally right if and only if no alternative to it has a better outcome than it has
HAU: an act is morally right if and only if it maximizes hedonic utility.
the hedonic utility of an act is the amount of pleasure produced by the act minus the amount of pain produced by the act
an act maximizes hedonic utility if and only if no alternative to it has a higher hedonic utility than it has
A Sample Theory of Value
A thing is intrinsically good to the extent that it is good "in itself";
to the extent that it is good in virtue of what it is, rather than merely in
virtue of what it produces, or leads to; to the extent that it is good as an
end, and not merely as a means to something else.
Intrinsic Badness: A thing is intrinsically bad to the extent that it is bad "in itself"; to the extent that it is bad in virtue of what it is, rather than merely in virtue of what it produces, or leads to; to the extent that it is bad as an end, and not merely as a means to something else.
I. Every episode of pleasure is intrinsically good; every episode of pain is intrinsically bad.
II. The intrinsic value of an episode of pleasure is equal to the amount of pleasure it contains. The intrinsic value of an episode of pain is equal to –(the amount of pain it contains).
III. The intrinsic
value of a complex thing such as a life, the consequence of an action, or a
possible world = the sum of the intrinsic values of all the episodes of pleasure
and pain contained within that life, consequence, or world.
Additional Subfields of Ethics with Sample Questions
What are the meanings of the central ethical terms from the normative ethics of behavior?
Are there moral facts?
If there are no moral facts, what are we doing when we use moral language?
If there are moral facts, how can we come to know them? (Moral Epistemology)
Can you derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’?
3. Applied Ethics
What is the best form of government?
Under what conditions, if any, is it morally permissible to have a abortion?
Is the existence of a desirable environment intrinsically good, or is it good only as a means to, say, the happiness it brings to creatures who live in the environment?
Logic is the study of correct reasoning.
The basic unit of reasoning is the argument.
An argument is a sequence of statements, the last of which (the conclusion) is supposed to follow from the others (the premises).
A valid argument is one with the following property: IF all of its premises are true, then its conclusion must also be true.
(said another way: an argument is valid when it is impossible for its premises to be true and its conclusion false.)
We said above that the conclusion of an argument is supposed to follow from the premises. To say that an argument is valid is to say that the conclusion really does follow from the premises.
** To say that an argument is valid is not to say that you accept the argument. **
An argument is sound when it is valid and all of its premises are true.
1. All men are mortal.
2. Socrates is a man.
3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
1. A fetus is a person.
2. If a fetus is a person, then abortion is wrong.
3. Therefore, abortion is wrong.
1. The environment is important.
2. Therefore, everyone should recycle.
1. All cats are toaster ovens.
2. Heathwood is a cat.
3. Therefore, Heathwood is a toaster oven.
1. All apples are fruits.
2. The thing in my hand is a fruit.
3. Therefore, the thing in my hand is an apple.
1. If Lincoln is alive, then
Lincoln survived his assassination attempt.
2. Lincoln did not survive his assassination attempt.
3. Therefore, Lincoln is not alive.
1. If John is a communist,
then John opposes the status quo.
2. John opposes the status quo.
3. Therefore, John is a communist.