What is moral philosophy ?
Moral philosophy is the branch of philosophy that is concerned with ethics. Ethics can be defined as the study of right and wrong in human endeavours, it helps one to answer such questions as what is the proper course of action in a given situation, what one should do ? It helps us identify the moral correctness of our conduct. From the very dawn of philosophy right up until this very day, ethics has been at the very core of the rational thinkers cognizance. Of course knowledge of what is morally correct does not necessarily mean one will lead a good, “ethical” life, man may still make decisions and take actions against their better moral judgement, as free will dictates. For instance, we know from a young age that it is wrong to tell lies, but we also know that there are times when lying is perfectly justifiable. We humans acquire our moral beliefs at a young age - an advantage in that they allow us grow up as social creatures – a disadvantage in that we may fail to see how factors in our social sphere can corrupt our moral agenda, which more often than not will cast misery upon others. Again free will decrees that we have the ability to act freely, to do and say as we please but our sense of morality prevents us from doing so as our words and actions may cause harm or discomfort to others. However my decision to refrain from “acting freely” is only a moral one if I have freely chosen to make such a decision. A tainted view of morality can, and has, in the past been detrimental to society. “Religious wars, the slave trade, the holocaust but to name a few – were not moments in which ethical concerns were ignored. Each had their moral justifications that made them seem obvious and familiar to their perpetrators. The need to tell an ethical story about who we are is always present. But sometimes we can get that story tragically wrong” (Furrow, D. 2005) Across the twenty-five centuries since Plato`s birth many have philosophised as to the true moral code of humanity. But is there a universal moral code? Morality is constantly changing, people's beliefs, values and ideas are constantly evolving. Take for example, medieval England, to be convicted of treason was punishable by torture leading to death. Convicts were fastened to a wooden panel, and dragged by horse to their place of execution, where they were hanged (almost to the point of death), disembowelled, beheaded and quartered (chopped into four pieces). Today, in a more civilized society, cruel and unusual punishment is viewed as being un-lawful and more importantly immoral. In western society, killing people just for expressing their opinion is unacceptable. But in the middle-east, it is justified, which breeds the question, just because the society in which I live frowns upon murder, does it mean it is wrong ? The fact that there is a debate proves that there is no one universal code of morality, one may argue that morality is in fact universal, and that there is a code, but that the code differs for every person. Here we will examine the moral philosophies of two ancient Greek philosophers – Plato and Aristotle, and three modern day philosophers Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart – Mill and Immanuel Kant.
Little is known of Plato's early life, born in approx. 429 B.C and died approx. 347 while attending a wedding feast. It is widely accepted that all of European philosophical tradition consists of his footnotes. He did not put forward philosophical works in his name, but published “dialogues” in which his friend and mentor Socrates conversed with other philosophers. Plato`s moral philosophy is based solely on two basic principles; knowledge of the good life would guarantee that people would live morally and that there was one, absolute and good life to lead. Plato believed that education was key to morality and that “finding the nature of the good life is an intellectual task very similar to the discovery of...
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