- 1 Group 7 page for Reading Notes
- 2 Intro to Consequentialism (Sept 18)
- 3 Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 23)
- 4 Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 25)
- 5 Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 30)
- 6 Later consequentialism (Oct. 2)
- 7 Rule utilitarianism (Oct. 7)
- 8 Kant, Groundwork (Oct. 28)
- 9 Kant, "On a Supposed Right to Lie (Oct. 30)
- 10 Intro to Virtue Ethics (Nov. 4)
- 11 Later virtue theory (Nov. 18)
Group 7 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)
A key issue that I saw in this article was that consequentialism and the different versions of it are heavily disputed. I think this is due to the ambiguous nature of moral theories. Each of the six versions of consequentialism presented in the text leaves unanswered questions and/or unaddressed issues
Plain Consequentialism – Part A
Plain consequentialism is a form of consequentialism that defines a moral action as one that provides the best overall outcome. An example of an outcome that people might want to maximize could be happiness. This version of consequentialism left many question open such as is there a single best outcome that people should strive to maximize? What would the outcome be? Another problem with this theory is that it does not specify a time frame in which an outcome must happen. If an action makes people happy for now but after some time frame makes them unhappy (assuming the goal is to maximize pleasure), is it ethical or not?
Plain Scalar Consequentialism – Part C
Plain scalar consequentialism compares the morality of multiple actions and determines their which is more ethical by which one leads to the best outcome. This is similar to plain consequentialism but is different because the scalar version only tells us which action is better relative to another. This is a very practical moral theory but doesn’t tell you what is right and what is wrong, just what which action is better or worse. In this sense, this version of consequentialism does not make sense as a moral theory.
Expectable Consequentialism – Part D
Expectable consequentialism, unlike the previous two versions of consequentialism, shifts its view away from just the outcomes of actions and looks at their expected outcomes. A morally correct action is an action whose reasonably expectable consequences provide the best outcome. Some problems with expectable consequentialism are how can you tell what someone’s expected to happen? How do you know if they are telling the truth? And if people make ignorant/uneducated decision even if the resources to fix that are readily available could still be considered moral even if it ended up being a bad outcome.
Reasonable Consequentialism – Part D
Reasonable consequentialism is similar to expectable consequentialism except an action is only morally right if it has the best reasonably expected consequences. This differs from expectable consequentialism because you have to have spent reasonable time thinking about the potential consequences (rather than assuming with little knowledge). Questions to consider with this version are: what is a reasonable amount of consideration of potential consequences? Do you need to be an expert on the topic to make a decision?
Dual Consequentialism – Part E
Dual consequentialism takes plain consequentialist views and combines them with reasonable consequentialism views to make a two-part version of consequentialism. To determine whether an action was moral, you must look at both the outcome that happened and the outcome that was expected. This seems like the most logical version so far but the primary issue with this one is what if an action can be considered ethical by one criterion and unethical by the other? Should one criteria be seen as more important that the other? When the two parts of dual consequentialism oppose each other it makes it even harder to determine whether an action is moral or not.
Rule Consequentialism – Part F
Rule Consequentialism is quite different from other forms of consequentialism and says that a moral action is one that abides by a set of rules of behavior that would result in the best possible outcome for the community. People don’t really know what is good for them and one set of rules would never be agreed upon for this reason so it would be impossible to know what is moral.
-Which form of consequentialism presented in the article is the best theory? Why?
-How can you, if it is possible, measure happiness and other outcomes that have no fixed measurement or measure against things that didn’t happen?
-In what scenarios would consequentialism be a good/bad way to determine the morality of a scenario?
Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 23)
Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 25)
Mill, Utilitarianism (Chapter 2 pg. 9-12)- Sonya Moore
' The Moral Theory of Utilitarianism Has Many Criticisms- This section is a continuation of John Stuart Mill addressing the many criticisms of the moral theory of utilitarianism. In summary of the earlier section of the chapter, Mills defines that utility “... or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure(Mill, pg.4)”. Although this theory seems easily applicable to life, it has many criticisms which Mill continues to address in the later part of chapter 2 .
1.Standard Morality and the Meanings of Right and Wrong-There is a belief that utilitarianism results in men lacking feelings towards others, making them act “cold and unsympathetic (Mill, pg.9)”. Thus, creating an inability for one to consider all aspects of the consequences of their actions, specifically in making sure no judgments about the rightness or wrongness of their actions are influenced by opinions. To counter this argument, Mill points out that this criticism can be applied to any standard of morality. However, due to the belief that one right action does not make you a good person, it is something to be judged over an extended period of time, has created a unpopular reputation for utilitarians.
2. Expediency- Utilitarianism is often combined with, or mistaken as expediency, thus giving it the notion of being immoral. Expediency, is usually considered in negative terms, such as doing something wrong for ones own gain, potentially for an temporary purposes. Mills closes this argument by further linking the exceptions to expediency in conjunction to utility by stating “...if the principle of utility is good for anything, it must be good for weighing these conflicting utilities against one another, and marking out the region within which one or the other preponderates.(Mill, pg.10) ”.
3.Human Nature- One of the greatest critiques surrounding utilitarianism is about human nature. This argument against utilitarianism states that one that will break the set of moral rules and justify their inappropriate actions with the belief that it was natures destiny. Mill deflects this claim by stating that this moral issues is not specific to utilitarianism. He closes his argument claiming that with utility, although “...the application of the standard may be difficult, it is better than none at all... (Mill, pg.12)”.
Conclusion- Therefore, Mill disputes the many critiques of utilitarianism by stating that the majority of the claims made are not specific to utilitarianism, but other moral theories as well.
Comments, Questions, and Criticisms
Criticism- I think Mill does a good job with his ability to dispute the numerous criticisms of utilitarianism, however I think his arguments lack variety. He tends to reply on the basic arguement that whatever criticism he recieves isnt just specific, and can be applied to many moral theories.
Question #1- Since Mill believes that man of the critiques of utilitarianism can be applied to other moral theories, what moral theories do you believe that he is referring to, and why?
Question #2- Do you believe that law of nature is an appropriate justification for immoral actions of all severities, why or why not?
Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 30)
Reading Notes September 30, 2014 N.C.
1. There is a difference between justice and morality, as there is a distinction that must be made between justice and utility. Justice can be very subjective, utility is simply the payoff from a certain action. Justice and utility are very often not the same, though can be related.
2. Identifies justice as being very hard to grasp, but is much easier defined by what is unjust. Most people have a better idea of what is wrong than what is right.
- One of the examples given by Mill is it is unjust to deprive one of personal liberty or property (20), but defining what is unjust is much more complex.
Five principles/rules of morality are then illustrated, to effectively define justice and morality:
3. A. The term ‘justice’ closely corresponds with our legal structure and practices. Laws attempt to reflect our morality (20).
B. Interestingly, the possibility of ‘a bad law’ is also addressed, when someone should not have a personal right, but does and having it is against society’s partly agreed upon morality (20), though it is technically legal.
C. It is somehow universally agreed upon that each individual should get what he or she deserves. AKA his actions should be met with results that are proportionate and match the moral virtue or evil of the original act. WHAT each person deserves is a matter of debate everywhere.
D. Many rules of morality can be broken and bent, but it is also universally accepted that it is not moral to ‘break faith’ with anyone. It is done, but it is never hardly ever considered a moral act.
E. Justice is not partial or biased in any way. Morality, however, changes with each person. The reason we have laws is an attempt to standardize morality. This impartiality applies to the application of laws and punishments, and the point that everyone must get their rights, no matter who they are.
- Impartiality is not a duty, but a means for justice to be done (22).
4. RIGHT AND WRONG are important in morality and justice. Everyone’s personal morality shifts, as does their sense of justice. Legal justice has to apply to everyone, and again, tries to imitate what society thinks is just. If there is something done that is ‘right’, then it is related to justice.
==== Comment from Christina ====
Just want to make sure everyone gets this right! People’s sense of justice and morality shift, but for Mill, regardless of what people think, what really is morally right and just depends on the production of happiness. And for Mill, justice does not depend on what society thinks is just. Rather, rules of justice come from what rights people should have (to act unjustly is to violate a right), and what rights people should have comes from whether it would produce more happiness in society to have something be a right that is protected by society, with punishments for violation, or not.
==== End comment ====
5. Our idea of law centres on penal sanction- imprisonment. If something is declared morally wrong by society, there is always a punishment to go along with that wrong act. Nothing is called wrong if society doesn’t intend to punish someone for it (22).
6. Justice and morality both need a wronged party, a wrong party, and an action.
7. Arguably, society collectively decides which moral rules are important, which are popular, and which are valid. Therefore, it collectively decides what laws are valid, useful, and worth perpetuating.
8. UTILITY VS COST. It has been decided that certain rights (that each person has a potential claim to) are practical, functional, and cost effective (meaning the cost= the overall damage such a right will cause). This creates a more equal society than that of the momentarily strong taking from the weak.
Does the feeling of right and wrong come from our history and the precedents we’ve set? Is our tradition of making rules and rights and laws to keep people protected/in line?
This reading is mostly about justice and utility, but there is also many mentions of the law, morality, and society. Could there be another way to keep society moral, without the partly ineffective laws we have in place?
Later consequentialism (Oct. 2)
first set of notes for Oct. 2, on contemporary utilitarianism
Reading notes September 23 2014
[Christina's edit: These notes are on the reading assigned for Oct. 2, but they were posted for Sept. 23. I moved them here because they make more sense in the Oct. 2 area, since they are about the reading assigned for this day.]
Contemporary Utilitarianism, Mill, pgs. 131-150.
a. Always gets the most amount of utility out of a situation/attempts to. Number of people happy matters, and their needs outweigh wants and needs of the smaller, fewer groups.
E.g. framing an innocent man to stop riots might cause him hardship, but quell panic publicly (132).
b. The theory can sometimes lead to ‘obviously’ morally wrong conclusions- or what most would not be prepared to do for utilitarianism. (E.g. killing a person to take the organs and save three innocent dying people, (132).
B1. Punishment, sacrifice, and the issue of promising (132-134) something that ends up not giving the greatest amount of utility are all common arguments against utilitarianism.
c. Another argument against: it fails to recognize the individuality and separateness of the people it concerns itself with (149). It also seems to gloss over/ignore to what degree a given event makes one person happy- the same event may give another person in a similar situation more utility. This doesn’t seem to be the focus of utilitarianism, it doesn’t focus on individuals.
==== Comment by Christina ====
The main criticism of utilitarianism having to do with separateness of individuals is that utilitarianism may just consider the aggregate sum of happiness, not how it is distributed amongst people. So a situation where a lot of people are moderately happy is equally good to a situation where many people are really happy and a few are really unhappy—the total amount may be the same in both cases. Utilitarianism doesn’t, actually, gloss over the degree to which an event makes one person happy and how it might be different for another person. All those individual happinesses are taken into account when considering the sum total.
==== end comment ====
d. Utilitarians can either deny thee claims about the utility of the conclusion, or they can bring up other effects, such as what will happen in the long run (137-138). In utilitarianism: Right=the maximizing of the welfare of individuals (142).
Argument: though it is difficult to judge utilitarianism completely and definitively, 3 reasons to support it:
1. It captures what is important in morality- the issue of human welfare. Who is happy and who is not, and how much will each decision give/take away from a person or group?
2. If one is a utilitarianism supporter or is deciding a moral issue using utilitarianism, it is very rational and very logical- the side with the most utility wins and is the right decision. In addition, the theory makes sense- you want to choose what maximizes utility.
3. Utilitarianism dictates a way to solve moral problems, as long as one can measure utility, and is impartial. This is a key part of the theory, since moral issues are so often plagued by subjectivity and criticism.
1. Critics of utilitarianism say that it does not respect the separateness of each person, and how we all feel like we are different from anyone else. If you were supporting utilitarianism, how would you defend it and counter this claim?
2. Does utilitarianism seem ‘rational’ to you? One of its strengths is that it seems to be rational and objective, but is it, in your opinion?
second set of notes for Oct. 2, on Nozick
Nozick Reading Notes
In this text, Nozick presents us with a hypothetical situation where people have the option of using an experience machine that allows us to choose what we want to experience for an extended period of time (2 years in the text). Nozick argues that we would not plug into the machine because there are 3 things that we want more than just experience when we do things. They are:
P1) we want to do certain things, and not just have the experience of doing them
P2) we want to be a certain way, to be a certain sort of person
P3) plugging into an experience machine limits us to a man-made reality, to a world no deeper or more important than that which people can construct
Reasons for Each Point
P1: For some experiences we do the action that we want the experience of or thinking we’ve done it.
P2: If you basically spend your entire life in a tank, how do you know what kind of person you are? We should be concerned about who we are, rather than just by how we spend our time.
P3: There is no actual contact with a deeper reality because the machines are simply simulating it for us. He compares this to the use of drugs which some people see as a way to reach a deeper reality while other see it as an escape to the experience machine.
Nozick goes on to briefly talk about the transformation machine and result machine, which he argues we would not use as well for a similar reason. Actually doing an action, experiencing it and its results are all important. If a machine or something else were to do these things for us, they would be living our lives, not us.
I think that Nozick brings up some extremely interesting issues around experience and what it is like to “live”. I think he makes some good points about the experience machine but I feel he needs to go into more detail and give more examples. He also needed to go into much greater detail for the result and transformation machine and provide some evidence or provide some examples to prove his point rather than just assume things (which this text is already full of). Overall, I found it an interesting read but I’m not totally sure I agree with all of his points as he is lacking a lot of explanation.
Would you plug into the experience machine? And the result/transformation?
Are there any issues/problems with using these hypothetical machines that you saw that wasn’t brought up in the text?
What would a consequentialist think about this issue?
Rule utilitarianism (Oct. 7)
Kant, Groundwork (Oct. 28)
Kant Groundwork paragraph sections 431-434.
So far as I can tell…
- All rational beings are ends in themselves.
- this means that instead of rational beings serving a purpose to some unknown (righteous) end, they are themselves the ends. By arguing this, we can say that since we (rational beings) are the ends, whatever means used should lead to us to the proliferation of us.
=== A comment from Christina ===
That we are ends in ourselves doesn’t mean that we must necessarily make more people. It just means that we have to treat all rational beings as valuable in themselves. That each rational being is valuable in themselves means that their rationality is a limit on what you can do (can’t treat them as mere means to ends). It doesn’t mean we must produce more of them, because Kant is not a consequentialist: what is moral is not making more of something good as a consequences.
=== end comment ===
- This ties into the categorical imperative and basically says that if you’re a mean to an end that is you, then universally, so is everyone else. Thus, you have to treat everyone as ends to themselves as well.
- The principle of every human will as a will giving universal laws in all its maxims.
- Laws made universal have universal interest.
- Maxims that go against premise 1 are rejected. E.g. People can’t make other people sad if they don’t want to be sad themselves..?
=== a comment from Christina ===
The idea of treating people as ends in themselves and not merely as means doesn’t mean that only do to others what we’d like done to us (it’s not the golden rule). The problem with such a rule is that if happen to like being sad, or don’t mind if others lie to me, then I can do those things to them. Kant says we must only do what we could will all other rational beings to do in the same situation without running into a contradiction, which isn’t quite the same as saying we must do to them what we wouldn’t mind having done to us.
=== end comment ===
- “if there is a categorical imperative, it can only command that everything be done from the maxim of its will as one which could have as its object only itself considered as giving universal laws”. No self interest.
- Calls this the principle of autonomy. All other principles are that of heteronomy.
- “The concept of each rational being as a being that must regard itself as giving universal law through all the maxims of its will, so that it may judge itself and its actions from this standpoint”
- Kant gives himself a nice segue into the “realm of ends” or “kingdom of ends”
- Basically a magical place inhabited by all rational beings whose aggregate will forms the most moral society where every individual is willfully conceiving ‘rules’ for the way they and others should act, while all others and each individual are abiding by the same ‘rules’.
- “A rational being belongs to the kingdom of ends as a member when he gives universal laws in it while also himself subject to these laws”
- Can also belong to the kingdom of ends as sovereign since he is subject to the will of no other. But in this kingdom, others wills align with his own so it doesn’t matter.
- All rational beings in this kingdom treat others never merely as a means but in every case also as an end in himself.”
If you’re constantly thinking of other people’s ends, do you really have free will or is it free within limits and therefore not truly free?
What does treating people as a means to themselves do for clarifying the 4 examples of duty? Does it help or hinder the strength of the individual arguments?
Kant, "On a Supposed Right to Lie (Oct. 30)
To tell the truth is a duty, but only towards him who has a right to the truth
The main concept of this is reading whether to tell the truth or lie. It states that one has the duty to tell the truth, however there are limitations to this, as it is important that no man has the right to tell the truth when it injures others. This moral principle was created in response to the belief that telling the truth in all circumstances would make society impossible and have many bad consequences for complete honesty. The example that differentiates Kant from other moral principles is with the example of a murderer looking for the location of a potential victim in which he was in pursuit of. A German philosopher believes it would be immoral not tell the murderer where the friend was hidden, even though it would most likely end in the death of the friend. However, a French philosopher has many oppositions to this theory, and believes that telling the murderer the truth is not the right thing to do as it would most likely result in the death of the friend, which it is not moral for you to inflict that harm on a person (page 1).
==== A comment from Christina ====
The first couple of sentences above don't actually reflect Kant's own view, but those of the "French Philosopher" he's discussing (Benjamin Constant). Kant's view is what is expressed in the premises below, which say that one must tell the truth even when it appears that bad consequences could happen from doing so.
==== end comment ====
'1.The right to be untruthful? The question of if a man is in a situation when answering yes or no cannot be avoided, does he has the right to be untruthful? The answer of this question is responded to by stating “Truth in utterances that cannot be avoided is the formal duty of a man to everyone, however great the disadvantage that may arise from it to him or any other; and although by making a false statement I do no wrong to him who unjustly compels me to speak, yet I do wrong to men in general in the most essential point of duty, so that it may be called a lie (though not in the jurist’s sense), that is, so far as in me lies I cause that declarations in general find no credit, and hence that all rights founded on contract should lose their force; and this is a wrong which is done to mankind (page 1)”. Further reference back to the murderer example is analyzed as well as the consequences that it may bring to the person that is potentially lying- such as a conviction of breaking the law or other possible outcomes such as the murderer finding the victim on their own.
2.Laws by own person or by representatives Truthfulness is a duty, and the laws have no exceptions dishonesty. A middle principle is, that the individuals may contribute to the formation of the laws either in their own person or by representatives (page 2)”. The belief that a principle that is established to be true must always remain, even under the threat of danger. This relates to the duty of veracity as a unconditional duty that must always be applicable.
3.From metaphysic of right to a principle of politics Metaphysics of right abstracts from all conditions of the experience, while the principle of politics implies notions to cases of the experience. To make this transition from metaphysics to politics, there must be an axiom which exactly complies with the definition of external right, a prosulate of external public law that is the will of all on the principle of equality, and a problem. All of these features will than combine to become a principle of the political system, and thus relating to justice. The political system will always accommodate justice, but justice will not be accommodated by the political system.
4. Doing harm vs. doing wrong Doing harm is something that is accidental, doing wrong is not accidental. Doing wrong relates to the unconditional duty of veracity.
5.Principles of Justice “All practical principles of justice must contain strict truths (page 4)”. The middle principles mentioned above according to the rules of politics apply to actual cases, and have no exceptions.
Therefore, there are many factors and variables to consider if/when telling the truth, such as potential harm on others as well as potential legal consequences to yourself.
Comments, Questions, and Criticisms
-Criticism=I found that the focus of this paper seemed to change fluctuate. At first it talked about what was right/wrong in reference to its effect of others, giving me a first impression of the selflessness of this moral theory, however as the paper continued the focus shifted from the effect on others towards legal repercussions to oneself.
-Question= If you were put in a similar situation that the philosophers discussed, and you had a murderer at your door asking you for the location of their next victim(you are aware of the victims location), would you lie or tell the truth? Furthermore, if lying posed a consequence of a legal conviction and significant time in prison, would this change the answer you gave the murderer?
Intro to Virtue Ethics (Nov. 4)
P1: Virtue ethics focuses on the development of character traits. If one’s character traits are virtuous, he/she will be able to know what the morally right action is all the time. Therefore, “How should I live?”/“What kind of person should I be?” are more important questions than “What is the right action to take?”
P2: Modern virtue ethics emphasizes the importance of “having the appropriate inner states” (2b); meaning one must have the right amount of feelings and act in accordance to the emotions associated with the particular situation.
P3: Character traits are “stable, fixed and reliable dispositions” (2b). If a person possesses a certain character trait, he/she will consistently act in accordance to the trait in any given situation, over a long period of time.
P4: Moral character develops over a long period of time through the process of education and habituation. One must habituate oneself to the right action, which will eventually lead to virtuous actions. However, habituation is not virtue, “it is merely an aid” (2b) to becoming virtuous.
P5: True virtue requires “choice and affirmation” (2b). One can only be considered virtuous if he/she chooses to take the virtuous course of action “knowingly and for its own sake.” (2b). Therefore, accidental virtuous actions are not considered to be morally right.
P6: Right desire and right reason are also important factors in determining virtue. One must act in accordance to both in order to be considered virtuous.
P7: Ethics is too imprecise and diverse to be trapped under a rigid moral code, such as in deontology and consequentialism. Therefore, virtue ethics offers a more flexible solution as it focuses on a person’s whole lifetime and his/her experiences.
P8: Aristotle claimed that all things “that are ends in themselves” (doing things for their own sake) are what will bring the greatest good for all (3a). This constitutes Eudaimonism (also translated as happiness).
P9: Eudaimonia is a life of virtue, and man’s highest function is reason. Everything has a function, but the way to tell if the thing is good or not is whether it performs its function well. E.g. a man is a thing, but a good man is one that performs his function well. Aristotle noticed that what set aside man from other sentient beings was reason; therefore a good man is one who reasons well.
C: Virtue ethics is plausible moral theory because it offers a different approach to ethics compared to the strict and sometimes illogical duties/obligations, as well as flaws of deontology and consequentialism. Its emphasis on character development encompasses a person’s whole lifetime rather than focusing on a one-time situation.
Notes from http://www.iep.utm.edu/virtue/#SH2c (2a-d, 3a)
1. Who decides what constitutes a virtue/virtuous action? Can certain virtues be universally applicable? 2. What is your opinion of this theory?
Later virtue theory (Nov. 18)
by Spencer C
Rosalind Hurst – Virtue Theory and Abortion
First Half: She discusses 9 common criticisms of virtue ethics. Disagrees with most of them; believes they aren’t valid or applicable to virtue ethics. Aims to secure an understanding of virtue ethics that will dissolve the criticisms. Mentions there is one major criticism to virtue ethics. Says it isn’t necessarily wrong or unfounded, but that she disagrees with it.
Second Half: Uses the understanding she put forth to apply virtue ethics to abortion.
Establishes the skeleton of deontological theories as having ‘right action’ determined by ‘moral rule’ determined by ‘rationality’.
Likewise, establishes that act utilitarianism has the connection between ‘right action’ and ‘consequences’ where the best consequences are those in which ‘happiness’ is maximized.
Finally establishes the skeleton of virtue ethics as the link between ‘right action’ and ‘virtuous agent’. That is, an action is right if it would have been done by a virtuous agent in the given circumstances.
Explains that a virtuous agent is “one who acts virtuously, that is, one who has and exercises the virtues.” Where a virtue is “a trait a human being needs to flourish or live well” (eudaimonia).
5 (out of 9) comments dispelling misconceived criticisms:
1) Just because eudaimonia is a difficult concept to grasp, it does not weaken the ability of virtue ethics to articulate right actions. Rationality and happiness are also difficult, complex topics that are not by this qualification used to devalue deontology or utilitarianism.
2) The theory is not circular. Right action does not depend on virtues while virtues and defined by right actions. Rather, virtues are defined by character traits which would bring about eudaimonia. Traits that produce eudaimonia are virtuous and lead to right actions.
3) Can answer both “what type of person should I be?” and “what should I do?” (I assume since being virtuous describes character and character results in how actions are played out)
4) She explains how the question “what should I do?” is not simply answered by rules and principles but rather, the culmination of a person’s virtues.
5) Virtue theory is not reductionist in that all the moral concepts are defined based on one virtuous agent. It relies on very significant moral concepts that must each be understood and internalized correctly.
More complicated now:
6) Criticism: it is debatable which character traits are the virtues, or are subject to pluralism or cultural relativism. She argues that this is true for deontology as well. Doesn’t say that is isn’t a problem for virtue theory, but argues that both theories must at some point come out and say that “in some cases, “This person/these people/other cultures are (or would be) in error,” and find some grounds for saying this.”
7) Criticism: virtue ethics has un-resolvable conflict built into it. Some virtues can seem good but sometimes lead to the wrong action. For example, ending someone’s suffering through charity by killing them. She says that deontology has a similar problem where its rules can conflict and lead contrary instructions for certain cases. So, again, she admits this is a problem, but not one unique to virtue ethics.
The major criticism comprises both 8 and 9 and suggests that virtue ethics cannot be a plausible normative ethical theory because:
8) virtues that indicate right actions such as “act charitably” or “act honestly” are assertions that are not based off some rational argument.
9) These assertions, such as charity, are based off some presupposition that charity is good or worthwhile. She argues that these last two criticisms are based off of some ‘condition of adequacy’ for a normative ethical theory and that the condition of adequacy is implausible to expect. She states that (8) and (9) are only valid if the principles of an ‘adequate’ normative theory make knowing how to act in certain situations easy for anyone who follows them. She claims that all normative theories require moral wisdom in order to be used properly for real moral issues. Knowing what is worthwhile and the proper application of virtues comes with moral wisdom and virtues are guiding factors.
When applied to abortion:
Her argument is not meant to solve the problem of abortion but rather how virtue ethics leads one to think about it. There is no single right answer. Her aim is to dissolve the problem in terms of which virtues are worthwhile to the application of abortion. She states that the proper application of virtues and vices are what are called into argument.
The discussion is about the morality of the act of abortion, not the laws and legislation permitting it.
Issue 1: Whether or not a fetus is something that can be killed without moral consequence.
Issue 2: Whether or not it is a woman’s right to make this decision.
Women’s rights: She claims that the question of whether a woman have a moral right to have an abortion is not relevant within virtue theory because it is irrelevant to the question of whether a woman would be acting virtuously or viciously under a specific set of circumstances that led to her wanting an abortion.
Fetus: This seems like a metaphysical question and not a moral question. Within the realm of secular morality, the status of the fetus is not relevant to the rightness or wrongness of abortion. So the issue becomes bigger than just these two: An abortion is not just a physical condition, but has much emotional weight. Simply by ending the potential of a fetus to develop into a baby we create a cascade of thoughts about “human life and death, parenthood, and family relationships”. As such, it becomes a heavily weighted subject of morality. It is simply not correct for just anyone to think of abortion as the killing of something that does not matter due to the incapability of humans, who are doing or considering doing the act to do this. In the few cases where it is possible for the woman to think of the pregnancy in this way and there are no emotional ties weighing on the decision, then outside perspectives of this type are allowable.
Having children is not necessarily worthwhile to everyone, so having an abortion for the sake of a child not being worthwhile to one in their specific circumstances is morally acceptable. Conversely, those who would seek an abortion for the sake of “having a good time” and for selfish pursuits may not be warranted.
Her argument is based entirely on the circumstances of the pregnancy, how it came about and the consequences of ending it or allowing it to progress.
Where virtues come into play: “[a virtuous woman] has such character traits as strength, independence, resoluteness, decisiveness, self-confidence, responsibility, serious-mindedness, and self-determination-and no one, I think, could deny that many women become pregnant in circumstances in which they cannot welcome or cannot face the thought of having this child precisely because they lack one or some of these character traits.”
What to take away: the proper balance of virtues can likely prevent an unwanted pregnancy from occurring in the first place. In the cases where proper execution of virtues have led to an unwanted pregnancy, abortion is moral. In those cases where vices lead to pregnancy and abortion is simply a means to a selfish end, abortion is not moral.
Question: Do you think it's right to allow the emotional weight and feeling of what a pregnancy/the act of abortion brings about in the determination of the morality for the action of abortion the way she has described?
Or should it be more based in rationality the way a deontologist would attempt to solve the problem?