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Group 1 page for Reading Notes

Please post your reading notes to this page. Please start each set of reading notes with the author, title of the work, and the sections of the work you're discussing in your notes.

Intro to Consequentialism (Sept 18)

- Pilar Chow
Consequentialism - Basic Issues and Simple Versions, Section 1

Definitions Plain Consequentialism: Of all the things a person might do at any given moment, the morally right action is the one with the best overall consequences
→ If there were no one best action because several actions are tied for best consequences, then any of those several actions would be right (Internet Encycl. Phil., “Introduction to Plain Consequentialism”, sec. 1a)

Plain Scalar Consequentialism: Of any two things a person might do at any given moment, one is better than another to the extent that the its overall consequences are better than the other’s overall consequences (Internet Encycl. Phil., “Introduction to Plain Consequentialism”, sec. 1c)

Expectable Consequentialism: The morally right action is the action whose reasonably expectable consequences are best (Internet Encycl. Phil., “Introduction to Plain Consequentialism”, sec. 1d)

Reasonable Consequentialism: An action is morally right if and only if it has the best reasonably expected consequences (Internet Encycl. Phil., “Introduction to Plain Consequentialism”, sec. 1d)

Dual Consequentialism: The word “right” is ambiguous. It has a moral sense and an objective sense. The objectively right action is the action with the best consequences, and the morally right action is any action with the best reasonably expected consequences (Internet Encycl. Phil., “Introduction to Plain Consequentialism”, sec. 1e)

Rule Consequentialism: An action is morally right if and only if it does not violate the set of rules of behaviour whose general acceptance in the community would have the best consequences (Internet Encycl. Phil., “Introduction to Plain Consequentialism”, sec. 1f)

Main point: Consequentialism doesn’t tell us which consequences are good and which ones are bad, therefore there can be arguments and debates about our actions

• A consequence is the result of an action, and it includes the action itself plus everything that it creates

• Every action has a consequence, but not every consequence is a good one

1. Most traditional view in consequentialism is that if a consequence leads to happiness, then it is right
- This is subjective. For example, people may find happiness in torturing people or seeing people being tortured, but this doesn’t mean that the action is morally correct

2. You don’t know fully what consequences can come out of your actions. Therefore, what you think may be morally right might not actually be, because you’re not fully aware of the overall consequences of your actions.
- Example: sec. 1d
if you donate money to a certain charity, you think that this money will be used for a good cause, and therefore your actions are morally right. However, if the charity didn’t inform you of every single detail, and it turns out that this charity is actually a group of terrible people, then according to consequentialism your actions were morally incorrect

3. According to reasonable consequentialism, as long as you have an explanation for why your actions are moral then it’s okay.
- Subjective – everybody’s view on what is wrong is different, and there is no universal moral agreement

4. Rule consequentialism – if everybody is doing something bad, e.g. throwing rubbish into a river (example = sec. 1f), then your action can be argued as morally right because it makes no difference if you add onto the amount of rubbish into the river
- Rule consequentialism therefore can’t tell us what is morally right or wrong, because there are many ways to get around a set of rules, and it allows people to justify their actions just because other people are doing it
- when one has to make a moral decision, they’re able to ask themselves if there is a rule that can be applied to it


• Not a reliable/precise theory to determine whether one’s actions are morally right or wrong

• A lot of it is subjective, therefore it is very difficult to reach an agreement

• Calculating how good a consequence can be is difficult – would we use happiness, pleasure, satisfaction etc. as a unit of measurement?

• Using the most traditional view of consequentialism, how do we measure happiness?

• Would consequentialism be different in a different time period?
- Large example: slavery in the early modern era – there weren’t many concerns on the actions of enslaving people at that time
- Smaller example: in the short term, using up fossil fuels is beneficial for humans because we need energy for many economic activities around the world, but in the long-term there are negative consequences, such as global warming

Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 23)

Jack Li
Notes on Mill - Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism according to Mill
Utilitarianism, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, states that an action is right if it produces happiness, a.k.a. pleasure, and wrong if they produces the reverse of happiness, a.k.a. pain. As the name suggests, Utilitarianism is the greatest amount of goods/pleasure altogether, and not one agent's own greatest happiness. Mill does not define the meaning of happiness and pain, as he explains the extent the ideas that can fit into these words is still an open question. However, Mill says these supplementary factors does not affect the Utilitarian principle, and that pleasure and the prevention of pain are the only things it desires as ends.

Argument by Mill - preference of pleasure (page 5)
Premise 1) No intelligent human beings would consent to be a fool, and no instructed person would be an ignoramus.
Premise 2) Few humans would consent to be changed into any lower animals.
Premise 3) Even though one at higher faculty takes more effort to be happy, it is better to be a human dissatisfied than to be a pig satisfied due to one's dignity and pride of knowledge.
Premise 4) The easy satisfaction of a fool or a pig is due to their limited vision and only knowing one side of the question, whereas one at higher faculty knows both sides. In other words, one at higher faculty view the pleasure of knowledge (quality) as superior than the pleasure of large amounts of blind satisfaction (quantity).
Conclusion) Therefore, high quality pleasure is more preferrable than the a large quantity of low quality pleasure.

Comments/Criticisms on this argument
This viewpoint assumes all humans of higher status either knowledge wise, wealth wise, or value wise, would not consent to becoming one with lower status, even if it is more difficult for them to experience satisfaction/happiness. As a result, a pleasure with a high quality such as knowledge is viewed superior than mere blind satisfaction.

It is especially interesting that Mill uses the word "no" when comparing humans of higher status to a fool, and the word "few" when comparing humans to other animals. With these words, he is stating that some humans will in fact change into other animals if they have the chance, and that the pleasure of being a human, knowing more knowledge, is sometimes less peferrable than being an animal with less knowledge. Hence a contradiction is formed, where Mill describes knowing more knowledge as superior than obtaining large quantity of blind satisfaction, and at the same time states that some humans would actually become animals, which will not have the same amount of knowledge as humans in the contemporary world and are more easily satisfied. It is possible that those humans who desires to become other animals are illogical, but the true intention of Mill's diction in this argument is unknown.

It is also a little absurd to think that absolutely no intelligent human beings would consent to be a fool, or a person with less knowledge. Here is a senario where one might have wished to forget his knowledge and become a fool: Suppose a military scientist has gone too far into his research and accidentally discovered that the government has been secretly conducting experiments, trying to transform humans into living weapons (something you would see in science fictions). Now, the government threatens him to go to jail permanently, or his family will be murdered. In this case, it is highly possible that the scientist would wish that he did not discover this secret experiment of the government, as the cost of obtaining this new knowledge is too big. Of course, this senario is almost impossible to happen in reality, but it could be possible that one, discovering something s/he should not have discovered, would wish to forget this knowledge as the cost is too great for the extra "pleasure".

==== A comment from Christina ====
(Just wanting to make sure there are no misunderstandings coming up to the exam): About this criticism, where someone might wish they didn’t have the knowledge they had: I think this could, indeed, be a case of someone who could wish they didn’t have a particular kind of knowledge. But does it show that that sort of person would be willing to become someone who isn’t capable of much knowledge at all? Say, if he was offered the option of having his intellectual capacity gravely reduced, to the point where he is capable of very little knowledge at all, very little intellectual capacity; would he likely take it? That’s the sort of thing you’d have to ask to criticize Mill’s point here, I think.
==== end comment ====

Do you agree or disagree with Mill's argument above? How would you justify your answer(s)?

This article is first published in the mid 1800s, would you consider the information in this article outdated and irrelavent to the contemporary world?

Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 25)

Aviv Milner Notes on Mill – Utilitarianism

The Misconceptions of Utilitarianism According to Mill

In chapter 2, Mill breaks down a few very frequent objections to Utilitarianism, and in doing so further elaborates on his views. I will go through each of these ‘frequently asked questions’, and try my best to simplify them in order to make each point clear.

1. “Utilitarianism says that the best possibly utility for the greatest number is good, however, this is far too intimidating of a standard, I can’t behave so righteously every moment!”

Mill criticizes this point by saying two things. Firstly, he points out that the idea of a moral meter by which we attempt to measure how good or bad an action is is the study of ethics, and that using this tool every moment of our lives is absurd. [Think of utilitarianism like eating healthy, there is a complex spectrum of diets, all of them fit on a spectrum of ‘healthy’ vs ‘unhealthy’, once you have thought through a diet plan, ideally one that you have thoroughly reasoned, you go about your life and try to stick to the plan. Obsessively counting calories is analogous to constantly measuring your actions, it ceases to be useful and starts to depreciate the point] He points out that we go about our day tackling moral dilemmas and issues (which comprises of everything we do) without registering them as moral issues. Secondly, Mill states that most of what people should be concerned with in their daily lives is what already consumes most of their day; their own wellbeing. He points out that utilitarianism values the happiness of each person, and each person is important in the weighing of that happiness, so “self-sacrifice” is often not a smart thing to do, perhaps only in moderation.

2. “Utilitarianism allows for people to behave like computers, who act as if they are emotionless and calculate only the cold hard facts of the consequences.”

Mill again rebuts this argument with two points. If what the objector is asserting is that a utilitarian does not consider whether the person who committed an action was kind or unpleasant in deciding whether an action is right or wrong, Mill says that this is not an argument against utilitarianism, but rather any moral framework. Mill acknowledges that sometimes good people do bad things, and vice versa, and that the kind of person may indeed add to the equation when it comes to understanding what is right or wrong, however there must remain some level of objectivity in the reasoning. He adds that a person can be judged not only by what has occurred, but also by the intent of the person, and the potentially positive virtues that the person might have, that have led him to commit wrong acts (perhaps by accident).

3. “Utilitarianism is similar to expediency, in other words, utilitarians believe that it’s justifiable to commit an atrocity in some circumstances, which is clearly immoral, to promote their own interests.”'

Mill takes the example of lying, and argues that although a lie can be beneficial to a person’s happiness, in most instances it promotes an overall distrust and falsehood in society, which has a much greater impact on society than the happiness that the lies had in the first place. He concludes that lying is almost always bad, unless it is to save someone’s life, and the benefit is so great that in fact the loss of ‘truth’ in the society is justifiable.

Lastly, Mill points out that just like in any moral theory or construct, there are going to be people who chose to do evil based on utilitarianism, when in fact they are merely rationalizing selfish goals. This again does not dissuade Mill, who instead argues that people will use any theory to rationalize atrocities that are not intended by the author of the principle.

Proof of Utilitarianism as a Basis for Morals

We have already discussed in previous notes that Utilitarianism claims as its' foundation the principle of the 'greatest happiness or utility for the greatest number', however, how does Mill proceed to convince us of this? On what grounds should we be susceptible to agreeing with Mill and Bentham of these foundational beliefs?

Mill makes an analogy that "the only proof that an object is visible, is that people actually see it"(Mill 17)His claim here is that for reasons unbeknownst to him, human nature is one that values pleasures, what he is saying is along the lines of this philosophical argument:

1. Morality requires for us to value or care about something, something that is worth valuing in itself.

2. Human beings all care about their pleasures and happiness(that is just the way they are), and respectively dislike pain.

3. Because of the nature of human beings, a moral theory for humans would have to include the natural urge to strive to pleasure and stray from pain.

4. A human construct of morality must have as its fundamental value that happiness is a justifiable end in itself.

5. Utilitarianism is the ideology of maximizing happiness, as an end to itself.

6. Utilitarianism is a good construct for human morals.

Mill further points out that objectors to his claim [line 2] might say that often people do things that make them unhappy, like going to work or striving to achieve a virtue, he argues that in reality they are still attempting to achieve happiness, but the happiness may cost some suffering that is usually worth it. [An example of this would be learning to play an instrument, although the practice can be hard, the happiness of mastering an instrument is viewed by Mill as a higher and more significant desire] Mill points out further that many values, such as the values of power or money, are merely created by the individual, and are not in themselves an end until they are decidedly put forth as an end. He even points out that although money is helpfully in amplifying ones happiness (in some ways), many treat money as an ends in itself, the spending of it not as important as the possession.

The interesting point that Mill is making is that things like money, power, music or fame are not necessarily part of one's own happiness, but they can become so if the person is led to think in that way. He combines these abstract ideas that human beings often have within the construct of happiness, and claims they are justified... up to a point. Mill acknowledges that many values that people can have may lead to an overall great negative impact, and that although these values are in fact connected to that persons happiness, they may still be immoral for the greater society.

Further Criticisms of Mill's Utilitarianism:

1. Mill argues that only happiness and pleasures are worth valuing in their own right, and that many abstract views of achieving happiness (becoming powerful, having many partners or friends) are learned, not ingrained. If we accept that the physiological nature of human beings is to survive and prosper, and that our nervous system is designed to make us feel 'good' when we do and 'bad' when we don't, what about other intrinsic positive feelings like competitiveness or violence, are they excluded in the moral theory because they negatively affect others? It seems that there may be a mutually exclusive claim here.

2. Mill argues that the greatest happiness for the greatest number is good, however, I am curious to know how we can measure the happiness of say 100 people, with the happiness of 50. Is it better for everyone to be slightly happy, or is it better for some people to be extraordinarily happy and other people to be somewhat miserable?

3. There is the famous question of "should the Romans feed Christians to the lions?" which asks if the suffering of a few could ever be outweighed by the suffering of the many, such as in ancient Rome when stadiums (stadia?) where filled with roaring fans who had a lust for blood shed. This seems like a very difficult square to circle.

Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 30)

Aviv Milner, Further Notes on Utilitarianism as described by Mill [Chapter 5]

Mill on Justice

What is justice? Although it seems obvious that justice is a necessary component to moral theory, it is rather difficult to pinpoint the exact definition of what justice is, and when it comes into play. Here Mill states that the easiest way to define things in philosophy is to give examples of the opposite, so he lists five common form of injustice as such, but just before we go into that, we should differentiate three things; morally obligatory, morally prohibited and morally optional (supererogatory).

Morally obligatory : Actions that must be done, not doing these actions is immoral.

Morally prohibited : Actions that when committed, are immoral.

Morally Optional (Supererogatory) : Actions that are moral (good) but are not necessary or obligatory.

When talking about justice vs. morality, Mill suggests that there are some 'rights' that we have (more on rights below) that come into play when we talk of justice. Here is how he reasons (roughly) from utility to rights:

P1: Happiness is the only thing that is to be valued as an end in itself. All things are attempts to achieve happiness and strive away from misery and pain.

P2: The greatest happiness for the greatest number is a good thing.

C1: We ought to act in such a way to strive towards the greatest happiness of all beings (utilitarianism)

P3: Having only 1 rule is too general and not pragmatic.

P4: Often times we see similar dilemmas in society that call on the general rule.

p5: We can make general rules (that are not absolute) that would be more pragmatic.

C2: We ought to have 'rights' or rules applied to the individual that would in general provide the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

P6: The right to individual property (as an example) provides greater comfort and happiness to individuals than a right to the property of any individual without exception.

C3: We ought to have a right to the individual to own property that is protected by our society.

P7: Occasionally, this right to property is too great a negative impact on the societal happiness, like with the example of IEDs or chemical weapons.

C4: We ought to infringe on this right in the few exceptions when it is a negative burden on societal happiness.

Five examples that Mill cites to explain what 'justice' is:

1. Justice with Respect to Legal Rights

Mill makes the claim that it is unjust to deprive someone of their personal liberty or belongings as described in the law. [Mill 21]

2. Justice with Respect to Unjust Laws/ Moral Rights

Mill accepts that there might be a law which allows someone something that they ought not to be entitled to, and thus he makes a point that although the law is correct in its decision most of the time, there are moments when the law is not, so the law cannot be the absolute criterion for justice. Instead he appeals to what he calls 'moral rights' which he believes in this case supersede the law, and that it is unjust to deny someone something that is their moral right.

3. Justice with Respect to What One Deserves

An evil act that receives praise, or a good act that is received with evil as a punishment, is in Mill's view, Unjust.

4. Justice with Respect to a Promise or Obligation

Mill argues that if someone promises (knowingly) their obligation to someone else, and comes up short, that person has committed an injustice against the other. He calls this 'breaking faith' with someone. He adds two caveats, firstly, that the person to whom the promise is given may decide that the promise is not necessary, and thus forfeiting the obligation, and secondly, that just like other forms of justice, there may be one form of justice that supersedes another form.

5. Justice with Respect to Discrimination/Impartiality

Mill states that judging or choosing someone on the grounds of something that is not necessarily a criteria for the action that they intend to do is wrong, with some very expected objections. Mill states that if one is looking to hire someone for a team-work style job, one would not be discriminating unfairly by hiring family over someone else, because they most likely work better with thier family. In most cases however, Mill suggests that Impartiality is crucial in Justice.

Mill goes in greater depth on the last point, criticizing those who claim to be very impartial, and value equality, but who constantly abuse expediency and justify behaving in such a way to create inequality.

Mill on Punishment

Mill asserts that when we speak of justice and injustice, we are implying that if a person commits an injustice, he is bound to be punished by the law. And if not by the law, he is bound to be punished by the reactions and opinions of others, and if not by them then by his own conscience is he doomed to suffer.

Mill on Moral Duties

Mill splits moral duties into two sections; perfect and imperfect duties. He claims that imperfect duties are ones that are righteous, however not implied. He takes as example the duty of charity. Perfect duties on the other hand, are ones that are bound to a specific and single person, that can be held accountable. He gives as an example the perfect duty of fulfilling a promise, which is a duty bound to the person to whom the promise was given. If that person breaks the promise, he now has a duty to the other person in order to recompense the injustice committed.

Mill on the Weighing of Justice and Utility

Mill concludes his paper by suggesting that we must always take into consideration the utility and the injustices that are resulted from an action, however, in the example of saving a persons life, Mill argues that one would be right to commit many injustices like stealing food or kidnapping a doctor in order to save the life of this person. Most importantly, Mill makes the claim that in some general cases, like don't lie, specific cases may overrule that duty to compensate for a greater one.

Questions to Consider

1. When do we commit an injustice for the greater maxim of utility, and when do we refrain. This debate was brought up with the question "is torture legitimate during war?" If we have a terrorist hostage, and he may have information that could save lives, when do we allow for torture?

2. Mill asserts that there are some things like charity that are not obligatory. If we started a new society, and we collected taxes from all the taxpayers, would it be obligatory to give a portion of this money to charitable causes? If it is, then it seems reasonable that individuals should not be obligated to give to charity, because they already do through taxes, however, if it is not obligatory for the government to give to charity, I wounder what Mill would say about the individual.

Later consequentialism (Oct. 2)

Phil 220 reading notes - October 2nd 2014 - Group 1 - Charlie Zucchero

“The Experience Machine” - Robert Nozick, 1974

Premise 1) Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience you desired. Highly skilled 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 (or any number of other worthwhile, fulfilling experiences you so valued). The entire time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your brain. (you are aware of this fact ONLY during the time you spend out of the tank (see premise 2), otherwise, you believe yourself to truly be experiencing whatever is going on in the tank)

Premise 2) There is a vast library filled with these pre-programmed, worthwhile experiences that you can choose from as you please - each lasting two years. After that two year period has expired, you will have time to choose the next pre-programmed experience. (Nozick says you will have, “ten minutes or ten hours” to choose the next experience - I understand it as meaning you will have ample enough time to weigh the options thoroughly and decisively, however long that may take)

Premise 3) Other people can also plug into the tank, so you don’t have to worry about possible obligations to serve them. (Nozick also says to ignore such problems as who will service the machines if everyone plugs in)

Question: Would you plug into the machine for life, pre-programming your life’s experiences?

--By offering this hypothetical situation, Nozick is asking the reader if there is anything that really matters during our mortal lives, other than how we perceive and feel it from the inside.

The exact quote is as follows: “What else can matter to us, other than how our lives feel from the inside?” (Nozick 43)

Reasons for not plugging into the machine:

1) What matters to us in addition to our experiences? Nozick believes that we want to do certain things, rather than just experience them - but why do we want to do the activities rather than just experience them? (I think what he is getting at here is that there is a difference between actually doing things and merely experiencing them)

2) We want to actually be a be a certain way, and to be a certain person. Nozick says that the person floating in the tank is an “indeterminate blob.” (Nozick 43) I think what this means is that the person floating in the machine may perceive themselves to be things like courageous or creative, but in reality (i.e, outside of the machine), they do not truly possess any of these traits.

3) Plugging into the experience machine limits one to an entirely constructed, man made reality. Nozick argues that this makes it extremely difficult to reach any deeper levels of significance in life, although they may be able to be simulated.

“We learn that something matters to us in addition to experience by imagining an experience machine and then realizing that we would not use it” (Nozick 44)

“Perhaps what we desire is to live (an active verb) ourselves, in contact with reality. (And this, machines cannot do for us)”

Nozick concludes by stating that we can imagine any type of machine that would improve upon the flaws of the previously imagined one that would make the simulation process and experience better, but this would not change the fact that we still would not wish to use the machines for the reasons stated above. What he is getting at is that “something matters in addition to one’s experiences and what one is like.” (Nozick 44) He says that what is most disturbing about these machines is that they end up living our lives for us.

I think that the main point behind this reading is that we value or lives and our experiences not solely based upon how much happiness they bring us, but also because they are real experiences. This is to say that experiences do not hold much worth or much value to us unless they are real things that we live through. Consider video games or movies: we enjoy watching or playing them, and they do bring us happiness, but not on the same level that real life does. Imagine that you won the Stanley Cup in a hockey video game. Sure, this would bring you some level of happiness, but it would not be anywhere near to as much happiness and the sense of accomplishment that you would feel if you won the Stanley Cup in real life.

I think that the main flaw of the experience machine is that it does not allow the user to create an experience, and in this sense, the user has no control over what happens during their time in the machine as everything is pre-determined. For example, if you chose the pre-programmed scene where you win the Stanley Cup, then that is exactly what would happen, and nothing else. This is what I believe draws the fine line between a video game type scenario of the experience machine and real life - it is our ability to interact with our environments and surroundings in such a manner that creates our own distinct experiences for ourselves, and knowing that our actions will have consequences that will affect our experiences and our future.

Q: Do you think there are any improvements one could make to the experience machine that would make it worthwhile to plug in to? If so, what are they? If not, why not? What does your answer tell us about the value that we place on real life experiences as opposed to simulated ones?

Rule utilitarianism (Oct. 7)

Jack Li - Notes on Brandt - Rule Utilitarianism

Rule Utilitarianism - definition according to Brandt
Rule Utilitarianism, as Brandt describes it, says that an action is fixed not by its direct consequences on the world, but instead by a moral code that the majority of people accept (90% or above, says Brandt) in the society. Ambiguously, Brandt describes a moral code as a list of principles recognized by a high proportion of adults, and that they subscribe to one or more of those moral principles (Brandts says that it is possible for everyone in the society to disagree with everyone else with respect to at least one moral principle). Brandt also calls this theory the "ideal code" theory, as he explains that the moral code should not be just accepted by the contemporary society, but by the idealistic society. He points out that the current society may have flaws in its moral beliefs, whereas an idealistic society would have no flaws in its beliefs, hence the right/wrongness of actions should be based on the flawless moral code in the idealistic society and not the realistic society.

Argument - Moral Code in a society (page 595-596)

Argument 1: A moral code must have currency in the society. (page 595)
Premise 1) At least ninety percent of the adults in a society must agree on moral principles constitutive of the code.

Example: "If at least ninety percent of the adults subscribe to principle A, and ninety percent to principle B, etc., we may say that a code consisting of principles A, B, etc. has currency in the society."

Premise 2) The moral principles A, B, etc. must belong to the moral code of a society if and only if they they are recognized as such.

Example: "It must be that a large proportion of adults would respond correctly if asked, with respect to A and B, whether most members of the society subscribe to them."

Argument 2: A moral code of a society cannot be constructed as an institution, nor its rules as rules of an institution. (page 596)
Premise 1) An institution such as a university or a family is associated with certain privileges and jobs to accomplish its goals/purposes.
Premise 2) Anyone who is assigned to the job is obligated to do certain things and follow certain rules.
Premise 3) The jobs must be done in order for the institution to achieve its goals/purposes.
Premise 4) If a moral code is an institution, everyone will belong to this institution, given that moral code is society-wide.
Premise 5) A society cannot determine any "positions" in the moral system.
Premise 6) A society has no goals/purposes.

Conclusion) Therefore, a society cannot be an institution, and its rules cannot be institution rules.

Comments/Criticisms/Questions to the arguments

To 1st Argument
The first argument says that at least ninety percent of the adults have to agree on a principle, and that a high proportion of the adults must recognize the principle when asked in order to put the principle in the moral code. However, a small portion of the population might completely disagree with all the principles in the moral code. Then, are the individuals, who live in the society and at the same time disagree completely with the all the principles in the moral code, still considered a part of the society, given that the moral code is society-wide?

Moreover, Brandt does not provide a limit on how many principles individuals must subscribe to so that they can maintain their status as members in the society. There can be an infinite number of principles in the moral code that ninety percent or more adults would agree upon, but it is also possible for individuals to only subscribe to one principle, say, principle A, but not the rest of the principles. How can these individuals, who are only subscribing to principle A while denying all other principles, still be a member of the society? If this is the case, how can the moral code be put into effect when the society cannot even determine who its members are?

To 2nd Argument
One of the main concept Brandt is arguing here is that the society does not have a purpose and cannot determine any positions for each individual in the moral system. However, I believe that the purpose of a society is already decided when the individuals were creating it from the very beginning; else, a society would not be formed since there would be absolutely no need to form one. I also believe that each individual is acting in a moral position as themselves. It may be true that the society cannot determine moral positions for individuals, because the positions should not be determined by the society, but instead by the individuals themselves. Hence, each individual does have a self-determined moral position inside the society, just that the positions are not determined by the society.

(If the theory in the last paragraph is true.) Brandt is also being unclear about the line between an institution's rules and the moral code's principles. For example, if an institution has a size of the entire society, and everyone in the society have a position in the institution, where does the line really cross between the rules of moral code and of the institution? Will the institution then become the moral code itself because everyone is a part of it?

Kant, Groundwork (Oct. 28)

Catherine Gerretsen Kant Groundwork Reading notes p. 89-93

Outline of argument:

Premise 1:There is a universal principle that humanity and every rational nature is an end in itself.

  • This is not borrowed from experience because it is universal and applies to all rational beings. Experience is not capable of determining anything about them. (p.89)
  • Humanity is not an end to human beings subjectively. It is an objective end which as a law must constitute the “ supreme limiting condition of all our subjective ends”
  • Objectivity in the rule and its universality makes it capable of being a law.
  • The subject of all ends is each rational being inasmuch as it is an end in itself

Premise 2:Following from premise 1 is the principle of autonomy. “The idea of the will of every rational being as a will giving universal law” (p.90)

  • All maxims are rejected if they are inconsistent with the will
  • The will is not merely subject to law; it is regarded as itself giving the law.

Premise 3: A will which is subject to laws may be attached to laws by means of an interest, yet a will which is a supreme lawgiver cannot depend on any interest.

  • A will dependent on any interest would still need another law restricting the interest of its self-love by the condition that it should be a universal law. (p. 90)
  • The idea of universal legislature is not based on any interest and can be unconditional. (p.91)

Premise 4:“If there is a categorical imperative it can only command that everything be done from maxims of one’s will regarded as a will which could at the same time will that it should itself give universal laws.” (p.91)

  • Cannot be based on any interest
  • The laws to which a human being is subject are only those of his own giving

* Yet they are universal

  • He is only bound to act in conformity with his own will.

* This will is designed by nature to give universal laws.

Premise 5:Kingdom of ends: The systematic union of rational beings through common laws. The universal validity of ends is determined by laws.

  • Can conceive all ends combined in a systematic whole.
  • Come under the law that others must never be treated as means, but treated as ends in themselves. This is a common objective law.
  • This is only an ideal
  • Rational beings give the laws and are also subject to the laws. (p.92)

Comments and criticisms:

  • There seems to be a conflict between the subjective and the objective laws here. The laws are created by the subjective, but can only be applied if they hold without conflict in the objective. The objective is what allows it to become a universal law, but this cannot be done without the creation of the law by the subjective.
  • The formula of autonomy is interesting in that when it is applied with the other forms of the categorical imperative and the practical imperative it gives rise to the ideal world of the kingdom of ends.

* How can this thought experiment of an ideal world be used when one is deciding on which actions are morally permissible?

  • Can the practical imperative of treating others as an end and never as a means alone help to clear up some of the issues found in the different forms of the categorical imperative?

Kant, "On a Supposed Right to Lie (Oct 30)

PHIL 230 Reading Notes Oct. 30th 2014 Charlie Zucchero

On a Supposed Right to Lie from Benevolent Motives - Immanuel Kant

Kant says that a man has the right to his own truthfulness, that is, subjective truth in his own person. (We all have the right to know subjective truth)

He proposes a hypothetical situation aimed at reaching the conclusion that it is never right to tell a lie. That is, it is the duty of every man to everyone to only speak the truth. The situation is as follows:

1) A friend comes to your door seeking asylum from a man who is trying to kill him.

2) You let your friend take refuge in your home

3) The murderer comes to your door and asks you if you are hiding your friend, whom he is in pursuit of.

Two questions:

1) Does a man have the right to be untruthful?

2) In order to prevent a misdeed that threatens him or someone else, is he not actually bound to be untruthful in a certain statement to which an unjust compulsion forces him?

- Kant is asking if it is morally justifiable to tell a lie in order to protect ones self or a friend/family member. Furthermore, he is asking if it is morally justifiable NOT to tell a lie in this situation.

He argues that you must tell the murderer the truth. That is, that your friend is hiding in your house. Kant’s definition of a lie: an intentionally false declaration towards another man


1) Telling a lie always injures another person; if not another person, then mankind generally, because it vitiates the source of justice.

(Telling a lie always does harm, either to the individual, or because all lies impair the quality or efficiency of justice)

2) No matter how good the intention may be, whoever tells a lie must must be held accountable for any consequences of that lie and must pay the penalty for them, however unforeseen those consequences may be.

Further explanation of 2):

“truthfulness is a duty that must be regarded as the basis of all duties founded on contract, the laws of which would be rendered uncertain and useless if even the least exception to them were admitted.”(2)

-Truthfulness is the basis of all contracts, and even a single exception to this rule makes all contracts useless and uncertain.

3) Telling a ‘benevolent’ lie (lie with good intention), then, may become punishable by civil laws, and if by some mistake it escapes liability to punishment, it may be condemned as wrong even by external laws.

-Even lies uttered with good intention are punishable by civil laws and/or external laws (moral judgements?) given the consequences of that lie.

C) To be truthful (honest) in all declarations is therefore a sacred unconditional command of reason, and not to be limited by any expediency.

-- It is one’s duty to always tell the truth.

Argument applied to the hypothetical situation: If you tell a lie that hinders the man planning to murder your friend, you are legally responsible for all of the consequences. If you tell the truth, public justice can find no responsibility in you, whatever the unforeseen consequences may be. Kant goes on to say that if you tell the truth to the murderer, your friend may slip out unseen while he searches, or neighbours may come and help, and all is well. Whereas if you tell a lie, and your friend tries to escape but the murderer sees him and kills him, then you may with justice be accused as the cause to his death.

In this situation, Kant claims that it was merely an accident that the truth of the statement did harm to the inhabitant of the house, because it was not a free deed (in the juridical sense) to tell the truth, and the person telling the truth can in no way be found accountable for any harm done in this situation. This is because by the veracity of the law of justice and the duty that all people have to justice, the action of doing harm by telling the truth cannot be avoided by the individual telling the truth, because it is his duty to do so.

“For to admit his right to require another to tell a lie for his benefit would be to admit a claim opposed to all law” (3)

- Is Kant implying a contradiction in this statement? How does this statement relate to the categorical imperative?

Kant says that no exceptions can be made to the duty that each person has to justice, and therefore it is never justifiable to tell a lie. This seems problematic. What are the main differences between Kant’s views on the rule of justice and Mills views on the rule of justice that make it acceptable for Mill to have exceptions to this rule, but not for Kant?

Intro to Virtue Ethics (Nov. 4)

Catherine Gerretsen

1. Aristotelian theory is a theory of action

  • character is about doing
  • virtuous inner dispositions will lead to acting in accordance with virtue

2. Character traits are stable, fixed, and reliable

  • people are born with natural tendencies
  • both positive and negative
  • these tendencies can be developed or discouraged through long gradual process of education and habituation
  • good role models are important

3. Virtue itself is not a habit

  • true virtue requires choice, understanding, and knowledge
  • habit is an aid to developing virtue
  • virtue is chosen knowingly for its own sake
  • you must act kindly because you recognize that it is the right thing to do

4. Virtue lies in a mean

  • the right response is neither too much nor too little
  • virtue is associated with emotion
  • displaying the mean amount of emotion is appropriate

5. Virtue is determined by the right reason and the right desire

  • can act from the right reason but fail if you don't have the right desire

6. Virtuous agent can act as an exemplar to others

Questions and considerations:

  • virtue ethics is character based rather than outcome or agent based ( utilitarianism and deontology respectively). Can this character based theory help to resolve some of the problems associated with the other types of theories that we've looked at? Where does it succeed? Where does it fail?
  • what are some contradictions that could be found in this theory when trying to figure out a universal way of acting?

Later virtue theory (Nov. 18)

Virtue Theory and Abortion - Rosalind Hursthouse, p. 223-246

Hursthouse’s criticisms about virtue theory are applied to a real life situation to emphasise the problems that the theory has, and in this case, the real life situation is abortion. The skeletal virtue theory is that “ an action is right if it is what a virtuous agent would do in the circumstances,” and a virtuous agent is “one who acts virtuously, that is, one who has and exercises the virtues.”

Premise 1: the theory doesn’t have a weakness or problem - involves the concept of eudaimonia

• this leads to debates about what constitutes happiness, since rationality and happiness are difficult concepts to grasp

• therefore defining eudaimonia is just as hard as defining other aspects of morality

Premise 2: The theory is inconsistent - it won’t specify what the right actions are in terms of the virtuous agent, then the next moment it ill

• instead, it focuses more on the characteristics needed for eudaemonia

•therefore it’s difficult to define the character traits that are required for eudaimonia

Premise 3: It answers the questions “what should I do? and “what sort of person should I be?”

Premise 4: It answers the two questions by coming up with rules or principles

• however it is difficult to decide how to act to these questions according to the framework of virtue theory

• the virtuous agent may use her own concepts of virtues instead of imagining what somebody else would do

• we don’t need to appeal to a virtuous person, just to the virtues

Premise 5: Virtue theory doesn’t help define any of our moral concepts

• Instead, it relies on other moral concepts

• doesn’t just rely on the agent

• e.g. charity is the virtue whose concern is the good of others, and it relates to the concepts of the worthwhile, the advantageous, and the pleasant

• If one has the wrong ideas of any of these concepts, then he or she will have the wrong conception of what is good

Premise 6: It isn’t clear which character traits are the virtues

• For each trait, there may be some culture that would reject it

• same question can be asked about which duties we have to do

Premise 7: There is unresolvable conflict built into virtue ethics

• Sometimes there is nothing that virtue ethics can help with with real life situations

• e.g. knowing that your brother’s wife is cheating on him - say something or not?

• Virtue ethics doesn’t offer a solution to this, and any action you take may be right or wrong

• This problem is similar with absolute moral rules in Kant’s utilitarianism

Example - Abortion

• Some people will deal with this situation in terms of what the virtuous agent would or would not do, which relates to the 3rd, 4th and 5th criticisms

• Others would assume that only justice will be applied

• Doesn’t involve asking what a virtuous person would do

• Women’s rights: women do have a moral right since its their own bodies, so a law forbidding abortion would be unjust

• This doesn't relate to the morality of abortion

• Virtue ethics has the right attitude about human life and death, and will concentrate on ending a human life within abortion

• However, it won’t emphasise on women’s rights

• Although abortion is a serious moral issue, it isn’t always non-virtuous. We have to take in account of how the mother is feeling: e.g. if she has poor health, if she is tired from bearing a child, if she has a job that she has to commit to


• Since virtue ethics is more character based than action based, and basing on the example of abortion (it can be virtuous if the mother has significant problems), then can we relate this to solving other moral issues, such as stealing something or killing somebody?

• From premise 6 (cultural relativism), how do we determine whose virtues are the best?