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STOLZE - PHILOSOPHY 102 Notes on Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 3 rd ed., chapters 11-12.

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Presentation on theme: "STOLZE - PHILOSOPHY 102 Notes on Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 3 rd ed., chapters 11-12."— Presentation transcript:

1 STOLZE - PHILOSOPHY 102 Notes on Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 3 rd ed., chapters 11-12

2 Chapter 11: Civil Disobedience, Violence, and Terrorism Five Case Studies The Ethics of Social Transformation Individual Conscience and the Law: Thoreau and Wolff Two Reasons to Obey the Law Democracy Disobedience, Civil or Otherwise Whose Violence? Case Study: Birmingham, AL 1963

3 The Ethics of Social Transformation Analysis of Social Injustice => (Strategy for Transition) => Model of Just Society

4 Individual Conscience and the Law “Are we under any moral obligation to obey the law if the law protects and sanctions things we hold utterly wrong? A clear-cut answer to this question was given by the nineteenth-century American radical, Henry Thoreau. In his essay ‘Civil Disobedience’ – perhaps the first use of this now familiar phrase – he wrote: Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think we should be men first and subjects afterwards. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at any time what I think right. In similar vein, the American philosopher Robert Paul Wolff wrote: The defining mark of the state is authority, the right to rule. The primary obligation of man is autonomy, the refusal to be ruled. It would seem, then, that there can be no resolution of the conflict between the autonomy of the individual and the putative authority of the state. Insofar as a man fulfills his obligation to make himself the author of his decisions, he will resist the state’s claim to have authority over him. Thoreau and Wolff resolve the conflict between individual and society in favour of the individual. We should do as our conscience dictates, as we autonomously decide we ought to do, not as the law directs. Anything else would be a denial of our capacity for ethical choice” (pp ).

5 Singer’s Objection to Thoreau and Wolff “To say that we should follow our conscience is unobjectionable – but unhelpful – when ‘following conscience’ means doing what, on reflection, one thinks right. When ‘following conscience’ means doing as one’s ‘internal voice’ prompts one to do, however, to follow one’s conscience is to abdicate one’s responsibility as a rational agent, to fail to take all the relevant factors into account and act on one’s best judgment of the rights and wrongs of the situation. The ‘internal voice’ is more likely to be a product of one’s upbringing and education than a source of genuine ethical insight” (p. 261).

6 Two Reasons to Obey the Law “[L]aws and a settled decision procedure to generate them are a good thing. This gives us one important reason for obeying the law. By obeying the law, I can contribute to the respect in which the established decision procedure and the laws are held. By disobeying, I set an example to others that may lead them to disobey too. The effect may multiply and contribute to a decline in law and order. In an extreme case, it may lead to civil war. A second reason for obedience follows immediately from this first. If law is to be effective, then – given the way humans are – there must be some machinery for detecting and penalizing lawbreakers. This machinery will cost something to maintain and operate, and the cost will have to be met by the community. If I break the law, the community will be put to the expense of enforcement. These two reasons for obeying the law are neither universally applicable nor conclusive. They are not, for instance, applicable to breaches of the law that remain secret. If, late at night when the streets are deserted, I cross the road against the red light, there is no one to be led into disobedience by my example and no one to enforce the law against me. But this is not the kind of illegality we are interested in” (p. 263).

7 Democracy “[T]he principle of majority rule does carry substantial moral weight. Disobedience is easier to justify in a dictatorship like Nazi Germany than in a democracy like those of North America, Europe, India, Japan or Australia today. In a democracy, we should be reluctant to take any action that amounts to an attempt to coerce the majority, for such attempts imply the rejection of majority rule, to which there is no acceptable alternative. There may, of course, be cases where the majority decision is so appalling that coercion is justified, whatever the risk. The obligation to obey a genuine majority decision is not absolute. We show our respect for the principle, not by blind obedience to the majority, but by regarding ourselves as justified in disobeying only in extreme circumstances” (p. 267).

8 Disobedience, Civil or Otherwise 1.There are reasons why we should normally accept the verdict of an established peaceful method of settling disputes. 2.These reasons are particularly strong when the method is democratic and the verdict represents a genuine majority view. 3.But there are still situations in which the use of illegal means can be justified.

9 Whose Violence? “In his classic indictment of the social effects of nineteenth-century capitalism, The Condition of the Working Class in England, Engels wrote: If one individual inflicts a bodily injury upon another which leads to the death of the person attacked we call it manslaughter; on the other hand, if the attacker knows beforehand that the blow will be fatal we call it murder. Murder has also been committed if society places hundreds of workers in such a position that they inevitably come to premature and unnatural ends. Their death is as violent as if they had been stabbed or shot... Murder has been committed if thousands of workers have been deprived of the necessities of life or if they have been forced into a situation in which it is impossible for them to survive... Murder has been committed if society knows perfectly well that thousands of workers cannot avoid being sacrificed so long as these conditions are allowed to continue. Murder of this sort is just as culpable as the murder committed by an individual. At first sight it does not appear to be murder at all because responsibility for the death of the victim cannot be pinned on any individual assailant. Everyone is responsible and yet no one is responsible, because it appears as if the victim has died from natural causes. If a worker dies no one places the responsibility for his death on society, though some would realize that society has failed to take steps to prevent the victim from dying. But it is murder all the same. One might object to Engels’ use of the term ‘murder’…. Still, this is nit-picking. Whether or not ‘murder’ is the right term, whether or not we are prepared to describe as ‘violent’ the deaths of malnourished workers in unhealthy and unsafe factories, Engels’ fundamental point stands. These deaths are a wrong of the same order of magnitude as the deaths of hundreds of people in a terrorist bombing. It would be one-sided to say that violent revolution is always absolutely wrong, without taking account of the evils that the revolutionaries are trying to stop. If violent means had been the only way of changing the conditions Engels describes, those who opposed the use of violent means would have been responsible for the continuation of those conditions” (p. 272).

10 Notes on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963)

11 Some Preliminary Questions What was the situation in Birmingham in 1963? What was “Operation C”? Was it successful? Why did King write his letter? Who was his intended audience?

12 Main Points in King’s Letter Four Steps of any Nonviolent Campaign Distinction between Just and Unjust Laws Nonviolent Resistance as a Middle Path between Passivity and Violent Resistance The Nature of Time

13 Four Basic Steps in any Nonviolent Campaign Collection of the Facts Negotiation Self-Purification Direct Action

14 Unjust and Just Laws An unjust law is one “out of harmony with the moral law.” “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” Application to segregation A law is unjust if a minority group forced to obey but didn’t help enact, or if the majority doesn’t have to follow it, or if it is unfairly applied in practice.

15 Nonviolent Resistance “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” King stresses the need for “creative extremism” that avoids both the “do-nothingism” of the complacent or apathetic and the “despair” of mindless violence.

16 The Nature of Time A “tragic misconception of time” that change will come about inevitably; King insists that “time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively....Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co- workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

17 Chapter 12: Why Act Morally? Understanding the Question Reason and Ethics Ethics and Self-Interest Ethics and the Meaning of Life

18 Reason and Ethics 1. Some requirement of universalizability or impartiality is essential to ethics. 2. Reason, whether theoretical or practical, is universally or objectively valid. If, for example, it follows from the premises ‘All humans are mortal’ and ‘Socrates is human’ that Socrates is mortal, then this inference must follow universally. It cannot be valid for me and invalid for you. Therefore: 3. Only a judgment that satisfies the requirement described in (1) as a necessary condition of an ethical judgment will be an objectively rational judgment in accordance with (2). For I cannot expect any other rational agents to accept as valid for them a judgment that I would not accept if I were in their place; and if two rational agents could not accept one another’s judgments, they could not be rational judgments, for the reason given in (2). To say that I would accept the judgment I make, even if I were in someone else’s position and they in mine is, however, simply to say that my judgment is one I can prescribe from a universal point of view. Ethics and reason both require us to rise above our own particular point of view and take a perspective from which our own personal identity – the role we happen to occupy – is unimportant. Thus, reason requires us to act on universalizable judgments and, to that extent, to act ethically.

19 Singer’s Objection “Is this argument valid? I have already argued for the first point, that ethics involves universalizability. The second point also seems undeniable. Reason must be universal. Does the conclusion therefore follow? Here is the flaw in the argument. The conclusion appears to follow directly from the premises; but this move involves a slide from the limited sense in which it is true that a rational judgment must be universally valid, to a stronger sense of ‘universally valid’ that is equivalent to universalizability. The difference between these two senses can be seen by considering a non- universalizable imperative, like the purely egoistic: ‘Let everyone do what is in my interests.’ This differs from the imperative of universalizable egoism – ‘Let everyone do what is in her or his own interests’ – because it contains an ineliminable reference to a particular person. It there- fore cannot be an ethical imperative. Does it also lack the universality required if it is to be a rational basis for action? Surely not. Every rational agent could accept that the purely egoistic activity of other rational agents is rationally justifiable. Pure egoism could be rationally adopted by everyone” (p. 280). => Singer’s point is that reason does not require us to act rationally.

20 But Does Helping Others Make You Happy? “In one experiment, researchers gave $100 to each of nineteen female students and gave them the option of donating some of the money to a local food bank for the poor. To ensure that any effects observed came entirely from making the donation, and not, for instance, from having the belief that others would think they were generous, the students were informed that no one, not even the experimenters, would know which students made a donation. While the students were deciding what to do, the researchers were using magnetic resonance imaging, which shows activity in various parts of the brain. The research found that when students donated, the brain’s ‘reward centres’ – the caudate nucleus, nucleus accumbens and insulae – became active. These are the parts of the brain that respond when you eat something sweet or receive money. This is a small-scale experiment and only more research will show whether this is a widespread phenomenon, and whether it is part of the explanation for why those who give are more likely to say that they are happy” (p. 288).

21 What is a Psychopath? “What, for instance, of those we call ‘psychopaths’? Psychiatrists use this term as a label for a person who is asocial, impulsive, egocentric, unemotional, lacking in feelings of remorse or shame or guilt, and apparently unable to form deep and enduring personal relationships. Psychopaths are certainly abnormal, but whether it is proper to say that they are mentally ill is another matter. At least on the surface, they do not suffer from their condition, and it is not obvious that it is in their interest to be ‘cured’. Hervey Cleckley, the author of a classic study of psychopathy entitled The Mask of Sanity, notes that since his book was first published he has received countless letters from people desperate for help – but they are from the parents, spouses and other relatives of psychopaths, almost never from the psychopaths themselves. This is not surprising, for although psychopaths are asocial and indifferent to the welfare of others, they have an inflated opinion of their own abilities….Children are restless and misbehave under these conditions because they cannot enjoy the play as adults do. They act to relieve boredom. Similarly, Cleckley says, psychopaths are bored because their emotional poverty means that they cannot take interest in, or gain satisfaction from, what for others are the most important things in life: love, family, suc- cess in business or professional life and so on. These things simply do not matter to them. Their unpredictable and anti-social behaviour is an attempt to relieve what would otherwise be a tedious existence (pp ).

22 Ethics and Self-Interest: Against Psychopathy “These claims [about psychopathy] are speculative, and Cleckley admits that it may not be possible to establish them scientifically. They do suggest, however, an aspect of the psychopath’s life that undermines the otherwise attractive nature of the psychopath’s free-wheeling life. Most reflective people, at some time or other, want their life to have some kind of meaning. Few of us could deliberately choose a way of life that we regarded as utterly meaningless. For this reason, most of us would not choose to live a psychopathic life, however enjoyable it might be” (p. 290).

23 How to Become Happy: The Paradox of Hedonism “That those who aim at happiness for happiness’s sake often fail to find it, whereas others find happiness in pursuing altogether different goals, has been called ‘the paradox of hedonism’. It is not, of course, a logical paradox but a claim about the way in which we come to be happy. Like other generalizations on this subject, it lacks empirical confirmation. Yet it matches our everyday observations and is consistent with our nature as evolved, purposive beings. Human beings survive and reproduce themselves through purposive action. We obtain happiness and fulfillment by working towards and achieving our goals. In evolutionary terms, we could say that happiness functions as an internal reward for our achievements. Subjectively, we regard achieving the goal (or progressing towards it) as a reason for happiness. Our own happiness, therefore, is a by-product of aiming at something else and is not to be obtained by setting our sights on happiness alone” (p. 292).

24 Can Psychopaths Have a Meaningful Life “The psychopath’s life can now be seen to be meaningless in a way that a normal life is not. It is meaningless because it looks inward to the pleasures of the present moment and not outward to anything more long- term or far-reaching. More normal lives have meaning because they are lived to some larger purpose” (p. 292).

25 Ethics and the Meaning of Life “For anyone seeking to escape this cycle of accumulation and ruin [the unlimited desire for wealth], ethics can provide a more durable alternative. If we are looking for a purpose broader than our own interests, something that will allow us to see our lives as possessing significance beyond the narrow confines of our wealth or even our own pleasurable states of consciousness, one obvious solution is to take up the ethical point of view. The ethical point of view does, as we have seen, require us to go beyond a personal point of view to the standpoint of an impartial spectator. Thus, looking at things ethically is a way of transcending our inward-looking concerns and identifying ourselves with the most objective point of view possible – with, as Sidgwick put it, ‘the point of view of the universe” (p. 293).

26 Henry Spira on Meaning in Life “I guess basically one wants to feel that one’s life has amounted to more than just consuming products and generating garbage. I think that one likes to look back and say that one’s done the best one can to make this a better place for others. You can look at it from this point of view: what greater motivation can there be than doing whatever one possibly can to reduce pain and suffering?” (Henry Spira quoted by Singer on p. 294).


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