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Ethics Theories

What is Ethics?

Ethics is the area of philosophy that studies moral principles and the application of those principles to human life.

It relies on other areas of philosophy such as metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophical

Ethics is the study of what is good and what is right for human beings. In order to understand these things, we must understand what is; we must consider the nature of existence (metaphysics). In order to know what is good and right, we must understand knowledge And to know what IS good and right for human beings, we must understand something about human nature (philosophical anthropology).


Fields of Ethics I

Ethics is normally divided into the fields of meta- ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics, Click on each field of ethics for more information.


Meta-ethics is the study of the metaphysical and epistemological foundations of ethics. It addresses what morality itself S, and what it is about reality that makes things good or bad or right or wrong, Meta- ethics also studies the nature and meaning of ethical language.

Normative ethics

Normative ethics is the study of standard ethical principles and conduct; it considers how one ought to act in life.

Applied ethics

Applied ethics, sometimes called casuistry or practical ethics, deals with the practical application
of moral theories to common human problems in areas such as medicine, business, technology, or the environment.  Fields Of Ethics Il

Let’s talk a little more about normative ethics. In general, normative ethics is the study of how one ought to act in life. Philosophers who engage in normative ethics think carefully about different normative moral theories and develop those theories so that they can serve as practical guides to human life. A normative moral theory is a theory that proposes rational norms or standards of human behavior.

Applied ethics is the attempt to apply one or more of the normative theories to problems in areas such as medicine, business, technology, or the environment.

Roughly speaking, applied ethics relates to normative ethics as engineering relates to pure
mathematics. Applied ethicists (also called casuists) apply normative principles as engineers apply mathematical principles.  


Normative Theories

Normative theories are commonly divided into consequentialist and non-consequentialist
approaches. Click on each approach for more information.


A consequentialist approach to ethics evaluates behavior by focusing on the consequences Of that behavior A consequentialist would say that a morally appropriate behavior is one that produces the best consequences.


A non-consequentialist approach to ethics holds that having a virtuous character and following the right moral principles is more important than the consequences of a person’s actions.


Consequentialist Theories

Significant consequentialist theories include utilitarianism, hedonism and moral egoism.  Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism states that one ought to act in ways that maximize the greatest good for the greatest number of people.


Hedonist theories state that one ought to act in ways that maximize pleasure and minimize pain for oneself, for others, or both.

Moral egoism

Moral egoism states that one ought to do whatever leads to the best outcome for oneself, and allow others to do the same.


Non-consequentialist Theories

Important non-consequentialist theories are virtue ethics, deontology, and natural law theory.

Virtue ethics

Virtue ethics states that the most important aspect of the moral life IS the character of the
individual moral agent. According to this theory, each person should cultivate character virtues (or strengths) such as wisdom, courage, self-control, justice, honesty, kindness, selflessness, and love.


Deontology is a duty-based approach to morality. The word deon in ancient Greek means “duty ”
Deontologists believe that each person should commit to rules or principles of morality that will
guide that person to do the morally right action. For example, one might commit to the principle of treating others as you would rationally choose others to treat you.

Natural Law Theory

Natural law theory states that there is a universal moral law that can be discovered by reflecting on the nature of reality. This moral law is a divine law which in some sense given by God or which expresses the character of God, Some have held that this moral law exists without a law-giver. Either way, moral law is universal and objective rather than relative or subjective; it can be known by all human beings via reasoning about human nature and attending to conscience. Natural law theory is compatible with both deontology and virtue ethics.  Logic and Reasoning I

Now let’s talk about logic. Logic is an essential tool for all philosophers,
including philosophers studying ethics.

Logic is defined as the study and application of the rules of reasoning. Reasoning is the type of thinking that draws conclusions from reasons or premises.

There are many types of thinking, such as the thinking involved when one is imagining, remembering, or following instructions.  Logic and Reasoning Il

Reasoning the kind of thinking one does when drawing conclusions on the basis of reasons, There are specific rules for reasoning, some of which we will look at later, There are two basic types of reasoning: deductive reasoning and inductive

Deductive reasoning

In deductive reasoning, if the premises are true then the conclusion must be true.
In other words, a deductive argument is one in which, the terms are clear, the premises are true,
and the is valid, then the conclusion must be true.

Inductive reasoning

In inductive reasoning, the drawing of a conclusion is based on premises that support the conclusion to some degree of probability, but do not guarantee the truth of the conclusion. An inductive argument provides evidence to support a conclusion but does NOT definitively prove the truth of the conclusion.  Deductive Reasoning

Here are examples of some fundamental rules of deductive logic: Modus Ponens (the mode that affirms), Modus Tollens (the mode that denies), Disjunctive Syllogism (either/or), and Hypothetical Syllogism (if/then). Let’s explore each of these in detail. Click the buttons below to learn more.

Modus Ponens (the mode that affirms)

In Latin, modus ponens means “the mode that affirms” This rule works by setting up a
conditional (if-then) statement. and affirming the antecedent (the first part) of the conditional. If p is the case, then q is the case. P is the case. Therefore, q is the case.

An example is: If the shirt is blue, then the shirt has color. The shirt is blue. Therefore, the shirt
has color.

In this example, the shirt being blue is sufficient to prove with certainty that the shirt has color.

Modus Tollens (the mode that denies)

In Latin, modus tollens means “the mode that denies”. This rule works by setting up a
conditional (if-then) statement. and denying the consequent (the second part) of the conditional. If p, then q. Not q. Therefore, not p.

An example is: If Jack goes swimming, then he will get wet. Jack did not get wet. Therefore, he
did not swim.   

Disjunctive Syllogism (either/or)

Disjunctive syllogism works by setting up a disjunctive (p or q) statement, and denying one of
the disjuncts (parts).

Either P is true, or q is true. P is not true. Therefore, q is true.

An example is: The Yankees win the game, or the Cardinals win the game. The Yankees do not win the game. Therefore, the Cardinals win the game.

Hypothetical Syllogism (if/then)

A hypothetical syllogism sets up a conditional statement for one or both of its premises.  Inductive Reasoning I

Let’s talk about inductive arguments. Remember, an inductive argument provides evidence to support a conclusion, but does not definitively prove the truth of the conclusion.

Here is an example: There are 100 cookies in a jar. Tom has seen 95 of them. Each cookie Tom has seen is a chocolate chip cookie. Therefore, all 100 of the cookies are chocolate chip cookies. Notice that the conclusion of this argument is very probable, but it is not guaranteed. After all, it is possible that of the 5 cookies Tom has not seen, at least one of them is not a chocolate chip cookie There could be an oatmeal raisin! Inductive Reasoning Il

Here is another example: It has rained in Miami, Florida every August 1st for the last 5 years therefore, it will rain in Miami, Florida next year.

Notice that the conclusion of this argument is probable to some degree, but not certain It is
possible that it will not rain. It is not necessarily true that it will rain in Miami On August 1st of next year.  Fallacies

A fallacy is a common error in reasoning. It occurs when a person uses a nonevidential manner of persuasion to support a conclusion. Fallacies are common because they appear to be correct but are really incorrect instances of reasoning.

Sometimes they happen unintentionally, and sometimes intentionally. When unintentional, they
can be honest mistakes; they could also be the result of carelessness or poor thinking habits. Learning about common fallacies can help one to avoid committing them, and can prepare one to
avoid being tricked by those MIO might intentionally use them.

There are hundreds Of types Of fallacies, and perhaps some that have not been identified yet.
Let’s talk about some common fallacies.  Informal Fallacies

Fallacies can be classified as formal or informal. Formal fallacies have to do with using invalid
logical form, but informal fallacies are not mistakes in form They are errors having to do
with matters such as irrelevance or inappropriate generalization. Click on each of the following
informal fallacies for more information.

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (“after this, therefore because of this”)

In Latin, post hoc ergo propter hoc means “after this therefore because of this” This fallacy confuses correlation with causation. It takes two things that happen together, A and B, and
interprets their correlation as proof that A caused 3 or B caused A. But it could be that the
correlation of A and B is a coincidence.

An example of this fallacy is “Jack has played well in the last two games. He was wearing the
same pair of yellow socks in each game. Therefore, the yellow socks caused him to play
well. ”

Ad Hominem (“to the man”)

In Latin, ad hominem means “to the man”. This is a family of fallacies that involve a person
attacking the character of another person instead of addressing the other person’s argument,

An example of this is, “How can you complain about inhumane treatment of animals while you
eat your steak dinner'”

Tu Quoque (“you, too”)

In Latin, tu quoque means “you, too” If a person defends his or her wrong action because
someone else has acted wrongly in the same way, that person is using this fallacy. You’ve
probably heard it called “two wrongs don’t make a right” For example, “It’s alright that I cheated on this test because everyone cheated on it, too.” The reason “because everyone cheated on it”
does not support the conclusion “it’s alright that I cheated.” Two wrongs don’t make a right. Rather, two wrongs make two wrongs.

Begging the question

“Begging the question” occurs when someone

attempts to use his own conclusion as a premise

to prove his conclusion, For example:  Begging me question

“Begging the question” occurs when someone attempts to use his own conclusion as a premise
to prove his conclusion. For example:

Voice A: “Bigfoot doesn’t exist”

Voice B: “How do you know that?”

Voice A “Because there are no Bigfoots

The reason “there are no Bigfoots anywhere” means essentially the same as the conclusion
“Bigfoot doesn’t exist So the argument uses the conclusion to prove the conclusion. The argument is basically “Bigfoot doesn’t exist because Bigfoot doesnt exist.”

Straw Man

If a person misrepresents an opponent’s argument to make weaker and easier to defeat,
then that person commits the straw man fallacy. (This fallacy is easy to remember, a straw man is easy to push over, but a real man is not).

An example is:

Voice A: “Education is important. The US. should spend more on education.”  Voice B: “Cutting military funding will leave us defenseless!”

Appeal to Authority, Popularity, or Emotion  An appeal to authority relies on what an authority says on the subject. Sometimes, reasoning of this kind is not fallacious. In fact, much of our knowledge comes from listening to authorities.
However, appealing to authority is fallacious if the person appealed to is not an authority in the relevant subject, or if the authority is not trustworthy. For example, “This car is the best car
because my favorite actor drives it and he says ifs the best.’

An appeal to popularity fallacy occurs when someone claims that an argument is sound
merely because it’s what most people accept For instance: “Euthanasia is morally permissible
because a recent poll shows that a majority of Americans believe it is.”

A person commits an emotional appeal fallacy if he or she arouses your emotions rather than by
providing evidence to support his conclusion an example of this is: “If you vote for this candidate, this country will fall apart” This example is using an appeal to fear.  

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