-How ought we act? What should we value? Why?


-What principles do people in fact follow
-What values do they hold?


-Concern matters of personal life and conduct

-Concern collective choices, policies, structures, institutions
-What policies should regulate the impacts of many people?











• The discipline dealing with good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.

• A set of moral principles or values.

• A theory or system of moral values

• The principles of conduct governing an individual or group.

• An external rule, compliance with which is obligatory, (often or usually) even at personal cost.

"The degree of ethical development of the people of a society is shown in their degree of compliance with the unenforceable." --Lord Moulton

A value relates to something a person and/or a group wants and pursues, out of spontaneous desire, or deliberate reflection and choice. There are many kinds of values. Not the same as a preference which is also internal and directive, but which is shallower, more changeable than a value

Morality is a person's inner sense of right and wrong, and how she or he should behave.

A moral value is a value that relates to matters of right and wrong.

A moral agent is any being that can act morally or immorally, can have duties and responsibilities, and can be held accountable for what it does. Must be capable of reflecting on reasons, weighing them, and deliberately choosing in the case of a moral choice.

A moral patient (or subject) is one to whom duties or obligations are owed. It is an entity that has moral standing or considerability.

Moral conduct is defined as being governed by moral judgment (not by emotion, approval, or specific dictate). Moral action is thus only that which is voluntary and internally governed.


Empirical statements:

Statements about what IS

Can be true or false

Normative statements

Statements about what ought to be the case

Not empirically provable

Subject to rational justification and critique

Types of normative statements:

Conventions (etiquette, games, &c.)

Legal (laws, regulations, etc.)

Aesthetic (beauty, artistic value)


Moral / ethical (right and wrong; what's permissible & obligatory)

These types are distinguished in various ways and by the kinds of reasons given for them.

Law vs morality
Religion vs morality
Etiquette vs morality



Normative (ethical) statements:

"Child abuse is contrary to one's duty."

"We should not let people starve to death."

"Human life is very valuable."

Empirical statements:

"Child abuse was absent in Yugoslavia."

"Lying is often motivated by the desire to avoid feeling shame."

"Old growth forests are complex interdependent systems."


A moral or ethical claim is about what someone ought or ought not to do, or a claim about the merit or demerit of someone's character.


A. Ethical statements -- that might or might not be reasonable:

"Children should be eliminated from tv advertisements"

"White males should be exterminated"

"Species diversity should be minimized"

"It's all right to torture cats for fun"

B. Some non-ethical normative statements (conventions):

"Keep your elbows off the table."

"It's impermissible to drool in polite society."

"Marital sex solely for pleasure is permissible"

"Public nudity is not allowed."

C. Policy questions with strong ethical components:

"How ought we to treat animals?"

"Should we have a national biodiversity policy?"

"What should we do about holes in the ozone layer?"

"What should we do about global warming?

"Should we eliminate old-growth forests to provide jobs?"


Relations between normative and empirical statements (and RELATIONS OF SCIENCE TO ETHICAL ARGUMENT):

Justification and explanation are not the same thing.

Naturalistic fallacy: inferring a moral conclusion from purely empirical premises: You cannot get "ought" from "is." Note: this is controversial.



1) Deception will (or does or did) occur.

Therefore, deception is wrong (or right).

2) Killing whales is a very ancient practice in Japan.

Japan should be allowed to continue killing whales.

3) Other nations will sell arms to the 3rd world if the US does not.

Therefore the US should sell military weapons to any developing country.

4) Cutting redwoods causes loss of murrelets.

Therefore it is wrong to cut redwoods.

Suppressed moral premise in number 4:

It is wrong to do something which is known to cause serious harm to murrelets.


5) It is wrong to do something which is known to cause serious harm to murrelets.

Cutting redwoods causes loss of murrelets.

Therefore it is wrong to cut redwoods.

Disagreement about what ought to be done may be rooted in empirical disagreement.

The procedures of empirical science do not necessarily filter out a priori (apart from all experience or evidence) assumptions or those based on very limited evidence or experience.

Science aims at description, prediction, and explanation

The Covering Law Model Of Explanation:

  1. Under normal conditions of pressure, water, if heated to 100 degrees centigrade, will undergo a change of state and turn into steam.
  2. This water was heated to 100 degrees centigrade.
  3. This water turned to steam when so heated.

Why the logical empircist attempt to denigrate any claim that isn't empirically verifiable fails (and thus we must partake in ethical reasoning):

IF you cannot rationally choose between competing moral claims, or if to speak them is to speak nonsense, then it would be natural to avoid engaging in moral decision making. But:

-It is not empirically verifiable that we cannot rationally choose between moral claims or that they are nonsense. (Thus the position is inconsistent.)

-for example, the two claims

1) we ought to destroy life on earth

2) we ought not to

are not equally reasonable

Moral skepticism, subjectivism, relativism & objectivism