Ethical Theory and Bioethics

Ethical Theory and Bioethics

This educational module is an introduction to ethics or moral philosophy. In ordinary language, we use the words “ethical” or “moral” (and unethical/immoral) interchangeably, that is, we speak of ethical and/or moral persons or acts. Our approach will be to think critically and systematically about several influential ethical theories such as egoism, utilitarianism, contractarianism, Kant and the respect for persons, and virtue ethics. We shall concentrate on how these theories apply to issues such as: euthanasia, abortion, capital punishment, the ethics of war, and the treatment of non-human animals. The questions we shall consider include: What it is to be moral/ethical? Why be so? Are human beings inherently moral beings? When do humans acquire moral standing? Might we ever lose it? Alternatively, do we learn to be moral as society members? Are suicide, euthanasia and abortion ever morally right? The course does not presuppose a background in philosophy. It does, however, presuppose a willingness to work hard and to think critically about some very difficult issues. The primary objectives of the course are: a) to acquaint students with contemporary philosophical discussions of some ethical issues and some influential ethical theories and b) to assist students in developing certain skills: 1) presenting and evaluating the different sides of an issue, 2) analyzing a moral argument, 3) developing a position and defending it, 4) detecting contradictions.


Sheldon Krimsky, Ph.D., Lenore Stern Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences in the Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning in the School of Arts & Sciences and Adjunct Professor in Public Health and Community Medicine in the School of Medicine at Tufts University.


Kaufman, Frederick A. “Moral Philosophy and the Natural World,” Foundations of Environmental Philosophy (2003).


Introduction to Ethics

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