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Only humans make moral judgments and moral choices.

Henry More based morality on intuitions. As one knows a rock or a mountain simply by seeing it, so in somewhat similar fashion he can have an intellectual vision of first principles. They are not deduced from anything prior or more certain: they are simply seen. Shaftesbury and Hutcheson Shaftesbury and Hutcheson paid more attention to the conflict between egoism and altruism.

Following my moral compass is a big help.

If men had no sense of good distinct from personal advantage, is their argument, they would hold in equal esteem a fruitful field and a generous friend. One would hold in equal esteem a man who serves him with delight and a man who brings him the same advantage by constraint. But one does not esteem these equally. Therefore we have a sense of good other than egoistic advantage.

ETHICS by John H. Zaugg | Kirkus Reviews

Joseph Butler A much more important writer was Bishop Joseph Butler. His most influential work, used as a textbook for over a century in many seminaries, was The Analogy of Religion to the Constitution and Course of Nature. His system of ethics is expounded in Fifteen Sermons. Neither of these is founded on Platonic or intuitionist principles.

Bishop Butler believed that moral obligation, and the basic theses of Christianity too, can be established by observation. Whereas not so attached to the materialistic mechanism of Thomas Hobbes, he still depended on scientific methods. This procedure served him well in his Analogy, for he was able to destroy English Deism on its own grounds. He could show, for example, that the immortality of the soul was a reasonable conclusion, at least as reasonable as the opposite.

This, however, may be the fallacy in his thinking.

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Pure, unmixed observation can just as reasonably arrive at either of two incompatible positions, and arrive at them by equally reasonable, that is equally unreasonable, arguments. Similarly, in ethics one must always scrutinize an argument that professes to deduce what ought to be from what merely is. Man has a conscience as truly as he has eyes; and as the purpose of the eye is to see trees and houses, so the purpose of the conscience is to see right and wrong.


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Hence, man is at least more altruistic than selfish. If it be replied that evil and selfish instincts are also natural, and that we therefore follow nature in following them, the reply is, first, that such an argument would destroy all distinctions between good and evil—everything would be indifferently natural; and, second, that observation of human nature did not result merely in the discovery that both altruistic and selfish inclinations equally exist, but rather that conscience exists as a superior, governing principle—its purpose is to sit in judgment over the others.

Is it good, or is it evil? I do not in the least doubt, but that this question would be answered agreeably to truth and virtue, by almost any fair man in almost any circumstance. A person, whose viewpoint is not so restricted to Eng. Observation, it would seem, allows for incompatible results. Butler next considered a most important objection. Suppose, the objection runs, that conscience prescribes for a person a line of action that would injure him.


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  • Why should he be concerned about anything other than his own personal good? If he discovers in his makeup certain restrictions of conscience, why should he not endeavor to suppress them? The satisfactions of selfishness are not to be assumed superior to the satisfaction of acting justly and benevolently. But whatever exceptions there are to this Is duty in fact more clearly discernible than interest?

    Jeremy Bentham In 19th cent. England Jeremy Bentham propounded the theory of utilitarianism.

    Based on psychological hedonism, as was the theory of Thomas Hobbes, it, too, claimed to be observational, descriptive, and scientific. From the thesis that everyone as a matter of fact seeks nothing but pleasure, Bentham somehow arrived at the position that one ought to seek, not only his own pleasure, but the greatest pleasure of the greatest number. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think.

    The pleasure to be expected from prospective lines of action is to be measured by seven parameters: intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity, fecundity, purity, and extent. The latter is the number of persons to whom the pleasure extends. By calculating the amounts of pleasure to be produced from alternate lines of action, anyone should know which action he should choose.

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    The right action is enforced by four sanctions. Consequences, painful or pleasurable, derived through the ordinary course of nature, presumably physiological, issue from or belong to the physical sanction. Consequences derived through the actions of the police, the courts, and the state form the political sanction. Pleasures and pain received at the hands of such chance persons who spontaneously react to our conduct form the moral or social sanction.

    Bentham also makes religion a fourth sanction; but this religious sanction operates only through the other three. Such consequences are not open to observation; men cannot calculate the amounts—whether those pains and pleasures are like or unlike the present kind is something beyond the realm of discovery by observation. In the first place, the calculation of future pleasures, on which choice and the knowledge of obligation depend, is impossible.

    Only in a few simple instances, and in these only roughly, can anyone estimate the amount of pleasure he as an individual will enjoy from a particular choice. To suppose that anyone can calculate the sum total of pleasures accruing to the whole human race is utterly and obviously impossible. Let anyone who wishes, try measuring along the seven parameters. The principle of the greatest good for the greatest number is one by which dictators can justify their cruelty. When the communists starved to death millions of Ukrainians, massacred thousands of Polish officers, murdered possibly twenty million Chinese, and slaughered the Tibetans, they could justify themselves on the ground that the pleasure of future generations of communists would outweigh the temporary pain.

    Certainly no scientific observation can prove the contrary. Less gruesome but even more fundamentally destructive of utilitarianism is the fact that descriptive science can discover no reason for aiming at the good of all society. Plato, Aristotle, Butler, all agree that men should seek their own good; who can urge them to seek their own harm?

    Why should anyone govern his actions by the good of another person? But this utopian assumption contradicts observable evidence. Personal jealousies and international conflicts alike demonstrate the incompatibility of goods. Henry Sidgwick To avoid this disastrous argument against utilitarianism, Henry Sidgwick, whose Methods of Ethics is the best analysis of ethical methodology so far written, relinquished the descriptive basis Bentham used, and tried to found utilitarianism on intuitions.

    It is incapable of empirical proof.

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    Therefore, much to his distaste, he is forced to admit the question whether a theory of ethics can be constructed on an independent basis, or whether it is forced to borrow a fundamental principle from theology Methods of Ethics, pp. His modesty, his honesty, and his almost superhuman effort to save utilitarianism seal its doom. Hedonism in any of its forms is a teleological system. Moral acts have the purpose of producing pleasure, and they are tested by their actual consequences. Categorical imperative—Immanuel Kant A century earlier Immanuel Kant, of Germany, constructed a nonhedonistic, nonteleological system, in which the moral quality of an act was entirely independent of actual consequences.

    On the contrary, morality ought to be within the abilities of every humble person. Furthermore, common opinion never regards a man as immoral just because he fails to obtain a great deal of pleasure. He may be imprudent or stupid, but if his intentions are sincere and good, he is considered moral. Conversely, successful calculation may prove a man clever, but is no basis for judging him to be particularly moral. In opposition to empirical ethics, therefore, Kant put forward a theory of a priori duty.

    A moral precept is such because it is a categorical imperative. Some imperatives are merely hypothetical: to bisect a line, one must draw certain arcs. Such imperatives are scientific, and if anyone does not wish to bisect an arc, no obligation exists. Moral, or categorical imperatives, however, do not depend on ifs.

    One ought to be honest and tell the truth regardless of consequences, and even without being so motivated. A moral act must be motivated only by reverence for duty. Duty then is determined, not by any pleasure accruing to the individual, but by maxims that can be universalized. If I tell a lie by making a promise I do not intend to keep, I make myself an exception to a universal maxim.

    The only reason I can deceive anyone by a false promise is that people expect promises to be kept. If all or even most promises were broken, there would be no promises at all because no one would believe them. Hence the intent to deceive depends on the maxim of non-deception.