Why Study Ethics?

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Ruggiero 1

Why Study Ethics? If we have laws and religion, why do we need ethics? Ethics is the study of right and wrong. Everyone makes decisions each day that are essentially choices. For some, choices are considered strictly personal and no one else’s business: Should I have a strip of bacon with my eggs? But for some, even that simple choice has ethical ramifications: Should I eat meat? Is it anyone else’s concern that I eat meat? Other choices confront us as the day progresses: Should I call in sick? Should I obey the speed laws as I drive to work? Should I answer a friend’s question honestly or lie and potentially hurt her feelings? Should I be faithful to my spouse? How does one find answers to these questions? For some, laws and religion provide the answers. But for most, those two sources are insufficient. Ethical Relativism In the past for most people and even for many people today, an objective moral standard that is binding on all people for all times exists. While there might be disagreement on what the standard was, most acknowledged that there was a “right” choice. But in the last half-century, there has been considerable erosion in the idea that a standard exists or is even needed. For many, decisions about what is right and wrong are complete personal and completely subjective: what is right for me may not be right for you. This is known as ethical relativism. It asserts that whatever an individual deems morally acceptable is acceptable for that person. To judge that is often considered unacceptably intolerant. As relativism or situation ethics, as it was called by some, grew in the 1960s, some critics warned that an attitude of complete toleration would make it difficult, if not impossible to reasonably discuss ethical issues. If no one view is better than another, how can one distinguish civilized from uncivilized behavior, or good and evil. If ethical choices are essentially the same...
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