We will ask whether there are ways to rationally arrive at agreed answers to difficult ethical questions and whether our ethical views can ever be more than an expression of our subjective opinions, gut reactions, and arbitrary cultural influences. We will investigate the distinction between fact and value (or ‘descriptive’ and ‘normative’), introduce basic metaethical positions, and assess competing ethical frameworks, such as utilitarianism, Kantian ethics and virtue ethics.
We will then discuss basic ethical principles, such as principles relating to beneficence and justice. We will consider what is distinctive of practical ethics as such, and how it might be related to, yet different from, more theoretical forms of moral philosophy, and we will examine different methodological approaches to practical ethics, including reflective equilibrium and intuitionism.
We will also consider the relation between practical ethics and other disciplines, such as law, medicine, social science or neuroscience, and ways in which empirical knowledge from such disciplines can inform ethical reflection. We will look closely at prominent examples of influential work in practical ethics and try to identify the qualities that make them effective.
We will discuss different approaches to writing a strong essay and publishable papers in practical ethics and consider how writing in this area differs from that in other disciplines as well as other areas of philosophy.