Most of us have a sense of right from wrong, but our intuitions can be misleading. We don’t have to look back far in history to find commonly accepted practices that are appalling to us today—and no doubt future generations will reassess our practices in the same way. Practical ethics examines our common and individual morality for inconsistencies, failure to apply agreed principles, and new principles that may have a radical effect on our moral behaviour. It also reassesses our morality in the light of new evidence, for example about free will as we learn more about the ways in which we are influenced beyond our control.
Moreover, in the current era, we are responsible for ever more powerful technology with huge potential for benefit but also for harm. Humanity’s technological success creates new problems and challenges for our traditional institutions and norms, such as climate change and other environmental destruction, weapons of mass destruction and increasing risk that non-state actors can create them, global inequality and globalisation, antibiotic resistance and pandemic disease, genetic engineering and biomedical means of life extension, cognitive and moral enhancements, and artificial intelligence.
The fate of our planet in the 21st century and the following centuries will be determined by the choices made by human beings, both leaders and citizens of nations. It is the values, principles and wider ethics of these people that will determine their choices. We aim to enable practical ethics to develop and more effectively guide human choice.
The ability to think critically and rationally about the world around us is increasingly important in this era of fake news, and digital image manipulation. But practical ethics should not only advance knowledge by deeper, rational ethical reflection and dialogue, it should also change people’s hearts and so better their own lives and the lives of others. Our goal is not to tell you how to do that, but to create a framework and tools for reflecting more deeply on our behaviours, norms, laws, and institutions.