Spring 2013 Ethics Course Lecture Notes A

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These are the notes you will see displayed in class. They can be correlated to study questions for each class day.

Contents

January 07

First Class Topics

  • Course, Materials (books, pdfs, and clicker), and Goals
  • Course Methods and web sites - view course research questions
  • Course website -- for reading schedule, grading scheme, email, pdfs, audio from class, audio comments on assignments
  • Course wiki -- for basic course information, lecture notes, study questions.
  • Einstruction site - for registering your clicker, viewing clicker questions.
  • A typical prep cycle for the course: read, engage, review, prep SQs.
  • Time commitment: 6 hours per week as a baseline.
  • Grading Schemes: overview.
  • Ereserves - pdfs for course reading not in book form.

January 08

Cooper, Chapter 1, Introduction to Philosophical Ethics

  • Defining Ethics: Cooper's pragmatic definition, and others
  • Levels of value reflection: actions, institutions, principles, theory, meta-theory
  • The Zimbardo Prison Experiment: implications
  • Example of philosophical method.
  • Core ethical principles or intutions that are the basis of ethical theories. p. 23

January 10

Ariely, Why We Lie

  • Research on honesty with the "matrix task"
  • Shredder condition
  • Payment condition
  • Probability of getting caught condition
  • Distance of payment condition
  • Presence of a cheater condition
  • Priming with 10 commandments or signature on top of form
  • Implications

Haidt, The Righteous Mind, Intro and Chapter 1

  • Moral reasoning as a means of finding truth vs. furthering social agendas.
  • Harmless taboo violations: eating the dog / violating a dead chicken.
  • Brief background on developmental & moral psychology: nativists, empiricists, rationalists
  • Piaget's rationalism: kids figure things out for themselves if they have normal brains and the right experiences.
  • Kohlberg's "Heinz story,"
  • Turiel: kids don't treat all moral rules the same: very young kids distinguish "harms" from "social conventions"
Haidt's puzzle about Turiel: other dimensions of moral experience, like "purity" and "pollution" seem operative at young ages and deep in culture (witches).
Point of harmless taboo violations: pit intuitions about norms and conventions against intuitions about the morality of harm. Showed that Schweder was right. The morality/convention distinction was culturally variable.

January 14

  • Small Group Discussion: factors affecting breaks with situational control.

Cooper, Chapter 5: Cognitive and Moral Development

  • Review of Piaget's stage of cognitive development:
  • Sensorimotor, Symbolic, Concrete, Formal
  • Critics: missing variability from rich vs. poor environments. (Vygotsky)
  • Importance of Formal Operational level for "breaking" with situational control.
  • Kohlberg's stage of moral development
  • Preconventional, Conventional, Postconventional
  • Application to My Lai massacre

January 15

Singer, Chapter 1, "About Ethics," from Practical Ethics

  • Ethics and religion
  • Ethics and relativism -- different versions of relativism:
  • Ethics varies by culture: true and false, same act under different conditions may have different value. Examples?
  • Marxist relativism and non-relativism
  • Problems for relativists: consistency across time, polls could determine ethics
  • Problems for the subjectivist: making sense of disagreement
  • Singer: Ok to say the values aren't objective like physics, but not sensible to deny the meaningfulness of moral disagreement. Ethical reasoning.
  • Singer's view (one of several major positions): p. 10
  • The sorts of reasons that count as ethical: universalizable ones.
  • "Interests" in utilitarian thought

January 17

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 1

  • Politics as the master science: it's end, happiness
  • Defects of the life of pleasure, honor, even virtue as the meaning of happiness. Defect of money-making.
  • Section 7: argument for happiness as the final end of life.
  • But what is it? Search for the function of man to find the answer.
  • Nutrition and growth?
  • Perception?
  • Activity of the soul in accordance with virtue?
  • Other characteristics needed: complete life, active life.
  • Section 13: Aristotle's tripartite division of the soul:
  • Rational
  • Apetitive (desiring) (partly rational)
  • Vegetative

January 21

Haidt, Chapter 2, "The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail"

  • Philosophy's "rationalist delusion"
  • 30: Plato, Hume, and Jefferson
  • moralism (Anti-nativism): reactions against bad nativism, like Social Darwinism, 60s ideology suggesting that we can liberate ourselves from our biology and traditional morality (as contraception appeared to).
  • Nativism (natural selection gives us minds "preloaded" with moral emotions) in the 90s: Wilson, de Waal, Damasio
  • Evolutionary Psychology in moral psychology
  • Roach-juice
  • Soul selling
  • Harmless Taboo violations: Incest story; Cadaver nibbling; compare to Kohlberg's Heinz stories (reasoning vs. confounding) -- evidence that the elephant is talking.
  • Ev. psych. research outside moral psychology
  • Wasson card selection test: seeing that vs. seeing why
  • Rider and Elephant
  • Important to see Elephant as making judgements (processing info), not just "feeling"
  • 45: Elephant and Rider defined
  • Social Intuitionist Model

January 22

Haidt, Chapter Three, "Elephants Rule"

  • Personal Anecdote: your inner lawyer
  • Priming studies:
  • "take" "often" -- working with neutral stories also
  • Research supporting "intuitions come first"
  • Zajonc on "affective primacy"-- applies to made up language
  • Social and Political judgements intuitive
  • flashing word pairs with dissonance: "flower - happiness" vs. "hate - sunshine"
  • Implicit Association Test
  • flashing word pairs with political terms.
  • Todorov's work extending "attractiveness" advantage to snap judgements of competence.
  • Bodies guides judgements
  • Fart Spray exaggerates moral judgements (!)
  • Zhong: hand washing before and after moral judgements.
  • Helzer and Pizarro: standing near a sanitizer strengthens conservatism.
  • Psychopaths: reason but don't feel
  • Babies: feel but don't reason
  • helper and hinderer puppet shows
  • reaching for helper puppets
  • Affective reactions in the brain
  • Josh Greene's fMRI studies of Trolley type problems
  • When does the elephant listen to reason?
  • Friends...

January 24

Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, Book II

  • Virtue not possessed by nature, but potential.
  • Role of habit (ethos --> ethike) compare to other things we need training for.
  • Section 4: Differences between virtue and the arts. Virture requires:
  • Act chosen in knowledge
  • Chosen by the agent
  • For its own sake
  • Proceeding from character.
  • Virtue in the soul: passsions, faculties or states of character.
  • Virtue makes its object excellent.
  • Virtue as a mean that is also an excellence
  • Courage as the mean between fear and foolhardiness
  • Generosity (liberality)
  • Temperance
  • Proper pride
  • Anger (?)
  • Wittiness (vs. Buffoonery and Boorishness)
  • Assessing Aristotle's view

January 28

Aristotle, Book III, Nichomachean Ethics

  • Distinguishing the "voluntary" from the "involuntary" (chracteristics and cases)
  • Acting from cumpulsion
  • Acting "in ignorance" vs. "out of ignorance"
  • Choice, more specific than the voluntary, distinguished from wish
  • Deliberation
  • Aristotle on the topic, "No man errs willingly" (cf. Plato/Socrates) - "becoming wiked"
  • Courage: not just about fear. Noble ends.
  • Temperance: exemptions for pleaures and activities informed by reason.
  • cf. Don Giovanni -- the intemperate lover


Aristotle's methods & Philosophical Method

  • Review of Philosophical Methods
  • Review of specific methods in Aristotle
  • What makes thought philosophical?

January 29

Haidt, Chapter 4, "Vote for Me (Here's Why)"

  • Ring of Gyges
  • Tetlock: accountability research
  • Exploratory vs. Confirmatory thought
  • Conditions promoting exploratory thought 1) knowing ahead of time that you'll be called to account; 2) not knowing what the audience thinks; 3) believing that the audience is well informed and interested in truth or accuracy.
  • Leary's research on self-esteem importance
  • Confirmation bias
  • Wasson again -- number series
  • Deann Kuhn --
  • David Perkins research on reason giving
  • Can I believe it? vs. Must I believe it?
  • Application to political beliefs: Drew Westen's fMRI research.
  • Good thinking as an emergent property.

Implications of Haidt's viewpoint for thinking about values

January 31

Rachels, Chapter 6, The Social Contract Theory

  • Hobbes: morality as solution to practical problem
  • Life in the state of nature: nasty, brutish and short
  • Why? equal need, scarcity, equality of power, limited altruism
  • Solution to the problem of self-interest: the social contract (def p. 85)
  • Prisoner's Dilemma
Prisoner B: Smith stays silent(cooperates) Prisoner B: Smith betrays (defects)
Prisoner A (you) stays silent (cooperates) Each serves 1 year Prisoner A (you): 3 years
Prisoner B: Smith: goes free
Prisoner A (you) betrays (defects) Prisoner A (you): goes free
Prisoner B: Smith: 3 years
Each serves 2 years
  • Pay off matrix for any outcome:
  • Smith stays silent (cooperate), you betray (defects): 3, 0 (Smith's a sucker)
  • Smith betrays (defects), you stay silent (cooperate): 0,3 (You're a sucker)
  • Both betray (defect): 2 years each (Game theoretic outcome)
  • Both (cooperate): 1 year each (Optimal outcome for combined interests/utility - allegedly only achievable with an enforceable social contract - even one enforced by bad guys!)
  • Why should you defect no matter what Smith does?
  • Analyze both possibilities for Smith
  • He stays silent (cooperates)
  • He betrays you (defects)
  • Note on iterated prisoner's dilemma
  • Strengths/weakness of Social Contract theory
  • Justifies enforcement of rules and punishment
  • Rationality of rules based on mutual self-interest ("sustainable strategy")
  • Problem: Did we really make an agreement? Does it matter? Virtual agreement
  • The Case of Civil Disobedience
  • Critical Discussion: Assessing the adequacy and scope of social contract theory.

February 04

de Waal, intro & p. 5-21

  • Veneer Theory -
  • Theory of Mind - (xvi)
  • Clue from intro about how commentators will respond: not as veneer theorists, but to question continuity between moral emotions and "being moral".
  • Homo homini lupus
  • Thesis: No asocial history to humans.
  • Distinction between: 1) seeing morality as a "choice" humans made; and 2) morality as "outgrowth" of social instincts.
  • T. H. Huxley: gardener metaphor. (contra Darwin, who includes morality in evolution.)
  • Freud: civilization as reunciation of instinct.
  • Dawkins: genes are selfish, but in the end we can break with them.
  • Veneer Theory: "Scratch and altruist and watch a hypocrite bleed"
  • Robert Wright (contemp. evolutionist): morality as mask for selfishness.
  • Evolutionary "selfishness" vs. moral "selfishness" -- role of intention. Seem opposed, but major thesis for de Waal is that they are not: a "selfish" evolutionary process can produce altruism as a strategy.
  • Darwin influenced by Adam Smith
  • Westermark: observation of camel's revenge.
  • Chimps punish and seek revenge also.
  • "reciprocal altruism"
  • "moral emotions" p. 20

February 05

de Waal, "Morally Evolved," 21-42

  • Empathy -- posits more complex forms (moral emotions) from simpler (ex. emotional contagion)
  • Evidence in primates of simple emotions: comforting, response to distress (25). Rhesus monkeys won't shock each other (29)
  • Anecdotes:
  • How does Ladygina-Kohts get her monkey off the roof?
  • Kuni and the starling
  • Krom's helping behavior with the tires
  • Binit Jua, zoo gorilla, rescues child.
  • de Waal study on post aggression comforting contacts (34)
  • Consolation behavior in apes (chimps and apes and gorillas)
  • de Waal study on post aggression comforting contacts (34)
  • Why not monkeys? Self-awareness level -- mirror self-recognition in apes. Correlates with children.
  • de Waal's "Russian Doll" metaphor: from emotional contagion to cognitive empathy.
  • mirror neurons, muscle contractions,
  • note defintion of empathy (finally!) at 39 and 41.

February 07

de Waal, Morally Evolved, Part 3

  • Reciprocity and Fairness
  • testing hypotheses about food sharing in chimps "spontaneous services" (inc. grooming)
  • competing hypotheses: good mood sharing vs. partner-specific reciprocity (favoring those who previously cooperated)
  • evidence favored latter hyp.
  • studying fairness in terms of reward expectation or "inequity aversion"
  • limits to monkey fairness: no sharing between rich and poor.
  • Mencious and "reciprocity"
  • Community Concern
  • Dark side of morality. Groupish behavior.
  • The Beethoven Error

February 11

Korsgaard, "Morality and the Distinctiveness of Human Action"

  • On Veneer Theory
  • not coherent: views morality as contraint of self-interest maximization
  • Do we really pursue our self-interests (ha!)
  • Not coherent concept for a social animal as complex as us.
  • Morality not constraints on self-interest, but defining of a way of life. treating as ends/means. What could latter mean?
  • On continuity/discontinuity of ethics with evolution
  • we're more like apes than people think, but there's still a deep discontinuity
  • we're "damaged" in some way that suggests a break with nature.
  • de Waal is like some sentimentalists who incorrectly infer intention from emotion.
  • range or scale: anything with "function organization" can be said to have purposes (ex. p. 107)
  • next stage: perceptual animal's movements have purposes, but those purposes are not "before the mind"
  • next stage: animal that has purposes "before the mind" and can "entertain thoughts about how to achieve them"
  • Is the capuchin "protesting the unfairness" or "angling for a grape"
  • next stage: Asking "Is wanting this a good reason for pursuing it?" (justification)
  • normative self-government
  • 117: "not a mere matter of degree" (!)

February 12

Practice Exam Question

How does Aristotle argue that happiness is goal of human existence? Identify a couple of strengths of this view. How might someone argue against it? (2 paragraphs)


Singer, "Morality, Reason, and the Rights of Animals," p. 140-151

  • de Waal too harsh with Veneer Theory
  • Roots of ethics in social/evolved nature, but not all ethics is derived from evolved nature as social animals
  • Darwin quote from Descent of Man
  • De Waal passage on "disinterestedness," impartial spectator, universalization
  • when de Waal notes the groupish aspect of our morality (the yin/yang aspect) and the "fragility" of impartiality, he's not so far from veneer talk.
  • It's reason that lets us make the leap to impartiality. Reason comes from nature and evolution, but it's not specifically tied to sociality. 145
  • 146: follow talk about reason, takes us to places not related to survival/fitness
  • Singer's reading of the J.D. Greene fMRI research on Trolley problem: shows that getting the right answer in the second condition (pushing the big dude) requires overcoming emotion. 149: "automatic emotional responses" (not judgements)
  • Kant - reason over emotion

February 14

Haidt, Chapter 5, "Beyond WEIRD Morality"

  • WEIRD morality is the morality of Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic cultures
  • just as likely to be bothered by taboo violations, but more likely to set aside feelings of disgust and allow violations
  • only group with majority allowing chicken story violation.
  • "the weirder you are the more likely you are to see the world in terms of separate objects, rather than relationships"
  • framed-line task 97
  • Shweder's anthropology: ethics of autonomy, community, divinity 99-100
  • claims schweder's theory predicts responses on taboo violation tests
  • ethic of divinity: body as temple vs. playground
  • vertical dimension to values. explains reactions to flag desecration, piss Christ, thought exp: desecration of liberal icons.

Discussion question: Are WEIRD moral cultures more rational and therefore "better" (embodying a most distinctively human morality, for example, following Singer & Koorsgaard?)

February 18

Haidt, Chapter 6, "Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind"

  • explaining moral diversity. argument against the reductive project of philosophical ethics
  • "the righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors"
  • Enlightenment thought, two sources of transcendence: God & Reason
  • Hume represents a third enlightenment option: Nature
  • Austism, Bentham (utlitarianism), Kant (deontology)
  • Avoiding bad evolutionary theory or evolutionary psychology: "just so stories"
  • Modularity in evolutionary psychology: original vs. current triggers
  • See chart, p. 125

February 19

Haidt, Chapter 7, "The Moral Foundations of Politics"

  • Review of each of the five "foundations" with attention to liberal vs. conservative triggers
  • Some discussion of the implications of this perspective

Review for Midterm

  • Let's check out the study questions with an eye to Thursday's exam (whether you're taking it or not)

February 21

Midterm Exam given

February 25

Course Review

Midterm notes

Checking in on Major Course Questions

  1. What is the nature of ethics? What is the origin and ground of values?
  2. How are moral values related to other kinds of valuing that humans engage in?
  3. What is the good life?
  4. What kind of theory is a moral theory?
  5. How is our psychology related to our moral valuation and behavior?
  6. What are the major theoretical approaches to ethics?
  7. What is justice?
  8. What are our obligations to others in need of assistance?

Looking Ahead

  • Weeks 8-13 -- theories, concrete moral problems, the rest of Haidt's theory of morality/politics
  • Paper topics and ideas.

February 26

Rachels, Ch. 9, "Are There Absolute Moral Rules?"

  • Truman decision on dropping the atomic bomb
  • Anscombe's objection
  • Comparison to drone killings
  • Kant's categorical imperative
  • hypothetical imperatives
  • categorical imperatives
  • articulating and evaluating a "maxim" to assess one's duty
  • Kant's arguments on lying
  • the basic argument
  • Anscombe's objection: you could will a "tailored" version of the maxim
  • The Case of the Inquiring Murderer
  • uncertainty about consequences
  • Problems with Kant's defense
  • Can we really never know consequences?
  • Why think that we're responsible for consequences of lying but not of telling the truth?
  • There really are dilemmas: Dutch captain's hiding Jews in WWII
  • Discussion Question: Are there moral absolutes? If so, is Kant's analysis compelling? If not, why not?
  • Generate cases and principles....

February 28

Rachels, Chapter 10, "Kant and Respect for Persons"

  • Kant's anthropocentrism
  • Treating others as "ends in themselves"
  • Treating others as "means" is ok, but not only as a means
  • Retributivism in punishment: Utilitarian and Kantian perspectives
  • Goals of non-retributivist punishment: satisfying victims/survivors, self-protection, deterrence, and rehab
  • Goals for Kantian punishers: avoiding treating others as a means, proportional punishment.
  • Justifications: justice, treating violators with dignity and respect, honoring the criminal's maxim.

March 04

John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, p. 1-27

  • Sciences work even without clarifying 1st principles, but maybe not in morality
  • Criticism of Kant p. 7-8. (as we discussed)
  • Problem of proving ultimate ends.
  • Objection: that utility is opposed to pleasure (e.g. useful but not beautiful)
  • Reply: by utility we mean pleasure, and absence of pain
  • Principle of Utility, p. 10
  • Objection: A doctrine worthy of swine
  • Reply: It is the accuser who holds a low opinion of people. Why assume that higher pleasures aren't preferrable?
  • Quality and Quantity count
  • Idea of the "Qualified judge" p. 11
  • Higher values aren't a sacrifice of pleasure, they are better pleasures.
  • "Better to be a human being dissatisfied..."p. 13
  • Concession: weakness of will
  • Objection: Happiness is unattainable and we can do without it.
  • Reply: 1st part: Historical answer. (Note progressivism.)
  • Reply: 2nd part: We do without only for some higher end.p. 18
  • Note the "universalization" implied in Principle of Utility p. 19
  • Objection: P. of Utility too difficult to achieve. Too much to ask of us.
  • Reply: Most of us are not in a position to do more than take care of ourselves
  • Reply: Good of the group is largely an aggregate.
  • Reply: But if you are, you should...
  • Objection: Utilitarianism is a "cold" doctrine.
  • Reply: Motives don't matter. There are personal virtue and excellences aside from promoting consequences, but those are non-moral. e.g. being a "warm" person
  • Objection: It's a godless doctrine
  • Reply: God wants us to be happy.
  • Objection: It favors expediency over morals.
  • Reply: Only a problem if you don't weigh all interests equally.
  • Reply: Sometimes expediency requires exceptions: Nazi at the door.
  • Objection: There isn't time to weigh consequences.
  • Reply: Don't need to start from scratch. Analogy of the navigation almanac. There are patterns to human experience. Honesty is the best policy. Secondary principles are possible.

Chapter 3: Of the Ulitmate Sanction of the Principle of Utility

  • Why should we want the greatest good for the greatest number?
  • initial answer: We want what we are habituated to want, so once the PU is culturally accepted, we'll treat it as natural.
  • external sanctions: We should want the good opinions of others or divine rewards. Either way, it depends upon being willing to consider other's interests equally with our own.
  • Internal: sense of conscience. naturalness of social feelings of mankind.

March 05

  • 1st applied problem: Utilitarian and theistic considerations in euthanasia.
  • Is utilitarianism anti-thetical to Christianity. Bentham's point on God's benevolence.
  • Mill, On Liberty. More scandal.
  • 2nd applied problem: Is marijuana legalisation a moral issue? Rachels pros/cons
  • Case study for "uncertain consequences" -- Contrast a utilitarian and traditional analysis.
  • 3rd applied problem: Obligations to nonhumans
  • Aquinas
  • The suffering of animals: applying the principle of utility
  • Veal. Carne di vitello. Mucca giovane vs. Mucca vecchio. Bistecca Fiorentina!

March 07

Rachels, Chapter 8, "The Debate over Utilitarianism"

  • Cases in which something morally bad happens but no bad consequences (or small bad consequences) occur
  • Being ridiculed and never finding out.
  • Being observed in your bedroom and never finding out.
  • (Past obligations vs. Future Consequences) Standing up a friend to whom you made a promise to meet for a slightly better option.
  • Cases in which something morally significant is lost, a substitution occurs, but it's not "the same"
  • The pianist who's hands are injured and finds a new vocation or activity.
  • Better: A drunk driver maims you, causing loss of your mobility, but, being resilient, you wind up just as happy (or even claim that your loss enhanced your appreciation of life!).
  • Justice and Rights:
  • Expediency: You bear false witness against someone (scapegoat them) to avoid civic unrest
  • Expediency: You push the big guy off the bridge to stop the trolley.
  • "Unnaturalness" of Equal Considerations of Interests? Are we entitled to prefer our own?
  • Giving up the latte, giving up the car, giving up the house, for the starving kid.
  • Neglecting your kids to invest in people who might benefit mankind more.

Resources for responding to these problems:

  • Contesting consequences
  • "Secondary principles" or "Rules vs. Acts"
  • Going beyond our evolve social intuitions (Common sense is wrong.)

March 18

Hinman, Ch 8, "Justice: From Rawls to Plato"

Plato on Justice
  • seems you need to know the good to know what's just (that's why it can't just be a matter of keeping agreements)
  • Justice as harmony and integration of function in the support of pursuit of truth about the good life.
Rawls
  • Original Position: Choosing principles of justice under a veil of ignorance
  • Note how this is a revision of social contract tradition
  • Note how this realizes a basic condition of moral thought: neutrality, universalization.
  • What are you're ignorant of under the "veil" (p. 247) So, what would it be rational to choose?
  • 1st Principle: Basic Rights
  • 2nd Principle: Difference Principle (includes two parts: equal opportunity and "just differences")
Taking Rawls out for a test drive
  • Which differences matter?
  • Resources differences for kids
  • Income and wealth inequality
  • Compensation for loss
  • Carbon emissions goals in climate change abatement
  • Oppression? (Marion Young's critique)
  • Other models of distributive justice:
  • Welfare (utility)
  • Egalitarian
  • Libertarian

March 19

Hinman, Global Justice, 257-264

  • Just war theory: Jus ad bellum (entering war)
  • Just cause, right intention, publicly declared, last resort, prob of success, proportionality
  • Just war theory: Jus in bello (just conduct of war)
  • distinguishing between civilians and combatants, proportionality, instrinsically "evil" methods (chemicals, rape, terror)
  • In both cases (entering war and conduct of war) To what extent do these conditions apply to contemporary wars? War on terrorism?


Singer, Chapter 2, "Equality and Its Implications," 16-28

  • Singer's analysis of egalitarianism
  • What does it mean to treat people equally?
  • Equality as the possession of some characteristic that we all have, if only in a "range"
  • Problem:
  • Equality as "equal consideration of interests"
  • excludes considerations like ability, race, gender, intelligence.
  • might allow unequal investment in individuals.
  • Earthquake example:
  • Case 1: egals. might give different amounts of goods to make people more equal: might justify more morphine for one victim than another, to bring them to more equal levels of suffering.
  • accounting for marginal utility: might favor more food for starving person
  • declining marginal utility: A and B: Eq. consideration of interests might lead to greater inequality of outcome.
  • Main Point: An egalitarianism based on equal consideration of interests may involve distributing different amounts of some good and may, in some cases, leave people more "unequal" than before the distribution, yet might satisfy moral intuitions better.

March 21

Singer, Ch. 2, "Equality and Its Implications," p. 38-54

  • Critique of equal opportunity
  • Affirmative Action
  • Disability ethics

March 25

Haidt, Ch 10, "The Hive Switch"

  • Humans are "conditional" hive creatures
  • Muscular bonding
  • Hive switch in celebration and dance: Durkheim's "collective effervescence"; sacred / profane
  • Awe in nature
  • Entheogens
  • Oxytocin
  • Mirror Neurons
  • Leadership studies

March 26

Singer, "Rich and Poor"

  • absolute and relative poverty
  • absolute wealth
  • donation rates among wealth countries: more recent data
  • Is allowing the absolutely poor to die the moral equivalent of murder?
  • Five differences between spending money on luxuries and deliberately shooting people:
  • 1. Intention
  • 2. Difficulty of following a rule to save others vs. a rule to refrain from killing
  • 3. Greater certainty of outcome in shooting. (counter example of the speeding motorist)
  • 4. Identifiability of the victim. (counter example of the tinned food salesman)
  • 5. Responsibility for the deed. (there is still a causal relationship, though the rights argument seems stronger than Singer allows (p. 226))
Note conclusion at 228: not aiding is not as bad as killing, but the difference may not be as great as one thinks.
  • General Argument for the Obligation to Assist
  • Principle: If it is in our power to prevent somehting very bad from happening without thereby sacrificing something of comparable moral significance, we ought to do it.
  • core argument on 230


  • Objections and Replies to the Argument
  • Taking care of our own.
  • Property rights.
  • Population ethics.
  • Leaving it to government.
  • Too high a standard?

March 28

Singer, Ch. 1, "A Changing World"

  • Globalization: Terrorism, climate change, (added: human migration)
  • US interests: political consensus (dems/repubs) on Bush remark.
  • Should political leaders adopt an internationalist stance (beyond interests of their nation-state)?
  • competing models of leadership
  • Historical parable: reaction to 1914 assasination of Crown Prince Ferdinand (and wife) by Bosnian Serb nationalists, starting WW1. Objections to Autro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia. Compare to international reaction to US demands of Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden. principle p. 7, new today vs. WW1.
  • Rawls "old school" scope for theory of justice
  • Is the Nation-state on the decline?
  • Should we be internationalists? Why is multilaterism no longer a political topic in the US?

April 02

Haidt, Ch. 11, "Religion is a Team Sport"

UVA traditions
  • collective effervescence
  • muscular bonding
  • Sport / Religion analogy
  • Does it flip the hive switch?
  • Does it elevate us from the profane to the sacred?
  • Does it have positive group effects? (selection effects, community building)
  • Does it, like morality, "bind and blind"?
  • The post-9/11 culture wars
  • New Atheism: Harris, Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens. All focus on belief in supernatural agents. (Believing-->Doing)
  • Durkheimian Model: (Believing -- Belonging -- Doing) Atran and Henrich.
  • Explaining Religion -- evolutionary benefits or by products?
  • Hypersensitive agency detection, low standards for belief in children, re-purposing of bonding, natural dualism.
  • Are these the components of a harmful meme that has survived in humans or the machinery of a hive switch that has benefited humans? New Atheists vs. Haidt, Atran and Henrich (and anthropologist of religion generally)
  • Evidence for the latter, more positive, view of religion:
  • Evolution of concepts of god along with religions. Toward moral gods.
  • Evidence on cheating behavior. Posting "watching eyes," priming (recall Ariely),
  • Sosis on communes (and shekel game); costly sacrifices matter. (257)
  • Anthropologist favor "cultural group evolution" but you could also develop this theory through genetic group selection (David Sloan Wilson). (Pretty controversial in biology.)
  • Example of Balinese Rice farmers' water deities.
  • God and maypoles.

April 04

  • evidence on altruism of religionists mixed: don't help strangers more than atheist, they're "parochial altruists"
  • some evidence from Putnam and Campbell that the religious are more generous across the board, not only to their own.
  • some evidence that specific beliefs, in heaven and hell for example, don't matter. What matter's might be social relationships with co-religionists.
  • suicide bombers and religion
  • Definition of the Moral from Durkheim: "everything that is a source of solidarity, everything that forces man to ...regulate his actions by something other than his ego"
  • Haidt's definition similar, includes psych mechanisms: ...that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible" 270
  • note on functional, descriptive definitions of ethics, as opposed to normative definitions. For public normative morality, Haidt's a utilitarian, but important to see that the people whose happiness is being maximized are "homo duplex" (90% chimp, 10% bee).

April 08

Haidt, Ch 12, "Can't We All Disagree More Constructively?"

  • evidence of polarization in American politics (cf. to Italy)
  • "right" and "left", historical origins, basis in heritable traits
  • 1: Genes make brains
  • 2: Dispositional traits lead to different experiences, which lead to "characteristic adaptations"
  • 3: Life narratives; Moral Foundations Theory found in stories people tell about religious experience. Political narratives of Republicans and Democrats.
  • Research note: Liberals worse at predicting conservatives responses.
  • Moral and Social Capital
  • Liberal blindspots and wisdom: 1) regulating superorganisms; 2)solving soluable problems.
  • Libertarian wisdom: 1) markets are powerful
  • Social Conservative wisdom: understanding threats to social capital (can't destroy the hive)

April 09

Eco, "When the Other Appears on the Scene"

  • Context for Eco essay: "The following letter is Eco’s reply to a question the cardinal had asked him: “What is the basis of the certainty and necessity for moral action of those who, in order to establish the absolute nature of an ethic, do not intend to appeal to metaphysical principles or transcendental values, or even to universally valid categorical imperatives?”
  • Eco's "lay religiousity" 20. what is binding in such an ethic?
  • We have a "natural" orientation on the world and find some things naturally odious. universal preferences: the right to talk and think
  • The ethical dimension begins when the other appears on the scence. details, 23
  • Is this recognition of the other (which is the basis of a natural ethic) a strong enough basis for ethics?
  • Reply to his own question: Believers in "absolute foundations" (religionists) have the same challenge.
  • More detailed answer, 28, even if there is no God, a creature that could imagine all this would be admirable; 29, "even if Christ were only the subject of a great story..." it would be as good a basis for charity and prudence as we have in the encounter of one religion with another.

April 11