Ethics and Morality

Richard Price was a devoted dissenting minister and considered any time not spent at his ministry as being a dereliction of his duty. His first publication was his ‘Review of the Principal Questions of Morals’ which he published in 1757 and which was, as the name suggests, a gathering together of all of the different viewpoints that had previously been expressed in print regarding morality and ethics. It was this ‘Review’ that led to Richard being awarded a Doctorate from Marischal College in Aberdeen (which later became the University of Aberdeen).

Price addressed the difficult subject of morality – what is a Right action and what is a Wrong action. More specifically he sought to explain how we know what is a Right or Wrong action.

There were, and still are two schools of thought as to how we know what is a Right and Wrong action. One school believes that we can distinguish between right and wrong by a feeling or moral sense People who believe that the distinction between right and wrong is due to this feeling belong to the Sentimentalist School. They believe that it is our sentiments that allow us to perform right actions as in “them’s my sentiments”. David Hume and others belonged to the Sentimenalist School.

The other school of thought believe that we can and do distinguish between right and wrong by using our Intellect. It is our Intuition that provides us with the capacity to choose to do right things. Not surprisingly this school of thought was and are called the Intuition or Intellectual school. This is what Richard Price believed – that it is by rational reasoning that we distinguish between good and bad. We are all born good but can be made bad by society and experiences.

Richard also contributed to another aspect of moral philosophy. He believed that you should always tell the truth or take the right action when faced with a moral dilemma regardless of the consequences of either telling the truth or taking the right course of action. Even if it meant that doing the right thing meant that something bad would happen as a result, you should, Price believed, always tell the truth and/or do the right thing. This is a theme that was developed thirty years later by Immanuel Kant whose works on morality and ethics were based on Price’s works and who has name has not been forgotten.

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