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Religion & Society Year 10 - Ethics: Ethical Concepts

Personal ethics - ethics and me, Global ethics, exploring ethics - exploration of ethical concepts and decision making, community/business ethics - the role ethics plays in the business world, medical ethics -issues, Oxford debate.

Approaches to Ethics

Ethics can be defined as:

The examination of decision-making about what is good and bad, right and wrong, worthy or unworthy in human behaviour, and the exploration of why people make the judgements they do.

The study of Ethics in western civilisation has had a long and complex history. Many famous thinkers have explored different ways of approaching ethical issues.

Two major approaches to ethical issues are very different and can lead to very different outcomes (either of which can be “right” for the person proposing each one).


UTILITARIANISM is an approach to ethics where the aim is to ‘promote the maximum human happiness and to minimise suffering and misery for the largest number of people’. The most important issue here is how to achieve the best consequences or outcomes. ‘The end often justifies the means’, or ‘all’s well that ends well’.


DEONTOLOGY is an approach to ethics where the focus is on ‘doing what is right’, that there are important principles of conduct or duties which people should follow regardless of the circumstances or consequences.


Cider House Rules

DVD 791.43 CID

Assessment Task 3                     “Approaches to Ethics”

The film The Cider  House Rules, made in 1999 and starring Tobey Maguire, Charlize Theron and Michael Caine, won two Academy Awards. Set in USA during World War 2, it explores themes of “family, love and the search to find a place and purpose in this world”. 

The two main characters can be seen to largely approach life from a Utilitarian (Dr. Larch) and a Deontological (Homer Wells) viewpoint.

 In this Unit we will view the film The Cider House Rules as a way of examining these two major approaches to ethics. We will discuss aspects of the film that demonstrate different responses to the complex issue of abortion. Following the film we will have a class session where we consider other key concepts in the study of Ethics. We will seek definitions to the following terms: morals; beliefs; values and ethics. We conclude the Unit (in our fourth lesson) with an Assessment Task that poses questions about the issues raised in the film, particularly about these two major approaches to ethics – utilitarianism and deontology, and also asks students to show an understanding of these key terms. This Unit contributes 10% of the Assessment for the whole course.       



1.   Scene 6, then rewind from car returning to orphanage to conversation as the grave is dug. Show from 23.33 – 24.54 (1.21min total).

Then allow 10 minutes for response to task. 

2.   Scene 16, then forward to1:15.45 (just at end of sex scene). Homer is writing to Dr. Larch he is writing back. Show from 1:15.45 – 1:18.06 (2.21min total).

Then allow 10 minutes for response to task. 

3.   Scene  21. Beginning of scene. Homer reads the rules, burns them in the fire.Show from 1:38.00 – 1:40.40 (2.40min total).

Then allow 10 minutes for response to task. 

4.   There should be at least 10 minutes remaining for students to complete the Definitions section of the Assessment Task.


Students then undertake the task.

Definitions of key terms

As in any area of study, there are some key terms in Ethics we need to be able to understand. The following four words overlap in meaning, in the space below we will seek to discover how they each have meaning distinct from the other terms: