Ethics For Dummies®

Table of Contents


About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

What You’re Not to Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Part I: Ethics 101: Just the Basics, Please

Part II: Uncovering the Roots of Ethics

Part III: Surveying Key Ethical Theories

Part IV: Applying Ethics to Real Life

Part V: The Part of Tens

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Ethics 101: Just the Basics, Please

Chapter 1: Approaching Ethics: What Is It and Why Should You Care?

Knowing the Right Words: Ethical Vocabulary

Focusing on should and ought

Avoiding the pitfall of separating ethics and morality

Putting law in its proper place

Requiring, forbidding, permitting: The most useful ethical vocabulary

Identifying Two Arguments for Being Ethical

Why be ethical 101: It pays off!

Why be ethical 201: You’ll live a life of integrity

Committing Yourself to the Ethical Life

Taking stock: Know thyself

Building your moral framework

Seeing where you need to go

Chapter 2: Butting Heads: Is Ethics Just a Matter of Opinion?

Subjectivism: Basing Ethics on Each Person’s Opinion

Right for me and wrong for you: The subjectivist position

Recognizing that subjectivism can’t handle disagreement

They’re always right: Subjectivists make bad houseguests

Determining what subjectivism gets right

Cultural Relativism: Grounding Ethics in the Group’s Opinion

Discovering what it means to be a cultural relativist

Understanding why cultural relativism is always so popular

Living in many worlds: Some problems with cultural relativism

Looking at cultural relativism’s lack of respect for tolerance

Noting cultural relativism’s successes

Emotivism: Seeing Ethics as a Tool of Expression

Expressing yourself: Booing and cheering in ethics

Arguing emotionally: A problem for emotivists

Getting motivation right: A victory for emotivism

Part II: Uncovering the Roots of Ethics

Chapter 3: Human Nature and Ethics: Two Big Questions

Considering Human Nature and Ethics

Examining the idea of human nature

Linking human nature and ethics

Connecting Ethics and Freedom

Hard determinists: You’re not free!

Finding freedom: Examining two other theories

Human Nature: Good, Bad, or Neutral?

Human nature is disposed to the good

Human nature disposes you to be bad

Human nature is neither good nor bad

Chapter 4: Exploring Connections between Ethics, Religion, and Science

Clarifying the Relationship between God, Religion, and Ethical Codes

Knowing the difference between God and religion

Contemplating the diversity of religious ethical codes

Because God Said So: Understanding Divine Command Theory

God’s authority: Considering why God gets to be in charge

Figuring out what happens when divine commands conflict

Plato’s big challenge: Questioning what makes something ethical

The Age of Science: Figuring Out If Ethics Can Exist in a Secular World

Staying silent on the spiritual

Defining ethics in a materialistic world

Establishing good behavior without heaven or hell

Evolution and Ethics: Rising Above the Law of the Jungle

Seeing how selfish genes can promote unselfish behavior

Noting the irrelevance of (most) evolutionary theory to ethics

Chapter 5: Seeing Ethics as Harmful: Three Famous Criticisms

Understanding the Challenges to Ethics

Bias-based arguments

Status-based arguments

Integrity-based arguments

Nietzsche: Explaining the Need to Avoid an Ethics of Weakness

Seeing self-creation as the path to integrity

Eyeing traditional ethics as weakness

Examining Nietzsche’s new idea: The ethics of inner strength

Kierkegaard: Too Much Reliance on Ethics Keeps You from God

Overcoming your despair

The Abraham dilemma: When God tells you to kill your son

Embracing a God who’s beyond ethics

Taoists: Ethics Isn’t Natural

Putting some yin and yang into your life

Revealing how traditional virtue is unnatural

Highlighting the Taoist virtue of simplicity

Part III: Surveying Key Ethical Theories

Chapter 6: Being an Excellent Person: Virtue Ethics

The Lowdown on Virtue Ethics: The Importance of Character

Discovering why character matters

Connecting character with action

Seeing character as a way of life

Understanding What Virtues Are

Virtues are habits toward goodness

Breaking down virtues

Focusing on the Good

Grasping the nature of “the good”

Virtuous living leads to human flourishing

Aristotle and Confucius: Two Notions of the Good Life

Aristotle’s view of the human good

Confucius’s view of the human good

Virtue: The middle path between extremes

Figuring Out How to Acquire Virtues

Can virtues really be taught?

Confucius: Virtue starts at home

Mirroring virtuous people

Practice, practice, and more practice

Assessing Criticisms of Virtue Ethics

It’s difficult to know which virtues are right

Virtues can’t give exact guidance

Virtue ethics is really self-centered

Being virtuous is a lucky crapshoot

Chapter 7: Increasing the Good: Utilitarian Ethics

Paying Close Attention to Results: Consequences Matter

Consequences matter to everyone

Consequences ethically trump principles and character

Surveying What Makes Consequences Good

Utilitarianism says: More pleasure, less pain (please!)

Beethoven or beer: Recognizing why some pleasures are better than others

Putting Utilitarianism into Action

Whose happiness counts?

How much happiness is enough?

Focusing On Two Different Ways to Be a Successful Utilitarian

Directly increasing the good through your actions

Indirectly increasing the good by following the rules

Exploring Traditional Problems with Utilitarianism

Challenge 1: Justice and rights play second fiddle in utilitarianism

Challenge 2: Utilitarianism is too demanding

Challenge 3: Utilitarianism may threaten your integrity

Challenge 4: Knowing what produces the most good is impossible

Chapter 8: Doing Your Duty: The Ethics of Principle

Kant’s Ethics: Acting on Reasonable Principles

Defining principles

Noting the difference between principles and rules

Making sense of Kantian ethics: The struggle between nature and reason

Autonomy: Being a law unto yourself

Living by the Categorical Imperative: Reasonable Principles

Looking behind actions: Maxims are principles

Examining imperatives

Surveying the Forms of the Categorical Imperative

Form 1: Living by universal principles

Form 2: Respecting everyone’s humanity

Applying the Categorical Imperative to Real-Life Dilemmas

Using the Formula of Universal Law to distinguish imperfect from perfect duties

Applying the Formula of Humanity to ethical topics

Scrutinizing Kant’s Ethics

Unconditional duty: Can you lie to a murderer?

Making enough room for feelings

Accounting for beings with no reason

Chapter 9: Signing on the Dotted Line: Ethics as Contract

Creating Ethics with Contracts

Reviewing Hobbes’s state of nature: The war of all against all

Escaping the state of nature: Enter the sovereign!

Moving to the modern form of social contracts

Restructuring Social Institutions According to Rawls’s Theory of Justice

Taking stock of the original position and its veil of ignorance

Arriving at the liberty and difference principles

Beyond the Dotted Line: Criticizing Contract Theory

But I never signed on the dotted line!

Libertarianism: Contracts make people lose too much liberty

Communitarianism: Challenging the veil of ignorance

Chapter 10: The Golden Rule: Common Sense Ethics

Assessing the Golden Rule’s Popularity

Understanding why the Golden Rule endures

Making an appearance over the ages

Applying the Golden Rule Requires Seeing Yourself in Another’s Shoes

Eyeing the Golden Rule’s basic tenets

Reversibility: Flipping your perspective

Reviewing the core criticisms of reversibility

Fixing the problems with reversibility

Surveying the Two Types of the Golden Rule

The positive form of the Golden Rule: Promoting the good

The negative form of the Golden Rule: Preventing harm

Comparing the Christian and Confucian Common-Sense Approach

Christianity’s Golden Rule: Loving your neighbor and enemy

Confucianism’s Golden Rule: Developing others as social persons

Chapter 11: Turning Down the Testosterone: Feminist Care Ethics

The Feminist Challenge: Traditional Ethics Is Biased toward Men

Getting a grasp on the feminist approach

Seeing how bias seeps into your life

Exploring how bias infects ethics

A Case Study of Male Bias: Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development

Examining Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development

Understanding how ideal ethical reasoning is more abstract

Considering Gilligan’s Criticism of Kohlberg’s Model

Viewing the differences in how women and men think

Highlighting male bias in Kohlberg’s thinking

Discovering the importance of hearing women’s voices

Surveying a New Feminist Ethics of Care

Putting relationships first

Letting feelings count: Cultivating care

Embracing partiality

Care avoids abstraction

Reviewing Criticisms of Care Ethics

Care ethics and public life: An uneasy fit

Do some relationships really deserve care?

Could care ethics harm women?

Part IV: Applying Ethics to Real Life

Chapter 12: Dealing with Mad Scientists: Biomedical Ethics

Examining Some Principles of Biomedical Ethics

Paternalism: Getting rid of the old model of medicine

Autonomy: Being in the driver’s seat for your own healthcare decisions

Beneficence and nonmaleficence: Doing no harm

Taking a Closer Look at the Intractable Issue of Abortion

Deciding who is and isn’t a person

A right to life from the beginning: Being pro-life

The freedom to control one’s body: Being pro-choice

A 21st Century Problem: Attack of the Clones

Understanding the growing use of cloning in medicine

Determining whether cloning endangers individuality

Anticipating Ethical Problems with Genetic Technologies

Testing to avoid abnormalities

Finding cures for diseases with stem cell research

Considering genetic privacy concerns

Manipulating the genome to create designer people

Dying and Dignity: Debating Euthanasia

Dealing with controversy at the end of life

Making autonomous choices about death

Killing the most vulnerable

Chapter 13: Protecting the Habitat: Environmental Ethics

Canvassing Environmental Ethics

Recognizing environmental problems

Expanding care past human beings

Determining Whose Interests Count

Starting with the 4-1-1 on interests

Anthropocentrism: Only humans matter!

Sentientism: Don’t forget animals

Biocentrism: Please don’t pick on life

Eco-centrism: The land itself is alive

Turning to Environmental Approaches

Conservationism: Keeping an eye on costs

Deep ecology: Viewing interconnection as the key

Social ecology: Blaming domination

Examining Criticisms of Environmental Ethics

Eco-fascism: Pushing humans out of the picture

Valuing things in a nonhuman-centered way: Is it possible?

Chapter 14: Serving the Public: Professional Ethics

Exploring the Ethics of Work

Knowing the difference between jobs and professions

Exploring the relationship between professions and society

Walking the line: What professionals are required to do

Examining two general problems in professional ethics

Analyzing the Diversity of Professional Ethics

Journalism: Accurately informing the public

Engineering: Solving technological problems safely

Legal work: Honorably practicing law

Accounting: Managing people’s money honestly

Medicine: Doing no harm

Chapter 15: Keeping the Peace: Ethics and Human Rights

Taking Stock: Human Rights 101

Eyeing what human rights are

Having rights and being in the right

Comparing rights, duties, and laws

Determining what justifies human rights

Grappling with Two Different Notions of Human Rights

Negative rights: Protecting the individual from harm

Positive rights: Contributing to the good of others

Understanding Human Rights through the Ethical Traditions

Ambivalence about rights: Utilitarianism

A close tie to rights: Deontology

Worried about rights: Virtue ethics

Criticizing Human Rights

Considering human rights as imperialistic

Understanding why human rights aren’t what they seem

Chapter 16: Getting It On: The Ethics of Sex

Focusing on Sexual Ethics: The High Stakes of Intercourse

Explaining the standard view of sexual morality

Evaluating the morality of sex under the standard view

Debating Homosexuality

Looking at natural law theory and the ethics of being LGBT

Pondering tradition and same-sex marriage

Tackling Exploitation in the Ethics of Pornography

Wondering whether pornography is simply freedom of expression

Understanding the anti-pornography perspective

Paying for It: Is Prostitution Ethical?

Chapter 17: Looking Out for the Little Guy: Ethics and Animals

Focusing on the Premise of Animal Rights

Questioning whether humans really are superior to animals

Seeing why Peter Singer says animals feel pain too

Being wary of speciesism

Experimenting on Animals for the Greater Good

The main rationale for experimenting: Harming animals saves humans

Debating animal testing of consumer products

To Eat or Not to Eat Animals: That’s the Question

Understanding why ethical vegetarians don’t eat meat

Responding to ethical vegetarians: Omnivores strike back!

Looking at factory farming’s effects on animals

Vegans: Eliminating animal servitude

Targeting the ethics of hunting animals

Part V: The Part of Tens

Chapter 18: Ten Famous Ethicists and Their Theories

Confucius: Nurturing Virtue in Good Relationships

Plato: Living Justly through Balance

Aristotle: Making Virtue Ethics a Habit

Hobbes: Beginning Contract Theory

Hume: Eyeing the Importance of Moral Feelings

Kant: Being Ethical Makes You Free

Mill: Maximizing Utility Matters Most

Nietzsche: Connecting Morals and Power

Rawls: Looking Out for the Least Well-Off

Singer: Speaking Out for Modern Utilitarianism

Chapter 19: Ten Ethical Dilemmas Likely to Arise in the Future

Making Designer Genes

Creating Thinking Machines

Managing the Growing Population of Planet Earth

Dealing with Dramatic Increases in the Human Lifespan

Fighting Wars Using Synthetic Soldiers

Exploring and Terraforming New Worlds

Using Computers to Manage Vital Services

Maintaining Your Authenticity with Social Networking

Integrating Humans with Networked Computers

Being Immersed in Virtual Worlds

Ethics For Dummies®

by Christopher Panza, PhD, and Adam Potthast, PhD

Ethics professors at Drury University and Missouri University of Science and Technology


About the Authors

Chris Panza was born and raised in New York. After trying unsuccessfully for many years to figure out how to live the right way, he enrolled at the State University of New York at Purchase, where he figured philosophy and literature degrees would help. It provided hints, but no answers. After college, he spent a few more years working in business and hammering away at the question of value. More hints, but no answers. Finally, he attended the University of Connecticut and earned a master’s degree and doctoral degree (in philosophy) hoping to finally learn how to live a good and ethical life. More degrees and more hints, but no definite answers. What to do? Well, with all these degrees you may not know exactly how to live ethically, but you can at least make a living teaching. So he did that, and he has been an associate professor of philosophy at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, since 2002.

Chris received the university’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 2004, probably for getting a lot of students to join him on the endless quest to understanding what it means to live a good life. In addition to his teaching interests in ethics, Chris also teaches classes in existentialism (and is the co-author of Existentialism For Dummies), Confucianism, free will, metaphysics, and modern philosophy. Chris is married to his wife Christie, a social psychologist, and has two beautiful little girls: a 4-year-old named Parker and an almost 2-year-old named Paige. Chris is hoping to one day infect his own children with the same desire to investigate life that has long invigorated him and as a result made his life a continuously interesting and mysterious experience.

Adam Potthast was born and raised in Missouri. After directors stopped casting him in plays, he had no choice but to fall into the seedy underbelly of intellectualism that thrived at Truman State in Kirksville, Missouri. Trying to do the hardest thing he knew he could do well (and not being able to do physics and music very well), he found philosophy. He went on to get his masters and PhD in philosophy at the University of Connecticut where he discovered that far from all being a matter of opinion, ethics was stimulating and a lot of fun.

He’s currently an assistant professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, where — when he’s not pestering his engineering colleagues about the value of ethical thinking — he teaches courses in virtually every kind of ethics, political philosophy, and the meaning of life. His research interests are practical and professional ethics, the connections between ethics and personal identity, and the apparently very high tolerance people have for listening to him carry on about the connection between freedom and morality in Kantian ethics. When he’s not working, he enjoys travel, hiking, riding bikes, subjecting friends to culinary experiments, and Canadian independent music. Go places!


From Chris: I would like to dedicate this book first and foremost to my wife, Christie, and to my two daughters, Parker and Paige, who are the lights of my life. I also would like to dedicate the book to my mom, Janice, who has been a source of strength and inspiration for me my whole life, and to my dad, Tony, for his quirky sense of humor and great cooking. Lastly, to my sister, Amy, and her husband, Jay, not to mention my young nephew, Aiden.

From Adam: This book is dedicated first to my parents, Ferd and Joan. I’m forever grateful to them for having the good sense to leave behind vows of chastity, take up with one another, and later teach me the power of words, courage, and kindness. Second, to my brother, David, whose creativity and perseverance is always an inspiration. Finally, to my undergraduate advisor, Patricia Burton, and my graduate advisor, Joel Kupperman, who had the patience to put up with me learning to be a philosopher. I couldn’t have asked for better or more virtuous philosophical exemplars.

Authors' Acknowledgments

From Chris: My primary acknowledgement is to my wife, Christie, and my daughters, Parker and Paige. They all had to endure months of me locked away in an office instead of being with the family. They have been more than understanding. I’d also like to thank Drury University for the sabbatical that partially opened up the time for writing this book. Lastly, and certainly not least, I’d like to thank my co-author, Adam. He’s been a great friend for many years, and he proved to be just as good a co-author. The book was easy and fun to write with him alongside all the way through.

From Adam:I’d like to thank my co-author, Chris, first of all, for being a good friend through the years, bringing me on board this project, and tolerating my idiosyncratic writing style and relationship with deadlines. I’d also like to thank my department chair, Dick Miller, for the philosophical companionship, jokes, and institutional support he’s joyfully given through the years and during the drafting of this book. To my friends, current and former students, and colleagues around the world: You’ve been an unforgettable source of support through the whole project, and I couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks to the DJs at KMNR, KDHX, WMBR, CBC Radio 3, and Erika for keeping me in good music throughout the process. Thanks to the Giddy Goat, Keen Bean, and Meshuggah Café for renting me a place to write for the unreasonably low price of a cup of coffee (and in the case of Jo’s back porch, not even that). And finally, we couldn’t have written such a good book without the helpful suggestions and support of our editors Chad, Jessica, and Michael.

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As the authors of this book, we feel strongly about the importance of ethics. Ethics marks off one of the most fascinating — and difficult — aspects of human life. Whether you’re a university student who’s taking an ethics course and needs some of the theories clarified or you’re someone who wants to live a life that’s more aligned with what’s right, Ethics For Dummies is just for you. Philosophy courses on ethics can be pretty stuffy material, but this book tries to cut to the chase and gives you what you need to know while making you smile at the same time.

To take ethics — or the investigation of what ought to be — seriously is to engage head on with the question of value. Of course, it also involves jumping into the thick controversy that involves debating what you ought to do and why. Taking ethics on involves applying different answers about what you ought to do to the world you live in. That means thinking about how to interact with other people, animals, perhaps your colleagues at work, and the environment. By the time you’re done reading this book, ethics will no longer be mystifying. It will seem like familiar territory.

About This Book

We — your humble authors — are both university professors. Each of us regularly teaches courses on ethics at our colleges. As a result, we’re well acquainted with how difficult and frustrating a subject ethics can be for students or other people who know little about the subject and are approaching it for the first time. We were there once too.

Our first-hand knowledge of the difficulties of teaching ethics puts us in a good position to write this book for you. We’ve laid out the book in a particular way that helps you get a better grasp on the many topics in ethics that you’re likely to study. Basically, we want to translate these sometimes confusing topics into plain English. No matter whether you’re taking a college ethics course and need some clarification or you’re just taking an interest in this field, we hope our explanations help you grasp the main concepts.

Most importantly, we’ve arranged this book so you don’t need to read it straight through like a novel. Feel free to jump around. You can open up the book wherever you want and start reading. It’s written so you can understand any part of it without needing to read the others. At the same time, the book also is arranged in a way that makes it worthwhile to read straight through from start to end. Ethics has many side topics and points that you don’t need to fuss with right now, so we give you just the need-to-know information on a topic.

We’ve also written this book with humor foremost in our minds. Philosophy and ethics can sometimes be dry, so we’ve done our best to make sure that our book doesn’t come across that way. We want Ethics For Dummies to be informative and helpful, but we also want it to be enjoyable to read.

Conventions Used in This Book

In our book, we’ve used a few conventions to help make the text more accessible and easier to read. Consider the following:

We boldface the action parts of numbered steps and the keywords of bulleted lists.

We italicize new terms and provide definitions of them so you’re always in the loop.

We also include some conventions that are strictly ethics related. We tend to gloss over some things in this book in order to get the basic points across and not make things too complicated. So instead of constantly using caveats and pointing your attention to fine print or footnotes at the end of the book, keep in mind the following conventions we use:

The uses of terms like morality and ethics are typically seen as separate in ethics. We use them interchangeably. To see why, head to Chapter 1.

We wrote this book as if you believe it’s important to want to be a better and more ethical person. This is a bit of a slide toward virtue ethics, but studying ethics won’t do you much good unless you actually try to implement what you’ve learned.

We believe that people of all faiths and spiritual belief systems — even those without faith or spiritual beliefs — can join together in a critical discussion of ethical issues and their foundations. So we didn’t write this book for one group or another. Everyone can benefit from reading it.

Occasionally it may seem like we’re being preachy or ruling things out too quickly. We usually do this because we’re trying to challenge you, not because we’re holier-than-thou philosophers. And sometimes it’s because we can only stick so many pages between the covers. Trust us, what’s in these pages are just the tips of argumentative icebergs.

What You’re Not to Read

Because we poured our hearts and souls into this book, we’d love for you to read everything word for word. However, we also know that as a student of ethics, you’re likely short on time and want to get what you need and get out. For that reason, we want to tell you upfront that you don’t need to read the shaded sidebars that pop up throughout the chapters in this book. They’re super-interesting tidbits that we’re sure you’ll enjoy, and they’ll make you more fun at parties, but they aren’t necessary to be an ethics whiz kid. It’s not unethical to skip them!

Foolish Assumptions

As authors, it’s difficult not to make some basic assumptions about the subject you’re writing about — and, more importantly, about the readers you’re communicating to. So before we started writing, we made the following assumptions, thinking that at least one or more of them were likely true of you:

You may be a student in an undergraduate ethics course and need some clarification of the sometimes confusing topics you’re studying. If so, look through the table of contents. You’ll notice that it’s arranged in a way that makes course referencing easy: You’ll see theories, applications, and starting questions. Typically, university syllabi are organized in a similar manner.

You don’t know too much about the subject, but you have an informal interest in ethics. We’ve tried our best to argue as strongly as we can for all the theories within this book — without taking any sides. It’s important that you make up your own mind about what’s right, so we’ve tried to stay balanced. (However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have our favorite theories. In fact, we don’t agree about which ethical theory is the best one!)

You’re annoyed by some of the crazy stuff going on in the world today and want a way to think about it. If you need a more sophisticated language through which you can express that frustration, we provide it for you.

How This Book Is Organized

If you’d like to get a feel for how we organized this book, the following sections explain the overall aims of each particular part. This overview may help you to get a feel for where you’d like to get started.

Part I: Ethics 101: Just the Basics, Please

Ethics is a big field, so there’s a whole lot to talk about! However, because the landscape is so vast, you first need to get your footing by looking at some basic issues and questions that should be addressed before you dive into the more complex stuff. We provide that footing in Part I, looking at the basic question, “What is ethics?” We examine some basic vocabulary and distinctions and ask why being ethical is such a big deal. Finally, we move into a discussion of relativism, which examines whether ethics is true, justified, or just a matter of opinion.

Part II: Uncovering the Roots of Ethics

It’s difficult to avoid the fact that when people think of ethics, they want to know whether it fits into a larger context. With this question in mind, in this part we devote chapters to thinking about how ethics and human nature may be related and to the possible connections and misconnections between ethics and God and ethics and science. We finish the part with a chapter that hashes out the three famous challenges to the idea of ethics.

Part III: Surveying Key Ethical Theories

This part is the meat of the book. We dedicate chapters to each of the central theories in ethics. We start off with what we think of as the “big three” — virtue ethics, Kantian ethics, and utilitarianism. These theories usually are the three main contenders for most important theory, but no one can agree on which of them gets the title. We then move to three other approaches that are popular: ethics as a kind of contract, ethics as the application of the Golden Rule (yes, the same one you were taught as a kid!), and the feminist criticism that ethics should center more on relationships.

Part IV: Applying Ethics to Real Life

It’s nice to get knee deep in theory and figure out what it’s implying, but at some point you really do need to do some work on the ground. In this part, we look at work that has been done in applied ethics. We devote chapters to the following topics: biomedical ethics, environmental ethics, professional ethics, human rights, sexual ethics, and animal ethics. If ethical application is your thing, you’ll get your fill here!

Part V: The Part of Tens

All For Dummies books have a Part of Tens, so we’re not about to rob you of one for this book. Here we list ten of the most popular writers on ethics, pointing out their most famous ethical works and the main ideas in them. We then list ten of the most gripping ethical dilemmas society will likely face in the future, including why they’ll prove so problematic down the road.

Icons Used in This Book

Every For Dummies book uses icons in the margins to identify and point out important text. We use the following icons in this book:

remember.eps This icon calls your attention to items and explanations that are important to keep in mind when trying to decipher ethical theories.

warning_bomb.eps When you see this icon, you’re alerted to one of those siren-and-red-light-blasting moments when you should beware of possible misunderstanding. This icon says to slow down and think more carefully through the section.

wordsofwisdom.eps At times, some good juicy primary material from the authors helps to make a point clear. Or sometimes what they say is famous or just plain cool. When you see this icon, it draws your attention to the use of text from the original authors themselves.

ponderthis.eps This icon tells you when you’ve stumbled upon something strange or counterintuitive — usually assumptions or beliefs that may require further thought.

tip.eps This icon points out shortcuts and helpful hints that can assist you in figuring out the theory or argument presented.

Where to Go from Here

We’ve arranged this book in a way that makes it accessible for a lot of different purposes, and it can be read in different ways. If you’re just getting started with ethics, you may find it helpful to begin with Part I, which provides the basics. Or, if you want, jump to the table of contents and index to see what topics we include in the book. If you’re taking an ethics course that deals heavily with major ethical theories, go right to those and check them out. If you’re more interested in applied questions, thumb to Part IV and read up on one of the subjects that strikes your interest. There’s really no unethical way to read this book, so use it in the way that makes most sense to you and your situation!

Part I

Ethics 101: Just the Basics, Please


In this part . . .

Ethics is the most practical kind of philosophy, but that doesn’t mean that all you need to study it is basic common sense. You also need to know some of the lingo and some of the basic assumptions about the field. That’s what this part of the book is about.

Here we discuss some basic distinctions, and then we cordially invite you to ask why you should care about ethics in the first place. Because you also need to avoid some really important pitfalls in your ethical thinking, such as the idea that ethics is really just a matter of opinion, we devote a chapter to this topic. Getting away from this idea is important so you can appreciate the rich debates about ethics in the rest of the book and what they have to do with living an ethical life.