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Ethics - Introduction to ethics: Ethics: a general introduction

bbc.co.uk

At its simplest, ethics is a system of moral principles. They affect how people make decisions and lead their lives.

Ethics is concerned with what is good for individuals and society and is also described as moral philosophy.

The term is derived from the Greek word ethos whic...

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  • how to live a good life
  • our rights and responsibilities
  • the language of right and wrong
  • moral decisions - what is good and bad?

Our concepts of ethics have been derived from religions, philosophies and cultures. They infuse debates on topics like abortion,...

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Philosophers nowadays tend to divide ethical theories into three areas: metaethics, normative ethics and applied ethics.

  • Meta-ethics deals with the nature of moral judgement. It looks at the origins and meaning of ethical principles.
  • Normative ethics is concerned with the conte...

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If ethical theories are to be useful in practice, they need to affect the way human beings behave.

Some philosophers think that ethics does do this. They argue that if a person realises that it would be morally good to do something then it would be irrational for that person not to do it.

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Most moral issues get us pretty worked up - think of abortion and euthanasia for starters. Because these are such emotional issues we often let our hearts do the arguing while our brains just go with the flow.

But there's another way of tackling these issues, and that's where philosophers c...

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Using the framework of ethics, two people who are arguing a moral issue can often find that what they disagree about is just one particular part of the issue, and that they broadly agree on everything else.

That can take a lot of heat out of the argument, and sometimes even hint at a way fo...

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Ethics doesn't always show the right answer to moral problems.

Indeed more and more people think that for many ethical issues there isn't a single right answer - just a set of principles that can be applied to particular cases to give those involved some clear choices.

Some philosophe...

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Many people want there to be a single right answer to ethical questions. They find moral ambiguity hard to live with because they genuinely want to do the 'right' thing, and even if they can't work out what that right thing is, they like the idea that 'somewhere' there is one right answer.

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  • Ethics is about the 'other': when a person 'thinks ethically' they are giving at least some thought to something beyond themselves.
  • Ethics is not only about the morality of particular courses of action, but it's also about the goodness of individuals and what it means to live a good ...

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At times in the past some people thought that ethical problems could be solved in one of two ways:

  • by discovering what God wanted people to do
  • by thinking rigorously about moral principles and problems

If a person did this properly they would be led to the right con...

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  • Ethical realists think that human beings discover ethical truths that already have an independent existence.
  • Ethical non-realists think that human beings invent ethical truths.

But the ethical properties of the world and the things in it exist and remain...

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  • Moral realism is based on the idea that there are real objective moral facts or truths in the universe.
  • Subjectivism teaches that moral judgments are nothing more than statements of a person's feelings or attitudes, and that ethical statements do not...

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hilosophers have several answers to this question:

  • God and religion
  • Human conscience and intuition
  • a rational moral cost-benefit analysis of actions and their effects
  • the example of good human beings
  • a desire for the best for people in each unique situat...

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Supernaturalism makes ethics inseparable from religion. It teaches that the only source of moral rules is God.

So, something is good because God says it is, and the way to lead a good life is to do what God wants.

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Intuitionists think that good and bad are real objective properties that can't be broken down into component parts. Something is good because it's good; its goodness doesn't need justifying or proving.

Intuitionists think that goodness or badness can be detected by adults - they say that hu...

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This is the ethical theory that most non-religious people think they use every day. It bases morality on the consequences of human actions and not on the actions themselves.

Consequentialism teaches that people should do whatever produces the greatest amount of good consequences. One famous...

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  • Virtue ethics looks at virtue or moral character, rather than at ethical duties and rules, or the consequences of actions. Virtue ethics is particularly concerned with the way individuals live their lives, and less concerned in assessing particular actions.

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  • Moral absolutism: Some people think there are such universal rules (that are always true) that apply to everyone. Religious views of ethics tend to be absolutist.
  • Moral relativists say that if you look at different cultures or different periods in hi...

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