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Humanities LibreTexts

5: Religion, Law, and Absolute Morality

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  • This final Unit finishes where many might want to begin this work: religion and classical moral theories that offer a general take on how morality should work. Very early in this work I explained why I included these last: I believe you (the students new to Ethics) were ill-suited to study these, having rarely deeply confronted your own moral sentiments before. By finally gaining a deep appreciation of your own moral leanings and why you have them, you are in a good place to now understand the general ways you can go about doing ethics and analyzing where it all comes from. Is God important for morality? Can we figure out moral principles for ourselves? Do we use reason to do morality – and, if so, what’s the goal of our moral reasoning?

    Chapter 25, The Myth of Gyges and The Crito by Plato, contains two classic selections from the works of Plato (which include healthy doses of Socrates) that discuss why we should care about doing the morally right things at all. Chapter 26, God, Morality, and Religion by Kristin Seemuth Whaley, analyzes the relationship between God and morality and where right and wrong might come from. Chapter 27, The Categorical Imperative by Immanuel Kant, includes a classic and important selection from this influential philosopher where he lays out some of the basic principles and implications of his deontological moral theory (that is, a moral system based on following rules and having proper intentions). Chapter 28, The Virtues by Aristotle, is an important selection from the incomparable philosopher’s explanation of the basic components of his moral theory of virtue ethics. Chapter 29, Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche, presents some of the philosopher’s critique of traditional morality. Chapter 30, Other Moral Theories: Subjectivism, Relativism, Emotivism, Intuitionism, etc. by Jan Franciszek Jacko, describes how metaethics helps us do normative ethics through examining a variety of moral theories that might not have been apparent in the other chapters in this work.