Section 5.1 - Don't Question Authority: Might Makes Right
1. The fact of moral disagreement has led many to adopt subjective absolutism. On this view, what makes an action right is that one approves of it.
2. According to subjective absolutism what makes an action right is that one approves of it.
Suppose that someone approves of action A. Then A would be morally right.
Suppose that someone else disapproves of
A. Then A would be morally wrong.
But it’s logically impossible for the same action to be both right and wrong.
3. According to subjective relativism, what makes an action right for someone is that it is approved by that person.
Subjective relativism avoids the charge of inconsistency that undermined subjective absolutism because moral judgments are relative to the individual making them.
We are morally infallible; we can’t make mistaken moral judgments.
Moral disagreement becomes next to impossible.
It sanctions obviously immoral actions.
4. According to emotivism, moral utterances are expressions of emotion.
Because moral utterances are not statements, it avoids the inconsistency of subjective absolutism.
But it fails to account for the fact of moral disagreement.
5. Blanshard’s Rabbit thought experiment.
Suppose we come upon a dead rabbit caught in a trap who obviously struggled for days to get free.
We would normally say, “It’s a bad thing that the rabbit suffered so.”
Emotivists would have us believe that such a statement is not a judgment but an expression of emotion.
6. According to cultural relativism, what makes an action right is that it is approved by one’s culture.
7. In this view, individuals are not morally infallible, but cultures are.
It’s impossible to disagree with one’s culture and be right.
8. Moral disagreement is about the views of one’s culture.
The theory is unworkable because there’s no way to identify one’s true culture.
9. The Anthropological Argument for Cultural Relativism.
People in different societies make different moral judgments regarding the same action.
If so, they must accept different moral standards.
If they accept different moral standards, there are no universal moral standards.
Therefore, there are no universal moral standards.
10. From the fact that people disagree about the morality of an action, it doesn’t follow that there is no fact of the matter as to whether it is right.
From the fact that people make different moral judgments, it doesn’t follow that they accept different moral standards.
11. Moral standard + factual beliefs = moral judgment.
If people make different moral judgments, it may be because they have different beliefs about the facts of the case.
12. According to the Divine Command Theory, what makes an action right is that God commands it to be done.
In this view, morality is dependent of God.
13. Is an action right because God commands it to be done or does God command it to be done because it’s right?
According to the second alternative, morality does not depend on God.
According to the divine command theory, God could have commanded us to kill, rape, steal, and torture.
But killing, raping, stealing, and torturing are wrong.
14. If God is by definition good (and thus couldn’t command those things), then God can’t be used to define goodness, for the definition would be circular.
If God’s commands are not based on reasons, then they are irrational and arbitrary.
But we have no moral obligation to obey irrational and arbitrary commands.
Moreover, one who acts irrationally and arbitrarily is not worthy of worship.
15. Leibniz on the Divine Command Theory.
“In saying that things are good simply by the will of God, one destroys without realizing it, all the love of God and all his glory; for why praise him for what he has done, if he would be equally praiseworthy in doing the contrary? Where will be his wisdom if he has only a certain despotic power?”
16. Pike on the Divine Command Theory.
“It is a necessity for God to be just, loving, merciful. He cannot be unjust, cruel, merciless….As is it is impossible to make two and two be five…so it is impossible for the Deity to make crime a merit, and love and gratitude crimes.”
17. There are many commands attributed to God in the Bible that we know are immoral.
But if we can judge the dictates of God or the Bible to be immoral, we must have a standard of morality that’s independent of God or the Bible.
18. Some moral principles are self-evident--if you understand them, you know that they are true, such as unnecessary suffering is wrong and equals should be treated equally.
Section 5.2 - The End Justifies the Means: Good Makes Right
1. According to consequentialism (teleology), the rightness of an action is determined by its consequences
According to formalism (deontology), the rightness of an action is determined by its form (by the kind of action it is).
2. Consequentialist ethical theories usually define the right in terms of the good.
Extrinsically or instrumentally valuable things are good because of what you can do with them. For example, money is extrinsically valuable.
Intrinsically valuable things are good in and of themselves, regardless of what you can do with them. For example, happiness is intrinsically valuable.
3. According to ethical egoism, what makes an action right is that it promotes one’s own best interest.
In this view, one’s only moral obligation is to oneself.
4. Psychological hedonism is a theory of human motivation.
According to psychological hedonism, the only thing that individuals can desire is their own happiness.
We are morally obligated to perform an action only if we are able to perform it.
We are able to perform an action only if we believe that it will maximize our happiness.
Therefore, we are morally obligated to perform an action only if we believe that it will maximize our happiness.
5. A good scientific theory should be informative—it should tell us something about the world.
If a theory is consistent with all possible states of affairs—like the claim that either it’s raining or it’s not raining—it’s not informative.
Because psychological hedonism is consistent with all possible states of affairs, it, too, is uninformative.
6. Feinberg’s Single Minded Hedonist thought experiment.
Imagine a person (Jones) who has no intellectual curiosity, who does not appreciate nature or art, who has no interest in athletics or politics, and who has no talent for crafts or commerce.
But Jones does desire to be happy.
Can Jones achieve happiness?
7. Problems with ethical egoism.
It confuses the object of our desires with the result of satisfying them.
Those who believe in the theory can’t advocate it.
8. It discriminates against others.
9. According to act-utilitarianism, what makes an action right is that it maximizes happiness, everyone considered.
The way to determine whether an action is right is to consider whether it produces more total happiness than any other action one could perform.
10. Problems with act-utilitarianism.
All happiness cannot be weighed on one scale because there are different types of happiness.
Even if happiness could be weighed on one scale, it’s unclear whether future generations should be included in the measurement.
11. Jeremy Bentham believed that since animals can suffer, an action’s effect on animals should be taken into account when performing utilitarian calculations.
Is it possible for us to gauge animal suffering?
If so, how much should animal suffering be weighed in the calculation? As much as human suffering?
12. According to act-utilitarianism, the end justifies the means—as long as one maximizes happiness, it doesn’t matter what means one uses to do so.
13. Act utilitarianism is inconsistent with the notion of rights—that certain things should not be done to others even if they produce good consequences.
14. McCloskey’s Utilitarian Informant.
Suppose a Negro rapes a white woman and that race riots occur as a result of the crime.
Suppose further that a utilitarian knows that falsely accusing a Negro will stop the riots.
Should he accuse the innocent Negro?
15. Brandt’s Utilitarian Heir.
Suppose that Mr. X and his family are destitute and that his father, who is ill and in a nursing home, is well-to-do.
Suppose further that Hastening his father’s death would produce more happiness than letting him waste away in the nursing home.
Should Mr. X hasten his father’s death?
16. Problems with Duties.
We have a number of duties to others, including a duty not to break our promises.
Act-utilitarianism maintains, on the contrary, that our only duty is to maximize happiness.
17. Ross’s Unhappy Promise.
Suppose that fulfilling a promise would produce 1000 units of happiness.
Suppose that breaking the promise and doing something else would produce 1001 units of happiness.
Should one break the promise?
18. Godwin’s Fire Rescue.
Suppose that an archbishop and your brother are caught in a fire and only one of them can be saved.
Saving the Archbishop would produce more happiness than saving your brother.
Should you save the Archbishop?
19. Justice requires that equals be treated equally.
According to act-utilitarianism, if treating equals unequally maximizes happiness, then we should act unjustly.
20. Ewing’s Utilitarian Torture.
“Suppose we could slightly increase the collective happiness of ten men by taking away all happiness from one of them.”
Should we take away that man’s happiness?
21. Ewing’s Innocent Criminal.
Suppose that we can’t find the criminal who committed a crime.
Suppose further that we have a suspect who would benefit from incarceration and whose incarceration would deter others from crime.
Should we put the suspect in jail?
22. According to rule-utilitarianism, what makes an action right is that it falls under a rule that, if generally followed, would maximize happiness, everyone considered.
To decide whether an action is right, we must decide what rule it falls under and whether generally following that rule would maximize happiness.
23. A morally correct rule is one that, if followed, would maximize happiness.
Rules that would maximize happiness, however, would have exceptions.
Rules with enough exceptions, however, would sanction the same actions as act-utilitarianism.
24. Nozick’s Experience Machine.
Suppose a machine could give you any experience you desired.
Would you plug in? For how long?
Would there be anything wrong with spending your entire life in such a machine?
Nozick’s Experience Machine suggests that happiness is not the only thing that is intrinsically valuable.
Section 5.3 Much Obliged: Duty Makes Right
1. For Kant, the only thing that’s intrinsically valuable is a good will. “It is impossible to conceive anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be taken as good without qualification, except a good will.”
To have a good will is to make choices in accordance with moral principles.
2. Moral principles can be viewed as imperatives, for they command us to do (or not do) certain things.
A categorical imperative is one that must be obeyed under all conditions.
Kant’s view is that moral principles are categorical.
3. According to the first formulation of the categorical imperative, what makes an action right is that everyone could act on it, and you would be willing to have everyone act on it.
A principle is universalizable if everyone can act on it.
A principle is reversible if the person acting on it would be willing to have everyone act on it.
4. A perfect duty is one that must always be performed no matter what, such as never lying, never stealing, never breaking one’s promise, etc.
An imperfect duty is one that does not always have to be performed, such as developing one’s talents and helping the needy.
5. Hare’s Nazi Fanatic suggests that there’s more to acting morally than following the categorical imperative.
Suppose that a Nazi fanatic is considering whether he should act on the principle “Kill all the Jews.”
The principle is universalizable; it is possible for everyone to act on it.
If the fanatic would be willing to die if he were a Jew, the principle would also be reversible.
6. Ross’s Good Samaritan suggests that moral principles can’t be categorical; there are always exceptions. Suppose you had promised to meet someone at a certain time.
Suppose further that you could prevent an accident or bring relief to the victims of one by breaking the promise.
Should you break it?
7. According to the second formulation of the categorical imperative, what makes an action right is that it treats people as ends in themselves and not merely as a means to an end.
To treat people as ends in themselves is to respect their right to choose for themselves how they want to live.
8. Broad’s Typhoid Man also shows that we cannot follow Kant’s principles categorically.
Suppose that someone is suffering from typhoid fever.
If we quarantine him, we are treating him merely as a means to the safety of others.
If we don’t quarantine him, we are treating others merely as a means to his comfort and culture.
9. Ewing’s Prudent Diplomat.
Suppose that telling a lie would avert the third world war.
Wouldn’t we be morally obligated to do so?
10. Ross’s Prima Facie Duties.
An actual duty is one that we are morally obligated to perform in a particular situation.
A prima facie duty is one that we are morally obligated to perform in every situation unless there are extenuating circumstances.
11. Ross’s Pluralistic Formalism.
If moral duties could be ranked hierarchically, we could resolve conflicts among them by simply consulting the ranking.
According to Ross’s pluralistic formalism, what makes an action right is that it falls under the highest ranked prima facie duty in a given situation.
12. Duties often conflict. Deciding which duty to act on is like evaluating a work of art; it requires evaluating many different qualities.