Ethical Principles Notes

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Ethical Principles Notes

There are many ethical principles.

e.g. a woman has a right to control what happens to her body

we should respect life

we should do no harm to others

we should help others

there should be justice in the distribution of resources

Some principles are more general than others. So some principles are special cases of more general ones. For instance, the right to control what happens to one's body is a special case of the principle of autonomy, the right to control one's own life.

Hébert identifies 3 main general principles:

Autonomy, Beneficence, and Justice.

There may be other principles which are not special cases of these, e.g. respecting life.

We can generally all agree to general principles, such as autonomy and beneficence. The disagreement comes over cases where the principles conflict, e.g., in abortion right, autonomy conflicts with beneficence.

If a principle covers a case, it creates a duty.

For example, it a person wishes to do something you disagree with, you have a duty to respect her autonomy.

However, duties can be divided into two kinds:

"Prima facie" and "Absolute"

A prima facie duty is something you should do if there are no stronger reasons for doing something different. Prima facie duties can be trumped by other moral considerations.

An absolute duty is something you should do no matter what. Nothing can trump an absolute duty. (There is some dispute about whether any absolute duties exist.)

Rights and Duties

If a person has a right to X, then she must get X (other things being equal.)

If a person has a duty to do Y, then she must do Y (other things being equal).

Not all right and wrong can be expressed in terms of rights or duties.

But some good actions are not duties. Someone can go above and beyond the call of duty. I can be kind to someone I don't like even though I may have no moral duty to do so.

The fact that a person has a right to do Y does not mean that Y is good.
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