Philosophical Investigations
PAST QUESTIONS AS Ethics Print Email
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Absolute / relative


Natural Law


Religious Ethics



Just War

Right to a child

Genetic eng.

Jan 2010

  1. Explain what is meant by moral absolutism. 
  2. “Moral absolutism cannot be justified”. Discuss
  1. Explain how utilitarians approach the  issues of war.
  2. “Pacifism does more harm than good” Discuss
  1. Explain the strengths of Natural Law Theory.
  2. To what extent could a follower of natural law accept embryo research.


  1. Explain how the ethics of a religion you have studied might be applied to abortion.
  2. “Religious ethics fail to consider consequences”. Discuss

See religious ethics question a.


See utilitarianism question a and b.

See Natural law question b.


June 2010

  1. Explain the differences between absolute and relative morality.
  2. Relativist theories give no convincing reasons why people should be good”.  Discuss
  1. Explain the main strengths of Mill’s Utilitarianism.
  2. “Utilitarianism can lead to wrong moral decisions”.  Discuss.


  1. Explain how the follower of Kantian ethics might approach the issues surrounding the right to a child.
  2. “The right to a child is an absolute right” Discuss.
  1. Explain the ethical principles of a religion you have studied in relation to war.
  2. “War should not be allowed even as a last resort”.  Discuss.



See religious ethics  question a and b.

See Kantian question part a and b.


Jan 2011

  1. Explain how a moral relativist might approach issues raised by abortion.
  2. “A relativist approach to issues raised by abortion leads to wrong moral decisions”.  Discuss.
  1. Explain the difference between Act and Rule Utilitarianism.
  2. To what extent is Utilitarianism a useful method of making decisions about euthanasia?


  1. Explain Kant’s argument for using the Categorical Imperative.
  2. “The universalisation of maxims by Kant cannot be defended”. Discuss
  1. Explain how the followers of the ethics of a religion you have studied make ethical decisions.
  2. “Morality and religion are separate”.  Discuss.

See relativism question parts a and b.

See Utilitarianism question part b.




May 2011


  1. Explain the Preference Utilitarianism of Peter Singer.
  2. To what extent is Preference Utilitarianism the best form of Utilitarianism?
  1. Explain how the followers of Natural law might approach the issues surrounding abortion.
  2. “Natural Law has no serious weaknesses”. Discuss.
  1. Explain the difference between the hypothetical and Categorical Imperative.
  2. How useful is Kant’s theory when considering embryo research?

See Just War question.



  1. Explain theories of ethical and religious pacifism.
  2. Assess the claim that killing in war is more justifiable than other types of killing.


See Kant question b.

Jan 2012


mark scheme

Examiner report


  1. Explain the main differences between the Utilitarianism of Bentham and that of Mill.
  2. “The Utilitarianism of Mill is superior in every way to that of Bentham” Discuss.
  1. Explain how Natural law theory can be used to decide the right moral action.
  2. To what extent is Natural law the best approach to ethical decision-making?


  1. Explain the main ethical principles of a religion you have studied with regard to genetic engineering.
  2. “Religious ethics prevents progress in genetic engineering”.  Discuss
  1. Explain how the concepts of personhood might influence ethical approaches to abortion.
  2. “The right to life is the most important issue when considering abortion”.  Discuss.




See religious ethics parts a. and b.

May 2012




  1. Explain the difference between deontological and teleological theories.
  2. “The end never justifies the means”.  Discuss.
  1. Explain how the followers of a religion you have studied justify going to war.
  2. “Religious believers should be pacifist”.  Discuss.


  1. Explain the moral issues surrounding euthanasia.
  2. ‘Quality of life is the most important factor when considering issues surrounding euthanasia”.  Discuss

See religious ethics question a. and b.

  1. Explain the moral issues surrounding the right to a child.
  2. “A child is a gift not a right”.  Discuss.



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EXAMINERS REPORT AS June 2012 Print Email
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General Comments G572 June 2012

There were some very good responses from candidates, some showing a mature understanding 
of the questions. As in previous years, some candidates would benefit by improving essay style
and structure, as there was a tendency for candidates to write too briefly for part a) questions
and not show their knowledge and understanding in enough detail. Part b) responses were often
very good with effective use of exemplification.

Comments on Individual Questions

1 (a) This was a popular question with most candidates able to highlight the moral issues 
surrounding the right to a child. Most candidates discussed the moral issues
surrounding IVF, such as the issue of spare embryos, sperm or egg donors, and the
idea that it is ‘playing God’. Many candidates looked at the issue of who has the right
to a child and the future life of the child when it is born. However, some candidates
struggled with the concept ‘right to a child’ and attempted responses which focused
on the issue of abortion. Many candidates used ethical theories to draw out moral
issues and some were very successful in doing so, however, this approach to the
question often meant that candidates missed the moral issues surrounding the right
to a child and instead gave a general explanation of how the theories might approach
the issue. Some responses were focused specifically on the moral issues and were
able to draw out much of the moral complexity of the process. Some candidates even
examined the whole question of rights in order to explain the specific issue of right to
a child.

(b) This question elicited some good discussion on Christian ethics and the view that a 
child is a gift from God. The majority of responses showed a clear structure and
made an attempt to present a two-sided argument. Responses tended to include
biblical teaching in which a child is seen as a gift, with examples such as Hannah and
Sarah used frequently. There was also some analysis of who deserves the right to a
child, with some candidates questioning the idea that a child could be a gift when
people who are deemed unworthy of parenting have children yet morally good people
do not. Some candidates highlighted the problem of rights as being something
defined by governments rather than being natural or innate. Some candidates
dismissed the concept of having inalienable rights using Bentham’s argument that
this was ‘nonsense on stilts’.

2 (a) This was another popular question. Better candidates were able to explain the moral 
issues surrounding euthanasia such as the sanctity of life, the quality of life,
autonomy and personhood – often using the ideas of Peter Singer. Better candidates
discussed the moral issues attached to different types of euthanasia, using pertinent
references to case studies such as Tony Bland, Diane Pretty and Daniel James.
Many candidates discussed the issue of moral autonomy using Mill’s principles as
found in On Liberty and many candidates used a range of scholars when discussing
who might be considered a human being in terms of their genetic makeup but who
lacked consciousness, independence, awareness and rationality. Again many
candidates tried to identify the moral issues using the ethical theories – some
succeeded, but weaker candidates gave a general discussion of how the ethical
theories can be applied to euthanasia without giving an explanation of the moral

 (b) Generally this question was well answered and candidates were able to offer an
argument as to whether the quality of life is the most important factor. Many
contrasted this view with the sanctity of life. Better candidates were able to make an
assessment as to whether the quality of a person’s life is reason enough for a person
to wish to end it. Good candidates also questioned who has the right to judge a
person’s quality of life as what may seem poor to one person may not to the
individual in the situation – a common example used here was that of Professor
Stephen Hawking.

3 (a) This was the least popular question and the majority of candidates used Christianity
in their answers. Some candidates limited themselves to a cursory presentation of
Just War theory, but others were able to show a good level of knowledge and
understanding as to how Just War theory might justify going to war, using the
contributions to the theory of Aquinas, Suarez, Grotius and the American bishops.
Some candidates illustrated their answers with pertinent reference to actual wars to
decide whether Christians could justify going to war or not. Weaker candidates did
not address the question but simply wrote out everything they knew about Just War
theory, including the clauses of Jus Post Bellum even though this was outside the
remit of the question. Some candidates gave good accounts of the Christians such
as the Quakers who would never justify going to war. Responses also included
Christian realism and the ideas of Niebuhr, though on occasion their understanding of
this was limited.

(b) Many candidates referred to biblical teachings, specifically to the example and words 
of Jesus, to argue that religious believers should be pacifist. When arguing that war
was sometimes necessary, even for religious believers, Just War was used
effectively. Good candidates argued that following pacifism meant that evil may
flourish and the innocent would not be protected – this was often linked to Dietrich
Bonhoeffer. Some candidates discussed the different forms of pacifism; some argued
that preferential pacifism may be the better response.

4 (a) In general this question was answered well with most candidates able to differentiate 
between deontological and teleological approaches. The majority of candidates
approached this question by explaining what the terms meant then going on to
explain the theories which may be considered deontological or teleological, and
highlighting the differences in the final paragraph. Most candidates discussed Kant as
being deontological and this was done well with good examples, often the axe
murderer, abortion or euthanasia. Some candidates also showed a detailed
knowledge of Natural Law in both its deontological and teleological aspects.
Utilitarianism was used to explain a teleological theory. Candidates often used the
same examples to show how a teleological theory would make a different ethical
decision. Weaker candidates outlined the theories but did not explain the differences,
or only focused on the key differences of consequences versus action/intention.

(b) A small number of candidates were confused over what was meant by the question, 
some candidates arguing that the view expressed a Kantian perspective. The
majority of candidates gave an argument in support of a teleological view and
opposing this with a deontological view. Many argued that it seemed like a logical
approach to decision making and used the example of killing Hitler as the means
justifying the ends.  

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