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Introduction to Philosophical Ethics

Introduction to Philosophical Ethics

Author: Glenn Kuehn

In this lesson, students will define the concept of ethics and its characteristics.

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Source: Image of Socrates, Creative Commons,

Video Transcription

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Hello, I'm Glenn, and this ethics tutorial is on this introduction to philosophical ethics. Let's first look at a couple ideas to keep in mind for the tutorial, cover the content of the tutorial, and a few key terms. Things to keep in mind for this tutorial are the definition of philosophy and also the goals of philosophy.

In this tutorial, we will give a definition and a general understanding of ethics, and how it operates in our thinking and in our world. This is going to be included, but not limited, to the goals of ethics and how it relates to critical thinking. A key term to keep in mind for this tutorial is that ethics is the branch of philosophy that analyzes and defends concepts of value and, thereby, seeks to determine right from wrong.

Here are some general ideas to keep in mind as we study ethics. For one thing, ethical behavior is essential for civilization. It is one of the basic components that allows us to learn how to get along with each other.

At some point in our lives, hopefully early on, we learn that there are other people in the world who have concerns, and wants, and interests, and desires that are similar to our own. And we need to get along with each other and respect these desires and wishes as we would want others to respect ours. So the study of ethics helps us determine ways of learning how to get along with each other.

Ethics also has an overall goal of pursuing truth that better us as individuals. We want to become better people, and the study of ethics helps us do that. Ethics can be used to justify our actions after we have done them, but this is a manipulation of the system, and it's a manipulation of philosophical thinking. We need to avoid that. Instead, use the study of ethics to learn how to become a better person.

In this pursuit, we must remember to abide by the rigors of philosophical inquiry. We must try to be systematic, objective, consistent, dispassionate, and abide by the logical rules of argumentation. Of those, two are particularly important to keep in mind. One is systematicity and the other is objectivity. We want to remain as systematic as possible in our ethical reasoning. This will allow us to be consistent and to not create exceptions where there shouldn't be any.

An example of a systematic reasoning of making exceptions would be the following, I might believe that I have a right to buy a home wherever I want to in any neighborhood, because I believe that people should be free to live wherever they want to. However, if I oppose the sale of the house next door to mine to someone who has a mental illness, then I'm changing the reasoning. I'm being inconsistent. I am changing the systematicity to favor my interests over the others despite the principle that I believe in. We need to avoid this kind of thinking in ethics.

The other thing to keep in mind is objectivity. Ethical standards should be applied fairly and appropriately to all people, all considerations, everything that is relevant as much as possible. This is not always achievable, but this should be a goal.

And it should be applied fairly and appropriately to ourselves, to our loved ones, to strangers. It shouldn't make a difference. We need to avoid self interest.

An example of being non-objective is going against the general idea that we shouldn't steal. Let's say I work in a restaurant-- I'm chef, so this is possible-- Let's say I work in a restaurant, and I steal food because I'm poor. I can justify stealing the food because I can't afford to buy it on my own. And perhaps, the restaurant has an excess of food that they don't appear to need, from my point of view, and, therefore, I take it.

I can justify this. And some people might side with me, but it goes against the idea. I'm making an exception for myself. And this is remaining non-objective because I'm placing my interests above the interests of others and above the interest of staying true to the idea that stealing is wrong.

In fact, there are other options for me to get food. Other ways rather than taking it from the restaurant. So we need to remain systematic and objective above all. In review, we have covered the definition and a general understanding of ethics. We've talked a little bit about its goals, and the requirements for it to adhere to the rigors of philosophical inquiry.

Terms to Know

The branch of philosophy that analyzes and defends concepts of value and thereby seeks to determine right and wrong .