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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - What is ethics?


The problems of ethics: an example

Ethics, like other branches of philosophy, springs from seemingly simple questions. What makes honest actions right and dishonest ones wrong? Why is death a bad thing for the person who dies? Is there anything more to happiness than pleasure and freedom from pain? These are questions that naturally occur in the course of our lives, just as they naturally occurred in the lives of people who lived before us and in societies with different cultures and technologies from ours. They seem simple, yet they are ultimately perplexing. Every sensible answer one tries proves unsatisfactory upon reflection. This reflection is the beginning of philosophy. It turns seemingly simple questions into philosophical problems. And with further reflection we plumb the depths of these problems.

Of course, not every question that naturally occurs in human life and proves hard to answer is a source of philosophical perplexity. Some questions prove hard to answer just because it is hard to get all the facts. Whether there is life on Mars, for instance, and whether the planet has ever supported life are questions people have asked for centuries and will continue to ask until we have enough facts about the Martian environment to reach definite answers. These are questions for the natural sciences, whose business it is to gather such facts and whose problems typically arise from difficulties in finding them and sometimes even in knowing which ones to look for.

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An Introduction to Ethics
  • Online ISBN: 9780511750519
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