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    1. Exam Specification Details

    This book deals with the Ethics components of AQA Philosophy and OCR Religious Studies. It has been written in line with these specifications, covering the material necessary in a way that, we hope, is engaging for students, teachers and anyone interested in understanding ethical study.

    Some chapters are, therefore, directly relevant only to one of these two courses. Students studying Ethics as part of OCR Religious Studies do not need to read about the ethics of simulated killing, while students studying AQA Philosophy do not need to consider Natural Law or Situation Ethics. This is not to say that there is not, we hope, some independent value in engaging with these chapters as part of your wider reading.

    However, the split is not always so clear. Both OCR and AQA require students to engage with the theory of Utilitarianism, for example. However, the specifications differ slightly and so not all of the content is relevant to all students; relevance will depend on the course being sat. We suggest two options in dealing with this:

    • Early on in your course — engage with the content in the chapter regardless of your specification. This should give you a full and informed context in which to evaluate the theory.
    • Later in your course and nearer exams — use your specification to focus on the exact content that may figure in your exam. Your teacher is best placed to advise you on this.

    2. Book Structure

    In writing this book we followed Andrew Fisher’s approach of focusing on the judgement of the student in evaluating when they are being taught effectively.1 We take the student as authoritative on this matter; we want to create an “engaged” student. To this end we include ways that students can check their judgements on whether the material has taught them anything or not. For example, we include sections on “Common Student Mistakes”, “Issues to Consider” and “Key Terminology” within every chapter.

    Following the specification requirements of AQA and OCR, the book deals with Normative Ethics, then Metaethics and finally Applied Ethics. What is the difference?

    Consider an analogy put forward by Andrew Fisher (2011).2 Imagine that ethics is like football.

    • The normative ethicist is like a referee interested in the rules governing play. What interests him is the general theories that govern our moral behaviour; how do we work out what is right and what is wrong?
    • The metaethicist is like a football commentator. What interests her is how the very practice of ethics works. For example, the metaethicist might discuss how people use moral language; or comment on the psychology of immoral people; or ask whether moral properties exist.
    • The Applied Ethicists are like the players. They “get their hands [or feet] dirty”. They take the general rules of normative ethics and “play” under them. What interests them is how we should act in specific areas. For example, how should we deal with issues like meat-eating, euthanasia or stealing?

    So guided by the AQA and OCR exam specifications, you will find various normative theories explained. You will then find those theories applied to real life examples. Sandwiched between these is the Metaethics chapter which asks: “But what is ethical practice?”

    With all three types of ethics covered we hope to provide a good grounding in ethics, both in terms of content and a general philosophical approach. Where possible we give as many examples as possible and avoid technical jargon, although sometimes we need to use specific philosophical terms. With this in mind we have included an extensive Glossary at the end of the volume. Our hope is that you will feel able to pick up this book dip into it, or read it from cover to cover. Whatever you choose we hope you’ll gain confidence with the content needed for your exams, that you practice and strengthen your ability to think with clear reasoning and with justification about the topics covered, and get as excited and fascinated by ethics as we are.


    Fisher, Andrew, Metaethics: An Introduction (Oxford: Routledge, 2011),

    ―, and Tallant, Jonathan, How to Get Students Talking: An Instructors Toolkit (Oxford: Routledge, 2015),

    1 This approach can also be found in: Fisher and Tallant, How to Get Philosophy Students Talking.

    2 Fisher, Metaethics, pp. 1–4.

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