Online Guide to Ethics and Moral Philosophy


Robert Cavalier

Philosophy Department
Carnegie Mellon

Part I History of Ethics

Preface: The Life of Socrates
Section 1: Greek Moral Philosophy
Section 2: Hellenistic and Roman Ethics
Section 3: Early Christian Ethics
Section 4: Modern Moral Philosophy
Section 5: 20th Century Analytic Moral Philosophy

Part II Concepts and Problems

Preface: Meta-ethics, Normative Ethics and Applied Ethics
Section 1: Ethical Relativism
Section 2: Ethical Egoism
Section 3: Utilitarian Theories
Section 4: Deontological Theories
Section 5: Virtue Ethics
Section 6: Liberal Rights and Communitarian Theories
Section 7: Ethics of Care
Section 8: Case-based Moral Reasoning
Section 9: Moral Pluralism

Part III Applied Ethics

Preface: The Field of Applied Ethics
Section 1: The Topic of Euthanasia
Multimedia Module: A Right to Die? The Dax Cowart Case
Section 2: The Topic of Abortion
Multimedia Module: The Issue of Abortion in America
Postscript: Conflict Resolution

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Meta-ethics, Normative Ethics, and Applied Ethics

 

Metaethics talks about the nature of ethics and moral reasoning. Discussions about whether ethics is relative and whether we always act from self-interest are examples of meta-ethical discussions. In fact, drawing the conceptual distinction between Metaethics, Normative Ethics, and Applied Ethics is itself a "metaethical analysis."

Normative ethics is interested in determining the content of our moral behavior. Normative ethical theories seek to provide action-guides; procedures for answering the Practical Question ("What ought I to do?"). The moral theories of Kant and Bentham are examples of normative theories that seek to provide guidelines for determining a specific course of moral action. Think of the Categorical Imperative in the case of the former and the Principle of Utility in the case of the latter.

Applied Ethics attempts to deal with specific realms of human action and to craft criteria for discussing issues that might arise within those realms. The contemporary field of Applied Ethics arouse in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Today, it is a thriving part of the field of ethics. Numerous books and web-sites are devoted to topics such as Business Ethics, Computer Ethics, and Engineering Ethics. (See the Bioethics Center for an example of activities in the area Medical Ethics).

This section will explore various concepts and problems concerned with meta- and normative ethical theories. The analysis of normative ethical theories will utilize Beauchamp and Childress's approach to this topic.

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Copyright 2002 (first published 1/96)

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