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Intro to Consequentialism (Sept 18)

Maziar Sharifikhah

William Haines
Sections 1a-1f

Plain Consequentialism Of all things you may do in a situation, the one with the best consequences is the one that is morally correct.


  1. Maximizing happiness is good
  2. Death is bad
  3. Slow driving decreases happiness as it leads to people not attending to things that make them happy

The speed limit should be set to something reasonable that encompasses both of these factors

A consequence in this case is

  • the action itself, and
  • everything the action causes.

Plain Scalar Consequentialism:
This gets rid of the binary that everything that isn't morally correct is morally incorrect, some things are more moral than others.

  1. Action A is morally correct
  2. Action B is also morally correct but not as good as A

Some actions are more morally correct than others

Expectable and Reasonable Consequentialism:
The other forms of consequentialism fail to take into account mistakes. Expectable and reasonable consequentialism takes care of this by saying if a reasonable person were to think that this is morally correct than it is morally correct (i.e. donating to a charity that is trying to find new types of cancer in its cancer research instead of fighting existing ones). As long as one takes all the precautions that are reasonable to take.

  1. All information is not available to humans at once
  2. It would be unreasonable and morally wrong to assign blame to a person who is not at fault for their decision
Expectable and reasonable consequentialism is correct

Dual Consequtialism:
This idea says that we can choose the option with the best consequences but also take into account what a reasonable person might do.

Rule Consequtialism:

  1. The rule of law increases happiness for the entire community
  2. Happiness is good

An action is morally right if and only if it does not violate the set of rules of behavior whose general acceptance in the community

Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 23)

Maziar Sharifikhah

Utilitarianism John Stuart Mill

Chapters I-V (selections)

Great Happiness Principle

-An action is right if it produces happiness and minimizes pain.

-Happiness and pain are questions that can keep being reduced and are open questions (eg. Medical art is good because it causes health, why is health good? Because it leads to life. Why is life good? Etc..)

Mills Argument

Premise 1) Humans would not subject themselves to becoming completely animalistic even if it meant being completely satisfied due to dignity and pride

Premise 2) Humans are rational beings with dignity and pride

Premise 3) Lower beings are only satisfied because they cannot comprehend entire issues.

Conclusion 1: It is better to be a unsatisfied human than a satisfied being of lower intelligence

Conclusion 2: High quality pleasures are better than a large quantity of bodily or animalistic pleasure.

Question: This idea falls apart if we assume humans don’t want to live more simply, who are we to invalidate a fool’s or a pigs happiness because we’ve decided they can’t see the scope of the issue.

Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 25)

Jon Guarin
Continuation of John Mill's arguments for Utilitarianism (Pages 9-12)
His argument:
Premise 1: To act upon only from the motive of duty is a misapprehension of the utilitarian mode of thought. (page 9)
Premise 2: Most of the great actions done are not for the benefit of humanity, but for the benefit of the individual. (page 9)
Premise 3: The only time an individual has to act upon on behalf of the nation is when he needs to;
every other case, he should just attend to himself and the needs of the people close to him.

Conclusion 1: Every action a person makes, regardless if it fulfills other peoples needs, ultimately is done to satisfy such individual.
Conclusion 2: A person who believes in utilitarianism, could not make actions only based upon if it is the right thing to do. He/she has to put his happiness into account, before making any actions.

Question: If a certain individual only acts accordingly, based on the consequences other people might experience, regardless if he has to
endure more pain than the people he is affecting with his actions, but makes him ultimately happy, will that person still be
thinking in the utilitarian way of reasoning?

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Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 30)

Sanjith Srikanth


On the connection between justice and utility (Pages 20-25)

Premise 1: The questions behind the sense of what is just or unjust can be understood in terms of legal rights i.e. “ it is just to respect and unjust to violate the legal rights of one ” (Page 21)

Premise 2: Moral rights however do exist out of the frame of legal rights and it is important to make that distinction between the two. In some situations there might have been an unjust law from the start and there are several opinions about whether infringing it or following it is just. Hence “ a second case of injustice consists of taking or withholding to which someone has a moral right” (Page 21)

Premise 3: Another very commonly understood form of justice is obtaining what is deserved whereas injustice is obtaining something that is undeserved (Page 21)

Premise 4: It goes against the universally accepted definition of justice to show favour or preference towards one side in particular (Page 21)

Premise 5: Though it is understood that it is considered unjust to break a promise or an engagement knowingly, there however does exist a possibility of this being overruled by some stronger sense of obligation

Premise 6: The only differing factor between justice and expediency is the “sentiment that attaches to the former, as contradistinguished from the latter” (Page 25)

Conclusion 1: Hence, justice refers to certain social utilities which are fundamentally different from other actions which may pertain to promote human pleasure or convenience owing to sentiment which not only differs in degree but also in kind

Question: Though it is understood that certain specific obligations may override justice, the obligations are relative and vary from person to person. What one considers a pressing obligation may not coincide with what another person thinks. Hence, is it considered just to divert a train and kill three people on the tracks than to simply let the train derail and kill everyone on board?

Later Utilitarianism (Oct. 2)

Jon Guarin
Contemporary Utilitarianism (Pages 131-150), by Mark Timmons
The Experience Machine (Pages 42-45), by Robert Nozick
Premise 1: An action is right if and only if the action is mentioned in a moral rule which utility is regarded higher than the utility of
another moral rule. (Page 139)
Premise 2: An action is right if and only if the action has as much utility as any alternative action the person can perform instead. (Page 143)
Premise 3: An action is right if and only if this action provides as much desired fulfillment as any other alternative action the person
may perform. (Page 143)
Conclusion 1: In order for an action to be right, we not only have to consider the happiness of others, but also how much it satisfies our desires.
Conclusion 2: Utilitarianism may justify an action to be right, even though it is breaking a moral rule, as long as the action provides a
higher utility than the action following the moral rule.
Question: Is there an optimal moral rule to follow that supersedes all other moral rules? A moral rule, that regardless of the situation, must be followed?

Brandt, "Some Merits of One form of Rule Utilitarianism" (Oct. 7)

Sanjith Srikanth

Brandt, Richard. “Some Merits of One form of Rule Utilitarianism”

Richard Brandt differentiates act utilitarianism from rule utilitarianism in that for the former the rightness of a single act is fixed by its effect on the world. Whereas rule utilitarianism encompasses the view that the rightness of an act is fixed, not by its relative utility, but by the utility of having a relevant moral rule, for most or all members for a certain class of acts being performed (Page 591).

Ideal Moral code theory

Premise 1: The rightness of a particular act is made a function of ideal rules in a society (Page 592)

Premise 2: An act is right if and only if it would not be prohibited by the moral code ideal for the society (Page 594)

Premise 3: If a moral code requires currency in society, then a high proportion of the adults in the society must subscribe to its moral principles.

- Since the amount was a 90% agreement, 90% of adults must abide by its moral principles (Page 595)

Premise 4: Moral rules are not institutional expectations but the moral code of a society has implications that bear on institutional rules (Page 596)

Premise 5: The moral rules recognized in a given society are however not morally binding (Page 601)

Conclusion: Hence according to this code, one’s obligation is to follow the best moral rules in a particular situation and without considering any other possible more ideal solution

Question: Does the ideal moral code theory consider certain actions that are so unjust that even if society felt otherwise, they would still be unjust?

==== A comment from Christina ====
This question could sound like Brandt's view is that what’s right is what society thinks is right or just. But instead, he says that what’s right is what follows the moral rules that would produce the best consequences, if most people followed them. So for Brandt, it could indeed be that certain actions would be unjust even if most people disagreed. They could be unjust b/c they violate rules that would produce the best consequences if people followed them, even if most people in a given society don’t actually agree with this. This is a complex point, I know—I hope I’ve made it clear!

==== end comment ====

Kant, Groundwork (Oct. 28)

Catherine Oteyo

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

-humanity is an objective end which as a law must constitute the “ supreme limiting condition of all our subjective ends” thus making it not subjective that humans beings adopt to laws.

-it is not borrowed from experience because first of it is universal and second it does not "present humanity as an end to human beings"

Premise 2:The principle of autonomy which is the idea of the will of every rational being as a will giving universal law.

- The principle of every human will as a will giving universal laws in all its maxims.

-Kant refers to the rest as heteronomy

-All maxims are rejected if they are inconsistent with the will.

-Human beings are bound to laws of duty, however these laws are only those of his own giving, at the same time these laws are universal

Premise 3: Kingdom Ends

-The systematic union of different rational beings through common laws

-One becomes a member of the kingdom of ends when they are at once giving universal laws and subjected to the will of any other. He or she belongs to it as a sovereign.

- In the Kingdom of Ends, everything has a price or dignity and the price can be replaced by anything else which is equivalent.

Questions. Does the Kingdom of Ends really exists?

Kant, "On a Supposed Right to Lie (Oct 30 (previously Oct 28))

Michael Izatt

Introduction: Kant responds to a critique from a Swiss-French contemporary, Benjamin Constant, on Kant's notion of unconditional truth as expressed in Kant's example of the homeowner, the murderer, and the person in hiding.

Constant's critique of Kant's example: Kant's moral principle that truth must be told at all times, even if it causes injury to the person in hiding, says that any lie to protect the life of the person in hiding is essentially a crime since it is a lie. Constant suggests that Kant's principle, that truth is an absolute and unconditional duty, "would make all society impossible" (p. 1).

Kant's response to Constant in the form of a question, which is then followed by a two-levelled argument:

Question: Does a person have a right to lie when he/she is required to answer yes or no, even if it is in the context of saving somebody from harm?

Kant's answer: NO!

First level of argument:

Premise: Truth is a formal duty for man at all times, even if it happens to cause disadvantages for others

Therefore (Conclusion): While the lie does not necessarily injure the person who is being lied to (the murderer for example), the lie unequivocally injures the rest of mankind since a falsehood disrupts the unity of justice and truth

Kant's scenario to articulate this point: If the homeowner answers "yes" to the murderer that the person hiding is in the house, and the person hiding, unbeknownst to the homeowner, ran out of the house and fled, the homeowner did the right thing for not only was the deed not committed, but the truth was unconditionally upheld. Now had the homeowner lied and said the person was not in the house, and again, unbeknownst to the homeowner the person had fled into the streets, and the murderer was to run into the person since he/she had no reason to search the home, then the person who lied is responsible for the consequences of the deed since they had lied.

Second level of argument:

Premise 1: Truthfullness is a duty that becomes the foundation to which all other duties founded on contracts rest on

Premise 2: To be truthful (honest) is a "sacred unconditional command of reason" (p. 2).

Therefore (Conclusion): Whoever tells a lie is therefore responsible and must answer for its consequences, however good their intentions may have been, since telling the truth is an unconditional command of reason and duty that must be upheld at all times.

Kant's takeaway message (an overall conclusion based on these two levels of the argument as situated in the context of the homeowner/murderer example): "Every man has not only a right, but the strictness duty to truthfullness in statements which he cannot avoid, whether they do harm to himself or others" (p. 3).

Comments, Criticisms, or Questions:

Kant seems to use an absurd scenario to illustrate his example of truth and justice with the scenario mentioned above. I mean, what if the homeowner told the truth and the person had not run away and was brutally murdered? I know Kant would say "too bad, at least you told the truth", but this surely cannot be a duty to man to let a murder happen. It seems as if Kant regards individuals to contain ultimate authority on matters of truth and justice when making such decisions. Why wouldn't Kant suggest to lie to the murderer and then call/get the town policeman or proper authorities to handle the situation?

Also, in today's day and age, would one be considered an accomplice for giving information to the murderer that ultimately led to the crime? Would there be some sort of good samaritan rule that could potentially land the homeowner in jail? Kant's answer of "at least they upheld the truth" seems extremely superficial here, especially when he uses examples that do not express the complexities of truth, justice and law.

Another interesting thing with Kant's argument is how he comes to understand consequences, as if he is incorporating some consequentialist principles in his moral theory. For example, when he suggests that telling the truth could prevent the murder if the person ran away and escaped the murderer, Kant emphasizes the consequence or end result rather than one's intention. Also, Kant suggests that whoever lies must be responsible for the consequences of whatever that lie brings forth on others, as if the consequence of an action are just as important as the principle itself, which I suppose could be grounds for one arguing that Kant is a partial consequentialist. Although i'm sure Kant somewhere along his work would refute that entirely, making things even more confusing than they already are!

One last question. Would Kant's instance of truth, even if it injures oneself or others be compatible with religious fundamentalism or other ideologies that claim they are upholding the truth? In other words, would a suicide bomber be justified by Kant if they are pursuing the truth as they understand it? Even at the expense of innocent lives? What do we establish as truth?

Intro to Virtue Ethics (Nov. 4)

catherine oteyo

Virtue Ethics

• Emphasizes the role of character "acting as a virtuous person would act in your situation

• Aristotle: a virtuous person is someone who has ideal character traits and they come from natural internal tendencies but also needs to be nurtured.


Virtue of ethics initially defined by what it is not rather than what it is

Premises 1: How should one live?

-deontology and consequentialism concern with the right action and virtue ethics concerned with the good life and what kinds of persons we should be, what is the right action? What kind of person should one be in order to get it right all the time?

Conclusion: How should one live? By living virtuously and having a virtuous character.

Premises 2: character and virtue

- Aristotelian character- state of being, having the appropriate inner states

Theory of action; by having the virtuous inner dispositions, involves acting upon them

- Character traits are stable, fixed and reliable dispositions- you have to act virtuous in all kinds of situations, towards all kinds of people and over a long period of time even when it is difficult to do so.

Character development

- Develops over a long period of time. Some are born with positive nature of being friendly others are born with negative nature of being jealous. Characters can be also affected by parents, teachers, peers, role models and exposure to different situations

- Moral education and development. In the early stages, moral development relies on the availability of role-models and the students emulates the example of the role-model

- Virtue "lies in a mean" this is because t involves displaying the mean amount of emotion and virtues are associated with feelings; courage is associated with fear

- Virtue is determined by the right reason. It requires the right desire and the right reason

- Judgments of virtue are judgments of a whole life rather than of one isolated action

Premises 3: Anti-Theory and the Uncodifiability of Ethics

- Virtue is a matter of experience, sensitivity, ability to perceive, ability to reason practically and it takes a long time to develop.

- Ethics cannot be captured in one rule or the principle is the "Uncodifiability of ethics thesis"- ethics is too diverse and imprecise to be captured in a rigid code.

Conclusion : virtue ethics is developed from dissatisfaction with the notions of duty and obligation and their central roles in understanding morality

Later virtue theory (Nov. 18)

Michael Izatt

"Virtue Theory and Abortion" by Rosalind Hursthouse

Introduction: Rosalind Hursthouse attempts to illustrate a general framework of virtue theory as it relates to deontological and utilitarian moral theories by implicitly enumerating the similarities and differences each of them have with each other. Hursthouse then examines five common criticisms of virtue theory that she believes are misguided. While it is unclear how Hursthouse refutes these criticisms, she does indeed explicitly refute a few of these criticisms. Following this, Hursthouse then examines the moral issue of abortion from a virtue ethics perspective. I will, however, focus on the five criticisms of virtue ethics Hursthouse attempts to discredit (the ones she does clearly refute anyways).

1.) First Criticism: "Eudaimonia (human flourishing) is term that is difficult to define and hence an obscure concept" (p. 226)

Hursthouse's response: (p. 226)

Premise: Eudaimonia is no less obscure to understand than the concepts of rationality and happiness (concepts that are crucial to deontological and utilitarian moral theories).

Conclusion: The criticism of virtue theory around the concept of Eudaimonia must not be taken too seriously since all moral theories have difficult and elusive concepts worked into their moral theory (like rationality or happiness).

2.) Second Criticism: "There is no circularity in virtue theory. The right action is not specified in terms of the virtuous agent and the virtuous agent is not specified in terms of the right action. Rather it specifies the agent in terms of virtues, which are then assumed to lead to eudaimonia" (p. 226)

Hursthouse's response:

Not clear

3.) Third Criticism: "virtue theory doesn't really help you in choosing what to do in a given situation" (p. 227)

Hursthouse's response: (p. 227)

Premise:"Every virtue generates a positive instruction (act justly, kindly, courageously, honestly, etc.) and every vice a prohibition (do not act unjustly, cruelly, like a coward, dishonestly, etc.)"

Conclusion: Virtue theory does help you choose what to do since the agent can employ their concepts of virtues and/or prohibitions

4.) Fourth Criticism: "Virtue theory does not develop any principles or rules"

Hursthouse's response:

Not entirely clear. However, it seems to be tied into the same premise and conclusion from the third criticism. Although I do not see how this refutes the criticism? These are virtues that seem to be already established and not created from virtue theory themselves (virtues like honesty, kindness, etc, etc.), which actually leads to the next criticism.

5.) Fifth Criticism: "virtue theory seems to rely on other significant moral concepts (concepts that can stand alone from virtue theory entirely) and does not attempt to define its own concepts in regards to how the agent acts" (p. 227-28)

Hursthouse's response: (p. 227-28)

Premise: defining virtues can be problematic, particularly if the agent has the wrong conception of the virtue and is mislead in their perspective.

Conclusion: No follower of Aristotle's moral theory, virtue ethics, should even attempt to reduce moral concepts since there can be discrepancies with how that concept is defined and characterized (for example Charity is allegedly based on good and evil, helping others, advantageous, worthwhile, etc, etc). But are these correct? This is Hursthouse's point.


Well, I found Hursthouse's essay to be a little scattered. Hursthouse first states she will go over 5 criticisms and refute them, but she eventually mentions nine of them and doesn't necessarily refute them all, and some of the ones she does refute seem to be weak and ineffective. For example, for the first criticism, she thinks she is refuting the claim that eudaimonia is an obscure concept which makes virtue theory either unrealistic or untenable, yet her method of reasoning is comparing the term to other moral theories that have obscure terms themselves (rationality and happiness). This does not really deal with the criticism by pointing to other theories that have problems, in fact, I find it to be completely irresponsible on her part to even present her argument in that fashion. I truly believe that eudaimonia is a more obscure concept than rationality and happiness simply because we are familiar with these terms whereas eudiamonia, an ancient Greek concept that has a variety of different meanings according to whoever is translating the term, is a term that is not fully understood. In other words, it is an abstract ancient Greek concept that is translated to suit our modern understanding of the word. Is this what the Greeks really meant with the word? With respect to how Hursthouse ineffectively "refutes" the eudaimonia criticism, the same could be said for the fifth criticism with how she deals with it when she basically says "well, we followers of Aristotle don't really bother with reductionist methods". Thats not really a proper refutation. Why bring up criticisms when you do not properly deal with the criticism? Hursthouse seems to defer how she refutes these criticisms by pushing them further into the essay, so by the time she gets to abortion, the criticisms and refutations seem to get lost and are themselves obscured (at least I thought so anyways).

My questions would be: Can virtue ethics exists as a plausible moral blueprint without other moral concepts and principles already established? And is virtue ethics a management of ethics based from other moral principles with the promise of eudaimonia as the end result?