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PHI2183 (60)

Sample questions and answers

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Daniel Kofman

Sample question: Are Glaucon and Adeimantus correct to suggest that morality (which they call ‘justice’) is only an instrumental and not an intrinsic good? (II , 360e to 361d) Sample answer 1 (bad): Yes, G&A are correct to hold that morality is merely an instrumental and not an intrinsic good. G&A say that people who adhere to moral rules do so because they wish to be seen to be moral so as to avoid the retaliation of others, retaliation that would likely be directed to them if they were perceived to be scoundrels and thieves. I believe this is the main motivation that people have to be moral. It is possible to act immorally on rare occasion without anyone finding out. But if one acts immorally on any sort of regular basis, sooner or later one is going to be found out, and then severe measures will be taken against you by everyone else for their own protection. That is the main motive for being moral. I am quite certain that the vast majority of people are ultimately quite selfish. They do things to benefit themselves, and aside from some apparent kindness toward those especially close to them, they would not act to benefit others if it were not due to fear of sanction from legal or societal authorities. If taxation suddenly became voluntary, who would pay taxes? Is that not an obvious indication of the nature of people’s motivations? This point is made well by G&A, who relate the myth of Gyges. A shepherd finds a ring that can make him invisible, and he quickly uses this power to steal, usurp power, and rape. Upon reading these passages it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that each one of us would do the same if we could get away with it. Yet we cannot get away with it, not having the magical powers of fairy tales. And so we need morality to prevent what Hobbes would later call the war of all against all. But each individual would of course be better off if they alone could avoid the restrictions of morality on their pursuit of self-interest while everyone complies. There is nothing, then, intrinsically good about morality; it is only good because it serves the instrumental good of preventing the war of all against all and affording relative security from the risk of constant assault by other self-interested agents. Comment: The essay writer begs the question (assumes what one is supposed to prove, that is, assumes what is in fact in question) by simply repeating several times that people are generally selfish and that the only reason to be moral is prudential self-interest. No effort is made to entertain possible objections to this view, or to consider alternative views about the nature of morality. At several points the writer declares that he ‘believes’ or is ‘quite certain’ about some very controversial claim, as if that proves anything. Or on one occasion he uses a rhetorical device, asking ‘Is that not an obvious indication…’, without raising any possible objections to the view he is defending. There is a bit of argumentation at the end (where conclusions are introduced by ‘so’ and ‘then’) but that is after the real questions have already been begged, i.e. without argumentation. Sample answer 2 (bad): No, G&A are wrong to hold that morality is merely an instrumental and not an intrinsic good. G&A say that people who adhere to moral rules do so because they wish to be seen to be moral so as to avoid the retaliation of others, retaliation that would likely be directed to them if they were perceived to be scoundrels and thieves, but that if they could get away with it they would be immoral so as to pursue their self-interest. This is entirely mistaken! People are in fact genuinely good for the most part – consider the example of Mother Theresa. Here was a woman who devoted her entire life to helping the poorest of the poor, and although she eventually won a Nobel Prize and received considerable recognition, it’s clear that this wasn’t her primary motive; she worked for decades in obscurity. Therefore people are genuinely good, contrary to what G&A think. In any case, the question is about whether morality is a good in itself. Whether people realise that it is a good in itself and are therefore motivated by it is another question, although I have already proved that people generally are motivated by it. Is justice good in itself? Of course it is. That is why virtually all human traditions, religions, and cultures praise it while condemning evil. It is really astonishing that G&A could suggest otherwise, as the value of morality is quite plain for all to see. Comment: The writer makes one valid point: that motivation and being intrinsically good (or not) are two different questions. But he writer gives scant reason to accept his view over G’s &A’s. First, he flatly denies their claims, using an exclamation point to reinforce the strength of his conviction. But the only evidence offered on behalf of his view is the example of Mother Theresa, which, on the view even of people who disagree with G & A, would be rather an exception (which is presumably why she won a Nobel by her efforts). The writer adds, ‘Therefore people are genuinely good’. This is the proper form to introduce the writer’s conclusion from previous premises, much better than saying ‘I firmly believe…’ Unfortunately for the writer, the argument is invalid. It is a simple fallacy to infer from the particular to the general (the opposite would be valid), so it is invalid to infer facts about all people from facts about a single individual. The writer then asserts in what begins to seem like typical arrogant fashion, that on the question of whether justice is good in itself, ‘Of course it is’. As with the first answer, the writer makes no genuine attempt to raise objections against the view that he is defending, replacing argument with question-begging rhetoric. Sample answer 3 (better): G & A held that the value of justice (which they take in the wide sense to be morality as a whole) is only valuable because it protects people from being in a worse off situation than they would otherwise be in. I will argue that on one understanding of what G & A are arguing, which I will suggest is the correct one, they are not altogether convincing, whereas on another interpretation they might have a valid point; however this interpretation, I shall also suggest, is probably incorrect. On the first understanding, G & A seem to be claiming that the only reason each individual has to adhere to morality is prudential, that is, because it benefits that individual to do so. They then seem to think that if they can show that individuals are genuinely selfis
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