General moral principles make some general statement about what is morally right or wrong, or good or bad, or what we should or ought, or shouldn't or ought not to.
|Thou shalt not kill.|
|You should not take what does not belong to you without permission of the owner.|
|If you make a promise, you ought to keep it.|
Some claims simply report what is the case without making any moral judgments about it.
|Water is wet.|
|Killing people results in unhappiness.|
|Taking illegal drugs will land you in jail.|
Not all moral judgments are general principles. Some are about specifics.
|John was wrong to tell you that.|
|We should pull the plug on grandma.|
|Hitler was an evil person.|
Some judgments are normative, and say what ought or ought not to be done, but are not moral. Examples of these include prudential, legal, and aesthetic judgments. They may be general or specific.
|You should quit smoking.|
|That's the wrong hat for that outfit.|
|We are supposed to have turkey on Thanksgiving.|
General moral principles can serve as the major premise of a moral
|Killing is wrong.|
|Capital punishment is killing.|
|Therefore, capital punishment is wrong.|
(I am not commenting here on whether the premises are true or acceptable, just highlighting the role of the general moral principle in moral argumention.)
The first claim here, "Killing is wrong," is general moral principle. It takes a general normative position on a moral matter. It says of a general class of things that it is morally wrong or right.
To excel at moral reasoning it is important to be able to distinguish general moral principles from other claims.
Joan Callahan, "Basics and Background" in Ethical Issues in Professional Life (Oxford University Press, 1988)