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Moral theories in teaching applied ethics

Abstract

It is argued, in this paper, that moral theories should not be discussed extensively when teaching applied ethics. First, it is argued that, students are either presented with a large amount of information regarding the various subtle distinctions and the nuances of the theory and, as a result, the students simply fail to take it in or, alternatively, the students are presented with a simplified caricature of the theory, in which case the students may understand the information they are given, but what they have understood is of little or no value because it is merely a caricature of a theory. Second, there is a methodological problem with appealing to moral theories to solve particular issues in applied ethics. An analogy with science is appealed to. In physics there is a hope that we could discover a unified theory of everything. But this is, of course, a hugely ambitious project, and much harder than, for example, finding a theory of motion. If the physicist wants to understand motion, he should try to do so directly. We would think he was particularly misguided if he thought that, to answer this question, he first needed to construct a unified theory of everything.

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