Absolute and Relative morality  

 

 

What do we mean by absolute and relativist morality? 

Absolutist morality

It is when moral decisions are made with the conviction that there is an absolute principle that can be applied to every situation. From this a moral law can be derived. For example, an absolute principle may be do not kill and from this a moral law like do not abort because it is murder can be formed. These theories are objective because a person or the context holds no value to the absolutist. For the purposes of this module the absolutist theories are Kantian ethics (lying) , Natural Law (contraception) and some forms of Christian ethics like following the Decalogue

Relativist morality

This is where decisions are made with the influence of cultural and sociological factors. Relativists depend on individual situations like absolutist depend on absolute principles.These relativist systems are subject because the rely on the person or context to make a moral decision. Again for the purposes of this module the relativist theories are utilitarianism (pleasure) and some forms of Christian Ethics like Situation Ethics. 

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Natural Law: Strengths & Weaknesses

In the table below are the strengths and weaknesses of Natural Law. Please find underneath it a show video on the same topic. 

Strengths

Weaknesses

1. There is emphasis on innate human reason which is a positive because unlike emotions reason does not change. It also means the theory is universal and can attract a large number of supporters.

1. Natural Law finds it difficult to relate to complex decision to basic principles in practice e.g. should more money be spent on hospitals or schools?

2. Clear-cut approach to morality and establishes common rules.

2. It commits a Naturalistic Fallacy according to G.E.Moore. One cannot derive an ought from an is i.e. is we assume God created a moral law is a fact or that we have a natural inclination to care for others as a fact- this does not we ought to follow the moral law or care for others.

3. The basic principles of preserving human life, reproduction, learning and living in a society are common in all cultures hence Natural Law is a reasonable theory.

3. Natural Law is based on five assumptions, the primary one being that humans and the world in general has a purpose, however, modern science can be used to show why this isn’t the case.

4. Natural Law does not just dictate what should be done it goes beyond that, like Virtue Ethics, it concentrates on human character and virtues.

4. Neilsen uses cultural relativism to question Natural Law and the belief in one common law.

5. Natural Law relies on practical wisdom as well as reason including the body, some emotions and passions sometimes.

5. Baron says that relying too much on reason is bad because this leads to corruption as human nature is corrupt. He believers it is better to follow scripture and revelation. 

6. All things required for happiness e.g. health, friendship etc are morally good and can be achieved through Natural Law.

6. It is difficult to work out the primary purpose of everything e.g. is the primary purpose of sex to procreate or enhance a relationship – the clitoris provides evidence that the sole purpose of sex is not just to have children.

7. It is useful for the issues where the Bible is silent e.g. IVF

7. Some Catholic Scholars believe Natural Law is not enough on its own to be a true Catholic- Church teaching and revelation are of utmost interest too!

8. One cannot rely on predicting consequences because often we are wrong so Natural Law provides a good alternative to consequentialist theories

8. Vardy and Grosh criticize the way Aquinas works from general principles to lesser purposes and sees his view of human nature as unholistic and simplistic. 

9. It puts a high premium on life and protects the vulnerable.

9. It is self-contradictory you cannot say that clear-cut rules are provided and then uses casuistry to allow room fro flexibility.

10. It upholds human rights and has been included in the UN declaration of human rights.

10. What is more important actions or consequences? e.g. if a man with an axe asked you where your friend was surely it is more moral to lie and save the life of your friend?

11. Casuistry allow it benefit from flexibility as well as adhering to benefits from being absolutist.

Kantian Ethics: Strength & Weaknesses

I have recently updated this table so not all strengths and weaknesses are discussed in the above video.

Strengths

Weaknesses

1. Creates a distinction between duty and inclination. Inclination is may be because something benefits us but morality is something above that it is about duty.

1. No rules if two duties conflict e.g. our duty to make other happy and our duty not use an embryo for genetic research even though genetic research makes people happy. Strangely Kant would argue in this situation one duty must not be a true duty. Furthermore, it can impractical in terms of trying to fufil all duties e.g. the duty to care for all patients equally in a hospital faced with a fixed budget.

2. Makes justice impartial because you cannot promote happiness if that happiness undermines another happiness. This is also a criticism of utilitarianism.

2. Personalised rules can not exist as they cannot be universalised. (Could also be a strength)

3. Humans are given intrinsic worth, dignity and respect. Demonstrates that humans have rights.

3. No allowance for compassion or sympathy.

4. We are equal individuals unlike some forms of Christian ethics which suggests that if you do not follow the Lord Jesus Christ you are not equal to other people.

4. What is more important consequences and people or actions? e.g.. man with axe example.

5. Easy to follow with a clear criteria because it is based on innate human reason. More importantly gives us answers which arguably other theories like Situation Ethics do not.

5. Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative can be difficult to use in terms of world politics. For example, we cannot scarifice the few at war for the sake of many.

6. People generally do have the same idea about morality.

6. Kant’s deontological theory of ethics is in fact vague. The reason being no two moral situations are the same hence can one maxim fill both situations. No. Is murder the same as self-defence, suicide, abortion?

7. People recognise the idea of duty as a part of being human.

7. The theory only works if everyone agrees with it which is clearly not true. For Natural Law or Virtue Theory to work one doesn’t need everyone to work.

8. It is wholly secular which means it does not rely on the assumption that there is a God unlike Natural Law which if the existence of God is rejected then so is Natural Law.

8. It commits a Naturalistic Fallacy according to G.E.Moore. One cannot derive an ought from an is i.e. can ought really imply can?

9. Is it really universal can everyone really be classified a rational moral agent?

10. Kant argues that happiness is the by-product of morality not the intention behind it – is this suggestion really logical – why would you follow it then?

11. Not everyone is capable of ration decision-making hence theory is not universal.

Deontological and Teleological Ethics

Deontology and Teleology are two specialist terms used to separate ethical theories. They difference between deontology and teleology, is in essence, the same as the difference between absolutist and relativist theories.

Deontology: This means the same as absolute. The ethical systems are based on some form of a rule system. Following a deontological system such as Kant, Natural Law or some forms of Christian ethics means that the moral thing to do is one that does not change from situation to situation. For example, according to Kantian ethics it will always be wrong to lie even if it saves someone’s life. This is because consequences are not taken into account and the universal law does not change.

Teleology: Teleological theories are the same as relativist theories. They state that the moral thing to do is one which will change from situation to situation because the consequence of an action is sovereign. Ethical systems like Utilitarianism and Situation ethics voice this belief. They suggest that lying can only be moral if it results in the most pleasure for the most people (Act Utilitarianism) or the most love towards the most people (Situation Ethics).

Below is a video outlining this and some key strengths and weaknesses:

Causation

This video introduces the causation requirement in criminal law.

But before preceding to the videos here is a JPEG overview:

photo-10

There are 6 types of Novus Actus Interveniens that will be explored:

1. Natural Interventions/Acts of God

2. Third Party Interventions

3. Medical Interventions

4.  Drug Supply

5. Thin Skull/Egg Shell Rule

6. Victim Flight

Examples of Whistleblowing

In this example I want to explore the different forms of whistle blowing. The first and one of the most famous is called the Watergate scandal.

Watergate Scandal ‘Deep Throat’

Watergate scandal refers to the capture of President Nixon’s fraud. Five men were arrested on June the 17th 1972 on the sixth floor of the Watergate hotel building in Washington inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee. The five burglars had $2,300, lock-picking equipment, a walkie talkie, radio scanner, two cameras 40 rolls of unused film, tear-gas guns and bugs. These men were working for the president. The was one of the schemes he used in order to get re-elected.This incident lead to him being the first ever US president to resign as he was not able to cover up the incident because someone with the pseudonym ‘Deep Throat’ whistle blew.Former FBI agent W.Mark helped two reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the truth.

The second famous example of whistle blowing is one of Erin Brockovich.

Erin Brockovich was again an American whistle blower. She came to work in a law firm called Masry & Vitiate as a file clerk. Here she discovered medical records which worried her. What she found is that countless number of people who lived around Hinkley in California from 1960s to 1980s had been severely damaged because of the exposure to the chemical Chromium VI. The chemical had leaked into the ground from the Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s compressor station. She started legal case against them in 1993 – another example of whistle blowing.

The last famous example I will discuss in this article is one of Dr David Kellywhich didn’t end as happily as the others.

In 2002 the government asked Dr David Kelly a scientist ti check the draft version of a dossier on Weapons of Mass Destruction in preparation for the invasion in Iraq in 2003. He was concerned about the statement that Iraq was capable of firing battlefield biological and chemical weapons within 45 minutes if receiving an order to do so. Subsequently he made journey to Iraq later on that year to inspect two mobile weapon laboratories. He discovered that the statement he was concerned about was actually false and he told a journalist from the Observer that ‘They are not germ warfare. You could not use them for making biological weapons’. In the following years as Kelly spread the word he was given a warning by the Ministry of defence and had to appear before two committees of the House of Commons. Sadly in 2003 when he was working in his home in Oxfordshire he went for a walk and was found dead. They say it was ‘suicide’ – he ‘swallowed 29 Co-proxamol tablets before cutting his left wrist with a knife’.

Whistle blowing in the news – October 2010