It seems that in modern philosophy, there has been less discussion about ethical philosophy and more discussion about linguistics, philosophy of math, etc. Is this because there's some sort of consensus on which ethical system is right, if any at all? I'd appreciate your thoughts.

  • 3
    Personally I think this phenomenon may appear due to science's popularity nowadays. It may give people the idea that ethics is something we can't say much about because we can't logically prove moral rules. I am a layman though.
    – user2953
    Feb 18 '15 at 13:38
  • To the op, I think that just depends greatly on your instructors and the sorts of conversations you are in (whether academic or lay). There's probably more articles on ethics produced in a day than I can read in a year.
    – virmaior
    Feb 18 '15 at 14:57
  • @virmaior You think so? Where are you finding these articles? Feb 18 '15 at 15:15
  • You could start with the journal Ethics (press.uchicago.edu/ucp/journals/journal/et.html). And then work your way around other similar journals.
    – virmaior
    Feb 20 '15 at 4:12

there has been less discussion about ethical philosophy and more discussion about linguistics, philosophy of math

While there has been more focus on linguistically motivated issues in the 20th century, ethics has never fallen by the wayside. And while normative ethical questions (such as which ethical system is correct) are still discussed, ethics has taken a closer look at its metaphysical basis (metaethics), as well as the problems associated with putting particular normative ethical theories to work (practical/applied ethics).

As far as your question goes, you may find the survey here useful. Roughly 26% of contemporary philosophers are deontologists, 24% are consequentialists, 18% are virtue ethicists, and 32% are none of these; they may be moral particularists, nihilists, or something else entirely. So there is nothing even close to a consensus about which ethical theory is the correct one. Especially since there is major dispute about whether the notion of correctness applies to ethical theories in the first place!

  • There is even those who deny that morals even exist. Which confuses the matter further.
    – Neil Meyer
    Feb 22 '15 at 17:30

I think its the opposite. Its not that there is a consensus on which ethical system is right, but rather that we are finding that the ethical systems are more bound by the language used to describe them than anything else. We're finding two problems:

  • ethical systems defined in natural language inherent the limitations of natural language and its tendency to be ambiguous or imprecise.
  • ethical systems defined in mathematically precise languages inherent the raw difficulty of describing some profound concepts which many people intuitively want to see in an ethical system.

As an example, consider debating the ethics of killing. One ethical system may say it is unethical to kill humans, another may say that it is unethical to kill any sentient creature. We could compare them and contrast them until the cows come home, but consider:

  • We need a philosophically meaningful boundary between human and not-human.
  • We need a philosophically meaningful boundary between sentient and non-sentient
  • We need a definition of "kill" for each of them.
    • By corollary, we need to define "life" for each of them.

Those linguistic definitions turn out to be remarkably harder, given modern scientific understanding, than they were a few hundred years ago. Modern medicine on its own has rewritten what it means for a human to be alive. In fact, it has done so much that there are now conflicting definitions such as "brain dead" "clinically dead, " or even "beating heart cadaver" appear. Cryogenics has started adding a new definition, "information theoretic death."

Most philosophy builds from premises to conclusions. If two individuals linguistically disagree on the meaning of a word, no conclusion can be reached. The linguistic issues dominate.

Once agreement on a word is arrived at, then the discussion of ethical systems can take place.

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