Online Guide to Ethics and Moral Philosophy

Robert Cavalier

Philosophy Department
Carnegie Mellon

Part I History of Ethics

Preface: The Life of Socrates
Section 1: Greek Moral Philosophy
Section 2: Hellenistic and Roman Ethics
Section 3: Early Christian Ethics
Section 4: Modern Moral Philosophy
Section 5: 20th Century Analytic Moral Philosophy

Part II Concepts and Problems

Preface: Meta-ethics, Normative Ethics and Applied Ethics
Section 1: Ethical Relativism
Section 2: Ethical Egoism
Section 3: Utilitarian Theories
Section 4: Deontological Theories
Section 5: Virtue Ethics
Section 6: Liberal Rights and Communitarian Theories
Section 7: Ethics of Care
Section 8: Case-based Moral Reasoning
Section 9: Moral Pluralism

Part III Applied Ethics

Preface: The Field of Applied Ethics
Section 1: The Topic of Euthanasia
Multimedia Module: A Right to Die? The Dax Cowart Case
Section 2: The Topic of Abortion
Multimedia Module: The Issue of Abortion in America
Postscript: Conflict Resolution

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Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679)

Hobbes's life span of 90 some years brought him into contact with many of the great people and historical events of the 17th Century. Educated at Oxford, he became known in the political circles of both England and the Continent. In Italy he met Galileo and in England he was a friend of Bacon, Lord Chancellor. His enthusiasm for the New Science and his concern with the horrible effects of religious and civil war, led him to formulate a unique approach to both ethics and the "science of politics."

Links the `laws of motion' to the actions of man

'Knowing' and 'willing' are merely the appearances of subtle motions

What 'moves us' are desires and aversions and the force behind these is self-preservation

Self-interest prescribes that we avoid the 'beastly, brutal, and short' state of nature and seek a peaceful co-existence

'Peace' is achieved when we transfer our collective strength to a sovereign authority (a Leviathan)

The social contract with the Leviathan forms the source of right and wrong (through the will of the Leviathan)

More information on Hobbes is available from the ILTWeb-site (do not try to download the text-only version of the Leviathan because the file contains the full 700 page book). An edited version for this course is being prepared. The Introduction and the chapter discussing the State of Nature are on-line.

See also Lary May's comments on Hobbes.

The following student essay by Keith Crabtree (S'94) is a example of good class work:

Thomas Hobbes was the first great figure in modern moral philosophy. His main grounding in philosophy was on the basis of materialism, believing that everything that happens is a result of the physical world and that the soul, as previous philosophers discussed it, does not exist. One must then consider what Hobbes' outlook was on the topic of values. Hobbes' contention was that the concept of good and evil are related to human desire and aversion. In other words, what an individual desires he percieves to be good and what that individual harbors an aversion to must be bad. This philosophy of values, Hobbes explained, is due to an attitude of self preservation and protection.

In 1651 Thomas Hobbes published Leviathan , his famous work that detailed his physicalist outlook and his concept of the value of a social contract for a peaceful society. Hobbes explained that if individuals within a society continally lived by their own self interests, they would continue to hurt each other and be stuck in a "state of war." If the members of a society were made to live within certain bounds which made it impossible for them to harm each other, the members of that society would be in a "state of peace."

The only way to acheive this peaceful society, Hobbes explained, was for all members of a society to unconditionally transfer all of their ability and will to defend themselves to a sovereign power under a form of social contract. With this social contract established, the sovereign power would accept the responsibility for mediating all disputes concerning the society, both internal and external. Should any member of the society violate an agreement with another member of that society, that individual would be guilty of violating their unconditional agreement to support the social contract, which would then render them unjust and subject to punishment.

Conversely, if the Leviathan, or sovereign power, violated its own responsibility to protect the members of the society in its charge, that society could then find itself another sovereign to rule it.

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Copyright 2002 (first published 1/96)