Ethics 00 - Introduction

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When we do moral philosophy, we reflect on how we ought to live. We ask what principles we ought to live by and why we should follow these principles instead of others. We consider various views and try to sort through them rationally.

These questions are about the Introduction to Harry Gensler's Ethics: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge: 1998 and 2011).


To do philosophy is to reason about the ultimate questions of life -- questions like "Is there a God?" and "Are our actions free or determined?"

Philosophy reasons about such questions. We first try to get clear on what the question is asking. Then we consider the range of possible answers. We criticize each answer as brutally as we can; and we eliminate views that lead to absurdities. We look for the most adequate of the remaining views. If we can't completely resolve the issue, at least we can hope to arrive at a well thought-out belief.

Reasoning about philosophical questions involves constructing arguments, which consist in premises and a conclusion. We aim for clearly true premises from which our conclusion logically follows. The most common way to reason attacks a view by showing that it logically implies things that are false or doubtful.

Moral philosophy

Moral philosophy reasons about the ultimate questions of morality. Moral philosophy has two parts:
    1. Metaethics studies the nature and methodology of moral judgments. It deals with what "good" means, whether there are moral truths, and how we can justify or rationally defend beliefs about right and wrong.

    2. Normative ethics studies principles about how we ought to live. It looks for norms about what is right or wrong, worthwhile, virtuous, or just.

Metaethics is more basic, since it studies how to select moral principles and thus how to do normative ethics.

Our plan of attack

In this book we'll first consider various views about the nature and methodology of ethics. Then we'll consider a practical approach to moral rationality that stresses consistency and the golden rule. Then we'll deal with some issues of normative ethics.

In studying moral philosophy, we'll be wrestling with some of the great questions of life, refining our thinking about morality, and sharpening our general thinking processes.

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This set has 17 problems.