From UBC Wiki

Occasionally I or others may take some notes on this page, from our in-class discussions. They will be listed by date and topic.

Sept. 4, 2014: what is an ethical issue or question?

What kinds of issues or questions are not ethical or moral ones? Give examples.

Metaphysical questions: what is substance, is there a God, etc.

Determining mathematical truths, in and of themselves, not applying them to anything (e.g., whether 1+2=2 or not is not an ethical issue)

Those that do not involve emotion (though what it means to "involve emotion" is vague; this could mean multiple things)

Those that affect only oneself, no one else at all (not even society at large, as an example)

Christina's additions
Putting on left shoe before right one, or vice versa
Wearing colours that clash, or outdated styles
Using a salad fork for dinner rather than salad

What kinds of issues or questions ARE ethical or moral? Give examples.

Those that involve the well being of or harm to sentient creatures, those that can feel emotions, pleasure and pain.

Should consider future effects of benefit and harm as well, on such creatures (but objection: such future effects can't be determined fully ahead of time, so this is difficult to do in a complete sense (though you can know some likely effects in the near future)

Which of the following, would you say, give moral "shoulds" or "oughts"?

  1. If you want to do well in the course, you should keep up with the readings and come to class
  2. You should bike to class rather than drive
  3. You should exercise at least three times per week
  4. You shouldn't ride your bike without a helmet
  5. If you know CPR and there is someone in your vicinity in need of it, you should help them

So, what kinds of characteristics might ethical or moral issues have that sets them apart from amoral ones?

Have to be done by beings who can:

  • understand the concept of ethical/moral action
  • be able to choose, decide on their actions, be in control of their actions

See above: actions that affect the well being of, or harm, sentient creatures--those that can feel pleasure and pain, and (possibly) emotions

Christina's additions

  • Moral rules, "shoulds" often have to do with actions that are of serious consequence to others, including people and sometimes animals; they concern actions that could profoundly benefit or harm others.
  • They also often have to do with actions that allow people to live together well in groups
  • Moral rules often thought to be weightier, more important than other rules or "oughts"--take precedence over them (even sometimes over laws)
  • Law and morality do not exactly coincide: what things might be legal but immoral, or illegal but morally permissible?
  • They're sometimes said to apply to all persons who can both understand them and choose to act one way or another in regard to them (as opposed to laws, which may only apply in a particular state and not outside). Clearly, a moral relativist would disagree.

Sept. 9, 2014 Moral Relativism

Group discussion

When different groups of people with different histories and social practices disagree
on the moral value of certain kinds of actions, for some cases it may be that there is
no way to decide which of the competing views is right—both may be equally valid.
Do you agree?

If you agree, give an example where you would say this is the case.

- Sex before marriage as moral/immoral

- Having a boyfriend/girlfriend in school

- Wearing religious symbols or veils, hijab

- Racism or slavery ?? (a number of people disagree that this is the kind of
thing where they'd want to say one can't decide objectively which view is right.

- Taking care of parents or other older family members vs
sending them to a care facility

Sept. 11, Moral relativism

Arguments for and against MR

After thinking of at least one argument for and against MR individually, meet in groups
and choose one argument for and one argument against that you think are the strongest
of the bunch. Write them here.

Arguments for MR

Group 1 - allows for there to be different standpoints on what is right and wrong

Group 3- The promotion of tolerance.

Group 13/14 - Avoids the issue of absolute truth in morality. Nothing we know is certain so there
can't be an absolute morality, especially since it's a human construct.

Group 11 - supports the idea that no hierarchy should exist amongst cultures in regards to their morals/ethics

(said in class) Takes cultural diversity into consideration, respects other cultures' views.

(said in class) Takes into account the wide variety of moral outlooks, encourages reflection on reasons behind the differences.

Group 9 - There does not exist a clear objective or universal moral standard to which everyone can be held
up to; our values and moral judgments are influenced by culture and socialization, therefore what may be right
for one individual is not necessarily so for another.

Group 10
- Moral relativism fosters tolerance. People, especially in modern times, all come from different backgrounds
and cultures which means we need a more tolerant and lenient society.
- Promotes equality amongst the cultures (not one culture is above another, nor is one able to make judgments)
- Different social conditions, you have to act differently.

Group 5: There are way too many cultures to have one universal standard. Moral Relativism can promote tolerance.
For example hunting in some parts of the USA is seen as okay because they are providing for their family.

Group 12: How can someone who is not impacted someone’s moral or immoral decision gain the ability/right to judge
whether or not that decision is ethical. Morals are based off of personal values, and people’s values are based
off their background and situation, so it’s difficult to say that one decision is more moral than another.

Arguments against MR

Group 1 - exaggerates how much diversity there is among cultures + fails to define what constitutes a group

Group 3- Moral Relativism sometimes unintentionally condones actions that appear to be wrong morally
and ethically. It implies that obvious moral wrongs are acceptable.

Group 10
- At some point, there needs to be a form of stability (drawing up laws, establishing moral codes)
- With globalization, the world is more interconnected, and therefore we need to have a form of
moral standard that adheres to everyone. - It is important to note that all cultures should get a vote in this moral standard (the standard
should not be majorly Western beliefs, and should include Eastern cultures such as the Middle East, or Africa)
- Allows us to make decisions quickly and effectively
- With people from so many different cultures, if when we are confronted with a decisions we need to
ask ourselves which culture's moral code we should focus on the most, no decisions will ever be made.
Therefore objectivity is needed to make decisions.

Group 9 - Relativism relies on the metaphysics of ahistorical, free, and independent reason.
It can be argued that all reason is conditioned by outside forces, and society, and so on.
Culturally the separation of two connotes an "other" which reduces the "other" to an object in
relation to the subjective consciousness.

Group 13/14 - There are absolute truths for morality, e.g. wellbeing of sentient beings matters
morally. We can use those absolute truths to prove whether something is morally right or wrong.

Group 11 - That if there is moral relativism, then it subdues any chance for a morally responsible
or accountable society/world that could otherwise be established with universal laws and morals
(i.e. crime running amok)

(said in class) Provides no assistance in dealing with moral problems because anything goes morally.

(said in class) The statement that morality is relative is an objective statement.

Group 5: MR can take away accountability. A person could do whatever they want and claim they have
a different moral standard.

Group 12: Many things that we now consider unquestionably immoral, such as slavery, were an ethical
debate at one point in history. This would indicate that many things we consider to be moral debates
today could have an obvious right or wrong answer in the future.

Oct. 2 in-class writing on "the experience machine"

Question: Would you plug in to the experience machine Nozick imagines, for life? Whether you could stop after a few years and reprogram, and go back in, etc., over and over or whether you just programmed once and went in for the rest of your life—either one. Why or why not?

Yes answers

Percentage of answers that were "yes": 22%

Some reasons given

  • what we know is based on sense data and feelings, so it’s possible we’re already in such a machine
  • isn't life just a collection of experiences? Why not make them the best possible?
  • yes, if what is programmed in is that one pursues and achieves one’s dreams, rather than just fulfills any desires at all
  • only if I could stop and reprogram periodically, and recall aspects of the previous experience; this would allow me to be able to continue growing as a person, experiencing new desires
  • if the machine could provide for all complex desires & pleasures, then probably yes (such as the pleasure of being with other people, the pleasure of gaining new knowledge)
  • yes, because I could avoid the stresses and pains of real life if I wanted to; this would also allow others to do so
e.g., there would be no racism b/c there would be no races--we'd all just be equals plugged into machines
  • my goal in life is to maximize my happiness, and this would do so
  • only after I lived a good deal of my life outside the machine first
  • I wouldn't do so myself, but for some people it would make sense, to maximize their happiness

No answers

Percentage of answers that were "no": 64% (but adding in the 13% below who would not plug in for life = 77%)

Some reasons given

  • would not be contributing to progress of humanity, to lives of others; wouldn't be dealing with the actual problems in the world
this would be selfish
  • just imaginary, not fulfilling; I want the experiences to be real
  • would not really be with those you love; would eliminate community
  • don't want to give up on what's going on in the outside world
  • happiness is not all that matters to me
I want truth and authenticity more than pleasurable experiences
I want control of my life (even if I was in control of programming the machine, that's not the same as being the one doing the actions, controlling my life)
I want to have actually done things that make me worthy of the pleasurable experiences
I want to know that I've done things that made the happiness possible
  • I would never be fully happy with the simulations; I would always want more than what had been programmed in
  • Some of the most fulfilling parts of life have been from spontaneous acts, ones you couldn't program in
  • our lives are full of unknown factors and surprises, the real world has a depth that wouldn't exist in a human-made, human-controlled world
  • once you stopped, you would not be able to deal with your real identity (Christina: but would you plug in for the rest of your life?)
  • would deny yourself the benefit of experiencing pain, obstacles, and getting over these (a higher pleasure) (Christina: but program this in! Then would you plug in?)

would use it once or a few times, but not for life

percentage of people who said this: 13%

Some reasons given

  • I would only plug in if it were for a short time, not for life, because pleasure would become mundane if you had so much.
  • I would not want to rely on this for happiness for all of life; I want to do things to earn happiness
  • Would do it for things I can't experience otherwise, like walking on the moon
  • Would do it just because curious, but would prefer to experience the real world
  • I have only had limited experiences so far, so would want to have more real experiences later, not plug in for life

Notes from in-class writing on Kant and the murderer at the door (Oct. 30)

Question: Can you think of a way, using Kant's own theory, to argue that it would be permissible (or even required) to lie to the murderer at the door?

Ways you could avoid lying while still saying something (or just be silent)

  • say: "no one by that name lives here"
  • change the subject, ask them to leave the premises or you'll call the police
  • maybe cause delays that stop you from actually answering with a lie (but maybe this could be deception of a sort?)
  • you could just not say anything at all; could just close the door
  • speak in a vague way that avoids lying as well as avoids telling the location of the victim
  • Could say something like, "I don't know where the person is exactly," because you may not know where in the house the person is
  • could you act as if you can't hear them? (Christina: but this would be a deception unless it were really true) But what if you were really deaf and couldn't hear them, and answered "no." Would this be a wrong action because technically not true but you didn't hear the question?

don't have to treat the murderer as rational being

  • showing by his desire to murder that he is not acting rationally (3 ppl said this)

Lying in this particular kind of situation could be a maxim that is universalizable

  • lying to someone who is about to kill someone else in order to save the victim's life can be universalized w/o contradiction (4 ppl said something like this)

-- Christina: can the following maxim be universalized w/o contradiction? "When one person is threatening the life of a rational being, and I could save that life by lying to the person threatening it, I will do so." If this were a universal law, would it make this action somehow impossible?

You could lie b/c murderer is treating you as a mere means, or not lying would be treating yourself as a mere means

  • the murderer is treating you as a mere means to find his victim (an impermissible action) and you are using him as a mere means in accordance with moral law (a permissible action--saving a life) (5 ppl said something like this)

-- Christina: the murderer would be treating you as a mere means if he lied to you, but not if he didn't; does Kant think we can treat others as mere means to ends if they are doing this to us?

  • The murderer can probably guess that you would lie in such a situation; if you can't lie you could be using yourself as a mere means to an end and giving up your autonomy

-- Christina: I'm not sure I understand this one

  • Another person also said that because of autonomy we can choose to lie to the murderer or not, and either of these choices are not wrong

-- Christina: it's true we can make a free choice what to do, but Kant does thing that some choices are morally right and others wrong, according to the moral law (which we command to ourselves, autonomously).

by telling the truth, are you respecting the rational nature of the victim?

  • if you know that telling the truth to the murderer will lead to the victim's death, is telling the truth just a way to use that person as a mere means to your end of acting morally correctly? Are you putting your moral value higher than the other person's life? (2 ppl said something like this)
  • by telling the truth you are not fulfilling your duty to the victim. (2 ppl said something like this)

-- Christina: would the duty to save a rational being's life be perfect or imperfect? It's an imperfect duty that we should help others when they need it to continue to exist as rational beings (and to help them with their goals sometimes), and maybe stopping a murderer falls under this kind of help?

  • by lying you are saving the victim's life, and stopping the murderer from using the victim as a mere means to his ends (3 ppl said something like this)
  • if you told the truth and were an accomplice to the murder, then you would not be helping the victim develop their talents

-- Christina: but this is an imperfect duty, and if telling the truth is a perfect duty, then the latter must take precedence

  • since rational nature is the only unconditionally good thing, it is better to preserve that than a moral rule against lying (3 ppl said something like this)

-- Christina: but the moral rule against lying is in order to respect rational nature

A stretch, but

If the murderer said that if you tell him the truth and he finds the victim and kills him then you should hold yourself responsible for the death as well as the murderer b/c you told him the truth. This comes from Kant's point in his essay that if you tell the truth you are not responsible for what happens afterwards, but if you lie then you are in some way responsible.

Can't think of a way that one could argue, using Kant's theory, that it would be permissible to lie in this situation

  • 6 people said this; some comments are below...
  • you still have to treat the murderer as a rational being and respect his rationality
  • Kant wouldn't allow it, but I myself think that preserving rational life should take a higher precedence than telling the truth
  • Kant wouldn't allow it, but by telling the truth you are managing to be moral yourself while also aiding someone else in doing an immoral act, which is problematic.
  • avoiding deception is a perfect duty for Kant; if "saving the life of a rational being" could be argued to be a perfect duty too then there would be a clash of perfect duties and maybe it could be permissible to lie.

Nov. 18, 2014: suggested virtues not on Aristotle's list

On Nov. 18 I asked you to come up with at least one virtue or vice that is not on the list of virtues and vices from Aristotle that was given in the lecture notes, and whether you could describe it/them as somehow related to the idea of a mean and extremes. Here are your answers.

excess mean deficiency
over trusting acceptance, open-mindedness (incl to new ideas) prejudice, closed-mindedness
too accommodating (need to think of self as well) nobility, self-sacrifice (doing what's right b/c right even if harms you) selfishness
excess moderation in many things, not just physical appetites abstinence
too much can lead to boastfulness knowledge deficiency means life can be difficult
too much can mean others can't understand you and what you do with it becomes useless to them intelligence too little means life can be difficult & one may not contribute as much to the social group
too obedient--can't make own decisions obedience not being obedient at all makes living in society difficult
rashness, unproductivity patience anxiety, fear, frustration
nosy, prying, snoopy curiosity indifference, uninquisitive, following rules w/o questioning
only care about self empathy too much empathy; don't care enough about yourself
lost in imagination creative unable to make new connections, boring
too nice, making people uncomfortable; or being servile, or acting friendly just to impress others friendly anti-social, hostile, cold; too shy
focusing too much on one person or thing commitment (including fulfilling promises) flakiness
being over-grateful gratitude ungrateful
neurotic responsibility irresponsible
irrational hope optimism pessimism
overfairness? (treating someone so nicely that it's unfair to others) fairness being biased
so honest can harm another, or being too harsh honesty dishonesty
self-sacrifice when not necessary being disposed to care for those in need
Example self-preservation Example
example conviction example
too much can lead to being taken advantage of; too much can mean ignoring one's own needs kindness callousness, not caring enough about others
paranoia self-awareness, self-reflection carelessness
obsession love
impossible to convince otherwise skepticism gullibility
laughter at morally bad things sense of humour no sense of humour
social recluse, not enough social interactions self-sufficiency, independence being too dependent on others
dignity in respecting one's body
being too trusting when unwarranted, naivety appropriate trust of others paranoia, unwarranted lack of trust
not standing up when something is wrong tolerance narrow-mindedness
so loyal to a cause that it's harmful to self or others loyalty treachery
oversensitivity, pathological empathy attunement to world and social situations pathological apathy
excess can mean missing out on simple joys in life; foolhardiness, greed ambition deficiency can make it difficult to find meaning in life; lazy, unmotivated
too much can lead to harm to others sexual desire, lust too little can mean thinking others or self are wrong for having a natural and healthy human desire

Nov. 20, 2014 (Nussbaum)

Please give your thoughts on one of the following questions. You don't need to add your name because I can see who has edited the page!

1. Do you think Nussbaum's list of human areas of experience (272-273) is a good one, or would you add/subtract some things?

- I would add knowledge to this list of human areas of experience, because as humans grow, our knowledge tends to deepen. It doesn't matter to what extent, but it happens to everyone.

- I think the virtue of forgiveness should be added to #8.

- Cognitive ability could be questioned: what about mentally ill persons? Does her list leave them out of the "spheres of human experience" such that they aren't having human experiences?
[Christina: I wonder if her point about cognitive capacity is just very basic, like everyone who has human experiences has some sense of understanding the world, themselves, others, though the degree of understanding and desire for understanding is different. So people will mental illness could still be included. Maybe just people who are unconscious would not?]

2. Do you think it's possible to come up with an objective set of areas of human experience at all?


Yes, because we all have universal similarities and there are spheres that we all must take part in. These are natural; we don't have to seek them out; they are parts of life we can't escape. (2 ppl)

Yes, because these spheres are very general so all humans could be said to have some experience in them (2 ppl said this)

Yes, because the human experience is itself a comprehensive system of qualities. That said, "mortality" could even be said to encompass the whole human experience, and as you go down her list the areas become more specific, and could theoretically go on indefinitely. So a full set would be very large.

Maybe not impossible, but difficult, because human experiences are rarely fixed into single classifications. But this approach is good as a general guideline, even if we can't determine a fixed set with certainty.

Could be possible, but it might not be complete or all-inclusive; you might have to have a very big list. Pleasure and pain, for example, could be said to be an objective part of the human experience, but this category is so vague that it could really be limitless. It also depends on how one defines a "full" human experience.

Yes, though only if we focus on adults rather than children, because very young children may not have experiences in all these areas.

Yes, we can come up with an objective set, but maybe not a complete set. Some of the areas on her list may not apply to all humans (e.g., humour: it's hard to assert that one needs this to be considered human). It's too hard to determine which areas are essential to humankind.

We could come up with a set of objective areas of human experience, areas that everyone has some experiences in relation to. But people are unlikely to agree on the experiences within those areas because people experience life in such different ways.
Yes, we can say that there is a set of areas that each human has to objectively deal with in life. But these would be so broad that it would be difficult to apply virtues to them.


- Not substantively. I don't think that our experiences and the way we define, interpret and share them constitute an unqualified or unequivocal body of knowledge. It is possible to create a set of ideas that facilitate human interaction in a way that leads to the happiness of people, however. It is just important to note that something like fear may not be the same feeling for everyone, and bravery is an idea that probably means different things to different people. As well, fear can be conquered by other means: acceptance is not really the same as bravery. So, experiences and virtues that address them ideally are not true or objective as such, but they can make a working body of knowledge that works for a period of time for some individuals.

No, because humans are dynamic and inexact, and we can't describe all human experiences in a single set of categories that would apply to everyone. Though there may be some common experiences, there will always be exceptions where people don't have one or more of the areas of experience but we wouldn't want to say they're not human. Some people may not have experiences in the affiliation or humour categories, for example. (5 ppl said this)

No, because as a species we are constantly growing and changing, and areas such as humour, for example, might be seen differently in the future. We simply can't determine what will be considered an important area of human experience in the future. (2 ppl said this)
-[christina: interesting point! I wonder if we could make a list for now, and then say it's alterable in the future? Or are we so different even now that we can't determine what would be an objective list of human experiences even now, across all humans?]

No, because to do this one would have to quantify things that can't be quantified, such as human experience. Many parts of human experience cannot be captured except through the experience itself, which makes human experience subjective.

No, because our different backgrounds affect what we think of as a reasonable objective set of areas of human experience.

It is impossible to know if we are having the same feelings or experiences as others or if they are completely unique. [Christina: does the reply to the following point speak to this?]

No because any set of human experiences may be interpreted differently.
-[Christina: note that she does recognize that the actual experiences we have within each area can be quite different. Nevertheless she still thinks the areas are similar enough that we could have a conversation with each other about our different experiences in each area, and then we could discuss which sorts of experiences in each area are likely to be more in keeping with human flourishing--then we could develop definitions of virtues around those. For example, it may be that humans are likely to flourish better (no matter who we are) if we practice moderation in eating and in drinking alcohol. So moderation might makes sense as a virtue in relation to the body. We might say that friendship could be a virtue that promotes eudaimonia in the area of affiliation, and we could say that part of practicing the virtue of friendship would be to show care and concern for a friend. This could be done differently in different places, but the general definition could be the same.]

3. Do you think it's possible to come up with an objective list of virtues and vices, in the way Nussbaum says we might?


Yes, I think it is quite possible to create an objective list of human experiences that lead to Eudaimonia, since most people would agree that some characteristics are good, and some are bad. Even in the case of an excess or deficit of a characteristic, one can have a virtue that is good for everyone, no matter who they are or what their situation. In addition, I believe that to get to a flourishing state of being and Eudaimonia and to reach the right decision, a certain set of virtues are necessary and do not change.

I think it is possible to do so, but I don't think any human being would be able to determine them--there could be an objective list of virtues, but no way to determine what they are. If we could determine what they are, then free will wouldn't matter much because it would be irrational to choose to act in any other way.
- [Christina: there could still be free will in how to apply the virtues, and also, just because one way of acting is best, most rational, doesn't mean we don't have free will to act differently. The other moral theories could be said to run into this too: if Kant is right, for example, then it would be irrational to treat others as mere means to ends. But people are still free to choose to do that!]

I think it is possible, but it would be hard to get everyone to agree.


There is no way to make an exhaustive list of virtues without exceptions. Plus, we need variance in a society: people acting differently rather than having everyone act virtuously. Otherwise there wouldn't be different roles with different ways of acting like police vs. poets.
-[Christina: Note, though that virtue ethics does allow for quite a bit of variance in acting. The virtues are described in somewhat general terms, and people can enact them in different ways according to their different roles and circumstances.]

Nussbaum tries to justify particular virtues according to the end goal of flourishing, but that is subjective. Different people value virtues differently.

I am hesitant to believe this for one major reason: does one need to fulfill all these virtues to be virtuous? If we come up with a list of 10 virtues and someone fulfills 9 of them, what does this mean? Also, is there a hierarchy of virtues when a possible conflict arises?
-[Christina: remember what Hursthouse says about hierarchizing the virtues (see video on Hursthouse that I made, and slide show): it's not possible to come up with a hierarchy that would fit every single possible situation. Which virtues are more important depends on specifics of the situation.]

No, because what counts as "virtue" is very subjective. People might be virtuous in order to fit into a particular group, to follow what their society expects. They might not reach eudaimonia by doing so, because they might have been happier doing something else.
-[Christina: for the virtue ethicists we've studied in the class, eudaimonia doesn't just refer to fulfilling individual desires. They argue that some people may have the wrong view of what would actually lead to living well as a human. Do you think it's possible to say that some people think they're happy but would actually flourish better doing something else? That's the sort of thing that Aristotle, Hursthouse or Nussbaum would say.]

4. Thinking of the virtue(s) or vice(s) that you came up with for class on Tuesday (or any posted above for Tuesday, Nov. 18), can you link them to one of her areas of human experience?

  • Fairness can be tied to the distribution of limited resources along with justice. In hindsight, fairness is pretty similar to justice and the two might be synonymous.
  • knowledge can be tied to human experience because we gain knowledge with each and every one of our experiences. We as human beings not only learn from everything we do but we also actively seek out that knowledge and sometimes even try different things/new experiences to gain knowledge.
  • friendliness, sociability could fit with affiliation
  • loyalty could fit with affiliation. But maybe affiliation should be refined a bit further into something like "empathy." Affiliation just means belonging to a group and being aware of belonging, but empathy could require the use of practical reason, and thus would fit more into a human experience. You may need to use reason to understand others' circumstances and choices.
  • many of the excesses on the list could be thought of under the idea of "greediness," and greediness is definitely a human experience.
  • creativity and imagination could be linked to affiliation and pleasure/pain
  • intelligence linked to cognitive ability
  • gluttony linked to pleasure/pain
  • empathy linked to affiliation
  • honesty linked to affiliation
  • open-mindedness linked to affiliation; though since open-mindedness can apply to most or all of what one does, it can fit with many categories on the list
  • lust can be linked to pleasure/pain

5. Any other comments on Nussbaum or Hursthouse or virtue ethics in general?

Having objective human experiences also helps when trying to recognize virtuous actions in others. So learning and understanding human experience could aid in learning how to be virtuous and how different types of actions bring out different virtues in individuals.