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Lecture 2

JSB175 Reading Week 2 Notes.docx

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Department
Law
Course
JSB171
Professor
Unknown
Semester
Fall

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JSB175 Reading Week Two Notes Overview of Ethics  The field of ethics involves systemising, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong.  Philosophers today usually divide ethical theories into three general areas: metaethics, normative ethics and applied ethics. Metaethics  Metaethics investigates where our ethical principles come from and what they mean. Are they merely social inventions? Do they involve more than just expressions of our individual emotions?  Metaethical answers to these questions focus on issues of universal truths, the will of God, the role of reason in ethical judgements, and the meaning of ethical terms themselves.  Two issues are prominent within metaethics: o Metaphysical issues concern whether morality exists independently of humans. o Psychological issues concern the underlying mental basis of our moral judgements and conduct. Normative Ethics  Normative ethics takes on a more practical task, which is to ascertain the moral standards which regulate right or wrong conduct. This could involve identifying the ‘good’ habits that we should acquire and practice, the duties that we should follow, or the consequences of our behaviour on others. Applied Ethics  Finally, applied ethics involves examining specific controversial issues such as abortion, animal rights, environment issues, homosexuality or capitol punishment.  Applied ethics uses the conceptual tools of both metaethics and normative ethics to resolve these controversial topics. The lines between the three general areas are often blurred, and all three areas can apply to many ethical dilemmas. Metaethics Metaphysical Issues Metaphysics is the study of all things that exist in the universe. Some of these are physical such as animals and plants. Others can be non-physical such as thought, gods and spirits. In terms of metaethics, metaphysics is concerned with investigating whether moral values are eternal truths that exist in a spirit-like realm, or if they are simply human conventions. There are therefore generally two directions that this topic can take – other-worldly and this-worldly. Other-Worldly  The Other-Worldly view typically believes that moral values are objective and exist in a spirit realm regardless of human conventions and subjectivity. They also believe that moral values are absolute. This means that they exist without change or variation across all rational creatures in the world and across time.  Possibly the most dramatic example of this view is Plato who was inspired by mathematics. Plato explained that numbers were not invented by humans, and we cannot change them. He maintained that numbers exist as abstract entities in another realm. He continued to note that moral values are absolute truths and therefore also exist abstractly in another realm. In this sense, for Plato, moral values are spiritual objects.  Medieval philosophers often grouped all moral principles together under the title of ‘eternal law’ which werthalso seen frequently as spiritual objects.  17 century philosopher Samuel Clarke described them as spirit-like relationships as opposed to objects, however they nevertheless exist in a spirit-like realm.  Another other-worldly approach to moral values is divine commands, or the will of God. This view is sometimes called voluntarism or divine command theory. This view is inspired by the notion of an all- powerful God who is in total control. Here, God’s will quite simply becomes reality – he wills existence of the world, of human life and of moral values into existence. Certain medieval philosophers such as William of Ockham believed that moral principles exist in God’s mind and are transferred to us humans as commands via moral intuition or scriptures. This-Worldly  The This-Worldly approach to metaphysics and morality follows in the sceptical philosophical traditions, such as that expressed by Greek philosopher Sextus Empiricus. This view rejects the objective status of moral values. This does not mean that sceptics rejected the idea of moral values, it instead means that they rejected the idea that moral values existed in another realm, or as the divine commands of God.  Sceptics argued that moral values are strictly human inventions, a position that is known as moral relativism.  There are two distinct forms of moral relativism – individual relativism and cultural relativism: o Individual relativism holds that individual people create their own moral standards. Friedrich Nietzsche, for example, argued that the superhuman creates his or her moral values distinct from and in reaction to the slave-like values of the masses. o Cultural relativism holds that morality is grounded in the approval of one’s society and not simply in preference to the individual. This value has been held by Sextus Empiricus (mentioned earlier) and more recently, by Michel Montaigne and William Graham Summer.  The This-Worldly approach also denies the absolute and universal nature of morality, and instead claims that morality changes from person to person, society to society throughout time and across the world.  Advocates of this view frequently argue and defend their position by citing real-world examples of this, such as the differing attitudes towards issues such as polygamy and human sacrifice across both time and cultures. Psychological Issues The second area of metaethics involves the psychological basis of our moral conduct and judgement, and particularly what motivates us to be moral. We could begin to explore this by asking the simple question – ‘why be moral?’ Because even if an individual is aware of moral standards, this does not mean they are psychologically compelled to follow them. Some common answers to the question of ‘why be moral?’ include to avoid punishment, gain praise, attain happiness, and uphold dignity or to fit in with society. Egoism and Altruism  One important area of moral psychology concerns the inherent selfishness of human beings. 17 century British philosopher Thomas Hobbes believed that many if not all of our actions are prompted by selfish desires. Even when an action seems selfless – such as donating to society – it is still in part prompted by selfishness, for example having power over others or feeling fulfilled.  This view is called psychological egoism and asserts that all actions are ultimately propelled by selfish interests.  A closely related view to this is psychological hedonism which holds that all actions are propelled by the desire for pleasure.  18 century British philosopher Joseph Butler agreed that instinctive selfishness and pleasure drive much of our conduct, however he argued that we also have an inherent psychological capacity to show benevolence – or kindness – to others. This view is called psychological altruism and maintains that at least some of our behaviour is motivated by instinctive benevolence. Emotion and Reason  The second area of moral psychology involves a dispute concerning the role of reason in motivating actions.  18 century British philosopher David Hume argued that moral assessments involve our emotions and not reason. He maintained that we can have all of the reasons in the world to support a specific action but that alone cannot constitute a moral assessment without emotion. He stated that we need a distinctly emotional reaction to form a moral statement.  20 century philosophers such as AJ Ayer similarly denied that moral assessments are factual descriptions.  Example: While at first the phrase ‘It is good to donate to charity’ seems like a factual description of donating to charity, it is actually an expression of personal feelings towards charity. It is essentially saying ‘hooray for charity’ and this is called an emotive element because it expresses emotion about a particular topic. Secondly, there is a prescriptive element present because the speaker is essentially commanding or prescribing that others should give to charity because it is ‘good’.  From Hume’s time forward, more rational-minded philosophers have argued against the emotive theory of ethics and instead maintained that moral assessments are indeed acts of reason.  18 century German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that whilst emotional factors undoubtedly influence our judgement, we should not let them get in the way of rational thought. Instead, he maintained, true moral action should be motivated only by reason and without influence of emotions and desires.  A recent rationalist approach was offered by Kurt Baier (1958). Baier focused more specifically on the reasoning process that takes place within oneself when making moral choices. He argued that all of our moral choices are, or can be, backed by some reason or justification.  Thus, according to Baier, the proper moral decision making process would involve providing the best reasons to support a course of action versus another. Male and Female Morality  A third area of moral psychology focuses on whether there is a distinctly female approach to ethics that is grounded in the psychological differences between men and women.  Discussions of this issue focus primarily on two claims: o Traditional morality is male-centred o There is a unique female perspective of the world which can be shaped into a value theory.  According to many feminist philosophers, morality is traditionally male-centred because it is based on practices which were traditionally male-dominated (such as acquiring land and engaging in business). These practices were typically rigid and required following a specific set of rules.  Women by contrast, have traditionally been engaged in nurturing roles such as watching after children, raising them and being in charge of household duties. These practices generally required a less strict set of rules and provided more room for creativity.  Therefore, using the woman’s experience as a model for moral theory, the basis of her morality would be more spontaneous, would focus on caring for others and would likely be appropriated to each unique circumstance.  In this sense, the woman becomes the agent who acts caringly within the context. The man, in contrast, would be likely to follow a set of mechanical roles where he is required to perform his duty but can remain distanced from and unaffected by the situation.  A care-based modal of morality – as it is sometimes called – is offered by feminists as an alternative to the traditional male-modelled moral systems. Normative Ethics Normative ethics involves arriving at moral standards that regulate right and wrong conduct. In essence, it is a search of an ideal test of proper behaviour. The Golden Rule is a classic example of normative principle: we should do unto others what we want others to do to us. Since we do not want to be murdered, we should not murder. Using this s
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