Moral Theory and Principles

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Honesty: Do not lie, defraud, deceive or mislead.
Privacy: Respect personal privacy and confidentiality.
While the meaning of words such as "harm", "benefit", fairness", "rational", and "deception" may be debated, it can be seen from this list that it is indeed possible to postulate a reasonably comprehensive list of principles that may form a useful guide to a general moral system. The list incorporates many principles that are common to all cultures. It may accord in part with certain religiously inspired principles but does not rely on them. The principles are not absolute rules but guidelines to be used in conjunction with each other. There may be conflicts between them. For example it is generally presumed that honesty is good, but there may be circumstances where it is not, for example if honesty would assist a person with known and immediate malevolent intentions. When faced with an ethical dilemma, it is suggested that after gathering information and exploring different options, a balanced decision could then be made by evaluating the options in relation to these principles. This procedure is known as "moral reasoning" leading to a state of "reflective equilibrium", or balanced judgement. The advantage of using a such a set of principles is that they are easier to understand, teach, and learn than moral theories. The simplicity of the framework is illustrated by the fact that the range of principles can be encapsulated in just eight key words. But why should these principles be universally regarded as good, (at least as general but not absolute rules) and what is their motivation? To examine this we can apply to them the "golden rule" test, which is not dissimilar to Immanuel Kant's idea that ideal moral principles should be ones that everyone could consistently adopt. Would you like others to behave towards you with non-malificence, beneficence, fidelity and honesty, allowing you autonomy, justice, and privacy? Of course, because no-one wants to be...
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