Moral Principles

Principles of Moral Reasoning

The Principles of Sufficient Moral Reason

If an action is morally permissible, then there exists a moral reason that suffices to explain why the action is morally permissible.

If an action is morally obligatory, then there exists a moral reason that suffices to explain why the action is morally obligatory.

If an action is morally impermissible, then there exists a moral reason that suffices to explain why the action is morally impermissible.

The Principles of Moral Analogy

If one of any two actions which are similar in all morally relevant respects is morally permissible, then so is the other.

If one of any two actions which are similar in all morally relevant respects is morally obligatory, then so is the other.

If one of any two actions which are similar in all morally relevant respects is morally impermissible, then so is the other.

Moral Principles

The Principle of Nonmaleficence

We should avoid causing needless harm to others by our actions.

The Principle of Beneficence

We should promote the welfare of others by our actions.

The Principle of Autonomy

We should allow rational people to be self-determining, except possibly where:

The Harm Principle

Autonomy should be restricted if, by doing so, we act to prevent harm to others.

Weak Paternalism

An individual's autonomy should be restricted if, by doing so, we act to prevent the individual from doing harm to him or herself.

Strong Paternalism

An individual's autonomy should be restricted if, by doing so, we act to benefit the individual.

The Welfare Principle

Autonomy should be restricted if it is done so with the expectation of a substantial benefit to others.

The Principle of Justice

We should treat similar cases in similar ways, possibly according to:

The Principle of Equality

Benefits and burdens should be equally distributed.

The Principle of Need

Those with greater need should receive more benefits so as attain an eventual equilibrium.

The Principle of Contribution

Everyone should benefit according to the extent to which they produce.

The Principle of Effort

Everyone should benefit according to the extent of their efforts.

*Portions adapted from Intervention and Reflection: Basic Issues in Medical Ethics. 5th ed. ed. Ronald Munson (Belmont; Wadsworth 1996)