Reading Summary:
After reading all of Chapter 1, please select ONE of the following primary source readings:
“What is the Socrative Method?” by Christopher      Phillips (starting on page 14)
“The Euthphro” by Plato (starting      on page 16)
Write a short, objective summary of 300-400 words which summarizes the main ideas being put forward by the author in this selection
Chapter 1
Ethics and the Examined Life
Copyright © 2019 W. W. Norton & Company
• Also called “moral philosophy”
• The philosophical study of morality
What Does “Doing Ethics” Mean?
• Deliberating about the rightness or wrongness of actions
• Judging the goodness of your character or intentions
• Examining the soundness of your moral outlook when it
conflicts with that of others
• Examining your own and other people’s moral outlook
• Questioning whether your moral decision making rests on
coherent supporting considerations
• Beliefs concerning right and wrong
• These beliefs can include:
o Judgments
o Values
o Rules
o Principles
o Theories
• Morality helps
o Guide our actions
o Define our values
o Give us reasons for being the persons we are
The Questions of Ethics – 1
• What is the greatest good?
• What goals should I pursue in life?
• What virtues should I cultivate?
The Questions of Ethics – 2
• What duties should I fulfill?
• What value should I put on human life?
• How important is it to pursue the common good, do justice,
and respect rights?
The Risks of Not Doing Ethics
• Loss of personal freedom
• Incomplete, confused, or mistaken responses
• Stunted intellectual and moral growth
• Although perhaps embodying an uncritically embraced
morality, one will be incapable of defending one’s beliefs by
rational argument against criticisms
Of course, “[e]thics does not give us a royal road to moral truth.
Instead, it shows us how to ask critical questions about morality
and systematically seek answers supported by good reasons.”
Divisions of Ethics – 1
Descriptive ethics: the scientific study of moral beliefs and
• Its aim is to describe and explain how people actually behave
and think when dealing with moral issues and concepts.
Philosophical divisions of ethics: Philosophers distinguish
three major divisions in ethics, each one representing a different
way to approach the subject.
1. Normative ethics
2. Metaethics
3. Applied ethics
Divisions of Ethics – 2
1. Normative ethics
• The study of the principles, rules, or theories that guide
• Purpose: to try to establish the soundness of moral norms
• Questions include “Is happiness the greatest good in life?”
and “Should the rightness of actions be judged by their
Divisions of Ethics – 3
2. Metaethics
• Study of the meaning and logical structure of moral
• Purpose: to question assumptions that inform normative
• Questions such as “On what grounds can a moral
principle be justified?” and “Is there such a thing as
moral truth?”
Divisions of Ethics – 4
3. Applied ethics
• Application of moral norms to specific moral issues or
• Purpose: In applied ethics we study the results derived
from applying a moral principle or theory to specific
circumstances. The purpose of the exercise is to learn
something important about either the moral
characteristics of the situation or the adequacy of the
moral norms.
• Considers questions such as “Is physician-assisted
suicide morally permissible?” and “Is the consumption of
animal flesh morally wrong?”
Values and Obligation
Obligation: what is a duty, or what one should or ought to do
Kinds of value
• Moral value: reference to a person as good in the moral
• Nonmoral value: other uses of “good” that hold no moral
sense (e.g., a good work of art)
• Extrinsically valuable: instrumentally valuable, or valuable
as a means to something else
• Intrinsically valuable: valuable in themselves because of
what they are, without being a means to something else
The Elements of Ethics – 1
• The preeminence of reason: Ethics involves, even requires,
critical reasoning.
• The universal perspective: Logic requires that moral
judgments follow the principle of universalizability—the idea
that a moral statement that applies in one situation must
apply in all other situations that are relevantly similar.
The Elements of Ethics – 2
• The principle of impartiality: The welfare and interests of each
individual should be given the same weight as those of all
• The dominance of moral norms: When moral norms conflict
with nonmoral norms, moral considerations usually win.
Religion and Morality – 1
Believers need moral reasoning.
Many religious commandments and edicts on ethical issues are
at best ambiguous, and at times contradictory. Only by doing
ethics—thinking critically about the situation—can religious
believers interpret religious directives and try to apply general
rules to specific cases.
Religion and Morality – 2
Some typical examples of moral conflicts:
• Adherents of one religion may disagree with adherents of
• Believers within a religious tradition may disagree with one
• Believers sometimes disagree with their religious leaders on
moral issues.
• Sincere devotees in a religious tradition may wonder if its
moral teachings make sense.
Religion and Morality – 3
• Intelligent resolution of conflicts among moral claims can be
achieved only by applying a neutral standard.
• Moral philosophy—the practice of doing ethics—provides
that neutral standard in the form of critical thinking, well-
made arguments, and careful analysis.
Religion and Morality – 4
Ethics enables productive discourse.
Only with a common set of ethical concepts and agreed-upon
procedures for deciding issues and making judgments can
people from different religious traditions (or people from no
religious tradition) talk fruitfully about moral issues.
The Rules of Fruitful and Moral Discourse
1. Moral positions should be explained.
2. Claims should be supported by reasons.
3. Reasoning should be judged by common rational standards.
Divine Command Theory – 1
• Right actions are those willed by God.
• Both religious and nonreligious thinkers accept it.
• Religious and nonreligious critics reject it.
o The Euthyphro dilemma: Is an action morally right because
God wills it to be so, or does God will it to be so because it is
morally right?
Divine Command Theory – 2
Criticism of the theory:
1. If actions are right only because God wills them, then many
evil actions would be right if God willed them (God’s
commands would be without reason, or arbitrary).
2. But, many philosophers claim, God’s commands cannot be
3. Therefore, actions are not right only because God wills them
(divine command theory is false).
This concludes the PowerPoint slide set for Chapter 1
Doing Ethics: Moral Reasoning and Contemporary Issues
Fifth Edition (2019) by Lewis Vaughn.
Copyright © 2019 W. W. Norton & Company
Chapter 1
What Does “Doing Ethics” Mean?
The Questions of Ethics – 1
The Questions of Ethics – 2
The Risks of Not Doing Ethics
Divisions of Ethics – 1
Divisions of Ethics – 2
Divisions of Ethics – 3
Divisions of Ethics – 4
Values and Obligation
The Elements of Ethics – 1
The Elements of Ethics – 2
Religion and Morality – 1
Religion and Morality – 2
Religion and Morality – 3
Religion and Morality – 4
The Rules of Fruitful and Moral Discourse
Divine Command Theory – 1
Divine Command Theory – 2

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