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Introduction to Moral Reasoning and Ethics

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1 Introduction to Moral Reasoning and Ethics
Kristene Unsworth Thanks to Adam Moore for slides

2 Connections Between Ethics, Political Theory, Public Policy, and Logic
We want public policy to be justified – right? How can we do this? Typically, we appeal to political theory which itself rests on moral/ethical theory. Logic – correct reasoning – is our method for justifying ethical claims, political claims, and ultimately public policy positions.

3 Disclaimer Almost everything I am going to say is contentious.
One problem for Moral Theory, Political Theory, and Policy Analysis is that there are no “agreed upon” methods for settling disputes in these areas. I will begin with weak – and widely shared views and then move to more contentious areas and claims.

4 I. Some Ways Not To Answer These Questions
1. Moral, Political, and Policy Judgments and Personal Preferences: Some people like rock music while others do not. Some people prefer the sport of ice hockey to any other sport. Some people like to drink beer and eat pizza while others could think of nothing worse. In each of these cases a disagreement in preference exists. We may ask, are moral, political, and policy disagreements about the rightness or wrongness of some action or policy the same as disagreements in preference?

5 The answer is NO for the following reasons.
a. When Fred says he likes rock-and-roll he is not denying some view or preference that Ginger holds (suppose she prefers classical music and detests rock music). For Fred to deny what Ginger affirms, he would have to say that Ginger likes rock music and prefers it to classical music – in spite of Ginger’s denials. When two people express conflicting personal preferences, the one does not (necessarily) deny what the other affirms.

6 b. Moral, political, and policy disagreements are importantly different. When Fred says that file sharing is always wrong while Ginger says that it is morally permitted, Fred is denying what Ginger affirms (and vice versa). Fred is not merely reporting a fact about himself, he is saying something much more general — file sharing is wrong independent of personal preferences. c. Also, when someone says that something is morally right or wrong (or that it should be codified in the law etc.) it is always appropriate to ask them to give reasons to support their view — for most personal preferences a request for reasons would be inappropriate. "I like chocolate cake better than strawberry cake" what reason could I give to support my preference?

7 This difference between "conflicting" preferences and conflicting moral judgments points to one way not to answer moral, political, and policy questions. Given that moral, political, and policy judgments are not just expressions of personal preference, it follows that moral right and wrong (or policy positions) cannot be determined by finding out the personal preferences of some particular person — say Fred. Our personal preferences are important, but we do not answer moral, political, and policy questions by saying what we like or dislike.

8 2. Moral, Political, and Policy Judgments: A Matter of Feelings Closely connected with personal preferences are person's feelings. On this view, when Ginger says that file sharing morally permitted, what she conveys are her positive feelings toward allowing abortions, whereas Fred conveys his feelings of disapproval. This way of answering moral, political, and policy questions falls prey to the same problems mentioned for the personal preference model.

9 3. Why Thinking It Is So Does Not Make It So The same is true about what someone thinks. Quite aside from his feelings, Fred, if he is sincere, does think that file sharing is always wrong. Nevertheless, if his judgment about file sharing is a moral judgment, then what he means cannot merely be "I think that file sharing is wrong." Stating what he thinks does not make an action right or wrong — the action, whatever it is, is right or wrong, independent of what Fred thinks. What Fred prefers, feels, or thinks, has nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of file sharing or any other action.

10 4. The Irrelevance of Statistics Some people claim that what one person prefers, thinks, or feels about moral questions does not settle anything, but what all or most people prefer, think, or feel, does. A single individual is only one voice — what most people think, feel, or prefer, is a great deal more. There is strength in numbers.

11 This approach to moral questions is also deficient.
a. Why think that just because a bunch of individuals believe that X is wrong (or bad policy) that their believing is what makes X wrong? Suppose every individual in a certain culture thought that causing pain to others was the right thing to do. How/why would their beliefs, preferences, or feelings, make not causing harm immoral? This is the equivalent to "X is right because everyone is believes X is right." Well suppose X = surviving by consuming one's own body.

12 b. Moreover this type of reasoning does not work for other areas of study. Most people think that in a vacuum a feather will fall slower than a rock — but their thinking it is so does not make it true (or false). This is true for any field of study, why should moral theory, political theory, and policy analysis be different? e.g. the flat-earthers

13 5. The Appeal to a Moral Authority Suppose it is conceded that we cannot answer moral, political, and policy questions by finding out what someone thinks, feels, or prefers; or by finding out what all or most people think, feel, or prefer. Imagine that there is a moral/political authority who is never mistaken when it comes to moral questions: if this being judges something morally right then it is morally right — if it is judged wrong then it is morally wrong. Most people think that God is a moral authority and all we have to do is listen to God to answer moral questions.

14 This view is deficient for a number of reasons.
a. First, while many will find this troublesome, it is very difficult to justify a belief in God. Appeal to God as a moral authority would first require an argument that justified a belief in God — but this is no easy task (some say it will never be done).

15 b. Even if God exists we must determine what he commands, wills, or forbids, before we can know how to proceed. Can we trust religious texts? Which ones? What about "false" prophets? Are the rules commanded by God absolute (exceptionless)? Suppose that you could save twenty people from a painful death by stealing the property of another (Suppose God commanded "Thou shall not steal"). What if you enjoy pain? Should you do unto others as you would have them do unto you?

16 C. The Euthyphro problem: Is X right because God commands X or does God command X because it is right. Suppose we say that X is right because God commands X. Question: Does God have any reasons for what he commands? If yes, then it is these reasons that make X right not God’s mere commandments. If no, then morality is arbitrary – God, alas, could command anything and it would be moral.

17 II. Ideal Moral, Political, and Policy Judgments
or a description of an approach to answering moral, political, and policy questions that is not open to the objections already raised. What requirements would someone have to meet to make an ideal judgments in these areas?

18 Conceptual Clarity: We must be conceptually clear about important issues and terms. E.g. “person,” or “property right,” bootlegging, piracy, etc. Empirical Information: We cannot answer moral, political, and policy questions without marshaling knowledge about the real world. E.g. does file sharing cause more harm than good. Rationality: We must use valid/strong argument forms and proceed from reliable premises. E.g. the rules of logic….

19 Impartiality: In striving to reach the correct answer to moral, political, and policy questions we must guard against extreme partiality — our moral, political, and policy judgments should be free from bigotry, prejudice, and favoritism. Reflective Endorsement: Our moral, political, and policy judgments should stand the test of cool and calm reflective endorsement. Correct Moral Principles: It is also essential that the judgment be based on the correct or most reasonable moral principles.

20 Given the complexity of moral arguments what tools do we have to proceed?

21 I. Arguments: The Tools of the Trade
A. Argument - a set of declarative statements with one statement being argued for (the conclusion), and other statements (premises) given as support or proof.   1. Premise - what is given as support or evidence for a conclusion. 2. Conclusion - what follows from the premises, what is being claimed.

22 B. Deductive Argument - an argument where the conclusion is conclusively supported by the premises
C. Inductive Argument - an argument where the conclusion is only strongly supported by the premises

23 D. Qualities Of Deductive Arguments: Validity And Soundness
D. Qualities Of Deductive Arguments: Validity And Soundness. In deductive logic there are two main terms of argument evaluation: valid and sound. To begin with validity. There are several different ways to define this, but the definitions are all equivalent, i.e., they all mean the same thing. Think of it whatever way suits you.

24 Def. 1. An argument is valid if, and only if, supposing the premises are all true, then the conclusion is necessarily true (it must be true). Def. 2. An argument is valid if, and only if, supposing the premises are all true, then the conclusion cannot be false. Def. 3. An argument is valid if, and only if, supposing the conclusion is false, then at least one premise is necessarily false (it must be that one is false). Def. 4. An argument is valid if, and only if, there is no possible situation where all the premises be true, and the conclusion is false.

25 Example of a valid argument: (1) All adlers are bobkins; (2) all bobkins are crockers; (3) (conclusion) therefore, all adlers are crockers. Suppose you don’t know anything about adlers, bobkins, or crockers (but these words really did mean something); well then, you would still be able to say that the argument just given is valid, because if (1) and (2) are true, then (3) would have to be true.

26 To say that an argument is valid is to say that a certain kind of relationship holds between the premises and the conclusion. The premises deductively support the conclusion. So to say an argument is valid is not to say simply that the premises are true, or false, or the conclusion is true, or false. It is to say that the conclusion has to be true, supposing the premises to be true.

27 Here is a definition of "sound":
Def. An argument is sound if, and only if, it is valid and all of its premises are true.   So Soundness = Validity + True Premises. Some valid arguments are not sound: they have false premises. Notice: if you know that an argument is sound, then you do know that the conclusion is true. Why? (Hint: look at the definitions of "valid" and "sound.")

28 E. Qualities Of Inductive Arguments: Strength And Cogency
E. Qualities Of Inductive Arguments: Strength And Cogency. What validity and soundness, respectively, are for deductive arguments, strength and cogency, respectively, are for inductive arguments.   Def. An (inductive) argument is strong if, and only if, supposing the premises are true, then it is probable (but not absolutely necessary) that the conclusion is true.

29 Example of a strong argument: (1) 80% of observed blippos were oflt; (2) Harry is an blippo (as yet unobserved); (3) (conclusion) therefore, probably, Harry is also oflt. Notice that it is possible, even if (1) and (2) are true, that Harry is not oflt. It is just probable that he is oflt (since most other blippos were oflt). Notice also that, again, you don’t have to know what "blippo" and “oflt" mean, to know this is a strong argument.

30 Here is a definition of "cogent":
Def. An (inductive) argument is cogent if, and only if, it is strong and all of its premises are true.   Similar remarks apply here as for soundness. Cogency = Strength + True Premises. Some strong arguments are not cogent: they have false premises. Notice: if you know that an argument is cogent, then you do know that the conclusion is probably true. Why? (Hint: look at the definitions of "strong" and "cogent.")

31 II. Examples: A. Inductive Arguments B. Deductive Argument
1. I have seen one swan and it was white 2. I have seen a second swan and it was white 3. I have seen n swans and they were all white 4. So, all swans are white   B. Deductive Argument   1. If it is raining out then the grass is wet 2. It is raining out 3. So, the grass is wet  

32 D. Valid argument with a false premise
C. Valid argument with true premises and true conclusion - this means that this argument is also _____________?   1. All men are mortal 2. Socrates is a man 3. So, Socrates is mortal   D. Valid argument with a false premise   2. Spot (the dog) is a man 3. So, Spot is mortal

33 E. Valid argument with false premises and a false conclusion
1. No fish are swimmers 2. Orca’s are fish 3. Therefore, Orca’s cannot swim

34 We know what an argument is and how not to answer moral questions but what other tools are there?

35 Moral and ethical theory
Descriptive Ethics claims – statements that describe a state of affairs in the world Normative Ethics Claims - exploration of what human beings ought to do Responsibility, Accountability and Liability Ethical Relativism

36 A Partial Typology of Normative Ethical Theories

37 Parts of Utilitarianism
Theory of Right (Obligation) Theory of Good (Value)

38 Utilitarian Theory of Obligation
One ought to act so as to maximize the sum of individual (net) value where everyone’s good counts equally. This is the defining characteristic of utilitarianism. But, any complete utilitarian theory must provide a theory of value. Different utilitarians hold different theories of value.

39 Three Theories of Value Commonly Adopted by Utilitarians
Hedonism Eudaimonism Desire Satisfaction Theory

40 Intrinsic v. Extrinsic Value
Intrinsic Value: A thing is intrinsically valuable if it is valuable independently of of its consequences. Extrinsic Value: A thing has extrinsic valuable if it is valuable in virtue of its consequences.

41 Hedonism Pleasure and only pleasure is intrinsically good. Pain and only pain in intrinsically bad.

42 Eudaimonism Happiness (or well-being) and only happiness (or well- being) is intrinsically good. Unhappiness and only unhappiness is intrinsically bad.

43 Desire Satisfaction Theory
All and only those things that satisfy intrinsic desires are intrinsically good. All and only those things that thwart intrinsic desires are intrinsically bad.

44 Jeremy Bentham 1748 - 1832 Major Work
The Principles of Morals and Legislation

45 Bentham’s Hedonism Qualitative Similarity: All pleasures are qualitatively identical. Considered in themselves, they differ only in: Intensity Duration

46 An Analogy to Understand Bentham’s Hedonism
Pleasure as a bell in the head The bell could ring louder for a short period or softer for a longer period….

47 An Analogy to Understand Bentham’s Hedonism
Remember, it is only an analogy It is intended to illustrate that there is only one kind of experience, though it can differ in intensity and duration. Bentham didn’t really think there were bells in people’s heads.

48 Criticisms of Bentham’s Hedonism
Not all pleasures are qualitatively the same. Pleasure is not the only thing that is intrinsically good. Not all pleasures are intrinsically good.

49 Against Qualitative Similarity of Pleasures
Even considered in themselves, as mere sensations, many pleasurable sensations feel different from one another. Pleasure of hearing your child tell you she loves you. Pleasure of eating a hot fudge sundae.

50 Pleasure is Not the Only Intrinsic Good
There are other things that we value intrinsically Nozick’s Pleasure Machine

51 Eudaimonism and the Criticisms of Hedonism
Qualitative Similarity: Eudaimonism doesn’t claim that all pleasures (or all elements of happiness) are qualitatively identical

52 Not all pleasures are intrinsically good
Consider the pleasure that Hitler feels – are we actually going to maintain that when he is in a state of pleasure (say from watching torture) that this is good?

53 John Stuart Mill 1806 - 1873 Major Works On Liberty (1859)
On the Subjection of Woman (1869) Representative Government (1861) Utilitarianism (1863)

54 Mill’s Eudaimonism Mill’s Eudaimonism and Hedonism
Mistaken Belief that Mill is a Hedonist Mill’s Rejection of Hedonism

55 Does Eudaimonism fall prey to the objections leveled against Bentham
Does Eudaimonism fall prey to the objections leveled against Bentham? Apparently not….. Eudaimonism doesn’t claim that all elements of well-being are qualitatively identical 2. Eudaimonism holds that there is more to value than pleasure. The eudaimonist can deny that the pleasure of the sadist is good except as a mere sensation.

56 The Elements of Happiness
Sense of Dignity Security Individuality Harmonious Development of Oneself Concern for the Well-Being of Others

57 Reasons in Support Mill’s Utilitarianism
1. Assuming we can give an adequate theory of moral goodness or value, the intuition that moral rightness consists in maximizing moral goodness seems plausible. 2. The assumption that overall moral goodness is just the sum of individual goodness, seems initially plausible as well. 3. The theory does not allow one's biases to unduly influence our moral obligations. 4. The theory is democratic - each person counts as one and no one more than one. 5. It helps us solve moral controversies and disputes.

58 General Problems for Utilitarianism
Disutility of Calculating: It is sometimes charged that utilitarianism has bad consequences because if we were to take time to calculate before acting, we would frequently not be acting in a timely manner. (The image is that of a person calculating utility while an innocent child drowns.) Reply: Utilitarianism recommends that course of action that produces the best consequences. If calculating produces worse consequences than some alternative, the utilitarian theory tells us not to calculate.

59 General Problems for Utilitarianism
Special Obligations: It is often argued that the utilitarian takes the only intrinsically significant moral relation to be the benefactor/beneficiary relation. But this leads to insufficient concern for the special relation in which we stand to others. It leads to giving no intrinsic weight to promises and contracts, nor to special obligations one might have as a result of an office one holds, etc.

60 General Problems for Utilitarianism
Retributive Justice: a) Example: Preventing a Riot by Punishing an Innocent Person (the scapegoat objection)

61 General Problems for Utilitarianism
Distributive Justice: Distribution of Wealth (Commodities, Body Parts, etc.): Since the utilitarian is concerned to maximize total (or average) utility, there is no guarantee that money, commodities or any other objects of value will be distributed equitably. Utilitarian Reply: There are good utilitarian reasons for favoring more equal distributions of wealth over less equal ones other things being equal. The primary reason is that wealth is subject to diminishing marginal utility. Thus, a thousand dollars in my pocket will probably create more happiness, pleasure, and produce more desire satisfaction than it will in Donald Trump’s pocket. While there are other utilitarian arguments favoring some inequalities in the distribution of wealth, it is reasonable to think that utilitarianism will not be indifferent to the demands of equality of wealth.

62 General Problems for Utilitarianism
Excessive Demands: Any consequentialist theory, utilitarianism included, seems to demand too much of us. Practically everything we do will be immoral. For it is almost always true that we could be doing something else that would produce more utility. Is it permissible to give only 1/3 of your income to the needy? Not if it would produce more total utility to give 1/2 or 2/3 of it. Many argue that morality does not demand that on each and every occasion we be doing all we can to produce total utility. Morality leaves us some leeway—some “moral slack”.

63 Mill again… Enlightened Utilitarianism
Given that: We are biased We can’t foresee long term consequences We sometimes let our emotions cloud our reasoning We need to adopt rules of thumb or strategic rules that guide us when we are making decisions. Rules that have – in the past – allowed us to maximize social utility. We could call these “rules” rights.

64 J. S. Mill: Enlightened Utilitarianism
Can we toss aside rights (rules of thumb) when it suits us? Mill Answer: No, societies that allow these rules to be violated do not flourish as much as societies who hold firm to these rules. We are much more certain in our rules than we are in our utility calculating abilities. If we had a “God’s eye view” and were certain that violating a right would maximize utility then we should violate the right. We will never have a “God’s eye view” however. (Is Mill an Act or Rule Utilitarian?)

65 Mill’s Replies to the general problems for utilitarianism
Disutility of Calculating: – then don’t calculate – use your rules. Special Obligations: – don’t represent moral duties that we have independent of the consequences. Special obligations are the result of contracts and rights. Retributive Justice: – our rules of thumb (rights) would prohibit treating others in this way.

66 Mill’s Replies to the general problems for utilitarianism
Distributive Justice: – our rules will prohibit the redistribution of body parts etc. The distribution of wealth/commodities is not a big problem given individual rights to life, liberty, and property (Mill’s rules). Excessive Demands: – as long as we don’t violate the rights of others we can do what we want with our time etc.

67 Conclusion Given that Mill’s Utilitarianism has the resources to answer many/all of the problems leveled against it – we leave it on the table as a plausible contender.

68 Deontological Ethics

69 Deontological Theories
Deny that Rightness Depends Entirely on Goodness That is, they deny the central claim of Axiological Theories May Hold that Rightness Depends Partly on Goodness

70 Axiology and Deontology: A Pictorial Representation
Rightness Goodness

71 Axiology and Deontology: A Pictorial Representation
Rightness Goodness

72 Kant’s Moral Theory Strongly Deontological
Obligation (rightness) is completely independent of value (goodness). Unqualified judgments of goodness depend on rightness (obligation or duty). Obligation (Duty) is Based on Reason Alone

73 Kant’s Rejection of Axiology
There is nothing that is unconditionally good except a good will A good will is one that acts for the sake of duty Thus, duty is prior to good

74 Nothing is (Unconditionally) Good Except a Good Will
All other goods can be misused or enjoyed by the undeserving When this is true, they are not good

75 A Good Will is One that Acts for the Sake of Duty
Acting in accordance with duty v. acting for the sake of duty Examples: The “Honest” Store- keeper The faithful spouse

76 Trying to save the Golden Rule??
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law of the prophets.” (Matthew, 7:12)

77 Hey – What is the matter with the Golden Rule??
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Problem: . . . And the person who likes pain? . . . And the person who likes to be hunted with high powered rifles…. . . . Etc.

78 Hypothetical Imperatives
Prescribe action only conditionally (hypothetically) Usually expressed in “if then . . .” constructions. Example: If you want to see a really bizarre film, go see Brazil. We “retract” the imperative if the condition isn’t met.

79 Categorical Imperatives
Unconditional (categorical). Usually expressed without any ‘if’ clause. Example: Don’t hurt the puppy. We do not “retract” the imperative if following it doesn’t serve the aims of the agent in question.

80 The Categorical Imperative #1
“Act only on that maxim which you can will to be a universal law.” Act as if, through your action, the maxim of your act would be universally followed.

81 Maxims, Universal Laws, and Willing?
1. maxim - a personal rule of behavior (not imperative) I always eat dinner between 5 and 6 PM. (has an indexical like 'I' or 'me') 2. universal law - a sentence that is always true or always followed by everyone. 3. will - take the maxim and change it, delete the indexicals and replace them with a general pronoun like, anyone, or 'everyone' — change from a declarative sentence to an imperative sentence.

82 1. Everyone should share “soft” goods.
E.g. I believe that “information wants to be free” so I always share information with others…I am a robust “soft” file sharer… 1. Everyone should share “soft” goods. 2. Imagine what the world would be like if this imperative were actually followed by everyone. 3. Wish that this state of affairs would be actual a. without formal contradictions resulting b. without contradictions of the will occurring

83 Formal Contradictions
Definition: Formal contradictions arise when it is impossible to imagine one’s maxim being a universal law. Example: The lying promise.

84 Contradictions of the Will
Definition: Contradictions of the will arise when you can imagine the maxim of your action being a universal law, but you cannot will that it be done. Example: Rendering aid to others.

85 Kant’s Four Examples

86 Example: Maxim - When I need money I will get it by making a lying promise.
*Can I will this to be a universal law? Step-one: Whenever anyone needs money they should make a lying promise. Step-two: Can you imagine this maxim being universally followed? No. - lying would lose its purpose - the institution of money lending would cease

87 Example: Maxim – I never render aid to others
Step-one: No one should ever render aid to anyone else. Step-two: Can you imagine this maxim being universally followed? YES. Step-three: Can you wish that this be so? No! - cannot succeed because you will need assistance at some point in your life

88 Determining Rightness and Wrongness
Question: is X right or wrong? 1. Find a maxim for X 2. see if it passes the CI#1 3. if not, then X is wrong 4. If X passes the CI#1 then doing X is morally right or permitted. 5. If the reason you do X is out of reverence for doing what you take to be your duty then X is an act with genuine moral worth (and you have a good will).

89 The Categorical Imperative #2: Treating Humanity as an End in Itself
“Always treat humanity, both yourself and others, as ends in themselves, never merely as means.” This requires that we always treat people according to principles which they would accept, insofar as they are rational. Would you want your IP shared? Your personal information? For those that don’t…should we use them…and disrespect them, by copying their soft goods?

90 Criticisms of Kant Determining the Maxim of an Action
The Problem of the Rational Will

91 Problem of Generality Excessive Specificity Excessive Generality
Example: Moore’s Theft The sly maxim maker Excessive Generality Example: The Permissible Theft I never take things from others

92 Problem: Absolute v. Prima Facie Duties
Absolute Duty: a moral obligation that cannot be overridden. Prima Facie Duty: a moral obligation that can be overridden. It appears that the CI prescribes absolute moral duties and nothing else. Problem: So you have Nazi’s at your door and Jews in the basement and the Nazi’s ask “Do you know where any Jews are?” If telling the truth is an absolute moral duty then you cannot lie in this case even though the consequences of telling the truth will be dire (you and the Jewish people in your basement will be killed)

93 What we want to do in these cases is allow for an exception “we ought to tell the truth except when “ The problem is that if we allow consequentialist- based exceptions then we are thrust back into the sly-maxim maker problem. Moreover, Kant explicitly rejects this sort of consequentialist reasoning.

94 Problem of the Rational Will
Kant has to give us an account of the “rational will” in order for his theory to be plausible. Unless he rests his entire theory on formal contradictions (which seems implausible – what of the maxim “I save innocent people from thugs” in relation to the Nazi case? Or “I am the best at everything.” Formal contradictions seem to turn on how you describe the action), he must show that there are some possible states of affairs that no rational person could will.

95 Kant and Mill: Discussion Case
Given all the temptations and trouble that teenagers can get into these days Sara Smith decides to covertly monitor the activities of her two children. She installs “spy-buddy” on their computers, GPS tracking on their cell phones, monitors what they eat at school, and installs hidden surveillance cameras in their bedrooms. She does not feel bad about any of this…parents are supposed to look after their kids…right? Come up with other technologies that Sara Smith could use to monitor her kids. How would Mill view this case? How would Kant view this case? Would this sort of monitoring be morally justified according to Mill or Kant? Why/Why not? Be prepared to present your answers…on the discussion board.

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