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Group 9 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)

Proof of the Principle of Utility

1. If something is the sole desirable end, then it is the fundamental criterion of morality (Mill 16-17)

2. Happiness (in terms of pleasure and pain) is the only desirable end (17-18)

Therefore, happiness is the fundamental basis for morality (19)

Is Happiness the Only Desirable End?

1. It seems like people desire ends for their own sake other than happiness (such as virtue, power, or fame) (17-18)

2. However, these things come to be desired only as part of happiness - in the sense that an individual could not be happy without them; they are included in happiness (18)

3. Therefore, the desire of such things is not different from the desire for happiness (18)

Hence, happiness is the only ultimate end (19)

In my opinion Mill's arguments, as I have outlined above, are both valid and sound. A difficulty I would like address however, is in his distinction between will and desire (19).

In his attempt to refute the objection that "a person with a fixed will carries out her purposes without thought of pleasure" (19), Mill agrees that will and desire are essentially different things. He describes will as an "offshoot" of desire and akin to habit, and suggests that what is a result of habit cannot be presumed to be inherently good (20) - goodness in the utilitarian sense being happiness or pleasure. Therefore, although individuals can will things without the thought of pleasure, it is not equivalent to desire, which can only be about happiness. However, Mill simultaneously admits that "will can only arise from desire" (20). This for me appears to be a point of contention, as he likens will to both habit and desire but then claims that it ultimately comes to fall under the "habit" category. The progression of how will can go from resembling desire to habit (which are posed as fundamentally different) remains unclear, and therefore it is unclear whether will can be recognized to be truly distinct from desire. If will and desire cannot be distinguished, then it appears that one could will (or desire) ends without the thought of pleasure. This is of course problematic from a utilitarian perspective, which purports that happiness is the only desirable end.

This brings me to my question: Do you think that will can be fundamentally distinguished from desire? And if not, then what are the implications for utilitarianism?

Mill, Utilitarianism (Sept. 30)

John Stuart Mill Utilitarianism Chapter 5: The connection of Justice to Utility. Jason Riach Tuesday September 30, 2014

Outline of the argument:

Thesis: The connection between justice and utility is that justice focuses on upholding the legal and moral rights of human being, thus alleviating personal suffering thus conditioning greater happiness in general.

Premise 1: It is unjust to take away anyone’s personal liberty, property, or anything that belong to him by law. (pg. 20-21)

Thus: justice is upholding the legal and personal rights of an individual (pg. 21)

Premise 2: Some legal rights certain individuals may ought not to have (pg. 21)

Why: Because they may be a bad law (pg. 21) IE: tyranny, or that person may abuse that law IE: deviance, selfishness.
Also: laws that are deemed bad laws seem to infringe on someone’s rights (pg. 21)
Thus: The right someone has that surpasses unjust laws is a moral right (pg. 21)

Premise 3: Anyone given person should obtain (whether good or evil) that which they deserve

In other words: people who do good deserve good, those who do bad do not deserve good.

Premise 4: It is unjust to break faith with anyone (pg. 21)

In other words: people must uphold obligations, contracts, and engagements with others and those obligations, contracts, and engagements must bring they benefit they offered.

Premise 5: Justice must be impartial (pg. 21)

Though: some exceptions exist, for example someone may choose a friend over a stranger outside of the law as a companion, or a family member over a friend.
But: This exception should not subsume the goal of impartiality, which is equality (pg. 22)

Conclusion: The conception of justice works only to elevate utility, thus utility is the moral sentiment behind acts of justice.

Supplementary Thesis: Justice relies on our moral sentiment of duty.

Duty to what: there are different forms of duty.
One example is the penal system: it is a duty to punishment which is form of just consequence to immoral acts. “We do not call something wrong without implying that someone should be punished for it.” (pg. 22)
Thus: Justice is about our duty to deciphering between right and wrong/ accolade and punishment.

Premise 1: Duty to to not doing wrong correlates to some right of some other person

In other words: it is our duty to uphold the rights of others. (pg. 23)

Premise 2: to have a right is then to have something which society ought to defend (pg. 23)

Why: Security of rights is next to security of survival and that states function is to protect its citizens.
Thus: A duty to justice is the duty to upholding the rights of yourself and others (pg. 23)

Conclusion: Justice then does not subsume utility in defining what is moral but has utility at its very end.

Thus: utility must be the most sacred and binding part of utility (pg. 24)

Comments and Questions:

1. John Stuart Mill says that every time we say someone has done something wrong we are implying that we want to punish them in someway for it. Is there room in this conception of justice for social progress, or does a punitive justice system just tie us up in problematic moral hang ups? What would be an alternative to a penal law system/what are actual alternatives on earth/in Vancouver?

2. Utilitarianism tries to draft a version of morality that is not reliant on metaphysics but also not staunch empiricism IE: God (theology), Skepticism (Hume), Universal Principles (Kant), a ‘moral world order’ (Fichte), or World-Spirit (Hegel). Does Mill actually break away from Metaphysics, that is, does he create a theory that does not rely on ‘taken as truth’ presuppositions or do his conceptions of Justice and Utility rely on something else than mere Reason? Is Reason itself metaphysics?

Later Consequentialism (Oct. 2)

Ivanna Besenovsky

Later Consequentialism

2 October 2014

Timmons challenges utilitarian theory and asserts that it is probably not possible, by utilitarian principle, to arrive at a "correct moral criterion of right action." He introduces the idea that there is inevitable moral conflict in being selectively and strictly concerned with the maximization of happiness and the moderation of pain. Timmons also offers four cases wherein--according to utilitarian theory--it is impossible to reconcile any correct moral criterion, these cases being: punishment, medical sacrifice, distributive justice, and promising.

Note: There ought to be a way of distinguishing right and wrong as well as establishing valid judgments for the morality of actions. Utilitarianism might imply a moral obligation for unjust punishment and "incorrect moral verdicts."

Rule Utilitarianism:

1) The moral rightness or wrongness of an action is dependent on whether it is mentioned in a relevant and correct moral rule which directly applies to the specific situation in question.

2) The rule is only correct if the utility produced is at least as great as any other alternative (and relevant) rule.

Formulation: Action A is right only if mention in a moral rule whose utility is at least as great as the utility of any other (relevant) moral rule

Further Objections:

Classical Ultilitarianism may encompass a warped understanding of welfare (specifically, that utilitarian happiness is intrinsically hedonistic). Timmons asserts that the avoidance of pain and pursuit of pleasure are not the only inherently valuable components when considering human welfare, and that other values may be more appropriate (i.e. what we want--or want to be--and the fulfillment and nonfulfillment of our desires). An action is right if it fulfills desire as much as an alternative action could.


Different versions of utilitarian theory vary in their plausibility. Many utilitarians have offered plausible defense for the more contentious utilitarian claims. What is 'supposedly' really wrong with utilitarianism: its failure to respect the separateness of persons--individuality and identity are trivialized. It allows for mistreatment of persons in that some individuals are burdened with grossly immoral expectations. Morality ought to extend respect for persons on an individual level--this is critical to moral theory and something upon which we can 'all' agree.


Can there ever be obvious moral conclusions? What are the implications if we cannot reach obvious moral conclusions? How do we reconcile the disregard for individually-based conclusions of morality? Are our desires just an extension of our concern with pleasure?

Rule utilitarianism (Oct. 7)

Rimin Sidhu - Rule Utilitarianism - Brandt

Rule Utilitarianism

  • Welfare of sentient creatures needs to be considered (589)
  • Clear as to which acts are right or wrong (591)
  • Utilitarian morality vindicated to humanity or selfishness (591)
  • humanity = maximize general welfare
  • selfishness = maximize own welfare

Argument: "Ideal" forms of Rule Utilitarianism

Premise 1) Rule Utilitarianism can be divided into two groups (592)

  • right act is moral rule, institution, or practice prevalent in society
  • wrong act doesn't have to be prohibited by code of society
ex. society permits man to put wife to death for infidelity

Premise 2) Morally obligatory or right to do action in particular situation due to utility of having general moral rule (593)

Premise 3) Optimific Rule Theory: an action at a certain time in a circumstance leaving everyone that performed it worse off than they were before performing the act (593)

Conclusion: If doing an action would make everyone worse off, but another act would not, then it is wrong for anyone to do that act

Questions, Comments, Criticisms:

What if an act that is prohibited by the norms in society - not morally right - but would make everyone better off, would it be justifiable to perform that act?

Based on the question above, where do you think the boundaries of morality in utilitarianism should be drawn?

Kant, Groundwork (Oct. 28)

Jason Riach

Intro: In this section (89-93) Immanuel Kant is introduces two ideas: 1. that all rational beings are not merely means for others, but always, unconditionally ends in themselves and 2. that this is a social relationship between rational beings that culminates into something called the kingdom of ends that is conditioned by moral actions.

Thesis: Moral action, in other words, actions done out of a will that responds to categorical duty, conditions a kingdom of ends in which all rational beings respect each other as ends.

Premise 1: rational being are ends in themselves as a universal rule. This not drawn form experience for two reasons:

It is not drawn from experience, for it applies to all humans; experiential value cannot determine this (89)

It is not a subjective motive in the sense that humans beings adopt this law as a means to the end of subjective maxims, but a law that conditions the ultimate limiting of the freedom of action (90)

How it relates to thesis:

This relates the thesis in the sense that there must be a principle that exists that limits rational freedom, for if there was no limiting principle subjective maxims would treat other people as means rather than ends, resulting in exploitation of other rational beings- which would be immoral.

Premise 2: For practical purposes, that is, to orchestrate society and social interaction in congruence with the categorical imperative, a good will must be such that: the will of every rational being as a will giving universal law (90).

How it relates to thesis:

Because rational beings are ends in themselves they are not merely subjects to that law (90). This means that to remain an end in itself, the rational being in coinciding with the law must regard itself as giving the law as well as obeying it (90). The categorical imperative is not based on interest so thus the rational being is not operating towards the interest of any other rational being, but out of will; this will must be the giver of the law and the follower of the law out of duty to remain an end in itself (90).

Premise 3: All rational being must operate with a will that gives the law that it obeys out of duty to the categorical imperative to establish a kingdom of ends (91). The kingdom of ends is a systematic union of different rational beings through common laws (92). All human beings in the kingdom of ends exists as ends in themselves, thus one must treat both themselves as ends, but also other as ends (92). You become a member of the kingdom of ends when you are at once giving universal laws and subject to them (92). You are a sovereign when while giving laws, you are not subject to the will of any other (92).

How it relates to thesis:

To live with others there needs to be a limiting principle on freedom. This limiting principle is the action of treating all personal actions as if you were giving universal laws while at the same time being subject to the laws given. These laws must treat all other rational beings as ends in themselves, for in acting out of duty you may not treat another as a means to your own, subjective ends.


This establishes a framework of morality that conditions social life and regulates society without extracting from history or experience. In this sense, Kant’s moralistic system is a priori-before experience- thus both a universal law and an ideal that is practical to societal life.

Discussion Questions:

1. Kant says that treating all rational beings as an end has a practical aspect, that is, that it has social applicability. What evidence does Kant give that his conception of duty is practical? How do we, indeed, practice treating each other as ends? Does Kant give us a framework for this?

2. A priori concepts are a contentious idea in the philosophical world. Is there such a thing that ‘happens before experience?’ Is everything based on experience (Hume) is experience, attunement, and knowledge connected (Heidegger)?

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

In "On a Supposed Right to Lie", Kant offers a rebuttal to Benjamin Constant's criticism of the duty of veracity (telling the truth).

Constant essentially claims that if everyone were to tell the truth, society would be impossible (1). He instead suggests that "it is a duty to tell the truth to whoever has a right to truth," with the understanding that no one has a right to truth that injures others (1). To this Kant replies that lies, understood as "intentionally false declarations to another", always injure another - if not an individual then humankind as a whole (2).

Kant's justification of this argument is as follows:

1. Lies cause truth statements to lose their authority

2. Such that all rights founded on agreement should lose their power (1)

3. This is a wrong to humankind (1)

4. Therefore, truth is a duty of every rational being, regardless of the disadvantage that may arise to anyone (1)

He further claims that whoever tells a lie must answer for its consequences, however unforeseen (2) because:

1. Veracity is an unconditional duty (3)

2. Therefore, one has a duty to truth that cannot be avoided (3)

3. Hence, any harm that is caused by telling the truth is not actually done, or caused, by the truth-teller - it cannot be attributed to the act of veracity (3)

4. But in lying you must bear the responsibility of the consequences of your action (2)

I find Kant's arguments compelling and seemingly valid, nonetheless I want to challenge his first argument (that truth is a duty regardless of whatever disadvantage may arise) by way of the third premise: "this (untruth) is a wrong to humankind." It is an undoubtedly accurate claim that untruths do wrong to humankind, however I am uncertain whether I agree with the weight that Kant ascribes to this wrong.

Kant proposes a situation in which a murderer is at your door asking for your neighbor. He claims that if you were to tell the truth, as far as your knowledge goes, and admit that your neighbor was in the house and he ran out the back door as the murderer approached, you would be doing no wrong. However, if you were to lie and say that your neighbor had left when he was actually at home, and the villain found him outside as he tried to leave the house then you would be accountable for your action (2).

But suppose a situation in which you were hiding your neighbor in your basement, and you alone knew. The murderer is set on killing your neighbor alone. If you were to lie and say that your neighbor had gone to X place, and then call the police on the murderer as they left to X place, then in such a situation you should, with relative foresight of the consequences of your action, be able to avoid immediate harm to anyone. Kant would argue that the breach of the duty to veracity is nonetheless a harm to mankind, and therefore not permissible.

But is this really a justifiable view? It seems that if the wrongs that you had to choose between were (1) The death of a person, or (2) To wrong humankind by devaluing the power of truth, the latter in this situation seems almost insignificant. If existing as a rational being is an end in itself, the ultimate end, then shouldn't an individual's life be valued over some trivial violation of law?

What do you think?

Intro to Virtue Ethics (Nov. 4)

Ivanna Besenovsky Virtue Ethics 6 November 2014

2a. Moral theory is generally concerned with the right behavior, but virtue ethics is concerned with being the right kind of person. In virtue ethics, one might ask the question “How should I live? What kind of person should I be?” instead of “What is the right action?” The concern is less about specific dilemmas and more about an entire life. Virtue ethics asks that one be right all the time rather than just in specific, isolated moments.

Virtue ethics highlights the idea of character: Q: How should one live? A: One should live virtuously and have a virtuous character.

2b. Modern virtue ethics is derived from Aristotelian understanding of character and virtue—meaning a state of being. Character involves the right sort of emotions and inner states as well as what we do. Character traits must be stable, fixed, consistent and reliable.

Moral character develops through a long and gradual process of education and habituation; this is because people are born with natural tendencies which must be developed and encouraged over time (through habituation and education).

The value of virtue must first be recognized by the virtuous agent. Virtue itself is not a habit; it requires choice, understanding, and knowledge. A student of virtue must develop proper habits after having moral education, observing virtuous role models, and emulating the correct moral ideals. The development may take a whole lifetime until it is well-established and can guide one’s conduct.

It is not enough to act kindly by accident. One must intentionally choose and practice virtue and act in the right way because it has been recognized as the right way; this requires conscious choice and affirmation.

Virtue lies in a mean, meaning that it involves enacting the right or appropriate amount of emotion—not to much and not too little. The appropriate display of emotion will depend on the persons involved, the situation, feelings, etc.

The virtuous agent reasons correctly and acts from the harmonious right desire. She can act as an example to others.

These are only synopses of Aristotle’s great detail. In virtue ethics, the emphasis on character development and the rod of the emotions allow for a plausible account of moral psychology—which is deontology and consequentialism cannot offer to the same extent.

2c. Virtue ethics challenges consequentialist and deontological theories. The assertion is that these theories rely on one rule or principle that is expected to apply in all situations; because of this inflexibility, they cannot reconcile the complexity of all moral situations one might encounter.

One cannot expect to find answers to all moral problems by applying the same rigid rule which does not admit exception.

Virtuous responses are not contained in rules or principles that can be learned. One must be perceptive, sensitive, have experiences, reason practically, and much more to develop virtue and become a virtuous person. Ethics is too diverse and imprecise to be captured in a rigid code. For this reason, many virtue ethicists consider themselves to be anti-theorists.

2d. Virtue ethics was initially considered a rival account to deontology and consequentialism, because of the dissatisfaction which emerged in understanding morality in terms of duty and obligation. (People also objected to the application of moral rules and principles in diverse moral situations.)

3a. Eudaimonia is an Aristotelian term usually translated as happiness. Actions have a point in so far as they have an aim. Things are either ends in themselves of means to ends. Eudaimonia is the end in itself. It is the happiness, contentment, and fulfillment. It is the greatest good of all and the name of the best kind of life.

In the same way that the good of a thing is when it performs its function well, the good of a man is when he performs his function well. Man’s function is reason. Reason is what sets him aside from other beings. Therefore, the function of man is reason and humans should live in accordance with reason and who reasons well. This is the life of eudaimonia, or the life of virtue—acting in accordance with reason which is man’s highest function.

Rosalind Hursthouse argues that virtues make their possessor a good human being. One could think that acting morally might sometimes conflict with self-interest, but Hursthouse maintains that human nature is such that virtue is not exercised in opposition to self-interest, but rather is the quintessential component of human flourishing. This means that virtue benefits the possessor and leads to eudaimonia. It is not just that virtues will lead to a good life, but rather acting virtuously allows one to experience the good life (i.e. the exercise of our rational capacities and virtue is its own reward).


1. Does being a virtuous person or achieving virtue require that one have emotional privilege (i.e. no mental/emotional health issues or access to proper resources, nutrition, living situations etc. which might foster ‘normal’ and functioning behavior)? 2. Does achieving virtue seem at all elitist? 3. How can one know when they’ve achieved virtue? 4. How can one be sure that their ‘virtue role model’ is truly virtuous?

Later virtue theory (Nov. 18)

Rimin Sidhu

Rosalind Hursthouse

Virtue Theory and Abortion

Argument: Tragedy of losing a fetus, in relation to its growth

Premise 1: Pregnancy is not just another physical condition in our bodies (237) ex.

   -parents care passionately about offspring
   -termination is cutting off of new human life

Premise 2: Emotions and attitudes regarding fetus change as it develops (238) ex.

   -deep grief over miscarriage in later stages more appropriate than in earlier stages
   -lived with it longer, conscious of its existence (239)

Conclusion: It is more tragic to lose a fetus through miscarriage or abortion after carrying it for a longer period of time. This is due to the care that develops with your fetus when you are more conscious of it and have lived with it longer.


How would your view change on the tragedy of losing a developed fetus if the mother possessed no care or loss for it?

“It is particularly hard for the young and inexperienced to appreciate this, because appreciation of it usually comes only with experience”. (239) Although, Hursthouse is addressing early abortion in this statement, based on this statement, what are your views about inexperienced mothers that have developed compassion and feelings towards their unborn fetuses but lose them due to a miscarriage?