Moral Theories II

Yet in spite of all the thinking that has gone into morale theories, philosophers have failed to agree on a single, unified moral theory. Instead, two moral concepts have emerged as the most useful.

Moral Concept 1: Utilitarianism

The concept of Utilitarianism states that the correct action to take when faced with an ethical dilemma is to choose the one which results in the greatest total amount of human well-being. These benefits should be as widely and as equally spread as possible.

This sounds ideal but of course everyone has a different definition of what 'well-being' is.

The law may prevent smoking in public buildings, an inconvenience and restriction to some, but the ruling is generally accepted by the community as a benefit to many because the law helps prevent discomfort and illness.

In practice each person has a double obligation under utilitarianism: to maximize their own well-being but only to the degree that it allows others to maximize their well-being.

Moral Concept 2: Respect for Persons

The second theory states that the actions we take are correct if we respect others as responsible for their own purposes and actions.

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is often cited as a valuable rule-of thumb as it obliges us to put ourselves in the position of the person potentially affected by our actions. While very useful to follow, the so-called Golden Rule needs to be applied with care since an individual’s ethical code may permit them to do things that would not be considered acceptable in the broader society or that may be considered unreasonably restrictive. For example:

An individual might be comfortable drinking water from a contaminated well and urge others to do the same, but that doesn't mean that doing so would be in the best interests of the community.

To protect a person from the permissive or restrictive beliefs of others, theorists have therefore defined basic rights which are intended to protect each individual. These rights have been proposed in the following three levels:

Level 1: The most basic rights of life: physical integrity and mental health.

Level 2:  The right to maintain the level of purpose and fulfillment already achieved. This level also includes the right not to be lied to or to be cheated, to have one’s possessions stolen, to be defamed or to suffer broken promises.

Level 3: The right to increase one’s level of purpose and fulfillment. Also includes the right to property, self-respect and non-discrimination.

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