Lecture 3: Normative theories (Ch. 3)
“The achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral” AYN RAND, The Virtue of Selfishness (1961)
› Ayn Rand (1905-1982)
› Russian American Novelist and philosopher, developed a theory known as Objectivism.
› Influence on libertarians and conservatives in US (e.g. Alan Greenspan)
•States that each person ought to pursue their own self-interest exclusively.
•The principle of self-interest accounts for all one’s moral obligations.
•But, doesn’t tell you to avoid helping others.
•Distinguishes between short-term desires (sometimes foolishness) and long-term interests.
Three arguments for Egoism
(Or, why you shouldn’t care about others–be an altruist.)
1. Altruism is self-defeating: We know others only imperfectly. We might end up doing more harm than if we did not.
Counterargument: ultimate interest is the others, opposite to egoism.
2. Altruism leads to a denial of our value. Tells us that our life is not to be lived but to be sacrificed.
Counterargument: Rejecting altruism doesn’t necessarily imply endorsing egoism.
There is something in between. One can balance when and how to help others.This is not to give oneself up.
3. Moral norms are the expression of self-interest: we tell the truth, keep promises, do not harm others because it is
convenient for us.
Counterargument: Some moral obligations cannot be derived from self-interest. e.g. we refrain from stealing even if it
would be advantageous to us.
>We discussed a similar idea already: enlightened self-interest (in ch.2).
>It could work well if there was a
-Helping others is an instrument to help oneself.
mechanism that prevents people
-“Do well by doing good”
from pursuing their own interests at the
expense of others.
>One could think of the market such a
› However, increasing income inequality might be a reason to suspect that the market doesn’t perform this task well.
Income inequality in 2015
› Richest 62 people in the world are as wealthy as half of world's population
› 1% own more than rest of us combined
E.g. Do you have an obligation to rescue the child according to Ethical Egoism?
Ethics of Rights
› Notion of citizenship in terms of a set of individual rights.
› Due to John Locke (1632 - 1714)
› Known as the father of liberalism.
› ‘Natural Rights’:
Right to life, freedom, and property.
• Extended to freedom of speech, conscience, consent, privacy and entitlement to a fair, legal process.
› Now, instead of ‘natural rights’, we talk about human rights. All humans, irrespective of gender, religion, nationality, etc.,
should be able to enjoy them.
› Their significance in terms of ethical theory result in the duty of others to respect these rights.
› Comparable to ethics of duties.
› The difference is: Kant requires us to determine our duties based on the categorical imperative. Ethics of rights is based
on a specific consensus of human dignity (and the rights attached).
› The rights approach has shaped the constitutions of many modern states:
› Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789)
› The American Constitution
› United Nations Declaration of Human Rights
› European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Human Rights› In business ethics it is a common and important framework at a practical level.
› Corporations, especially multinationals, judged with regard to their attitude towards human rights and how they respect
them and protect them.
› Several initiatives to tackle human rights issues in business.
› UN Global Compact: Combines the best properties of
the UN, such as moral authority and convening power with strength of private sector to find solutions.
› Ten principles companies should embrace:
› P.1. Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights.
› P.2. Businesses should make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses.
› UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,
› Due to John Ruggie, Prof. at Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
1.The state has a duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including business.
2.Companies have a responsibility to respect human rights.
3.Victims of abuses should have access to effective judicial and non-judicial remedies.
John Ruggie on Unilever
› Individual rights have to be realised in such a way they are addressed equally and fairly.
› What is ‘equally’ and ‘fairly’, particularly in business?
› How should a company pay its shareholders, executives, office workers and manual staff so that everybody gets a fair
compensation for their input?
Justice is the fair treatment of individuals in a given situation with the result that everybody gets what they deserve.
› Two ways to see fairness:
Fair procedures (procedural justice): has everyone been free to acquire rewards for their efforts?
Fair outcomes (distributive justice): are the consequences of a policy or an action distributed in a just manner, according
to a principle such as need or merit?
› Discussions related to just distribution of wealth in and in between societies. How to distribute wealth?
› Two extreme positions: › (strict) egalitarianism: - Justice is the same as equality
- Burdens and rewards should be distributed equally.
› Flaw: equal distribution of material goods doesn’t
necessarily give the most well-being to all.
› Non-egalitarianism: - In the economic system, justice is a product of the fair process of the
- Due to Robert Nozick.
› Flaw: The market assumes equal participants.
Insofar as differences in income, ability, health, etc.
prevail, it is difficult to say the market leads to justice.
John Rawls (in between)
› Justice is achieved when:
› All people have same basic liberties
› Social and economic inequalities are allowed, but only if ▪To the greatest benefit of the least advantaged
▪They are attached to offices and positions open to all under
conditions of equality of opportunity (this excludes
discrimination at job market etc.)
› Aristotle (384-322)
› Teacher of Alexander the Great
› Previous theories have focussed on the morality of actions: motivation or consequences.
› Another way to look at ethical theory is to look at the character of the decision-maker.
› Are there certain traits of character that we could regard as morally good or bad?
› Aristotle: “What is the good of man?” –“An activity of the soul in conformity with virtue”.
› Just as a knife has a function, for Aristotle human beings have a function
-to live in a way that realises your talents and capacities .
-And just as a knife can fulfil its function excellently (‘deugdelijk’), human beings can live their lives according to virtue, or
› For Aristotle, and virtue theory, happiness means
▪ Living well
-It’s not one minute of happiness, but sustained happiness throughout your life
▪ Doing good
-It’s not about a mere feeling of happiness, but it’s about what you do
› As for the utilitarians, also for Aristotle happiness is a central concept.
› By happiness, however, Aristotle means something different than what the utilitarians mean.
› Happiness is not about the maximisation of pleasures and pains. According to Aristotle, the virtuous person takes
pleasures in the right things and pains in the wrong ones.
› If someone takes pleasures in mistreating animals, for instance, this is not a pleasure, this is a vice to overcome.
› “Good actions come from good persons”
› What is a virtue?
› Aristotle: A trait of character manifested in habitual action.
› How to distinguish from a vice?
› A commendable trait of character manifested in habitual action.
› Like being skilful?
› A commendable trait of character manifested in habitual action, that is good for anyone to have.
A Virtue is
You can learn it
› Disposition, character trait
It’s really you, not just superficial
› Good to possess, makes you act ethically
Contributes to happiness
› Some virtues are midpoints between extremes.
› The mean by reference to two vices: one of excess and the other of deficiency.
▪ ‘Deugd ligt in het midden’
▪ Courage: mean between cowardice and foolhardiness
Courage › Acquired
Practise reduction of unreasonable fears
You don’t act courageously only once
› ‘In the middle’
Between cowardice and recklessness
› Is good to have
You reach your goals and help others reach theirs
▪ Generosity: mean between stinginess and extravagance.
› Selling points
› Provides a natural and attractive account of moral motivation.
› Theories that focus on right action can’t accommodate certain aspects of moral life.
› Can account for our partiality towards others.
› What can a theory of virtue tell us about what to do in specific situations?
Feminist, Discourse & Postmodern Ethics
› Focusses not on character but on interpersonal relationships.
› Mainly concerned with actively ‘taking’ of responsibility of securing interconnectedness–rather than merely ‘having’ it.
› Moral problems can be solved by assessments that stress the importance of empathy, harmony, care, avoidance of
harm, rather than abstract principles of justice.
› Past experience determines ethical decisions. We learn and develop from past experiences.