From UBC Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Group 13 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)

Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 23)

Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 25)

First set of notes for these readings

Mac S.

READING NOTES: Mill’s Utilitarianism

Chapter 4, page 17.

The principle of utilitarianism is that happiness is the only desirable outcome, meaning all things other than happiness are by definition a means to an end.

Mills Question: What are the necessary conditions that prove the utilitarian doctrine?

P1: Since the only proof that something is visible, is that people see it.

P2: Since the only proof that something makes a noise, is that people hear it.

C1: So, the only proof that something is desirable is that people actually desire it.

P4: If all people desire happiness for themselves, then happiness is good.

P5: If each person’s happiness is good, then general happiness is good.

FC: Therefore, collective happiness is good and thus a criterion of morality.


1. What are some of the problems with defining happiness as pleasure?

• One criticism I have is that pleasure and happiness are not synonymous terms.

• It is possible to live a life where one overindulges in pleasure and as a result is an unhappy.

• How can someone be too happy?

2. If everything is just a means to an end (the end being happiness), how do you assess the morality of the actions leading to happiness?

• Couldn’t this justify horrible acts as long as the final result was happiness?

3. Other than happiness, what is another principle that could be a criterion of morality?

Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 30)

Suzanne J.
Mill's Utilitarianism - Chapter 5


People tend to think that things should be just, and things that are just are good. This is a major point of contention with Utilitarianism, and he goes on to show the difference between morality and justice.

Mill goes on to describe the characteristics of justice, mainly by describing what is unjust:
1. It is unjust to violate the legal rights of someone.
2. Some laws can be considered unjust, and this is judged by whether they are infringing on someone’s rights (not legal rights, but moral rights). So, it is unjust to violate someone’s moral rights.
3. It is unjust when people receive what they do not deserve, whether good or bad.
4. It is unjust to break faith with someone. Exception: this can be overruled by a stronger application of justice, or if the other person behaves poorly and is morally absolved of your obligation to them.
5. It is unjust to show bias when not appropriate.

Being unbiased is related to a notion of equality, which most people include in their idea of justice.

[Sidenote: When Mill refers to expediency, it means being more concerned with your own interests than with principles and the “big picture.” Expediency masked as morality is one of the criticisms of Utilitarianism in practice.]

Mill notes that a person’s idea of justice is somewhat subjective, and linked closely to their idea of utility. Expediency in terms of utility is similar to expediency in terms of applying justice/equality – both regarded as negative.

Saying something is “wrong” implicates justice, because punishment is assumed to be the next step (by way of law, other people’s opinions, or one’s conscience). It is these expectations and ideas of what “ought” to be that begins to show the difference between morality and expediency.

He expands on the idea of obligations and says that they play a role in distinguishing justice from morality:
- Duty of perfect obligation: where an obligation causes someone to have a right over something. He parallels this to his description of Justice, where something not only ought to happen, but a person’s rights are involved. In justice, people’s rights are defined and the infringement of rights is used as a measure of justice.
- Duty of imperfect obligation: an obligation exists, but there is no right that is created. He parallels this to generosity and charity (morally right things) which we ought to practice but are in no way obligated to.

Mill says that having a right is “to have something which society ought to defend me in the possession of.” Basically, when society validates and protects your claim to something. The reason society ought to defend you is due to utility – specifically, promoting the safety of humans through conflict avoidance. He says physical sustenance allows us to survive, but safety allows us to be humans by thinking past simple survival and into coexistence on more than an animalistic level. And this is how the necessity for humans to create safety grew into more formal justice such as laws.

Mill says that morals that protect us and form justice must be held higher than others because they concern our well-being.

Outline of one of Mill's arguments: In terms of feelings (as opposed to that which is physical), security is our most vital interest.

1. "No human being can possibly do without" security since we depend on it for good "beyond the passing moment."

2. We cannot actually feel security unless it is always there: "cannot be had unless the machinery for providing it is kept unintermittently in active play."

3. We OUGHT to join together in promoting security: there is a "claim we have on our fellow-creatures to join in making safe for us the very groundwork of our existence."

4. There are very powerful feelings around this claim so that the "difference in degree ... becomes a difference in kind" and we come to COUNT ON others feeling the same way.

5. Promoting security can now be considered a MORAL NECESSITY: "Ought and should grow into must."

Therefore, we view security as vital.

(6. Personally, I don't think he actually proved, in this section, that security is the MOST vital interest. There is nothing showing that security has a superlative quality until a few paragraphs later "the moralities which protect every individual from being harmed by others ... are at once those which he himself has MOST at heart, and those which he has the STRONGEST interest in publishing and enforcing..." In my opinion, this is the argument that completes what he was trying to prove a few paragraphs earlier.)

Therefore, we view security as most vital.


1. Our current justice system is both a longstanding tradition and a work in process. If a law is unjust and infringes upon your moral rights, how should society defend you? How is this undertaken in our society, and how effective is it?

2. Mill does not clearly define a moral right. Try to define it. Is it a contradiction since morality does not involve rights?

3. Can something be both just and moral? Is this another matter of intention/motive?

Later consequentialism (Oct. 2)

Rule utilitarianism (Oct. 7)

Zoe Nygra Phil 230

Moral Philosophy- Some Merits of One Form of Rule Utilitarianism by Richard b. Brandt Notes

Argument Outline:

Utilitarianism is the belief that one should act in the most objectively right fashion, the moral base being the consequences and welfare of other sentient beings

Views differ about what constitutes welfare, and it's measurement

An ideal measurement for morality is determined by it's utility in relation to society, hence rule utilitarianism.

how to determine utility for society

  • majority of people must be able to understand
  • does not limit the masses to stop a few

"In the case of morals, we must weigh the benefit of the improvement in behaviour as a result of the restriction built into conscience, against the cost of the restriction"(10) - simplified means we must weight the positives against the negatives of a moral code, better behaviour against negatives (guilt, training process etc)

Theory is best suited in situations where people are violating an recognized code, and where the rule is respected but would be better violated


Do you think the theory is limited to too few circumstances? Why or why not?

Does this theory address the main issues many have with utilitarianism? Why or Why not?

Do you think the assumption that morality is measured by it's utility to society is problematic? why or why not?

Rule utilitarianism seems useful in large decision making, such as making laws, but do you think it tells us anything about smaller decision making?

Kant, Groundwork (Oct. 28)

Mac S.

READING NOTES: Kant’s Groundwork

Chapter 2, page 87-88

Kant’s Argument for a practical imperative:

P1: If there exists a supreme principle (the categorical imperative), then it must be a universal end, meaning an end for everyone.

P2: If it is an end for everyone, then it is “an end in itself” and constitutes an objective principle of will.

P3: If it is an objective principle, then it can serve as a universal practical law.

Hidden premise: The assumption that “rational nature exists as an end in itself”.

P4: If human beings conceive of their own existence, then this is a subjective principle of human action.

P5: If every other rational being regards its existence similarly, (using the same rational principle that holds for me), then it is also an objective principle from which a supreme practical law of will must be capable of being deduced.

Conclusion and Kant’s practical law: So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of any other, in every case at the same time as an end, never as a mean only.


1. According to Kant, what is a “rational being”? What are some of the problems with this definition?

2. How do you think Kant would feel about the morality of child labour? Note that Kant doesn’t include children as “national beings”.

3. Do you think Kantian ethics provide guidance for real world moral dilemmas? Why or why not?

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

Seungrae K.

Reading notes #1

On a supposed right to tell lies from benevolent matters - Kant

1) "To tell the truth is a duty, but only towards him who has a right to the truth" The expression "to have a right to truth" can be rephrased as a man has a right to his own truthfulness, that is, subjective truth in his own person. To have a right objective truth - depends on one's will whether a given statement shall be true or false

2) First question: whether one has the right to be untruthful

Second question: whether, in order to prevent a misdeed that threatens him or someone else, one is not actually bound to be untruthful in a certain statement to which an unjust compulsion forces him In other words, is one justified to not tell the truth?

3) Lie: an intentionally false declaration towards another person

A lie always injures another; if not an individual, yet mankind - as it impairs the quality of justice

For example: Within civil laws, if you by a lie convinced someone to plot a murder, you are legally responsible for all the consequences that lie brought forth, however, if you had strictly just told the truth, you are free from any consequences that truth may cause (Murder, house, truth, lie) Whoever tells a lie, however good one's intentions are, must answer the consequences; truthfulness is an essential foundation to all laws as if it were not, would render them as uncertain and useless "A principle recognised as truth must, therefore, never be abandoned, however obviously danger may seem to be involved in it" (Benjamin Constant)

4) Regarding the quote above: The man who, when asked whether in the statement he is about to make he intends to speak truth or not, does not receive the question with the suspicion that he might be a liar, but asks permission first to consider possible exceptions that he may already be a liar since he does not recognize veracity (conforming to the laws) as a duty in itself, but makes exceptions from a rule which in its nature does not admit of exceptions

At the law of court, before a witness professes what one saw, heard, or thought, he must swear to tell the truth

This truth would be from his subjective point of view and, therefore, he has not done any wrong if he tells it as it is

Comments, questions, criticisms:

What if you were the only one who knew the truth, but decided to lie in the law of court to maximize utility?

This argument is similar to that of rule utilitarianism, and therefore, you can apply some of rule utilitarianism's weak points and drawbacks against this argument

Intro to Virtue Ethics (Nov. 4)

Seungrae Kim


Reading notes 2 : Intro to virtue ethics

1) Virtue ethics is concerned with the good life and what kinds of persons we should be

- "What is the right action" v.s. "How should I live", "What kind of person should I be"

-Specific dilemmas v.s. questions about an entire life

-What kind of person does one need to be to "get it right" all the time?

-Virtue ethics proposes that the answer to the question above is to live with a virtuous character

2) Character and Virtue

-Idea similar to the Aristotelian understanding of character and virtue: having appropriate inner states

-Character is also about doing: having a virtuous inner characters will move one to act in accordance with them

-Character traits are stable and fixed: a person with a certain character can be relied upon consistently over time

-Natural tendencies we are born with are shaped and developed through the different experiences we go through in life: moral development comes with good role models

-Virtue is chosen knowingly for its own sake: we learn and adopt a virtue because it benefits us in some way, recognizing it is the "right" way to behave; the right desires and the right reasons

-"Virtue lies in a mean": right response to a situation is neither too much nor too little

-Judgements on virtue are judgements of a while rather than an isolated action

3) Anti-Theory and the Uncodifiability of Ethics

-If problems are varied, we should not expect to find a solution in one right and inflexible rule that does admit exception: consequentialism, rule utilitarianism

-Rules are true for the most part but may not always be the appropriate response

-Knowing virtue is a matter of experience and takes a period of time to develop, therefore, we should approach morality with a theory that is flexible: virtue ethics

4) Eudaimonism

-Aristotelian term roughly translated as happiness

-Aristotle recognizes that every action aims at some good

-Claims that all the things that are ends in themselves contribute to an end that is the greatest good of all: Eudaimonia - happiness, contentment, and fulfillment; the best kind of life; a life of virtue - activity in accordance with reason

-Man has a function and the good man is the man who performs his function well, function of man is reason (differentiates us from other beings), then the good man is a man who reasons well

-Acting virtuously is acting in the way characteristics of the nature of human beings and this will lead to Eudaimonia

Later virtue theory (Nov. 18)

Suzanne Joyal
Reading: Virtue Theory and Abortion, by Rosalind Hursthouse

Argument against the criticism that virtue theory is not an adequate normative theory, in that it does not tell us what should be done in a difficult circumstance. p.229-232
1. certain actions uphold a virtue, the opposite of a virtue, or neither
2a. deciding how to apply these virtues is not easy
2b. sub-argument: virtue theory does not assume that knowing what to do will be easy, and anyone who says it should be an easy task is misled since acting right is difficult.
3.Aristotle says that moral knowledge/wisdom is gained from experience
4. when you encounter a difficult situation where you don't know how to apply virtue theory to determine how to act, look to how a virtuous agent/role model would act.
5. therefore, you have a way of determining how to act.

Argument that the status of the fetus is irrelevant in virtue theory. p.235-236
1. determining the right thing to do requires the "right attitude" which includes accurate knowledge
2. the status of a fetus is a complicated metaphysical question we don't know the answer to (don't have accurate knowledge)
3. a fully virtuous person does not need to know all obscure metaphysical information, or be an expert, to know what is morally right
4. therefore, knowing the status of the fetus is irrelevant to a virtue theorist

1. Virtue theory says that thinking of a virtuous agent allows us to resolve conflicts between virtues and to decide how to act. This assumes we have the wisdom and knowledge to choose (or imagine) an agent who is actually virtuous. Is this a problem?
2. A virtuous person who has the “right attitude” will act differently depending on the circumstances. They will look at ALL facets of the issue. This is how the morality of an abortion is determined by a virtue ethicist. p.237
3. Hursthouse says that having children is intrinsically worthwhile in our society, but acknowledges that it may not be the right choice for some dependent on circumstances. p.242