Why Study EthicS?
It is clear that we often disagree about questions of value. Should same-sex marriage be legal? Should women have abortions? Should drugs such as marijuana be legalized? Should we torture terrorists in order to get information from them? Should we eat animals or use them in medical experiments? These sorts of questions are sure to expose divergent ideas about what is right or wrong.
Discussions of these sorts of questions often devolve into unreasonable name-calling, foot-stomping, and other questionable argument styles. The philosophical study of ethics aims to produce good arguments that provide reasonable support for our opinions about practical topics. If someone says that abortion should (or should not) be permitted, he or she needs to explain why this is so. It is not enough to say that abortion should not be permitted because it is wrong or that women should be allowed to choose abortion because it is wrong to limit women’s choices. To say that these things are wrong is merely to reiterate that they should not be permitted. Such an answer begs the question. Circular, question-begging arguments are fallacious. We need further argument and information to know why abortion is wrong or why limiting free choice is wrong. We need a theory of what is right and wrong, good or evil, justified, permissible, and unjustifiable, and we need to understand how our theory applies in concrete cases. The first half of this text will discuss various

theories and concepts that can be used to help us avoid begging the question in debates about ethical issues. The second half looks in detail at a number of these issues.
It is appropriate to wonder, at the outset, why we need to do this. Why isn’t it sufficient to simply state your opinion and assert that “x is wrong (or evil, just, permissible, etc.)”? One answer to this question is that such assertions do nothing to solve the deep conflicts of value that we find in our world. We know that people disagree about abortion, same-sex marriage, animal rights, and other issues. If we are to make progress toward understanding each other, if we are to make progress toward establishing some consensus about these topics, then we have to understand why we think certain things are right and others are wrong. We need to make arguments and give reasons in order to work out our own conclusions about these issues and in order to explain our conclusions to others.

It is also insufficient to appeal to custom or
authority in deriving our conclusions about moral issues. While it may be appropriate for children to simply obey their parents’ decisions, adults should strive for more than conformity and obedience to authority. Sometimes our parents and grandparents are wrong—or they disagree among themselves. Sometimes the law is wrong—or laws conflict. And sometimes religious authorities are wrong—or authorities do not agree. To appeal to authority on moral issues, we would first have to decide which auth




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