Harris, “The Survival Lottery”
You are young, happy, excited about life and work. Abrown envelope comes for you in the mail: you are summoned to donate your vital organs to
save two people in need. You are inconvenienced but have you been treated unfairly?
• Survival lottery involved killing innocent people, and killing innocent people is always wrong.
• Those summoned have suffered an injustice
• Killing vs. letting die
o Bringing about someone’s death vs. failing to prevent someone’s death
o We bear greater moral responsibility for what we do than for what we fail to do (act v. omission)
o Nonetheless, a drowning child is wronged by my failure to rescue it when I was able to do so, even though it is not my fault in
the first place
• We have an obligation to both rescue those who can be rescued and to desist form killing the innocent
o Conflicting obligation; moral tragedy
• Need to rank our obligations: obligation not to kill innocent always outweighs latter
o Grated Ais innocent and killing the innocent is always wrong
o But X and Y are also innocent, no more at fault for their ill health thanA is for his good health
o Do numbers count? If we could prevent the deaths of two (3,4 etc) by killing one wont there be a point at which killing the
innocent is the right thing to do?
• The trolley problem: philosophical thought-experiment designed to question moral significance
o Atrolley is running out of control along a set of tracks where crew of 5 is working. They will all die when trolley hits them. You
can reroute the train onto a different set of tracks, where only one person would die
o Do numbers count? Distinction between killing and letting die is not absolute; sometimes it is right to kill the innocent in order to
prevent the deaths of others
• When we test the distinction between killing and letting die, we might find that it is weaker than we though
• In favor: more lives are saved, everyone’s expectation for living long and healthy lives are improved, some are burdened but the burden is:
randomly distributed, offset by the greater good
• Against: Cant bear the thought of it.
o But does that make it wrong? Harris “No.”
Two aims of theory are to provide an account for the nature of right and wrong in action and to provide a decision procedure that individual moral
agents can deploy in situations of moral choice.
• The greatest-happiness principle
o Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness
o By happiness is intended pleasure and absence of pain by unhappiness, pain and privation of pleasure.
o Your actions should promote utility (hence, utilitarianism): the action that leads to the most happiness overall
• Utilitarianism: a radical, anti-authoritarian moral theory
o Morality is not grounded in authority but in general facts about human nature
o “hedonism”: pleasure as the highest good
• Consequentialism: The moral status of an action is determined by the consequences of that action and not by the intention behind the
action, conformity with law, etc.
o But which consequences? Those that bear on human happiness/pleasure
o Why pleasure? Pleasure and free from pain are the only things desirable as ends.All desirable things are desirable either for the
pleasure inherent in themselves or as means to the promotion of pleasure and the prevention of pain
• Value Theory: pleasure is the only thing that is intrinsically valuable
o Valuable in its own right, without regard to further consequences
o All other things (love, money, friendship, etc) are valued insofar as they lead to pleasure
• Swine Objection: such theory excites in many minds inveterate dislike
o To suppose that life has (as they express it) no higher end than pleasure, – no better and nobler object of desire and pursuit, - they
designate as utterly mean and groveling; as a doctrine worthy of only swine
o Objection only worked if we assume that what gives pleasure to humans is the same as what gives pleasure to animals
o Utilitarianism is about happiness/ pleasure in the widest possible sense
o Kinds of degrees of pleasure (quality and quantity)
o Socrates and the fool: human beings prefer the higher pleasures to the lower This is true even though higher pleasures are harder to attain and we often go unsatisfied
Better to be a human being dissatisfied, than a pig satisfied
• Do we really prefer the higher pleasures to the lower?
o Mill: sometimes we fall prey to temptation, weakness of will, etc. So we choose the lower pleasure to the higher
• Moral motivation: moral theories impose burdens; why should we accept the burden? (why should I be moral?)
o Hedonism: what we are morally required to do is to maximize pleasure/happiness at all times / everyone is intrinsically motivated
to pursue happiness / therefore, everyone is intrinsically motivated to be moral
• Missing piece:All we have said is that pleasure is the only good, and that actions are right ot the extent that they lead to good outcomes.
Good for whom? If good for me, then utilitarianism = egotism
o Mills view: actions are good to the extend that they produce good outcomes for everyone affected
o Our moral decision-making should take everyone’s interests into account and never be biased in favor of our own. Our actions
should aim to maximize utility overall
Aggregate ultility divide by no. People affected
• Problems: if utilitarianism is only concerned to max happiness overall, then it seeks to maximize aggregate utility. But doesn’t it also matter
how happiness is distributed among individuals?
o Survival lottery maximized utility overall
Kant, “The Good Will & the Categorical Imperative”
The Honest shopkeeper: Case 1; john charges the same price to al his customers because he realizes cheating some customers will damage the
reputation of his business in the long run. Case 2; Bob charges the same price to all his customers because he thinks cheating some of them is wrong
• Kant: only Bob’s action is an expression of moral character, and possesses true moral worth
The world-weary philanthropist: Case 1; john gives to charity because he is filled with humanity and his heart bleeds with the plights of the needy.
Case 2; bob despises all of humankind and couldn’t care less whether people flourish or languish. Nonetheless, he gives to charity because he thinks
• John is acting from inclination, whereas bob is acting from duty. John performs the right action because he feels like it. Bob performs the
right action because it is the right action
o Kant: it doesn’t matter what your inclinations are; only actions performed from duty have true moral worth
• The Good will: the only things that is good without limitation. Any other character trait we can think of is good only with qualification
• Virtue ethics : Human beings should aim to cultivate a range of distinctive character traits, called virtues (courage, intelligence, moderation,
o Kant: these may be good but not good without qualification (they are good only insofar as..)
o … they are subject to a good will
o Virtues are not good in themselves but god or bad depending on the moral character of the person who has them (Abad person is
even worse for being intelligent, courageous, etc.)
• The good will is good in its own right; regardless of consequences, Even a good will that is completely unable to carry its purpose would
still shine like a jewel.
• Agood willed person has only one purpose: at all times, to do his or her duty.
o They are not seeking to do good things for other people or make the world a better place (unless that is what ones duty requires)
• Typology of actions:
o 1 distinction: acts contrary to duty v. acts in conformity with duty; acts contrary to duty are clearly wrong, and require no further
o 2 distinction: acts performed from inclination vs. acts performed from duty; only acts performed form duty have true moral
o Actions contrary to duty: immoral
o Actions conforming with duty, done from inclination: amoral actions (neither moral nor immoral)
o Actions conforming with duty, done form motive of duty: moral actions
• Moral actions need not be contrary to inclination: we can both be inclined to an action but also perform it because it is one’s duty.
o For actions to be moral the following must be true: I would perform the action even if I were not inclined
o What matters is the “maxim” behind the action (governing motive
• What is it to act on ones duty? How o we know what duty requires in a particular context? Kant does tend to speak of duties in terms of
laws. But moral duties are not given by (positive) law. The authority of morality does not have an external source
o Instead, oral duties have their source in reason
o Reason as a lawgiver: we ourselves are the sources of moral duties, insofar as we are rational creatures
o Moral duty as self-legislation
o To act morally is to follow the bidding of one’s own reason • Atest for moral worth: universalize your maxim
o Isolate your maxim
o Determine whether the maxim can be universalized. If the maxim passes the universalizability test then you are OK, otherwise,
• Imperatives: Categorical and Hypothetical
o HI: Do X, if you want to achieve Y
Problem: His don’t command unconditionally, since you can always foreswear the proposed end. Connection between
HI and acting from inclination
o By contrast, moral duties command unconditionally. You cannot get out of them by adjusting your ends, by curbing your
o There are many HI, but only one CI
• CI:Aperson finds himself urged by the need to borrow money. He well knows that he will ot be able to repay it but sees also that nothing
will be lent to him unless he promises firmly to repay it within a determinate time.
o Proposed Maxim: when I believe myself to be in need of money, I shall borrow money and promise to repay it, even though I
know that this will never happen. This maxim fails the test of universalizability
o Duties of assistance:Aperson for whom things are going well while he sees that others (whom he could very well help) have to
contend with great hardships, thinks: “what is it to me? Let each be as happy as heaven wills or he can make himself”
Proposed maxim: I will not help out those in need, even when I can. This maxim fails universalizability
• Moral Failure as self-contradiction
o Applying CI exposes contradictions: Can I will- without contradicting myself – that the proposed maxim become a universal
o Two kinds of contradiction: Contradiction in conception (perfect duties; duties to refrain: the lying promise) & Contradictions in
willing (imperfect duties; duties to act: assisting those in need)
o Contradiction: to attempt to make and exception of oneself in one’s moral reasoning
o The authority of the moral law is the authority of reason: Our moral capacity just is our rational capacity, deployed toward the
task of deliberating about action. Contradictions are violations of reason, therefore, bad
• Persons as ends-in-themselves
o Every human being exists as an end in itself, not merely as a means to be used by this or that will at its discretion
o The lying promise: using ones benefactor as a means to my end
o Formula or humanity: So act that you use humanity whether in your own person or the person of any other, always at the same
time as an end, not merely as a means.
Plato, “The Ring of Gyges”
Gyges of Lydia discovers a ring which has the power to make him invisible. He send for the king: when the king arrives, Gyges turns his ring to
make himself invisible, seduces the kings wife, kills the king and takes over the kingdom. Invisibility has given him to power to do injustice with
• Thought-experiment designed to show that people do not value justice in its own right but only because they are too weak to do injustice
• Takes two people, the most moral and the most immoral person you know, and give each the power of invisibility. They will both act the
• Morality is not intrinsically valuable: there is nothing to be said for acting morally other than “what comes of it”
• We act morally unwillingly when we do act it. We are afraid of punishment
• Moral conventionalism: Morality is simply what we agree to call “just”
Nietzsche, “Master Morality & Slave morality”
Both are moral codes in the sense that they tell us what to do
• Moral codes that emphasize kindness, generosity, and duties to others, are all slave moralities (they make up weak, timid or fearful and
curb or natural instincts)
• All legal systems are institutionalized slave moralities. We internalize these codes and become slave to society
• But there is a moral code that puts individuals at the center : master morality
o One’s own duty is to develop oneself to ones fullest potential. All other things have value only insofar as they relate to my self-
• Maybe institutionalized slave morality is necessary for society, but that just shows that there is an ongoing conflict between the interests of
the individual and the interests of whole.
Mackie, “The Subjectivity of Value”
All moral judgment, even trivial everyday ones, are literally false (error theory). Moral judgment presents themselves as making claims about how
the world is but the world is not how the judgment claims to be; therefore, all moral judgments are false
• Moral skepticism: Undermining the foundations of presumptive knowledge o There are no objective values
o The languages of moral judgment present itself as making claims about the world.
Ie. Torturing kittens is wrong. It is not false by getting the facts wrong but because there are no such facts at all
• Argument from relativity
o Fact: there is a widespread disagreement about right and wrong
Moral relativism: different cultures have widely different moral codes
o How do we explain such disagreement? If there were objective moral facts that we could know, then presumably there would be
less disagreement. Inference to the best explanation: there are no objective moral facts
o Objection: But what about scientific disagreement?
Cases are very different. Scientific disagreement concerns speculative extrapolations form objective evidence itself. By
contrast, in moral discourse, there is disagreement all the way down
o Objection: Whats true or false are not specific moral claims but “very general basic principles” (principles with much less
Mackie: maybe so, but this is a very limited strategy. We should still be moral skeptics about most of morality
• Metaphysical: If there were objective values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different
from our ordinary ways of knowing everything else
• Epistemological: If we were aware of such values, it would have to be by some special faculty of moral perception or intuition, utterly
different from our ordinary ways of knowing everything else.
• Metaphysical queerness
o What kind of fact (property, quality, relation) could it be that exercise authority over us, tells us what to do and think?
o Non-natural qualities: OK, but how are these related to the natural qualities of an object?
o Mackie: We are tempted to postulate such facts in order to save our moral theories but it is better on balance to admit that there
are no such facts
• Epistemological queerness
o If there were such facts, how could we know about them? Ordinary moral discourse presumes not only that there are moral facts
but also that we are in a position to make knowledge claims about them
o Standard pathways of knowing about things:
o Neither could account for how we could gain knowledge of moral facts or objective values
Appeals to special moral intuition is not an explanation
• Why do we believe in objective values? It is less paradoxical to reject than to retain the common-sense belief in the objectivity of moral
values, provided that we can explain how tis belief, if it is false, has become established and is so resistant to criticism
o By rejecting common sense, we incur an explanatory burden: how could we as a species be so wrong about something so
• Creating right and wrong: