Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Basic Strengths and Weaknesses of Natural Law

Main strengths of Natural Law:

  • Rational - being based on reason alone shouldn't be a strength of NL, because the other theories are mostly based on reason too and they don't get the leg-up of having that as one of their advantages. However, Natural Law is rational and you do not have to believe in God for it to count, even if Aquinas goes on and on about the Divine Law. Rachels also argues that "natural law suggests morality is autonomous."
    • a rational theory is good for sexual, environmental and business ethics
  • Purpose - Natural Law seeks us, as humans, to push and become the best we can be. We are told to aim for a purpose and maintain an ordered society. The theory isn't belittling, and isn't a "single factor theory" like utilitarianism
    • striving for purpose is important in business in keeping things focussed and clear
    • maintaining an ordered society, as well as certain other primary precepts, is a good system for preserving the environment
  • More Flexible Than You Think - although the primary precepts are unchanging and absolute, the secondary precepts can actually change to incorporate different things

Main weaknesses of Natural Law:

  • Idealistic - Aquinas says that humans have a "tendency to do good and avoid evil", but do we? This is perhaps too general and idealistic
  • No Single Human Nature - we are all different. We have different lifestyles and opinions, but Aquinas is having none of that. He seems to presume that we are inherently all the same and fit under the bracket of one human nature. This presents the theory as partially inflexible
    • homosexuality will be persecuted under NL because it doesn't seek to reproduce - we do not fit under the same umbrella
  • Immoral Outcomes - Natural Law could result in poor outcomes if the primary precepts are rigidly adhered to
    • in terms of sexual ethics, Natural Law would rule out contraception - the removal of contraception in many strictly religious countries has already led to more and more cases of AIDS across the globe
    • in terms of business ethics, following the precept of education (for example) could lead to other areas of business being severely neglected
  • Purpose Confusion - how do we know our purpose is reproduction?
    • the existence of a male G-spot (sorry if anyone cringed) suggests that homosexuality may not be totally immoral. Certain body parts such as the clitoris suggest that our purpose may be pleasure in terms of sexual ethics, not reproduction
  • Absolutist Nature - in being absolute, Natural Law is ignorant of the situation
  • Outdated - the theory is arguably based on outdated social norms and is not relevant to modern society
    • in terms of sexual ethics, it is not socially acceptable to suggest that homosexuality is immoral. Furthermore, society has moved on since Aquinas's time; sex for pleasure is just part of our society - it's not necessarily moral, it's just different to what Aquinas would've liked to see 'back in the day'...

Basic Strengths and Weaknesses of Kantian Ethics

Main strengths of Kantian ethics:

  • Clarity - Kantian ethics is clear and easy to follow. Its absolutist, deontological nature is arguably the most easy to apply
    • this is good for environmental, business and sexual ethics. Any theory which is easy to apply is helpful/useful/reliable
  • Egalitarian - Kant states we should treat people as "an end in themselves" and so Kantian ethics puts everyone on equal ground
    • this is also good for all three, for obvious reasons
  • Consistent - the absolutist nature of the ethic means that what it says will never change - nobody is an exception
    • this is good for business - all customers are treated exactly the same and none are favoured
  • Honours respect and dignity

Main weaknesses of Kantian ethics:

  • Maxim scope - anyone could universalise a maxim to allow anything, so long as it is universalisable
    • sexually, the maxim 'women should always be sexually passive' could be put forward, as could several others. Is this fair?
    • corrupt businesses could employ any maxim they wish to justify doing something which many of us may see as immoral
  • Inflexible - because of its absolutist nature, Kantian ethics offers no flexibility. It doesn't regard the situation of an action, which is arguably not helpful or useful in the modern world
    • this is a weakness for all three - environmental, sexual and business issues are all specific and different
  • Speciesist - Kant once said that "animals are there merely as a means to an end. That end is man."
    • this anthropocentric view may offend certain environmental theories and present humanity as arrogant - preference utilitarian Peter Singer would take particular offence  because pretty much all he talks about is animals. He loves them.

Basic Strengths and Weaknesses of Utilitarianism

For the A2 exam it is still important to have a few strengths and weaknesses of certain theories to draw upon. When an exam asks you whether x is the best/most useful/reliable/helpful/whatever approach to business/sex/environment, you'll need to assess the theory's strengths (if you're going to support it and criticise another theory) and weaknesses (if you're going to destroy it (and I mean destroy) and argue for another theory).

By each point I've suggested how strengths/weaknesses may apply to environment/business/sex issues.

The main strengths are as follows:

  • Utilitarianism is egalitarian and allows us all personal autonomy - it is not legalistic like deontological ethical theories
    • in terms of sexual ethics, this is good - it is fair to believe that we are autonomous regarding sexual issues. They're (obviously) private and intimate and so should arguably not be governed by a rule-based ethic
  • The consequentialist nature allows us to apply util to our own situation and also, unlike deontological theories, looks onwards and into the future
    • in terms of business ethics, this is good for looking towards the future of a business
    • in terms of environmental ethics, this is good for looking at the planet's future - sustainability in particular (this also applies to business ethics)
  • Calculating the greatest happiness for the greatest number seems rational and calculable 
    • often in the business world it is easy to have a rational and calculable theory which can be used to work out problems
  • Utilitarianism focusses on pleasure, which is consistent with what humans desire. We want pleasure, which makes this theory more realistic than many others
    • realistically, in modern society sex is mostly based on pleasure. Utilitarianism is therefore practical in tackling the important of pleasure - it is a realistic approach to sexual ethics
  • Utilitarianism gives value not just to humans but to other species too, especially in the case of benefit utilitarian Peter Singer
    • environmentally, Singer's approach (including quotes such as "speciesism draws an arbitrary line" and "I don't think ethics is just for humans") seems fair in protecting animals, and even Bentham suggests equality for animals ("not can they talk, nor can they reason, but can they suffer?")

The main weaknesses are as follows:

  • The Hedon Machine weakness states that we don't actively pursue pleasure alone - this is a very primal and callous view of humanity
    • if businesses seek pleasure alone, they may exploit people and use immoral means to reach pleasure, which can damage reputation. The cheating and pleasure-based company Enron saw this when it suffered corporate collapse and had many of its executives jailed
    • some theories, such as situation ethics and virtue ethics, will argue that seeking pleasure alone re. sexual issues rules out love, commitment and care
  • Consequences cannot be foreseen, and so actions may be taken which are not for the 'greater good' at all - it is all a matter of chance and probability
    • this is a weakness for all three - if you can't tell what will happen in the future (say, for example, the end of a relationship/extinction of a species/collapse of a business), how can you possibly base a theory on what will happen in the future?
  • Intuitionist W. D. Ross refers to utilitarianism as "a single factor theory". By this he is criticising its narrow, one-track nature as explained above
  • Utilitarianism ignores the motives of actions, so long as the end is good
    • sexually, this could mean that immoral means could be taken to obtain pleasure, so long as the pleasure outweighs any pain
    • in terms of business ethics, this could lead to companies doing good things (such as endorsing Fair Trade) in order to look good as opposed to doing it because it is fair or right
      • in particular, Kantian ethics and virtue ethics will oppose this
  • Utilitarianism exploits the minority
    • in terms of business, this would mean that a company could morally use sweatshops in order to appeal to the majority in terms of selling cheap produce
  • Bernard Williams argues that utilitarianism denies us of moral integrity, and suggests that we can easily do callous things - such as steal, cheat or even murder - for the greater good
    • in business, the corporate collapse of Enron can be seen as how a utilitarian approach to business hindered moral integrity. The same goes for the incident with the Ford cars - morals were ignored to favour pleasure
  • The Hedonic Calculus is hard to use and apply
    • for business, environment and sex this is an issue. Practically, you need a theory which can be easily applied. Bentham's Hedonic Calculus provides several issues
  • Louis Pojman (ethical egoist) argues that utilitarianism employs an idealised view of justice. He gives the example of a doctor who has five patients who are all in desperate need of different organs, otherwise they will die. A healthy man walks into the hospital for a check-up. Pojman argues that it in theory utilitarians would kill the healthy man to allow the five men to survive. In reality, however, this offers a remarkably "cavalier attitude to justice"
  • Virtue ethicist Anscombe says that "Bentham and Mill don't notice the difficulty of the concept of pleasure."

A2 Religious Studies: Free Will & Determinism

Free will and determinism is one of the larger topics of the A2 ethics course but it's quite straight-forward... there's basically one group who love free will and hate determinism, one group who love determinism and hate free will and a sit-on-the-fence group who say both can work together. So if you get the age-old question of assessing whether they are compatible or whether one or the other is right or wrong, the structure is pretty easy.

For almost any free will and determinism essay, starting off with the following quote would make sense to highlight a love of hard determinism and a seething hatred of soft determinism, courtesy of Honderich:
"Determinism is true, compatibilism is false."
Or you could use this John Locke quote, which draws from his analogy of a man being a locked room that he does not know is locked (and thus assumes he can leave whenever he likes):
"Freedom of choice is an illusion." 

Hard Determinism

Hard determinism is at one end of the scale. Hard determinists accept that our lives are completely determined by other factors and that we subsequently have no genuine freedom over our lives. What we do is not in our control, even if we think it is. This also means that we cannot possibly be held responsible for our actions seeing as we have no control over them.

Spinoza states that
"there is no absolute or free will"
and argues that
"the mind is determined to wish this or that by a cause."
 Spinoza is arguing that our lives are basically the result of various causes going back in a chain of infinite regress. This notion is quite similar to the premise of the cosmological argument for God's existence (no need to mention that in the exam, though).

John Hospers argues that there is always something which compels us - either internally or externally - to do what we do. He simply says that
"it is all a matter of luck."
Basically, if you have a good life it's not down to you. You've just been lucky. You've just been fortunate enough to have certain determining factors influencing you.

Voltaire supports this view, and argues that we can only be who we are, arguing the following:
"Pear trees cannot bear bananas."
"Everything is planned, connected, limited."
Therefore Voltaire would argue that it is unfair of us to expect someone to change who they are, because it is not their fault for being who they are.

  • Potential weakness: would this give people an excuse to go against society, only to justify their actions with the notion that they cannot change who they are?
Hard determinists would argue that determinism is only determinism as we know it if we don't know the consequences - if we knew which way we are compelled to take, the whole thing would fall apart.

Clarence Darrow was an American lawyer who famously had the job of defending the 1924 Leopold and Loeb case. Leopold and Loeb, two intelligent university students, had been charged with the murder of a fourteen-year old boy after desiring to commit the 'perfect crime'.

Darrow used hard determinism in his defence in order to try and save Leopold and Loeb from capital punishment. This is a great example if an essay asks whether determinism is useful/useless in the world.

Darrow argued that the boys had diminished responsibility because they were merely products of their upbringing. They could not possibly be blamed for who they were always going to be and for what they were always going to do.
"All of his was handed to him."
"He did not make himself. And yet he is compelled to pay."
"Punishment as punishment is not admissible unless the offender has the free will to select this course."
Darrow was successful (depending on how cynical you are) in his case, and the boys were sentenced to life imprisonment as opposed to facing the death penalty.


Behaviourism supports determinism as a sort of mini-theory, and suggest things like genetic heritage, social conditioning and subconscious influences as prior causes. If an exam question asks about whether our lives are purely the result of social conditioning (I'd hate a question like that but I know for many people it would be the ideal question), behaviourism would be a brilliant thing to mention; it actively suggests that social conditioning accounts for who we are, putting evidence behind such an assertion.

Behaviourism basically argues that factors leading to behaviour can be manipulated or changed to make someone behave in a certain way.

Pavlov is the easiest person to remember when talking about behaviourism. He argued that people can be 'trained' to act in certain ways under certain circumstances, and attempted to show this in an experiment with dogs. When he rang a ball to feed his dogs he noticed that the sound of the bell alone would make the dogs salivate, because they associated the bell with food. Pavlov later got rid of the food and found that the sound of the bell alone, even without food, would make them salivate. He suggested that perhaps we could do something similar to manipulate human behaviour.

  • However, a possible weakness of this is that human behaviour is far more complex than the behaviour of dogs
Because behaviourism is such a small part of this topic, mentioning Pavlov should be enough. If you feel the need to expand it further, though, you could mention John Watson (and even Sherlock Holmes if you want to look stupid) and his example of how feral children show that our environment can influence our behaviour.

Steven Pinker is also a behaviourist who takes influence from Darwin's work. He argues that natural selection determines what we are like morally.

Strengths of hard determinism/behaviourism:
  • Behaviourism offers evidence for how causal factors can influence our behaviour
  • It is logical to think that certain influences actually determine us
Weaknesses of hard determinism/behaviourism:
  • Responsibility is taken away from those who commit the worst crimes
  • Many of us feel morally free to make our own decisions
  • Hard determinism is a pessimistic view of the world we live in - it would argue that certain events such as the holocaust were always going to happen and that nobody can really be blamed for it
  • Blame and praise are rendered pointless
  • The evidence of behaviourism may not apply to human behaviour


Predestination is probably my least favourite aspect of the whole ethics course, so it's a good thing that you don't really need it for the exam. It's sort of part-determined, part-free. It depends on your view of it. 

Basically, the Judaeo-Christian view is that we are free and autonomous because of Adam and Eve's freedom in the Garden of Eden. 

Some Presbyterian churches, however, argue that that God has already chosen who will be saved and subsequently who will go to heaven.

Aquinas supports the typical Judaeo-Christian view, stating plainly:
"Man chooses not of necessity but freely."
In Romans 8, the Bible hints at the idea of predestination:
"For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son."
Arguably, our actions in this life are irrelevant as God - being omniscient - has already decided who will be saved and who will not be saved.

  • This is not the case, though. God chooses people who he knows will want to act morally
John Calvin is the biggest name for predestination. He said:
"Eternal life is fore-ordained for some, and eternal damnation for others."
Behaviour isn't predestined, belief is. Basically, the following paragraph sums up predestination in one go:

Because of God's omniscience, he already knows what we're going to be like and whether we want to be moral. He can therefore identify which morally willing people will be predestined to go to heaven and vice versa with hell. By wanting to be moral, we earn God's grace. God knows you, he doesn't make you act or think in a certain way.


Libertarianism is directly opposite to hard determinism, and states that we have complete moral responsibility. We are totally free and are influenced by nothing and no-one. The idea of causal factors cannot be applied to human behaviour, libertarians would argue. This point could be used to criticise Pavlov's behaviourist experiment.

The most common argument in favour of libertarianism is that it appeals to our intuitions; we prefer to see ourselves as free individuals as opposed to puppets on strings.

Peter van Inwagen gives the following analogy of libertarianism v. determinism: libertarianism is like travelling down a road and choosing which turnings to take, whereas determinism is like travelling down a road with no turnings - just one fixed path.

Libertarians argue that because we blame ourselves and feel guilty for our actions, we must therefore be free to choose freely. If we were determined, libertarians argue, we wouldn't feel guilty about choosing certain things. Hard determinists would criticise this point, drawing on Locke's analogy of the man in the locked room.

Heisenberg supports libertarianism using physics: he argues for the uncertainty principle showing how events are random and not necessarily caused. The uncertainty principle refers to the nature of how we cannot know both the location and the momentum of sub-atomic particles. He argues that it is better to see events as statistical probabilities as opposed to general laws. Some events, Heisenberg states, are simply unpredictable.

  • Honderich criticises Heisenberg's argument, saying that such randomness only works on a sub-atomic level and does not apply to human behaviour


Existentialism is like the opposite of behaviourism, by which I mean it's the by-theory of libertarianism that doesn't need to be mentioned in great detail.

Proposed by Sartre, existentialists argue that freedom is both the goal and measure of life. Everything in life depends on the individual and the meaning they give to their life (life being ultimately meaningless, Sartre argues). If people try to avoid freedom they simply end up conforming to what is decided by others. Sartre said the following quotes, which can be used to support existentialism and, on a wider scale, libertarianism:
"Man is responsible for the world and himself."
"To be free is to be condemned to be free."

Strengths of libertarianism:

  • It recognises that humans have an intuition of decision - we feel like we can act freely
    • this is of course criticised by hard determinists - particularly Locke
  • Personal responsibility underpins our main systems of ethics and law
  • Hume argued that even if event B consistently follows event A, we cannot deduce that A causes B - that is just our interpretation. Hard determinism, therefore, is simply an interpretation of what we observe
Weaknesses of libertarianism:
  • Locke's analogy of a man locked in a room without knowing he is locked there - just because we feel free, it doesn't mean we are. Feeling free is not really a strength of the theory at all
  • If we have the power to choose, how do we choose? What criteria should be followed when making a decision?
  • Very few of us would argue that past experiences, emotion, beliefs and values have no influence on us whatsoever

Soft Determinism

Soft determinism is the mid-way theory. It states that while we are compelled by external factors, we still have ultimate freedom in making moral choices. Soft determinism is also known as compatibilism

Soft determinists simply state that the existence of determinism does not rule out free will, and that the two can work alongside one another and so are compatible. 

Certain determining factors, such as upbringing, may influence someone, but ultimate decisions are theirs and theirs alone. 

Kant accepted soft determinism. He said that determinism applies to everything which is the object of knowledge but does not apply to the individual will - the two are too radically different to both operate on just one theory.

Kant noted the two 'types' of reason:
  1. Pure reason - knowledge and the scientifically explicable world (external)
  2. Practical reason - actions of the will (internal)
Kant attacks hard determinism and states that there is no reason behind an act of will. He stated, as do most soft determinists, that pure reason is determined by external factors while practical reason is not determined and allows us to make decisions freely.

Hard determinists, of course, would criticise soft determinists, arguing that our personalities are so because of a myriad of external causes.

Michael Palmer criticised soft determinism, saying:
"Among the factors that determine our actions, we count our own choices and desires."
Palmer is basically saying that there is no differentiation between internal and external causes, and that everything is determined.

Soft determinism also allows for moral responsibility. For example, if Bob doesn't save a drowning child because he can't swim, he's not morally responsible. That's not his fault. If, however, he can swim, and he chooses not to save the child due to his personality/past experiences etc., he is morally responsible.

John Searle argued for soft determinism. He noted that there is
"a gap between having reasons to do something and actually doing it."
This implies that because there is a gap in our minds between thought process and action, we switch from being determined to acting freely.

Hobbes also argues for soft determinism.

Strengths of soft determinism:

  • Most of us accept that certain elements of our lives are determined but that we have ultimate free will
  • It provides a fair and logical case for separating internal and external causes
Weaknesses of soft determinism:

  • Hard determinists would argue that soft determinism fails to understand the degree of determinism in our lives
  • Libertarians would argue that soft determinism fails to understand the degree of freedom in our lives
  • If desires are determined, how can we have total freedom of choice?

Sunday, 13 January 2013

A2 Religious Studies: Business Ethics

Business ethics most importantly concerns the ethical relationship(s) between businesses and stakeholders. Stakeholders is a broad term and refers to an individual or group of people who has/have an interest in a business. This ranges from employers to employees to consumers.

But what is the purpose of business? This is where, surprise surprise, people disagree.

Some business ethicists argue that the purpose of business is to maximise profit for said business and/or shareholders. If this is the case, then only actions which actively increase profit are to be advised. This was the view of economist Milton Friedman (who argues from a Lone Ranger perspective), who argued that
"The purpose of business is to make me money."
Similarly, Maxwell simply argues (in a quote that's great to open an essay with) that
"There's no such thing as business ethics."
However, others argue that the purpose of business is to be morally responsible towards employees/consumers/local community/society/all of the above. This is often referred to as corporate social responsibility (CSR), which anyone from my school will know is Mr Harbertson's 'buzz-word' when it comes to business ethics. Whatever the question, make sure you put CSR in there somewhere.

Companies that have shown CSR include the Body Shop. Fronted by Anita Roddick, the Body Shop succeeded in tackling social issues such as animal rights and Fair Trade.

This just shows that it is perfectly possible to own a successful business that doesn't depend entirely on profit but also looks outwards as to how it can tackle other problems.

The other big theory on the purpose of business comes under the social contract theory. This theory states that stakeholders should be given a voice as to how a business should operate.

  • However, this theory has been criticised by several businesspeople for the plain reason that business is a property and not a means of distributing social justice
The social contract theory was sort-of developed and, in 1995, Will Hutton argued for the Stakeholder Theory. The stakeholder theory argues that all stakeholders should actually have shares in a business.

This put certain pressure on businesses, which in turn led to the Invisible Hand Theory, as proposed by Adam Smith. By 'invisible hand', Smith is talking about the self-regulating behaviour of the business marketplace. He simply suggests that businesses often have little control on what happens in the marketplace, and are
"led by an invisible hand"
You can't see the invisible hand (the clue's in the name, apparently), because it's just how business as a concept operates. For example, if there are shortages in the marketplace, the invisible hand is a metaphor for the price mechanism which raises prices to accommodate for the shortages.

  • However, some businesses (like big supermarket chains) discuss the lowest prices of other companies and try to match them - this leads to illegal control of the market 
Smith argues that the consumer is what drives the market in a win-win situation. We want fair prices and good quality, which rewards good-quality and fairly-priced businesses. If you think about it, 'win-win' is quite a utilitarian view, and it is fair to say that Smith presents a utilitarian view on business.

The view is often referred to as ethical egoism. Ethical egoism states that self-interest is not selfishness, because by putting your company first, you are helping serve the common good of others. Ethical egoist Louis Pojman describes ethical egoism as follows:
"We are concerned to promote our own good, but not necessarily at any cost."

  • However, naturally there are people who disagree with ethical egoism. Economists like Friedman argue that ethics and business do not co-operate, and Julian Baggini points out that
"Good ethics is not necessarily good business."

Issues in business

Exploitation is a big problem in certain businesses, especially among the impoverished (across the world, not just in the UK) and young people.

If you're arguing from a Christian ethics perspective, you can cite these examples as examples of Christian goodness to strengthen the argument that Christian ethics is a good approach to business:

  • in Victorian times, Christian entrepreneurs began to change exploitative practices like child labour
  • Rowntrees and Cadbury were originally of Quaker origin, and proved that good ethics could still pay
Externalities may also be an issue. Externalities refer to external costs that are negative, such as pollution, noise and congestion. These obviously need to be made up for by businesses. 

A good example of how externalities have been dealt is the actions of the Anglo-American Mining Company. The company situated the mind away from residents to reduce noise pollution, as well as doing other nice things for CSR and sustainability (which I'll come to in a minute).

A bad example of how externalities have been dealt which is the actions of trading company Trafigura. In 1996, Trafigura dumped toxic waste off the Ivory Coast. The waste caused burns and nausea as well as the release of noxious sulphur dioxide. 31,000 people were awarded £30m in compensation - but not until 13 years later.

Bad examples

When discussing business, it's always good to bring in bad examples of where businesses have gone wrong, often to support your own theory or knock another theory (such as util).

In 1971, Ford produced a car that was faulty. The fault would, on very rare occasions, cause fuel tanks to explode upon collision. The cost to repair every car would be $137m.

However, the approximated number of deaths would only cost $50m in compensation. Outrageously, Ford chose to let a small number of people die in order to save money. This is an example of where a utilitarian outlook on business has failed horribly (depending on how callous you are). 

Bentham would agree with the decision, whereas Mill might question the mental well-being of those affected over the wealth-based pleasure of the company.

In 1984, the Union Carbide Plant in Bhopal leaked a chemical that killed 8,000 people in just 3 days. Five years later, nearly $500m was paid in compensation. This is an example of failed CSR.

The company Enron was subject to huge corporate collapse due to the greed, corruption and ignorance of the owners. Executives were jailed and thousands of workers were made jobless. This is a perfect example to strengthen virtue ethics, Christian ethics and Kantian ethics:
  • Virtue: the owners were not virtuous and so the business failed
  • Christian ethics: the owners were not acting in the name of God and didn't pursue excellence and so the business failed
  • Kantian ethics: the owners used people as means to an end and so the business failed


Sustainability not only makes a business look good, but also ensures caring for future generations. This means it's brilliant to mention if you get a question on business and environment combined.

In 1992, the Rio Earth Summit was called to discuss sustainability - however, Earth summits (as discussed in environmental ethics) are often seen as, well, massive failures.

Sustainability is important in businesses for another reason: it often saves money.

Sustainability applies to utilitarianism and Christian ethics particularly well. As discussed in environmental ethics especially, Christians see caring for the environment (stewardship) as a God-given duty.

The Anglo-American Mining Company, as mentioned earlier, planted reed beds (an endangered habitat) in their local community, helping sustain the environment. Furthermore, the Co-op has won awards for its response to climate change, reducing 86% of their CO2 emissions and using 98% green electricity.


Globalisation is another important aspect of business. It refers to the cultural, social and political barriers that affect business over the world. The following areas (just for reference, not supposed to be explicitly mentioned in exams) would be affected by globalisation:
  • television
  • music
  • food
  • fashion
  • trade/economy
  • ethics
  • religion
Globalisation affects business in different ways. It may change ethical approaches to the markets of different cultures and may affect environmental policies when transport and trade comes into use.

When migrant workers come to new countries, particularly in bulk, they often bring elements of their own culture, such as food and language.

Furthermore, first-world countries often move big business branches to third-world countries. These multinational companies provide jobs and wealth to third-world countries. Multinationals also provide competition, leading to more jobs and lower costs.
  • However, multinationals in third-world countries often lead to lower wages for workers. Is this ethical?
Crane and Matten describe globalisation as

Issues surrounding globalisation

Globalisation isn't all fun and games (nothing is in ethics):

  • sweatshops are all too common in third-world countries (250 million children work worldwide). Companies such as Nike, Gap and Primark have been criticised for their use of and involvement with sweatshops. Sweatshops are obviously a major issue for several reasons, some of which include:
    • child labour
    • poor health and safety
    • no breaks in order to boost production
    • abuse to workers
    • trade unions banned
  •  globalisation also means global weapons trade, which in turn leads to global terrorism. War is a business, but is it ethical to contribute to it?
  • interest is often charged on aid to third-world countries, which sometimes puts them in even more debt. This often leads to tied aid, whereby first-world countries provide aid to countries if they buy certain products from us.



There is immediately an issue when applying utilitarianism to business ethics. How do we calculate the greatest number? The greatest number could refer to
  • customers
  • shareholders
  • employees
  • the community
  • other species (Singer would argue this - links to env. ethics)
Companies will often consider profit (happiness) over sustainability (number). But in an ethic which argues for greatest happiness for the greatest happiness, which is more important?

However, asking what makes the most people happy is arguably a good theory: it's logical to argue that financial stability makes the majority more happy. Furthermore, sustainability/CSR would be seen as good because it makes more people happy. 

For utilitarianism, though, motive is irrelevant. This is something which virtue ethics and Christian ethics in particular will take issue with. Utilitarianism argues that if a business endorses Fair Trade, for example, the motive behind doing it (which may be to boost popularity) is irrelevant, because the endorsement of Fair Trade itself leads to more happiness.

You can also mention Adam Smith's Invisible Hand theory as utilitarian approach to business.

The weaknesses of utilitarianism in business are as follows (I'd argue that it's the worst approach to business ethics and thus the easiest to attack):
  • the consequences of business cannot be foreseen
    • link this to the example of Enron's corporate collapse
  • utilitarianism seems to be suggesting that human life is measured against profit. Is that fair to humanity?
  • it will allow the majority to exploit the minority - so issues such as exploitation and sweatshops may be accepted
  • utilitarianism will also allow for theft and corruption if it makes more people happy
  • Mill would argue that money is a lower pleasure
  • example of Ford

Virtue ethics

Virtue ethics is concerned primarily with who we are as people. In business, owners should aim to be virtuous people in order to create a virtuous business. This can arguably be complicated - virtue ethics is agent-centred, and business is usually action-based which can make application tricky.

Virtues in business may include the following:
  • common sense
  • courage
  • diplomacy
  • intellect
  • tenacity
  • wisdom
Can a business be successful and virtuous? Friedman and Maxwell would possibly argue not. However, successful companies such as Rowntrees and the Body Shop suggest otherwise.

  • virtues may conflict in business
  • which virtues should be followed? Machiavelli and Nietzsche, for example, would argue that deceit and violence are virtues
  • companies could arguably make anything into a virtue
  • virtues vary culturally - not good for globalisation!
  • how do we work out virtues?
  • which virtuous businesspeople should be be inspired by? How do we decide who is virtuous?

Kantian ethics

Kantian ethics is usually (in my opinion) a poor theory when applied to ethical issues. For business, however, I'd argue it's the best. 

Kantian ethics clearly states that:
  • acts should be universal
  • people should be treated as ends in themselves
  • we have a duty (CSR)
Universalising acts in arguably an excellent approach to business; you can't lie, cheat, steal or exploit people, because such things cannot be universalised. 

Treating people as an end in themselves is also very important. Businesses can't treat customers or employees as a means to making money, which is an excellent approach to business.

There are, however, a few weaknesses:
  • collisions of duty between companies and stakeholders
  • Kant, like util, doesn't consider consequences
  • putting people over profit sounds nice, but arguably isn't realistic
  • maxims can be manipulated to allow pretty much anything

Christian ethics

In my opinion, Christian ethics is also a great approach to business, and is quite similar to virtue ethics.

Christians believe that taking care of those we are in relations with is a God-given duty, as is protecting the environment, which can be tied in with the environmental approach of stewardship. Like being a virtuous person, Christians argue that businesspeople should adopt a Christ-like character in business and strive for excellence - and nothing less.

The Puritan Work Ethic states that when you work, you should act as if you are working for God.
  • but what if someone asks you to do something contrary to God's work? There becomes a conflict of interests
  • what about in the case of strikes?
Christian ethics also highlights our purpose in business of being fair and achieving excellence, employing various Biblical quotes to enforce such a belief:
"Do it all for the glory of God"
"Whoever takes crooked paths will be found out"
"If you're cutting corners, the best will lose faith in you"
"The Lord detests dishonest scales"

Saturday, 12 January 2013

A2 Religious Studies: Meta-ethics

Meta-ethics (meaning 'beyond ethics') is very different to the other ethical theories because, instead of trying to distinguish right from wrong, it looks at the language we use to express morality. Meta-ethics is all about language, and asks what good/bad/right/wrong actually mean as words.

A significant issue surrounding meta-ethics is whether ethical dilemmas are subjective or objective. Some will argue that if 'good' has no objective meaning then it is meaningless, and should not be used in ethics.

Similarly, another issue is whether meta-ethics is cognitive (able to be proved) or non-cognitive (not able to be proved).

Because meta-ethics is so different to other ethical theories, you shouldn't really compare it to the others; theories such as util and Kantian ethics are normative ethics, whereas meta-ethics is not. That's why, for example, Ross criticises utilitarianism for being a single-factor theory: Ross is a meta-ethicist and can pretty much get away with attacking normative ethics.


Intuitionism argues that morality is objective and cognitive. Intuitionists argue that we just know what goodness is.

G. E. Moore simply states that the word 'good' cannot be defined. He likened it to the colour yellow - we know what yellow is, but we can't define it. He said quite simply:
"Good is good, and that is the end of the matter."
Moore said that we work out right and wrong by looking at the impact consequences have upon an action. If the consequence is right (Moore argues you'll simply know if it is right), then it becomes good.

Good comes from consequence, not reason. This presents Moore's version of intuitionism as teleological.

Moore criticised other ethical theorists of creating a naturalistic fallacy when they try and define good. By naturalistic fallacy, Moore means that we shouldn't define 'good' by certain properties that we like or desire. If something makes us feel happy, Moore said that we can't therefore define it as 'good'. This could be seen as a criticism of utilitarianism, which argues that something is good if more people experience pleasure from it.

H. A. Pritchard said that working out right/wrong is our duty, which we use intuition to work out. In this respect, the concept of duty sounds a little more deontological than Moore's teleological perspective. So - an immediate criticism - whose version is right?

Pritchard states that when people disagree about morality, someone's moral thinking simply hasn't been fully developed. This assertion is obviously very weak:

  • how can you develop your moral thinking?
  • if someone is wrong in a moral conflict, doesn't that mean there is a conflict of duties?
W. D. Ross, the guy who criticises utilitarianism, accepts that moral duties do conflict.

He tries to tackle the issue of conflicting duties by putting forward a series of duties which should come first - duties which are the most important. He called these 'first sight' duties or, to be more posh,
"prima facie duties"
The duties are as follows:

  1. keeping promises
  2. gratitude
  3. fairness
  4. benevolence
  5. non-malificence
  6. self-improvement
  7. reparation for harm
Obviously, you don't need to know about all of these for the exam - two or three will be more than enough (I'd probably use 1, 3 and 4).

 The strengths of intuitionism are few and far between...

  • intuitionism arguably allows us to answer issues clearly and instantly
  • it appeals to human nature - we do use our intuition to decide right from wrong (for example, when we see harrowing news stories)
  • it is very simple and avoids complex debate as to what is good - because we cannot define good
The weaknesses, however, are pretty lengthy...
  • normative ethics would argue that 'good' can de defined
  • people's intuitions will differ
  • most people see morality as subjective
  • lack of empirical evidence
  • some situations are too complex to approach with intuitionism
  • Pritchard's major weakness of conflicting duties
  • intuitions come from different roots - intuition may be the tip of an iceberg, but beneath the water there may lie a greater sense of cultural conditioning
  • intuitionism will allow anyone to get away with anything
  • Nietzsche criticised Moore's 'yellow' analogy, and argued that one person may see good as one thing whereas one may see good as another, suggesting the issue of
"ethical colourblindness"

  • virtue ethicist MacIntyre simply said that
"The word intuition is always a signal that something has gone badly wrong."

  • Moore's intuitionism is teleological whereas Ross's is deontological - who is right?


Emotivism is a non-cognitive meta-ethical theory which states quite simply that ethical language are only used in expressions of feeling.

When we say 'murder is wrong', we're not saying that it is immoral, we're saying that we don't like the idea. Thanks to the popular criticism from Mel Thompson, emotivism has come to be known as the 'boo/hooray theory'.

A. J. Ayer first proposed emotivism as a response to Carnap's strong verification principle.

When we use ethical language, Ayer argues that we are not judging morality or making normative truth claims - we are simply expressing emotion.

Stevenson is credited with developing Ayer's argument further, and argues that ethical language is reciprocal; when we say to somebody that murder is wrong, for example, we are expecting them to agree.

Brandt attacks Stevenson's reciprocation view, stating that he assumes a
"magnetic influence."
By this, Brandt is saying that when we express ethical language, we don't expect people to agree - it is foolish to presume that our language has a magnetic influence on others.

The strengths of emotivism are as follows:

  • emotivism's subjective nature allows all opinions to be equally valid - it is egalitarian
  • culturally aware - arranged marriage, for example, could be good or bad depending on the stance of different cultures
  • it effectively resolves the argument as to why moral disputes can never be resolved 
  • in childhood especially, it is often true to say that our moral language is intended to be reciprocal
The weaknesses are as follows:
  • emotivism belittles our ability to reason
  • James Rachels argues that emotivism wrongly compares stubbing one's toe to making moral statements, and called moral feelings convictions
  • Mel Thompson famously said
"You cannot reduce morality to a set of cheers and boos."

  • Peter Vardy accused emotivism of being
"hot air and nothing else"

  • virtue ethicist Alasdair MacIntyre argues that emotivism wrongly places child carers and paedophiles as equals


 Prescriptivism, proposed by R. M. Hare, is also a non-cognitive theory.

Hare argued that when we use ethical language, we are prescribing - or recommending - a course of action. 'Good', Hare argued, is an action statement.

The prescribed courses of action must be universal. Whenever we say something like 'stealing is wrong', we are stating that nobody should steal and universalising that statement.


  • straight-forward
  • seems logical and realistic - when we make moral judgements we are often prescribing courses of action
  • if moral commands are universalisable, they are applicable to all and thus easy to follow
  • it solves the emotivist issue of moral language being meaningless - instead they are prescribed actions
  • Mackie argues that if prescriptivism is culturally aware, morality cannot be universal
  • Hare believes in no true or false morality, meaning that, for example, Hitler's universalised hatred of the Jews was not right or wrong
  • disregards the logic and reasoning behind moral statements in favour of recommendation
  • Hare's logic means that any ridiculous theory could be moral. For example, eating burgers every Monday morning could become moral if someone branded it as good
  • there is no reason to follow any moral law(s) - they're simply based on what people want you to do

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

A2 Religious Studies: Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics doesn't question how we act, but instead studies who we are as people. It is agent-centred and seeks to find goodness by enriching the individual.

The first person to put forward the idea of looking inwardly in such a way was Aristotle. Proposing the ethical theory in Nicomeachean Ethics, Aristotle argued that as humans everything we want or desire should lead to happiness, because happiness is good as an end in itself.

The great end of happiness - the ultimate happiness we all aim for - is called eudaimonia. In order to reach eudaimonia, Aristotle stated, we must be virtuous people. The following quote is from Aristotle and sums up his belief clearly and concisely:
"We become builders by building."

How can people be virtuous?

How can we be virtuous? Aristotle suggested three different ways (you don't need to know these for the exam):

  • experience
  • repetition
  • observation
Aristotle rejected action-based ethics. He said that an action may seem good but have a bad motive - this is the exact opposite of the utilitarian view, which argues that motive is irrelevant. Virtue ethicists say the action is irrelevant but the motive is pivotal because it shapes who we are as people.

He also argued that we can learn to be virtuous by following virtuous people, whether it's Jesus, Gandhi or Bob Geldof. This has come under huge criticism, however - for two reasons:

  • Louden argues that in our day-to-day lives, we can't just imagine what our virtuous role models would do - we think for ourselves
  • do we really have freedom, like virtue ethics suggests, if all we're supposed to do is copy other people?

Types of virtue

According to Aristotle, there are two types of virtue:
  1. Intellectual virtues
  2. Moral virtues
Intellectual virtues are things which can be taught and developed through teaching.

Moral virtues are qualities of character - they can't be 'taught' and come about through habit and experience.

Aristotle said that everyone can become virtuous, but not everyone will. The most valuable virtue, he suggested, is reason. By reasoning we can work out what is right. And by doing what is right we can reach eudaimonia.

He said quite simply:
"We become just by doing just acts."
Aristotle may seem all nice and virtuous, but he did argue that virtues were only accessible to men... something that has of course been heavily criticised, particularly by Annette Baier, who argues that virtue ethics is male-centred.

Rosalind Hursthouse agrees with Aristotle's differentiation between the two types of virtue. She uses the example of a child genius; a child genius may have several intellectual virtues - because they can be taught - but may lack certain moral virtues - because moral virtues only come about through time and experience.

Working out a virtue - golden mean and vices

In terms of working out a virtue, Aristotle highlighted the importance of finding a 'golden mean' in qualities of character.

He said that all virtues have two vices, or extremes: the vice of deficiency (too little) and the vice of excess (too much). In the middle of those two vices lies the virtue.

Finding the golden mean between the vices is how to work out a virtue; Aristotle doesn't give any tips on how to do this or what happens when people disagree on virtues, though, which is a major flaw in virtue ethics.

If you take the example of the virtue of 'bravery', it may go a little like this:

  1. The vice of deficiency for bravery is cowardice - there's not enough of the virtue
  2. The vice of excess for bravery is foolishness - there's too much of the virtue
  3. Right in the middle lies 'bravery' itself - the midway point between the two vices
Why should we choose the golden mean instead of the vices, though? Aristotle argues that virtues help society whereas virtues are not helpful to society. 

This is a point that's easy to criticise - surely some jobs require certain vices? Surely vices lead us to have more interesting people and encourages debate? If we all stick to certain virtues won't we all be the same?

Furthermore, people may argue about what is a virtue and what is a vice. Most of us would argue that deceit and power are vices; however, Nietzsche and Machiavelli would argue that they are virtues. Who is right?

However, an advantage of virtue ethics is its egalitarian nature - it allows for personal autonomy.

Modern virtue ethicist approaches

Anscombe, a modern day virtue ethicist and Catholic, wrote a paper called Modern Moral Philosophy, and argued that our reliance on action and consequence is wrong. She said:
"How can there be any moral laws if there is no God?"
But she said human flourishing doesn't require a God, even though she argues for one herself.

Philippa Foot, also a modern day virtue ethicist, counters a popular criticism against virtue ethics. Many people often argue that virtues may be used to a bad end, ie. an end that isn't eudaimonia. Foot stated that this is wrong, seeing as a virtue is only virtuous if used to the right end. She said that loyalty - a virtue - isn't a virtue if used to a bad end - so for example loyalty to Hitler.

However, Foot has been criticised for assuming that all people work towards similar goals, when this is simply not true of humanity. We all have different goals and motives - it is foolish to suppose we all work towards a common good.

MacIntyre, who wrote After Virtue, argued strongly against the meta-ethical theory of emotivism. He said that virtue is important in achieving our purpose (his argument regarding purpose has similarities to the arguments put forward in Natural Law). He also criticises Kantian ethics and utilitarianism for not appreciating the importance of virtue. He said that human virtue depends on a sense of community:
"Not having a certain right theory, rather having a certain character."
"Virtues which sustain the households and communities..."
 MacIntyre's reliance on community brings up another weakness of virtue ethics: it is not culturally aware. In some countries it is virtuous to marry a twelve year old girl. Is that virtuous in our society? Of course not. So who is right? Surely there can't be a common good if different nations have different virtues?

You won't get far in an essay if you're providing such a one-sided argument, though. Virtue ethics does have its strengths:

  • it looks at individuals as opposed to actions - this increases our sense of individual worth
  • not legalistic and allows for personal autonomy
    • this point is arguable, as noted above
  • exists without the requirement of religion
  • appeals to human intuitions - most of us would want to reach for eudaimonia
  • arguably eliminates dangerous and unhelpful vices in society
As well as the weaknesses listed above, you can attack virtue ethics on the following grounds:
  • how do we know who is virtuous?
  • different people argue for different virtues - Nietzsche/Machiavelli example
  • aren't 'deficient' and 'excessive' subjective words to use?
  • society may actually benefit from extremes of character
  • it is naive to assume that everyone aims for goodness
  • how do you reach eudaimonia? 
  • how will you know when you've reached eudaimonia?
  • how do we work out a golden mean? How do we know if we're right?
  • two or more virtues may conflict
  • difficult to apply
  • goodness is not reached in one way - Owen Flanagan argues that
"people find their good in many different ways."

  • Keenan asks what sort of virtuous person one should become - should you be loving and committed? Or perhaps decisive and controlled? How is virtue measured?

The flurry of question marks in the above list makes one thing obvious: virtue ethics is very vague. It's impossibly difficult to apply to situations, which arguably makes it a hugely flawed ethical theory.

Perhaps one of the greatest weaknesses, though, suggests the following:
  • virtue ethics isn't agent-centred at all - it focusses on the acts of virtuous people. If we are told to follow the acts of virtuous people, surely that means we're not looking at ourselves?

That's virtue on its own - I'll mention it in terms of application to other areas when I write up the other areas (I've already done it for environmental and sexual ethics - will do the same for business).


Tuesday, 8 January 2013

A2 Religious Studies: Environmental Ethics

The Gaia Hypothesis (eco-holism)

James Lovelock argues that we are part of planet earth and not masters of it. He argued for the existence of 'Gaia' - a self-regulating living system which controls the earth and keeps everything constant. Lovelock says that Gaia keeps the planet at a constant state of management, and lists two examples to support this:

  • if there was any less than 12% oxygen in the atmosphere, fires couldn't burn
  • the salt level in seas has remained at 3.4% for millions of years
Lovelock says we shouldn't be anthropocentric (focussing solely on ourselves) but biocentric, and says that Gaia restores balance to the imbalance caused by humans.

The earth is, Lovelock states, a holistic system (a 'whole'). Gaia possesses the power to change everything. 

Deep Ecology

Deep ecologists argue that human life is just one part of the ecosphere. Arne Naess is a big name in terms of deep ecology, and refers to it as
"a philosophy of ecological harmony"
Leopold also comes along and says that something is good if it preserves
 "integrity, stability and beauty"
Naess argues that every living thing has a right to flourish. He criticises the Christian view of dominion, simply calling it
George Sessions also argues for deep ecology, and puts forward an 8-point manifesto in favour of it. The points are as follows:

  1. all life has intrinsic value 
  2. diversity creates well-being of all
  3. humans must protect this responsibility
  4. human impact on the environment is excessive
  5. lifestyle and population change are critical
  6. human impact must be reduced
  7. political and economic systems must change
  8. those who accept the above must commit to peaceful change
Obviously not all of these points need to be remembered for the exam. The main ones are probably 1 (which you can argue against), 4, 6 and 8.

Peter Singer, despite coming more broadly under the shallow ecology umbrella, argues that World Heritage wilderness should be preserved, which is a view similar to that of a deep ecologist. He says there is beauty in certain areas of wilderness which should be cared for.

Deep ecologists do, however, accept that the richness and diversity of the planet can be reduced if it is vital to human needs.

Modern examples of deep ecology groups are the Green Movement and the Green Party - the first Green Party member became a member of parliament in 2010 for Brighton - this possibly suggests that deep ecology is not necessarily an outdated belief.

Of course, deep ecology isn't without its weaknesses. The main ones are as follows:

  • for something to have rights, it must have reasons for existence - do plants have their own reason for existence? Our reason for their existence is for oxygen and food - but do they have reasons of their own?
  • deep ecology is arguably misanthropic (human-hating) and discourages a growing population 
    • however, deep ecologists would argue that by decreasing the population, the value of each individual increases
  • if followed to the extreme, deep ecology could lead to the destruction of the human race
    • this is a stupid weakness - attack it in an exam for being hyperbolic/far-fetched
  • Earth summits such as Kyoto have proved not to be very effective, raising questions about the practicality of Sessions's 8-point manifesto

Shallow Ecology

Shallow ecology is a little more anthropocentric. Shallow ecologists argue that the environment is a means for human flourishing; however, they accept that the environment provides happiness and benefits humanity, so it must be preserved. 

Animals and plants have instrumental value alone - that is to say their only value is to help humanity flourish. This is the main reason why Peter Singer isn't necessarily a shallow ecologist (he describes himself as in-between deep and shallow); Singer, as a benefit utilitarian, argues that animals have intrinsic value.

Shallow ecologists argue that something is only valuable if we perceive it to be so. 

Kant may have an issue with shallow ecology; he may argue that using the environment as a means for human flourishing is an example of using means to an end.

Peter Singer

Singer has a lot to say on the environment, but deserves his own section seeing as he doesn't properly fit into either deep or shallow ecology...

As he rattles on about in AS ethics, Singer is against speciesism because
"speciesism draws an arbitrary line."
He cites the example of animal experimentation for cosmetics etc. and argues that animals suffer pain for relatively small human benefit.

He uses the example of an antelope and human caught in a trap. If you're walking in the woods with your close friend, Singer supposes, and your friend gets caught in an animal trap, you would obviously go to help him/her. However, if you notice there is also a nearby antelope caught in the trap, who should you help? Many of us would be inclined to help our friend, but Singer would free the antelope first. He argues that humans can reason, so you'd be able to reassure your friend you're going to help them first, whereas the antelope cannot reason and so would arguably suffer more pain as a sentient being.

He simply sums up his beliefs in an easy-to-remember quote:
"I don't think ethics is only for humans."
Rather than being anthropocentric, it is perhaps more accurate to describe Singer as sentient being centred.

Singer also criticises the Christian approach towards the environment. He argues that the concept of dominion has harmed the world significantly, but does not criticise the later view of stewardship.

Singer is also up for preserving wilderness so long as it maximises human welfare.


There are several different Christian views on the environment...

St. Francis of Assisi spoke of creation spirituality - the notion that we are at one with nature. Francis felt so at one with nature that he referred to the moon as 'sister' and the sun as 'brother'. He loved nature that much he even spoke to trees (apparently they get quite lonely).

Matthew Fox is similar, and argues for panentheism. Panentheism is the belief that God is within everything. When anything alters, Fox argues, God also alters.

Fox criticised Augustine's views on natural evil and states that the suffering of nature is present because mankind is alienated from nature.

In order to breach the gap between humanity and nature, Fox said we should 'befriend' nature and treat it as a gift. He also said we should befriend darkness, by which he meant non-human pain - the pain of animals, plants and the earth. He also urged us to befriend the divine potential within ourselves.

Osborne argued that we need to "de-divine" nature and take God out of it as a concept. He advocated dominion but stated that dominion isn't the same as domination. Osborne believed mankind should have a covenant (contract) with nature.

He also spoke of concurrence: the belief that God works with every event without compromising human freedom. He deduced that we should participate with God in the development of the natural world.

Biblical views

Obviously this comes under Christian views - it just helps to separate the two.

The conflict between dominion (power over nature) and stewardship (care for nature) is often an issue with Biblical readings.

An example of stewardship is the notion of Adam and Eve being made to look after Eden in Genesis. However, the act of God naming the animals and giving plants for food suggests dominion is a more apt approach. It's fair to say that nowadays stewardship is more common, whereas hundreds of years ago dominion was favoured. Many Christians urge for a balance between the two.

The Church of England states that we should do the following to help the environment:

  • be economic in our use of energy resources
  • control damage done to flora and fauna (plants and animals)
  • minimise population (a similarity to deep ecology) in order to reach sustainable harmony
A more bizarre Biblical theory on the environment is Rapture Theology - the belief that if Jesus will rise again and the world will be destroyed, it's pointless worrying about the environment. Probably the laziest religious theory out there.

Kantian ethics

Kant has made his views quite clear, saying

"animals are there merely as a means to an end."
We should, of course, treat everything as an end in itself. This also applies to humans destroying the environment for our own benefit - Kant wouldn't agree.

Similarly, modern Kantian Stephen Clark argues that respect for humans should be extended to respecting animals too.


Singer's benefit utilitarian views have already been covered, and form the main bulk of how you can discuss utilitarianism and the environment.

Act utiliarian Jeremy Bentham challenges the suffering of animals, asking
"not can they reason, nor can they talk but can they suffer?"
Utilitarian professor Steven Rose also criticises head transplantation, bluntly stating
"I cannot see any medical grounds for doing this."

Natural Law

Aquinas simply doesn't care. The following quotes pretty much sum up his whole argument:
"it matters not how man behaves to animals."
"the life of animals and plants is preserved not for themselves but for men."

Virtue ethics

Virtue ethics, being agent-centred, often takes the shallow ecology view.

Aristotle could be described as being something of a shallow ecologist and sees the value of animals as instrumental alone, stating
"natures has made all animals for the sake of men."


Environmental ethics often goes hand-in-hand with business ethics, and there have been exam questions on the two together before.

Mentioning earth summits, sustainability and corporate social responsibility are good ideas. Examples from the business side of the course may come in handy, such as the leakages in the Bhopal river. You can also bring in how virtue ethics/Christian/Kantian/utilitarian approaches to business may affect the environment.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

A2 Religious Studies: Conscience

Before talking about the main four people to do with conscience (Aquinas, Butler, Freud & Newman), I'll get the following quotes out of the way because they don't necessarily fit anywhere else.

"Conscience doesn't keep you from doing anything wrong; just from enjoying it"
That's a quote by King Stanislas I. Exam-wise, this quote could be used to support the theory that conscience is almost Freudian; we know we shouldn't always carry it out due to social norms, yet secretly we sort of want to - the conscience acts as a sort of moral barrier.

"Individual conscience must have the final word"
Peter Vardy is arguing a point similar to Butler's - that we should always follow our conscience.

"A good conscience is an invention of the devil"
This quote was originally from Schweitzer, but Fletcher once quoted it and argued that, in true Situation Ethics style, conscience tells us the loving thing to do.


Obviously, the Bible states that conscience is God-given and that through conscience we all have the ability to work out right from wrong. By following our conscience, we are following the Divine Law.

In Romans, the law is referred to as being

"written on the hearts of men"
 This suggests that law needn't be written down (and isn't for the Gentiles) because people know right from wrong naturally.

There is, however, a huge problem here not just with Biblical teachings but many religious teachings in general when it comes to conscience. Whose conscience should be followed? A conflict of conscience can be a huge issue in the real world, suggesting that perhaps it should not always be followed.

For example, if the child of two Jehovah's Witnesses was in desperate need of a blood transfusion and a doctor was able to override the decision of the parents, whose conscience should be followed? Who is right?


Aquinas called the conscience

"The faculty of reason making moral decisions"
and, like many Christians, described it as the natural ability to see the difference between good and bad. He also, arguably naively, said that everyone aims to be good and to avoid evil.

Automatically there are two huge weaknesses:

  • how do we define 'good'? Is it really objective?
  • do all people really aim to be good? 
Aquinas states that we're not born inherently knowing the difference between right and wrong. He describes conscience as a device that allows us to do such a thing. The device, of course, comes from God.

Aquinas said that we aim to do good by using our reasoning - if we use our reasoning correctly, we will gradually come to know what is good. He then introduced the concept of synderesis. He defined synderesis as our constant repetition of the use of right reason.

Thinking of synderesis as a library of reason can be easier. If you think of synderesis as a library, it's empty when you're born. As you grow up and practise reason continuously, the synderesis library slowly fills up with books, until you know all the books in the library off by heart.

Synderesis, Aquinas says, is just one part of what conscience is. The other is conscientia, which is basically the application of synderesis to ethical issues. It's one thing to have a library full of books you know, but it's another to be able to talk about those books in an exam when they're not in front of you. That's conscientia - the application of the library to real life problems.

The synderesis library is what informs the conscientia, which comes together to create the conscience.

However, Aquinas is fair here and acknowledges that people do - and will - make mistakes. Some people may make mistakes intentionally (explained later) but Aquinas also accepted that people will make mistakes accidentally, such as

  1. making a mistake on the path from synderesis to conscientia
  2. incorrect use of synderesis
With 2, Aquinas argues that even if people do the wrong thing, they are still sort of following their conscience. Their conscience is wrong, yes, but they are following what it tells them.

Aquinas uses this to explain why people do bad things; many of them appear to be following their conscience and that is because their conscience has made a mistake. Or that person may be deliberately ignoring their conscience, which is going against the Divine Law and basically ignoring God - which Aquinas obviously wouldn't be happy about.

However, although we make mistakes from time to time (Who doesn't? Aquinas, apparently), Aquinas still maintains that

"it is always right to follow your conscience."
This is because the conscience is the best thing we've got when it comes to making moral decisions. It isn't flawless but it is far superior to anything else we could use, so we should always utilise it despite the small risk of something going a bit wrong. Plus it's God-given, so Aquinas would argue you sort of have to follow it, otherwise God won't be impressed.


Also a Christian, Butler refers to conscience as

"our natural guide"
and a
"principle of reflection."
Like Aquinas, he states that conscience is the final moral decision maker and comes from God. He also agrees with Aquinas that it should always be followed.

Butler also refers to conscience manifesting itself as

"approval and disapproval of actions... this principle in man is conscience."
He likes talking about principles and reflection. What Butler means is that the fact we reflect on our own behaviour shows the existence of conscience. This is arguably a strength of Butler's argument because it's concurrent with humanity - we do reflect on our decisions, and so Butler's point may appeal to many people.

Butler states that the conscience is automatic and unconscious, saying it

"magisterially exerts itself without being consulted."
It is powerful and happens without our permission; we can't tell our conscience to shut up, and it may nag at us for a long time after we've done something wrong.

Like Aquinas, Butler said that following your conscience is following the Divine Law. Conscience is the perfect balance between benevolence and self-love (which, he argues, are inherent in all humans). Beneath benevolence and self-love lie our drives: our passions and desires which we can't control but can hold off.

Butler states that the conscience is so powerful that if it could, it would

"absolutely govern the world"
He said that conscience judges the rightness and wrongness of an action or thought irrespective of what we want to think. Because it comes from God, it doesn't consider our desires and seeks only what is good. It can only tell us what to do, though - it doesn't have the power to force us to act in one way or another otherwise free will would be out of the question.

The biggest difference between Butler and Aquinas is that Butler argues our conscience doesn't make mistakes and is completely flawless.  Because there is no human input (unlike Aquinas's definition, whereby by take the tool of reason and chisel it to form a conscience), the conscience cannot be wrong in any way.

The only way evil is done is if people actively choose to ignore the conscience. Butler said this was a wicked act, and even said that disobeying conscience is morally worse than the act in which conscience is ignored.

To rephrase that with an example, if a paedophile abused a child, Butler would argue that the paedophile disobeying his conscience is a worse crime than him/her abusing the child. From the perspective of a human in the 21st century, this can of course be heavily criticised.


Freud is quite different to the first two, and rejects the idea of conscience being God-given. Freud said that the conscience is socially/psychologically created in order to stop ourselves from carrying out our base desires. Because society restricts us from doing certain things, the conscience is created to control any weird desires people may have.

Freud rejected the idea of a soul and said we can feel the conscience through guilt.

"Dreams are the road to the unconscious mind."
The unconscious mind, Freud states, is where our desires are.

He splits the conscience up into three parts:

  1. Super Ego - a blank slate at birth which has moral commands and restrictions written upon it by others as we grow up and learn to understand the world. Influences include parents and peers
  2. Id/physical needs - the place in our minds that deals with passions and desires
  3. Ego - the balance of the two, a moral moderator, the messenger between two extremes. The ego aims to satisfy the id in a way which appeals to the social norms as dictated by the super ego
Unlike Aquinas, Freud rejects reason and accepts that using the conscience isn't rational by any means. This is a good point to attack if asked whether we should trust our conscience; if Freud says the conscience isn't rational, surely there must be a better option.

Instead of putting forward the idea of an objective, God-given conscience, Freud argues that consciences are subjective and individual, which accounts for the cultural problem that Aquinas and Butler face. 


Similar to Butler in many ways, Newman describes the conscience as a

"messenger from God"
Newman argues that the conscience is literally God's word. He says that it detects but does not invent (whereas Aquinas says the conscience invents).

Newman took influence from Augustine. Augustine said the conscience was like God whispering to us - not shouting or ordering, just whispering and guiding. Augustine said

"Return to your conscience (...), see God as your witness."
Newman, like Butler, gave an example of how the conscience manifests itself:

"If we are frightened at transgressing the voice of conscience, this implies there is One to whom we are responsible."
He also said this memorable quote:

"I salute the Pope, but I salute conscience first."


Piaget says that there are two types of conscience:

  1. Immature conscience (ages 5-10)
  2. Mature conscience (ages 11+)
The immature conscience, he says, is to do with the guilty feelings which come with discipline when we are children. It has little to do with the rational importance of an action, for all we do is seek the approval of others. It is consequentialist and Piaget refers to it as heteronomous morality.

The mature conscience, though, is outward-looking. It challenges and questions things and we form our own rules. This, Piaget says, is a more autonomous morality


The selection of people discussed here are not necessary for the exam, but may be helpful for certain questions. Also, a good name-drop does no harm.


Kohlberg agrees with Piaget, and notes six stages of moral development that must be followed in sequence to fashion one's conscience:

  1. we are told what to do
  2. we aim to seek approval
  3. we aim to keep the law intact
  4. we aim to care for others
  5. we aim to respect universal principles
  6. we aim to respect the demands of an individual conscience

Fromm had two ideas concerning conscience. Firstly, he spoke of the authoritarian conscience. This refers to consciences ruled by external authorities which, if you disobey, will punish you and result in a guilty conscience. So a year 7 at LSST may feel guilty because they wore black gloves instead of navy gloves - however they only have a guilty conscience because the authoritarian status of the school demands them to feel guilty, when we all in fact know that it's nothing to feel guilty about because it's not important, and is just a way for the school to make itself feel powerful.

Fromm says that God may be the example of an authoritarian figure - if we disobey Him, we feel guilty. He gives the example of Nazi Germany, whereby consciences were manipulated to make many Germans feel guilty if they helped the Jews.

Later, Fromm took on a more humanistic approach, whereby he said the conscience assesses our success and leads us to realise our full potential. He said that experience gives us moral honesty.

 Timothy O'Connell

O'Connell says that the conscience works on three levels:

  1. our sense of responsibility for who we are and what we become
  2. our obligation to do what is good
  3. the concrete judgement we make to ensure good is achieved
O'Connell says that step 3 is infallible and must be followed, but he accepts that people will disagree with step 3 regarding what is good, and so states that at step 2 wrong judgements may be made. O'Connell states that morals are found through experience, not any internal or external law(s).

Daniel Maguire

Maguire agrees with O'Connell, and adds that conscience is also shaped by experiences and culture. He also accepts that some of our values can be shaped by loss, tragedy and imagination.

Vernon Ruland

Ruland tries to find a 'via media' (middle road) between rationalism and Divine Command. He views a moral decision as a reflection of 

"ethics of loyal scrutiny"
which is enriched by many sources of moral and religious wisdom. It is not exclusive to Christianity, however; conscience is the interpretation of the voice of a God.

Vincent MacNamara

MacNamara is probably the best of the modern day ethicists to talk about in an exam. He says the conscience is not a voice, as Newman argues, but an attitude. He criticises Aquinas for referring to it as a 'faculty' we possess.

Life is a moral path, MacNamara says, and it is up to us how we follow it. The attitude of our conscience shouldn't revolve around pleasure and profit. His belief is arguably quite similar to a virtue ethics approach, and he says that

"It is not so much that I have a conscience as that I am a conscience"
Richard Gula

Gula says it is misleading to view conscience as a series of laws. He said that communities which influence how we see the world determine how our conscience works.



A2 Religious Studies: Sexual Ethics

This is a revision thing - if you don't study Religious Studies at A2 Level then this won't apply to you. I'm sorry if you were expecting a lengthy post debating various sexual issues. That is kind of what you're getting, just with more quotes and noxious opinions...



The Bible is quite straightforward and you can sum up the main Biblical views with a few quotes:

"Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable."
"[homosexuals are] sexually immoral"
"they will not inherit the kingdom of God"
"a perversion"
They don't hold much back, bless them. Christians who take the Bible literally and use it as a pocket-sized moral handbook will often cite events such as the destruction of Sodom in Genesis as punishment for homosexuality.

However, it would of course be narrow-minded and simply wrong to argue that all Christians think this way, even if they take the Bible more literally than many of us would like. A Christian homosexual group have actually responded to several of the above quotes with reasons why the Bible doesn't condone homosexuality - this is thanks, they say, to the multitude of interpretations one can take from the Bible. So for instance,

"Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable"

could be interpreted to attack the culture at the time, whereby male prostitutes were used frequently. The group argues that homosexual relationships must be loving, and that the Bible is only knocking the use of male prostitutes, not homosexuality in its own right.

Furthermore, in several passages often quoted to show the hateful views of the Bible, the group responds by saying that every homosexual relationship condemned is abusive. No loving homosexual relationships are attacked; therefore the Bible arguably has no outright problem with homosexuality, only the way it is expressed: abusively or without love/commitment.

A good name to mention when discussing Christian homosexuals is the Canadian homosexual Bishop Spong, who emphasises the loving v. abusive interpretations of the Bible.

The problems with the Biblical view on homosexuality are quite easy:

  • not applicable to atheists
  • no empirical evidence to suggest a homophobic God in the first place
  • the Bible is an outdated document written in an outdated time - humanity has moved on
  • different interpretations of the Bible
  • subjectivity/conflicting ideas of what love is

Sex and marriage

The main Christian views on sex and marriage can be split into three periods of time:

1) Early Christian views:

Philo referred to women as "instruments of evil" who corrupt men. Without women, he said, men would be rational creatures. We'd be dead before the whole rational thing, but he doesn't seem to expand on that much.

Augustine said that the purpose of marriage is to procreate, not to be friends. Just whip your clothes off and get it done, Augustine suggests. He actually suggests that, if it were possible, two males would have made a better partnership in terms of procreation.

Sex outside marriage = evil.

2) Middle Ages

Sex and prayers are a bad mix, so sex on holy days was strictly forbidden.

Aquinas stated that the purpose of marriage is to procreate whilst allowing lust (but just a little bit). He also kindly referred to women as defective males because they are subservient to men and they are passive in the sexual act. Great guy.

3) Modern Christian views

Marriage is about love, honour and (optional) obedience. Remain faithful and your fine.

It does no harm to quote the age-old line "til death us do part".

As ever, sex outside marriage is wrong. Sex should also stay part of the emotional and personal commitment that marriage entails - the two shouldn't be separate.

When choosing a partner, Christianity often highlights the importance of permanence (the idea of a permanent companion for life). Permanence is followed by making a covenant (consensual contract). Marriage is a gift from God, and nothing less.

Marx called marriage slavery, and Engels went one further and called it

"concealed domestic slavery"
Engels even called it prostitution. He really hated it.

In terms of Biblical views, Florenza explores the conflicting attitudes of Jesus and Paul in the New Testament. Jesus teaches of equality and aims to free women from oppression. The introduction of the Church, Florenza says, sees Paul institutionalising women at a lower status than men, which criticises the hypocrisy and conflicting morals of the Bible.

Anthony Harvey says that in terms of Biblical teaching we should remove the absolute and look at the important things Jesus taught, such as love and compassion (this can also be used for a situation ethics-based argument).

Divorce and remarriage

A vow cannot be broken, and so many Christians would object to divorce. Because marriage is an eternal bond, remarriage may be viewed as spiritual adultery.

Certain Christians, however, argue that it is not adultery if the reasons for the original divorce were due to the adulterous activities of somebody.

Nowadays though, the usual CoE and situation ethics approach is that if remarriage is a loving option, it's acceptable.



Unbelievably, Aquinas doesn't like homosexuals (which I'm sure they'll be gutted to hear). He outright states that any sexual act that couldn't result in pregnancy is wrong. After all, God created sexual organs in order to fulfil one of the primary precepts (reproduction).

So, following on from this, contraception, rape, homosexuality, prostitution and masturbation are all wrong.

One of Aquinas's biggest problems, not just with sexual ethics but with most ethical issues, is the topic of conflicting precepts. It's a major knock to his theory. If you use the example of homosexual adoption you are pitting two precepts against one another: rejection of reproduction but upholding an ordered society. So which is right? What do you do? If an exam question asks how useful/relevant/helpful/other-buzz-word religious ethics is as an approach to sexual ethics, you can bring this up and make Aquinas look stupid, which is a great feeling.

The other problem surrounding Aquinas's view is that Dean Haemer argues that there may be over five million separate genes that come together in the human body to influence sexuality which may be a potential biological explanation of homosexuality. This severely knocks Aquinas's argument that homosexuality isn't natural - what if it is to some people? However if you're ever supporting Aquinas in an exam (God help you (pun unintended)) you can argue back at Haemer saying that a) there is no empirical evidence set in stone and b) Aquinas's argument was made hundreds of years ago, and to attack it with modern science is unfair.


Most of Aquinas's views in the 'Christianity' section on marriage are applicable here. The purpose of marriage is to procreate (primary precept of reproduction), and sex outside marriage is wrong.

Then all the usual stuff with Aquinas being sexist, which is all old news.

You can also bring up the following problems:

  • Natural Law gives no flexibility
  • there isn't necessarily one single human nature
  • no use to atheists
  • outdated theory and values



Kant hates it too! Among other things, he says this about homosexuals:

"a slave to their passions"
"beneath the beasts"
"no longer deserves to be a person"

If Kant takes the 'end' to be the continuation of humanity, homosexuality blatantly disregards such a purpose.

Such a statement can be rebutted in two ways:

  • Surrogacy and adoption are alternatives - surely this erases the problem? 
    • Kant would say no - surrogacy and adoption aren't universalisable
  • Who says reproduction is the 'end'? Can't love be the end?
If the end purpose of humanity is to love, homosexuality is acceptable and should be treated just like heterosexuality. Who is Kant to decide what our purpose is? There isn't even any empirical evidence to suggest a purpose. 

'It is always right to love someone in a consenting relationship' seems like a fair maxim which is universalisable. Unluckily for Kant, this allows homosexuality. Kantian ethics seems a bit conflicted here, and virtue ethicist MacIntyre argues that anybody can universalise anything for their own situation.


Kant states that in marriage there is a sense of ownership. Kant really seems to hate sex, but refers to it as

"a necessary evil"
in the case of marriage, which is decent of him. He allows it in marriage because marriage is the

"unity of the will"
A big problem with Kant's view on marriage - aside from the others which are concurrent throughout application of Kantian ethics - is the sense of whether we really are all equal. Kantian ethics is supposed to be egalitarian, but in the case of domestic violence, for example, are both man and woman still equal? Modern society may argue that they are not.



Utilitarianism appears to take a slightly different approach - in general, if homosexuality makes more people happy, it is acceptable.

However, there is an immediate problem. Most people in the United Kingdom have no problem with homosexuality. That's fine for us. But in, say, Iran, that isn't the case. Two completely different countries have different views on homosexuality. So who do we include in 'the greatest number'? Do we waltz around asking everyone what they think of homosexuality to conduct a huge poll? It certainly doesn't seem practical...

Bentham (act util) would argue that homosexuality is acceptable because it presents little or no harm - of course if pain outweighs pleasure, it's not okay. 

Mill (rule util) said in On Liberty that

"[we should not] attempt to deprive others of theirs or impede their efforts to obtain it."

He's talking about freedom of choice, and respects that sexuality is quite a personal thing and highlights the importance of  choice.

However, with Mill there's always the line between higher and lower pleasures. While love is included as a higher pleasure, sexual acts - pleasures of the body - would be seen as low pleasures. So homosexuality could be acceptable in Mill's eyes - so long as higher pleasures such as genuine love are upheld.


Utilitarianism says what you'd expect - greatest happiness for the greatest number.

In terms of divorce, util would argue it is acceptable because it usually brings about more happiness. Following on from that, bigamy and polygamy are also acceptable because they make more people (in some cases many more people) happy.


This mostly deals with Philippa Taylor's view on cohabitation from the perspective of a Christian utilitarian. It is VERY easy to criticise in an exam and does not account for the general utilitarian view on cohabitation even though it can be argued as a utilitarian point.

Taylor says the following on cohabitation:

  • you are six times more likely to break up if you cohabit before marriage - it inflicts more pain than pleasure
  • cohabitation leads to a greater fear of rejection
  • there is a higher rate of alcoholism and pregnant women smoking in cohabiting relationships
  • a higher rate of suicide among men
  • a higher rate of abortions
  • a higher rate of STDs
  • a higher rate of cancer
Yes, the last one is genuine. You can attack these Daily-Mail-esque points very easily.


Is prostitution acceptable? It provides pleasure for the person paying the prostitute but the pleasure is brief. The prostitute may be in such a position because he/she is trying to make a living as best they can in order to feed their children etc. - happiness is therefore possibly not achieved through prostitution, yet visiting a prostitute may lead to money being used to make more people happy. It's tricky, and you can argue that because of dilemmas like this util is a bad approach to sexual ethics.



As an agent-centred ethic, virtue ethics asks how we should be virtuous when it comes to sexual issues. There isn't necessarily a right or wrong with virtue ethics (or is there? That's another debate) because it's all about becoming virtuous and following those who display virtuous characteristics.

The virtue of commitment can apply to homosexuality just as it can to heterosexuality; so long as you're in a committed relationship, you're being virtuous.

However, do we all work towards the same goal? Is homosexuality technically virtuous? Some would say not. Some may say it's a vice of excess or deficiency; the problem, as usual, with virtue ethics here is that these things are subjective. In one country it may be virtuous, in another, less so.


In terms of marriage, Michael Slote emphasises the importance of care. Caring committed relationships appear best manifested in marriage. Slote says we should care for ourselves, for those near us and for people in general.

Aristotle, however, said that virtues are only accessible to men, which draws a risky line down the whole equal caring relationship thing. It can be argued, though, that modern VE approaches are better suited considering Aristotle's long gone.


Pornography and prostitution are wrong because they do not entail the virtues of care or commitment.