Ethical formalism

Ethical formalism

Ethical formalism is a type of ethical theory which defines moral judgements in terms of their logical form (e.g., as "laws" or "universal prescriptions") rather than their content (e.g., as judgements about what actions will best promote human well-being). The term also often carries critical connotations. Kant, for example, has been criticized for defining morality in terms of the formal feature of being a "universal law", and then attempting to derive from this formal feature various concrete moral duties.

Ethical formalism is related to, but not identical to, Harry J. Gensler's relatively recent (circa 1996) theory of formal ethics. Formal ethics is similar to ethical formalism in that it focuses on formal features of moral judgments, but is distinct in that the system of formal ethics is explicitly (and intentionally) incomplete. Specifically, while some ethical formalist systems (e.g., arguably Kant's "universal laws") view a set of formal features as both necessary and sufficient, formal ethics views such formal features as necessary but not sufficient.

ee also

*ethical naturalism
*ethical objectivism
*ethical relativism
*ethical subjectivism
*ethical voluntarism


*Kant, Immanuel, "Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals", tr. H.J. Paton. London. 1948.
*Warnock, G.J. "Contemporary Moral Philosophy" (London, 1967).

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