Basic Theoretic Principles of Ethical Reasoning
In most contexts, the word good means the course which should always be favored whenever presented with a difficult choice between different possible actions. Good is usually regarded as the opposite of evil and is of central interest in the area of ethics, religion, philosophy and morality. A good person is one who acts in accordance with what he believes to be right, just desserts, or what is commonly described as the path of virtue. This view of morality provides an explanation why some things are good while some things are bad, for instance eating an apple is good while gambling is bad.
Of course, it is not easy to identify a single characteristic of goodness that can be considered as the essence of it. We may think of good as rational, as having self-control, as having integrity, as providing meaning, as being fair, and as having a loving heart. All these attributes can be used to explain the concepts of ethics. However, a definition of the common good cannot rely on any of these characteristics to be precise, for there are many different things that we consider as the common good. These things may be good morally, but not just good as a person’s relation to other people, or their respect for other people’s rights.
For consistency with our views of the good, we must therefore combine an action principle with a principle of reciprocity, both of them equally important, and they both requiring commitment to the concept of the common good. The principle of reciprocity stipulates that an act does not consist of two distinct acts in which the first one is an unjustifiable action and the second is likewise unjustifiable. According to this principle, an unjustified act does not consist of a further action that further harms the good person or the innocent. But, contrary to the intuition, the principle does not deny the fact that an act may be an unjustifiable action because it does not harm the innocent.
The second basic principle that ethics must contain is that a moral obligation attaches to each and every one of us. It says that we have an obligation not to do an act that would harm another. This means that if an action has the tendency to lessen the well-being of a human being, then it is morally wrong, and if it tends to increase the harm to another, then it is morally right. An action may thus be considered to consist of two parts, a moral obligation and a moral act.
Another core concept of ethical theories is that the ultimate end of human life is the welfare of human beings. This is often called the utilitarian view, for it compares moral obligation with that of personal utility. It suggests that if an act results in the loss of pleasure or happiness for one person, and if this loss is sufficiently great, then the act is morally wrong, even if it results in the death of that particular person. This view may appear to conflict with the common good ethics; for, it seems that the ultimate goal of ethics should be the welfare of others.
According to utilitarianism, the welfare of others comes before the welfare of the individual. So, according to utilitarianism, if you are to be judged morally, you need to take into account not only your own happiness and unhappiness, but also the happiness of those with whom you interact. By taking utilitarianism as the fundamental philosophy of ethical reasoning, it would seem that morality is nothing but the recognition of the end which each person aims at, on his own, by his own efforts. On this view, a good person would act justly even if he thinks that it would bring him pain, because such action would bring benefit to all.