Chapter 06



A. Chapter Summary and Goals
B. Discussion Text

6.A. Are Moral Values Objective?
6.B. Can Human Conduct be Selfless?
6.C. Reason and Moral Judgments
6.D. Gender and Morality
6.E. Virtues
6.F. Duties
6.G. Pleasure and Consequences

C. Discussion and Essay Questions
D. Topical Links, Web Links and Activities
E. Self-Test Questions and Answers
F. Suggestions for Further Reading

A. Chapter Summary and Goals

Summary: Philosophical ethics has usually consisted in attempts to pin down the sources or grounds of morality, and to establish general standards for moral conduct. Some philosophers have argued that the grounds can be found in objective, absolute and universal standards, such as the Platonic forms. Moral relativists, on the other hand, have argued that moral values are merely human creations, and usually vary from community to community. Other questions about the source or grounds of morality are more psychological in nature. We might ask whether people are psychologically capable of performing selfless actions; altruists say that we are, and egoists say that we aren't. We might ask whether moral assessments are, psychologically speaking, rational judgments or expressions of feelings. We also might ask whether there are uniquely male and female ways of approaching moral issues that are grounded in basic psychological differences between men and women. There are three particularly influential general moral or ethical theories. First, championed by Aristotle, is the view that the central ethical concept is that of virtue. We become good people and achieve happiness by developing virtues and avoiding vices. Second, duty theory maintains that morality is grounded in foundational rules of obligation intuited by reason. Kant argued that all particular duties are derived from a single principle, the categorical imperative - a command issuing from human reason mandating that we act respectfully towards people. Third, a consequentialist tradition maintains that morality is grounded in the consequences of our actions - particularly their pleasing vs. painful consequences.


  • Understand the conflict between moral objectivism and moral relativism
  • Understand the conflict between egoism and altruism
  • Understand the conflict between reason and emotion in moral judgments
  • Understand the issues surrounding gender and morality
  • Understand virtue theory
  • Understand duty theory
  • Understand moral theories of pleasure and consequences

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