Why be moral?

The AQA philosophy AS specification includes a module on different approaches to morality.  You need to understand both what morality is and what motivates people to behave morally.

It is important that you are able to distinguish between

  • descriptive and normative accounts of morality
  • between a priori and a posteriori approaches
  • between deontological and consequentialist approaches

This page is currently primarily a page of useful links.  Topic notes will be added later.



Morality as a social contract

The first approach to morality is to present it as a conventional agreement for our mutual advantage.  In other words, it is instrumental in bringing about something that is good for us.  According to Hobbes' social contract theory morality is relative rather than absolute.  Moral laws are created by human beings and can therefore vary between different groups.  Our motivation for behaving morally is our self-interest and social contract theories are associated with psychological egoism (the idea that we are only ever motivated by self-interest) and rational egoism (the idea that we can make short term sacrifices for our long term self-interest using our reason to guide our self-interested behaviour).

Hobbes' ideas as presented in his work The Leviathan should form the focus of your study but it is useful to know something of Plato, Locke, Rawls and Rousseau as well.

The BBC series In Our Time has a useful 45 minute episode on the Social Contract theory.  You can listen to it here.

You can find the whole of the Leviathan online here.  Chapter 13-20 are among the most relevant.  Sparknotes on Hobbes Leviathan is here.

Sparknotes also provide a summary of Rousseau's book The Social Contract you can find there summary here.

It Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a detailed but accessible account of different Social Contract theories and can be found here.

Morality as constitutive of our self-interest

Morality as overcoming our self-interest