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3: SEP 7


  • Hibbing, John R., Kevin Smith, and John R. Alford, Predisposed: Liberals, conservatives, and the biology of political difference, Chapter 1, "Living with the Enemy". (32)
  • PBS Aristotle and Virtue Theory: Crash Course Philosophy #38
  • Everyday Ethics Discussion and Short Writing Prompt #1. Due at midnight tonight!

In-class content

  • Lecture Segment: Philosophical Theories: Virtue Ethics
  • Lecture Segment: Some Preliminaries about Ethical theory and objectivity

Some Preliminaries about Objectivity in Ethics and Features of Ethical Discourse

  • A Framework for thinking about moral theories.
  • Where should we look for "moral goodness"?
  • Intentions (Kantian),
  • Person (a virtuous person) (Aristotle),
  • Consequences (Mill, Singer - Utilitarian)
  • The following is pretty standard, but was drawn from Peter Singer's classic, Practical Ethics:
  • Question to keep in mind for the next 5 minutes: When Haidt was showing that there was cultural variation in the way people make the "Harm / Convention" distinction, was he embracing "bad relativism"?
  • Singer's arguments against cultural relativism:
  • Cultural Relativism (the old discussion): Ethics varies by culture. Singer: This is true and false, same act under different conditions may have different value, but this is superficial relativism. For example, existence of birth control led to a general change in sexual ethics. The moral principle in question (don't have kids you're not ready to care for) might remain the same and be objective, but the prohibition on casual sex might change.
  • Note: There is strong polling data on advisability of living together prior to marriage. Now, yes; 60 years ago, no. So cultural change itself doesn't tell you whether moral principles are changing.
  • Subjectivist Relativism - This position may not be held by any thoughtful person, but it sounds like what some people say when they start studying values and becomes confused or cynical.
  • The Position: "Wrong" means "I disapprove" or "my society disapproves")
  • The Problems:
  • If this sort of relativism is true, polls could determine ethics. But they don't.
  • Deep subjectivism can't making sense of disagreement. Ethics is a kind of conversation.
  • There is just too much research suggesting that "I approve" isn't philosophical "rock bottom".
  • Singer: Ok to say the values aren't objective like physics (aren't facts about the world), but not sensible to deny the meaningfulness of moral disagreement and ethical reasoning.
  • An evolutionist's twist: A society's ethical culture can produce positive, neutral, or negative outcomes for human flourishing. In this sense, values have objective consequences in meeting selection pressures (both natural and cultural). (Vax values, for example.)
  • Are there minimum conditions for ethical theories? (Or, What kind of conversation is ethics?)
  • The sorts of reasons that count as ethical: universalizable ones. Can't just appeal to one person or group's interest. Note: most standard ethical theories satisfy this requirement, yet yield different analysis and advice. We will look at the specific form of universalization in each theory we discuss, but you could say this is a kind of defining feature of ethical discourse.

Reading Quiz

  • Today's quiz is for practice. Here is the link:

Hibbing, et. al. Predisposed Chapter 1

  • Some opening examples of the persistence of partisanship
  • opening example: William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal -- meant as example of highly educated partisans who would be able to debate in a civilized way. 60's era political divisions often violent.
  • also historical examples of highly partisan politics -- Hamilton & Adams, Hamilton & Burr (duelled). Jefferson's dirty tricks.
  • Goal of the Book: to explain why people experience and interpret the political world so very differently. (6): list of difference that track political difference. READ
  • A methodological concern
  • Does it makes sense to reduce political difference to "liberal" vs. "conservative". They are in fact measuring lots of differences, but claim there is a tradition of recognizing this difference. 11: some terminological issues. Ultimately, labels for clusters of real personality and behavioral differences.
  • Think Probabalistically: not biological determinists, rather real persistent differences shape and mold our ideology. Example: relation between conscientiousness and ideology 14. A number of studies replicate a positive correlation bt conscientiousness and conservatism. Lesson on 15: difference between representing data in categories vs. scatterplot. Wilson-Patterson index of conservatism. Brief lesson on correlation, 17. Correlation for conscientiousness and conservatism small r = .2
  • What are predispositions?
  • Predispositions - "biologically and psychologically instantied defaults that, absent new information or overriding, govern response to given stimuli" (24).
  • Leibniz speculated about "appetitions"
  • Neuroscientist Eagleman: brain running alot of its own programs. Ad hoc defenses (also in Haidt) called "baloney generator" by Pinker. We may have an illusion of rationality and control. examples of self-deception like this, p. 21, also top of 22 read.
  • Responses to Political stimuli emotionally salient and not always conscious: Lodge: "hot cognition" or "automaticity"
  • Predispositions vary qualitatively and by intensity. (Examples among people you know.)
  • 23: clarifying argument: not nature / nurture. predispositions are difficult to change. research on long term stability of pol. orientation. 180 degree turn is very unusual. Technical def: "Predispositions, then, can be thought of as biologically and psychologically instantiated defaults that, absent new information or conscious overriding, govern response to given stimuli."
  • Our actual predispositions vary, but also the degree to which we have predispositions is variable across a group. (This is one reason researchers in the field sometimes focus on highly partisan test subjects.)
  • 25: some background on theorizing about political dispositions. what is new today is better research, but also research connecting political variation with bio/cog variation.
  • 27: resistance to this kind of theory in political science. Philip Converse. also, idea that politics is best understood in terms of history and culture

Philosophical Moral Theories: Virtue Ethics

  • concepts from video...
  • Virtue — general idea of being an excellent person. Also, specific lists of virtues (vary by time and culture)
  • A bit of Aristotle’s theory of virtue and human nature: fixed nature, species eternal, proper function (telos), distinctive aspect of function: being rational and political. (Note that modern virtue theorists aren't committed to some of A's false ideas.)
  • Virtue is natural to us. Like an acorn becoming a tree. Being virtuous is being the best of the kind of thing you are. A deep intuition supports this developmental approach. (Pause to consider personal examples of the reality of moral development.)
  • Theory of the Golden Mean: Virtue as mean between extremes of emotion: Ex. Courage (story of stopping the mugger), Honesty, Generosity. (Let's give our own examples.) Virtue as training of emotional response in relation to knowledge of circumstances and the good.
  • How do you acquire virtue? Experience. Practical Wisdom cultivated through habituation. Follow a moral exemplar (virtue coach). Good parenting and shaping by healthy family. It's a training program in becoming the best human you can be based on your "telos".
  • What if we don’t want to become virtuous? What is the motivation to virtue? The pursuit of a happy life that “goes well”. Eudaimonia. Human flourishing. Challenge and development of talents. Should be attractive. Connection between virtue and happiness not guaranteed for Aristotle, but could be tighter in other versions.
  • Additional points:
  • centrality of virtues and practical wisdom. Is practical wisdom real?
  • historic variability and list of virtues. Curiosity was a vice in Medieval Europe. Check out virtue lists on Virtue Wiki.
  • From Aristotle to Evolutionary theory. Eternality of the species. What if you drop this false belief? Human excellence may have to do with meeting or exceeding the challenges posed by our environment. Then the idea that virtues change by time and culture makes more sense. The pursuit of the good life is the objective and constant part of morality, and the everything that changes is part of the challenge of knowing the human good.

EE1: Everyday Ethics Discussion and Short Writing Prompt #1 (300 words)

  • Prompt: Is it morally acceptable to gossip? If not, why not. If so, under what circumstances and conditions?Present your theory about the ethics of gossip. A good theory of gossip would establish an understanding of gossip, take a position on the value or acceptability of gossip and provide a principle or rationale for that position. This ungraded assignment will count for 10 points.
  • Follow this link when you are ready to write.] Due midnight tonight!