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PP 110 - Values and Society

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Byron Williston

Philosophy Notes Philosophical Ethics The nature of philosophical ethics  “ethics is not about just any question, but about the way one should live” – Socrates Two types of statement 1. Descriptive or “is” statements (usually answered by a true or false) o Make claims about the way the world was, is, or will be, ex:  The earth is flat  Temperature is a mean kinetic energy 2. Normative or “ought statements o Make claims about the way the world ought to be or have been  I should get dressed before noon  The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation Philosophical ethics is the reasoned attempt to resolve important practical dilemmas. Its conclusions are action guiding. That is, it tells us which actions are permissible. Evaluating Actions What We Asses Actions Basic Distinction permissible (right) impermissible (wrong) Further distinction obligatory supererogatory no distinct kinds If you don’t fulfil an obligatory action you will be blamed, whereas supererogatory acts are heroic. You can be praised for both kinds of actions, but only blamed for obligatory. 1. Morality vs. Law – Normative  Jim Crow Laws o Established in 1877 o Repealed in 1954 o Imposed strict limitations on African-American use of restaurants, theatres, schools, etc. 2. Ethics vs. Etiquette – ex. Tennis Clubs The subject matter of ethics is more important than the subject matter of etiquette. Compare decisions about euthanasia with rules for holding a fork. 3. Ethics vs. Religion Although both philosophy and religion deal with morality, the key difference between the two is epistemological. That is, it concerns how we can know moral truths. Ethics – reason based Religion – faith based The Purpose of Philosophical Ethics 1. Avoid social disintegration 2. To lessen or ameliorate suffering 3. Promote flourishing Philosophical principles are universal  Law, etiquette, and religion are more particular than philosophy.  Philosophy, by contrast, is universal. Philosophical ethics attempts to find principles that apply to everyone, at any time, in any place. Looking out for #1: Ethical Egoism Definition: the view that for each of us, it is best to perform only those actions that are aimed at fulfilling our own desires and interests, regardless of the effect such actions have on others. 1. Glaucon’s Question Why should I, or anyone, be moral rather than simply doing whatever is to my advantage? Page 25 – on the topic of what justice is and what its origins are “They say to do injustice is naturally good and to suffer injustice bad, but the badness of suffering it so far exceeds the goodness of doing it that those whose have done and suffered injustice and tasted both, but who lack power to do it and avoid suffering it, decide that it is profitable to come to an agreement with each other neither to do injustice nor to suffer it.” Why people behave justly “The best is to do injustice without paying the penalty; the worst is to suffer it without being able to take revenge.” Justice is chosen not for its own sake but only as a lesser evil. We choose it only to avoid being victims of injustice. Our attitudes toward morality Three options 1. Forego rules of justice (Glaucon) 2. Establish and be bound by rules of justice but only reluctantly 3. Be bound by these rules willingly (Socrates) Ring of Gyges  Shepherd in the service of the ruler of Lydia  Found a hollow bronze horse with window-like openings  Inside was a human corpse wearing nothing but a gold ring  Took the ring and turned the setting inward and he became invisible  Arranged to become a messenger sent to report to the king  Seduced the king’s wife and with her help killed the king and took over the kingdom An unjust man who is believed to be just No one is ever just willingly, but only when compelled to be. We must assume the unjust person will act cleverly. Their successful attempts must remain undetected. Anyone who is caught will be seen as inept, because the extreme of injustice is to be believed to be just without being just. If any of his activities should be discovered, he must be able to speak persuasively or to use force. vs A just man who Is believed to be unjust They will say that a just person in such circumstances will be tortured and impaled and will realize then that one shouldn’t want to be just but to be believed to be just. No one is just willingly, they do so only because they lack the power to do injustice. When fathers speak to their sons, they don’t praise justice itself, only the high reputations it leads to and the consequences of being thought to be just. 2. The Socratic/Christian Answer Socrates: the unjust person, whether or not he or she is cheerful, has a disordered soul and so is not truly happy Tripartite Soul Reason (knowledge) Sprit (wilfulness, courage) Appetite (desire) The Tyrant  Always upgrading, nothing is good enough  Constant state of desire, lacking, pain  Desires tend to become increasingly cruel and bizarre  Ex. Caligula o Roman emperor with an insatiable sexual desire o Declared himself a living god  Circle of trusted allies diminishes, constant state of paranoia, Richard III The Christian: there is a place where goodness and happiness do finally come together  Job’s complaint - Bad things happen to good men, why god? 3. The Prisoner’s Dilemma Egoistic behaviour on the part of each agent has led to a sub-optimal outcome. That is, each could have done better for him/herself by sticking to the agreement. Therefore, egoism does not pay.  Ex. Bonnie & Clyde  Also called collective action Problem of iteration (repetition) Tit-for-tat: engage in whatever behaviour your opponent engaged in in her/his last encounter. If she cheated, you should cheat on her now. If not, not. Key points 1. Best strategy is to both adhere 2. The only way to achieve this is to resist the temptation to cheat, or violate 3. Why? Because if we cheat, we will likely wind up with a sub-optimal outcome 4. If the other is a cheater, you should as well Glaucon – egoism does NOT pay 4. Three Critiques of Ethical Egoism 1. The publicity argument  A necessary feature of any moral theory is that its basic principles should be made public  The egoist cannot make his/her code public  Therefore ethical egoism is not a moral theory 2. The argument from absurdity  If a moral principle can be used to justify actions that are clearly evil, the principle is absurd and can be rejected  Ethical egoism can be used this way  Therefore ethical egoism can be rejected 3. The friendship argument  The egoist seeks the goods of friendship  Achieving the goods of friendship demands that one attend to the interests of the friend  This often conflicts with the pursuit of self-interest  Therefore, the egoist must abandon their egoism in order to achieve these goods The egoist’s response 1. An egoist could simply pretend to act in the interests of the friend 2. The friend might not notice the deceit 3. If not, the egoist can enjoy the goods of the friendship Ethical Relativism and Aristotle 1. What is Ethical Relativism Definition: the moral rightness or wrongness of actions varies across societies. There are no absolute moral standards binding on all people at all times. Recognizing this, we should be tolerant of moral differences across societies. The Euthyphro Plato: “Do the gods love the good because it is good, or is it good because the gods love it?”  Two options a) They are good whether or not the gods think so b) They are good only because the gods think so Moral judgements  Two options a) They are true whether or not our culture says so b) They are true only because our culture says so Three Premises 1. Diversity Thesis o There are numerous cultures in the world, each of them has a distinct moral code 2. Dependency Thesis o A culture’s moral code emerges out of the particular values and social arrangements of that culture itself  Ex. Moral judgement: “people ought to be vegetarians” 3. No trans-cultural codes o There are no moral principles binding on all persons, regardless of the culture they inhabit Conclusion: The Tolerance Thesis We must not stand in judgement of the moral codes or practices of other cultures. 2. Four Criticisms 1. Deriving and “ought” from an “is” o From claims only about the way the world is, nothing follows about the way it should be 2. Overstating diversity o Every society makes a distinction between justified and unjustified killing o Every society places some restrictions on sexual activities, most place a taboo on incest o Every society considers lying wrong under specially defined circumstances 3. Tolerance thesis looks like a transcultural moral principle, contrary to premise three of the argument 4. Cannot rationally criticize others’ moral practices 3. Aristotle: The Human Function Aristotle – 384 BCE to 322 BCE Two Kinds of Goods 1. Instrumental goods – those that are valued or desired solely for the sake of something else o Ex. Exercise, medicine, money 2. Intrinsic goods – those that are desired for their own sake o Ex. Happiness, health, wealth Happiness + Function  In Greek philosophy this is a translation of the term eudaimonia  A more literal translation would be excellence, it does not mean a good feeling, cheerfulness, ..  The function of humans is to live in accordance with the virtues Two Key Elements of the Human Function 1. It is not about some descriptive fact about us but rather about the way we ought to live 2. The way we ought to live involves being controlled by reason rather than desire or emotion (tripartite soul) The Key  The life of reason is the life of virtue, what is a virtue? A state of character that causes us to act in specific ways on specific occasions  Examples: courage, modesty, kindness, pride  The courageous person will do what courage demands in situations that call for it (battle) Being properly virtuous = achieving the human function = achieving happiness 4. Aristotle: The Doctrine of the Mean Every virtue is a middle point between two morally impermissible states. One is too much of the state in question, the other too little. Subject Matter Defect (Vice) Mean (virtue) Excess (Vice) Fear management Cowardice Courage Rashness Bodily pleasures Insensibility Moderation Self-indulgence Giving/taking money Meanness Liberality Prodigality Honour Undue humility Proper pride Vanity Pleasure in giving Boorishness Wit Buffoonery amusement Being pleasant in social Surliness Friendliness Flattery relations Strategy for Hitting the Mean  With regard to any subject matter, determine to which of the two defects you are more inclined  Then aim your action to the opposite extreme Virtue Ethics: Challenges 1. Can there be evil virtues? 2. Don’t the virtues change from one culture to the next? (Relativism) Utilitarianism 1. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) Four Key Features of the View: a) Sentience is our most morally important attribute  The capacity to experience pleasure and pain  The animal machine b) Pleasures and pain can be quantified  Some measurable properties of pleasure and pain o Intensity o Duration o Fecundity (fruitfulness, gives rise to other) o Purity (break up/favourite love song = not pure)  Thorndike’s results o Lose a tooth $4,500 o Lose a toe $57,000 o Eat a worm $100,000 o Choke a cat to death $10,000 o Live the rest of your life in Kansas
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