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Ethics Unit (3).docx

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Western University
Philosophy 1020
John Thorp

ETHICS UNIT MORAL RELATIVISM “Ethics” = Greek ethé = customs “Moral” = Latin mores = customs 1. The argument for moral relativism (Ruth Benedict) - Morality is just socially approved customs. - Societies differ as to what customs they approve or disapprove - Therefore morality is culturally relative 2. The lessons of a wider view of cultures “In the higher cultures the standardization of custom and belief over a couple of continents has given a false sense of the inevitability of the particular forms that have gained currency, and we need to turn to a wider survey in order to check the conclusions we hastily base upon this near- universality of familiar customs.” 3. Examples i) Trances, catalepsies, pain-endurance ii) Homosexuality "Homosexuals in many societies are not incompetent, but they may be if the culture asks adjustments that would strain any man’s vitality." Not just some of the people all of the time, but all of the people some of the time iii) Murder "…Among the Kwakiutl it did not matter whether a relative had died in bed of disease, or by the hand of an enemy; in either case death was an affront to be wiped out by the death of another person. The fact that one had been caused to mourn was proof that one had been put upon… "…A chief’s sister and her daughter had gone up to Victoria, and either because they drank bad whiskey or because their boat capsized they never came back. The chief called together his warriors… Immediately they set up the war pole to announce their intention of wiping out the injury, and gathered a war party…they set out, and found seven men and two children asleep and killed them. Then they felt good when they arrived at Sebaa in the evening” "The head-hunting that takes place on the Northwest Coast after a death is no matter of blood revenge or organized vengeance. There is no effort to tie up the subsequent killing with any responsibility on the part of the victim for the death of the person who is being mourned… [the bereaved chief who kills someone else] "acts nobly because he has not been downed. He has thrust back in return. The whole procedure is meaningless without the fundamental paranoid reading of bereavement. Death, like all the other untoward accidents of existence, confounds man’s pride and can only be handled in the category of insults." 4. Benedict's thesis There are congenital forms of behaviour in any society. A given society will honour some forms and marginalize others. This largely arbitrary selection of which forms to honour and which to marginalize is that society’s morality. “We recognize that morality differs in every society, and is a convenient term for socially approved habits.” “It is morally good” “it is habitual” -- historically, the two phrases are synonymous. “Most individuals are plastic to the moulding force of the society into which they are born. In a society that values trance, as in India, they will have supernormal experience. In a society that institutionalizes homosexuality, they will be homosexual. In a society that sets the gathering of possessions as the chief human objective, they will amass property….” 5. Moral relativism A moral judgment is always made from somewhere, from a set of cultural norms. There is no such thing as a view from nowhere. There is no such thing as a neutral moral judgment. The idea of a neutral – or absolute – moral norm is absolutely impossible Main Idea: Everything can only be graded from its own context. There is no meaning in judging a culture’s moral standards as better or worse MORAL ABSOLUTISM W.T. Stace Moral Absolutism is the view that there is one eternally true and valid moral code that applies impartially to all men. - That which is evil now was evil then - Things are in themselves either right or wrong. What we have to do is discover which they are - the essence of morality is not produced by human opinion 1. The metaphysics of relativism We think we know the truth about the shape of the earth; but we also think that – even if we are wrong about the shape of the earth – still, the earth has to have a shape. There is only one objective truth of matter About the shape of the earth: some people are right, some people are wrong. People disagree about what the truth is, but they agree that there is a truth. They may also disagree about how to find the truth, but still they agree that there is a truth The shape of the earth is a factual issue  Is it the same with moral issues? Consider: - Some people think that slavery is a natural and right and morally good human institution - Some people think that slavery is an abomination - Some people think that a brother or father should kill a sexually wayward sister or daughter to preserve the family honour - Some people think that such honour killings are morally abominable In each of these cases, we have our own moral preference We call it the better view or the right view But, do we think that it is objectively right? A moral relativist believes that there is no objective or absolute moral truth. Truth, in morals, is quite unlike truth in maters of fact like cosmology. There is no ultimate fact of the matter about moral truth. A moral relativist believes that moral beliefs are true or false relatively to cultures. Slavery was good and right for: - AncThnt Athenians - 18 c. Americans - 17 c. Quebecois but wrong for - Modern Europeans - 20 century Americans - 19 century Quebecois A moral absolutist would say that slavery was always morally wrong. Even if the Greeks thought that slavery was morally legitimate, this does not indicate it was for them morally legitimate, but rather that they were ignorant of the truth of the matter Relativist Sees that there are Adheres to own view Believes that there is no different views objective truth of the matter Absolutist Sees that there are Adheres to own view Believes that there is an different views objective truth of the matter  The difference between the relativist and absolutist is a metaphysical one, that is, having to do with truth 2. Arguments against relativism i. What is morality relative to? Are they relative to people, groups, individuals…? There are no moral boundaries to where different moral standards exist ii.We cannot adjudicate moral values among peoples. We cannot judge e.g. that honour killing is evil for the people of tribal societies in Pakistan iii.What about moral disagreement within cultures? iv. Moral progress is a delusion – progress means an advance from worse to better but on the grounds of ethical relativity there is no meaning in comparing two standards v. Practical consequences of belief in moral relativism (carelessness about morality). If men come to believe that one moral standard is as good as another, they will conclude that their own moral standard has nothing special to recommend it and might as well slip down to a lower and easier standard 3. Arguments against moral absolutism 1. If there is an objective moral truth, how can we have access to it 2. If we can never have secure access to moral truth, what is the meaning of believing that it exists? 3. Practical consequences of belief in moral absolutism  absolutists usually believe that their own moral view is the objectively true one (and so they make themselves unpopular and unattractive). Absolutists are often moralizers 4. A possible middle ground But here is a possible position (take the example of euthanasia) “I believe that there is an objective moral truth about euthanasia or any other moral matter. My own view is pro-euthanasia…but I’m not sure that my view is the objectively true one” This would be a moral absolutism with humility EGOISM & ALTRUISM Altruism: motivation by the interests of others Egoism: motivation by our own interests 2. The thesis of psychological egoism Psychological egoism: the idea that we are always, in fact, motivated by our own interests a) Blatant psychological egoism: We always act so as to do good to ourselves and harm to others, unless we are somehow restrained from this.  Plato’s story of Gyge’s ring illustrates the thesis of blatant psychological egoism, the argument that all people would, if possible, do exactly as they please: Gyges was a shepherd in the service of the reigning King of Lydia. He discovers a magic ring in the ground after an earthquake. He puts it on and realizes that the ring makes its wearer invisible and thus enabling him to go anywhere and do anything undetected. He uses it to sneak into the King’s bedchamber, he murders the King and sleeps with the Queen, and he takes the title of King b) Subtle psychological egoism: All our actions are really motivated by our own self-interests, even our most apparently altruistic actions. E.g. 1. I dive into an icy river to rescue a drowning stranger (absolve from guilt and rain recognition) 2. I give a lot of money to a charity (feel good, tax break, recognition) 3. I give a lot of money to a charity but remain an anonymous benefactor (feel good for being humble) 4. I put my own studies on hold for a few years and take a job to help put my spouse through law school (more income, better marriage) 5. On a glorious autumn weekend I give up a day of hiking to go and visit my tedious old aunt in a retirement home o Pure selfless love does not exist. There always lies beneath a self interested motive There are, broadly, two arguments for subtle psychological egoism: i) Seeming impossibility of finding an example of action in which it is not plausible to suggest an egoistic motive  What about a mothers love for a child: this is argued to be pure altruism  But the act could be driven by preservation of genes ii) Theory about the genesis of human action: only our own interests can motivate us Problem: IF psychological egoism is true, how can there ever be ethical or moral behaviour? How can there be behaviour that takes the interest of others into account? A fundamental distinction (James Rachels) Rachels argues: there is a fundamental distinction between selfishness and self-interest. Altruism is the opposite of selfishness, not the opposite of self-interest.  No one would say I am being “selfish” if I go to the doctor, or work hard at my job. These are self- interested actions not selfish ones Altruistic behaviour – unselfish behaviour – occurs frequently; it may still be self-interested The psychological egoist (subtle) maintains that all behaviour is self interested That just means that we do what we want to do (satisfying our wants). Sometimes what we want to do is to help other people Helping other people is unselfish behaviour: If we want to help other people then our behaviour is unselfish because it helps other but still self-interested If I derive satisfaction from unselfish behaviour, that doesn't stop the behaviour from being unselfish. Behaviour is made selfish or unselfish by its object, not by its motive. Self-interestedness is a matter of motive Well, then, can there be behaviour that is not motivated by self-interest? Rachel says that at the very lest there can be genuinely mixed motives That I can help another, and want to do so means I act both out of other-interest and out of self-interest Selfish Unselfish Self-interested Yes YES Mixed Yes Yes Other-interested ? ? A stronger idea: Ethical egoism. Psychological egoism was the idea that we always act out of self-interest. Ethical egoism is the normative view that we should always act out of self-interest. Men have no obligation to act in any other way than to do what is in our own interest. According to the ethical egoist, a person is always justified in doing whatever is in his own interest, regardless of the effect on others Ethical egoism comes in two versions: a blatant version and a subtle version a) Blatant ethical egoism Two ethical egoists: - Bernard de Mandeville  The Grumbling Hive/ The Fable of the Bees Thesis: The pursuit of money and the pursuit of reputation - which are the vices of greed and vanity – are in fact the necessary engine of a wealthy and powerful nation - Ayn Rand  Atlas Shrugged According to this view: selfishness in fact leads to general prosperity. Altruism leads to poverty and asceticism ‘ b) Subtle version of ethical egoism: Ethics as rational self-interest is the basis of contractarian theories of ethics “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”  you behave nicely to others so that they will behave nicely to you Everything we do is ultimately motivated by our own self-interest (selfish) but you can make a perfectly acceptable ethical system on that basis provided that the self-interest in question is rational Perhaps we can save morality by: iAgreeing that subtle psychological egoism is true ii.Holding that subtle ethical egoism (rational self interest) is a possibility “The thing to be lamented is, not that men have so great regard to their own good or interest in the present world, for they have not enough” – Bishop Butler UTALITARIANISM Jeremy Bentham + John Stuart Mill Virtue ethics (character)  deontology (act)  consequentialism (consequences) Consequentialism: - The moral worth of an act is determined by its consequences - The main consequentialist theory is “utilitarianism” – the idea that goodness consists in contribution to human happiness Jeremy Bentham 1. Utility The foundation of morals is Utility, or the greatest happiness principle: “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” 2. Happiness Presence of pleasure and absence of pain Pleasure, or happiness, is the only thing desirable as an end (it is therefore an intrinsic good) and all other desirable things are so desired for the pleasure that they produce. These goods are simply means towards pleasure (and are therefore instrumental goods). Intrinsic good vs. instrumental good – intrinsic goods are not desired because they are going to lead to something ultimately, but in and of themselves. Instrumental goods lead to a desired end This is opposed to asceticism, a moral principle that seems to find pain and discomfort to be good things 3. The hedonic calculus (the mathematic calculation to determine the moral value of an act) Intensity of pleasure Duration of pleasure Certainty or uncertainty of if pleasure will result from action Propinquity or remoteness: is pleasure immediate? Fecundity: will it produce other pleasures? The change it has of being followed by same kind of sensations Purity: unmixed by pain – the chance it has of not being followed by sensations of the opposite kind Extent: just pleasure for you or does it extend to other people Bentham’s calculus: For any act, determine the amount of pleasure it will immediately produce Then the amount of pain Then determine the fecundity of pleasure Then determine the fecundity of pain Then sum the results for the individual Then consider the number of persons affected in this way Then do the overall sum 4. Common misunderstanding of the term “utilitarianism” - Utility opposed to pleasure - -Hedonistic (in the bad sense) or “epicurean” in the bad sense  Ancient philosopher named epicurean who developed school of thought called ‘epicureanism’. Epicureanism is a systematic philosophy, which, in ethics, held that pleasure was the greatest good Epicureanism was interested in refined, intellectual pleasures. Often referred to as “The philosophy of the garden” The school was quickly misunderstood as promoting life in pursuit of baser pleasures Hence “epicure” is someone who is interested in pleasures of food and drink and sex, a connoisseur 5. John Stuart Mill’s contributions a)Levels or kinds of pleasure He makes a distinction between higher and l
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