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Introduction To Moral Theory (Normative Ethics)

A structural overview of the domain of normative moral theory, including a brief articulation of its primary concepts.

1. The distinction between normative ethics and meta-ethics
2. The aims of moral theorising
3. The structure of moral theories

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Introduction to moral theory:

Learning objectives
1. The distinction between normative ethics and meta-ethics
2. The aims of moral theorising
3. The structure of moral theories

Meta-ethics and normative ethics

- meta-ethics is an inquiry into the nature of ethics
A meta-ethical inquiry may ask
What is the nature of moral judgement, e.g. judgments of right and wrong?

Possible Answers:
[CR] Moral rules are nothing other than the social codes of a particular group of people
[DCT] Moral laws are expressions of the will of God.

- The central question of normative ethics could be formulated as follows:
"We are discussing no small matter, but how we ought to live". (Socrates)

- Two narrower questions may be distinguished within this area of inquiry:

What ought I to do? (and why?)
What sort of person should I be? (and why?)

1. WHAT OUGHT I TO DO?
The focus of this aspect of normative ethics is ACTION:

- Which actions should I do, and which shouldn't I do? Which actions are right and wrong?
- What makes these actions right or wrong?
This aspect of normative ethics may be termed the Theory of Right Action.

Important concepts within the theory of right action:
- We apply the terms, right, wrong, obligatory, forbidden or optional, permissible, and ought to ACTIONS.
NOTE:
- The term 'good' is usually reserved for states of character (including intentions), and for states of affairs, such as bringing about a good result and making many people happy. (Timmons 1990, p. 8)
- One aim of Normative Ethics, then, is to provide GENERAL PRINCIPLES OF RIGHT CONDUCT ...

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