Application of normative ethical theories


Natural moral law - Theft

  • Theft breaches the primary precept to live in an ordered society.
  • Contrary to the secondary precept, do not steal, which is reinforced by divine law in the 10 commandments.
  • The cardinal virtue of justice would condemn stealing

Double effect

  • Where a man is starving to death, it would be lawful to steal from another, who has enough.
  • In this case, the primary precept to preserve life would take priority over ordered society (value of act). The disvalue of act is the injustice to the person from who he steal - On balance produces more value than disvalue 
  • Intention is to save life & not steal
  • However, could be seen as practising the cardinal virtue of justice and the theological virtue of love 


However, some might say there are other alternatives for the man than stealing food, e.g. soup kitchens and food banks. Therefore, there is no need & it is still against the law.

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Natural moral law - Lying

  • Violates primary precept of living in an ordered society
  • Contrary to the secondary precept not to tell lies - it is generally accepted as being included in the 10 commandments - do not bear false witness
  • Breaks cardinal virtues of courage and justice
  • Lying is wrong because it is an unnatural failure to represent what is in one's own mind.
  • Whereas, it can be right for a man to save his life by stealing from another person, when it comes to the issue of telling a lie to save someone from death, Aqunias argues that this is not lawful
  • Mad axeman scenario - doing your moral duty you cannot lie, even if your friend will die 
  • However, can tell a misleading truth - e.g. 'I saw him shopping two hours ago'. This states the exact truth without revealing the truth that the axeman wants to hear.
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Natural moral law - Embryo research, Cloning

Aqunias' NML would reject both, since they abandon the usual methds of procreation (breaks primary precept) through loving sexual relationships. Aquinas would view them as a failure to worship God who is the creator of life.

Violate primary precept, live in an ordered society, as scientific reproduction ould lead to the breakdown of marriage relationships. Catholic church rejects such procedures for the same reasons.

  • Biblical texts - 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you'
  • Genetic blueprint of human is present at the moment of conception - a human becomes an individual person at that point. Therefore, allowing embryo research, can be seen as violating the primary precept to preserve life and the secondary precept do not murder. - However, not a strong argument 
  • The argument that embryo research / therapeutic cloning has the potential to cure all types of diseases does not pass the law of double effect, since it's not permitted to do a bad act to achieve a good result
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Natural moral law - Designer babies

Violate the primary precept of worship of God. Those repsonsible for the process are 'playing God'. God alone is the creator of life, which is essentially his gift.

  • Human life is created imago Dei - in the image of God (Genesis), so human reproduction is not something to be tampered with. To design babies so that the image of the human race is eventually changed into a trans-human state seems to go against God's intentions: the 'image' of God would no longer be seen in the human form.

Violate the primary precept of living in an ordered society, since it would lead to an even greater gap between the rich and the poor. As well as posing a threat to marriage & family harmony.

Violate the primary precept of reproduction, NML states is is wrong to seperate the sexual act from the reproducive act. Here the two are dissociated: the procreative purpose is fufilled but without the sexual act.

Violate the primary precept of preservation of life - destruction of embryos - personhood begins at conception. Also violates secondary precept, do not murder.

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Natural moral law - Abortion

  • Violates the primary precept of preservation of innocent life and the secondary precept of do not murder.
  • Violates the primary precept of worshiping God: God is the creator of human life, so abortion murders that which God creates.
  • Supported by strong sanctity of life principle - human life is sacred as it is created in God's image
  • Catholic Church reinforces this - forbids abortion except under double effect
  • Double effect -
    • If a woman's life is endangered by pregnancy, an abortion is not allowed because it violates the means end condition: it uses a bad means (killing a foetus) to achieve the good (saving mother's life)
    • If the woman's uterus is cancerious, then she may have it removed to save her life, which will result in the death of the feotus. This is morally good, as the death of the foetus is the unintended bad side-effect, not the bad means of saving the woman's life. The act is morally good as saving the mother's life is a moral intention.
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Natural moral law - Voluntary euthanasia and assis

  • Aquinas rejected any form of euthanasia or suicide
  • Aquinas - the most fearsome evil is not pain or disability but death itself - suicide injures the community as a whole; and life is God's gift to humans, so is subject to his power
  • Reject primary precepts of preserving life and worshipping God.
  • Also reject the primary precept a living in an ordered society, this is a fear shared by many governments today, where the fear is that legalising euthanasisa and assisted suicide might eventually open the door to compulsory euthanasia.
  • 1980 Declaration on Euthanasia is the Catholic Church's official document on euthanasia & reinforces Aquinas' views
  • Euthanasia and assisted suicide ignore the value of suffering for salvaton (as seen in Christ's suffering on the cross)
  • However, Catholic Church allows dying to proceed without medical intervention that would become extraordinary / disproportionate
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Natural moral law - Capital punishment

  • Capital punishment is legitimate, but is not the responsbility of individuals, because that becomes revenge, so capital punishment must be carried out by the state
  • Does not mean executioner becomes a murderer, because just as God authorised the Israelites to kill their enemies, the state authorises the executioner to kill.
  • Some NML theorists support capital punishment by referring to the law of 'talion', meaning 'retribution'. Biblical support - 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'.
  • The Catholic Church  'does not exclude the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against an unjust aggressor'. However, if there is a non-lethal way of dealing with the problem, that should be done.

Angel Diaz example (****** & murderer)

  • Just as it is lawful to kill a harmful beast, it would be right to execute Diaz because his actions threatened society.
  • Just punisment (retribution) and should serve as a deterrent to others
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Natural moral law - Intensive farming

Aquinas concluded that humans are the only rational beings. Humans alone are capable of determining their actions, so they are the only beings towards which we should extend concern for their own sakes. Animals have instrumental value only, meaning that they exist for the sake of the humans that use them.

Intensive farming

  • If animals are for human use then Aquinas' NML justifies using for food & intensive farming 
  • Not uncommon in factory farming for animals to be bludgeoned to death as a cheaper killing method - rather than sending them to an abattoir - for Aquinas' this is no more than theft - no restitution can be due to the animal, only it's owner.
  • The issue of whether animals have a right to life is not relevant to Aquinas' system, since any potential rights for animals are subsumed under rights of humans - which include right to use animals how they wish
  • The whole approach is justified by biblical ideas of dominon.
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Natural moral law - Cloning of animals

  • If that status of animals is no greater than being human property, then the use of animal is scientific procedures is not in itself immoral, particularly as experiments may develop cures for a variety of human diseases. If the animal dies, that would be acceptable to Aquinas
  • The use of scientific procedures to cure terminal diseases in humans would fufill the primary  precept to preserve (human) life.
  • The nature of some experiments done on animals would give Aquinas concern, particularly experiments which would change the nature of the animal, e.g, experiments to produce beings that are part animal and part human or mixing the genetics of different animals. Given the enormous potential of cloning to chance the very nature of animal species, Aquinas would probably condemn all such procedures, since each species was created by God to fufill its purpose as that species.
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Natural moral law - Animals as a source of organ t

  • Humans do have the moral right to use animals in any way they see fit, so with certain safeguards, using animals as a source of organs would probably be acceptable to Aquianas' NML
  • Whereas the Catholic Medical Association insists that all such procedures be carried out with due concern for animal pain and suffering, no such concern would be required by Aquinas
  • It is hard to see how an animal that is killed as the result of having its organs removed for transplantation into humans can have a chance of fufilling the end for which it was created by God, unless it is accepted that this is end was to serve human beings.


The means to an end 'the suffering of an animal to save a life' that is doing something bad to cause a good outcome, this is immoral. Unless they say the end is to serve human beings. 

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Natural moral law - Blood sports

  • Humans can use animals as they see fit, which includes blood sports 
  • The pain and suffering inflicted upon animals is acceptable as part of that use
  • If the animal dies as a result of the blood sport, then that too is acceptable, since it is a legitimate use 
  • The Catholic Church have turned to the Pope to take action over blood sports and its relation to the church and human responsibility - in the bible it states we have stewardship over animals
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Situation ethics - Theft

  • Every situation is different - address each situation before responding
  • Is the action pragmatic - sensible?
  • Does the action maximise agape love?

E.g. Student stealing a book as they do not have the money to buy it, intending to return it after the exam

  • The motive is simply the desire to pass an important test
  • Foreseeable consequences - being caught & punished, but they are more likely to achieve your desired result of passing the exam
    • Action is pragmatic: it will probably work
    • Put you as a person before the law which says you shall not steal
    • Not justified by SE - ignores what should be the 'end' of all action, namely love. Flecther insists love is justice distributed. The act cannot be just as it deprives other students of the chance to use the book you stole - Agape love is other person regarding

Stealing a loaf of bread to save starving man would be acceptable - maximises agape love

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Situation ethics - Lying

It depends on the situation

  • Lying by deliberately withholding infomation
    • Due to legal principle - preventing disclosure of someone's medical details
    • Syphilitic man in marrying without informing her of his cndition - she will probably contract and any children may contract
      • Not informing the girl shows a lack of love - dangerous outcome - not justifible - does not maximise agape love
    • The decision of British intelligence during the Second World War to let a number of female agents to return to Germany to cerain death, in order to keep it secret that they had broken the German code
      • Acting out of love for the majority of people
      • Without this thousands may have died and the war may have continued longer
      • Agapeic calculus - amount of risk, distribution of love in best intrests of majority & love brought about in the long term
  • Lying by reassurance 
    • Nurses telling people they are going to be ok / get better  - shows agape love 
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Situation ethics - Embryo research, Cloning & Desi

  • Not opposed to any of these procedures. Humans are (in Flecther's view) makers, selectors and designers, so if adequate controls are in place then there is no reaon why humans should not be redesigned to banish disease
  • Fletcher says he would favour making and using man - machine hybrids rather than genetically design people for dangerous & unrewarding roles, even though we clearly see the dangers and promises of such procedures. 
  • Love for persons - Fletcher's directing the love concerned towards the persons who will benefit from such procedures rather than the embryo or the clone. 
    • For Flecther actual persons are more important than potential persons.
  • Need to consider the most loving action - in some cases will be have a loving benefit (situational)


In Flecther using agapeic calculus based on potential goods rather than their potential evils? As these will all almost certainly happen in the not too distant future

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Situation ethics - Abortion

Entirely situational

Jewish doctor - gave 3,000 Jewish women abortions in concentration camps, as if pregnant they were to be incinerated. Even accepting the view that the embryos were 'human lives' (which many of us do not) by 'killing' 3,000 the doctor saved 3,000 and prevented the murder of 6,000.

  • Matter of agapeic calculus
  • Most loving for the most people - person centric - focuses on love for the mother instead of feotus - actual persons more important than potential persons

Schizophrenic girl, ***** by another patient in mental hospital. Should an abortion be performed?

  • Flecther - 'May we rightly terminare this pregnancy, begun in an act of force and violence upon a frightened mentally ill girl?[span]
    • Most loving would be abortion - maximises love for the mother 
    • Prevents distress & pain to mother - who may not understand the fact she is pregnant 
    • Love for foetus - being born into a family unable to care for it 
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Situation ethics - Euthanasia and assisted suicide

Man, with a terminal diseases. His life expectancy is 8 months and he will be in great pain until his death. No set rules to apply - the situation has to be judged on its own merits, e.g.

  • Is his choice rational - made without family pressure?
  • Is he suffering from depression - which might at some point change?
  • How correct is the diagnosis likely to be - might it go into remission?
  • Has his choice to die been approved by more than one competent medical authority?
  • Are there other alternatives - hospices / care homes - may be more loving?
  • SE is personal - put people before rules - should never allow endless pain and suffering
  • SE would try to find a rational, pragmatic and personal descision for each case
  • Fletcher asks what purposes are sufficient to justify the loss of one’s life - relief from demoralising pain where there is no further possibility of serving others is sufficient.
  • We should believe in the sacredness of personality, but not in mere existence in terms of length of time.
  • Weigh up the risks and find the most loving action - cannot know where risks might lead -  always risks when using agape
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Situation ethics - Capital punishment

SE has no set views on capital punishment

Fletcher says that with each situation there are no rules which compel you to go one way or another. For SE, the most loving action should determine which view you take about a situation.

Angel Diaz case - most loving capital punishment - protects the majority from his dangerous crimes

Some situationists might have differing ideas about whether Jesus was a pacifist - which would affect thier view of the appropriateness of capital punishment.

Some might disagree about the aims of punishment - those who accept the value of retribution and deterrence might demand capital punishment - those who prefer the idea of reformation and rehabilitation would recommended imprisonment.

The decision to execute a man would be unloving for criminal but would be pragmatic in applying love to the majority - whose love is more important, the V and their family or the person being executed.

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Situation ethics - intensive farming

With situation ethics, it is cometimes difficult to see where the theory take us. Perhaps the main issue is that of ‘personalism’. By definition, Flecther’s situation ethics is concerned with persons. Agape love in the Bible is also primarily concerned with persons. This does not mean that animals are of no concern in situation ethics, but it does mean that human interests will generally be put first

Intensive farming

  • Current estimates are that around 795 million people are undernourished, having insufficient food to lead an active and healthy life.
  • Some who follow situation ethics would argue that the most loving thing to do is to increase intensive farming and the mechanisation of agriculture, since this puts persons first. They might argue that starving children is worse than the practice of intensive animal farming
  • Other situation ethicists could argue that this is not loving, because the calculations maximise misery rather than love, and look for short term rather than long term solutions to the problem. The fact is that the meat industry contributes to human starvation, since, for example, cattle consume around 15 times more grain than they can produce as meat and it could be seen as more loving to abandon intensive animal farming in favour of the production of crops.
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Situation ethics - Cloning of animals

  • Fletcher himself was involved in cloning research and had clear views on bio-ethics. In particular, he advocated the use of animals in scientific procedures as the means to the end of human welafare, and as a pragmatic way of saving human lives by the development of vaccines for the major diseases which cause so much human suffering
    • Many surveys have been conducted and people are happy for animals to be used in experiements, provided they are not suffering
    • To some situation ethicists, the most practical, effective and agapeic ways of addressing human disease, is with animal experiments.

Some argue, however, that it can never be loving to subject an animal to the kinds of test that experimentation requires. Moreover, although it is claimed that pain controls for animals are expensive, this is often disputed.

Many disagree with cloning, due to the fact it is unknown what effects will cloning have on the animal and if cloning is successful where will it fit into society e.g. Dolly the sheep

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Situation ethics - Animals as a source of organ tr

  • Depend on the situation and the status of the animal. But situation ethics is focused around people not animals
  • Directed at persons. For most people, animals do not qualify as persons in the strict sense, although for others they do; so again, answers to questions about the use of animals as a cource of organs for transplants will depend on the situation and on what the individual thinks about the status of animals.
  • It seems likely the main question here is, ‘who is to be helped?’ And an immediate answer includes all those in need of transplants for organs, so transplantation from animals to humans would help persons
  • An agapeic calculus here needs to be future-looking, since the technology does not yet exist in usable form. The most likely donors are pigs, since their body organs are similar in size to ours and pigs are readily available (whereas chimpanzees are an endangered species). The calculus would also have to consider the possibility of transmitting infections from donor to recipient, although Fletcher points out that agapeic calculations always carry some risk, otherwise there would be no need for calculation in the first place.
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Situation ethics - blood sports

It is likely that most situation ethicists would not put the interests of humans before those of animals  where human pleasures are gained at the expense of animal pain and suffering

In particular, the nature of the human pleasure can be said to degrade those who take part in blood sports, for example, because it may damage the character, perhaps leads to other forms of violence, and desensitises people into allowing people to inflict pain for pleasure.

A situation ethicist could construct a case that fox hunting is agapeic, for example, on the grounds that foxes reputedly do great damage to stocks of chicken and lamb and could provide entertainment for humans.

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Virtue ethics - Theft

The focus is not so much on what to do in particular situations but on the development of a person's character over a lifetime.

Theft is not developing a virtuous character

Theft is always a base action, an just as there is no way one can commit adultery well or not well with the person one ought, there is no way one can steal well or not well, with the victim one ought. - Unlike NML that permits stealing to feed someone who was starving

Artistotle spoke about the virtue of justice in 2 senses: first in the broad sense (whole system of law) and second in a narrower sense (fairness - restoring the distribution of gain and loss where a loss has occured through theft). It is perhaps this kind of theft Aristotle is considering when he says theft is always a base action. - There is clearly a difference between someone who steals for purely personal profit and stealing in order to save someone's life (e.g. starving man)

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Virtue ethics - Lying

  • Point to the virtues of honesty and truthfulness which forbids it
  • Could also require courage to tell the truth & justice of admitting a fault
  • Lying easily becomes habitual
  • Looks like a blanket condemation - probably not the case
    • Lying is discussed under the virtue of truthfullness - excess: boastfulness - deficiency: self deprication
    • Creates false image of self by excess / deficiency - the mean is neither to exagerrate or underrate yourself

Mad axeman scenario

  • Virtues - friendship, loyalty and honour - that you should show to your friend, balanced against the honestly & truthfulness you should show to others
  • If your character is truthful & honest, then you will be justified in lying, as this becomes the mean
  • Will not lead you to be dishonest in future - decision made through your virtuous character as a person of practical wisdom
  • Lying to save a stranger - virtues of empathy, compassion & understanding.
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Virtue ethics - Embryo research, Cloning & Designe

  • Important virtue to have is compassion - especially towards others.
  • As with SE compassion is likely to focus on people whose well-being is destroyed by disease rather than a collection of cells in a petri dish
    • Stem cell research and cloning might be an opportunity to increase human wellbeing, and to develop the virtues of courage and vision through the removal of disease and suffering
  • Trans-humans may be bred for specific character traits, such as excessive aggression in soldiers. 
    • In future the dispositions required of potential human beings, may not match Aristotle's understanding of mean
  • Physical & mental modification of humans is probably inevitable - problems as future development will likely resuly in a society where new virtues will be developed & key ones will be lostvirtuous future humans will be different to current virtuous humans
    • No common virtues & traits to produce person of practical wisdom
    • Teleological aspect will be lost
  • Short term, offers opportunity to increase human well-being & develop virtues of courage & vision through the removal of diseases.
    • Failure to use PGD where it could prevent suffering makes medics/parents responsible for that suffering
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Virtue ethics - Abortion

For Aristotle, abortion should take place before there are signs of an individual human being having been established. We know that these signs appear very early, which is why we have the 14 day rule about experimentation of human embryos, so Aristotle seems to be taking a similar approach to our own - that it is better to abort 'potential' babies rather than 'actual' babies.

  • Abortion is a moral issue that has little to do with what the rules about abortion might say, and nothing to do with someone’s rights. Acting within your rights does not mean that you are acting virtuously: you might be acting callously or selfishly.
  • The act of abortion is not at all like deciding whether or not to have a tooth out: it is a supremely important decision about whether or not to end a life.
  • Thus the reason for having an abortion should not be something comparatively trivial, like the woman worrying about how she will look, or deciding that she does not like morning sickness, or does not want to give up her job: the reason has to be something weighty. Cutting short a life is, otherwise, morally evil.
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Virtue ethics - Voluntary euthanasia & assisted su

Decision depends on practical wisdom & virtues

If a person is in a state where they are no longer able to achieve eudaimonia, then further living would seem to be pointless, in which case Aristotle might accept that voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide are the courageous option.

Mercy killing of wife example

  • Competing virtues of charity and love prompt to kill wife and the virtue of justice, which normally prevents killing.
  • Aristotle would place justice above charity and love, since he regards murder in the same light of theft / adultery
  • Enduring pain might be seen as the courageous option for wife
  • Nevertheless, the competeing virtues of charity, love, mercy & compassion - suggest husband's act is not murder - justifible homicide (defending wife from illness)
  • A sense of regret is a strong indication of virtuous intention, and there is no doubt the husband would feel intense regret.
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Virtue ethics - Capital punishment

Capital punishment is not discussed by Aristotle. As a punishment for various crimes, capital punishment was in use in Athenian society, so Aristotle presumably assumed that its use was part and parcel of life in the Greek city states.

Virtue of justice is about rectifying / balancing / restoring the distribution of gain and loss between two people, for example, where loss has occurred during trading, or through theft, or through loss of, or damage to, an eye or a limb when one person assaults another. In this respect, then, where one person murders another, the balance still has to be rectified, even though the victim is dead, and the only way this can be done is for the state to kill the murderer. Perhaps, then, this how Aristotle would deal with the issue of capital punishment.

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Virtue ethics - Intensive farming

Aristotle is of course the source of Aquinas’ hierarchy of souls in which plants are for animal use and animals are for human use. There were no factory farms in Aristotle’s time, and no scientific procedures in the modern sense, although Aristotle did dissect animals as part of his own investigations into animal behaviour. His whole approach to animals is based on his teleological view that all things have a final end – a reason which governs their existence, what they do and what they can achieve

Intensive farming

  • The main virtue we need to consider is that of compassion. Compassion cannot be compartmentalised so that we talk about compassion just for humans: you are either a compassionate person or you are not. If you are, then compassion must apply to all animals, human and non-human. Factory- farming of animals is not even remotely compassionate.
  • We might reply that the virtues must be directed towards persons, and not towards animals, but again, if Aristotle were to be brought back to life and given a tour of the conditions under which factory-farmed animals live, what could he point to in such conditions that could lead a person to develop a virtuous character?
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Virtue ethics - Cloning of animals

  • Aristotle himself used animals in his own scientific research, so quite clearly he would regard such procedures as compatible with a virtuous character
  • Aristotle insisted that the highest thing in us is reason, that is, our intelligenceour intellect – we use our intelligence to do science, to discover what the world is really like, and there can be no achievement of reason greater than that. Using animals in scientific procedures extends our intellect and increases knowledge, and so is virtuous on that level.
  • Moreover, the benefits of scientific research include the ability to develop drugs and medicines to control diseases such as HIV / AIDS and cancer. The same is true with animal cloning, which has the potential for controlling specific diseases and conditions in animals, thereby improving animal healthCompassion directed towards humans might therefore suggest that using animals for such research is morally good
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Virtue ethics - Animals as a source of organ trans

Aristotle’s approval of scientific research.

His emphasis on the development of useful knowledge.

The compassion shown to humans who might survive through organ transplants.

The callousness to animals by judging that their lives are expendable.

The callousness shown towards those in society who are distressed at the prospect of using animals in this way.

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Virtue ethics - Blood sports

It would be difficult to find convincing arguments against blood sports in Aristotle’s writings, since hunting was a common Greek pastime and was a source of food.

In terms of the modern debate, hunting animals in public will upset and offend some people, as is the case with fox-huntingwhere the general disquiet about hunting foxes has led to a ban on the practice in England, Scotland and Wales.

Some people judge a person by his or her treatment of animals, for example, in terms of the consideration shown to animals that cannot defend themselves.Participation in blood sports suggests to some lack of consideration / compassion to humans as well as animals.

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Thank you so much, this is so helpful! you are a gem :)







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