Study Questions for Ethics Summer 2007
- 1 May 21
- 1.1 What is the difference between 1st person and 3rd person ethical issues? Give an example. Can an issue be both?
- 1.2 Identify Standard Ethical Theories
- 1.3 What is descriptive relativism? What are cultural universals? Does it follow from the fact that moral values difference among individuals and cultures that there can be no universals?
- 1.4 Assuming that descriptive relativism is true, does it follow that there are no grounds for discussion and persuasion about moral values? If so, why? If not, why not?
- 2 May 22
- 2.1 What is female genital mutilation and why is it practiced?
- 2.2 What are some of the ways (4) that we can be wrong about values?
- 2.3 If we disagree with someoneàs basic account of the human good or of their account of reality (upon which they base their ethics), how can moral conversation proceed?
- 3 May 23
- 4 May 24
- 4.1 How does Aristotle approach moral knowledge in contrast to Plato?
- 4.2 Explain the idea of a hierarchy of arts, the role of purpose, and the role of happiness in Aristotle's view of human nature?
- 4.3 What is the "golden mean" and how does pursuing it leads us to good character, according to Aristotle?
- 4.4 Assess the strengths and weaknesses of Aristotle's theory, paying particular attention to the adequacy of his reliance on the concept of the "natural".
- 5 May 28
- 5.1 To what extent is each definition of the natural objective vs. interpretive?
- 5.2 How does each concept of the natural allow inference from "is" to "ought"?
- 5.3 What, if any, inferences are authorized by the naturalness or non-naturalness of homosexuality?
- 5.4 Identify key strengths and weaknesses of natural law.
- 6 May 29
- 6.1 What is the cultural context of utilitarian ethics?
- 6.2 Describe Bentham's view of ethics and it's relation to happiness. What was Mill's development of this view in utilitarianism?
- 6.3 What is the Principle of Utility?
- 6.4 What is the difference between act and rule utilitarianism? Illustrate with examples.
- 7 May 30
- 8 May 31
What is the difference between 1st person and 3rd person ethical issues? Give an example. Can an issue be both?
<your answer here> -Alfino
3rd Person issue: A general ethics topic that involves others rather than your yourself. It can either be a group (they) or another person (he or she). Example: Where does the United States governemnt stand on the issue of genetic engineering?
1st Person issue: An ethics topic that specifically involves yourself. Example: Can I cheat on my math exam? ~Tristan
1st Person issue: an ethical question that one has to personnally deal with -dan-
Example of where an issue can be both: A third person issue like "Is under-age drinking okay?" could turn into a first person issue by asking myself where do I stand on under-age drinking. I could ask myself, "Can I drink alcohol even though I am not 21?" ~Tristan
An ethical issue can be both a 3rd and 1st person issue by having a larger general ethical topic being present in ones life. For example, is it ethical to cheat in general could be scaled down to a personal level such as is it ethical to cheat on my math test? --Meredith
Identify Standard Ethical Theories
Virtue: The right conduct and virtuous character. It's the moral or ethical conformity of one's own principles. You could be virtuous for the benefit of others, but I think that true virtue is something you can only prove to yourself (Meaning: prove it to yourself that you can obtain goodness rather than just seeking good because someone told you to).
Deontology: The right conduct comes from a sense of duty.
Utilitarianism: The view that should maximize happiness rather than pain for a group of people who are affected by the action.
utilitarianism also stresses the greatest good for the greatest number of people -jcook
Utilitarianism maximizes pleasure over pain by some action. - Jamie
What is descriptive relativism? What are cultural universals? Does it follow from the fact that moral values difference among individuals and cultures that there can be no universals?
Descriptive relativism: Describing two different groups by evaluation rather than picking a favorite. It is trying to describe the differences between them without any bias and claiming that both sides are right. If we claim one is right and one is wrong then we can no longer call it relative.
Cultural universals: Common ideas/beliefs that are shared by different cultures throughout the history of mankind.
I think that there has to be some agreement on not accepting certain things within their cultures. Example: I am pretty certain that not many cultures value cowardice and traitors amongst them. Instead, many civilizations and cultures value heroism and bravery. (I do take note of the fact that nations often differ on how they discipline or treat traitors but no nations praise their own traitors. Some might imprison traitors, some might exile them, or some might execute them.) ~Tristan
Descriptive Relativism shows that values vary from culture to culture based on context (the nature of your relationships, the outcome, rationality, and how many people are involved or affected). Cultural Universals show that different cultures can agree on certian morals. It does not follow that there can be no agreement because of the existence of cultural universals. Moral principles can often be rationally defended and similar, but the actual practices and rules may differ. --Lindsay
Assuming that descriptive relativism is true, does it follow that there are no grounds for discussion and persuasion about moral values? If so, why? If not, why not?
So if there is no value that is more right than another then why even discuss ethics? It is saying that the views of the Nazi Party and Christianity are both right and one is not better or worse than the other. That is a scary thought...
Maybe this can be a way of just comparing things without considering one's bias and this can help one get a better understanding of the similiarities and differences between other moral values. I think about how in a public high school a teacher might try to approach discussions without favoring one side or the other but hear all the possible voices out. I think this can help dialogue but I do think eventually a decision needs to be made (what do you think? I might be off on this one...) ~Tristan
There are still grounds for discussion and persuasion because morals provide a framework for how people live their lives. Without this framework, and the discussion that naturally ensues, there would be no great goals to strive for and no virtue to uphold. Also, some similarities can and do exist among cultures, and humans will always want to debate their opinions. --Lindsay
Some morals may need to be challenged and what we believe to be “right” is always changing. It’s important to see multiple perspectives so we can constantly strive to be better as individuals through our morals. In some cases we may not see the negative side to our cultures morals, and in other cultures we cannot understand their justifications. But in the end it is still important and interesting to discuss the human nature of acting “moral” (Lolly)
What is female genital mutilation and why is it practiced?
female genital mutilation is a rite in traditional African and Arabs cultures that removes a part of a girl's clitoris and in effect the woman can not feel sexual pleasure. It is a highly debated subject because of the long lying tradition in their culture but yet how severe the procedure is. -dan-
This continues to be a practice because of long standing traditions and to maintain family honor. --Lindsay
The practice usually also involves sewing up most of the vaginal opening with rough threat so that scar tissue forms. In addition to honor and tradition, the main reason it is preformed is because it is believed to promote chastity. -JCook
What are some of the ways (4) that we can be wrong about values?
1. Wrong about what the norm is. (Mistake) 2. Knowing the norm, and accepting that it is true, but not living up to it. (Moral failures) 3. Disagree with the norm, but acknowledge that it is exceptionall/applicable for others. (Exceptionalism) 4. Disagree with the norm itself. -Paul G.
1. An example for mistake is the iron that Dr. Alfino tried to return to the store, but in Italy all sales are final
2. Example of moral failure is lying
3. Example of exceptionalism is cutting in line
4. Example of disagree with the norm itself is protesting the draft -JCook
If we disagree with someoneàs basic account of the human good or of their account of reality (upon which they base their ethics), how can moral conversation proceed?
I think we should start by listening and understanding where they are coming from. This might require more effort on your part because I doubt you can understand what is totally going on by just listening. Read up on a similiar standpoint (if they are muslim, you might need to read up on what they believe and where their beliefs come from). Then you should have a conversation in terms of their view and set yours aside for the time being. It is trying to put yourself in their shoes and see it their way first and work from there to get them to see the strengths and weaknesses of their argument. (Please, if someone remembered what he said in class, post it because I think he did clearly state how to proceed). ~Tristan
Moral conversation can proceed only when both parties are willing to participate and have open minds. If you have that, conversation can proceed by using common terms and things already agreed upon to ensure accurate discussion and to facilitate understanding. --Lindsay
What does it mean to adopt the moral standpoint?
Adopting the moral standpoint means realizing two important points: (1)There must be a social maxim or universial and (2) everyone's interests are as important to them as yours are to you. --Lindsay
Personal egoism: I ought to do that which promotes my own self-interest. Ethical egoism: everyone ought to promote their own self-interest. Psychological egoism: descriptive claim that everyone does in fact promote their own interests. Enlightened ethical egoism: It is in my self-interest to be generally concerned about the interests of others (Lolly)
Why would an ethical egoist become an elightened ethical egoist?
An ethical egoist believes that everyone ought to do what promotes their self interest. They move to being an enlightened ethical egoist when they realize that it is in their self interest to be genuinely concerned with other peoples interests and well beings too. --Meredith
How would an egoist be led to adopt an interest in others' well being?
An egoist would adopt such an interest by moving through a certain line of thinking. They start out thinking they should do what promotes their self-interest. They then generalize this to a universal that everyone should do what promotes their self-interest. However, they realize that if everyone did that, help and aid would not be readily available to them and that a paradox of self-interest is created. Based on these realizations, an egoist starts to care about others only to the extent that they have to. For example, the poor might revolt and harm them, so the egoist donates only as much as he has to to avoid that happening. --Lindsay
How does Aristotle approach moral knowledge in contrast to Plato?
Aristotle's approach to moral knowledge is that it can be gained through empirical observation of people as they are. In contrast, Plato approached knowledge and reality in a more abstract manner, dealing with forms and ideas. Aristotle's theories were less idealistic (a strength); however, they also only dealt with how things actually were, rather than how they ought to be (a weakness). -Sarah Ellsworth
Explain the idea of a hierarchy of arts, the role of purpose, and the role of happiness in Aristotle's view of human nature?
Our telos or end is to live a happy life. So therefore happiness plays a huge part since it is our goal in life. Aristotle believes only a person of good character can be truly happy, and to have good character you need to live virtuosly, and to live a virtuos life we need to make a habit of practicing virtue. -dan-
Hierarchy of arts- The idea that Politics is the master art because it allows us to realize human excellence. Relationships are key, so the more social interaction that is involved in an art, the higher up it is in the eyes of Aristotle. Role of Purpose- “Telos” The end toward which a thing aims, for humans the end goal should be happiness. This is the idea that all things are meant to pursue their end. Purposes can be instrumental or final. Role of Happiness- What we are all ultimately seeking, is an intrinsic good, not to gain any other sort of good. The only way we can be genuinely happy is to fulfill our human nature by properly exercising our reason. -Sarah Ellsworth
What is the "golden mean" and how does pursuing it leads us to good character, according to Aristotle?
The Golden Mean is the idea that true virtue lies between the two extremes of excess and deficiency. For example, for fear, the mean is courage while the deficiency is being foolhardy and the excess is being a coward. The mean is relative to the individual. By finding this mean and training yourself to be virtuous, one can develop good moral character. --Lindsay
The golden mean is the idea that, for any virtue there is a rational ideal that is an average of the extremes (deficit or excess). By pursuing the golden mean, Aristotle believes that virtues will be cultivated and good moral conduct will result. The best test for how close an individual is to the mean is to look at how much pleasure and/or pain is involved. -Sarah Ellsworth
Assess the strengths and weaknesses of Aristotle's theory, paying particular attention to the adequacy of his reliance on the concept of the "natural".
Strengths- The idea that the most important thing is to be a good person, rather than just doing the right thing (though the two end up being linked). This is because Aristotle believes that the nature of humans is to pursue excellence, which is defined as the best version of oneself.
Weaknesses- Humans may not be unique in the ability to reason (evidence shows that other animals, such as chimpanzees, are also capable of simple problem solving). Also, the theory of the golden mean is not very critical or hard on people. This idea puts too much weight on how people are, rather than how they ought to be. -Sarah Ellsworth
To what extent is each definition of the natural objective vs. interpretive?
The List: 1) Conforms w/ laws of nature 2) living in harmony w/ the patterns of nature 3) serves a purpose of end of beings in nature (telos, Aristotle) 4) conforms to an overall plan of nature (Aquainas.) The first definition can be argued as 100% objective. The example used in class was nutrition. It is hard to argue that nutrition is not apart of the overall plan of nature, therefore is objective. One ought to eat nutritiously. As we move down the list, it gets more and more interpretive. It becomes more subjective based upon one's beliefs. The list moves to more abstract ideas of nature, therefore becoming more interpretive. Gfischba
How does each concept of the natural allow inference from "is" to "ought"?
The inference from "is" to "ought" is derived from essentially doing two things. In the first statement using "is" the person forming the thought must insert the best version of a what they believe to be a somewhat truthful or factual statement. This statement needs to come off strong and not argumentative so that they can infer an interpretive suggestion in the 2nd statement using "ought." Thus, in looking at our four concept of the natural, they each follow this formula. The first statement, "conforms with laws of nature" specifically dealing with the nutrition example, is the strongest argument of any of them because the "is" statement is largely based on fact. The majority of people anywhere would agree that nutrition helps to maintain a healthy lifestyle and prolongs life. Therefore it makes the second part of the inference quite simple to prove. Since it is good for us, we "ought" to pursue nutritional standards in our dail diets.
As you make your way down the list of concepts, their first statements or "is" statements become more loosely interpreted. They appear more relative and debatable than the objective statement addressed in the previous paragraph. Because of this, the inference is not as tight. The "is" (beleived to be factual statement) and the "ought" (highly interpretive statement) don't form completely sound arguments.
Homosexuality is "natural" in that it is natural for a person to love someone else on an emotional and intimate level. Homosexuality is "unnatural" because it is not meant for the purpose of reproduction. It is also not the "norm" for a person to love another who is of the same sex. Any inferences made are subjective upon whether you think it is natural or unnatural. A person taking a Christian stance would say that it is not natural, others might say that it is OK and natural if they take a different view. Gfischba
Homosexuality is unnatural is the objective sense if sex is considered only for reproduction. No one knows why some people are attracted to their same sex so you can't say being homosexual is natural or unnatural. The Catholic Church and other christian denomianations believe that sex is for reproduction so therefore homosexuality is considered unatural. -dan-
Identify key strengths and weaknesses of natural law.
Strengths- Aquinas realizes that evil things are not natural because they cause harm to us, therefore we will attempt to pursue good things. This results in a positive view of human nature. Weaknesses- The list of natural inclinations acquired by Aquinas is fairly restricted, with little attention paid to the importance of happiness. Also, these natural inclinations are the basis for natural law, and there is a lofty difference between is and ought, with much interpretation involved. -Sarah Ellsworth
What is the cultural context of utilitarian ethics?
Utilitarian ethics comes out of the enlightenment period, specifically the scientific revolution of 16th-17th centuries. The approach by Utilitarianism at this time was to use reasoning to dispel myth using rational means. ~Paul G
Utilitarian ethics arose from the enlightenment period and the scientific revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries. During its prime beginnings in the 18th and 19th centuries, Utilitarianism was specifically a British movement, occurring during the industrial revolution in London, when Benthamites (followers of Jeremy Bentham) looked at the desolate conditions of urban poverty and created the idea of “social metrics” as a way to measure degrees of misery and happiness. Utilitarianism could be considered a secular ethical system as most were Christians. This is different from Aristotlians and the pagan view. -Sarah Ellsworth
Describe Bentham's view of ethics and it's relation to happiness. What was Mill's development of this view in utilitarianism?
Bentham’s Greatest Happiness Principle (or the principle of utility, before it was modified by Mill) states that we must choose the course of action that will bring about the most pleasure. Pleasure was measured in terms of intensity and duration, and is considered synonymous with happiness. Bentham would say that “a pushpin is as good as poetry,” meaning that there is no distinguishing qualities between types of pleasure.
Mill’s development regarding Bentham’s view includes the insertion of qualitative distinction between various pleasures, there is essentially a hierarchy of happiness. Mill believes that we ought to act in such a way that our action brings about the greatest good for the greatest number. This version has become the generally accepted version of utilitarianism. -Sarah Ellsworth
What is the Principle of Utility?
We should act such a way that produces the most amount of happiness for the most amount of people possible.
What we need to consider also: a. Scope i. Who is involved (friends, family, community, etc.) ii. Look at all people affected by your action or decision
b. Sociology: wellness of society i. Act in such a way that promotes the better good and happiness of society or community ii. We have to consider what is the better good or happiness of society actually is (EX: not everyone likes paying taxes. Does this promote happiness for the rest of society?) ~Tristan
What is the difference between act and rule utilitarianism? Illustrate with examples.
Act utilitarianism is when one considers the consequences that may occur from our actions/decisions for each individual action. Based on weighing the consequences, one is suppose to choose the option that provides the greater good for all people.
Rule utilitarianism is different from act because instead of weighing the consequences of each action, the individual must evaluation their decision based on whether or not it conforms to a specific rule they have chosen to adhere all actions to. ***The rule is based on their knowledge of certain pattens in human behavior/responses. (Lolly)
You can have act and rule utilitarianism at the same time-you may have a set "rule" for a certain situation, but there could be exceptions to the rule which force you to then weigh your options to find the greatest good. (Lolly)
Example: A 17 year old high school student has accidentally backed into a mail box while attempting to paralell park. In the process, the student breaks a tail light on his parents car and damages the neighbor's mail box.
Options of what action to take: 1. Disclose the whole thing to the neighbor whose mailbox was damaged and tell parents that you partially recked the car, causing your insurance to go up, thus being up s""t creek with your parents.
2. Withhold the truth altogether, but still living in guilt.
3. Disclose the ordeal to the partents after you go back to school for the semester so that the consequences only pertain to an angry 30 minute phone call.
4. Or (Now this is terrible) could disclose what happened but kinda change the story saying that your car was parked and someone hit you from driving recklessly.
Option 1) is probably the best option for act utilitarianism because it is morally correct. The parents are informed, the car can get fixed, the neighbors mailbox get's fix, no insurance fraud occurs, and guilt is not an issue.
If you follow rule utilitarianism your options will be limited because of the rule you must adhere to. For instance, if you live strongly by your morals you would probably go with option 1. Or if your rule is to not be moral at all, you go with option 4.
What are the main strengths and weaknesses of utilitarianism, according to Brannigan, class lecture, and your own views?
Weaknesses: Time, predictability, whose good to promote, can the end justify the means, issue of justice, and though utilitarianism necessarily involoes a view of human development the theory denies that is needs\has it. Strengths: egalitarianism, common sense--fits intuitions of compatability between human values and happiness, simplicity and situational. --Meredith
What are some parallels between the ethical issues in "Mr. Truman's Degree" and "Mr. Bush's War"?
"Mr. Truman's Degree" refers to Truman deciding to drop atomic bombs on Japan at the end of World War II. It is through utilitarianism that Truman justified this decision; Truman believes that had he not dropped the bombs to end the war, the war would have lasted a lot longer and taken even more lives than the bombs did. There is no way we can know for sure if this is true, but Truman was correct in believing that dropping the bombs would end the war. "Mr. Bush's War" refers to Bush Jr. justifying the current war in Iraq (at least ostensibly) because Saddam Hussein held weapons of mass destruction that he planned to use on various countries throughout the world. If this was true, invading Iraq certainly would have taken less lives than perhaps even one weapon of mass destruction being deployed. This is the main difference between the two ethical dilemmas, however: Bush was wrong. The utilitarian thing to do (and perhaps the ethical thing to do by any ethical philosophy) would have been to pull out of Iraq immediatley and pay Iraq reparations for damages caused. However, we have been in Iraq for over five years with no clear reason that citizens of the U.S. can see. - Broc
What is situational control, moral drift, and transcendence?
Situational Control is the way to achieve socialization. Different features of our environment cause us to act in different ways, and therefore take on different values in the process. Moral drift is a psycological dynamic which moves people incrementally from one moral response to another. Transcendence is the psycology of saying to oneself "I refuse"--it is the ability to break with a social context psycologically. --Meredith
What did the Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor?
Make me one with everything! -Sarah Ellsworth
What is the Zimbardo experiment and how does it illustrate the concepts in the question above?
The Zimbardo experiment was a jail simulation set up in the basement of a dorm. The participants were payed to either take on the role of a inmate or guard, but were not given many other guidelines. The experiment was supposed to last two weeks, but events in the experiment rapidly got out of hand, and the experiment ended after only six days. In this time, the inmates staged a revolt, the guards became violent and punished the inmates in a variety of disturbing ways, many of the inmates agreed to give up the money to be let go, many asked to speak with their lawyers after a visit from a priest, and more. This experiment was a demonstration of how situational control and moral drift can take effect, and how people are changed through these processes. --Meredith