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PHL406 - Week 1 Summary Notes

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Department
Philosophy
Course
PHL 406
Professor
Paul Raymont
Semester
Fall

Description
1Summary of Classes on Ethical Theory PHL406 Paul Raymont Jan 16 2011I distinguished between descriptive and prescriptive statements Descriptive statements sometimes called is statements purport to tell us what is the case or how things are in the world By contrast the point of prescriptive claims or ought statements is to tell us what ought to be the case or how things really ought to be in our world In ethics our main focus is on prescriptive statements that tell us how we should or ought to act Some prescriptive claims are not really ethical in nature but are rather merely prudential that is their aim is to tell someone how to act if she is to advance her own interests Merely prudential claims are generally explicitly or implicitly hypothetical That is they are if then statements which tell someone what he should do if he wants to achieve a given goal an example is If you want to pass the test then you should study for it Such claims are different from truly ethical statements in which the focus is not so much on oneself ones own goals but is instead on the needs rights interests etc of others When I make an ethical claim I tell someone how she should or should not act where this claim is based on respect for othersBefore getting to the two main ethical theories we considered two antiethical theoriestheories that aim to dismiss ethics by denying that were subject to any objective moralie ethical principlesEgoismThe first antiethical theory is egoism It begins with the descriptive claim that human nature is inescapably selfish That is it is our nature always to pursue our own interests We are says the egoist simply incapable of acting ultimately for the sake of others rather than for our own sakeEgoism seems to be false for its plausible that there is a perfectly natural disposition to behave altruistically for the sake of others at some cost to oneself in many species including our own For example its natural to produce and care for offspring even though doing so diverts ones time and resources away from purely selfpromoting activitiesCultural RelativismThe second antiethical theory is cultural relativism according to which ethical claims are true or false only relative to a culture On this view ethical standards are cultural constructionsthey are invented not discovered by a cultural group They are not objectively true that is their truth is not independent of what people in a given culture think about themThis theory faces numerous objections First note that one important argument for relativism is that different cultures have disagreed about what is right and wrong However this doesnt show that theres no objective fact of the matter about right and wrong After all different cultures have disagreed about whether the Earth is flat or about how many deities there are but it doesnt follow that there is no objective truth about those issuesSecondly notice that if relativism were true we would haveno way to accommodate the idea ofmoral progressthat is the idea that some changes in the history of our own culture such as the
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