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Group 6 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)

John Stuart Mill -- Utilitarianism -- pages 1-8

Mill puts forth an argument that has been used against utilitarianism (page7), which consists mainly in objecting to the utilitarian claim that if one lives a life in which the immediate goal is the state of happiness, then one will live a happy life.

The argument is as follows:

1) If one wants to be happy, he must be in a state of happiness.

2) If a happy life according to utilitarianism is possible, then it is one that is capable of giving you a permanent state of happiness.

3) But happiness does not exist as a permanent state.

4) If one expects more from life than what it is capable of giving, one will not be lead to a state of happiness.


5) A happy life, according to utilitarianism, is not possible and will not lead you to happiness. If one wants to be as happy as possible, they should learn to live without happiness.


→ The conclusion seems to be counter-intuitive: unexpect happiness in order to avoid the unnecessary pain from the expectation that life can give you permanent happiness when it cannot. But does this mean that you will experience happy states even more when they appear?

-What do you think of this counter-intuitive statement?

-Would this lead to greater happiness in life or simply less pain and suffering?

-Does the one necessarily lead to the other?

→ Although this is a valid argument, it is not necessarily sound.

-In what ways could one disagree with premise 1?

-Are there not certain cultures or lifestyles which do tell of the possibility to live in permanent states of happiness and bliss?

Yannick Jamey

Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 25)

Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 30)

Mill provides an argument in his Utilitarianism (Chapter 5), which states that what distinguishes justice from other forms of morality, is the difference between perfect and imperfect obligations. He also argues that Justice and Utility are intrinsically related (Pages 22-25).


Imperfect obligations “are those moral obligations which do not give birth to any right” (page 22). In other words they are moral actions that we should sometimes do, but are not required and no rights are involved.

Perfect obligations “are those duties in virtue of which a correlative right resides in some person or persons” (page 22). In other words they are moral obligations that we must do because of their connection to rights.

Examples of these can be found earlier in this chapter - Page 21.

His argument is as follows:

Premises (pages 22-23):
1) We do not call anything wrong unless we mean to imply that a person should be punished in some way or the other for doing it.
2) When someone doesn’t act on their “imperfect obligations” we do not feel the need for the person to be punished
3) When someone doesn’t act on their “perfect obligations” we do feel the need for the person to be punished.

Conclusion 1: Not acting on a “perfect obligation” is wrong,

Premises (Pages 22-23):
1) “Justice implies something which it is not only right to do, and wrong not do, but which some individual person can claim from us as his moral right” (page 23).
2) No one has a moral right to imperfect obligations, as per definition, or of beneficence.
3) A right is violated when there is some wrong done and some person who is wronged
4) (From conclusion 1) Not acting on “perfect obligation” is wrong
5) Every “perfect obligation” a person is faced with entails a right due to another person or persons, as per definition.

Conclusion 2: Not acting on a “perfect obligation” is a violation of a person’s right. “Imperfect obligations” are not. Therefore, the distinction between “imperfect obligations” and “perfect obligations” are what distinguishes justice from other forms of morality.

Premises (Pages 23-25):
1) “Justice implies… [that] some individual person can claim from us as his moral right” (page 23).
2) Claiming a moral right from society gives security and protection
3) Security and protection are basis for a human’s well-being.
4) Maximizing everyone’s well-being increases collective utility

Conclusion 3: Justice and utility are intrinsically connected.


- Does justice really increase utility? If justice is only served after an action is done, haven’t the consequences already been suffered for the receiver? Does this imply that justice is only a form of revenge?
Also, one might argue that people will be tempted to not violate a person’s right because of the potential consequences. I would argue that a determined person would still infringe on a person’s right no matter what the possible consequences may be. If that weren’t the case, then we would live in a world without crime! Therefore, if this form of justice does raise overall utility, it is only by a little bit, since it mostly provides a chance for revenge and only security and protection from those who’s fear of the punishment is greater than their will to act. Is there any other form of justice that may do a better job? Does this depend on the extent of the punishment? For example, chopping of an arm for stealing vs. jail time.

- Do all cases of justice overlap with utility? Are there no cases where the utilitarian reasoning and claims about moral rights conflict?

- Can religious or culture based moral rights be considered as perfect obligations according to Mill? If so, what are some examples?

- What about cases where a person is unaware of the difference between perfect and imperfect obligations? Is it just to judge this person’s action using this theory?

Yusef Srouji

Later consequentialism (Oct. 2)

Later Consequentialism Notes

Tom da Cruz

The experience machine

1. A machine anyone could plug into that would simulate any sort of reality you want-writing a novel, being a famous athlete, etc- for a maximum of two years, at which point you would be out for ten minutes and can reprogram the machine for two years. The machine’s reality would feel like the only reality, and everyone else could plug in as well.

2. “What else can matter to us, other than how our lives feel from the inside?”

3. Reasons for not plugging in:

  • We want to do certain things, not just experience them
  • Entering the machine is a form of suicide; there is no character to the person inside the machine, they are just a “blob”.
  • The machine limits us only to the reality we can construct (man-made), as we could not imagine a deeper reality.

4. If a transformation machine could transform us into who we want, we would surely not plug in to the experience machine after; who we are matters

Contemporary Utilitarianism (131-134)

1. Theoretical objections to Utilitarianism:

  • Punishment: A string of horrible crimes is committed, and the people demand to see the culprit jailed under the threat of violent protest. The police have no suspects, but the police chief (a utilitarian) could simply pin the crime on a societal outcast, calming the angry mob, and only affecting (deeply) the innocent man falsely accused. A utilitarian approach would allow for this morally wrong action of jailing an innocent man to happen, “yielding an incorrect moral verdict”.
  • Medical sacrifices: An alcoholic with a difficult life (homeless, no family) who-aside from her liver- has healthy and functioning organs comes into a hospital for treatment. At the same time, there are three patients in dire need of organ transplants, which the alcoholic woman could provide. The doctor could make the alcoholic die without getting caught, and make the transplants happen. The utilitarian approach would claim this is ok, even though it is murder, so this too is an incorrect moral verdict.
  • Distributive justice: Any sort of arrangement that would have more utility for a certain group is valid, even if the arrangement would put a second group at a considerable disadvantage. The aggregate utility of the first group cancels out the misery of the second.
  • Promising: A financial planner promises to give a large sum of money to the daughter of a deceased man when she comes of age. The money would benefit the planner much more as the daughter is already rich, so a utilitarian would claim breaking the promise of donating money would be ok.

2. Other objections (134-136):

  • Overdemandingness objection: “Utilitarianism is extremely demanding- so much so that according to its standard of right conduct, we are often doing something morally wrong in pursuing our own personal projects/ interests. Cubs game v. volunteering example; I would rather go to the game, but am morally more likely to want to do the volunteering and therefore should.
  • The Superrogation Objection: Actions that are “beyond the call of duty” from a moral standpoint; actions that are not strictly speaking obligatory, but those who perform said actions deserve moral praise; saving a flooding plane while putting one’s own life in danger, for example. Often times supererogatory actions are also utility maximizing, so a utilitarian would call them obligatory. Objections a, b, c, and d in the previous section all concern actions that are classified as obligatory or optional depending on how the utilities work out.

3. Two Utilitarian Responses (136-138)

  • Bold denial: A utilitarian could simply flat out disagree with moral verdicts bade by critics. Some would argue that appealing to our moral intuitions about such extraordinary cases is invalid as we should not put so much weight on these farfetched cases.
  • Appeal to Remote Effects: Using the example of the angry mob and blaming an innocent man to appease them as a case study, one could argue that although the short term consequences of jailing the innocent man would maybe maximize utility, there is not reason to believe it would be advantageous in the long run. One must factor in plausible assumptions about possible consequences.

4. Rule Utilitarianism (138-142)

  • “An action A is right if and only if A is mentioned in a moral rule whose associated utility is at least as great as the utility associated with any alternative rule applying to the situation”. Taking into consideration a set rule and its opposite action (also as a rule), one has a set idea on how to act, and where act utilitarianism might claim one action to be better, rule utilitarianism might disagree. See promise example.

5. Non Hedonistic Versions of Utilitarianism (142-144)

  • “In short, Hedonism does not do justice to our considered moral beliefs about what it is in life that makes up a person’s welfare”; pleasure is not the only thing people seek (thought machine experiment), they also seek experiences
  • Desire fulfillment utilitarianism: “right if and only if A would result in at least as much general desire fulfillment as any alternative action that the agent could perform instead”. This theory would make experiences more valuable. But do right desires have to enhance our welfare?

6. Pluralistic Utilitarianism (144-147)

  • Morally constrained value pluralism: three main components of human welfare (David Brink;1989)
Reflective pursuit of one’s reasonable projects (morally constrained to projects that take respect for persons into account)
Realization of those projects
Certain personal and social relationships, including family relations, friendships, and other social connections
  • A genocide might be a project for someone and maximize utility for most under some circumstances, but does not work under morally constrained value pluralism as it does not respect persons.
  • It is however hard to respect all person’s wishes and make a set guideline for what the best course of action would be.

7. Conclusion and Evaluation of Utilitarianism

  • Captures 3 intuitively plausible ideas about morality:
The sense that morality has to do with human well-being
Based on very possible view of practical rationality
Captures idea that impartiality is at the heart of morality

The utilitarian approach is very hard for me to adopt… It is too harsh and has the possibility of leaving a group of individuals at a severe disadvantage for the sake of another group. Although Brink’s approach is much better, the subjectivity of the term “respect” for others still raises the question of whom one must respect and to what extent, and who’s values and opinions and actions are worth more. Are my desires strong and valuable enough to supersede those of others? This is my problem with Utilitarianism.

Rule utilitarianism (Oct. 7)

Kant, Groundwork (Oct. 28)

Kant, Groundwork, p89-93


Premise 1:There is a universal principle that “humanity and every rational nature is an end in itself.” (89)

Premise 2: “The principle is universal and applies to all rational beings whatever, and experience is not capable of determining anything about them” (89)
Premise 3: It does not present Humanity as an end to human beings, “but as an objective end which must as a law constitute the supreme limiting condition of all our subjective ends” (90)
Premise 4: “The ground of all practical legislation lies objectively in the rule and its form of universality which makes it capable of being law, but subjectively in the end.” (90)
Premise 5: “The subject of all ends is each rational being inasmuch as it is an end in itself” (90).
Premise 6: From this follows the ultimate condition of the wills harmony with the universal practical reason. “the idea of the will of every rational being as a will gving universal law” (90) – the principle of autonomy.
Premise 7: “All maxims are rejected which are inconsistent with the will being itself universal legistlator.” (90)

Conclusion: “The will is not merely subject to the law, but subject to it so that it must be regarded as itself giving the law, and on this ground only subject to the law” (90).

Premise 1: “A will dependent on any interest would still need another law restricting the interest of its slef-love by the condition that it should be valid as universal law.”
Premise 2: “The idea of universal legistlation is not based on any interest and therefore it alone among all other imperetives can be unconditional” (91)
Premise 3: “A will which is subject to laws may be attached to this law by means of an interest, yet a will which is itself a supreme lawgiver cannot possibly depend on any interest”. (90)

Conclusion: “The principle of every human will as a will which in all its maxims gives universal law… would be very well suited to be the categorical imperative.” (91)

Premise 1: Considering that “every rational being as one which must consider itself as giving in all the maxims of its will universal laws, so as to judge itself and its actions from this point of view.” (91)
Premise 2: Rational beings give universal laws but are also subject to them. (92)
Premise 3: All rational beings come under the law that each of them must treat itself and all others never merely as means, but in every case at the same time as ends in themselves. 91

Conclusion: Kingdom of ends is an ideal. That is the “systematic union of different rational beings through common laws” (91).

Comments and criticisms:
What does it even mean to treat someone as an end?

Is this theory open to exceptions in its laws?

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

Every man has the duty to tell the truth.

"To tell the truth is a duty, but only towards him who has a right to the truth." The first half of this statement connects truth-telling and refraining from lying as a duty to morality, and the second half creates the exception to this idea by meaning that a truth that will injure others does not rightfully belong to any man. It is justified by claiming that a completely honest society where nobody lied and told the truth unconditionally would be impossible.

==== A note from Christina ====
This is actually a view from someone else that Kant is arguing against. His argument in this essay is that it is never permissible to lie, even to someone whom one thinks is about to do a moral wrong. So what follows is actually Kant's view.
==== end comment ====

Truth, Lies, and Law & Society

A lie may not directly injure another man, but mankind as a whole because it violates the sense of justice. Additionally, the law can bring no punishment anybody for strictly adhering to or telling the truth no matter what the consequence, good or bad. When a man tells a lie, he is bound to the consequence even if his intentions were good.

The law itself must also be honest and adhere to truth. However, the middle principle is that society, individuals, or representatives are the creators/contributors of such law.

"For the man is not free to choose, since (if he must speak at all) veracity is an unconditional duty." -pg. 3

A person telling the truth does not do harm. If harm results from honesty, this is an accident.

Truth is not a possession. The duty of veracity is unconditional and holds in all circumstances.

Questions: 1. If telling the truth is a universal duty of morality, but a completely honest society is impossible, then what does that make this theory?
2. Kant has said that the only thing that is good is a good will. However, if to tell the truth is a duty carried out of a good will, if it undoubtedly causes harm in the end, can our spoken and contributing actions still really be justified?

Intro to Virtue Ethics (Nov. 4)

Later virtue theory (Nov. 18)

Virtue Theory and Abortion, Rosalind Hursthouse.

In this article, Rosalind Hursthouse defends virtue theory by attacking several popular criticisms and attempts to demonstrate the virtues of applying virtue theory in a contemporary moral case study, here, abortion. To remind you, in a nutshell, virtue theory states that the morally right thing to do in a given situation is most truthfully determined by what a virtuous and morally wise agent would do in that situation.

I shall outline the argument she provides against what she considers the most important and common criticism of virtue theory (all the following quotes and paraphrases are taken from p.230-232). In short, this criticism states that the concepts upon which virtue theory is based are too subjective and depenedent upon “conventional wisdom”, which causes the theory to be inherently groundless and impractical. To illustrate: faced with a moral issue, two virtue theorists may have very different action-guiding rules, for they would be based on different concepts of virtue and vice (which virtue theory allwos for, i.e. different acts can be just as virtuous, right and truthful), which in turn would be based on different opinions about what is “good” and “worhtwhile”, and thus these two may reach very different and misguiding conclusions. In this sense, virtue theory can be considered neither a practical theory nor a normative ethical theory, because it is not built upon any rational ground for morality that is independent of both paradigm and opinions influenced by transient conventions.

Hursthouse’s argument for her defense mainly consists in dismissing the possibility of a timeless and objective normative ethical theory. She later shows how realistic and practical virtue thoery can be in a contentious case such as abortion. Her argument against the above criticism and against normative ethical theory is laid out as follows:

1) Moral knowledge, unlike mathematical knowledge, is a function of wisdom acquired through “experience of life.” It cannot be understood through books or academic lectures.

2) Not everyone can apply moral wisdom correctly and immediately, especially not youthful people who, despite how clever they may be or how much access they have to any education, have not had much personal experience of life.

3) Only by referring to the delicate and sensitive judgement of a morally wise person can one determine what is morally right to do in a given situation.

4) Assumption: one cannot obtain guidance for moral issues from someone who has no view whatsoever on what is worthwhile and good in life.

5) In this way, moral wisdom is also dependent on a view about what is good and worthwhile in life.

6) Thus, although what is “worthwhile” and “good” is subject-dependent, one would be better guided by a morally wise person who has a view about such matters, which may or may not coincide with your own, than to seek advice from a person with a lack of any view on such matters.


7) A normative ethical theory that is not determined by a set of virtue and vice concepts that are dependent on life experience and views about what is good and worthwhile, is impossible and inadequate. In other words, in order to be adequate and applicable for anyone at any age, a normative theory with action-guiding rules must contain similar concepts and premises as virtue theory (such as virtue and vice concepts and views on what is worthwhile).


1) To what extent does Hursthouse consider all sides of the criticism that virtue theory is too dependent on conventional wisdom and allows for too many possibly contradictory solutions to moral problems for it to be practical in dealing with real moral issues?

2) Is Hursthouse’s argument not similar to our earlier discussion on moral relativism: on the impossibility of a timeless, objective normative moral theory, independent of paradigms and conventional wisdom, which anyone at any age can apply? (Possible group discussion)

3) Is conventional wisdom really so ephemeral? Consider, for example, the view that “one does people no kindness by concealing [a lie] from them, hurtful as it may be” counts as a truthful and wise application of “kindness.” How old and commonly accepted is this claim by people who have had much “experience of life”? (Possible group discussion)

Yannick Jamey