Top Nine Different Theories of “Moral Standard” in the Modern Period of Western Philosophy

In the modern period of moral thinking hi the West, the earliest theory of moral standard was the standard as law and the latest is perfectionism.

We will give below a summary of different theories of moral standards propounded in the modern period of western philosophy.

1. The Standard as Law:

According to some thinkers including Thomas Hobbes, Bain, Locke, Descartes and Paley, ethics is guided by the law. While according to Bam it is the law of society, according to Hobbes, it is the law of state.

Philosophers like Descartes, Locke and Paley consider God’s dictates as the standards of ethics. The standard as law has been criticized since moral law cannot be based upon external pressure. It is against freedom of soul. It is a standard suffering from formalism and rigorousness.

2. Hedonism:

Hedonism believes in the standard as pleasure. Hume said that reason is and ought to be the slave of passions. Hedonistic theories have been distinguished as psychological and ethical. In the former class the ancient theories are presented by Cyrenaics and Epicurians while the modern theory is presented by Bentham.

Psychological hedonism is not moral hedonism and, therefore, it has been generally condemned by thinkers including Rashdall and others ancient hedonism is again classified into gross hedonism and refined hedonism—the former represented by Cyrenaics and the latter by Epicurians.

As is clear by its names the former originated in the ideas of Aristippus of Cyrene and the latter in the ideas of Epicurians. Modem hedonism is also classified into gross and refined. The former is represented by Bentham and the latter by J.S. Mill.

Of the two, Mill’s ideas have been convincing to a sufficient extent and yet hedonism has not been accepted as a proper moral theory by most of the thinkers. Modem hedonism is also known as utilitarianism since according to it utility is the moral standard.

Some thinkers based hedonistic theory on the scientific principles of evolution. Thus Herbert Spencer presented what is known as Evolutionary Hedonism in which the criteria of right and wrong are the evolution of life. The ultimate end is happiness and immediate end is length and breadth of life.

Evolutionary hedonism suffers from biological bias and, therefore, cannot be accepted as a proper moral theory. Henery Sidgwick presented a theory known as Rational Utilitarianism. Though based upon rational principles this theory could not find out a proper harmony between happiness and pleasure, egoism and altruism. Dean Rashdall presented moral theory known as Ideal Utilitarianism hi which human good is the ultimate use of which pleasure is an element.

3. Rigoristic Theories:

Like hedonism rigorism it also an ancient approach in the history of western ethics. It was represented hi Greek thinking by Cynics and Stoics. In the medieval period it was represented by Christian Ascetics. The most representative theory was however presented by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant in modern period.

Kant laid emphasis upon freedom of will, immortality of soul and existence of God as the three moral postulates. Virtue is the ultimate end. In order to achieve virtue one has to be totally free from feelings and emotions. Moral law is a categorical imperative.

Duty should be done for die sake of duty. Act only on that maxim which thou canst at die same time will to become a universal law. So act as to treat humanity whether in their own person or in that of any other, always as an end, and never as a means

Act as a member of a kingdom of ends. These were the three moral maxims through which one could get guidance in actual life. Kant’s ethics has been criticized as being too much rigorist. It is based upon psychological dualism and individualism. The ultimate good is too narrow.

4. The Standard as Power:

Neitzsche presented a moral theory according to which the ultimate end is the achievement of power and any means is suitable for it all that proceeds from power is good, all that springs from weakness is bad. The Superman is the meaning of earth. He condemned Christian ethics on the one hand and hedonism on the other.

He distinguished between master morality and slave morality. He asked for revaluation of values. He pointed out that all ethics is relative. Our goal is to become super men. This aim is beyond good and evil. In spite of its brilliant insights Neitzsche’s theory gave rise to fascist political thinking. It has not been accepted by any thinker worth the name.

5. Ethics of Karl Marx:

Karl Marx based his moral theory upon dialectical materialism and historical materialism. He distinguished between bourgeois and proletariat morality and true morality. Marxist ethics is based upon theory of equality and condemned the former.

Proletariat morality is the only theory of progress, identity of ends and means and approximation of armed revolt it has been criticized by all the non-Marxist thinkers and it cannot be depended as a fairly consistent ethics.

6. Intuitionism:

Some modern thinkers presented the theory that intuition is the standard of ethics.

In the words of Muirhead,

“The conscience is knowledge or judgment”

According to Kant,

“An earring conscience is a chimera.”

Thus conscience is die ultimate guide. It is simple and natural.

Its judgments are intuitive. It is the supreme authority. Intuitionism has been classified as philosophical and unphilosophical also has two forms-sense theory and aesthetic theory. Cud worth, Clarke and Wollaston support a type of philosophical intuitionism.

Among the main contributors to the aesthetic sense theory is Shaftesbury. What is beautiful and true is agreeable and good. Similarly, Herbert also looks upon beauty and good as identical, and Hutcheson too talks of the beauty or ugliness of actions. Butler established moral intuitionism by introspective and external examination. According to him, die order and authority of conscience is supreme, and being supplied by nature, it need not be proved.

7. Standard as Value:

According to this theory value is the moral standard. As Urban put it, ‘Value is that which satisfies human desire’. In Ward’s opinion, value is objective desire itself having no value.

In the words of Mackenzie,

“Pleasure may fairly be described as sense of value.”

A distinction has been made between intrinsic and extrinsic values. In the words of Wright, ‘An intrinsic varies is of worth on its own account; and instrumental value because of its consequence.” Moral judgment is axiological. Absolute value is the determinant of good and evil. Moral absolute good is absolute value. Value is dynamic. Value theory assimilates Hedonistic and Self-Perfectionist views and Evolutionist and Idealist views.

8. The End as Common Good:

The theory of common good is a compromise between individual dominated and society dominated theories. According to it, neither individual interest is the complete neither good nor social interest the solitary goal.

In the words of Muirhead,

“The search for personality should not be in differentiation from the whole but in whole-hearted adoption of a definite place in it”

Man’s evolution depends on maintaining relation with the whole.

He is an inseparable part of the whole. This theory is found in modern thinkers like Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Green, Bradley, Muirhead, James Seth etc., and ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. It has been pointed out against this theory that it foils to harmonize selfishness and unselfishness and could not dairy die real nature of human personality and moral obligation.

9. Perfectionism:

Self-perfectionism is the theory which propounds that die ultimate aim is self-improvement, self development or perfection. It is also called ‘Eudaemonism’, the word being derived from the Greek ‘Eudaemonism’, meaning welfare.

Thus perfectionism believes total welfare to be the ultimate aim. It is the welfare of the complete personality of the integral self, thus perfectionism tries to harmonies between Hedonism and Rationalism, selfishness and unselfishness, self-improvement and self-sacrifice, society and individual, conscience and moral obligations.

Submitted by : Professor Aniruddh, Category : Knowledge