In this introductory ethics unit students encounter, and are encouraged to quickly move beyond, simplistic notions of good/bad and right/wrong. The centrality of human agency and deliberate/intentional decision making, and all-important judgment in context, will be emphasized. The strengths and the limitations of examining consequences and following rules will be explored. Students will also encounter cultural relativism and notions of pluralism.
CLASS ACTIVITY: WHAT'S GOOD?
Jump straight in by asking students individually to think freely and write on one side of a card at least 8 examples of “What’s good?” On the other side of the card suggest 8 examples of “What’s bad?”
Next students are asked to write on a second card what they already understand by the the idea of ethics and/or morality. These initial responses will collected and revisited later.
Next, in pairs, students are prompted to make a personal list of rules to live by, three examples are offered to illustrate the activity but students can choose whether or not to include them:
- “Keep your promises”
- “Don’t kill”
- “Avoid eating human flesh
Ethics Notes - Theory of Knowledge
- "Everything has been figured out, except how to live." (Jean-Paul Sartre)
- "Happiness is good health and a bad memory." (Ingrid Bergman)
- "The foundation of morality is to have done, once and for all, with lying." (Thomas Henry Huxley)
- "A moral being is one who is capable of comparing his past and future actions or motives, and of approving or disapproving them." (Charles Darwin)
- "Every man, in his own opinion, forms an exception to the ordinary rules of morality." (William Hazlitt)
- "Morality is not the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness." (Immanuel Kant)
- "A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon the world." (Manley Hall)
- "The first step in the evolution of ethics is asense of solidarity with other human beings." (Albert Schweitzer)
Definitions of Ethics
- "Ethics is a code of values which guide our choices and actions and determine the purpose and course of our lives." (Ayn Rand)
- Here is a great set of ethical questions students can work through on their own. Or it can serve as a handy list of ethical challenges to discuss in class converstations, essays or presentations.
Deontology, Consequentialism and Virtue
There are many ways to approach ethics, but 3 very common theories tend to come up.
- "Deontology. (The Deontological approach). This is an approach to ethics in which morality is determined by one's adherance to duty or laws. Kantian ethics is a deontological approach. In Kantian ethics the only actions that are moral are those performed out of one's duty to follow the moral law (Nakazawa).
- Consequentialism Here the focus is not on rules, but rather on the consquences. In short, the ends can justify the means. Utilitarianism is a consequentiist approach; here what is ethical is what brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people.
- Virtue Ethics. Here the focus is on showing virtue, or character rather than on specific ethical acts. Ethical actions are performed by ethical, virtuous, moral people, so the focus is on being a good person. Aristotelian ethics uses virtue ethics; here the highest moral good is to possess certain characters traits (Nakazawa).
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