So, I've been writing these articles for work on the philosophy of ethics. First of all, philosophers are nuts. How do they come up with some of this stuff?
Second of all, it's interesting the relationship sci fi has with ethics. Maybe it's because a whole new, made-up environment gives us the opportunity to go beyond setting and contemplate the human condition, as well.
In fact, I accidentally explored that in a story that may be coming out soon in Stupefying Stories. In it, humans have to learn how to get along with aliens who appear to have only superficial differences (they're giant frogs), but actually live based on an ethical philosophy that is just different enough that it drives the humans nuts.
Star Trek, of course, was a great one for contemplating ethical theories. Everyone knows the Vulcan basis for ethics, but some may not know it is the definition of egalitarian consequentialism. Most know the Ferengi's Rules of Acquisitions—deontology at its finest. Even the Borg display mohist consequentialism. And the Prime Directive is classic cultural relativism.
Coming up with basic theories of ethics for societies and individuals is a great way to add tension to a plot, but it can also inform the characters of plot-based writers. If you want your character to be more than someone who gets the plot from point A to point B, it helps to know how he would act in a situation. Back-story is great, but it doesn't necessarily determine reaction. Knowing the ethical theory of a minor character can also help know how they will aid or frustrate your protagonist.
How have you used ethical theories in writing? What schools of ethics have you seen in others' writing? How did it work?
Kersley Fitzgerald is a writer who thinks the coolest thing she found out about the philosophy of ethics is that The Matrix is based on Blaise Pascal.