Piecing Together the Jigsaw of Ethical Theories

Rarely have so many people so staunchly claimed the same territory while each occupies such distinct territory. The dichotomy where two theories have such a neat contiguity is between morality and ethics. Here I find Humeanism and social contractualism to robustly claim each domain respectively, with consequentialism being indispensable and virtue ethics being something of which to remain cognizant.

By all accounts, it is non-controversial to say that emotion is the basis of moral motivation, given the inseparability of motivation from emotion. However, I fail to see how this doesn’t make morality necessarily emotional. The existence of altruism in non-human animals should make this foundation clear. Despite the attempts of neo-Humeans to synthesise a diversity of emotions into the theory, it seems that acting non-partisanly on empathy and sympathy is sufficient to explain moral actions. That is, with the exception of moral actions done out of a just self-interest.1 What this can’t account for, however, is the existence of moral rules.

Academics and students of philosophy have fixated for some time on consequentialism. What they have failed to realise, while ignoring the necessity of grounding their theories, is that the reason they don’t require grounding is the general consensus around morality. On a functional level, these theorists are all social contractualists. The limits of their theories make this recognition necessary. It is clear that consequentialism is ultimately absurd. While a realist – or perhaps functionalist – view of social contractualism is not. Please, strong-man this sentence: if the wealthy man plans to bequeath his fortune to charity, then consequentialism would say that he must be killed to have his wealth dispensed immediately due to economic discounting. To our innate morality, killing someone for a good act that brings no harm is an absurdity.

Social contractualism, alternatively, can dispense of such issues through an intuitive sense of justice, and it does. It, also, resists many issues of normativity when viewed as a realistic description of what is occurring. Such as those revolving around the notion that true morality is optional or that it could only occur with ink.

The social contractualism that I refer to is a functional interpretation of the dynamic of ethics and grounds the notion of moral rules in consensus. It is clear that we live in a dynamic ethical paradigm that has evolved throughout the millennia. This paradigm is established in the consensus around morality and often enshrined in law. We now enjoy a comfortable ethic that is largely the result of the post-materialism and identity politics of the past century. The work leading to this has been heavily moralistic, and it should, therefore, be no surprise that our ethic is uncommonly more moral than a century ago.

This is no real threat to the predominance of consequentialism as this consensus demonstrates that the results of our actions are of much greater concern to most people than any other factor, and this is ubiquitously accurate. As to the peripheral role of virtue ethics, this simply has weight when evaluating blameworthiness in disagreement.

In this analysis, I have clearly avoided normativity and simply attempted to describe the functioning of morality and ethics. It is very important that we understand what is before we can understand what can be done. This, to me, is the major failing of the ethics debate and the cause of unending and potentially endless disagreement.


1 Here, I have clearly failed to account for justice as a moral and emotional phenomenon. An issue recurring in the article. This, however, does not compromise my thesis.

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