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Major Theories in Professional ETHICS

By: Haseeb Jamal / On: Jun 10, 2017 / Theories
  1. What is Ethics?
  2. Origin and Nature of Ethics
  3. Major Theories
    1. Utilitarianism
    2. Kantism
    3. Islamic approach to ethics
    4. Social cognition and moral development.

Every human relationship is governed by two considerations; what in fact exists, and what in fact ought to be. Every social group prescribes explicitly or implicitly, for its members, certain rules that ought to be observed by them. For instance, family prescribes that the child ought to obey his/her parents. Husbands and wives ought to be faithful to to one another, School / college / university prescribes that the students should abide by the rules of the institution, and respect their teachers. The state prescribes that politicians and other officials ought to treat their positions as a public trust. These rules or codes of conduct are admitted at large by the community, and are arrived at by man in the course of living. They are concerned with right and wrong and constitute what we call ethics or morality.

Academically ethics could be defined as the study of what is morally right and what is wrong. It concerns itself with discovering a system one may use to determine what and who is right and good. The source or origin of such codes of conduct or guidelines may be found in the concept of "rights and duties". Religion, traditions and customs also help in their evolution.

The pursuit of moral knowledge dates bake to ancient Greek philosophers, but it is mostly the influence of the enlightenment moral thought (the philosophical movement that occurred in Europe in the 18th century, in which reason and individualism came to be emphasized at the expense of tradition), that continues to shape ethics today. There are many well known figures in the history of ethics, including Plato and Aristotle; however some of the most important modern influence includes such names Immanuel Kant, Jermy Benthemn, John Stuart Mill, C.L Stevenson, Macintyre and d

There is a large family of ethical theories. However some of the most influential stories include Utilitarianism, Deontologiacal ethics and Modernist and post modernist approaches.

These theories are discussed in detail below:


"All actions are for the sake of the end " John Stuart Mill.

Utilitarianism is part of a large ---- of ethical theories called "Consequentialism". Consequentialism is the view that whether an act is morally right or wrong is determined directly or indirectly by the consequences of the act and not by its intrinsic features of the doing of the act.

Utilitarianism was a social reform movement and ethical theory, which held that morality of an act should be judged solely on the basis of the results. According to Utilitarianism "Utility" is the only intrinsic good. Actions and precedents are judged morally right or wrong in proportion to their propensity to produce the most happiness or pleasure, for the greatest number.

Jermy Bentham and John Stuart Mill are the prominent exponents of this approach, The details of their theories are given below:

Jermy Bentham (1748-1832):

Jermy Bentham believed that utility could be measured quantitatively (he called it hedonistic calculus), To him seeking happiness is an inherent part of human nature, and that happiness could be measured as a matter of quantity. Each person is his/her own judge when it comes to happiness, but when it comes to the greatest happiness (he called it felicity), a person can really only be happy if others around him/her are happy too. This is known as the greatest happiness principle.

It depends upon the circumstances, upon the community in which one happens to be, upon how people seek to maximize harmony and comfort and happiness with friends and neighbors. Jermy Bentham devised the Hedonistic Calculus, which has the following components.

  • INTENSITY: The force value of some happiness

  • DURATION: The length of time some happiness provides

  • CERTAINTY: The chance that some action will lead to happiness

  • PROPINQUITY: 1 low close are the circumstances

  • FECUNDITY: How much of a "spill over1' effect some happiness has or will more of the same follow

  • PURITY: How less are or no negative "side effects11 from some happiness or the pleasure will not be followed by pain.

  • EXTENT: The number of people effected by the'pursuit of happiness

Bentham believed that the pursuit of pleasure could be measured in quantitative. terms. He argued that its some times best to sacrifice individuals for the good of the organization.

However like the first, here also it is possible to generate "unjust rules" according to the Principle of Utility. For example slavery in Greece might be right if it led to an overall achievement of cultivated happiness at the expense of some mistreated individuals.

Criticism of Utilitarianism:

  1. Hedonism lowers the value of human life lo the extent of animals.

  2. Not all pleasures are valuable, for instance there is no value in the pleasures of a sadist while whipping a victim.

  3. Not only pleasures are intrinsically valuable, because other things are valuable independently of whether they lead to pleasures or avoid pain. For instance freedom seems valuable even when it creates anxiety and even when it is freedom to do something that one does not want to do (such as leave one's country). Again, many people value knowledge regardless of whether this knowledge will create pleasures or avoid pain.

  4. Hedonism over looks the vale of real friendship, knowledge, and achievement,

Deontological Ethics

"Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law " Immanuel Kant

Deontological philosophy holds that rules are the basis of morality. Kant rejected the consequentialist view of morality, because lo him it relies too heavily on subjective considerations. He presented the deontological moral system based on the demands of the categorical imperatives as an alternative to consequentialism, based on hypothetical imperative.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804):

Kant was a German philosopher. He is regarded as one of the most influential thinker of modern Europe, and the last major philosopher of the Enlightenment. Kant introduced his moral philosophy in his 1785's work "Groundwork of metaphysics'" and continued to develop his moral philosophy. It is his "Critique of practical reason", 1788, and "Metaphysics of Morals", 1797 that sum up his moral philosophy.

Before going into discussion of Kant's moral philosophy we need to understand some terminology. These are:

Hypothetical Imperative: One, which tells us what We must do if we want to achieve some goal. For instance, if we want to solve differential equations we must learn calculus. (Proposition, that's conditional in nature)

Categorical Imperative: One that is binding on us absolutely, simply in virtue of the fact that we are rational creatures.

Kant's Moral philosophy:

Kant believed that there is a single irforal obligation, which he called the "categorical imperative", and is derived from the concept of duty. It is from the categorical imperative that all other moral obligations are generated and by which all moral obligations can be tested, lie believed that the moral law is a principle of reason itself and is not based on contingent facts about world, such as what would make us happy, but to act upon the moral law, which has no other motive than "worthiness of being happy", lie believed that moral obligation applies to all and only rational agents. A categorical imperative is an unconditional obligation; that is it has the force of an obligation regardless of our. will or desire. Kant argued that the source of the. good lies not in anything outside the human subject, either in nature or given by God, but rather only the good will itself. A good will is one that acts from duty in accordance with the universal moral law that the autonomous human being freely gives itself. This law obliges one to treat humanity- understood as rational agency, and represented through oneself as well as others--- as an end in itself rather than as means. Morality is rooted in human freedom and acting autonomously is to act according to rational moral principles. \\.\\\\ gave three conditions essential to his concept of morality. Theses are also known as the formulation of morality. They are WE The first formulation declares "the maxim he chosen as though they should hold as universal laws of nature". This implies that one must perform his actions in such a way as that could he applied universally; This formulation has its supreme law "always act according to that maxim whose universality as a law you can act the same tune will" and is the only condition under which a will e;m never conic .into conflict with ilscir,,."ll is also called universality (est It has the following steps

1) l;ind the agent's maxim.

The maxim is an action paired with its motivation for instance: "Til lie for personal benefits", lying is the action, the motivation % . . . is to get what one desire. Paired together they form the maxim.

2) Imagine a possible world m which every one in a similar position lo the real world agent follows Ilia! ni.ixmi

3)Decide whether any contradictions arise in the possible world as a result of following the maxim.

4) If a contradiction arises, acting on that maxim is not allowed in the real world. 5) If there is no contradiction, then acting on that, maxim is permissible, and in some instances required. , . VJ-PE SECOMD. FOWVLJlttOW "l.:.vcry human being is an end in. itself The rational being as by its nature as an end, and thus as an end in itself must serve in every maxim as the condition restricting all merely relative and arbitrary ends". It is a synthesis of the first two and the basis for the complete determination 'of all maxims. It says that every rational being is a realm (kingdom), the legislative force, and also the subject in himself. Thus all maxims, which stem from autonomous legislation, ought to harmonize with a possible realm of ends as with a realm of nature. "So act as if your maxims should serve at the same time as the universal law (of all rational beings), implies that we should so act that we may think -of ourselves as " a member in the universal realm of ends".

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