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Ethics in Modern Philosophy. René Descartes Descartes’ Ethics The goal of human life is happiness. Happiness is mental flourishing, contentment, and.

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Presentation on theme: "Ethics in Modern Philosophy. René Descartes Descartes’ Ethics The goal of human life is happiness. Happiness is mental flourishing, contentment, and."— Presentation transcript:

1 Ethics in Modern Philosophy

2 René Descartes

3 Descartes’ Ethics The goal of human life is happiness. Happiness is mental flourishing, contentment, and tranquillity: “to love life without fearing death.” Happiness requires a healthy mind. The “true health of the mind” consists in developing wisdom, which is “true and sound judgment.”

4 Descartes’ Ethics Wisdom requires knowledge and the use of reason. Reason must, in particular, control the passions and “examine and consider without passion” our options and ends, so that “we shall always choose the better.”

5 Descartes’ Ethics Virtue is reasoning constantly and well: “a firm and constant will to bring about everything we judge to be the best and to employ all the force of our intellect in judging well.”

6 Princess Elizabeth

7 Morality and Rationality Is happiness, as described by Descartes, achievable? Reason and feeling are not so easily distinguished. Rational control is not a purely mental phenomenon.

8 Morality and Rationality Good judgment, moreover, depends on experience. Experience trains our senses and our passions, making us sensitive to the right things and enabling us to feel the right emotions. Thinking about moral problems and making moral choices is at least as much a matter of feeling as of reason.

9 Conscience We frequently act on the basis of conscience. Conscience ratifies our passions to reason, declaring them as acceptable or unacceptable. Reason acts on premises that conscience provides. Reason thus cannot act independently of feeling. Conscience and some passions play important roles in moral thinking.

10 Morality and Health Morality is not just a matter of health. If all moral error is illness, then we have an all-purpose excuse. We can no more be blamed for immorality than we can for being sick. But morality is not therapy. We have free will.

11 Consequences Assessing consequences requires knowing what the consequences of an act will or might be at an indefinite distance into the future. It also requires knowing how the values of all those potential consequences compare with one another. The knowledge required to reach moral conclusions on such a theory must be infinite. It would follow that moral knowledge is impossible.

12 David Hume (1711-1776)

13 Hume’s Ethics Morals have an influence on actions and affections Reason alone can have no such influence So, morality is not a conclusion of reason It consists of no matter of fact

14 Is —> Ought Moral “reasoning” goes from is and is not to ought and ought not How can we go from is to ought? Reason supplies no connection

15 Feelings Why is cruelty wrong? Why is generosity good? No fact of the matter to be found in them “...’tis the object of feeling, not of reason. It lies in yourself, not in the object.” Sentiment or feeling takes us from is to ought

16 Slave of the passions “Reason is, and ought to be, the slave of the passions.” These feelings are particular “An action or sentiment, or character s virtuous or vicious; why? Because its view causes a pleasure or uneasiness of a particular kind.” Moral sense: capacity for the feelings that constitute the basis for our moral judgments

17 Is Hume a Subjectivist? Subjectivism: Moral truth depends on our subjective states of mind Moral truths depend on feelings Feelings are subjective states of mind

18 Moral realism Moral realism: Moral truth depends on facts that are independent of us Is there a real basis for our feelings? Is our moral sense sensing anything real?

19 Realism vs. Subjectivism Is morality like color? Color: There is a real basis for our color perceptions, which are quite regular –Constant over time –Intersubjective agreement –Physical basis: wavelengths of light

20 Realism vs. Subjectivism Or is morality like humor? Humor: judgments not very regular –Not very constant over time –Lots of disagreement –No apparent physical basis –Matter of taste –De gustibus non disputandum

21 Why there are no turtlefights

22 Homer’s head x-ray

23 The pit-bull solution


25 Immanuel Kant Reason in Ethics

26 Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) Practical test: How do we tell right from wrong? Theoretical question: What makes right actions right, and wrong actions wrong?

27 Rational —> Right Right acts are rational Wrong acts are irrational Why be moral? It’s the rational thing to do

28 Intrinsic good Intrinsic good: good for its own sake Instrumental good: good for the sake of something else What is good for its own sake? Aristotle: Happiness

29 Unqualified good Unqualified good: good unconditionally, good no matter what Qualified good: good for something, good under certain conditions What is good without qualification?

30 Unqualified good Unqualified good: good unconditionally, good no matter what Qualified good: good for something, good under certain conditions What is good without qualification? Kant: a good will

31 Good Will “Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good, without qualification, except a good will.”

32 Virtues “ Intelligence, wit, judgement, and the other talents of the mind, however they may be named, or courage, resolution, perseverance, as qualities of temperament, are undoubtedly good and desirable in many respects; but these gifts of nature may also become extremely bad and mischievous if the will which is to make use of them, and which, therefore, constitutes what is called character, is not good.”

33 Happiness “It is the same with the gifts of fortune. Power, riches, honour, even health, and the general well-being and contentment with one's condition which is called happiness, inspire pride, and often presumption, if there is not a good will to correct the influence of these on the mind, and with this also to rectify the whole principle of acting and adapt it to its end. ”

34 Impartial Rational Spectator “The sight of a being who is not adorned with a single feature of a pure and good will, enjoying unbroken prosperity, can never give pleasure to an impartial rational spectator. Thus a good will appears to constitute the indispensable condition even of being worthy of happiness.”

35 Good Will What is a good will? –(1) Deciding on the basis of universal considerations –(2) Deciding on the basis of respect –(Feminist critics of Kant) Caring

36 Universality Good will: acts on the basis of universal considerations Not influenced by “subjective, particular determinations” “the proper and inestimable worth of an absolutely good will consists just in this, that the principle of action is free from all influence of contingent grounds.”

37 Duty A person has a good will, and his/her act has moral worth, when he/she acts from duty, out of respect for the moral law

38 Two kinds of moral theory Consequentialism: the value of an act depends entirely on its consequences Deontologism: the value of an act depends on more than consequences

39 Evaluating Actions Character —> Motive —> Intention —> Action —> Consequences Consequentialists evaluate by what (might reasonably be expected to) come after the act Deontologists judge by what comes before the act

40 Evaluating Intentions Kant is an extreme deontologist Moral quality of an act does not depend on consequences at all We judge act by agent’s intentions Maxim: “subjective principle of action” Rule reflecting agent’s intention

41 Imperatives Imperative: expresses command or obligation Hypothetical imperative: “If you are in circumstance C (or want D), then do A.” Categorical imperative: “Do A.”

42 Hypothetical Imperatives Hypothetical imperatives are conditional: If... do.... or If... don’t.... depend on circumstances, goals, desires means to end: qualified goods

43 Categorical Imperative “Do...” or “Don’t...” Independent of goals, desires, circumstances Applies universally Appropriate to unqualified goods There is only one unqualified good— a good will

44 The Categorical Imperative There is only one possible categorical imperative: “You ought to have a good will” Good will acts only on universal considerations “You ought to act on universal considerations” “You ought to act on principle”

45 Formula of Universal Law “Act only on that maxim you can at the same time will to be universal law.” Act as if everyone were going to act according to your maxim Don’t make an exception of yourself

46 A Moral Test Test for action A: –(a) Identify A’s maxim

47 A Moral Test Test for action A: –(a) Identify A’s maxim –(b) Ask, “Could it be a universal law?” –If not: A is unjust

48 A Moral Test Test for action A: –(a) Identify A’s maxim –(b) Ask, “Could it be a universal law?” –If not: A is unjust –If so: (c) Ask, “Could I will it to be a universal law?” –If not: A is immoral –If so: A is permissible

49 Simple Case Should I steal? –(a) Identify maxim: Steal! –(b) Ask, “Could it be a universal law?” –Could everyone go around stealing from everyone else? No: There would be no such thing as property There would be no such thing as stealing –So, stealing is unjust

50 Too narrow? (False negatives) Too broad? (False positives) Kant’s Theory Permissible Maxim can be willed as universal law

51 False positives/negatives False positives? Animals: –Pulling kitten tails Detailed maxims: –Lying to Hans on May 12, 2009 –Shooting Michael if he hops, juggles, and sings the Catalina Magdalena Lupensteiner Wallabeine song False negatives? Economic acts: –Buying Apple stock –Practicing law –Eating at Mineo’s Playing roles: –Playing the bass –Playing wide receiver Being where you are

52 Kant’s Examples To Self To Others Perfect obligation suicide promises Imperfect obligation talents charity

53 Perfect/Imperfect Obligations Perfect obligations: specific obligations to specific people— give others rights— unjust to violate them Imperfect obligations: allow choice in how to fulfill— give no one else rights— wrong, but not unjust, to violate them

54 Perfect Obligations To self: not to commit suicide To others: to repay debts; more generally, to keep promises

55 Kant on Promises 2. Another finds himself forced by necessity to borrow money. He knows that he will not be able to repay it, but sees also that nothing will be lent to him unless he promises stoutly to repay it in a definite time. He desires to make this promise, but he has still so much conscience as to ask himself: "Is it not unlawful and inconsistent with duty to get out of a difficulty in this way?"

56 Kant on Promises [a] Suppose however that he resolves to do so: then the maxim of his action would be expressed thus: "When I think myself in want of money, I will borrow money and promise to repay it, although I know that I never can do so." Now this principle of self-love or of one's own advantage may perhaps be consistent with my whole future welfare; but the question now is, "Is it right?"

57 Kant on Promises [b] I change then the suggestion of self- love into a universal law, and state the question thus: "How would it be if my maxim were a universal law?"

58 Kant on Promises Then I see at once that it could never hold as a universal law of nature, but would necessarily contradict itself. For supposing it to be a universal law that everyone when he thinks himself in a difficulty should be able to promise whatever he pleases, with the purpose of not keeping his promise, the promise itself would become impossible, as well as the end that one might have in view in it, since no one would consider that anything was promised to him, but would ridicule all such statements as vain pretences.

59 Keeping Promises Maxim: “make false promises” What if everyone did that? Contradiction: no such thing as promising So, making false promises is unjust and so wrong We have a perfect obligation to keep our promises

60 Kant on Suicide 1. A man reduced to despair by a series of misfortunes feels wearied of life, but is still so far in possession of his reason that he can ask himself whether it would not be contrary to his duty to himself to take his own life. Now he inquires whether the maxim of his action could become a universal law of nature. [a] His maxim is: "From self-love I adopt it as a principle to shorten my life when its longer duration is likely to bring more evil than satisfaction."

61 Kant on Suicide [b] It is asked then simply whether this principle founded on self-love can become a universal law of nature. Now we see at once that a system of nature of which it should be a law to destroy life by means of the very feeling whose special nature it is to impel to the improvement of life would contradict itself and, therefore, could not exist as a system of nature; hence that maxim cannot possibly exist as a universal law of nature and, consequently, would be wholly inconsistent with the supreme principle of all duty.

62 Against suicide Suicide: destroy life for the sake of life Contradictory Can’t be universal law So, suicide is unjust, and thus wrong

63 Imperfect Obligation: Talent 3. A third finds in himself a talent which with the help of some culture might make him a useful man in many respects. But he finds himself in comfortable circumstances and prefers to indulge in pleasure rather than to take pains in enlarging and improving his happy natural capacities. He asks, however, whether [a] his maxim of neglect of his natural gifts, besides agreeing with his inclination to indulgence, agrees also with what is called duty.

64 Talent: Perfect Obligation? [b] He sees then that a system of nature could indeed subsist with such a universal law although men (like the South Sea islanders) should let their talents rest and resolve to devote their lives merely to idleness, amusement, and propagation of their species- in a word, to enjoyment;

65 Talent: Imperfect Obligation [c] but he cannot possibly will that this should be a universal law of nature, or be implanted in us as such by a natural instinct. For, as a rational being, he necessarily wills that his faculties be developed, since they serve him and have been given him, for all sorts of possible purposes.

66 Developing talents You are a rational being You can’t help willing your own survival You can’t help willing your own rationality You can’t will to be stupid, or irrational, or ignorant, or ineffective Circumstances in which you are stupid, ignorant, ineffective, or irrational aren’t contradictory, but can’t be willed

67 Kant on Charity 4. A fourth, who is in prosperity, while he sees that others have to contend with great wretchedness and that he could help them, thinks: [a] "What concern is it of mine? Let everyone be as happy as Heaven pleases, or as be can make himself; I will take nothing from him nor even envy him, only I do not wish to contribute anything to his welfare or to his assistance in distress!"

68 Charity: Perfect Obligation? [b] Now no doubt if such a mode of thinking were a universal law, the human race might very well subsist and doubtless even better than in a state in which everyone talks of sympathy and good-will, or even takes care occasionally to put it into practice, but, on the other side, also cheats when he can, betrays the rights of men, or otherwise violates them.

69 Charity: Imperfect Obligation [c] But although it is possible that a universal law of nature might exist in accordance with that maxim, it is impossible to will that such a principle should have the universal validity of a law of nature. For a will which resolved this would contradict itself, inasmuch as many cases might occur in which one would have need of the love and sympathy of others, and in which, by such a law of nature, sprung from his own will, he would deprive himself of all hope of the aid he desires.

70 Kant’s Practical Test Good will acts out of respect for moral law For others as rational beings “You ought to respect moral agents” “Don’t use people” “Treat people as ends, never only as means”

71 Too narrow? (False negative) Too broad? (False positive) Kant’s Theory Permissible Treats everyone as an end, not merely as a means

72 Examples Suicide: uses him/herself to avoid pain False promise: uses the promisee to gain advantage Talents: uses his/her life for mere enjoyment; doesn’t give him/herself full respect as moral/rational agent Charity: doesn’t give others full respect as moral/rational agents

73 Autonomy Autonomy: we live under rules we set for ourselves Imagine yourself legislating in the kingdom of ends Heteronomy: living under rules set by others Autonomy —> dignity

74 Madame de Staël

75 Reason and Passion Madame de Staël rebelled against the dominance of reason, insisting on the importance of enthusiasm, which “leads us to recognize the value and beauty in all things.” Influence of the Passions upon the Happiness of Individuals and of Nations treats the passions as the greatest obstacle to human happiness.

76 Reason and Passion The passions are hugely important in human affairs and also as potentially hugely destructive. The very thing that gives life its greatest meaning and vibrancy also threatens it.

77 Reason and Passion Plato, in his metaphor of the chariot, saw the spirited horse as working in general in harmony with reason. Madame De Staël sees it as even more disruptive and unruly than desire.

78 Reason and Ethics The chief task of ethics must be to restrain the passions, to allow reason to direct us to what we ought to do. The best means to happiness is not to worry about happiness.

79 Utilitarianism Maximize good

80 Jeremy Bentham Principle of utility: Maximize good “... the greatest happiness of the whole community, ought to be the end or object of pursuit.... The right and proper end of government in every political community, is the greatest happiness of all the individuals of which it is composed, say, in other words, the greatest happiness of the greatest number.”

81 Bentham’s Principle “By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words to promote or to oppose that happiness.”

82 John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) “The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.”

83 Consequences Consequentialism: an act’s value depends on its consequences (effects on the amount of good) Universalism: everyone’s good counts equally

84 Motives, intentions, etc. Utilitarians treat what comes before the act as relevant, but only because of consequences: –1. An intention is good if it tends to lead to good actions. –2. A motive is good if it tends to lead to good intentions. –3. A character trait is good if it tends to lead to good motives. –4. A person is good if he/she tends to have good character traits. –5. A society is good if it tends to have good people.

85 Intrinsic good Maximize what? Utilitarians need a theory of basic or intrinsic good Moral good = maximizing basic good Basic good = ?

86 Hedonism Intrinsic good: Happiness What is happiness?

87 Happiness Bentham & Mill: pleasure and the absence of pain Hedonism: pleasure and pain are the only sources of value

88 Bentham’s Utilitarianism A good act increases the balance of pleasure over pain in the community A bad act decreases it The best acts maximize the balance of pleasure over pain

89 Bentham’s Utilitarianism We must consider, not just ourselves, but everyone affected Individualism: effect on community is sum of affects on members

90 Moral Calculus People affected A B. Z Total Pleasure Pain Difference P(A) L(A) B(A) P(B) L(B) B(B)... P(Z) L(Z) B(Z) P LB

91 Bentham’s Arguments Common sense: common sense moral judgments agree with PU Arguments for other principles assume PU: “if people don’t follow this rule, bad things happen.” We can resolve conflicts; we must have a measure of value that allows us to do that

92 Bentham against conscience “Principle of sympathy and antipathy” tends to severity or leniency Capricious: people’s reactions differ Confuses motive with justification PU is justification, not motive

93 Too narrow? (False negative) Too broad? (False positive) Utilitarianism You ought to do it It maximizes the balance of pleasure over pain

94 Carlyle’s Objection Thomas Carlyle: “Pig philosophy!” Utilitarianism: good = feeling good

95 Mill’s 1830s response The goal is to maximize the good for mankind as a species This has two implications: –I can best do that by promoting my own good; we are all best off when each tends his own –I have reason to develop my capacities, my talents, and my intellect; they produce benefits for mankind, not just for me

96 Qualities of pleasures Mill: pleasures differ in quality as well as quantity “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.” We are capable of better pleasures than pigs are

97 Judging Quality Which pleasures are higher? See what the competent judges prefer Who is competent to judge? Those with experience of both Intellectual > social > sensual

98 Qualities of Pleasure Intellectual Social Sensual

99 Virtue Even if higher pleasures were not more intrinsically valuable, utilitarianism would not be pig philosophy Higher pleasures —> virtues —> benefits for others Mill affirms his 1830s answers

100 Bentham v. Mill Bentham agrees that pleasures differ in quality: “In regard to well-being, quality as well as quantity requires to be taken into account.” He has an entire chapter on kinds of pleasures

101 Bentham v. Mill But Bentham thinks you are the most competent judge of quality for you: “Quantity depends upon general sensibility, sensibility to pleasure and pain in general; quality upon particular sensibility: upon a man's being more sensible to pleasure or pain from this or that source, than to ditto from this or that other.”

102 Bentham on Liberty I can know quality for me by reflection But I can judge qualities for others only by what they say and do So, each can judge best for him/herself: “every man is a better judge of what is conducive to his own well-being than any other man can be.”

103 Mill on Liberty Harm principle: The only justification for restricting liberty is harm to others Self-regarding actions: sphere of liberty We ought to be free to do what we please so long as we don’t violate someone else’s rights

104 Mill on Rules Principle of utility justifies acts It need not be a motivation or even a practical test We apply it by “secondary principles,” common sense moral rules We justify these rules by utility We appeal to the principle of utility only when secondary principles conflict

105 Act v. Rule Utilitarianism Act utilitarianism (Bentham): an act is right if it maximizes good Utility —> act Rule utilitarianism (Maimonides): an act is right if it accords with the rules that maximize good Utility —> Rules —> Act Disagree when a rule conflicts with utility

106 Breaking Rules What if we can do better by breaking a (good) rule? Don’t break it! Rules essential to moral thought We are tempted to break rules for our own advantage We’ll usually go wrong Moral chaos

107 Interpreting Mill Is Mill an act or rule- utilitarian? His greatest happiness principle speaks of acts But he stresses secondary principles

108 Mill: Breaking Rules Letter to John Venn: Advocates act utilitarianism But agrees with Maimonides If we break a rule, we’ll usually go wrong So, better to obey the rule

109 Mill: Acts and Rules Act utilitarianism is right, but act as a rule utilitarian Act utilitarianism is theoretically correct: it tells us what makes right acts right But rule utilitarianism is a better practical test

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