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Lecture 5

PHI 151 Lecture 5: Ethics

20 Pages

PHI - Philosophy
Course Code
PHI 151

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Ethics Intro & “Threats” to Ethics  What IS ethics/morality? o Ethics or morality (Moral philosophy) o Right and wrong; “it was wrong for Joe to cheat on his wife” o Justice or fairness; “Punishing crack more severely than cocaine is unjust” o Virtue, moral character; “Donald Trump is an asshole” o What do we mean when we use moral terms?; “It is wrong to steal.”  People should not do it o Moral claims are normative o Normative: how we OUGHT to act  “wrong”: should not do it  “good”: should prefer, promote, pursue o There are other kinds of norms besides moral:  Prudence: in your own best interest; e.g. you ought to quit smoking  Law: e.g. it is against the law to grow marijuana (Doctor Meyers lives in a place where it is legal)  Etiquette: polite/impolite; e.g. saying “please” and “thank you” o Norm can conflict  Often different kinds of norms overlap and agree  E.g. I should not rob my neighbor’s house  Illegal  Imprudent  And morally wrong  But sometimes different kinds of norms can conflict  E.g. Fugitive Slave Act of 1850  Illegal to help slaves escape  But morally right to help slaves escape o How do moral norms differ from other kinds of norms?  Universal; applies to everyone  Independently of your goals or preferences  Deserve praise or blame  Not arbitrary (good reasons)  Moral obligations outweigh other norms  If moral duty conflicts with etiquette, law, or even prudence, you should do what is morally right. o Moral Belief vs. Morality  Moral Beliefs:  Individual or societal  Values, judgements, and attitudes  Varies from person to person, and with different societies  Studied by anthropology, sociology, psychology  Can be good/bad, true or false.  Morality (ethics):  Universal (applies to everyone equally)  Independent of our individual beliefs  Independent of our social customs  What makes a moral judgement true (or false)  Studied by philosophy  “Threats to Ethics o Important to understand what Blackburn means by “threat” to ethics  Ideas that make us think that moral claims are meaningless  Rationalizations we are tempted to give to make ethical claims seem unimportant or bogus  Arguments for moral nihilism  “Moral nihilism” is the view that morality is not real  There are only moral beliefs, but they are not true.  Alleged threats to ethics are not real threats  Arguments for moral nihilism are not good arguments  We DO have good reason to take moral claims seriously  Ideas that are threatening to ethics can be dangerous if they come to be accepted o Religion/God  For some people morality is closely tied to religion  Why? Not everyone believes in the same religion or no religion  Over 20% of Americans; 36% of Americans born 1990-1996 (no religion)  If “wrong” = forbidden by Bible, then non-believers would conclude that NOTHING is morally wrong or only applies to members of the faith  E.g. Kosher laws, rules about prayer or worship  Divine Command Theory  God as moral legislator  “Wrong” = forbidden by God  “Right” – allowed by God  Morally “good” = approved by God etc.  Divine Commands  What would happen if we REALLY based our moral views on the Bible?  Wrong to eat shellfish  Wrong to wear clothing of mixed fibers  Slaver is okay  Adulterers should be stoned to death  How could DCT be used an argument for nihilism?  1. Assume DCT (morality = commands of the Bible)  2. Bible forbids wearing clothing of mixed fiber  3. We should not take seriously the biblical ban on clothes of mixed fibers  4. Therefore, we should not take morality seriously  This argument fails because 2 is undeniable  3 also seems right  So the problem must be 1  Problems with DCT  Argument against DCT  Euthyphro question: Does God forbid murder because it is wrong? Or is murder wrong because he forbids it?  First interpretation:  Would still be wrong even if God did not forbid or even if God didn’t exist  So then ethics would NOT depend on God/religion  Second interpretation:  Nothing would be right or wrong until God commands or forbids it  But then right or wrong would be arbitrary  God could command torturing babies and it would be right  God could not have any REASONS for commanding one thing or another  Even devout believers should reject DCT  God would never command torturing babies because God is good  But if DCT were true “God is good” would be vacuous  DCT: “good” = approved of by God  “God is good” would mean that God approves of himself.  But then God would not deserve praise for that. o Relativism  If God does not create ethics, then maybe human beings do (False dichotomy)  Conventionalism: “right” = whatever is approved or accepted by society in general  But that leads to relativism  Different societies accept different moral codes  If right – culturally accepted norms, then what is right and wrong differs from one society to another  Relativism is a kind of nihilism  According to relativism/conventionalism, some things are right or wrong but no OBJECTIVELY or UNIVERSALLY wrong actions  Murder is wrong only for people in some societies, but not necessarily wrong in all societies  True for you, not necessarily true for me.  Two parts:  First: factual claim  Different people/cultures have different moral beliefs and practices  That seems to be true  But maybe some beliefs are incorrect  Second: normative claim o An action IS morally wrong if it is disapproved by one’s society. (and IS morally okay if approved of…) o Blackburn denies the normative claim o (relativism: morality = etiquette)  Why do some people accept relativism?  Belief in tolerance  We should respect the customs and traditions of others  Tolerance is NOT a good reason to support relativism because it assumes objective, universal duty to tolerate others  If relativism is true, then intolerance is wrong only in societies that disapprove of intolerance.  So if relativism were true then the value of tolerance would also be relative.  Tolerance is NOT a good reason to support relativism  Second: some practices and customs should NOT be tolerated  Slavery  Caste systems  Torture  Honor killing  Female genital mutilation  If relativism were true, these practices would be morally right in societies that accept them.  Objective Universal Moral Claims  We can give arguments for moral claims  Not just opinion or matter of taste  Some values are universally shared by all people  Every normal person wants to avoid pain and suffering  Every normal person want liberty and autonomy  No one wants to be tortured  No one wants to be enslaved o Egoism  Cynical view of human nature as inherently selfish  Human are only capable of being motivated by self-interest  Psychological claim (psychological egoism)  Why is that a problem for ethics?  Ethics sometimes requires altruism  “altruism” means acting for the sake of someone else’s wellbeing Birth, Death, and the Meaning of Life  Moral issues involving birth (especially abortion) o Human life is finite  Is has a beginning – birth  And an end – death  Birth and death are very important  Also many important moral issue involve birth and death  Abortion  Genetic engineering  Etc. o New Technology  New technology had created new moral issues especially about birth and death  IVF leads to left over-embryos  Medical technology can keep people alive who otherwise would have already died  Genetic testing allows parents to prevent having children with “undesirable” traits o Many people oppose abortion on religious grounds  Many Christians are pro-life  But what does the Bible say about abortion? Nothing.  Bible: killing a fetus  The bible makes it pretty clear that killing a fetus (even against the wishes of the parents) is not a big deal – Exodus 21:22  There seems to be a misconception that all Christianity is essentially pro-life o Other bad arguments  “Playing God” or “interfering with nature”  If God is all powerful, then impossible for us to thwart his plan  Many morally good practices interfere with nature  Guilt by association- Nazis practiced eugenics and euthanasia  Just because Nazis did it does not make it morally bad  Life begins as conception  Biological life, yes. But that’s not what matters morally.  Human life?  Some might be tempted to say it’s always wrong to kill a human being  Early embryo is genetically human, but not anatomically human.  Human being that has no conscious experience and never will?  Person in an irrevocable coma?  A better criterion for wrongful killing  Better moral principles: wrong to kill a person (pro tanto)  Person is not the same as human being  Human being: living homo sapiens (biological)  Person: thinking being, creature with a mind  Can feel pain  Has conscious desires, intentions, goals  Can experience human emotions  Has conscious experience  Ration capacity; can deliberate  Has free will  Potential Person?  Fetus is a potential person  This leads some to make this bad argument…  Wrong to kill a person  Thus, it’s wrong to kill a potential person  Black and White thinking  Temptation to think of morality in black and white  Abortion is either always wrong or never wrong  But fetal development is gradual  Embryo is just a blob of cells  Early fetus has distinct parts, but still cannot feel pain  And particular cases vary widely  Wanting to terminate a pregnant because it is a girl and you would prefer a boy- seems wrong  But wrong to prevent a unhealthy 14-year-old from having an abortion seems equally wrong  And even if abortion is morally wrong, separate question whether it should be illegal  Rejecting B&W  Does NOT mean relativism  Not that pro-life and pro-choice are both correct  And not that it is just opinion, no objective truth  “Grey area” means that the issue is complicated  That there are exceptions  Abortion may be wrong in some situations  And not wrong in other situations  Slippery Slope  Start with one relatively uncontroversial moderate position  Show that this position will result in, or commits us to, a slightly more extreme position  Repeat the process over and over  End up with an undesirable extreme position  Slippery slope arguments are fallacious  Even if no significant difference between each step, there may be a significant difference between the first step and the last step  Speed limit laws  65 mph is a very safe speed for highway driving  There is no significant difference in safety between driving 65 and 66 mph  Thus if it is safe to drive 65 on the highway then it is safe to drive 66 on the highway  Therefore it is safe to drive 66 on the highway and so on and so forth, leading to no speed limit  Cuts both ways  Driving 100 mph is unsafe  There is no significant difference in terms of safety between driving 100 mph and driving 99 mph  Eventual conclusion: speed limit should be 0  Gradualism  Early embryo is different from a late term fetus  In ways that matter morally (not just looks different)  We don’t mourn a miscarriage in very early stages of pregnancy  50% of conceptions don’t even implant  If it is wrong to destroy an early embryo, then would it be wrong to have unprotected sex shortly after ovulation?  Right of the Pregnant Woman  Abortion debate focuses too much on the moral standing of the fetus  Ignore the rights of the pregnant woman  As if fetuses grew on trees  Pro-choice: Pregnant Woman’s rights  Every person has a right to control the use of his/her own body  That explains wrongness of rape, experimenting on people without their consent  Violinist Argument  Intended to show that one person’s right to lif
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