49 Suggested Course Discussion Forum Questions on Ethical Theories, Concepts & Applied Ethics Scenarios

Mark Dimmock and Andrew Fisher, Ethics for A-Level. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2017, https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0125

Suggested Course Discussion Forum Questions on Ethical Theories, Concepts & Applied Ethics Scenarios

Philosophy, Ethics and Thinking

  1. How would you explain what philosophy is to someone?
  2. Do you think philosophy is important? If yes, why? If no, why?
  3. List some ethical questions.
  4. Can you figure out if your questions are Normative, Applied, or Metaethical?
  5. Is there a link be between Applied, Normative and Metaethics? Which type of ethics do you think it would be best to study first, and which last?
  6. What is the difference between prudential and moral reasons?
  7. What is meant by the “is/ought” gap? Why is it important to remember when discussing ethical questions?
  8. What role, if any, does science have in ethical arguments?
  9. What are thought experiments? Why might they be useful to philosophers?
  10. “Because there are so many different views on moral issues there cannot be any moral truth”. What do you think of this line of argument?



  1. Is there anything that would improve your life that cannot be reduced to either pleasure or preference satisfaction?
  2. Would you enter Nozick’s experience machine if you knew you would not come out? Would you put someone you care about into the machine while they were asleep, so that they never had to make the decision?
  3. Can pleasure be measured? Does Bentham go about this task correctly?
  4. Which is the most serious problem facing Bentham’s Act Utilitarianism? Can it be overcome?
  5. Does Mill successfully improve Bentham’s Act Utilitarianism in any way?
  6. Are you ever told to stop watching television and do something else? Is this good for you? Why?
  7. Do you have convictions or beliefs you would not want to sacrifice for the greater good, should you ever be forced to?
  8. Why do utilitarians not give up on the idea of maximising pleasure and just talk in terms of promoting sufficient pleasure? Would this solve or raise problems?
  9. Is Weak Rule Utilitarianism merely Act Utilitarianism by another name?
  10. Does Strong Rule Utilitarianism deserve to be labelled as a utilitarian theory?


Deontology – Kantian Ethics

  1. Think about your life. Do you think there are things you “ought to do”?
  2. Do you think that there are things you ought to do irrespective of your desires and inclinations?
  3. What are Categorical and Hypothetical Imperatives? Do you think that rules of etiquette are categorical or hypothetical?
  4. How might Kant respond to the SS officer example?
  5. Can you think of some examples where you might be treating someone solely as means-to-an-end?
  6. Why might Kant’s theory be well placed to respect people’s rights?
  7. Do you think we have any moral obligations towards animals? What would Kant say?
  8. What role do you think intuitions should have in assessing moral theories?


Aristotelian Virtue Ethics

  1. Who has the better life — the happy hedonist or the virtuous individual?
  2. Are the virtues fixed and absolute? Or can virtues be relative to culture and time?
  3. Is becoming moral a skill? Is morality based on “knowing that” or “knowing how”?
  4. Can Virtue Ethics offer useful guidance?
  5. Is the Golden Mean a useful way of working out virtuous characteristics?
  6. Are some virtues more important than others? Why?
  7. Can you think of a virtue that does not contribute to eudaimonia?
  8. Can you think of something that contributes to eudaimonia that is not a virtue?
  9. If there is no purpose to life, is there any point in subscribing to Aristotelian Virtue Ethics?
  10. What should you do if virtues seem to clash when faced with different possible actions?
  11. Who might count as virtuous role models and why?
  12. Do human beings have a telos or proper function?


Fletcher’s Situation Ethics

  1. Why do you think Fletcher’s book was so popular at the time of publication?
  2. If an alien visited earth and asked “What is love?” how would you answer them?
  3. How does Situationism differ from “Utilitarianism” if at all?
  4. If we act from love, does that mean we can do anything?
  5. What does it mean to say that conscience is a verb rather than a noun? Do you think we have a conscience? If you do, should we think of it as a verb or a noun?
  6. Why does Fletcher say that his theory is: “fact-based, empirical-based, data-conscious and inquiring”?
  7. What do you think a Christian would make of Fletcher’s theory?
  8. What do you think “situation” means?
  9. What does Fletcher mean by “positivism”?


Aquinas’s Natural Law Theory

  1. If God exists then what — if anything — do you think that has to do with what is right and wrong?
  2. We might answer the “arbitrariness” dilemma by citing God’s nature. Why might this answer be problematic?
  3. What is the Eternal Law?
  4. What are Natural Laws and primary precepts?
  5. What are Human Laws and secondary precepts?
  6. What are Divine Laws?
  7. Just as a good eye is to see, and a good acorn is to grow then a good human is to…? Is to what? How are we going to finish this sentence?
  8. People often talk about what is “natural”? What do you think they mean by this? How useful is the notion of “natural” in a moral theory?
  9. Think of a descriptive claim. Think of a prescriptive claim. Why might it be problematic moving from one to the other?
  10. If people thought long enough, do you think there would be convergence on what is morally right and wrong?
  11. What is the Doctrine of Double Effect?
  12. What is the difference — if anything — between intending to bring about some end and acting where you know your action will bring about that end?


Metaethical Theories

  1. Does Emotivism lend support to Relativism?
  2. Does Naturalism lend support to Absolutism?
  3. Does moral disagreement lend support to Anti-Realism?
  4. Can a philosopher ever know what you mean better than you know?
  5. Is Metaethics as important as normative or applied ethics?
  6. Are moral judgments meaningless if they are about non-natural properties? If they are non-cognitive?
  7. Do we just know what is right or wrong based on common sense? Does this support Intuitionism?
  8. Is there such a thing as moral progress? What does this suggest in terms of Metaethics?
  9. Can a non-cognitivist properly explain moral disagreement?



  1. Do you think you have a conscience? What does it tell you?
  2. What is the difference between synderesis and conscience?
  3. Do you think that everyone ultimately knows — if they reason correctly — what is right and wrong?
  4. What is the difference between vincible and invincible? Is not most of the supposedly invincible knowledge, really vincible? We just need to try harder?
  5. What are the possible different roles for the conscience?
  6. Could the conscience be a morally bad thing?
  7. Why does Freud think we need to be cautious about listening to our conscience?
  8. How does Freud’s account of conscience relate to his Psychosexual Development Theory?
  9. What do you think about Freud’s Psychosexual Development Theory?
  10. Draw up a table of the key stages and accompanying characteristics of Freud’s Psychosexual Development Theory.
  11. Could it ever make sense to talk about animals/robots having a conscience? If not, why not?
  12. Do you think conscience will still shape our lives in one thousand years?



  1. Is keeping due tax from the government an example of stealing?
  2. Can you create your own satisfactory definition of stealing?
  3. Does stealing once make you more likely to steal again?
  4. Is it possible to measure the psychological pains associated with stealing?
  5. Is an absolute prohibition against stealing defensible? Why or why not?
  6. Do people you consider virtuous have any history of stealing?
  7. Would the best set of rules for promoting the greatest good for the greatest number contain a rule absolutely prohibiting stealing?
  8. Is it worth debating the ethics of stealing if you are an emotivist or a prescriptivist?
  9. What would the error-theorist say about the morality of stealing?


Telling Lies

  1. Do you ever think it is morally acceptable to lie? When?
  2. Could a robot lie?
  3. In the local town there is a sign at the roundabout — “Happy birthday Keith, 40 today!” It has been there about a year. Is this lying?
  4. Do you think it makes sense to talk about “lying to oneself”? If it does, how might this change our definition?
  5. Reflecting on your answers so far would you agree with our definition of “lying”? Or do you think it needs modifying?
  6. Give an example where the consequentialist would say we are morally required to lie.
  7. How might the rule and the act utilitarian differ in their response to the question whether it is morally wrong to lie?
  8. Give an example where the deontologist would say we ought not to lie.
  9. If you had to go for either a deontological approach to lying or a consequentialist approach, which would it be?
  10. Do you think that we are living in a “post-truth” era? If so, how does this change (if at all) how we think of lying?



  1. What makes a life worth living? Is a life ever without value?
  2. Should the Doctrine of Double Effect be ethically relevant? Is there a moral difference between allowing and doing?
  3. What is assisted suicide? Is it different from Euthanasia?
  4. If euthanasia is morally acceptable, should passive euthanasia ever be viewed as an acceptable method?
  5. Can the slippery slope objection be blocked in this context? Answer with reference to the development of euthanasia laws in Belgium.
  6. Is Rule Utilitarianism the only teleological theory that survives the slippery slope objection?
  7. Is there something morally uncomfortable about the argument from resource allocation? If so, what?
  8. If you were designing euthanasia laws, what would they look like?
  9. Should a Sanctity of Life ethic have any role in twenty-first century medicine?
  10. Is the morality of euthanasia determined by empirical factors such as levels of palliative care available?
  11. Should a depressed patient ever be allowed euthanasia? Is personal autonomy something we must always respect? If not, when should it not be respected?
  12. Could involuntary euthanasia (euthanasia against a person’s wishes) ever be justified in any circumstance?


Simulated Killing


  1. What is “simulated killing”?
  2. How might you consider (a) the simulated killing of animals? Should it be treated any differently from the simulated killing of humans? (b) young children playing games that involve killing, e.g. a playground game of soldiers.
  3. Should we treat “simulated killing” differently from other “simulated” actions, such as stealing or rape?
  4. Imagine a case in the future where one can buy ultra-life like AI robots. These robots can be “killed”. They will “bleed”, they have been programmed to beg for mercy, to whimper, etc. Once they have been “killed” they can be reset and “killed again”. Should we treat this case differently? What happens if the robots are so lifelike that people no longer know the difference between them and real humans? Does that change things?
  5. Governments have censored video games, such as Call of Duty, and Hatred. Are they right to do so? That is, even if we find them immoral, how might this relate to laws governing “simulated killing”?
  6. What is the “Paradox of Tragedy”? Do you think it has any relevance when discussing the morality of simulated killing?
  7. Use Google Scholar to find the most up-to-date research on the psychological effects of “simulated killing” (any version you want). What does the current psychological research tell us about the ethical issues raised in this chapter?


Business Ethics

  1. Do you think that a university is a business?
  2. What do you think the difference is between a business and a company?
  3. Find some examples of a business’s ethics and/or values statement. What are they saying? What do you think of them?
  4. Write an ethics/value statement for your school.
  5. What do you think of the argument that it is irrational for a business to be ethical?
  6. Find a few examples of adverts. Explain in your own words what they are telling the customer. Is this intentional deception? Is it lying?
  7. Imagine that as an employee you are offered a bribe. How would the utilitarian tell us to act? What about the Kantian? Is it always wrong to take bribes in business?
  8. Some workplace rules seem true in every culture — e.g. do not use violence. Others, perhaps concerning dress code, do not. How then are we going to decide between those values that should be part of ethical business practice and those that are merely idiosyncratic features of Western business practice?
  9. Why should business care about the world they leave for future generations? After all, future generations do not exist.
  10. How far do you think capitalism is immoral?
  11. If you do think that capitalism is immoral then what alternative is there? Why is the proposed alternative more morally acceptable?


Eating Animals

  1. Moral statements regarding the acceptability of eating animals are often emotional. Does this mean the emotivist explanation is the best explanation?
  2. Do all animals deserve equal consideration of interests? Do only some animals? Which ones?
  3. Should we expect clear moral answers when it comes to the acceptability of eating animals?
  4. Does moral disagreement in this applied ethical area lend support to Anti-Realism?
  5. How much of this moral issue turns on empirical data regarding the treatment of animals before slaughter?
  6. Should you apply your favored normative moral theory in order to find the correct conclusion in this ethical area, or should you check your favoured normative moral theory to see if it gets it right in this ethical area?


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Suggested Course Discussion Forum Questions on Ethical Theories, Concepts & Applied Ethics Scenarios Copyright © 2020 by Mark Dimmock and Andrew Fisher, Ethics for A-Level. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers, 2017, https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0125 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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