Please pardon my wordings (a big hurdle for a non-native english speaker)

My short knowledge recognizes Kant's system quite unique in the sense that it does not have any materialistic value preference so that the system cannot conclude the same for a real world ethical questions from a person to person.

Besides such epistemological theories, I expect that an ethical theory shall guide "What do I do" for real world decision problems.

Q1. Is it reasonable expectation from an ethical theory?

In the other hand, I feel that ethical theories that I am slightly aware of only describe a list of good things and bad things so that they don't really help in real world decision problems where value comparison is necessary most of time.

Q2. Does any ethical theory concern which value is considered more important than the other so that I can expect a relatively consistent conclusion for real world decision problems from the theory?

For example, if I am hungry and there is a piece of bread in other's hand, is it OK to take it and eat to maximize my well-being? if yes, what if the other is also hungry (to my knowledge)? what if the other is also hungry and is younger than I am? any difference in the decision?

Can any ethical system give normative answers for this hypothetical questions?

  • 1
    There are plenty of ethical systems outside of Kantianism without "materialistic value preference". For starters, there's virtue theories and divine command theories. – virmaior Jul 22 '14 at 8:07
  • Moreover, there's no sense in which not having "materialistic value preference" means that Kantianism cannot serve as a guide for our behaviors... – virmaior Jul 22 '14 at 8:08
  • @virmaior very nice that you disparage questions in an expedient manner. ^^ Is it that "consistent conclusion"(not the way the decision is made but the actual decision) is not what any ethical theory concerns? Any value hierarchy theory there exists? I appreciate your time sincerely. – msk Jul 22 '14 at 8:30
  • I'm sorry. I'm not trying to disparage you. The question seems to misunderstand Kant pretty badly, has some English errors, and an idiosyncratic vocabulary. One way you could improve it is by adding an example of how you think another theory gives values and Kant does not. (e.g. a case) – virmaior Jul 22 '14 at 8:34
  • @virmaior Updated it with a case, not one that differentiate Kant from others but that may be answered by a certain theory conclusively in terms of the actual action. (or Kant may give specific actions for those cases?) – msk Jul 22 '14 at 9:08

An obvious example of an ethical system that measures things by "goodness" and not just good or bad is utilitarianism. In Utilitarianism, it is understood that all actions have costs and benefits and it is ethical to choose the thing that maximizes overall difference.

In many other traditions have an the notion of prudence, and define it as a practical application of the rules of absolute right and wrong you refer to. Christian philosophers continue to view it in this light, although the philosophical underpinnings go back to Cicero and even Aristotle.

Then to answer your question, it is not only reasonable to expect an ethical system for help in making decisions, but is probably more common than not, since cost/benefit tradeoffs or prudence make their way into many ethical systems.

  • If there are more than one "goodness" and I place one higher than others in deciding, it is still considered utilitarianism? Thank you for the notion of prudence, I will take a look into it. I feel that ethical systems shall provide not only "good" and "bad" but also "A better than B", "B better than C" so on so that it can be applied in real world decision questions but I couldn't find such things yet. Thank you and please pardon me not giving points due to lack of reputation. – msk Jul 23 '14 at 6:46
  • After reading the cardinal virtues and prudence especially, I am now thinking that "prudence" is not a virtue but how to apply the other 3 virtues in human affairs. @James Is it the right understanding? Thank you. – msk Jul 23 '14 at 10:35
  • The best short description I've come across of the cardinal virtues is that Justice says what is right and wrong; Prudence is how to apply Justice to a particular set of circumstances; Courage is persevering in Justice/Prudence from obstacles coming from without, and Temperance is persevering in Justice/Prudence from obstacles from within. (It's obviously more complicated, and there's a lot written on the topic.) – James Kingsbery Jul 23 '14 at 13:38
  • James, superb summary for the relation. Thank you. – msk Jul 24 '14 at 4:06

The problem with hypothetical ethical questions is that relevant details are missing. We're playing at making ethical decisions, or rather pretending to make ethical decisions and then passing judgement on the artifacts of our imagination. Sure it's fun, but let's admit that we imagine things the way that let us rationalize our expressing what we wanted to say before we began imagining anything.

I imagine myself taking bread from the hand of a child because I am hungry and judge that this is ethically sound!

How can I do that? By imagining that the child offered it to me out of good manners and then turned, grasped, and ate another slice from the loaf - here I am imagining something closer to my experience of the world where bread comes in loaves, some children learn to share, and I don't get so hungry as to place my life endanger.

How would I behave in a context in which I have no experience? I don't know. Then again I don't pretend to know what moral judgements I would make in that context either. I do know however that actual empirical evidence will trump non-empirical evidence from thought experiments.

  • Very reasonable answer about hypothetical questions. Shame that I cannot plus it (due to lack of points). Thank you. – msk Jul 23 '14 at 6:34
  • @msk You can still accept answers. – Matas Vaitkevicius Jul 29 '14 at 18:12

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