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Louis Pojman, James Fieser
Book Outline to Seventh Edition
Prepared by James Fieser with additions by Sandra Dreisbach
1) Introduction
i) Kitty Genovese example
2) Ethics and its subdivisions
i) Philosophy
(a) Clarify concepts, analyze and test propositions and beliefs
(b) Major task is to analyze and construct arguments
ii) Ethics vs. morality
(a) Both terms derive their meaning from the idea of “custom”, that is, normal
(b) Moral: Latin word “mores”
(c) Ethical: Greek “ethos”
iii) The study of ethics draws on three subdivisions
(a) Descriptive morality: actual beliefs, customs, principles, and practices of
people and cultures
(b) Moral philosophy (ethical theory): the systematic effort to understand moral
concepts and justify moral principles and theories
(c) Applied ethics: deals with controversial moral problems, e.g., abortion,
premarital sex, capital punishment, euthanasia, and civil disobedience
3) Morality as compared with other normative subjects
i) Religion
(a) Morality can be independent of religion
(b) The practice of morality need not be motivated by religious considerations
(c) Moral principles need not be grounded in revelation or divine authority
(d) Limitation: we don’t agree about the authority behind religious rules
ii) Law
(a) Many laws are instituted in order to promote well-being, resolve conflicts of
interest, and promote social harmony, just as morality does
(b) Ethics may judge that some laws are immoral
(c) Some aspects of morality are not covered by law
1. e.g., helping others in need
2. It is impractical to have laws against bad intentions, but bad intentions
are still immoral
(d) Limitation: you can’t have a law against every social problem, or enforce
every desirable rule
iii) Etiquette
(a) Etiquette determines what is polite behavior rather than what is right behavior
in a deeper sense
(b) Limitation: it doesn’t get to the heart of what is vitally important for personal
and social existence
4) Traits of moral principles
i) Prescriptivity: the practical, or action-guiding, nature of morality; involves commands
ii) Universalizability: moral principles must apply to all people who are in a relevantly
similar situation
iii) Overridingness: moral principles have predominant authority and override other kinds
of principles
iv) Publicity: moral principles must be made public in order to guide our actions
v) Practicability: moral principles must be workable and its rules must not lay a heavy
burden on us when we follow them
5) Domains of ethical assessment
i) Action
(a) Right act: permissible
1. Obligatory act: morality requires you to do
2. Optional act: neither obligatory nor wrong to do
i. Neutral act
ii. Supererogatory act: exceed what morality requires
(b) Wrong act: you have an obligation, or a duty, to refrain from doing
(c) Deontological ethical ethics: something is inherently right or good about such
acts as truth-telling and promise-keeping and inherently wrong or bad about
such acts as lying and promise-breaking
1. e.g. Ten Commandments, Golden Rule, Kant’s Categorical Imperative
ii) Consequences
(a) If the consequences are on balance positive, then the action is right; if
negative, then wrong
(b) Teleological ethical theories: focus primarily on consequences in determining
moral rightness and wrongness
iii) Character: moral assessment based
(a) Virtue theories: moral assessment is based on good or bad character traits of
iv) Motive
(a) Two acts may appear identical on the surface, but we may judge them
differently based on the motives of agent
1) Introduction
i) Examples: missionaries imposing their values on tribal cultures
ii) Ethnocentrism: the prejudicial view that interprets all of reality through the eyes of
one’s own cultural beliefs and values
iii) Moral objectivism: there are universal moral principles, valid for all people and social
iv) Ethical nihilism: no valid moral principles exist, that morality is a complete fiction
v) Two kinds of ethical relativism
(a) Subjective Ethical Relativism (subjectivism): all moral principles are justified
by virtue of their acceptance by an individual agent him or herself
(b) Conventional ethical relativism (conventionalism): all moral principles are
justified by virtue of their cultural acceptance
2) Subjective Ethical Relativism (Subjectivism)
i) Moral judgments are person-relative
ii) Criticism: notions of good and bad cease to have interpersonal evaluative meaning
3) Conventional Ethical Relativism (Conventionalism)
i) The diversity and dependency theses
(a) Diversity Thesis: What is considered morally right and wrong varies from
society to society, so there are no universal moral standards held by all
1. Anthropological contention, also called “cultural relativism”
(b) Dependency Thesis: Whether or not it is right for an individual to act in a
certain way depends on or is relative to the society to which he or she belongs
ii) Argument for intercultural tolerance (anthropologist Melville Herskovits)
(a) The argument
1. If morality is relative to its culture, then there is no independent basis
for criticizing the morality of any other culture but one’s own
2. If there is no independent way of criticizing any other culture, then we
ought to be tolerant of the moralities of other cultures
3. Morality is relative to its culture
4. Therefore, we ought to be tolerant of the moralities of other cultures
(b) Criticisms of the argument for tolerance
1. Tolerance is a value that some societies could adopt, and others reject
4) Criticisms of Conventional Ethical Relativism
i) Undermines important values
(a) Can’t criticize anyone who espouses heinous principles (Hitler’s genocidal
(b) Moral reformers are always wrong (civil disobedience isn’t justifiable)
(c) Unless we have an independent moral basis for law, it is hard to see why we
have any general duty to obey it
ii) Leads to Subjectivism
(a) Problem: since we are members of different subcultures, we can be morally
right and wrong at the same time (e.g., a Catholic having a legal abortion in
the US)
(b) Relativists might reply that we can choose which subgroup to follow;
however, this collapses into subjectivism since individuals would essentially
be creating their own values by selectively choosing their subgroup
iii) Moral diversity is exaggerated
(a) There are some core moral values that we see throughout the world (O.E.
Wilson, rejection of the diversity thesis)
(b) e.g., duties of restitution and reciprocity, regulations on sexual behavior,
obligations of parents to children, a no-unnecessary harm principle, and a
sense that the good people should flourish and the guilty people should suffer
iv) Weak dependency does not imply relativism
(a) Two dependency theses
1. Weak view: the application of moral principles depends on one’s
2. Strong view: the moral principles themselves depend on one’s culture
(b) The non-relativist can accept the weak view
(c) Relativists need the strong view, which is difficult to prove since it requires
ruling out all rival sources of substantive moral principles
v) The indeterminacy of translation (Quine)
(a) Languages are often so fundamentally different from each other that we
cannot accurately translate concepts from one to another; this seems to imply
that each society’s moral principles depend upon its unique linguisticallygrounded culture
(b) Criticism: we do learn foreign languages and learn to translate across
linguistic frameworks
1) Introduction
i) Example of enslaved girl from Mali
ii) Moral objectivism: there are universal moral principles, valid for all people and social
iii) Moral absolutism: there are nonoverridable moral principles that one ought never
2) Aquinas’s Objectivism and Absolutism
i) Natural law theory
(a) Natural law: morality is a function of human nature, and reason can discover
valid moral principles by looking at the nature of humanity and society
(b) Three features of natural law theory
1. Human beings have an essential rational nature established by God,
who designed us to live and flourish in prescribed ways (from
Aristotle and the Stoics)
2. Even without knowledge of God, reason, as the essence of our nature,
can discover the laws necessary for human flourishing (from Aristotle;
developed by Aquinas)
3. The natural laws are universal and unchangeable, and one should use
them to judge individual societies and their positive laws. Positive (or
actual) laws of societies that are not in line with the natural law are not
truly laws but counterfeits (from the Stoics)
ii) Doctrine of Double Effect (DDE)
(a) Moral laws are absolute, but the DDE allows for the resolution of some moral
dilemmas under strict conditions
(b) Four conditions for an act to be moral
1. The nature-of-the-act condition. The action must be either morally
good or indifferent. Lying or intentionally killing an innocent person is
never permissible
2. The means-end condition. The bad effect must not be the means by
which one achieves the good effect
3. The right-intention condition. The intention must be the achieving of
only the good effect, with the bad effect being only an unintended side
effect. If the bad effect is a means of obtaining the good effect, then
the act is immoral. The bad effect may be foreseen but must not be
4. The proportionality condition. The good effect must be at least
equivalent in importance to the bad effect
(c) Examples
1. Abortion: abortion is not permissible but if the mother has cervical
cancer and her life is at risk, she can have a hysterectomy which will
kill the fetus as the unintended effect
2. Also used to condemn contraception use and defend strategic bombing
(d) Problems with the DDE
1. Some of the prescriptions implied by the DDE are counterintuitive
2. Trolley car example
3. Different ways of describing an act
4. DDE tied too closely with human purposes ordained by God, which
runs counter to evolution
(e) Conclusion about absolutism
1. Alternative to DDE and absolutism: prima facie duties: valid rules of
action that one should generally adhere to but that, in cases of moral
conflict, may be overridable by another moral principle
2. Absolutism is not necessary for objectivism
3) Moderate objectivism
i) Argument against moral relativism
(a) Acceptance of at least one objective moral principle
(b) “It is morally wrong to torture people for the fun of it”
ii) Core morality
(a) Do not kill innocent people
(b) Do not cause unnecessary pain or suffering
(c) Do not lie or deceive
(d) Do not steal or cheat
(e) Keep your promises and honor your contracts
(f) Do not deprive another person of his or her freedom
(g) Do justice, treating people as they deserve to be treated
(h) Reciprocate: Show gratitude for services rendered
(i) Help other people, especially when the cost to oneself is minimal
(j) Obey just laws
iii) Argument for core morality from our common human nature
(a) Human nature is relatively similar in essential respects, having a common set
of basic needs and interests
(b) Moral principles are functions of human needs and interests, instituted by
reason to meet the needs and promote the most significant interests of human
(or rational) beings
(c) Some moral principles will meet needs and promote human interests better
than other principles
(d) Principles that will meet essential human needs and promote the most
significant interests in optimal ways are objectively valid moral principles
(e) Therefore, since there is a common human nature, there is an objectively valid
set of moral principles, applicable to all humanity (or rational beings)
4) Ethical situationalism
i) Ethical situationalism: objective moral principles are to be applied differently in
different contexts
1) Introduction
i) Automobile example: valuing convenience over risk
ii) Rescher’s list of eight basic values
1. Material and physical value: health, comfort, physical security
2. Economic value: economic security, productiveness
3. Moral value: honesty, fairness, kindness
4. Social value: generosity, politeness, graciousness
5. Political value: freedom, justice
6. Aesthetic value: beauty, symmetry, grace
7. Religious value: piety, obedience, faith
8. Intellectual value: intelligence, clarity, knowledge
2) Intrinsic and instrumental value
i) Intrinsic goods: are good because of their nature, and are not derived from other
(a) e.g., pleasure and pain: we do not need any arguments to convince us that
pleasure is good or that gratuitous pain is intrinsically bad
ii) Instrumental goods: are worthy of desire because they are effective means of attaining
our intrinsic goods
3) The value of pleasure
i) Hedonism: all pleasure is good, that pleasure is the only thing good in itself, and that
all other goodness is derived from this value
(a) Sensualism: equates all pleasure with sensual enjoyment
1. Aristippus: the good is sensual pleasure
(b) Satisfactionism: all pleasure with satisfaction or enjoyment, which may not
involve sensuality
1. Epicurus: a broader notion of pleasure that includes “sober reasoning,
searching out the motives for all choice and avoidance”
ii) Nonhedonists: deny that pleasure is the highest good
(a) Monists: there is a single intrinsic value, but that it is not pleasure
(b) Pluralists: pleasure is one of many intrinsic goods along with knowledge,
friendship, aesthetic beauty, freedom, love, moral goodness, and life itself
iii) Mill: there were different qualities of pleasure, some higher, others lower
4) Are values objective or subjective?
i) Values are objective
(a) Plato: goods have an independent existence of values apart from human or
rational interest
(b) Moore: Good is a simple, unanalyzable quality known through intuition
(c) Weaker objectivism: values are emergent properties or qualities in the nature
of things
ii) Values are subjective
(a) Perry: values as merely products of conscious desire
5) The relation of value to morality
i) Whether the moral notions of right and wrong are themselves intrinsic values
6) The good life
i) How values are connected with human happiness and the good life
ii) Objectivism: happiness is a single ideal for human nature
(a) Human purpose or telos: we have an innate purpose towards which we all
strivePlato: happiness is “harmony of the soul.”
iii) Subjectivism: happiness is in the eyes of the beholder
(a) I am the only one who decides or knows whether I am happy
iv) Combination view: incorporates both objectivism and subjectivism
(a) Rawls’s “plan of life” conception of happiness: there are primary goods that
function as the core from which may be derived any number of possible life
v) Missing ingredients of the happiness machine:
(a) Action: we are entirely passive in the machine
(b) Freedom: we want to make choices
(c) Character: we want to be something and someone
(d) Relationships: there are no real people in our Happiness Machine life
1) Introduction
i) Immoral car dealership example
ii) Social contract theory: the moral and political theory that people collectively agree to
behave morally as a way to reduce social chaos and create peace
iii) Two specific questions
(a) Why does society need moral rules?
(b) Why should I be moral?
2) Why does society need moral rules
i) Hobbes and the State of Nature
(a) Human nature
1. Human beings always act out of perceived self-interest
2. We are equally able to harm others, and have equal desires to satisfy
our goals
(b) State of nature
1. A war of all against all where there are no common ways of life, no
enforced laws or moral rules, and no justice or injustice
(c) Social contract
1. We give up some of our liberty in exchange for peace
2. We establish rules of law and create a government assures that we
follow the rules out of fear of punishment
(d) Morality is a form of social control
ii) Hobbesian Morality and “Lord of the Flies”
(a) Boys ages six to twelve from an English private school, cast adrift on an
uninhabited Pacific island, create their own social system, which dissolves
into chaos
(b) Problem: the devil emerges from the depths of the subconscious whenever
there is a conflict of interest or a moment of moral laziness
(c) Solution: we need social rules (formed over the ages and internalized within
us) to hold us back and defeat the devil in society
iii) Social Order and the Benefits of Morality
(a) Five social benefits of establishing and following moral rules
1. Keep society from falling apart;
2. Reduce human suffering;
3. Promote human flourishing;
4. Resolve conflicts of interest in just and orderly ways;
5. Assign praise and blame, reward and punishment, and guilt
3) Why should I be moral?
i) The Story of Gyges
(a) Story: Shepherd finds a ring that makes him invisible; he thus uses it to kill
the king, seduce the queen and become king himself
(b) Point: If I can break moral rules when they benefit me without getting caught,
what motivation is there for me to accept the moral viewpoint at all
ii) Plato’s first answer: we should choose the life of the “unsuccessful” just person
because it’s to our advantage to be moral
(a) Criticism: the harm that good people suffer is in fact not compensated by
one’s inner goodness
iii) Plato’s second answer: God will reward or punish people on the basis of their virtue
or vice
(a) Criticism: we do not know for certain whether there is a God or life after
4) Morality, self-interest and game theory
i) Game theory: models of social interaction involving games in which players make
decisions that will bring each of them the greatest benefit
ii) Game 1: The Prisoner’s Dilemma
(a) Each player will be forced to look out for his or her own best interests and
violate their original agreement to stay silent
(b) Implication for ethics: it’s better for me to secretly violate society’s rules,
regardless of what other people do
(c) Criticism: the prisoner’s dilemma is a poor model since it inaccurately depicts
moral choices as a one shot event
iii) Game 2: Cooperate or Cheat
(a) In this game it is best to follow the principle “Always cooperate if the other
fellow does and cheat only if he cheats first.”
(b) Implication for ethics: rational self-interest over the long run would demand
that and you and I cooperate
iv) Conclusion: the reason that I should be moral is that it is reasonable for me to allow
some disadvantage for myself so that I may reap an overall, long-run advantage
5) The Motivation to Always be Moral
i) The paradox of morality and advantage
(a) Lingering problem: why should I be moral all of the time
(b) Expressed in this paradox
1. If an act is morally right, then it must be reasonable to do it
2. If it is reasonable to do the act, then it must be in my interest to do it
3. But sometimes the requirements of morality are incompatible with the
requirements of self-interest
4. Hence, a morally right act must be reasonable and need not be
reasonable, which is a contradiction
(c) Premise 2 (principle of rational self-interest): If it is reasonable to do the act,
then it must be in my interest to do it
1. Criticism: wrongly assumes ethical egoism; we sometimes have good
reasons for doing something that goes against our interest (e.g.,
helping the needy)
ii) Modified Principle of Rational Self-Interest
(a) The principle: If it is reasonable to choose a life plan L, which includes the
possibility of doing act A, then it must be in my interest (or at least not against
it) to choose L, even though A itself may not be in my self-interest
(b) Solution to paradox: while the individual moral act may occasionally conflict
with one’s self-interest, the entire life plan in which the act is embedded and
from which it flows is not against the individual’s self-interest
1) Introduction
i) Nestlé infant formula example
ii) Psychological egoism: we always do that act that we perceive to be in our own best
iii) Ethical egoism: everyone ought always to do those acts that will best serve his or her
own best self-interest
2) Psychological egoism
i) The Argument from Self-Satisfaction
(a) Lincoln example of rescuing a pig because it gave him peace of mind
(b) Two possible meanings
1. S1. For any act A, everyone does A in order to obtain satisfaction
i. Implies psychological egoism
2. S2. We all do the act we most want to do, and, as a consequence, we
are satisfied by the success of carrying out the act
i. Does not imply psychological egoism
(c) Other views of S1
1. S1-enlarged: we all want to be happy—to find satisfaction in life—and
everything we do we consciously do toward that end
2. S2. We all do the act we most want to do, and, as a consequence, we
are satisfied by the success of carrying out the act
i. False: we don’t always do what we want
3. S3. We always try to do what we most want to do and, as a
consequence of success in carrying out the act, experience satisfaction
(d) Criticism of the argument from self-satisfaction: it confuses the consequence
of an act with the purpose of an act
ii) The Paradox of Hedonism
(a) We all want to be happy, but we don’t want happiness at any price or to the
exclusion of certain other values (e.g., killing people to get rich)
(b) We have a higher probability of attaining happiness if we aim at
accomplishing worthy goals that will indirectly bring about happiness
iii) The Argument from Self-Deception
(a) Sometimes we are self-deceived about our motivation, but our underlying
motivational schemes are selfish
(b) Criticism 1: self-deception argument is unfalsifiable; no evidence could ever
count against it
(c) Criticism 2: the fallacy of unwarranted generalization; Just because we are
sometimes self-deceived about our motives, it doesn’t follow that we must
always be deceived
3) Ethical egoism
i) The Argument from Strict Psychological Egoism
(a) The argument
1. We all always seek to maximize our own self-interest (definition of
psychological egoism)
2. If one cannot do an act, one has no obligation to do that act (ought
implies can)
3. Altruistic acts involve putting other people’s interests ahead of our
own (definition of altruism)
4. But, altruism contradicts psychological egoism and so is impossible
(by premises 1 and 3)
5. Therefore, altruistic acts are never morally obligatory (by premises 2
and 4)
(b) Criticism 1: the success of this argument depends on the truth of
psychological egoism, which is doubtful
(c) Criticism 2: the argument only shows that altruistic acts are morally
obligatory; it does not follow from this that we ought to perform egoistic acts
ii) Hobbes’s Argument from Predominant Psychological Egoism
(a) Main points of Hobbes’s view
1. Selfishness forces us into chaos, and selfishness forces us to solve the
problem through mutually agreed-upon moral codes
2. Human action is predominantly motivated by self-interest: we are
heavily biased toward self-interest and cannot act altruistically without
unreasonable effort
3. We should fulfill our long-term rather than merely short-term interests
(b) Criticism: still seems to rest too heavily on psychological egoism; the option
is open within Hobbes’s theory to be more altruistic
iii) Smith’s Economic Argument
(a) Self-interest leads to the best overall situation for society through the
mechanism of laissez-faire capitalism (free market competition)
(b) Criticism 1: this goal of this argument is social benefit, not private selfinterest
(c) Criticism 2: economic theory may not translate into the realm of personal
(d) Criticism 3: it’s not clear that laissez-faire capitalism works; e.g.,
governmental intervention for welfare systems
iv) Rand’s Argument for the Virtue of Selfishness
(a) The argument
1. The perfection of one’s abilities in a state of happiness is the highest
goal for humans. We have a moral duty to attempt to reach this goal
2. The ethics of altruism prescribes that we sacrifice our interests and
lives for the good of others
3. Therefore, the ethics of altruism is incompatible with the goal of
4. Ethical egoism prescribes that we seek our own happiness exclusively,
and as such it is consistent with the happiness goal
5. Therefore, ethical egoism is the correct moral theory
(b) Criticism 1: commits the fallacy of a false dilemma; it assumes that absolute
altruism and absolute egoism are the only two alternatives
1. Middle option: sometimes the best way to reach self-fulfillment is for
us to forget about ourselves and strive to live for goals, causes, or
other persons
(c) Criticism 2: confuses self-interest with selfishness (
1. Self-interest: we promote our own good, although not necessarily at
any cost
2. Selfishness: I sacrifice the good of others for my own good, even when
it is unjust to do so
4) Arguments against ethical egoism
i) The Inconsistent Outcomes Argument
(a) The argument
1. Moral principles must be universal and categorical
2. I must universalize my egoist desire to come out on top over Tom,
Dick, and Harry
3. But, I must also prescribe Tom’s egoist desire to come out on top over
Dick, Harry, and me (and so on)
4. Therefore, I have prescribed incompatible outcomes and have not
provided a way of adjudicating conflicts of desire. In effect, I have
said nothing
(b) Response (Kalin): we can separate our beliefs about ethical situations from
our desires
ii) The Publicity Argument
(a) An egoist cannot publicly advertise his egoistic project without harming that
very project
iii) The Paradox of Ethical Egoism
(a) True friendship is central to happiness, yet requires altruism; thus, to reach the
goal of egoism one must give up egoism and become an altruist
iv) The Argument from Counterintuitive Consequences
(a) Helping others at one’s own expense is not only not required, it is morally
v) The Problem of Future Generations
(a) Ethical egoism does not allow for obligations to future generations, yet we
seem to have such obligations (e.g., preserving natural resources)
(b) The egoist gains nothing by preserving natural resources for future
generations that do not yet exist and thus can give no benefit to the egoist
5) Evolution and Altruism
i) Main points of sociobiology
(a) Sociobiology: social structures and behavioral patterns are biologically based
and explained by evolutionary theory
(b) Behavior is determined evolutionarily by strategies replicate our gene
(c) Morality is an evolutionary strategy for gene replication
ii) Evolution and altruism
(a) An evolutionary system of reciprocal altruism is more successful than a
system of pure altruism or pure egoism
(b) Dawkins’s example of bird grooming: Grudger birds (reciprocal altruists) are
evolutionarily more successful than Sucker birds (pure altruists) or Cheater
birds (pure egoists)
(c) Sober’s hunter example: hunters altruistically give food to the entire tribe, but
they are rewarded by the tribe through honor; thus, the whole tribe benefits
through the reciprocal altruism of the hunters
1) Introduction
i) Dying millionaire request to give money to the Yankees
ii) Moral rules of thumb
(a) Let your conscience be your guide
(b) Do whatever is most loving
(c) Golden rule: do to others as they
iii) Moral theories
(a) Deontology: certain features in the act itself have intrinsic value
(b) Teleological ethics (consequentialism): the center of value is the outcome or
consequences of the act
2) Classical utilitarianism
i) Introduction: early influences
(a) Epicurus: “Pleasure is the goal that nature has ordained for us; it is also the
standard by which we judge everything good.”
(b) Hutcheson: “That action is best, which procures the greatest happiness for the
greatest numbers”
(c) Hume: introduced the term “utility”
ii) Jeremy Bentham
(a) Two main features
1. Consequentialist principle (teleological aspect): the rightness or
wrongness of an act is determined by the goodness or badness of its
2. Utility principle (hedonic aspect): the only thing that is good in itself is
some specific type of state (e.g., pleasure, happiness, welfare)
(b) Hedonic calculus: tally the consequences of actions according to seven aspects
of a pleasurable or painful experience
1. Intensity, duration, certainty, nearness, fruitfulness, purity, and extent
(c) Criticisms
1. Too simple: pleasure is not the only value
2. Too complex: too many variables to calculate
iii) John Stuart Mill
(a) Eudaimonistic utilitarianism: happiness consists of higher-order pleasures
(e.g., intellectual, aesthetic, and social enjoyments)
(b) Higher pleasures are better than lower pleasures
1. Test for higher pleasures: a panel of experts with experience of higher
and lower ones would give preference to the higher
(c) Criticism: Mill’s notion of happiness has little to do with actual pleasure and
more to do with a cultivated state of mind
3) Act and rule utilitarianism
i) Act-utilitarianism
(a) Definition: An act is right if and only if it results in as much good as any
available alternative
(b) Criticism: there is no time to do the necessary calculations
(c) Criticism: it runs contrary to intuitions about minimally correct behavior
ii) Rule-utlitarianism
(a) Definition: An act is right if and only if it is required by a rule that is itself a
member of a set of rules whose acceptance would lead to greater utility for
society than any available alternative
(b) Three levels of rules
1. First-order: rules of thumb, e.g., don’t steal, don’t lie
2. Second-order: conflict-resolving rules, e.g., “it is more important to
avoid causing serious harm than to tell the truth”
3. Third-order (remainder rule): when no other rule applies, simply do
what your best judgment deems to be the act that will maximize utility
iii) Negative responsibility: we are responsible for the consequences of our nonactions
that we fail to perform (not just the actions that we perform)
iv) Strengths of utilitarianism
(a) It offers a simple, action-guiding principle
(b) Gets to the substance of morality
(c) Answers the problem of posterity, e.g., why we should preserve scarce natural
resources for the betterment of future generations of humans that do not yet
1. We have a duty to maximize general happiness, and it does not matter
that we cannot identify these future people
4) Problems with utilitarianism
i) Problems in formulating utilitarianism
(a) Two variables: greatest happiness, greatest number
1. The two may come into conflict
(b) Who’s happiness: all beings that experience pleasure and pain, or all human
beings, or all rational beings
(c) How to measure happiness
ii) The comparative consequences objection
(a) We cannot calculate all the consequences of our actions
(b) Two kinds of consequences
1. Actual consequences of an act
2. Consequences that could reasonably have been expected to occur
(c) Two kinds of right actions
1. Absolutely right: if it has the best actual consequences
2. Objectively right: right if it is reasonable to expect that it will have the
best consequences
(d) Solution: only “objectively right” actions are relevant for utilitarianism
iii) The consistency objection to rule-utilitarianism
(a) In cases of moral dilemmas utilitarianism collapses into either a deontological
system or act-utlitarianism
1. That is, when consulting the remainder principle, we consult either act
utilitarianism or deontological moral intuitions
(b) Solution: morality is multi-layered and consists of both utilitarian reasoning
and consulting moral intuitions
iv) The no-rest objection
(a) There are always more utility-maximizing acts that I can perform, which
would make any leisure time wrong
(b) Solution: a rule prescribing rest and entertainment is actually the kind of rule
that would have a place in a utility-maximizing set of rules
v) The publicity objection
(a) Moral principles must be known to all; but utilitarianism usually hesitate to
recommend that everyone act as a utilitarian since it takes too much
deliberation to work out the consequences; instead, we should act as
(b) Solution 1: this objection applies only to act utilitarianism, not rule
(c) Solution 2: the objection shows a bias in favor of publicity, but publicity may
be overridden
1. Criticism: this solution places an unacceptably low value on the
benefits of publicity
vi) The relativism objection
(a) Utilitarianism is relativistic since it seems to endorse different rules in
different societies
(b) Solution 1: some of this is situationalism, not relativism
(c) Solution 2 (Hume): key components of happiness may be grounded in
universal aspects of human psychology
5) The problem of the ends justifying immoral means
i) General problem
(a) If a moral theory justifies actions that we universally deem impermissible,
then that moral theory must be rejected
(b) Utilitarianism justifies actions that we universally deem impermissible
(c) Therefore, utilitarianism must be rejected
ii) The lying objection
(a) Utilitarianism endorses lying when it serves the greater good
(b) Solution: truth-telling is not an absolute value
iii) The integrity objection
(a) Utilitarianism endorses compromising personal integrity when it serves the
greater good
(b) Solution: personal integrity is not an absolute value
iv) The justice objection
(a) Utilitarianism endorses compromising justice when it serves the greater good
1. e.g., framing an innocent person,
(b) Solution 1: for rule-utilitarians, justice is an important rule that should not
easily be dispensed with; however, sometimes it may be justifiable to sacrifice
innocent people for the greater good
1) Introduction
2) Kant’s Influences
i) Four influences
(a) Pietism: emphasis on inner goodness
(b) Rousseau: emphasis on freedom and autonomy
(c) Rationalism and empiricism debate
(d) Natural law intuitionist moral theories
ii) Rationalism and Empiricism
(a) Rationalism: pure reason could tell us how the world is, independent of
1. Moral knowledge is discovered through reason, by deducing general
principles about human nature
(b) Empiricism: no innate ideas, all knowledge comes from experience
1. Morality is founded entirely on the contingencies of human nature and
based on desire
(c) Kant’s position: morality is necessary, and not contingent on human nature
and empirical discovery; morality is grounded in our rational will, not our
iii) Intuitionism: Act and Rule
(a) Natural law theory: through rational intuitions imbedded in human nature by
God, we discover eternal and absolute moral principles
1. Aquinas: moral knowledge comes through a mental process called
2. Intuitionism: humans have a natural faculty which gives us an intuitive
awareness of morality
(b) Act-intuitionism (Butler): we must consult our moral intuition or conscience
in every situation to discover the morally right thing to do
1. Problem: people have different moral intuitions
2. Problem: rules are needed in all reasoning
3. Problem: morality involves a universal aspect which is missing from
act intuitionism
(c) Rule-intuitionism (Pufendorf): we must decide what is right or wrong in each
situation by consulting moral rules that we receive through intuition
1. Pufendorf’s three groups of intuitive rules of duty
i. Duties to God: know the existence and nature of God; worship
ii. Duties to oneself: develop one’s skills and talents; avoid
harming our bodies such as through gluttony or drunkenness,
and not killing oneself
iii. Duties to others: avoid wronging others, treat people as equals,
promote the good of others, keep one’s promises
(d) Kant’s position
1. Rule intuitionist of a sort: moral knowledge comes to us through
rational intuition in the form of moral rules
2. Duties towards God, oneself, and others: the duties towards God are
religious (not moral) and the others are moral
3) The Categorical Imperative
i) Intrinsic goodness and the good will
(a) Morality is intrinsically good, not instrumentally good
(b) The good will is the only intrinsic good that is good without qualification (the
good will cannot be misused)
(c) Criticism: the good will can be put to bad use
1. Response: something is morally valuable about the good will, apart
from any consequences
ii) Hypothetical vs. categorical imperatives
(a) All duties involve imperatives (commands)
(b) Hypotheticical imperatives: “If you want A, then do B”
1. This is a non-moral imperative and depends on one’s desires
(c) Categorical imperative: “Do B”
1. This is a moral imperative that is unqualified and does not depend on
one’s desires
(d) The general statement of the categorical imperative (CI): “Act only according
to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a
universal law.”
1. Universalizability test: take the maxim of an action, universalize the
maxim, reject the maxim if it cannot be successfully universalized
(e) Three specific formulations of the CI
1. Principle of the Law of Nature: “Act as though the maxim of your
action were by your will to become a universal law of nature.”
2. Principle of Ends: “So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own
person or in that of any other, in every case as an end and never as
merely a means.”
3. Principle of Autonomy: “So act that your will can regard itself at the
same time as making universal law through its maxims.”
iii) The formula of the law of nature: four examples
(a) Test for making a lying promise: we can’t universalize the maxim that
“Whenever I need money, I should make a lying promise while borrowing the
(b) Test for committing suicide: we can’t universalize the maxim that “Whenever
it looks like I will experience more pain than pleasure, I ought to kill oneself”
1. Criticism: we can universalize a maxim like this: “Whenever the pain
or suffering of existence erodes the quality of life in such a way as to
make nonexistence a preference to suffering existence, one is
permitted to commit suicide.”
(c) Test for neglecting one’s talent: we can’t universalize the maxim that “I may
refrain from developing my talents”
1. Criticism: we can universalize a maxim like this: “Whenever I am not
inclined to develop a talent, and this refraining will not seriously
undermine the social order, I may so refrain.”
(d) Test for refraining from helping others: we can’t universalize the maxim that
“I do not need to come to the aid of others whenever I am secure and
(e) Criticism: there is no contradiction with universalizing this
4) Counterexamples to the principle of the law of nature
i) Counterexample 1: CI mandates trivial actions
(a) Problem: maxim M generates principle P, which isn’t contradictory; thus M is
1. M: I should always tie my right shoe before my left shoe
(b) Solution: this shows only that such a rule is permissible, not obligatory, since
a rival rule could also be generated stating that we should put our left shoe on
before the right
ii) Counterexample 2: CI endorses cheating
(a) Problem: the following maxim may be universalizable
1. M1: When I need a term paper for a course and don’t feel like writing
one, and no change in the system will occur if I submit a store-bought
one, then I shall buy a term paper and submit it as my own work
(b) Solution: even this will undermine the system of education
iii) Counterexample 3: CI prohibits permissible actions
(a) Problem: maxim M generates principle P, which is physically impossible; thus
flushing the toilet at time t1 is impermissible
1. M: At time t1 I will flush the toilet
2. P: At time t1 everyone should flush their toilet
(b) Solution: modify M as follows
1. M: Whenever I need to flush the toilet and have no reason to believe
that it will set off the impairment or destruction of the community’s
plumbing system, I may do so
iv) Counterexample 4: CI permits genocide
(a) Problem: maxim M generates principle P which mandates genocide
1. M: Let me kill anyone who is American
2. P: Always kill Americans
(b) Solution: this shows only that such a rule is permissible, not obligatory, since
a rival rule could also be generated stating that we should not kill; still, killing
all Americans isn’t even permissible
5) Other Formulations of the Categorical Imperative
i) The principle of ends
(i) “So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of any
other, in every case as an end and never as merely a means.”
1. Humans are ends: we have ultimate value since we are valuers
(b) Best to see this principle as a supplement to the formulation of the law of
nature, rather than as being substantively the same
1. Formulate the maxim, apply the ends test, apply the universalization
(c) Problem 1: things other than reason have intrinsic value (e.g., animals)
(d) Problem 2: if reason is an intrinsic value, than people who have more reason
should have more value (e.g., geniuses have more intrinsic goodness)
1. Many animals exhibit minimally rational behavior, and thus have some
intrinsic value
(e) Problem 3: it doesn’t tell us how to deal with people in conflict situations,
such as euthanasia, the case of the inquiring killer, stealing from a pharmacy
to procure medicine
ii) The principle of autonomy
(a) “So act that your will can regard itself at the same time as making universal
law through its maxims.”
1. We can discover the nature of the moral law ourselves, without an
external authority
2. Autonomy (self-rule), vs. heteronomy (rule by others)
(b) Problem: people are less autonomous than we think
1. Milgram experiment: “teaches” were instructed to give electric shock
to “students” who fail to give the correct answer; the teachers
complied with the instructions
6) The problem of exceptionless rules
i) Problem: moral duties are absolute, and exceptionless
(a) e.g., it is never right to lie (case of the inquiring murderer)
ii) Solution 1: qualify general principles to make them more specific
(a) e.g., change “Never lie” to “Never lie, except to save an innocent person’s
(b) Criticism: there are no restrictions to such qualifications
iii) Solution 2: Ross and prima facie duties
(a) Intuitionism: internal self-evident perceptions that enable us to discover and
correctly apply moral principles
1. The moral intuitions of more reflective people count for more than
those of less reflective people
(b) Intuitive duties constitute a plural set of seven principles
(2) promise-keeping, (2) fidelity, (3) gratitude for favors, (4) beneficence, (5) justice,
(6) self-improvement, (7) nonmaleficence
(a) Intuitive duties are not absolute; every principle can be overridden by another
in a particular situation
1. Prima facie duty: duties are tentatively binding on us until one duty
conflicts with another
2. Actual duty: the stronger of two conflicting duties that overrides a
weaker one
(b) Application to Kant: our duties are prima facie, and in moral dilemmas the
stronger one becomes our actual duty
1. This transforms Kant’s absolutism into a modest objectivist system
2. Perhaps the “principle of ends” can mediate between conflicting prima
facie duties and determine which is the actual duty
7) The problem of posterity
i) Problem: what obligations do we owe to future generations
ii) Solution 1: our duties to future generations are imperfect (do not require precise
behavior towards particular people)
(a) i.e., an imperfect duty to promote the wellbeing of people who will exist in the
future—even if we don’t know who they are
(b) Criticism: this can be overridden by more compelling perfect duties (e.g.
iii) Solution 2: we have obligations to our children, and our children have obligations to
their children
(a) Criticism: Commits the fallacy of transitivity: If A has a duty X to B, and B
has a duty X to C, A has a duty X to C
8) Conclusion: a reconciliation project (Frankena’s mixed deontological ethics)
i) Two main principles
(a) Principle of beneficence (consequentialist)
1. One ought not to inflict evil or harm
2. One ought to prevent evil or harm
3. One ought to remove evil
4. One ought to do or promote good
(b) Principle of justice (deontological): treat every person with equal respect
because that is what each is due
ii) These are both prima facie and intuition determines which principle prevails in case
of conflict
1) Introduction
i) Virtues: trained behavioral dispositions that result in habitual acts of moral goodness.
Vice: trained behavioral dispositions that result in habitual acts of moral wrongness
ii) Virtue theory: morality involves producing excellent persons, who act well out of
spontaneous goodness and serve as examples to inspire others
iii) Cardinal virtues (Plato): wisdom, temperance, courage, and justice
iv) Theological virtues (Paul): faith, hope and charity
2) The nature of virtue ethics
i) Moral vs. nonmoral virtues
(a) Moral Virtues: Honesty, Benevolence, Nonmalevolence, Fairness, Kindness,
Conscientiousness, Gratitude
(b) Nonmoral Virtues: Courage, Optimism, Rationality, Self-control, Patience,
Endurance, Industry, Musical talent, Cleanliness, Wit
ii) The ideal type: Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics
(a) The morally virtuous life consists in living in moderation, according to the
“Golden Mean”
1. Courage is the mean between cowardice and foolhardiness; liberality
is the mean between stinginess and unrestrained giving
iii) The ideal individual
(a) Father Kolbe example
(b) Criticism (Susan Wolf): moral saints are unattractive because they lack the
“ability to enjoy the enjoyable in life,” are “dull-witted or humorless or
bland,” and their lives are “strangely barren”
3) Criticisms of action-based ethics
i) Introduction
(a) Virtue theory declined with the rise of utilitarianism and Kantian deontology;
recent dissatisfaction with the latter two theories as lead to a revival of virtue
(b) Virtue-based: (1) we should acquire good character traits, not simply act
according to moral rules; (2) morality involves being a virtuous person
(c) Action-based: (1) we should act properly by following moral rules; (2) we
judge people based on how they act, not on whether they are virtuous people
ii) Action-based ethics lack a motivational component
(a) Action-based ethics fails to motivate or inspire to action
iii) Action-based ethics are founded on an obsolete theological-legal model (Anscombe)
(a) Our concepts of moral obligation and moral duty are derived from a
theological-legal tradition that is no longer the dominant worldview
iv) Action-based ethics ignore the spontaneous dimension of ethics
(a) Action-based ethics focus on moral judgments and ignore the spontaneous
conduct that arises from good character traits
v) Action-based ethics are minimalist and neglect the development of character (Norton)
(a) Action-based ethics tend to be minimalist: moral rules safeguarding rights and
moral space; virtue-based ethics involves the duty to grow as a moral person
and take on greater moral responsibility
vi) Action-based ethics overemphasize autonomy and neglect community (MacIntyre)
(a) rule-governed ethics is a symptom of the Enlightenment, which exaggerated
the principle of autonomy at the expense of community and tradition
4) Connections between virtue-based and action-based ethics
i) Pure virtue-based ethics
(a) The virtues are dominant and have intrinsic value
(b) Moral rules or duties are derived from the virtues
(c) Criticisms
1. Epistemological problem: how we know which habits and emotions
constitute genuine virtues
2. Practical problem provides no guidance on resolving ethical dilemmas
ii) Standard action-based ethics: the correspondence thesis
(a) Three theses
1. Moral rules require persons to perform or omit certain actions virtues,
and these actions can be performed by persons who lack the various
virtues as well as by those who possess them
2. The moral virtues are dispositions to obey the moral rules
(correspondence theory of virtue)
3. The moral virtues have no intrinsic value but do have instrumental and
derivative value
iii) Standard action-based ethicist’s responses to the virtue-based criticisms
(a) Criticism: lack a motivational component
1. Response: we can honor the virtues and use them wisely without
distorting their role in life
(b) Criticism: founded on an obsolete theological-legal model
1. Response: we can separate the rational decision-making procedures
from the theological ones without violating those procedures
(c) Criticism: ignore the spontaneous dimension of ethics
1. Response: we can honor the virtues without restricting morality to
them completely
(d) Criticism: minimalism neglect the development of character
1. Response: minimalism is easy to universalize since it permits most of
life to go on without the scrutiny of morality
(e) Criticism: overemphasize autonomy and neglect community
1. Response: such emphasis on community implies ethical relativism
iv) Pluralistic (Complementarity) ethics
(a) Both action-based and virtue-based models are necessary for an adequate or
complete system
(b) Pluralistic ethics (like virtue theory) both reject the three theses of standard
action-based view
1. Moral rules require persons to perform or omit certain actions, and
virtues are irrelevant to this
i. Response: this neglects the close causal link between virtue
and action and ignores our moral obligations to be certain kinds
of people
2. The moral virtues are dispositions to obey the moral rules
(correspondence theory of virtue)
i. Response: while we don’t have direct control over our
emotions, we do have indirect control over them
3. The moral virtues have no intrinsic value but do have instrumental and
derivative value
i. Response: the virtues have intrinsic value and are not merely
derivative but part of what constitutes the good life
1) Introduction
i) Female genital mutilation example
ii) Alison Jaggar: five harms with the male bias in ethics
(a) Relegates to women subservient obligations (obedience, silence, and
(b) Confines women to a socially isolated domestic realm of society with little
legitimate political regulation
(c) Denies the moral agency of women, claiming they lack the capacity for moral
(d) Preference for masculine values over female ones (e.g., independence,
autonomy, intellect vs. interdependence, community, connection, sharing,
(e) Prefers male notions of moral rules, judgments about particular actions,
impartial moral assessments, contractual agreements.
iii) Two key questions
1. How do men and women psychologically differ from each other (if at all)?
2. Based on those psychological differences, how do men and women morally
differ from each other (if at all)?
2) Classic views
i) Aristotle: Women and Natural Subservience
(a)Psychological question: men are psychologically designed to command, and
women to obey
1. Different capacities of the soul
i. Slave: no deliberative faculty at all
ii. Women: the deliberative faculty without authority
iii. Child: an immature deliberative faculty
(b) Moral question: women have subservient virtues
2. Different virtues for different capacities of the soul
i. Man: temperance and courage in commanding
ii. Woman: temperance and courage in obeying
(c) Criticism: based on the roles of women in ancient patriarchal societies
ii) Rousseau: Women as Objects of Sexual Desire
(a) Psychological question: women are designed to sexually please men
“It is his strength that attracts her to him, and it is her allurement that
attracts him to her.”
(b) Moral question: women should learn to entice men
1. He depends on her cooperation to satisfy his sexual desires, and she
submits to his superior strength when she gets what she wants from him
iii) Wollstonecraft: Gender-Neutral Morality
(a) Psychological question: men and women are fundamentally the same
The apparent differences are the result of sexist education
(b) Moral question
1. Three features of personhood (what separates humans from animals):
reason, the exercise of virtue, and the passion for knowledge
2. All moral duties are human duties, and there are no special female
virtues or obligations
i. Child rearing: women are not necessarily good at it
ii. No special moral obligation to be subservient and sexually
iv) Instinct vs. Social Construction
(a) Criticism of Wollstonecraft: her basis for denying psychological gender
difference was based on her own experience as a women
(b) Nature-nurture issue regarding psychological gender differences
1. Today we are still unclear, and unsubstantiated stereotypes still abound
2. Toy study with rhesus monkeys: boys preferred wheeled toys over
dolls, girls preferred both
(c) Best to postpone answering the nature-nurture question for now
(d) But some psychological differences are so strong that they may form
foundations for gender differences in ethics
3) Female care ethics
i) Kohlberg and Gilligan: Justice vs. Care
(a) Kohlberg’s theory
i. Six stages of moral development, which move from selfishness to
impartial justice
(b) Gilligan’s theory
i. Criticism of Kohlberg: his study was used only males, and his justice
view of morality was male-oriented
ii. A woman’s moral point of view is different from a man’s
Men typically emphasize rights and principles of justice; women
typically focus on particular relationships
iii. Care-ethics: attitudes like caring and sensitivity to context is an
important aspect of the moral life
ii) Care and Particularism
(a) Moral particularism: morality always involves particular relations with
particular people, not lifeless abstractions
(b) Classical moral theory incorporates some particularism by recognizing special
obligations to family, friends, and local community
(c) Criticism: this is not a dominant feature of traditional ethics, and it may not go
far enough
iii) Care and Virtues
4) Four options regarding gender and ethics
i) Male-Only Option
ii) Female-Only Option
iii) Separate-but-Equal Option
iv) Mutually-Inclusive Option
1) Introduction
i) Example of Bishops attributing flooding to God’s judgment
2) Does morality depend on religion?
i) The divine command theory
(a) Definition: ethical principles are the commands of God
(b) Three theses
1. Morality (i.e., rightness and wrongness) originates with God
2. “Moral rightness” simply means “willed by God,” and “moral
wrongness” means “being against the will of God.”
3. Since morality essentially is based on divine will, not on
independently existing reasons for action, no further reasons for action
are necessary
(c) Four implications
1. Act A is wrong if and only if it is contrary to the command of God
2. Act A is right (required) if and only if it is commanded by God
3. Act A is morally permissible if and only if it is permitted by the
command of God
4. If there is no God, then nothing is ethically wrong, required, or
(d) Independence thesis
1. Morality does not originate with God (although the way God created
us may affect the specific nature of morality)
2. Rightness and wrongness are not based simply on God’s will
3. Essentially, there are reasons for acting one way or the other, which
may be known independent of God’s will
ii) Problems with the divine command theory
(a) Divine Command Theory would seem to make the attribution of “goodness”
to God redundant
(b) It seems to make morality into something arbitrary
1. If there are no constraints on what God can command, then anything
can become a moral duty and change from moment to moment
iii) Kant: god makes morality possible
(a) Argument for immortality: we are commanded to be morally perfect, and
since we cannot be perfect in this life in which we can make progress towards
this ideal
(b) Argument for God: morality requires harmony between virtue and happiness
(i.e., punishment and reward for our conduct), and since this it does not
happen in this life, it must in the next life where God is judge
(c) Criticism 2: if we find no convincing evidence for the existence of God, we
are justified in rejecting morality
3) Is religion irrelevant or even contrary to morality?
i) Russell: religion irrelevant to morality
(a) Without God one can be moral and, within the limits of thoughtful stoic
resignation, even happy
(b) Criticism 1 (Mavrodes): can’t satisfactorily answer the question “Why should
I be moral?”
(c) Criticism 2 (Mavrodes): it is superficial and not deeply rooted since it lacks
the necessary metaphysical basis (e.g., Plato’s forms)
ii) Hume: the immorality of god and religion
(a) The common notion of God is that of an immoral tyrant who acts out with
vengeance, severity, cruelty, and malice
(b) Religious practices themselves are typically contrary to morality
1. Believers attempt to please God through absurd religious rituals, and
not through moral behavior
(c) Criticism: believers can monitor their conceptions of God and religious
observance to avoid lapsing into immorality
iii) Nowell-Smith and Rachels: religion conflicts with moral autonomy
(a) Nowell-Smith: teligious morality, in being rule governed, is analogous to the
children who have not understood the wider purposes of the rules of games
(b) Rachels: no being is a fitting object of worship since it requires abandoning
1. Criticism: in worshiping God one does not have to give up autonomy
4) Does religion enhance the moral life?
i) The case for religion
(a) If there is a god, good will win out over evil
(b) If god exists, then cosmic justice reigns in the universe
(c) If theism is true, moral reasons always override nonmoral reasons
(d) If theism is true, then there is a god who loves and cares for us—his love
inspires us
(e) If there is a god who created us in his image, all persons are of equal worth
(f) If god exists, we have a compelling solution to the posterity problem
ii) The case against religion
(a) A lot of evil has been done by religious people in the name of religion
(b) We don’t know for sure whether a benevolent god exists
(c) Religious morality closes off dialogue
(d) Religious morality leads to group intolerance
(e) Religious morality threatens church-state separation
1) Introduction
i) Amnesty International example
ii) Fact-value problem: determining whether values are essentially different from facts,
whether moral assessments are derived from facts, whether moral statements can be
true and false like factual statements
iii) Metaethics: philosophizing about the very terms of ethics and considering the
structure of ethics as an object of inquiry
2) Hume and Moore: The Problem Classically Stated
i) Hume: The Fallacy of Deriving Ought from Is
(a) Fallacy of deriving ought from is: moving from statements about what “is” the
case to statements about what “ought” to be the case
(b) Hume’s solution: moral assessments are not rational inferences but emotional
1. Feelings of pleasure and pain that we experience in response to
witnessing or hearing about some event
ii) Moore: The Naturalistic Fallacy
(a) Naturalistic fallacy: identifying “good” with any specific natural property
such as “pleasure” or “being more evolved”
(b) “Good” is indefinable since it is a simple property (has no parts and thus
cannot be defined by constituent elements)
(c) Open-question argument: for any property that we identify with “goodness,”
we can ask, “Is that property itself good?
(d) Moore’s solution: we can intuitively recognize the presence of value
(goodness) within facts (maximizing pleasure)
1. Goodness accompanies the maximizing of pleasure, but goodness is
not identified with pleasure
3) Ayer and Emotivism
i) Ayer’s Theory
(a) Verification principle: meaningful sentences must be either
(b) Tautologies (statements that are true by definition and of the form “A is A,” or
reducible to such statements) or,
(c) Empirically verifiable (statements regarding observations about the world,
such as “The book is red”)
(d) Moral utterances are meaningless since they fail the verification principle
(e) Moral utterances merely express feelings, and don’t even report feelings
1. Reported feeling: “charity is good” means “I have positive feelings
about charity”
2. Expressed feeling: “charity is good” means “charity—hooray!”
(f) Moral utterances are noncognitive, not cognitive
1. Noncognitive: an utterance has no truth value
2. Cognitive: an utterance has truth value
ii) Criticisms of Emotivism
(a) Criticism 1: The verification principle cannot pass its own test and therefore is
itself meaningless
(b) Criticism 2: Emotivism blurs the distinction between having “reasons” for
changing attitudes and having “causes” that change our attitudes
1. e.g., changing attitudes by giving rational arguments vs. having a brain
(c) Criticism 3: Moral judgments are universalizable, but emotional expressions
are not
(d) Stevenson’s theory: moral utterances have cognitive and nocognitive elements
1. Emotive (noncognitive): “charity—hooray!”
2. Reports feelings (cognitive): “I approve of charity.”
3. Describes other qualities (cognitive): “charity has qualities or relations
X, Y, Z (e.g., reduces suffering, reduces social inequality)”
4) Hare and Prescriptivism
i) Prescriptivity
(a) Moral judgments have both a descriptive and prescriptive meaning
1. Descriptive meaning: describes facts about a particular action, such as
charity maximizes pleasure
2. Prescriptive: guides conduct; the speaker recommends that others
adopt his attitude
(b) The prescriptive element is more important than the descriptive: the
description changes, but the prescription doesn’t change
ii) The Logic of Moral Reasoning
(a) Two logical rules of moral judgments
1. No indicative conclusion can be validly drawn from a set of premises
that cannot be validly drawn from the indicatives among them alone
2. No imperative conclusion can be validly drawn from a set of premises
that does not contain at least one imperative
(b) Rule two says that we can derive “ought” from “is” when at least one premise
contains an “ought”
iii) Universalizability
(a) Universalizability is the form that moral judgments take (but you can’t derive
specific duties from them)
(b) Universalizability is both a necessary and a sufficient condition of moral
1. Necessary condition: If a principle is a moral one, then it applies
2. Sufficient condition: If a principle applies universally, then it is a
moral one
(c) Criticism: universalizability may not be a necessary condition since some
universal prescriptions are not moral ones
iv) Principles
(a) All morality involves habit-guiding principles
(b) No complete list of moral principles possible
(c) By putting oneself “in the shoes” of other people, we will be able to arrive at a
group of common principles
v) Criticisms of Prescriptivism
(a) It is too broad and allows for conduct that we typically deem immoral (e.g.,
racist genocide)
(b) It permits trivial judgments to count as moral ones as long as they are
universalized prescriptive principles in the proper logical form (e.g., you have
a moral duty to tie your right shoe before your left shoe)
(c) It allows for the exclusion of moral principles that we think should be
included (e.g., “one ought not kill innocent people”)
(d) There are no constraints on altering one’s principles
5) Naturalism and the Fact-Value Problem
i) Warnock’s naturalism: morality is linked with “the betterment—or nondeterioration
of the human predicament
ii) Naturalism and the open-ended argument
(a) Warnock’s naturism commits the naturalistic fallacy, as indicated by the openended argument
(b) Response: Moore’s open-ended argument commits the fallacy of
hypostatization: treating an idea as a distinct substance or reality
1) Introduction
i) Amnesty International example
ii) Moral realism
(a) Definition: moral facts exist and are part of the fabric of the universe; they
exist independently of whether we believe them
(b) Three elements
1. Objectivist element regarding moral principles: they have objective
validity and do not depend on social approval
2. Cognitivist element regarding moral judgments: they involve
assertions that can be evaluated as either true or false
3. Metaphysical element regarding the existence of moral facts: they do
in reality exist
(c) Kinds of moral realism
1. Theistic moral realism: moral values exist in God (his will or his
2. Naturalistic moral realism: moral values exist within the natural world,
and are connected with specific properties such as “pleasure” or
3. Non-naturalistic moral realism: moral values are grounded in nonnatural facts about the world (facts that can’t be detected through
scientific means)
i. Plato: moral values are abstract entities that exist in the realm
of the forms
iii) Opposing theories
(a) Antirealism: there are no moral facts
(b) Moral skepticism (Mackie): there are no objectively factual moral values
(c) Moral nihilism (Harman): there are no moral facts, moral truths, and moral
2) Mackie’s Moral Skepticism
i) Main position
(a) Moral skepticism (Mackie): there are no objectively factual moral values
(b) Error theory: moral statements claim to report facts, but such claims are in
error and no moral claims are actually true
ii) Arguments from relativity, queerness and projection
(a) Argument from relativity: there is no universal moral code that all people
everywhere adhere to, which implies that morality is culturally dependent
1. The best explanation for actual moral diversity is the absence of
universal moral truths, rather than the distorted perceptions of
objective principles
2. Criticism: the fact that there are immoral people is no reason to
abandon the idea of objective morality
(b) Argument from queerness: if there were objective values, then they would
have to be “of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the
1. If such strange moral objects existed, they would require a strange
faculty for us to perceive them
2. Criticism: there are other theories of moral realism besides Plato’s that
don’t rely on bizarre entities or faculties
(c) Argument from projection: belief in objective value is the result of
psychological tendencies to project subjective beliefs to the outside world
1. Pathetic fallacy: we internally perceive the morality or immorality of
an external action, we then impose that moral quality onto the object
and thus wrongly think it exists as a fact
2. Criticism: the immorality that we see in an act of murder reflects how
murderous acts pose a special threat to us, and this special threat is an
objective fact
iii) Inventing morality
(a) When devising moral rules, we inventing the notions of right and wrong, not
discover them in some objective realm
(b) Criticism: inventing morality still is an objective matter of discovery to
determine whether they really work
3) Harman’s moral nihilism
i) Main position
(a) Moral nilhilism: there are no moral facts, no moral truths, and no moral
(b) Disanalogy thesis: moral principles cannot be tested by observation in the
same way that scientific theories can
ii) Criticism (Werner): scientific and moral observation are analogous
(a) Moral principles can be tested in other ways
(b) Cultures that fail to instantiate moral principles will either not survive or their
members will not be very happy or prosperous
4) A defense of moral realism
i) Moral facts about happiness and suffering
(a) Morality is a functional institution that concerns promoting happiness and
reducing suffering
ii) Universals and supervenient properties
(a) Universal properties (e.g. “redness”, relations like aRb)
1. If universals exist, moral properties can be among them
(b) Supervenient properties
1. Higher-level set of properties (e.g., color red) which non-reductively
depends upon a lower-level set of properties (e.g., light rays and
psychological perceptions)
2. Goodness may be a supervenient property of happiness
(c) Criticism: these are metaphysical constructs that may be as questionable as
moral facts
iii) Noncognitivism and moral realism
(a) Noncognitivism
1. Emotivist function: moral utterances merely express our feelings
(“Boo for murder!”)
2. Prescriptivist function: moral utterances guide our actions (“Do not
(b) Problem: noncognitivism denies moral facts
(c) Solution 1: Meaningful propositions can be embedded in our prescriptions,
and these have truth value
(d) Solution 2: we can specify a set of principles that are is necessary for human
flourishing; even if these are not “factually true,” they could still be valid