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University of Guelph
PHIL 1050
Patricia Sheridan

Philosophy Reading 1: Jan 7th-9th - moral philosophy: the study of what morality is and what it requires of us, “how we should live and why” - normative “what ought to be” versus descriptive “what is” - Baby Theresa Case (Brain Dead) - born with anencephaly, cerebrum and cerebellum missing but can still breathe and have a heartbeat - low chance of survival so parents requested her organs be transplanted, physicians agreed - Florida law prohibits transplant until donor is dead, by the time she died her organs had deteriorated too much to be used - “ethicists” disagreed with parents and physicians, saying that - 1. “it’s wrong to use people as means to other peoples ends” - 2. “it’s unethical to kill person A to save person B” - The Benefits Principle: if we can benefit someone without harming anyone else, we ought to do so - Parents and Physicians: Argument: transplanting the organs would benefit the other children without harming Theresa, so we should transplant them - Ethicist 1: Argument: taking Theresa’s organs would be “using” her to benefit other children, so it shouldn’t be done. Counter: This implies they would be violating Theresa’s autonomy, but in reality she doesn’t have any. You cannot go against her wishes because she has no wishes, and will never have any. - Ethicist 2: Argument: it’s wrong to kill Theresa to save others. Counter: Some laws consider the brain-dead already dead, so you’re not really killing her, as she will never have any hope for a conscious life and will die soon anyways --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- - Jodie and Mary Case (Conjoined Twins) - conjoined twins: if born together, both will die. If stronger one separated, it will live and the other will die - parents are catholic, choose to have the born together - The Benefits Principle - Parents: Argument: it is wrong to kill one child to save the other, all life is precious. - Argument 1: we should save as many as we can, even if it means the other child will die - Argument 2: we aren’t violating the sanctity of human life, judges claim the operation wouldn’t kill Mary, her body’s weakness would. Tracy Latimer Case (Cerebral Palsy) - 12 year old victim of cerebral palsy, in constant pain and has mental level of a 3 month old - father killed her via carbon monoxide (his car) out of mercy - provincial court said second-degree murder and told judge to ignore mandatory 10 year sentence, but Supreme Court intervened and gave him 10 years - The Benefits Principle - Parents: killing her freed her from the constant pain, and she died painlessly - Argument 1: Handicapped Discrimination - “nobody has the right to decide if one life is worth less than another”. Counter: Father claims he didn’t kill her because of her disability, but because of the constant pain she was in - Argument 2: Slippery Slope - it is difficult to decide who deserves to live and who deserves to die, at the bottom of this slope all life will be considered cheap. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Moral Reasoning - we cannot rely on our feelings, they are irrational and may be products of prejudice, selfishness or cultural conditioning - the morally right thing to do is always the thing best supported by the arguments Impartiality - each individual’s interests are equally important and nobody should get special treatment - we cannot treat members of particular groups as inferior, eg sexism and racism - closely connected with the idea moral judgment must be backed by good reasons Minimum Conception of Morality - at the very least, morality is the effort to guide one’s conduct by reason - aka to do what there are the best reasons for doing - while giving equal weight to the interests of each individual affected by one’s decision Conscientious Moral Agent - someone who is concerned impartially with the interests of everyone affected by they do - examines facts and their implications - only accepts principles of conduct after making sure they are justified - is willing to “listen to reason” and revise prior convictions - is willing to act on the results of this deliberation Philosophy Reading 2: Jan 9th - 16th Different Cultures Have Different Moral Codes - discusses Callatians (eat dead) versus Greeks (burn dead), and how each society finds the other method appalling - Eskimo’s regularly committed infanticide and had polygamous marriages - what is considered “right” to one group may horrify members of another Cultural Relativism’s 5 Claims: 1. The Differences Claim: different cultures have different codes 2. The Cultural Relativist Claim: A societies code determines what is right or wrong in that society 3. The Non-Universality Claim: there are no universal true moral principles 4. The “We Are Not Special” Claim: our code is not special (implied by #2) 5. The Tolerance Claim: one should always (general) be tolerant of other cultures codes - but what if your culture is intolerant? two and five conflict - They don’t actually conflict, as cultural relativism says the norms of a culture reign supreme within the bounds of the culture itself, eg when Germans invaded Poland they are (technically) now bound to Polish norms Cultural Differences Argument (Fails) - Right and wrong are merely matters of opinion which vary from culture to culture, and what each societies code says is right or wrong IS right or wrong in that society - Rachel’s says this is not valid, because the conclusion does not follow from the premise, aka even if the premise is true, the conclusion might still be false - eg there is no reason to think that if the world is round, everyone must know it. Same concept applies to moral truth - SO: The cultural differences argument fails, but cultural relativism could still be true What Follows from Cultural Relativism AKA What Would Happen if it were True - It makes cultures infallible from criticism, even if their practices are as absurd as roasting children - You cannot measure the progression of moral and societal codes over time, because that would imply a universal code to strive towards. We couldn’t say that replacing old ways with new ways makes the new ways better, because the old ways were “right” to the society at that time - we could no longer criticize the code of our own society: we could never look to ways in which other cultures might be better, we must simply accept that our code is correct Why There is Less Disagreement Than It Seems - not only are the society’s values important, but so are its religious beliefs, its factual beliefs, and its physical environment - we cannot conclude that two societies differ in values just because they differ in customs - eg although we disagree with Eskimo infanticide, we have to think about why the Eskimo’s did this to understand (nomads, need hunters, hunters die young, gender imbalance, adoption was the first choice and infanticide was only when necessary) - the values of the Eskimo’s aren’t that different from ours, it’s just that they had to face choices that we don’t have to make - some values are shared by all cultures - all societies place some value on telling the truth, as well as prohibition against murder - there are some moral rules that all societies must embrace because those rules are necessary for society to exist What We Can Learn from Cultural Relativism - Rachel’s spends most of the chapter discussing the shortcomings of Cultural Relativism: - it rests on an unsound argument - it has implausible consequences - it suggests greater moral disagreement than exists BUT Two Lessons to be Learned from It - Lesson One: Warns us about the danger of assuming all our practices are based on some absolute rational standard, because they aren’t. Many practices and attitudes we find natural are really only cultural products - Lesson Two: Keep an open mind, we all have strong feelings about certain things, and our opinions about right and wrong may be from cultural conditioning and nothing more. Philosophy Reading 3: Jan 16th - 21st The Basic Idea of Ethical Subjectivism (Feelings) - people have different opinions, but morally there are no “facts” and nobody is “right”, people just feel differently - eg it is a fact that the Nazi’s killed millions, but it isn’t a fact that what they did was “evil”. When we call their actions “evil”, we are only saying that we have negative feelings towards them. The Evolution of the Theory (Both Stages Disproved) - began with the idea that morality is a matter of sentiment rather than fact STAGE ONE: Simple Subjectivism - simple subjectivism implies that when one person says something is morally correct, they are merely making a statement about their feelings - when a simple subjectivist says that "x is morally wrong," just means that the speaker disapproves of x, but they make this claim as a fact - this allows each individual to have their own moral code - nobody can disagree, because nobody can say that it is false that you disapprove - This cannot work, because the two people do disagree about a certain topic - it also implies that we could never be wrong, because feelings cannot be right or wrong THEREFORE: Simple subjectivism cannot be correct STAGE TWO: Emotivism - according to emotivism, moral language is used as a means of influencing people’s behaviour and expressing one’s attitudes. - to the emotivist, the statement that “x is right” is just an expression of an emotion, equivalent to “x is good” and “I like x” - not a fact like in simple subjectivism - if someone says “you shouldn’t do that” he is trying to persuade you - this is more like a command than a statement, it’s the same as saying “don’t do that” Arguments against Simple Subjectivism Applied to Emotivism Argument 1: In Simple Subjectivism,there can be no disagreement. Emotivism emphasizes that disagreement comes in 2 different forms: - 1. Disagreement in Belief: two people believe different things, both of which cannot be true.This is a disagreement about facts - 2. Disagreement in Attitude: we may disagree in attitude even if we agree in belief. eg Both you and I believe the Leafs are overpaid, but I want them to win and you want them to lose SO: In Emotivism, moral disagreement is disagreement in attitude only. In Simple Subjectivism, moral disagreement is a disagreement in belief - moral judgments express beliefs about the speakers attitudes. So, when people disagree, they are disagreeing about what attitudes the other speaker has - this isn’t possible. Argument 2: In Simple Subjectivism, we are never wrong in our moral judgments. Emotivism doesn’t interpret moral judgments as true or false statements. Because commands and expressions of attitude cannot be true or false, people cannot “be right” or “wrong” with respect to them..but this is a problem. Emotivism Downfall - Although we’re not always right in our evaluations, sometimes our moral judgments are true and sometimes they’re false. - Emotivists cannot say this, because they deny that moral discourse is about stating facts. - eg a person helps another person in distress and is heroic and obviously right in doing so. If someone says “that person acted badly, they shouldn’t have helped”, a simple subjectivist would have to say his moral judgment was true, and an emotivist cannot say that the person is false, they can only say that person was expressing their feelings - As well, emotivism cannot explain the role reason plays in ethics. SUMMARY - both theories imply that our moral judgments cannot be criticized - simple subjectivism because our judgments will always be true - emotivism because they aren’t judgments at all, just expressions of attitude - which cannot be false. The Role of Reason in Ethics - a moral judgment must be supported by good reasons - reason can play no important role in emotivist’s expressions of attitude, because they are like personal preferences - reasons can be manipulated and irrelevant in emotivist’s trying to influence other people, any claim that would persuade the listener to conform to your judgment can be considered a reason - eg saying “Don’t vote for Obama”, when speaking to someone who is prejudiced against muslims, you can follow with “Obama is a Muslim” and under emotivism that can be considered a reason to conform - the reason must be relevant to the judgment, and psychological influence doesn’t always imply relevance. - in this case, being Muslim is irrelevant of one’s ability to be a good president, regardless of the psychological connection in anyone’s mind. - As well, the reason must be true - Obama isn’t a Muslim. Therefore: Emotivism doesn’t work Moral Truths - Moral truths are truths of reason - aka a moral judgment is true if it is backed by better reasons than the alternative - On this view, moral truths are objective in the sense that they are true independently of what we might think or want. - we can’t make something good or bad just by wishing it so, because our will cannot change what the reasons are - this also explains our fallibility: we can be wrong about what is good or bad because we can be wrong about what reason recommends. Reason says what it says, regardless of our opinions or desires. Proofs in Ethics - if we can support our moral judgments with good reasons, and we can explain why those reasons matter as well as proving that no comparable case can be made, it is absurd to say that they are nothing but “opinions” - Still people believe that moral judgments are “unprovable”, because - a) they want scientific proof that can be experimentally tested, but in ethics rational thinking consists in giving reasons, analyzing arguments, etc. The two are different, but that doesn’t make ethical proof deficient - b) in ethics, we tend to think of the most difficult issues like abortion and it’s easy to think having “proof” is impossible, BUT the same is true of science, there are matters that physicists can’t agree on but that doesn’t mean that there are no proofs in physics SUMMARY - Moral thinking and moral conduct are a matter of weighing reasons and being guided by them. - But being guided by reason is very different from following one’s feelings. - When we have strong feelings, we may be tempted to ignore reason and go with the feelings. But in doing so, we would be opting out of moral thinking altogether. - That is why, because it focuses on attitudes and feelings, Ethical Subjectivism doesn’t work Philosophy Reading 4: Jan 21st-23rd The Presumed Connection between Morality and Religion - people commonly believe that morality can only be understood in the context of religion - therefore, religious groups are assumed to be authorities on morality The Divine Command Theory - “The right is that which God commands, the wrong is that which God prohibits” - actions that
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