Critical Thinking

Chapter 13: Glossary

This alphabetical glossary contains short definitions for all the important terms and concepts from the chapter. You will also find hyperlinks to Websites relevant to the study of these terms and concepts. You should employ good critical thinking when evaluating the merit of any information you find on the World Wide Web, including what you find by following these links.


Aesthetic reasoning:  Any reasoning that aims at defending or criticizing a judgment about art.

Appeal to precedent:  In legal reasoning, the use of an established court case to argue for an interpretation of the law in a similar case.  Appeal to precedent entail analogical arguments.

Descriptive claim:  As opposed to a prescriptive claim, an assertion about a clear matter of fact.

Divine command theory:  A moral theory or framework according to which actions are right or wrong because of God's commands.  Stealing is wrong because the Ten Commandments prohibit it.

Duty theory:  A moral theory or framework, especially connected with Kant, according to which actions are right or wrong because of their inherent content, and the motive (namely duty) from which they are done.  Stealing is wrong principally because we can't make taking property a universal law.

Harm principle:  A justification for laws against some action: The action must harm other people.  We are right to ban false advertising, not because it is a lie, but because it can mislead people to their detriment.

  • J.S. Mill The Harm Principle:  Short piece on the Harm Principle written by William T. Myers, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Birmingham-Southern College.
  • Liberty and the Harm Principle:  Notes for a lecture given by Professor Robert C. Koons at the University of Texas.
  • Mill:  A short biography of Mill, concluding with a discussion of his Harm Principle. 

Inconsistency:  In moral matters, the treatment of some people differently from others for no relevant reason, or the belief that one action or situation is morally permissible while a similar one is not.

Legal moralism:  A justification for laws against some action: The action must be immoral.  We are right to limit private sexual behavior, because certain behaviors are wrong.

Legal paternalism:  A justification for laws against some action: The action harms the person who does it.  we are right to forbid drug use, because it degrades and incapacitates the user.

 Legal reasoning:  Argumentation about either the foundation of all law or the interpretation of specific laws.

Moral issue:  Any issue concerning how one ought to behave, how others ought to behave, or whether a situation is proper or improper.

Moral reasoning:  Any reasoning about a moral issue.  Moral reasoning includes arguments about what one should or shouldn't do, but also considerations of available options, and all similar deliberation about morally relevant matters.

  • Moral Reasoning: Principles and Problems:  Chapter two of an online text includes sections on the nature of Moral Reasoning and the fallacies of Moral Reasoning.
  • Moral Reasoning in the Public Service:  The summary given of this paper, written by by Kai Dramer, says "Much of the interest in public service ethics has been directed towards gross immorality and even crime - acts that we know for sure are wrong. The paper argues that this concern should be complemented by an equally strong interest in modes of conduct that require moral reasoning in order to determine whether they are right or wrong." 

Naturalistic fallacy:  In moral reasoning, the mistake of assuming a set of descriptive claims to imply a prescriptive claim.

Offense principle:  A justification for laws against some action:  The action offends most people.  This principle overlaps in practice with legal moralism.  We are right to ban the public display of blasphemous art, because most people find it offensive.

Prescriptive claim:  A claim that prescribes action or otherwise evaluates a person, action, or situation; a value judgment.  "You should find that bike's rightful owner and return it."  We distinguish prescriptive claims from descriptive ones.

Relativism:  A moral theory or framework according to which actions are right or wrong because of the beliefs of one's culture or group.  Stealing is wrong because our culture doesn't like it.

 

Utilitarianism:  A moral theory or framework, especially connected with Mill, according to which actions are right or wrong because of the total happiness they bring about.  Stealing is wrong because it makes more people more unhappy than a rule against stealing does.

 Virtue ethics:  A moral theory or framework, especially connected with Aristotle, according to which ethical value inheres in people's virtues.  Virtue ethics focuses not on actions but on good and bad character.  Stealing is wrong because a person of balanced character would not give in to the temptation to steal.


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