Is there such a thing as moral knowledge? Does the rightness or wrongness of an action depend on the situation? Are all moral opinions equally valid? Is there such a thing as a moral fact?
One thing often said to distinguish humans from other animals is morality. A key question in ethical discussions in TOK is therefore whether we can really know whether something is moral. What is peculiar about moral values is that they seem to embody obligations for action.
An example of a key area of discussion in ethics is the issue of moral rules. There is disagreement about whether being moral is about following rules, not least because some would question whether moral rules really exist at all. There is also debate about whether moral rules should ever be broken, and if so, in what circumstances. Other key areas of discussion include the issue of whether humans are essentially altruistic or selfish, or whether the consequences of, or motivation for, an action is the location of moral value.

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Ethics within TOK is an examination of the moral decision making process: do not focus so much on lists of moral decisions but why it is considered 'good'.

Key ethical questions
  • 'How SHOULD someone act?'
  • What does it mean to be good?
    • What IS good?!!

  • What should I do (or not do)?
  • How do I justify my moral decisions?
    • What is moral? Immoral? Amoral?
    • What is the source of my/our morality?
      • Human nature
        • we are good, therefore we do good to others
        • we are selfish, but cooperation yields maximum happiness to us
      • Religion
        • core teachings of religion/s
        • impact of an after-life?
      • Observation/reasoning
        • Utilitarianism: the greatest good for the greatest number
      • Emotional Empathy
        • Relationships lead us to care for others, even those we don't know because they have relationships we empathise with.
      • Social/Political
        • A society's laws
        • International conventions / agreements
        • What are these based on?

What would you do...?

Is acting on this situation (which you believe to be real) 'ethical decision-making' or an 'emotional response'?

'Should you kill the fat man?'

Complete these surveys and read the analysis of your answers that are given. What do these tell you about your ethical decision making?
  • This activity is a treatment of some of the issues thrown up by a thought experiment called 'The Trolley Problem', which was first outlined by the philosopher Philippa Foot, and then developed by Judith Jarvis Thomson and others. Links to a quiz which questions your moral decision making.

A follow up is 'Should you kill the backpacker':