Ethics Textbook Notes.docx

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Published on 17 Apr 2013
University of Guelph
PHIL 2120
Ethics Textbook Notes
Socrates Dialogue in oth:
- We must not let our decision be determined by our emotions. We must try and get our
facts straight and to keep minds clear. Questions can be settled be reason.
- We cannot answer such questions by appealing to what ppl generally think as they may
be wrong. We must think for ourselves.
- We ought never to do what is morally wrong. Only thing we need to answer is whether
it is wrong or right, not what will happen to us, what people will think or how we feel.
- Therefore Socrates believes he should not break the law by escaping jail.
First we should not harm anyone. Socrates escape would harm the state since it
would violate states law.
Second if one stays living in a state when one could leave, one agrees to obey its
laws. Thus, if Socrates escaped he would break an agreement, which is
something one should not do.
Third, one’s society is virtually one’s parent and teacher, and one ought to obey
1) We ought never to harm anyone
2) We ought to keep our promises
3) We ought to obey or respect our parents and teachers
- He also uses another premise which involves a statement of fact and applies rule to the
1) If I escape I will harm society
2) If I escape I will be breaking a promise
3) If I escape I’ll be disobey parents and teachers
- Moral philosophy arises when we pass beyond the stage in which we are directed by
traditional rules and even beyond the stage in which these rules are so internalized that
we can said to be inner-directed, to which we think for ourselves.
- Three kinds of thinking that relate to morality:
1) There is descriptive empirical inquiry, historical, psychologists and sociologists. Here
the goal is to describe the phenomena of mortality or to work out a theory of human
nature which bears on ethical questions
2) There is normative thinking (Socrates in crito) that anyone who asks what is right,
good, or obligatory. May take form of asserting a normative judgment or take form
of debating with oneself or someone else about what is right.
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3) Analytical, critical or meta-ethical thinking. It asks questions like “What is the
meaning or use of the expressions right or good”
SQ #1) Can we answer moral questions by appealing to what people generally think?
According to Socrates it is not possible to answer moral questions by appealing to what
ppl think. This is because people can be wrong and we must think for ourselves.
Moral Judgments and Personal Preferences:
- It is possible for two different expressions of personal preference to be true at the same
- There is a difference between types of personal preference and moral judgments. i.e.
Jack says he likes to go to beach compared to Jack saying abortion is right. In the second
case we want to know if Jack is correct rather than what he likes so we need
justification. Moral rights cannot be determined by find out personal preferences.
Why Thinking It Does Not Make It So:
- The same is true about what people think. If one person thinks it is right to help people
are not off, while one person disagrees they are both stating what they think and it is
possible for both to be true.
- However, if one DENIES what the other person states then he believes he is CORRECT
and does not merely think that.
The Irrelevance of Statistics:
- Since there is strength in numbers the correct method for answering problems is to find
out what most people think or feel.
- All that polls can reveal is what most people feel or think though. For instance, many
people change their minds over time as things are subject to change. I.e. everyone use
to think world was flat. AKA in the end people CAN be wrong.
- Therefore majority cannot be an answer to questions.
The Appeal to a Moral Authority:
- Suppose there is someone who is never mistaken. If the person judges something
wrong, it is wrong and vice versa. This person is called a moral authority.
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- Most people who think there is a mortal authority think this is God. Since God is already
a very controversial topic it is difficult to base right versus wrong from it.
- However, problems with God go even further as if there is a God then do people always
understand what God says? For instance, some people who think we were created to be
vegetarians think they find evidence in bible that God thinks so too, while other find
evidence that God does not.
- Therefore, even if there is a moral authority it would not make it easy to find out right
and wrong as the problem of figuring out Gods opinion would still be unknown.
- We rely on things once we actually see it done and have proof to, making this especially
difficult. Since there are no credentials to test for God’s actions then it cannot be a
method of answering moral questions.
SQ 2: Can moral disagreements ever be resolved by statistics?
No moral disagreements cannot be resolved by statistics as taking a poll of majorities
opinion can be flawed. People can be wrong as many things change over time.
- There can be rules, which prohibit what isn’t wrong- like a law criticizing the
government. A rule can also be bad because it requires something that IS wrong- like a
law that requires racial segregation in hotels and restaurants.
- The ideas of wrong and right are different from the ideas of what is and is not against
the rules.
- Stealing a lib book you might see being wrong and you could say it would be unfair to
other users of the lib. You may also feel that to let him take it would betray your
employers, who are paying you to keep this sort of thing from happening.
- The thought that something is wrong depends on its impact not just on the person who
does it, but also on other people. They wouldn’t like it and would object if they found
- However, if someone just doesn’t care about other people what reason does he have to
refrain from dong wrong, if he can get away with it? If he can get what he wants by
doing such things, why shouldn’t he?
- There is no substitute for concern for other people as the basis of mortality. Morality is
supposed to apply to everyone, however that’s not the case, as some people don’t care.
So where will we find a reason that everyone has not to hurt other people, even those
they don’t know?
There is one argument against hurting people which can be given to anybody
who understands a language, and which seems to show that he has some reason
to care about others, even if in the end his selfish motives are so strong that he
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