Preliminary overview of ethics

“What I know already about ethics”

Jot down two or three things (of philosophical importance) that you know about ethics.

Sample questions to which you might have an answer:

  What is ethics?

  What are the main topics in ethics?

  What are its main branches?

  What are the main types of ethical theory?

  How would you describe each type?

Compare what you wrote down with what a neighbour wrote down, and pick one point to share with the class.

What is ethics?

Your answers

My answer

  the philosophical study of morality

Note: The word ‘ethics’ is singular, like ‘physics’.

What are the main topics in ethics?

Your answers

My answer

  (morally) right and wrong conduct

   good and bad character (virtues and vices)

   good and bad consequences (intrinsic value & disvalue)

What are the branches of ethics?

  Your answer

  My answer

                                Ethics: theoretical, applied

                                Theoretical ethics: meta-ethics, normative ethics


  the meaning and justification of moral statements

  an action type/token is [morally] right/wrong

  a character trait is [morally] good/bad

  a state of affairs is good/bad

  whether moral properties are real

Normative ethics

  fundamental principles/rules of right and wrong conduct

  virtues and vices

  criteria of intrinsic value and disvalue

Applied ethics

  casuistry (cases, controversial issues)

  professional ethics

Key question: How well does normative theory X fit our judgment in case a?

Types of normative theories

  Your answer

My answer


  Consequentialist / teleological


Deontological ethical theories

  Your description

My description

  from Greek “deon” = duty

   ultimates: kinds of right and wrong action

  consequences not the basis

   they may be relevant

   examples: 10 commandments, Kant?, Ross, Gert?

Consequentialist / teleological ethical theories

  Your description

My description

  from Greek “telos” = end

   ultimates: kinds of intrinsic value and disvalue

   right and wrong determined wholly by consequences


  What formula? Maximization?

  Consequences for whom? Humans only?

  How weighted? Humans worth more than animals?

  Criteria of good and bad?

  Applied to actions or rules?

   examples: Bentham, Mill, Sidgwick, Moore

Virtue ethics

  Your description

My description

  ultimates: good and bad character traits

   moral decision-making a matter of judgment, not derivation from abstract general principles

   good judgment developed through experience

   attention to particular situation is required

   examples: Aristotle, MacIntyre (After Virtue)

Your initial preference (for the tutorial)

Of the three types of normative ethical theories (deontological, consequentialist, virtue ethics), which one initially appeals the most to you?

Write down a sentence that states why you initially prefer this type of ethical theory.