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Moral Theory Mark Pursley. Issues in Moral Theory Do statements containing value terms have a truth value? If so, what are the truth conditions for value.

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Presentation on theme: "Moral Theory Mark Pursley. Issues in Moral Theory Do statements containing value terms have a truth value? If so, what are the truth conditions for value."— Presentation transcript:

1 Moral Theory Mark Pursley

2 Issues in Moral Theory Do statements containing value terms have a truth value? If so, what are the truth conditions for value claims? Are relativist or subjectivist accounts of moral language plausible? How does a community reach a consensus about moral issues?

3 Virtue Theory Plato and Aristotle offer virtue theories of ethics. Virtue theories rely on an analogy between health (the good of the body) and eudaimonia (the good of the mind).

4 Aristotle on Human Excellence A virtue (arete, excellence) is a character trait, acquired by practice, that disposes a person to adopt the right course of action in morally charged situations. Virtues are life- skills that enable a person to realize their potential for living the good life as a rational, social, animal.

5 Are we not more likely to hit the mark if we have a target? Good= the aim, end, or goal (telos) of an activity. What is the goal (final end) of living a human life? All agree: Happiness (eudaimonia, well- being, flourishing). What is happiness? Pleasure? No, too Brutish. Wealth? No, it’s a means, not a final end. Honor? No, it’s not self- sufficient. Virtue? No, it’s not complete. The end sought must be final, self-sufficient, and complete.

6 What is the function of human life? To find the human good, find the human function (ergon, what a thing does that makes it what it is). What is the characteristically human activity? Nutrition and growth? (No, all living things); Sensation? (No, all animals); Rational activity. Function of a good human: rational activity in accordance with virtue. [Objectors ask: Are evil people irrational?]

7 Becoming Excellent As a skill or craft, virtue is acquired by practice. Patterns of behavior produce states of character. Good character produces good behavior. If you imitate good people, you’ll become one. Moral virtues control natural feelings (passions, appetites) and actions, making them arise in the right amounts at the right times for the right reasons (such a rule or principle as would arise in the mind of the practically wise person).

8 Virtue: a mean between extremes Confidence, appetites, anger, giving $. Excess MeanDeficiency Foolhardiness CourageCowardice Indulgence Temperance Insensibility Hot head Cool headApathetic Too generous Generous Stingy

9 Character Types Heroic: extraordinary goodness. Virtuous: Takes pleasure in doing good. Continent: Must control bodily desires in order to do good. Incontinent: Try's, but fails, to control bodily desires, and so does evil. Vicious: Takes pleasure in doing evil. Bestial: Subhumanly wicked.

10 Immanuel Kant ( ) Defends a deontological approach to morality. Everyone must admit that if a law is to be morally valid…then it must carry with it absolute necessity. The ground of obligation…must be sought apriori in the concepts of pure reason.

11 Kantian Ethics Morality is a sacred duty, not a means to happiness. (A good will is more important than a good life.) Reason can discern the moral law. The will chooses which actions to perform. Inclination reflects how one feels about one’s options. When reason (not inclination) directs the will, one does one’s duty.

12 The motive of duty. Acting from inclination or acting from duty. An action has moral worth if and only if it is done from the motive of duty. The prudent shopkeeper acts honestly because it is good policy. Such acts have no moral worth. Nor do the kind acts of helpful people. The cold, uncaring person who helps others because duty commands it, has moral worth. Hypothetical imperative, if you want x, do  Conditional. Categorical imperative: Unconditional commands. Do X! (Whether you like it or not.)

13 The Categorical Imperative Act only on a maxim which you could (at that time) will to become a universal law. Act as if the maxim of your action would instantly become a general law of nature. Maxim: I do action x in circumstances C to obtain end E. 1. Find the maxim; 2. Universalize; 3. Imagine the universalized maxim as a natural law; 4. Ask “Is this a possible law of nature?” 5. Ask “Can one will this to be a law of nature?” CI 3: Act so as to treat humanity (yourself and others) always as an end, never merely as a means.

14 Consequentialism Consequentialist theories hold that the goodness or badness of actions resides in the consequences those actions produce. J.S. Mill’s Utilitarianism is the leading theory.

15 Mill’s Utilitarianism Greatest Happiness Principle: Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to promote the reverse of happiness. Happiness is pleasure and freedom from pain. Unhappiness is pain and the privation of pleasure. Not an invitation to indulgence: A beasts pleasures do not satisfy a human being’s conception of happiness.

16 Ways to Measure Pleasure: Quantity and Quality. Pleasure is not just a matter of quantity. Higher quality pleasures (like using one’s mind, creativity, doing good deeds, having friends) are more desirable and make life more worth living than mere bodily sensations. Aim of utilitarianism: An existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments, both in point of quantity and quality. Morality consists in the rules which, if followed, would secure this end for all sentients.

17 Utilitarianism and Justice A standard objection to utilitarianism alleges that the theory will require the use of unjust means whenever doing so is likely to produce a greater balance of pleasure. This would permit a policy of punishing the innocent to avert a riot, to deter wrongdoers, etc. Utilitarians may respond by pointing out that, in fact, no society which falsely accuses innocent citizens will promote a greater balance of pleasure in the long run. The greater good can only be attained in a society that upholds basic principles of justice (e.g.. the guilty are punished and the innocent acquitted).

18 Alfred Jules Ayer Language, Truth, and Logic. A defense of “radical empiricism.” Logical Positivism Argues that metaphysical, theological, and moral propositions are meaningless.

19 Ayer’s Critique of Utilitarianism Verificationism: An empirical hypothesis is significant (legitimate) only if some possible sense experience is relevant for determining its truth or falsity. Utilitarianism claims actions are good if they produce pleasure or reduce pain. We cannot agree that to call an action right is to say...it would cause...the greatest balance of pleasure...because it is not self-contradictory to say it is....wrong to perform the action that would...cause the greatest happiness.

20 Ayer’s Emotivism Since absolutist theories are unverifiable, and naturalistic theories violate linguistic convention, moral propositions are simply expressions of approval or disapproval. Adultery is wrong just means I disapprove of adultery, or Boo! adultery! Realist response: Moral propositions may express emotions but it is still legitimate to ask about the sorts of conditions that appropriately evoke approval or disapproval.


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