Philosophical Investigations


I have just sat down (under exam conditions as it were) and written four opening paragraphs on last year's A2 paper.  Notice that the questions are becoming less predictable at A2, partly because the board has been told to make A2 more demanding by the examination council. So we can expect more questions like question 4 - so open-ended and wide that it probably made many candidates gasp - but in fact, this is in your favour.  Why?  Because as long as you have the nerve to take a strong line on the question you can argue what you like. Actually I'm least satisfied with my approach to this last question - but it's only fair to leave what I wrote alone. Perhaps these are the key points:

1. Work out your conclusion first.

2. Streamline your thoughts - you can't say everything in 45 minutes, so declare what line you are going to take - what you will include (and in a sense, what you will also leave out).

3.  Play to your strengths.  If you love natural law theory, take that line on the question, if Kant, then take that one.  Acknowledge there are other theories around, but remember, you define how this question will be answered.  Just make sure you do answer it and don't say everything that you can think of in blind panic.

4.  Any bit of applied ethics can be linked to any bit of theory, or, it could be expressed much more generally as in question 4. Have your strengths and weaknesses tables (see the topics section on this site) clear in your mind in case the question asks you to evaluate a specific theory.  It's also worth anticipating likely questions eg on conscience or free will, as there really are very few questions that can be asked on these topics - often it's the same question put another way, or the opposite viewpoint with the word "discuss" or "assess".

5.   Don't be thrown by the term "religious ethics". Simply declare that you will look at some varieties of Christian Ethics - an absolute theory, Divine Command, a relative one, Situation ethics and a deontological one with teleological overtones, Natural Law. (If you don't understand what I mean, go to the Revision Summaries section and whizz through the whizz thru powerpoints).

I am following the same colour code I used in the AS first paragraphs.

Red.....names of authors

Blue...ethical terms





The weaknesses of virtue ethics outweigh its strengths. Discuss

Virtue ethics is the ethics of character and the formation of character through the exercise of phronesis or practical wisdom - a skill whose exercise builds right judgement in different situations. Proponents of virtue theory from Aristotle to MacIntyre argue that good character precedes right action. "It is unclear what action we should take in specific situations" alleges Louis Pojman. Yet the central criticism of this theory, that it fails to guide action, is disputed by virtue theorists such as Rosalind Hursthouse, and the argument of this essay is that the central criticism is a misunderstanding, so the strengths do outweigh the weaknesses, and therefore the above proposition is false.

Assess the usefulness of religious ethics as an ethical approach to business.

Christian ethics takes a number of different forms. In this essay I will apply three of these to the issues raised by business, particularly responsibility for the environment, for third world suppliers and for employees. The three approaches include a form of Christian relativism, as proposed by Joseph Fletcher, Situation Ethics; the deontological absolutism of Divine Command Theory and the unofficial moral viewpoint of the Catholic Church represented by Natural Law as originating in Aristotelean ethics and developed by Aquinas. What is distinctive about these ethical approaches to business, and how useful are they in practice?

Critically assess the claim that people are free to make moral decisions.

"Free will is the power of acting or not acting according to the determinants of the will", argued David Hume. Yet we need to consider whether freedom, which is a much cherished belief of many, and a key assumption of Kantian ethics and Aquinas' natural law theory, may be an illusion. That is the startling claim of a hard determinist like Ted Honderich, but more usually taken by psychologists like Freud and Skinner. However, we do not have to accept the verdict of the hard determinist or the implication that moral responsibility is an empty concept and punishment should solely be for the protection of others. For any claim about free will (either for or against), I will conclude, is in the end metaphysical, beyond proof. Moreover, we can take a third way between the extreme of Kant's metaphysics and Honderich's determinism, that of the compatibilist David Hume, who argues that for choice to make sense there must be an element of causal determinism, and so freedom requires determinism.  The power remains within us.

To what extent are ethical theories helpful when considering the issues surrounding homosexuality?

In this essay I will contrast the view of psychologists such as Freud and behaviourists such as Skinner with the ethical theories of Natural Law and Situation ethics in order to try and assess which is the more useful approach, the ethical or the scientific. The issues surrounding homosexuality are three: the issue of origin of gender orientation, is it environmental or genetic, because if it's genetic then the idea of a "wrong" or "sinful" nature is surely refuted? Then there is the issue of conduct - cannot ethics give us general principles of conduct which could be applied to both homosexual and heterosexual behaviour? Finally I will examine certain assumptions we bring to this issue, for example, the assumption that there is one, universal human nature (which both Kant and Aquinas make). If we change the assumption, then does the ethical conclusion not change with it?  Was Skinner right in boasting "give me a child and I can make him anything?" If he's right, are any of our choices really moral choices?



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