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Lecture 2

PHLB07 - Week 1, Lecture 2 Notes

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Kelin Emmett

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PHLB07 - Week 1, Lecture 2 Weekly Readings: The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas - Ursula Le Guin The Ring of Gyges - Plato Psychological Egoism - Joel Feinberg The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas - Ursula Le Guin Description of utopian city: • Love of country, happiness, love, culture, intellect, pride. • But without greed, power relations, "stock exchanges" violence, rivalry, and guilt. Condition: • A feeble-minded, hungry, neglected and suffering child spends her/his days in a dark, lonely cold, dirty, basement. • Citizens know the terms. "At times one of the adolescent girls or boys who go to see the child does not go home to weep or rage, does not, in fact, go home at all. Sometimes also a man or woman much older falls silent for a day or two, and then leaves home. These people go out into the street, and walk down the street alone. They keep walking, and walk straight out of the city of Omelas, through the beautiful gates. They keep walking across the farmlands of Omelas. Each one goes alone, youth or girl, man or woman. Night falls; the traveler must pass down village streets, between the houses with yellow-lit windows, and on out into the darkness of the fields. Each alone, they go west or north, towards the mountains. They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas." What is the story about? Ethics The term "ethics" in a philosophical context could mean the investigation of a number of topics: • What constitutes the good life is for human beings? • What makes right actions right and wrong actions wrong? • Are moral claims capable or being true or false? Are they objective claims? Are some actions really bad? • What are our specific duties? How should we treat animals? Etc. These are ethical questions, which demand philosophical investigation. The study of ethics: • Metaethics - the study of the source and nature of morality and moral judgement. • Normative ethics - concerns the standards of right and wrong conduct. • Practical ethics - "applied" ethics: how ought we to behave? Normative vs. Descriptive Statements: Descriptive statements make factual claims about the way the world is. • The ice is thin. • Julia is selfish. Normative statements make claims about the way the world ought to be. • The ice is thin, so you shouldn’t step on it. • Julia ought to be less selfish. It's a common rule in ethics that you can't derive a normative conclusion from descriptive premises. Doing so is called the naturalistic fallacy. Eg. • Because human beings are naturally violent, they ought to be violent. • Because human beings have evolved to be omnivores, it's morally permissible for them to eat meat. The following argument commits the Naturalistic Fallacy (example 1): 1. The ice is thin. 2. If Tanya were to step on it, she would fall through. :. 3. Tanya shouldn't step on the ice. But we can easily fix the first argument by including a normative premise (example2): 1. The ice is thin. 2. If Tanya were to step on it, she would fall through. 3. Tanya does not desire to die or cause herself significant injury (normative premise). :. 4. Tanya shouldn't step on the ice. The last fix relies on making reference to Tanya's desire. In ethics, "desire" is a technical term. But what if Tanya desires to die? We can instead use an objective moral claim (example 3): 1. The ice is thin. 2. If Tanya were to step on it, she would fall through. 3. It's morally impermissible to commit suicide or put one's self into danger. :. 4. Tanya shouldn't ste
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