Ethics is one of the main branches of philosophy. Its range, extending from fundamental questions about the nature of our humanity and freedom to very practical questions about the morality of physician-assisted suicide and experiments on animals, is vast. An introduction must, therefore, be selective in its coverage. I have chosen, as a way of covering the central questions of ethics, to concentrate on different theories of right and wrong that we find in the great works of Western philosophy and that continue to have a large presence in the field. Sustained study of these theories illuminates systematic connections among the field's central questions and the ideas the philosophers who produced the theories invented to answer them.
A good introduction to a branch of philosophy not only surveys its major ideas and theories but also exemplifies philosophical inquiry into them. I have tried to do both. In doing so, I hope to draw the reader into inquiry of the kind that philosophers undertake when they examine a philosophical question as well as to inform him or her about the major ideas and theories in which philosophers who study ethics traffic. Philosophical inquiry requires argument and criticism, and the reader needs to be aware that some of the arguments and criticism I make in the course of examining these different ethical theories represent my own reflections on them rather than settled opinion among the experts. Some of what I say, then, is bound to be controversial.
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