Ethics is not an inquiry into what we ought to believe about the world, but, rather,
an inquiry into what we ought to do.
There are two major branches within ethics proper
In normative ethics we strive to come up with general principles that dictate for
all possible scenarios what we morally ought to do in those scenarios.
Practical Ethics (or Applied Ethics)
In practical ethics (or applied ethics) we examine particular ethical issues and try
to figure out hat we morally ought to do respect to them.
*Not going to be doing normative ethics
*Focus on Practical Ethics
Two particular issues:
o Our moral obligations to those in desperate need
o Our moral obligations to non-human animals.
Some Crucial Moral Concepts
An action, x, is morally permissible if and only if it is morally OK (or morally
allowed, or morally “all right”, etc.) to perform x.
o We can define many other moral concepts in terms of moral
An action, x is morally impermissible = it would not be morally permissible to
An action, X, is morally wrong = it would not be morally permissible to perform
An action, x, is morally wrong if and only if x is morally impermissible.
An action, x, is morally obligatory = it would not be morally permissible to fail
to perform x.
An action. X is morally required= it would not be morally permissible to fail to
An action x, is morally obligatory if and only if x is morally required.
Moral Obligations to Those In Desperate Need
The Shallow Pond Case:
On his morning walk to work Donald stumbles upon an infant frantically thrashing about
in a shallow pond. Donald recognizes that the infant is in peril of drowning and will
drown if no one saves it. He realizes that he can easily save the infant by wading into the
pond, picking it up, and safely transporting it to dry land. He also realizes, however, that doing this will ruin the pants to his new Brooks Brothers suit. Without giving it a second
thought, Donald decides not to save the infant and ruin his pants. He walks on and has a
productive day at the office. The infant drowns.
The Letter Case:
John receives a letter in the mail from Oxfam informing him that with a donation of $200
he can save the life of a starving child in Nigeria. (A donation of $200 can transform a
sickly 2-year-old into a healthy 6-year-old--offering safe passage through childhood’s
most dangerous years.) John has $200 on hand, but he plans to spend that money on a
new pair of pants for his Brooks Brothers suit. Without giving it a second thought, John
crumples up the letter and heads off to Brooks Brothers, where, with his $200 he
purchases a smashing new pair of pants for his Brooks Brothers suit. The Nigerian child
starves to death.
How does Donald act in the Shallow Pond Case?
How does John act in the Letter Case?
The Quite Plausible Assumption (QPA)
The Strong Principle (SP)