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Group 10 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)

Alex Lenz

William Haines
Section 1a-1f

Intro to Consequentialism

Plain Consequentialism
1) Among all the actions we could intend to make, only one or a few of them could be morally right. (Section c)
2) The morally right action is the action that yields the best consequences, which includes the action itself and everything the action causes. (Section b)
3) The action that produces the best consequences is the action that produces the most amount of happiness. (Section a)
Therefore, of all the actions one could choose to make, the best action is the one that results in the best consequences.

Variations on Plain Consequentialism
Plain Scalar Consequentialism: Plain Scalar Consequentialism, unlike Plain Consequentialism, does not discriminate between moral “rights” and “wrongs.” Rather, Plain Scalar Consequentialism is built upon the idea that we can have various morally sound decisions. For example, if one action is a little better than another action, and we choose the latter option, we are not making a morally wrong decision. We are simply making a less moral decision. (Section c)
Expectable Consequentialism: Expectable consequentialism measures an action’s morality by estimating the possible outcomes of the action, though perhaps not in a reasonable fashion. (Section d)
Reasonable Consequentialism: Reasonable consequentialism states that for an action to morally right, one must come to a reasonable conclusion before making the decision, in regards to the action’s consequences. (Section d)
Dual Consequentialism: Dual consequentialism is based on the premise that the concept of “right” has an objective and a moral sense. An objectively right action is that which will yield the best consequences, while a morally right action is that which will yield the best reasonably expected outcomes. (Section e)
Rule Consequentialism: Rule consequentialism does not judge an action as morally right or wrong, but by whether or not the action adheres to collective rules that will have the best consequences. (Section f)

Although the premise behind expectable consequentialism and reasonable consequentialism seem logical, the difference between the two seems quite arbitrary. One would naturally expect to be considering possible outcomes of a decision in a reasonable way. Why would anyone go about considering them in an unreasonable way?
Plain Scalar Consequentialism seems like the most reasonable and manageable way to go about measuring the morality of an action. In fact, Plain Scalar Consequentialism seems to do just that; it measures the morality of an action, rather than looking at actions from a white or black point of view. This seems like a more realistic way for people to live a moral life. We may not always be able to make the most moral decision possible, but that does not necessarily mean that the decision we did make was overall immoral.

Discussion Questions
1) Consequences will affect numerous people differently. When thinking about consequentialism, to what extent do we prioritize our happiness over the happiness of others? Would it be considered immoral to put our happiness above the happiness of others?
2) Is weighing the morality of an action based on its consequences always logical? For example, an action that could be made that would yield the best consequences in the immediate future may result in negative consequences looking beyond the immediate future. Are we still justified in deeming it the most moral action we could choose to make?
3) If consequentialism is indeed the best method of measuring morality, can we be held responsible for unforeseen consequences that may arise from our decisions?

Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 23)

Megan Sheil - Philosophy 230 Reading Notes and Questions

Foundation of Morals
Greatest Happiness Principle
Argument: “Holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness” p(4). In this argument, happiness is defined as the absence of pain
This raises the question of “is this how we should measure happiness?” Also, what is meant by pain? Pain could include emotional, physical, so this should be defined.
Argument: pleasure and lack of pain are the most desirable things (pg 4)
Argument: Something is ethical if it offers the most happiness to the greatest amount to people (p.6).

Conclusion: Ethical issues revolve around the emotional outcomes of the action. If something results in pleasure or happiness to a large amount of people, then it can be considered ethical. Things are only considered unethical when they cause emotional harm to a larger amount of people than they benefit,

Questions There is the question of whether using environmental resources in medicinal products is ethical: Offers remedies which brings large amounts of happiness, however it would result in an eventual extinction of these resources. Under Utilitarianism this is ethical, however it would lead to pollution and destruction.

==== a comment from Christina ====
I just want to make sure no one makes mistakes about this on the exam: Note that if the consequence of doing this would actually lead to pollution and destruction, one could argue that this is not productive of the most happiness, so it would not be accepted by utilitarians. They have to think of the longer term consequences too!
==== end comment ====

Also, what is pleasure? What is pain? Is solely limited to emotional pain or does it include physical, mental? If someone gains pleasure from pain (sociopath), are they morally right for causing pain?

Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 25)

Anna Bui


Here is the proof that Mill proposed to validate Utilitarianism :

  • Premise 1.) If happiness was is an end as utilitarianism proposes then it is valid.
  • Premise 2.) ``No reason can be given why general happiness is desirable, except that each person, so far as he believes it to be attainable, desires his won happiness`` (pg 17, 2nd paragraph)
  • Premise 3.) Each person so far believe it to be attainable (pg 17, 2nd paragraph)
  • Premise 4.) ``Each person`s happiness is a good to that person, and the general happiness, therefore to the aggregate of all persons``(page 17, second paragraph)
  • Premise 5.) ``Happiness is an ends of conduct``(pg, 17 paragraph 2)

Conclusion : Utilitarianism is valid

Mill is trying to give validity to utilitarianism by these reasons. However, these reasons have a couple obvious fallacies. An obvious fallacy is the fallacy of generalization. Although one might desire their own happiness, it does not necessarily mean they desire general happiness. Another fallacy is his claim in premise 3, that he did not give reason for. One last comment is in the beginning of chapter 4 he says that reason cannot prove first principles by reason, this is problematic however, because all this premises above seem to derive from reason with no empirical evidence.

Discussion Questions :

  • How might Mill describe the loss of individual happiness when the individual joins a society in which the majority rule (democracy)?
  • Is there a situation in which it is unjust to put a the happiness of a majority over the happiness of the minority?

==== A comment from Christina ====

I just want to clarify, so no one gets this wrong on the exam, that Mill doesn’t say that everyone desires the general happiness. It’s easy to get that impression from the text, so I understand why it might seem so! But as discussed in class, he says that we each desire our own happiness, so our own happiness is a good to each. But if each person’s happiness is a good, then the sum of all those is a good—the general happiness is good. This doesn’t mean we all desire the general happiness though. he would agree that we don't all do that.

Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 30)

Alex Lenz

John Stuart Mill
Chapter 5- "On the Connection between Justice and Utility"

1) Justice implies not only what is right or wrong, but which some individual can claim from us as his moral right. p.23
2) Justice provides us with security, which is the most vital of all interests to each human being. p.24
3) Justice, along with the security it provides us, prevents us from wrongfully harming others. This provides the most happiness for all. p. 24
Therefore, justice and utility are intrinsically related.

I believe that Mill’s argument contains much validity. His principle runs somewhat along the same lines as the karmic principle- that when we wrong others, we should be wronged ourselves. This makes sense, based on the fact that we need to learn from our behaviour and grow as individuals. I found Mill’s discussion of impartiality to be quite interesting. On p.21, Mill addresses the idea that justice is inconsistent with partiality. He argues that we must treat all equally and respect their moral rights. However, Mill does state that preferring our family members and friends over those who do not fall into that category is justified. It is when it comes down to our basic rights that we must treat all equally. These basic rights can be sanctioned by law. Overall, Mill’s writing emphasizes that justice is conducive to utility by providing a level of security for individuals.

Discussion Questions
To what extent do you think that justice lies within the law, as opposed to “informal” justice? Do you think that it’s morally acceptable to implement your own idea of justice if it violates the law?

Is it fair to believe that morality lies within justice, when justice is primarily a controlled force (governed by the law, or some other institutional force)? Can we still be praised as acting morally, if we act morally simply because we fear the consequences of acting immorally?

Later consequentialism (Oct. 2)

Nozick, Robert. “The Experience Machine.” Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic Books, 1974. pp. 42-45

Megan Sheil

1. Premise 1: “We want to do certain things and not just have the experience of doing them” (pg 43)
Evidence: In some cases we only want experience/memories of things because we want to act on it

2. Premise 2 : “Plugging in... limits us to a man-made reality... no deeper than what people construct” (pg 43)
Argument: People desire to be open to contact and stimulating experiences
Real world example of the machine: drugs

3. Premise 3: “It is misguided to search for particular additional functions beyond the competence of machines” (pg 44-45)
Argument: We wish to live “in contact with reality” (pg 45)

Humans don't want to "plug in" to this hypothetical machine. This is because we want real world connections and to actually experience things. Same goes for when he brings up the transformation machine. We would rather be ourselves and actually live our lives/experience our lives, than to have a machine induced experience.

Questions and Comments:

I found this reading intriguing. It really brought into question, "what makes us human?". I found myself wondering if we need to actually experience things for them to fully happen. For example, if someone is on hallucinogenics and experiences hallucinations, can we say that they never happened as they were experiences not actual actions. It also raised the question of whether conversations that happen over technology (texting, facebook, ect) are actual experiences or not. And whether in this high technologic age we're actually losing our humanity.

Rule utilitarianism (Oct. 7)

Brandt Rule-Utilitarianism Anna Bui

Premise 1) The moral code must have currency in a society

  • High proportion of adults must agree to moral principles and have moral opinions

  • 90% adults should agree

  • Principles belonging to moral code only if they are recognized as legitimate by vast majority

Premise 2) Making a difference between moral code of a society and it’s institutions or the rules of its institutions.

  • Moral codes of society may overrule any institutional rule, meaning that it can determine whether institutional rules are wrong are not.

  • People are obligated to perform their duties (eg. Professor or wife) because they ought to do whatever he has undertaken to do

  • If the moral code and the institutional rules are the same then we must infer that the institution is the society, which we can clearly refute when we think of a family or a university.

Conclusion : Institutions cannot be considered a society and its rules cannot be synonymous with the moral code of society.

2.) For premise 1, I think its problematic to adopt a principle based mostly on consensus. Just because a majority believes something is morally right does not mean that it is. For premise 2, because the principles are adopted by the majority vote and moral codes may overrule institutional rule, it becomes very concerning for majority institutions, for example minority religious institutions.

==== A comment from Christina ====
What Brandt is saying is not actually that the moral rules we should have are those that we agree upon. This is a complex argument, but he’s saying:

(a) what is morally right should be based on whatever rules would produce the best consequences, if

(b) a vast majority of people followed them and thought they were good.

So what’s morally right is actually based on the consequences of having a certain set of moral rules: which set of rules would produce the most happiness, for example, if most people agreed to and followed them? It’s not that the moral rules we should have are those that most people agree to, but rather that we should have those that would have the best consequences, produce the most happiness, if most people agreed to them. It’s a subtle but important difference!
==== end comment ====

3.) Discussion:

  • How might we determine whether the majority of voters have chosen the right principle to adopt?

  • Is it ever permissible to not perform a duty that you have undertaken?

Kant, Groundwork (Oct. 28)

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

Charissa Church

The first question is whether a man—in cases where he cannot avoid answering Yes or No—has the right to be untruthful.

Every man has not only a right, but the strictest duty to truthfulness in statements which he cannot avoid, whether they do harm to himself or others.(french philosopher)

The second question is whether, in order to prevent a misdeed that threatens him or some one else, he is not actually bound to be untruthful in a certain statement to which an unjust compulsion forces him.

“the duty of veracity (of which alone we are speaking here) makes no distinction between persons towards whom we have this duty, and towards whom we may be free from it; but is an unconditional,duty which holds in all circumstances. (german philosopher)”

It is wrong to subordinate the ultimate and unconditional duty of truthfulness to other considerations. Veracity “constitutes the supreme condition of justice”. To tell a lie, even if it causes no harm to anyone, breaches the principle of justice in itself because it suggests that one does not recognize veracity as a duty.

To move from a “metaphysic of right” (abstractions) to a principle of “politics” (experience), and finally to a solution…. the philosopher suggests:

1. An axiom (apodictically certain proposition) stemming from the definition of external right (harmony of the freedom of each with the freedom of all by a universal law)

2. The belief and acceptance that the “united will” of all, based on the principles of equality, should be the basis of public law. (Without this freedom would not be afforded to all)

3. A problem: it should be determined how a problem could solved while maintaining “harmony” in a society based on the principles of equality and freedom. This will become a principle of that political system and it’s enactments drawn from practical knowledge.

These enactments aim to regulate justice. Justice will never compromised to accommodate the political system however the political system must always accommodate justice.

“All practical principles of justice must contain strict truths, and the principles here called middle principles can only contain the closer definition of their application to actual cases (according to the rules of politics), and never exceptions from them, since exceptions destroy the universality, an account of which alone they bear the name of principles.”

-Middle principle: “This middle principle is, that the individuals may contribute to the formation of the laws either in their own person or by representatives.”

Question: 1. Are there any political systems where justice should accommodate the political system as opposed to the political system accommodating justice?

Intro to Virtue Ethics (Nov. 4)

Later virtue theory (Nov. 18)

Charissa Church

Introduction: Hursthouse briefly illustrates the commonalities and differences between deontology, utilitarianism and virtue ethics. She draws on these distinctions to address nine common criticisms of virtue theory, seven of which she believes to be misplaced. Hursthouse acknowledges that two common criticisms of virtue theory are legitimate, but contends that they are not particular to virtue theory. She briefly comments on these criticisms in the first half of her essay. The second half of Hursthouse’s essay challenges these criticisms by demonstrating how virtue theory can direct discussions about a real moral issue, in this case abortion.

Part 1:

Comments towards common criticisms:

1.“The theory does not have a peculiar weakness or problem in virtue of the fact that it involves the concept of eudaimonia (a standard criticism being that this concept is hopelessly obscure)” (p. 226)

2.“The theory is not trivially circular; it does not specify right action in terms of the virtuous agent and then immediately specify the virtuous agent in terms of right action. Rather,it specifies her in terms of the virtues, and then specifies these, not merely as dispositions to right action, but as the character traits required for eudaimonia” (p. 226)

3.“It does answer the question “What should I do?"as well as the question “What sort of person should I be?”” (p. 227)

4.“The theory does, to a certain extent, answer this question by coming up with rules or principles… Every virtue generates a positive instruction and every vice a prohibition” (p. 227)

5.“Virtue theory is not committed to any sort of reductionism involving defining all of our moral concepts in terms of the virtuous agent. On the contrary, it relies on a lot of very significant moral concepts” (p. 227)

6.“We do not know which character traits are the virtues” (p. 228) (Hursthouse recognizes this as a legitimate criticism but notes thats this problem is not particular to virtue theory)

7.“Virtue ethics has unresolvable conflict built into it” (p. 229) (Again, Hursthouse recognizes this as a legitimate criticism but notes thats this problem is not particular to virtue theory)

8.“Critics drastically underestimate the variety of ways in which the virtue and vice concepts, and the others, such as that of the worthwhile,figure in such discussion” (p. 233)

Hursthouse further breaks down this criticism, her major objection:

-“address[ing] to the virtue theorist’s employment of the virtue and vice concepts enshrined in her rules” (p. 230)

-“address[ing] her employment of concepts such as that of the worthwhile” (p. 230)

-Concluding that: “ Each objection… implicitly appeals to a certain condition of adequacy on a normative moral theory, and in each case, I shall claim, the condition of ------adequacy, once made explicit, is utterly implausible” (p. 230)

Part 2:

Hursthouse aims to clarify how certain concepts figure in a discussion conducted in terms of virtue theory and illustrate how virtue theory can direct discussions and thought about real moral issues:

P1.“Much of the discussion proceeds in the virtue- and vice-related terms whose application, in several cases, yields practical conclusions (criticism 3 & 4)” (p. 244)

What is good and bad, charitable, callous, greedy, etc

P2.Virtue- and vice-related terms are difficult to apply and anyone might challenge the application of them (p. 224)

Conclusion:“Should these difficult terms be there, or should the discussion be couched in terms that all clever adolescents can apply correctly?(Objection 8)” (p. 224)

P3.”Discussion also contains claims about what is worthwhile, serious and important, good and evil, in our lives” (p. 245)

Conclusion: ”Should those difficult claims be there or can one reach practical conclusions about real moral issues that are in no way determined by premises about such matters (5th & 8th criticism)” (p. 245)

P3.”The discussion also thereby, inevitably, contains claims about what life is like” (p. 245)

Conclusion: “Should those disputable claims be there, or is our knowledge…about what life is like irrelevant to our understanding of real moral issues? ( 8th criticism)” (p. 245)

P4:”What is at issue is whether these concepts (virtue-& vice-, claims about what is worthwhile) are indeed the ones that should come in, that is, whether virtue theory should be criticized for employing them” (p. 234)

Conclusion:“All these concepts should be there in any discussion of real moral issues and…virtue theory, which uses all of them, is the right theory to apply to them” (p. 245)

I don't think Hursthouse aims to discredit any rival moral theories, instead she means to address some common criticisms of virtue theory. She attributes these criticisms to a limited understanding of how virtue theory works, and how it can be applied practically. Hursthouse admits that virtue theory is not without flaw but that its flaws are not peculiar to it making virtue theory no worse a theory than deontology or utilitarianism. I think she successfully explains virtue theory and broadens the readers understanding. Her application of virtue theory to a real world moral issue helps us deconstruct the problem and gives us a few perspectives to consider. Virtue theory does not give us a definite answer in this case but it helps direct our discussion of abortion by helping us identify what lies at the heart of the issue.

-What kinds of moral issues might virtue theory be able to solve?

-One criticism of virtue theory is that it is difficult to define which virtues are character traits. Cultural understandings of virtuous action may vary. Variations might also exist between generations within a culture. What might some of these variations be?

- If we cannot reach consensus on certain issues within a society are we able to criminalize/decriminalize certain actions on moral grounds?