The schools of thought swing a few ways on this matter. Let’s start by defining what it means to be moral. There’s descriptive and normative morality. Descriptive morality is a code of conduct in a specified group or environment. A group decides what is acceptable behavior. What’s moral in the mafia is different from what’s moral in a youth minister group is different from what’s moral in the boy scouts. Descriptive ethics, a.k.a. comparative ethics, analyses the ethical codes people follow. Normative ethics deals with how people ought to behave. In normative ethics, a code of conduct is applicable to and ideal for all rational individuals. It's important to make the distinction that this applies to all “rational” people, thus excluding children, people with acute mental illnesses, retardation, etc. whose cognition & hus ability to reason is impaired or underdeveloped. Normative ethics is broken down into 3 subsets:
- Virtue ethics (Plato, Aristotle)- looks at individual character which is virtue (excellence of character broken down into traits) combined with practical wisdom. The act is good if it's carried out by a virtuous person & done for virtuous reasons.
- If the person rescues someone only in hopes to make profit then the person is not virtuous 1) because they lacked virtue (liberality) and the reason for saving them was not virtuous (it was miserly).
- Deontology (Kant, Locke)- belief that actions are right or wrong (according to a set of rules) regardless of their consequences.
- Kantian: inherent human dignity dictates morality. You should obey moral law out of respect for the law (and thus the inherent dignity of each person). Since the motivation for saving the person is profit not respect for moral law, it’s immoral.
- Consequentialism- the consequences of an action determines whether it's right or wrong. Includes utilitarianism (Bentham , J S Mill) egoism, welfarism, etc.
- Since the consequence of saving someone's life is that they live, the goodness of the action is not diluted by seeking a profit.