Ethical Reasoning, Donaldson and Werhane Outline the Term Paper

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Ethical Reasoning," Donaldson and Werhane outline the three fundamental theories of ethics: consequentialism, deontology, and human nature ethics. Consequentialism, also known as teological ethics, can be further divided into ethical egoism and utilitarianism. Ethical egoism is based on the theory that to act out of self-interest will ultimately be the most ethical decision. Ethical egoism is rarely supported by philosophers, especially in relation to other ethical reasoning theories such as utilitarianism. Philosophers like Bentham and John Stuart Mill argued that the ethical decisions should be based on the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number. Although Mill framed the concept of "good" in terms of happiness, the "greater good" does not necessarily entail happiness and may refer to other abstract concepts like aesthetics. Utilitarianism can itself be subdivided into pluralistic utilitarianism and preference utilitarianism: the former embraces all abstract concepts that can be classified as "good" whereas the latter acknowledges that what is "good" for some may not be "good" to others. Finally, act utilitarianism focuses on the ethics of individual acts and their relation to the greater good, whereas rule utilitarianism focuses more on rules and laws and whether they uphold the greater good. Critics of utilitarianism criticize the ethical theory on three main grounds. First, utilitarianism does not adequately account for universal justice and in fact can cause the minority to suffer because of the will of the majority. Second, utilitarianism is based on the concept of the "greatest good," but "good" is too difficult to define consensually. Third, utilitarianism does not allow for any overarching moral laws or maxims.

Deontology picks up where utilitarianism leaves off in that deontology is solely based on the primacy of moral precepts. Deontological ethics can be further broken down into Kantian deontology and social contract deontology. Kantian deontology is based on the notion of the categorical imperative: that there are universal moral laws that pertain to all human beings. Kant also proposed that reason, not inclination should guide moral decision-making and that the nature of the act is more important than the consequences of the act. Respect for other rational beings was also a central tenet to Kantian deontology. Locke and Rawls, on the other hand, proposed a different form of deontological ethics known as social contract ethics. Locke in particular believed in certain inalienable rights of human beings, whereas Rawls focused more on abstract principles of fairness that could apply to all rational beings. Critics of Kantian deontology note that the theory can create too many universal laws, which can either become arbitrary and thereby immoral or which can become too rigid and inflexible. Furthermore, deontology does not adequately provide for situations with conflicting ethical needs.

The third ethical reasoning theory discussed by Donaldson and Werhane is human nature ethics. The most famous proponent of the theory…

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