“What does that mean?” Understanding AS Ethics Questions (Old Spec)

Achieving top marks in your AS Ethics exam is not just based on writing an excellent part a) and part b) answer because you actually need to understand what the question is looking for in the first place. Misunderstanding the question = fail. So here are my tips on understanding what your ethics questions are actually looking for.

Understanding the question:

Moral issues/ Moral decisions: these words are used in part a) questions a lot. You need to be able to discuss the actual issues with abortion not just what abortion is (as that would be GCSE). These normally cover the bullet pointed areas of personhood/ sanctity of life/ right to life etc.

Moral Relativism/ Relativist/ Ethical relativism (this can also apply to subjectivism/ subjective) – wants you to talk about Utilitarianism or Christian ethics (New Testament/ Situation ethics)

Moral absolutism/ Absolutist/ Ethical absolutism (this also applies for objective/ objectivism) – wants you to talk about Natural Law or Kantian Ethics.


A) Explain a moral absolutist approach to abortion– just wants Kant or Natural Laws view of abortion linking into why each part is absolute (set in stone/ unchanging/ same for all people/ all times/ all cultures)

A) Compare an absolute and relativist argument to right to a child– just wants you to compare Natural law or Kant to Utilitarianism or Christian Ethics and their views on IVF etc. For example I would be tempted to compare Christian Ethics with Natural Law and explore how they take absolute and relative approaches to IVF/ child as a gift.

A) Explain a moral objectivist approach to personhood – just wants Natural Law or Kant and the objective aspects which are the same as absolute.

If the question mentions teleological = Utilitarianism

If the question mentions deontological = Kant or Natural Law.

E.g. A) Compare a deontological and teleological argument – this is wanting you to compare Utilitarianism with Kant or Natural Law.

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A few ways to avoid annoying your examiner:

  1. Do not say religious groups/ religious thinkers because who are you talking about (Muslims/ Pagans/ Scientologists?) Just say Christians.
  2. Do not say baby!! You must use the words embryo or foetus. Baby is too emotive.
  3. Explain the words in the question: What does PVS mean/ What does IVF stand for/ what does personhood mean?
  4. Don’t forget: Sanctity of Life is all the arguments. You don’t have to be religious to believe that life is sacred.
  5. If the question says ‘moral’ it just means ethics so ‘moral relativism’ or ‘moral issues’ just means your ethics topics. Ignore and continue with the question.

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