Chapter I: The Subject-Matter of Ethics.

§ 1.

It is very easy to point out some among our every-day judgments, with the truth of which Ethics is undoubtedly concerned. Whenever we say, So and so is a good man, or That fellow is a villain; whenever we ask What ought I to do? or Is it wrong for me to do like this?; whenever we hazard such remarks as Temperance is a virtue and drunkenness a vice—it is undoubtedly the business of Ethics to discuss such questions and such statements; to argue what is the true answer when we ask what it is right to do, and to give reasons for thinking that our statements about the character of persons or the morality of actions are true or false. In the vast majority of cases, where we make statements involving any of the terms virtue, vice, duty, right, ought, good, bad, we are making ethical judgments; and if we wish to discuss their truth, we shall be discussing a point of Ethics. (§ 1 ¶ 1)

So much as this is not disputed; but it falls very far short of defining the province of Ethics. That province may indeed be defined as the whole truth about that which is at the same time common to all such judgments and peculiar to them. But we have still to ask the question: What is it that is thus common and peculiar? And this is a question to which very different answers have been given by ethical philosophers of acknowledged reputation, and none of them, perhaps, completely satisfactory. (§ 1 ¶ 2)