PHL 406 Study Guide - Midterm Guide: Kantian Ethics, John Stuart Mill, Jeremy Bentham

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16 Oct 2011

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PHL406 – Test #1 Notes
Descriptive (or is) statements
oTells us what is the case or how things are in the world
Prescriptive (or ought) statements
oTells us what ought to be the case or how things really ought to be in
the world
oTells us how things SHOULD be
oTells us how we should or ought to act
oNot really ethical in nature; their aim is to tell someone how to act if
he/she is to advance their own interests
oConsidered “if…..then,…” statements (tells what someone should do if
“blah blah” then they should do “blah blah”)
Two main anti-ethical theories:
Has a descriptive statement
States human nature is inescapably selfish
Our nature always to pursue our own interests
Incapable of acting ultimately for the sake of others rather than
for our own sake
Plausible that there is a natural disposition to behave
altruistically (for the sake of others at some cost to oneself)
Example: produce and care for offspring even though
doing so kills one’s time and resources from self-
promoting activities (mother taking care of her child takes
away time from her career)
oCultural relativism
Ethical claims are only true and false based on their culture
Ethical standards are considered cultural constructions
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Invented, not discovered, by a cultural group
Numerous objections include:
Different cultures disagreed about what is right and wrong
oHowever, no objective fact of the matter about
right and wrong
If relativism is true, no way to accommodate the idea of
moral progress
oIdea that changes in our culture’s history was for
the better and made moral progress
oRelativists have to deny that it’s progress because
they believe whoever criticized the culture would
have been wrong by definition
oRelativists view that whatever is right for reformers
is what the culture told them is right
Two main ethical theories:
“The good determines the right.”
To determine what the right action is, you have to figure out
which action produces the most good (or best consequence) for
the most amount of people
The end justifies the means
Best consequence is when there is the most happiness and least
suffering (Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill)
In some cases, we oppose the utilitarian view (refusing the
violate the rights of the few by sacrificing them for the greater
good) whereas other times we side with it. (wanting to sacrifice
the few for the sake of the many) (The trolley case)
Multiple objections:
Cannot accommodate the idea that some forms of
happiness are unworthy of pursuit
Clarifying what is meant by “maximize happiness”
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oTry to bring the greatest amount of happiness over
suffering that we can?
Maximize the average level of happiness in the population
An objection would be if we’re supposed to maximize
happiness, we’ll have a duty to get rid of anyone bringing
down the average level of happiness
Works better with a smaller population
Some inconsistency could occur in the utilitarian view
Since utilitarianism leads to absurd consequences no matter
how it’s interpreted, it should be rejected
To act morally is to act in accordance with some moral rules –
Immanuel Kant
Obey moral rules or law even if it sometimes results in less
happiness and more suffering
Kantians are not utilitarians
Most important moral rule is categorical imperative
Treat humanity (in yourself or another) never solely as a
means but always also as an end in itself.”
He means that while we use tools as a means to an end
(using tools to make a shelf)…we should never use
humans as a means
Humans have a locus of inherent value by simply being
Capable of guiding her actions by means of their own
powers of reason in pursuit of their goals
Able to exercise general autonomy
Main way to respect dignity of other people is by making sure
that you have their free consent for any interaction with them
Kantians suspect utilitarians value happiness more than persons
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