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Ethics in Society
Transcript of Ethics in Society
T PHIL 361A
Lecturer: Adam Arnold
What is Philosophy?
"Philosophy as a whole is like a Tree"
“The unexamined life is not worth living”
Socrates in Plato, "Apology" 38a
As of May 26, 2011, 94.52% of all articles in Wikipedia lead eventually to the article “Philosophy"
Metaphysics, Cosmology and Ontology
Epistemology and Logic
René Descartes, preface to Principles of Philosophy
Education for Grown ups
philo (loving) sophia (wisdom)
The aim of philosophy, abstractly formulated, is to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term.
Wilfrid Sellars, "Philosophy and the Scientific Imagine of Man"
As we know, There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know, there are known unknowns, that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we do not know we do not know.
What is familiar is what we are used to; and what we are used to is most difficult to “know” - that is, to see as a problem; that is, to see as strange, as distant, as “outside us.”
The Gay Science
Attitudes to suicide and euthanasia, or capital punishment and war, cannot rationally be kept totally separate. And what we say about any of these topics has links in one direction with general philosophical views about why it is wrong to kill, and has implications in another direction for social policies involving either saving lives or risking them. No one is qualified to talk about all these problems, but something is lost if, as a result, each is discussed only out of the context of the others."
Causing Death and Saving Lives
What is Applied Ethics?
Ethical Thought and feeling are woven throughout our lives in ways we rarely appreciate. We all have some implicit ethics, whether we know it or not - even if we deny that we do. We may occasionally fail or refuse to acknowledge our values, of course. Or avoid developing them into a coherent ethical outlook or philosophy. But we cannot live without values. Those who think we can should consider that without values we would lack such feelings a pride, admiration, respect, contempt, resentment, indignation, guilt, shame, and a whole host of others. Would a life be recognizably human without any of these?
This seems to me a task that warrants the name of philosophy. It is also the description of something we might call education. In the face of the questions posed in Augustine, Luther, Rousseau, Thoreau . . . , we are children; we do not know how to go on with them, what ground we may occupy. In this light, philosophy becomes the education of grownups. It is as though it must seek perspective upon a natural fact which is all but inevitably misinterpreted - that at an early point in life the normal body reaches its full strength and height. Why do we take it that because we then must put away childish things, we must put away the prospect of growth and the memory of childhood? The anxiety in teaching, in serious communication, is that I myself require education. And for grownups this is not natural growth, but change. Conversion is a turning of our natural reactions; so it is symbolized as rebirth.
The Claim of Reason
What is Philosophy?
Questions about the status of ethical discourse
Questions about what is to be done by agents of one kind or another, and of the related principles and criteria
- Concerned with what sorts of things are good, which acts are right, and what relations are between the right and the good
– Knowledge of value, rightness and obligation is possible, and can sometimes be expressed as statements. That is, ethical statements have truth values.
– believe that ethical statements are descriptions of states of the world. On this view the job of ethical judgements is to ‘track’ properties in the world
Naturalism and the Euthyphro Dilemma
- What is the source of value?
Practical wisdom is concerned with acts that are just, noble, and good for a human being, but these are characteristic of the good person, and we are no more able to do them through knowing about them, since the virtues are states of character. In the same way, we are no more able to do what is healthy and invigorating in the sense not of what produces a healthy state but of what results from it with knowledge alone; for we are no more able to act merely through having scientific knowledge of medicine or of gymnastics.
Bk 6 Ch. 12
- act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
"Among the essential features of this situation is that no one knows his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does any one know his fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, his intelligence, strength and the like. I shall even assume that the parties do not know their conceptions of the good or their special psychological propensities. The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance."
A Theory of Justice
Acts and Omissions Doctrine –
agents are less responsible for their omissions than for their actions, or alternatively less responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their omissions than for exactly similar foreseeable consequences of their actions
Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne. They govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think: every effort we can make to throw off our subjection, will serve but to demonstrate and confirm it. In words a man may pretend to abjure their empire: but in reality he will remain subject to it all the while. The principle of utility recognizes this subjection, and assumes it for the foundation of that system, the object of which is to rear the fabric of felicity by the hands of reason and of law. Systems which attempt to question it, deal in sounds instead of sense, in caprice instead of reason, in darkness instead of light.
An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation
It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of different opinion, it is because they only know their on side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.
The kind of consequntialism according to which actions and omissions are right not only if they optimize the foreseeable balance of good over bad directly, but also if they comply with practices general compliance with which would optimize the foreseeable balance of good over bad at least as well as alternative practices (or states of society lacking such practices); and actions and omissions are obligatory if the difference to this balance made by the action or omission or the relevant practice is significant and greater than that of alternatives.
Lecture 1: Introduction
Method for this Course
The Metaphysics Value
Ethics and Epistemology
Ontology and The Object of Moral Claims
– Claims about value or obligation can never be known to be true or false, as opposed to being e.g. expressions of emotions or prescriptions. Characteristically, non-cognitivists also hold that such claims are neither true nor false
– all ethical claims are false projections but we talk about them as if they had independent existence
Expressivism and emotivism
– the view that ethical statements are not descriptions of the world at all; rather, they serve to express the attitudes of the speaker towards the world
The problem of relativism -
"[Vulgar Relativism] is clearly inconsistent, since it makes a claim in its third proposition about what is right and wrong in one's dealing with other societies, which uses a nonrelative sense of 'right' not allowed for in the first proposition.
1. 'Right' means 'right for a given society'
2. 'Right for a given society' is to be understood in a functional sense
3. Therefore, it is wrong for people in one society to condemn the values of another
Fact-Value Distinction ('is vs ought') -
"For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it should be observed and explained; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it."
A Treaties of Human Nature
– Concerned with the evaluation of particular things as good and bad, and various acts or practices as right or wrong.
The importance of ethical education
What kind of person ought we be and how should we live?
Concerned with norms of character
The normative theory that represents as right those actions that a virtuous person would perform, and virtue as a more basic concept than rightness.
The kind of normative theories that are concerned largely with the logic of duty (deontic)
The normative deontological theory that (in line with Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative) makes those actions permissible which a rational agent could consistently will to be universally performed, and that requires agents to treat persons as ends, and never as means alone.
Theorists hold that normative stance that ethical rules and practices are ones that individuals who were ignorant of their own prospects would freely choose if they were bargaining on an utterly equal basis
The Core of Consequentialism
: Nothing but the difference agents can make to the balance of good over bad (foreseeable) states of the world supplies the criterion of rightness and of obligation
The normative theory that holds that the morality of actions and polices depends on foreseeable outcomes
– agents should optimize the total balance of whatever makes life worthwhile over whatever detracts from it, in terms of the full range of foreseeable consequences of action and inaction
– agents should maximize the average per person of whatever makes life worthwhile
An Important assumption: the commensurability of goods
Reductio ad Absurdum
Experiencing Machine - The Green or Red Pill?
Egalitarianism and Leveling Down
Pulling apart Arguments
Suppose there was an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired. Superduper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. Should you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life experiences? [...] Of course, while in the tank you won't know that you're there; you'll think that it's all actually happening [...] Would you plug in?
Anarchy, State, and Utopia
Explaining why an act is right or wrong
Suppose that a judge or magistrate is faced with rioters demanding that a culprit be found for a certain crime and threatening otherwise to take their own bloody revenge on a particular section of the community. The real culprit being unknown, the judge sees himself as able to prevent the bloodshed only by framing some innocent person and having him executed. Beside this example is placed another in which a pilot whose aeroplane is about to crash is deciding whether to steer from a more to a less inhabited area. To make the parallel as close as possible it may rather be supposed that he is the driver of a runaway tram which he can only steer from one narrow track on to another; five men are working on one track and one man on the other; anyone on the track he enters is bound to be killed. In the case of the riots the mob have five hostages, so that in both the exchange is supposed to be one man's life for the lives of five. The question is why we should say, without hesitation, that the driver should steer for the less occupied track, while most of us would be appalled at the idea that the innocent man could be framed.
Virtues and Vices
The Singer Scandal
Riña a garrotazos (1820-1823)
The Philosophy of Art and Aesthetics
Roles of political philosophy according to John Rawls (
Justice as Fairness
1. Discover social basis of agreement (Social Contract)
2. Orientation of and in a political society
3. Discover practical limitations of politics
refers to the study of aesthetic value and related notions of aesthetic experience. Concerned with the concepts of the beautiful and the sublime.
The philosophy of Art
tends to deal with broader epistemological and metaphysical questions (e.g., What is art? What kinds of objects are works of art? What is it to interpret a piece of art?
What in the end makes the difference between a Brillo box and a work of art consisting of a Brillo box is a certain theory of art.
Arthur Danto, "Artworld"
What is there?
What is the meaning of Being?
What is Time? Is there Free Will? What is Mind?
What can we know and how can we know it?
George is on a footbridge over the trolley tracks. He knows trolleys, and can see that the one approaching the bridge is out of control. On the track back of the bridge there are five people; the banks are so steep that they will not be able to get off the track in time. George knows that the only way to stop an out-of-control trolley is to drop a very heavy weight into its path. But the only available, sufficiently heavy weight is a fat man, also watching the trolley from the footbridge. George can shove the fat man onto the track in the path of the trolley, killing the fat man, or he can refrain from doing this, letting the five die.
Judith Jarvis Thompson, "Killing, Letting Die, and the Trolley Problem
Using Philosophical Reflection to tackle specific problems
Philosophy and Public Affairs
is founded in the belief that philosophical examination of [issues of public concern] can contribute to their clarification and to their resolution. It welcomes philosophical discussions of substantive legal, social and political problems, as well as discussions of the more abstract questions of which they give rise.
Mission Statement for the journal, 1971
What is Philosophy?
What is Ethics?
Method for Ethics in Society
Advocating a severe form of utilitarianism
Condoned active non-voluntary euthanasia, the killing of innocent human beings that are incapable of understanding or making the choice between life and death (e.g. severely disabled infants or adults in a vegetative state)
Their "life prospects are significantly less happy than those of normal children", and they are a constant burden to their parents. It is therefore best to 'replace' them with healthy children.
P1: It is morally acceptable for non-human animals to kill and eat each other
P2: Humans are animals
C: Therefore it is morally acceptable for humans to kill and eat animals
P1 and P2 does not guarantee C
What is a human life?
What is Race?
Is there a distinction between killing and letting die?
What is desert?
P1: If it is morally acceptable for non-human animals to kill and eat each other, than it is morally acceptable for humans to kill and eat non-human animals
P2: It is morally acceptable for non-human animal to kill and each each other.
C: Therefore, it is morally acceptable for humans to kill and eat non-human animals
P1 is dubious at best
If inequality is bad, its disappearance must be in one way a change for the better, however this change occurs. Suppose that, in some natural disaster, those who are better off lose all their extra resources, and becomes as badly off as every else. Since this change would remove the inequality, it must be in one way welcome [...] Though this disaster would be worse for some people, and better for no one, it must be, in one way, a change for the better [...] These implications can be more plausibly regarded as monstrous, or absurd.
Derek Parfit, "Equality and Priority"
The unexamined intuition is not worth having.
I have said that deductive inferences are justified by their conformity to valid general rules, and general rules are justified by their conformity to valid inferences. But this circle is a virtuous one. The point is that rules and particular inferences alike are justified by being brought into agreement with each other. A rule is amended if it yields an inference we are unwilling to accept; an inference is rejected if it violates a rule we are unwilling to amend. The process of justification is the delicate one of making mutual adjustments between rules and accepted inferences; and in the agreement achieved lies the only justification needed for either.
Fact, Fiction and Forcast
In searching for the most favored description of this situation [the original position] we work from both ends. We begin by describing it so that it represents generally shared and preferably weak conditions. We than see if these conditions are strong enough to yield as significant set of principles. If not, we look for further premises equally reasonable. But if so, and these principles match our considered convictions of justice, then so far well and good. But presumably there will be discrepancies. In this case we have a choice. We can either modify the account of the initial situation or we can revise our existing judgments, for even the judgments we take provisionally as fixed points are liable to revision. By going back and forth, sometimes altering the conditions of the contractual circumstances, at others withdrawing our judgments and conforming them to principle, I assume that eventually we shall find a description of the initial situation that both expresses reasonable conditions and yields principles which match our considered judgments duly pruned and adjusted. This state of affairs I refer to as reflective equilibrium.
John Rawls, Theory of Justice
Nikiforos Lytras, "Antigone in front of the dead Polyneices"
"If there were objective values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe" (J.L Mackie,
Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong)
Just consider this question:—Is that which is holy loved by the gods because it is holy, or is it holy because it is loved by the gods (Plato,
What are the rules of inference?
In philosophizing, I have to bring my own language and life into imagination. What I require is a convening of my culture's criteria, in order to confront them with my words and life as I pursue them and as I may imagine them; and at the same time to confront my words and life as I pursue them with the life my culture's words may imagine for me: to confront the culture with itself, along the lines in which it meets me.
I will mention the case of one of my students, who sought me out under the following circumstances: his father had broken off with his mother and, moreover, was inclined to be a "collaborator." His older brother had been killed in the German offensive of 1940, an this young man, with primitive but noble feelings, wanted to avenge him. His mother, living alone with him and deeply hurt by the partial betrayal of his father and the death of her oldest son, found her only comfort in him. At the time, the young man had the choice of going to England to join the Free French forces - which would mean abandoning his mother - or remaining by her side to help her go on with her life. He realized that his mother lived only for him and that his absence - perhaps his death - would plunge her into utter despair. He also realized that, ultimately, any action he might take on her behalf would provide the concrete benefit of helping her to live, while any action he might take to leave and fight would be of uncertain outcome and could disappear pointlessly like water in sand. For instance, in trying to reach England, he might pass through Spain and be detained there indefinitely in a camp; or after arriving in England or Algiers, he might be assigned to an office to do paperwork. He was therefore confronted by two totally different modes of action: one concrete and immediate but directed toward only on individual; the other involving an infinitely vaster group - a national corps - yet more ambiguous for that very reason and which could be interrupted before being carried out. And, at the same time, he was vacillating between two kinds of morality: a morality motivated by sympathy and individual devotion, and another morality with a broader scope, but less likely to be fruitful. He had a choose between the two.
Existentialism is a Humanism