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Examples in ethics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L023-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Philosophers often employ examples to illustrate how their favoured principles are to be applied to concrete cases, and sometimes even to show that principles are of no help in decision-making. Examples are also used to convince readers of the existence of moral dilemmas – unresolvable conflicts between moral obligations. But a variety of different philosophical questions concerning the role, status, and nature of examples used in ethics have also been raised. One such question concerns the role that examples should play in our moral experience: should this be a rhetorical, pedagogic role of persuading us to do what is right, as determined by pre-existing principle; or a stronger, logical role of helping to determine what is morally right? Another query relates to moral teaching: is exposure to and reflection on stories, tales, narratives and exemplars sufficient for moral education, or is there a further need for exposure to principles and theories of ethics? Third, in terms of the kinds of examples employed in moral philosophy and reflection, should such examples be culled from great literature or sacred texts? Alternatively, should they be actual case studies drawn from real life, or hypothetical but realistic examples constructed by theorists? Or should they be imaginary, highly improbable cases designed to test our intuitions? A fourth question asks how examples are best identified and described, and to what extent the examples used in ethics are themselves theory-laden or even theory-constituted.

Citing this article:
Louden, Robert B.. Examples in ethics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L023-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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