There are many things in life that we can avoid studying without any dire consequences. Few of us study, for example, molecular biology or quantum mechanics, but most of us are able to live quite well without any of the knowledge that makes up such disciplines.
And many of us have never had a course in nutrition or even read much about it, yet many of us do have some general knowledge of the field.
The main characteristic of philosophy is rational argument. Philosophers clarify concepts, and analyze and test propositions and beliefs, however, their major task is to do analysis and construct arguments. Philosophical reasoning is closely allied with scientific reasoning in that both build a hypothesis and look for evidence to test that hypothesis with the hope of coming closer to the truth.
However, scientific experiments take place in laboratories and have testing procedures through which objective results are recorded. The laboratory of the philosophers is the domain of the ideas. It takes place in the mind, where imaginative thought experiments occur. It takes place in the study room, where ideas are written down and examined. It also takes place wherever conversation about the perennial questions arises, where thesis and counter thesis are considered.
The study of ethics within philosophy contains its own subdivisions, and dividing up the territory of ethics is a tricky matter. A word must be said first about the specific terms moral and ethical and the associated notion of morals and morality. Often these terms are used interchangeably. Both terms derive their meaning from the idea of custom.
The key divisions within the study of ethics are: descriptive morality, moral philosophy and applied ethics
* First, descriptive morality refers to actual beliefs and practices of the people as well as the cultures. Sociologists, in particular, pay special attention to the concrete moral practice of special groups around the world, and they view them as cultural.
* Second, moral philosophy also called ethical theory, refers to the systematic efforts of understanding moral concepts and justifying moral theories and principles. It analyzes key concepts of ethics that are the right, wrong and permissible. It explores the possible source of moral obligation i.e. God and human reason. It seeks for the establishment of the principle of right behavior that might serve as an action guide for both the individuals and the groups.
* The larger study of ethics then draws on all three of these subdivisions, connecting them in important ways. Theory without application is sterile and useless, but action as a theoretical perspective is sterile, useless, and blind. There will be an enormous difference in the quality of debates about abortion.
More light and less heat will be the likely outcome. If we are to be said as free, we must take ethics more seriously then we have taken before. Ethical theory may rid us of simplistic extremism and emotionalism. It is important that the educated person is able to discuss ethical situation with precision and subtlety.
The study of ethics is not only of instrumental value but also valuable in its own right. It is satisfying to have knowledge of important matters for its own sake, and it is important to understand the nature and scope of moral theory for its own sake.
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