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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Case-Based Moral Reasoning (informed by Beauchamp and Childress, Principles of Biomedical Ethics, 4th edition)

Case-Based Reasoning argues that "...moral belief and knowledge evolve incrementally through reflection on cases, without essential recourse to a top-down theory." In this belief, case-based moral reasoning is analogous to case law ("Social ethics develops from a social consensus… this consensus is then extended to new cases by analogy to past cases…" (95)

Certain paradigm cases like Quinlan and the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment become sources of authority for new judgments. "Just as case law (legal rules) develops incrementally from legal decisions in cases, so the moral law (moral rules) develops incrementally" (96)

Critical Evaluation of Casuistry

"Interpretation of cases is essential for moral judgment and principles and theories typically play a legitimate role in the interpretation" (97) Furthermore, principles can be held prior to judging cases and then selected and weighed in the particular circumstances.

"Casuists have no clear methodological resources to prevent a biased development of cases…Without some stable framework of general norms, there is no control on judgment and no way to prevent prejudiced or poorly formulated social conventions" (97)

Constructive Evaluation of Casuistry

Despite criticisms, we must note the importance of analogical reasoning, paradigm cases, and practical judgment as an avenue to moral knowledge. (99) Furthermore, ethical generalizations are often best learned, accommodated, and implemented by using cases, case discussion and case methods. (99) Finally, sensitivity to context and individual differences is often essential for a discerning use of principles. (100)

Overview of Jonsen and Toulmin's Abuse of Casusitry.


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Copyright 2002 (first published 1/96)