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Ethics And The Concepts Of Right And Wrong

Philosophy : Ethics

There are not many concepts that are so firmly embedded in our consciousness as those of 'right' and 'wrong'.

There is something peculiar about these concepts. We all feel strongly that some things are very definitely clearly right or wrong, and yet many other people will feel just as strongly the other way.

So what is going on here, and what is the true nature of ethical discourse about value judgements?

For instance if you say that stealing is wrong but someone else thinks that stealing is right and justified (perhaps they have some deep seated philosophical view that there should be no such thing as private property) then how do you solve such a dispute?

Clearly people think these ethical debates are worthwhile and that they can persuade others to their point of view. But these debates are very different to debates that seem more independent of ourselves and our own ideas.

For instance if you ask 'is there a chair in the room?' and one person thinks there isn't and one thinks there is, the question is easily solved. Look around the room and find out if there is a chair and everyone will easily agree. That is, the world out there independent of us solves the question and only someone very awkward will debate the answer to that question.

But with right and wrong we can't just point to a fact or object out there in the world that justifies our opinion. So what are we doing with moral discourse?

This of course is a million dollar question. All sorts of theories abound, for instance that we are basically expressing our personal preferences and nothing more (I don't really like stealing may be a reduction of 'stealing is wrong' under some ethical schools). Or more classically the 'boo! stealing!' type emotivist line.

Right and wrong are interesting concepts. It seems as though they are absolute to us and that we must almost treat them as though they are absolute for moral discourse to seem as relevant as it does, but we may at the same time have to acknowledge that they are not really absolute but rather quite relative to ourselves, our environment, our personal preferences and the time and place we live in.

By: Fred

More philosophy advice

Near the end of your article you expressed it best, perhaps this explanation is agreeable. An act is either Evil or Righteous, with no middle ground, depending upon the teaching of Nature.

Does it then suggest that the individual conflicts with the group? - one\'s version is not the same as the other ... \'same same but different\'. But as intrinzic (yeah spelt wrong) concepts, maybe \"the survival instinct\" in us all should be considered.

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