Key Ethical Concepts

Why Moral Philosophy Matters

Lesson Objectives

Understand why Ethics moves us away from mere personal opinion and taste

Understand the general way that philosophical arguments are made

Explore the differences between Moral Realism and Antirealism

Understand the differences between Absolutism/Relativism & Monism/Pluralism

Understand why our Ethics cannot simply be left to how we feel

Appreciate the disadvantages to Cultural Relativism

Key Terms

Subjective Taste vs Moral Judgement

Philosophical Argument

Premise & Conclusion

The Grounding Problem of Ethics

Moral Realism

Moral Antirealism

Moral Absolutism

Moral Relativism

Ethical Monism

Ethical Pluralism


Cultural Relativism

Why Ethics Matters

Is there morality beyond our own subjective view?

• Statements of personal taste do not need reasons (eg. I don't like broccoli.)

• But moral judgments need reasons (eg. It's wrong that Alice lied to me.)

     • Moral judgments belong to philosophical reasoning and inquiry

• Philosophy moves us beyond mere personal feeling

     • Philosophical analysis aims for consistency of thought

          – This is the difference between objective and subjective morality

What is our Goal?

• The goal of an Ethics course isn't to tell you how to act

• Guessing my ethics or asking me what is right is not why you're here

• My goal is to help you appreciate moral complexity and to arrive at your own nuanced understanding of ethics in an informed and rigorous way

• I'm not here to make you like me. I'm here to help you create a more informed, grounded, self-aware version of yourself. I have tools. It's up to you to use them.

• It is Aristotle's contention & my own: a better person starts with better thinking

Are there "Proofs" in Ethics?

• There are differences between scientific proofs and ethical proofs

• Science is proven through experimentation. Ethics is proven through analysis

• Complex ethical questions, like complex scientific questions, are debatable

• Having a good argument is not the same thing as convincing others of your argument. Many other factors may interfere with your argument’s effectiveness on others. In the end, the study of ethics is about coming to peace with your own views and process — to know you're trying your best to pursue the good.

Before we jump into our Ethics journey, it would be useful to think first about the technical parts of a philosophical claim.