Four fundamental ethical principles (a very simple
- The Principle of Respect for
Autonomy is Latin for "self-rule" We have an obligation to
respect the autonomy of other persons, which is to respect the
decisions made by other people concerning their own lives. This is
also called the principle of human dignity. It
gives us a negative duty not to interfere with the decisions of
competent adults, and a positive duty to empower others for whom
Corollary principles: honesty in our dealings with others &
obligation to keep promises.
- The Principle of Beneficence
We have an obligation to bring about good in all our actions.
Corollary principle? We must take positive steps to prevent
harm. However, adopting this corollary principle frequently
places us in direct conflict with respecting the autonomy of other
- The Principle of nonmaleficence
(It is not "non-malfeasance," which is a technical legal
term, & it is not "nonmalevolence," which means that
one did not intend to harm.)
We have an obligation not to harm others: "First, do no
Corollary principle: Where harm cannot be avoided, we are obligated
to minimize the harm we do.
Corollary principle: Don't increase the risk of harm to others.
Corollary principle: It is wrong to waste resources that could be
used for good.
Combining beneficence and nonaleficence: Each action must produce
more good than harm.
- The Principle of justice
We have an obligation to provide others with whatever they are owed
or deserve. In public life, we have an obligation to treat all
people equally, fairly, and impartially.
Corollary principle: Impose no unfair burdens.
Combining beneficence and justice: We are obligated to work for the
benefit of those who are unfairly treated.
Last updated Feb. 3, 2012