Active rights

The rights one has to act in ways that are free from the interference of others


Non-harm or non-violence; a principle that is important in many South Asian traditions

All my/our relations

A teaching shared by a number of peoples indigenous to what settlers call North America that emphasizes how one must consider and respect their relation to all other living and non-living beings

Applied ethics

A branch of moral philosophy that draws from normative moral theories and concepts to elucidate and resolve ethical problems in real-world situations

Argument repair

The process by which interlocutors amend and improve an argument in light of feedback and constructive critique


Capacity for self-governance; the ability to act in accordance with one's preferences, beliefs, and desires


Doing good or producing benefit

Care ethics

A feminist ethic that emphasizes our vulnerability and dependence on one another and argues that these relationships should be central to ethical considerations

Categorical Imperative

A fundamental moral principle, developed by Immanuel Kant, that emphasizes the centrality of reason and freedom in defining the moral law and right action

Conclusion (of an argument)

A claim that someone attempts to defend by offereing various reasons (premises)


A philosophical school based on the work of Kongfuzi (Confucius) that (among other things) emphasizes the importance of developing ethical capacities from our relationships with our parents and families

Cultural relativism

The view that holds what is ethical or unethical is relative to each culture's norms, beliefs, and practices


Duty ethics; or an approach to ethics concerned with the intrinsic morality of a choice, action, or intention


A modifier that picks out claims that describe how the world is; often contrasted with "normative"

Dialogic reasoning

When one puts forward one’s own view, then comes up with objections to that view, and then responds to those objections


Dissatisfaction, dis-ease, or suffering, identified by Buddhists as an inescapable part of life

Duties of fidelity

Duties to be trustworthy and keep our promises

Duties of gratitude

Duties to reciprocate positive actions from others that helped us

Duties of reparation

Duties to make ammends when we have harmed someone or caused a bad situation


Aristotle's idea of what makes a good life; translated as "happiness," "wellbeing," or "flourishing"


The belief that one group or person is exempt from following the same rules or standards as everyone else

False equivalency

A kind of fallacious (illogical) assertion or argument where one compares two unlike things to make a point, but the things in question are not sufficiently similar to rationally ground the point

Fast thinking

The cognitive system that we use for most of our daily decision-making that uses mental shortcuts to make quick decisions (but is more prone to errors because of this)

Fiduciary obligations

Duties that come from particular relations of trust constraining how a professional can act on behalf of their client

Filial piety

Attitude of respect for one's parents, elders, and ancestors

Formal justice

The idea that like should be treated alike; the impartial, consistent, and strict application of rules

Formula of Humanity

A formulation of Kant's Categorical Imperative which states: "So act that you use humanity, as much in your own person as in the person of every other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means" (Groundwork, 4:429); sometimes referred to as the "Second Formulation"

Formula of Universal Law

A formulation of Kant's Categorical Impertative that says, "Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you at the same time can will that it become a universal law" (Groundwork, 4:421); sometimes referred to as the "First Formulation"

Golden Rule

The principle of treating others as you want to be treated


Mental shortcuts that tend toward error when used uncritically


Violence; the act of harming

In personam rights

Rights that hold against one or more specifiable people or groups

In rem rights

Rights that hold against all people and groups in general

Interest theory of rights

The view that rights claims are justified when they would protect interests that are essential for the flourishing of the individual in quesiton


The unique way that individuals experience oppression (and privilege) due to their membership in various social groups


In the Jain tradition, a jiva is a life force or soul


Fairness or fair treatment

Legal rights

Rights that are articulated and upheld by legal codes and practices


A general rule or principle that grounds (and by doing so articulates) the reason for a particular action; see Kant's Formula of Universal Law


The philosophical school based on the work of Mozi, that emphasizes impartiality and the improvement of society

Moral licensing

A tendency to treat ethical behavior in a given context in the past as giving one licence to act unethically at a later time in a similar context

Moral rights

Rights that are justified by moral arguments

Moral status

The degree to which different organisms or beings deserve moral consideration; also called moral standing or moral considerability


The belief that one's nation (and the interests of the nation and its people) should be prioritized over other nations

Negative rights

Rights that one holds against the interference of others


Doing no harm


A modifier that picks out claims that go beyond describing something, they express an evaluation (i.e., something is good or bad). Often contrasted with "descriptive"

Normative ethical theory

The systematic study, development, and rational defence of basic values, moral concepts, and ethical theories

Nothing about us without us

A disability rights slogan that demands the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in designing studies and decision-making that affect people with disabilities; also used by other social justice movements

Passive rights

The rights one holds to not be treated in certain ways


Restricting someone's autonomy by ignoring or overriding their preferences or decisions; paternalism is often defended by saying that the paternalistic decision is in the best interests of those whose autonomy is overridden

Positive rights

Rights that entitle one to a good or service


A statement in an argument that (typically along with other premises) is offered in an attempt to convince others of a specific conclusion

Prima facie

Latin for "at first glance"

Prima facie duties

Duties that are required unless there is another competing duty that outweighs and overrides it

Principle of utility

The principle by which classical utilitarians articulate the good consequences that should be pursued and the bad consequences that should be avoided


Unprotected freedoms that do not entail corresponding duties in others; also referred to as "liberties"

Problem of free riders

Occurs when people use more than their fair share of a benefit or resource without paying their fair share to use it

Public reason

The idea that ethical rules must be acceptable or justifiable to everyone in a society who is expected to live by these rules

Rational self-interest

What is in one's own self-interest all things considered; a rational grounds for self-intereseted action

Respect for persons

Protecting and not violating those characteristics of persons (for instance, autonomy) that ground their moral status as persons


Entitlements or enforceable claims we make in relation to others; one individual's rights confer duties on others

Seven generations

A teaching shared by a number of peoples indigenous to what settlers call North America that requires one to consider the previous seven generations and future seven generations in one's decisions and actions

Slow thinking

The cognitive system, requiring considerable mental effort, that allows humans to think critically and rationally about their beliefs, values, experiences, and choices when making a decision

The personal is political

A feminist slogan that captures the ways in which our personal situation and actions reproduce (or resist) the structural inequality of our society

Theory of knowledge

The branch of philosophy dedicated to understanding the nature, grounds, justification, and limits of knowledge and related concepts; also called "epistemology"

Tragedy of the commons

A situation in which a public good is destroyed through many individuals exploiting it, where each individual could rationally justify their action because, on its own, it would not endanger the public good


A type of communal ethics that maintains that a person is a person through other people; associated with African ethics and especially South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation process


The theory of ethics that claims that the utility of consequences is the sole ground for the morality of actions

Veil of ignorance

A thought experiment proposed by John Rawls that asks us to imagine that we don't know what our social position would be in society, when we are evaluating the justice of social arrangements within that society

Will theory of rights

The view that rights function to protect the autonomy of all persons; rights define individuals as moral agents whose status demands that their agency and autonomy be protected


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Applied Ethics Primer Copyright © 2021 by Letitia Meynell and Clarisse Paron is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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