What is Moral Philosophy?

12Oct07

Human beings, regardless of their historical or cultural background, are beings with a sense of right and wrong. Every society has established practices and codes of behaviour, and every child is brought up in a way that reflects a particular set of values. Every culture can be described as ‘ethical’ in the sense that there are accepted ways to behave in all societies, whether people abide by them or not.

At the descriptive level, there is clearly a great deal of moral diversity and disagreement. It seems as if we could happily believe that there’s nothing else to say about morality; if we want to find out more about it, we just need science to tell us what people in a particular society think is moral. However, when we try to explain why we did something, or why we think something is right/wrong, we typically give reasons for thinking what we think. If our believe our reasons are reasonable, we think that someone else could understand why we hold the views we hold, or even provide a better way of looking at things. We like to feel that our moral opinions are justified. But what justifies a moral belief, or a set of values?

Moral philosophy attempts to find convincing answers to these questions by providing the kind of detail argument that can serve as this kind of justification. This is not to say that all philosophers think the same things or come to the same conclusions about morality – far from it – but they all explore ethics philosophically. What does it mean to do this? How do we do it?

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