Ethics is a word often misused by people. We talk of following an ‘ethical’ course of action, or shopping ‘ethically’. Strictly speaking, and if we’re going to be anal about it (which we should be, at least at the beginning of each section), then this makes little sense. Ethics means the same as ‘moral philosophy’, or, the study of how to live our lives morally. The OED definition is…
plural noun 1 the moral principles governing or influencing conduct. 2 the branch of knowledge concerned with moral principles. — DERIVATIVES ethicist noun.
In other words, ethics does not mean the same as morals, it is the study of morals. And with that out of the way, we can move on. Ethics is one of those ‘special’ areas of knowledge that aren’t found in the Diploma hexagon – it’s an extra topic, if you like, that we only seriously consider in TOK. This is both positive and negative: because no one does a study of it elsewhere, everyone feels like they’re an expert in it. But at the same time, it is true that everyone has experience in trying to figure out how to live life ‘correctly’ and ‘right’ (if such words can be used).
Questions that we are going to address include the relativism of ethics (are there any objective ethical rules, or does every moral judgement depend on the circumstances?), why the study of ethics is important, and whether we should consider the action or the result in coming to an ethical judgement.
An introductory video to ethics
The academyofideas team provides a 10 minute introduction to ethics, looking at the nature of ethics, moral relativism and moral realism, the ‘Is-Ought’ problem, and difference between consequentialist and deontological ethics. Look for links to other areas of knowledge, such as the human sciences and mathematics. KEY QUOTE (from Richard Taylor):
The question “what is good?” is certainly the most important question you can ask… For it comes to this: each of us has one life to live, and that life can be, as it commonly is, wasted in the pursuit of specious goals, things that turn out worthless the moment they are possessed, or it can be made a deliberate and thoughtful art.