Chapter: Introduction

Section 3. Presentation of Issues 
While some people might approach moral dilemmas with the idea that the right thing to do is to go with one's feelings, this is not necessarily the course of action to take that would resolve the problems and settle conflicts in views amongst those involved in the situation. It certainly is not the approach of philosophy which seeks reasons to support decisions made and positions held.

To equate or base Ethics on FEELINGS is unacceptable because

1. Canít resolve conflicts

2. Makes moral disagreements pointless


A number of interesting questions might be raised here at the outset of this inquiry and course of study. They include:

Why aren't people moral?

Why aren't people more moral than they are?

Why don't people act morally?

It might be answered that many people lack knowledge-they do not know any better-IGNORANCE

They have erroneous beliefs- ERROR about what is the good thing to do.

Some basic definitions might be helpful at this point:

When people act in a way that is consistent with the rules or codes of proper conduct they are said to be moral.

A person is ethical when that person is aware of and acts according to a specific principle or theory of the good.

A person is immoral when such person acts in a manner that is not consistent with the rules or codes of proper conduct.

A person is unethical when such person acts in violation of a specific principle or theory of the good. Most people are non-ethical because they are in ignorance of any specific principle or theory of the good.

An amoral person is one who cares not a bit about whether or not an action is morally good or bad.

An action can be non-moral if it has no components or ramifications that would evidence moral features.

An act would be non-ethical if it does not in any way relate to the theories and principles of ethics.

Many people have quite erroneous views of the nature of morality. They believe that their moral problems must be solved with little or no suffering or sacrifice or blame or guilt. Many want no responsibility for their actions. Many people have not developed a moral maturity that comes through rational reflection upon human experiences..

There are theories, with some empirical evidence to support them , concerning moral development. The ideas of John Dewey and Lawrence Kohlberg will be presented in an effort to establish a more detailed view of the moral climate of society in general and within the medical institution in particular.

Here is a simple listing of some of the ethical theories that will be presented in the next module and referred to throughout the many modules focusing on particular issues.

Philosophical Theories Based Upon Principles and Utilizing Reason

Teleological Theories Deontological Theories



  Divine Command Theory
Egoism Natural Law Theory
  • A. theistic
  • B. non- theistic
  Kantian- Categorical Imperative
Act Utilitarianism Rawl's Theory of Justice as Fairness
Rule Utilitarianism  
Situation Ethics  

Post Modernism-Relativism

Feminism Pragmatism

There exist a number of ethical theories. This is indicative of the complexity of human life itself. Each has difficulties or limitations and even flaws. The most satisfactory theory is no more than a rough guide for action. Competition between the theories can lead to improvement as with scientific theories.

Problems aside, it is far better to have a theory and principles to guide oneís life than none at all. Why? Well consider a number of positive outcomes of having ethical principles and the ability to deliberate based on those principles.

Here are a number of those functions that ethical theories serve:

1. Identify relevant factors in a situation

2. Provide a basis for deliberation

3. Provide guides for action

4. Actions will be based upon principles and are thus more defensible

5. Provide a perspective other than self-interest, conformity or social relativity, encourage empathy and sympathy

6. Promote a consideration of consequences

7. Develop a sense of responsibility

8. Promote the virtue of moral courage

The goal of an examination or study of Ethics would be to find an ethical theory that is rationally persuasive and defensible

The CHOICE of a theory is based upon individual judgment but need not be arbitrary. Each person considers the advantages and disadvantages and the strengths and weaknesses and chooses consistent with that person's values.

The choice is, perhaps unfortunately, for most:

  • Non-arbitrary
  • Slow
  • Methodical
  • Agonizing
  • Promoting Courage

Hopefully, by considering the various theories and examining how they would be applied to the various situation and dilemmas involving medical practices and institutions each person will become more aware of their fundamental values and which of the theories is most in keeping with what they think of as the good. Such a theory would then serve as a source of moral guidance.

This course will now turn towards an examination of those ethical theories.

Proceed to the next section of the chapter by clicking here> next section.

© Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2002. All Rights reserved.

Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution.

Return to:                 Table of Contents for the Online Textbook