Ethical Theories as Methods of Ethics

Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics 11:247-269 (2021)
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This chapter presents a new argument for thinking of traditional ethical theories as methods that can be used in first-order ethics - as a kind of deliberation procedures rather than as criteria of right and wrong. It begins from outlining how ethical theories, such as consequentialism and contractualism, are flexible frameworks in which different versions of these theories can be formulated to correspond to different first-order ethical views. The chapter then argues that, as a result, the traditional ethical theories cannot be evaluated in terms of their truth or correctness. Instead, I will suggest that these theories should be understood as providing different kind of ways of thinking about difficult moral problems. I then recommend a certain form of pragmatic pluralism - it may well be that different moral problems are better approached through different ethical theories.

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Jussi Suikkanen
University of Birmingham


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