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Lecture

ETHC 3P82 Lecture Notes - The Two Cultures, Human Behavior, Sentience


Department
Ethics
Course Code
ETHC 3P82
Professor
Thomas Mulligan

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January 18/2010: Overview of Philosophical Ethics cont’d
Excerpts from David Hume's Treatise on Human Nature, A. J. Ayer's
Language, Truth, and Logic, Bertrand Russell's The Problems of
Philosophy, Immanuel Kant's Critique of Practical Reason
Last week’s philosophers were all positive about Ethics as they believed
that ethical/moral behaviour is possible; this week’s philosophers are
skeptical about that
David Hume: SKEPTICISM ABOUT ETHICS ( you can’t get an "OUGHT" from "IS")
p. 196: "I cannot forbear adding to these reasonings an observation, which may, perhaps, be
found of some importance ( ironic). In every system of morality which I have hitherto met with, I
have always remarked, that the author (= earlier philosophers) proceeds for some time in the
ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning
human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprized to find, that instead of the usual copulations of
propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an
ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence. For as this
ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, it is necessary that it should be
observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given, for what seems
altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely
different from it. But as authors do not commonly use this precaution, I shall presume to
recommend it to the readers; and am persuaded, that this small attention would subvert all the
vulgar systems of morality.”
(A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), Book III, Part 1, Section 1)
-founding father of EMPIRICISM: important and reliant knowledge
gained only through our five senses (= empirical observations)
-Claims that all philosophers before him established a relation between
IS and OUGHT: they deducted the ability of the human being being
rational from his/her existence (“as the human IS rational he/she
OUGHT to be ethical”) = copulation (copula word = Bindewort)
-Believes this deduction to be an logical error; it is impossible to get
from IS to OUGHT (two completely different concepts; IS/OUGHT
distinction): IS = observable in reality; OUGHT ≠ observable
SKEPTICISM
ALFRED JULES AYER (1910-1989)
-British philosopher
-Champion of Logical Positivism: ‘Language, Truth and Logic’ (1936 –
major work of the 20th century); derived from earlier empiricism such
as Hume’s work but carries it even further
-p . 34 “[...] we should have to think both sides of this limit [...]”:
Belief among many philosophers in the two senses of Metaphysics
oStudy of ultimate explanatory principles of the universe
oStudy of other-worldly realm (e.g. heaven, spiritualism)
-Ayer is not interested in the other world or anything that is not
observable
-Language = way that our mind reasons p. 35: The verifiability
criterion:

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oA sentence is only important if we can test it with our 5 senses:
Example 1: ‘It is raining’ we can prove this by feeling and
seeing the rain
Example 2: ‘God exists’ cannot be empirically proven with our
senses, no reliable way to test this suggestion statement,
hence, has absolutely no meaning, religion is useless
destruction of religion and Metaphysics
oAnything that cannot be empirically tested is just meaningless
-p. 108 : ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ in suggests a normative dimension in ethical
terms; he says, however, that this is just the expression of an ethical
feeling (which further is meaningless, just ‘gibberish’), not of an
assertion making ethical judgements is completely impossible
SKEPICISM
-The veriability criterion:
o‘A sentence is factually significant (i.e. meaningful) if and only if
it can be empirically verified’
oCriticism: does not apply to itself
oModification of the criterion: going from ‘meaningless’ to
‘uninteresting’/’invaluable’
BERTRAND RUSSELL (1872-1970)
-British mathematician, logician, philosopher, social activist
-Knew Ayer and some other philosophers
-Wrote novels and such; Nobel Prize for literature (1950)
-Not as anti-metaphysical as Hume and Ayer; constantly modified his
work; subsistence of universals
-Restores Ethics: Principle of deduction
oHumans do not reason anything in their daily lives; in some
decisions (e.g. whether food is nourishing or poisonous) we are
driven back to the ‘inductive principle’, i.e. some knowledge is
‘luminously evident’ intuitive knowledge; their truth is self-
evident; there is nothing in-between us and that knowledge
oWe make an observation and from that we derive future
knowledge; being capable to apply the principle of deduction and
gather future knowledge is something we are entitled to
oFrom here, he concludes that there have to be some self-evident
ethical principles we immediately know that something is
right/wrong (=ethical knowledge); nothing stands between us
and that knowledge
oHe calls this INTUITIVE KNOWLEDGE
oIf we know that something is right, we, further, know that we are
ought to do it
Immanuel Kant
-Strongly influenced by Hume
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