A fundamental moral principle is a moral principle which is the ultimate basis for evaluating the rightness or wrongness of all acts. It is the ultimate and final reason in itself. It is the intrinsic value of the moral principle itself, not that it appeals to other moral principle or justified by other reasons, that makes it the fundamental moral principle. The absolutist nature of a fundamental moral principle is such that it can be applied to all acts, real or imaginary.
A subordinate moral principle, on the other hand, is a moral principle which is justified by appealing to other moral principles. That is to say, its relevance and applicability in any situation is dependent on its ability to fulfill other moral principles. Therefore, it can only be applied selectively, to situations whereby the subordinate moral principle can help to fulfill other moral principles. Within the context of the utilitarian theory, a utilitarian would evaluate all acts based on whether, as quoted from John Stuart Mill, “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure. ” In other words, maximizing happiness is the fundamental moral principle of a utilitarian as a utilitarian will evaluate all acts of its rightness or wrongness based on whether it maximizes happiness and not by any other yardstick.
A non-utilitarian, on the other hand, does not hold the same fundamental moral principle of maximizing happiness. A non-utilitarian can be moral absolutist, a moderate non-utilitarian with several other moral principles.
In this essay, I shall use fantastic examples to help distinguish a fundamental moral principle from a subordinate moral principle as fantastic examples...