By L. Alsdorf

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Extra info for Contributions to the Textual Criticism of the Kathopanisad issue 100

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35 Page 35 2 Moral Philosophy ▶ What is moral philosophy? Unlike many branches of philosophy, it is quite easy to express clearly the main question of ethics, or moral philosophy. It is found in the title of books on the subject, such as How Should One Live? by Roger Crisp and How Are We to Live? by Peter Singer. But, as ever, things are not quite as simple as they appear. This apparently simple question contains a concept which is highly problematic: ‘should’ or ‘ought’. As any parent knows, when you say someone should or ought to do something, that is often not the end of the matter but the beginning.

Compare ethical claims to ordinary, factual claims. If I say ‘water freezes at zero degrees centigrade’, there are ways of seeing if this is true, which involve going out and seeing if water does in fact freeze at this temperature. If I say ‘the square root of 289 is 17’, I can see if this is true by standard mathematical procedures. But how can I go about seeing if ‘smacking children is wrong’ is true? I cannot examine examples of such smacking to see if I can observe the wrongness. Nor can I prove it is wrong in the way in which I can prove a mathematical sum.

46 For example, consider the example of the innocent prisoner which we looked at above. Consequentialist and deontological approaches both offered very different solutions to the puzzle of what the right thing to do was. Both offered a pretty clear-cut solution. But this might strike us as very odd indeed. After all, what such hypothetical circumstances surely show more than anything is how agonising moral decisions can be. We should therefore be suspicious of any theory which offers a clear-cut, off-the-peg solution to such a dilemma.

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