Debate Topic Ideas on Ethics

Ethics is an important topic for debate.
Ethics is an important topic for debate. (Image: Images)

The field of ethics involves questions of right and wrong and examines what is appropriate behavior in different circumstances. Because ideas of good and bad are subjective and personal, ethical debates are common between people who hold different philosophies. Positive ethical debates leave all participants more informed about other viewpoints, while negative debates can degenerate into name calling.

Animal Rights

Human beings use other animals for food, companionship, entertainment and clothing. Beliefs about the ethical defensibility of these uses cover a wide range, from people who believe that animals are not sentient and have no rights at all, to people who believe that humans don't have the right to use animals for any reason. An ethical debate on this subject could address the extensive historical literature on animals and the striking difference between the mythical view of animals that is common among traditional cultures and the utilitarian view that began with Renee Descartes's equating animals with machines.


Discuss the circumstances under which people should be allowed to use drugs. Most drugs are for medical purposes, some of them preventing an ill person from dying and others merely relieving a headache. Other drugs are used for recreational, spiritual or educational purposes. The harm that recreational drugs can inflict varies widely, from the muddled thinking that results from marijuana to the addiction caused by heroin and crystal meth. One of the primary ethical questions about drug use is what responsibility society has to protect people from themselves and what right society has to prevent private behaviors that people want to engage in.


The question of what responsibility each individual has to others goes back to the story of Cain and Abel in the book of Genesis, in which Cain asks, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Self-interest is a powerful force in most people's lives, although in a functioning society it is moderated by a concern for others. Altruism involves self-sacrifice in the interest of others, and while many people admire altruistic acts, few people are willing to sacrifice themselves completely. An interesting ethical debate involves the question of the proper balance between self-interest and altruism.


Abortion involves the termination of a pregnancy before the baby is born. Abortion has been the subject of one of the most vociferous and prolonged ethical debates in American culture. Proponents of abortion believe that a woman's right to control her own body is more important than the fate of a fetus, while opponents of abortion believe that every human life is sacred and that abortion should be illegal. Like many ethical debates, which side is "right" depends largely on the opinions and beliefs of the person asking the question, meaning that the debate is likely to continue.

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