Philosophy: Lecture 1
Ethics: Philosophical study of morality
The attempt to understand the nature of morality and what it requires of us
Examples of moral questions
Should I tell someone they have alzheimers? Or let them live with the hope?
She has a right to know, even though it would be better for her
Is it okay to spend money on whatever I want? Or… give it to poverty?
Is euthanasia okay?
First we look at attempts at theories of morality
Unit One: Moral Theories
Moral Theories: attempt to explain, at the most general and fundamental level, what differentiates right actions from
Whether an act is wright or wrong, depends on its consequences
It depends on how much pleasure and pain the act producesand how this compares t o the other actions
available to the agent
Something intrinsic to the action
Looking at the action itself
Less pain and suffering? Mother better off or no?
It comes down to the act itself. NOT TELLING THE TRUTH***
It is wrong because she does not treat her with the respect she deserves as an autonomous human being
Attempt to tell us facts about morality with these theories
Maybe morality is subjective?
Unit 2: challenges to morality
Can there be morality without god
Talking about specific moral issues: particular cases
Unit 3: Moral issues
Global poverty (do we have all the necessieities to aid the human poor)\
The treatment of animals (eating meat, biomedical research)
Utilitarianism theorists believe in calculating pain and pleasure, happiness and suffering. They do it in units
COURSEPACK: a11 2013
Whatever happened to good and evil: Russ shafer- landau / [email protected]
January 10 Lecture 2
Descriptive Claim: A claim about what is the case (attempts to describe the way things are in the world)
Obama is the president of the USA
50% of the marriages end in divorce
Whales are fish
Leafy green vegetables contain tons of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
FACTS, or a true or FALSE statement
Normative Claim: A claim about how things OUGHT TO BE
It is wrong to break a promise when keeping it would merely be inconvenient
Eating meat is morally permissible
You should eat a lot of salsa
YOU SHOULD BELIEVE that it was professor peacock in the library
What you SHOULD think, or what is right and wrong
Both of the descriptive and normative claims can be true or false
The difference between descriptive and normative claims is a difference in subject matter:
Descriptive claims are claims about how things ARE – they attempt to describe the world. But they can
EX: Whales are fish: descriptive claims that are false.
o Salsa is the #1 condiment in North America. DEBATABLE descriptive claim
Morality is a NORMATIVE domain
Moral claims are how things OUGHT to be/ must be/ should be
They are claims about how people should act rather than how people DO ACT
EXAMPLE: It is wrong to break a promise when keeping it would merely be inconvenient
Eating meat is morally permissible
These are moral normative claims
Other kinds of normative claims
Prudential claims: claims about what would be prudent or in your self interest
You SHOULD eat a lot of leafy greens. You SHOULD eat a lot of salsa.
These are normative claims, they say something about what you ought to do
They are not moral claims.
Normative Epistemic Claims
Claims about what one should believe, how one should reason
Epistemic: concerning knowledge
One ought not hold inconsistent beliefs
This is also a normative claim, but it does not seem to be about morality
The claim isn’t that you are doing something Morally WRONG
****Normative rather than descriptive: because they concern on how things SHOULD be rather than how
They are a particular kind of normative claim. Not all normative claims concern morality
How can we investigate moral questions?
The chief tool cannot be experiment or observation
We cannot settle normative questions empirically (by means of observation and thinking) Psychology, anthropology and sociology: can tell us about how we do in fact behave
They can tell us about how people act and why they act as they do
One cannot infer a normative claim from a purely descriptive claim
One cannot go from an “Is” to an “Ought”
The fact that people DO behave in some way does not tell us whether or not they OUGHT to
behave that way
How DO we investigate moral questions
We cannot investigate these questions empirically
BUT WE CAN GIVE ARGUMENTS
WE can start from claims that are highly plausible or uncontroversial and try to argue from those
claims to conclusions that are less obvious
Arguments: what are they?
An Argument: a series of propositions aimed at establishing or justifying some point
An argument contains the following
o A conclusion: the proposition the argument is trying to establish or justify
o Premises: the starting points of the argument
Premises1:One should not cause tremendous pain just for one’s own amusement
Premises2: Putting kittens in boiling water cause them tremendous pain.
Conclusion Therefore, one should not put kittens in boiling water for one’s amusement.
Two ways an argument can go wrong
It could start with a false premises
It could have FAULTY INFERENCES: the moves it makes from the premises to the conclusion
What would it take for an argument to definitively establish its conclusion?
An Airtight Argument: A sound deductive argument
The premises are true
The inferences are VALID: the conclusion FOLLOWS from the premises
The conclusion follows from the premises
THE TRUTH OF THE PREMISES LOGICALLY GUARANTEE THE TRUTH OF THE CONCLUSION
If the premises are true, the conclusion must be true
An Airtight argument
1. The premises are true
2. The inferences are valid: the conclusion follow from the premises
When 1 and 2 both hold: the conclusion is guaranteed to be true.
1 and 2: two completely independent things
1. If A then B
3. Therefore, B
If Charlie is in Toronto, then Charlie is in Canada.
Charlie is in Toronto.
Therefore Charlie is in canada P1: if the moon is made of tofu, there is bean curd in the sky
P2: the mon Is made of tofu.
Therefore, there is bean curd in the sky.
P2 IS FALSE. The premises is not true.
IF 1 and 2 were true, but C was false, the inference is invalid.
If I play tennis today, I will get some exercise.
I will get some exercise today.
Therefore, I will play tennis.
If A then B
THEREFORE NOT B
If Charlie is in tornto, then Charlie is in Canada.
Charlie is not in Toronto.
Therefore, Charlie is not in Canada.
January 15: Lecture 3
Unit 1: moral theories
Attempt to explain, at the most general and fundamental level, what differentiates right actions from
What makes right acts right and wrong acts wrong?
Three Categories of Moral Evaluation of Action
1. Obligatory; acts that you have an obligation to perform, that are morally required, that you morally
ought to do
2. Permissible or Right: acts that are morally acceptable, allowed, permitted
3. Impermissible or wrong: acts that you are obligated not to perform that are morally acceptable,
Every act is either permissible or impermissible
Obligatory: a kind of permissible action; an act is obligatory when, more than just being permitted,
it is required. An act is obligatory when it is the only right action
Example: child drowning in a shallow pond – not only it is permissible to step in and pluck them out,
it is obligatory. It would be wrong not too
Classic formulations: Jeremy Bentham, John stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick
To this day, one of the most influential and widely discussed moral theories
The Greatest Happiness Principle:
o An act is right if and only it brings about the greatest total amount of happiness – or, utility –
out of all the actions available to the agent
One ought to maximize total happiness, where by happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of
pain TWO MAIN PARTS
Whether an act is right or wrong is determined entirely by its consequences.
AN act is right: if and only if it produces the best consequences out of all the acts available to
If and only if the total good produced minus the total bad produced is no lower than it would be for
any other action available
Example: The Alzheimer’s Case from the first class. Should she tell her mother the dreaded diagnosis, or is
the right thing to do to let her “live in hopes that she has escaped it”
Consequentialism: The question comes down to whether the consequences will be better overall if she tells
her if she doesn’t.
Contrast: a view that says that what is right depends on the kind of act that it is. EG LYING/BEING
An act is right if and only it produces the best consequences out of all the acts available to the agent
Need a theory of the good: need an account of what it is for the consequences to be better or worse
Utilitarianism: Two Main Parts
o The goodness of consequences is determined by how much happiness is produced, where “by
happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain”
o Pleasure, and the freedom from pain, are the only thing desirable as ends; and all
desirable things are desirable either for the pleasure inherent in themselves, or as a
means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain
o The right act is the one that brings about the best consequences
Where consequences count as best when they produce the greatest total amount of
happiness (or utility) compared to the other actions available
And where happiness is measured solely in terms of the amounts of pleasure and
1. Universality: everyone’s happiness matters; utilitarianism takes into account all of those who will
(or might) be affected by our actions
2. Impartiality: everyone’s happiness matters in the SAME way. It doesn’t matter who is experiencing
the pleasure or pain
Happiness which forms the utilitarian standard of what is right in conduct, is not the agent’s own happiness,
but that of all concerned. As between his own happiness and that of others, utilitarianism requires him to be
as strictly impartial is a disinterested and benevolent spectator.
An act’s utility = the sum of all the pleasure it produces minus the sum of all the pain
Hedon: A unit of pleasure Dolor: A unit of pain
An act is right if and only if it maximizes utility
Utility: Total hedons produced – total dolors produced
Do the act with the greatest utility
If there is – say between B AND C for first, either is permissible
Example: a child is drowning in the shallow pond.. what do you do?
Utilitarianism’s answer: there is more happiness/less unhappiness overall if you save the child.
Mill has three objections with utilitarianism.
OBJECTION 1: A DOCTRINE WORTHY OF SWINE
An objection to utilitarianism’s hedonistic conception of the good
“Such a theory of life excites in many minds… inveterate dislike. To suppose that life has no higher
end than pleasure – no better and nobler object of desire and pursuit – they designate as uttlerly
mean and groveling as a doctrine worthy of swine
it only matters pleasure and freedom and pain? People object this is worthy of only swine
Surely human have higher ends than that
The picture does not capture human good life
It is the accusers, not utilitarian who represent human nature in a degrading light, since the
accusation supposes human beings to be capable of no pleasure except those of which swine are
The accusers do not take into account all the pleasures
Higher pleasures: intellectual pleasures, pleasures of imagination and creativity, aesthetic pleasures
Lower pleasures: bodily pleasures: relaxation, food, sex
The higher pleasures are more valuable, they are of higher quality and so should weigh more heavily
in the calculation of utility
Why think the higher pleasures are of higher quality, or more valuable?
1. If all or almost all of the people who are competently acquainted with both higher and lower
pleasures, prefer one kind over the other, then what kind of pleasure is valuable
2. People who are competently acquainted with both higher and lower pleasures, clearly prefer the
3. CONCLUSION: The higher pleasures are more valuable
It is better to be dissatisfied, than be satisfied as a fool. By being satisfied by the lower pleasures
Uses this point with the second premise
Would people be okay for lower pleasures being given up for just the higher pleasures?
Objection 2: too high for humanity
It is exacting too much to require that people shall always act from the inducement of promoting the
general interests of society This theory is too demanding of us
Promoting the general interest of society
Utilitarianism says you have to take into account everyone, and something that maximizes
Greatest overall utility
Someone who saves someone from drowning, is doing what is morally right whether It is his duty or
the hope for being paid for his trouble
It doesn’t matter your motive
DO YOUR DUTY
It doesn’t require you act with the aim or motive of benefitting everyone
It requires we DO OUR DUTY it doesn’t require that we act from the motive duty
Follow up objection
Maximizing everyone’s happiness is still to demanding
Is it permissible for me to go to the movies tonight?
o Surely there is something else I could do instead that would produce more total happiness
o Ex: volunteer at a homeless shelter
o TOO DEMANDING, whether I should be motivated by the role of maximizing happiness
Part of Mill’s reply to objective two:
Your theory tells me I need to maximize happiness overall
o You only have to do the act of those available to you
o Most of us don’t have the power, we are not in position to benefit people on a large
o When we focus on ourselves and those around us, we are the most happy
o His theory is not that demanding
o You are going to end up maximizing utility
Different Follow Up Objection
Pinky is visiting aunt mildred who is seriously ill
Pinky puts poison in his aunt’s glass
Poison reacts with the medication, creating a substance that instantly cures the aunt of the
Motive has nothing to do with the morality of the action, though much to do with the worth of the
Whether your act is right or wrong is one thing, whether you are praiseworthy or blameworthy for it
Pinky has malicious intentions might mean that he is not a good person, even IF BY LUCK< he did the
The motive doesn’t matter.
He is NOT TO PRAISE, he is a bad guy Objection 3: No Time to Calculate
“There is no time prior to acting for calculating and weighing the effects of any line of conduct on the general
happiness” The last thing you should do is watch someone drown.
It is truly whimsical supposition that if mankind were agreed in considering utility to be the test of
morality, they would remain without any agreement as to what is useful
There is no difficulty in proving any ethical standard whatever to work ill
1. Criterion of right: It’s account of what makes right acts right and wrong acts wrong
a. The method you should use in everyday life is reading the criterion of right
2. Decision procedure: what it says about how one should in practice go about figuring out what the
right thing to do is
a. How you should GO ABOUT what should you do in practice to figure out what the right thing
is to do
Criterion of right: an act is right if and only if it maximizes overall utility.
But this does not mean that the decision procedure is: calculate all the utilities and compare. Use
commonsense “Rules of Thumb”.
Rules of Thumb
These are secondary principles we can use as a rough guide of conduct
Don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t lie…
We observed these in history, but they are not perfect
When rules of thumb conflict: they appeal to the fundamental principle to figure out what to do
January 22: the experience machine
While plugged in, you wouldn’t know that you were, everything would seem completely real
There would be a way of ensuring that you’d be having the experiences that you wanted to
have (imagine the machine is smart and can figure out your preferences
You don’t need to worry about the welfare of other people: everyone can plug into
their own machines
Every two years they unplug you and you can choose experiences, imagine that the machine
can read what you want
The greatest happiness principle: an act is right if and only it brings about the greatest total
amount of happiness out of all the actions available to the agent, where by happiness is
intended pleasure over pain.
Consequentialism: whether an act is right or wrong depends entirely on its consequences
An act is right if and only if it produces the best consequences out of ALL the acts
If and only the TOTAL GOOD PRODUCED minus the TOTAL BAD produced is no lower than it
would be for any other action available
Hedonism: how good the consequences are depends on how much pleasure and pain they
involve The only thing that is good in itself is pleasure and the absence of pain
Pleasure and freedom from pain are the only things desirable as ends 172
Intrinsically valuable: valuable in itself; desirable for its own sake
Instrumentally valuable: valuable as a means to bringing about something else that is
Hedonism: the only things that are intrinsically valuable are pleasure and the absence of
o How well your life goes depends entirely on how much pleasure and pain you
experience over the course of your life
The Doctrine Worthy of Swine
This objection is making an false statement
The experience machine: an objection to hedonism
Most people say they wouldn’t plug in
This seems to tell us that something else matters to us others than how our lives feel from
Pleasure, and freedom from pain (experiential states) cannot be the only things that aer
intrinsically valuable. If they were, then everyone would eagerly plug in
The experience machine can give you the best possible balance of pleasure over pain. Your
experiences – how things feel and appear to you “from the inside” could be as good as
1. Hedonism says the only things that are of intrinsic value – the only things that matter to us
for their own sake – are pleasure and freedom from pain
2. If hedonism were true, then we would eagerly plug into experience machines that give us
whatever experiences we want
3. We are NOT willing to plug into experience machines
4. Hedonism must be false: something matters to us besides our experiences – besides how
much pleasure and pain we feel
What are we missing when we plug in?
We want to DO things and not just the experience of doing them
We want to BE a certain way, to be a certain sort of person
We want to actually make a difference in the world
Nozick considers some further machines to try to draw out what exactly is missing from the
hedonistic picture of the good
Transforms you into whatever sort of person you’d like to be
Would this be enough to satisfy your desire to be a certain sort of person?
No you wouldn’t
Something matters in addition to one’s experiences and what one is like Why not plug into these machines for life?
Nozick: what is most disturbing about them is their living of our lives for us
Something that seems to be valuable in itself other than pleasure and pain: living ourselves “IN
CONTACT WITH REALITY”
Potential problems with the argument
Why don’t people