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PHIL215 Lecture Notes - Vagueness, Rationality, Experience Machine

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Brian Orend

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PHIL 215
Lecture #2
Last Lecture:
- Character Traits
- Kind of Person: has the virtues
- Results: being the best you can be, morally
- Duty (not God, not Reason); isn't about character; all about actions
- Not results; obeying rules, following correct procedures
1. Finish Moral Theory
2. Case Study Method
- Consequences of actions
- Measurable
- Verifiable
- Not about character or intention
- A form of consequentialism
- Pleasure
- Usefulness
- Bentham
- Secularist; Believed in health care, free vaccination; Democracy.
- "Greatest Happiness for the Greatest Number" (1750)
- "Ethical Science"
- J.S. Mill
Hedonistic Calculus
- A or B
- How much pleasure vs. how much pain does each give?
- (e.g. 200 units of net utility from 250 units of pleasure and 50 units of pain)
Strengths of Utilitarianism:
1. We like pleasure; pain is a drag
2. Historic Link & Progressive Reform
3. “Greatest Happiness for Greateset Number of People” seems impossible to avoid in a
democracy. (--> Politics → Utilitarian Common → English-Speaking World)
4. World be better: what can I do to make the world a better / happier place?
5. Critically reflect on our lifestyle choices
Peter Singer:
- Famous current-day Utilitarian.
- Believes strongly in vegetarianism because of animals’ capacity for pain
Weaknesses of Utilitarianism:
1. Aristotle: Pleasure is not the only, or even the main, human good.
2. End Justifies the Means. (All about the end, the result). This raises the problem that
Utilitarianism allows for controversial means. But this is only for “the greatest number” - leaving
minority rights at a disadvantage.
3. Nozick:
a) “The Experience Machine” - It would be a very incomplete world if everyone was just
hooked up to “pleasure machines” in the name of a utilitarian world.
b) “Utility Monsters” - Utilitarianism would justify the situation where some people would
be allowed to inflict pain onto others as long as the pleasure they receive is greater than
the pain they output.
4. Problems with the Calculus:
a) Presuppose we know the future
b) Arbitrary
c) Too Complex to be Desirable (“Occam’s Razor”)
5. Too Demanding on the Self?
Rights-Based Theory:
- Entitlements that people have to the ingredients of a minimally good life)
- “What you want, no matter what you want”
- All purpose means to achieve your goals
- $$$
- Freedom / Liberty
- Food
- Life
- Pursuit of Happiness
- Property
- The most flexible theory. To determine whether you can do something, ask whether you will
violate someone else’s rights.
- Rationality: “My right ends where your nose begins!”
John Locke (1650):
- Medical Doctor who went on to become a Political Activist
- 2 Routes:
- (God Route) Asserts that if we are to perform that duties that God impose on
us, it must follow that God must want your rights respected (to perform these
- (Reason Route) Asserts that if we are to survive + pursue happiness, we must
have rights.
- Social Contract; Consensus
Strengths of Rights-Based Theories:
1. Compelling:
- “What you want, no matter what you want.”
- How can anyone deny that?
2. No Ends Justifying Means problem here:
- Always must respect rights while performing means.
3. Least Demanding Moral Theory, allowing greatest individual (...?)
4. “Ethic of Our Age”
- Multicultural, globalized world
Weaknesses of Rights-Based Theories:
1. Criticism that the Rights idea comes from of Western civilization. (Even though origin of ideas
should not mar their merit)
2. Too Selfish - “me & my rights”
3. (Aristotle) Standards are not high enough.
4. Legalistic, Artificial, Binary → Duty-based (What’s the difference between this and the Duty-
based theory? 1) Duty-based is more demanding, 2) Duty-based includes intention, Rights-
based considers only action and whether they violate rights)
5. Internal Dispute within Rights-theory: re: which Rights do we actually have? (see below)