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65 Cards in this Set

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Set of at least two claims, where one of them is the conclusion and the other(s) is/are the premises

Valid argument

An argument in which all premises being true implies that the conclusion is true

Invalid argument

Opposite of valid argument

An argument in which all premises being true does not imply that the conclusion is true

Sound argument

A valid argument, with all true premises

Unsound argument

An argument that is either invalid, or contains at least one false premise

Moral argument

An argument with a moral claim as its conclusion

Thought experiment

A kind of mental experiment one performs through an exercise of imagination


An example that counters a given claim or argument

Reflective equilibrium

The end point of a process of moral deliberation that involves going back and forth between moral principles with the purpose of reaching a state of consistency so that the principle matches our beliefs

Circular argument

An argument in which the conclusion appears as a premise in the same argument ("begging the question")

Straw Man fallacy

Misrepresenting your opponent's arguments so that it is easily shown to be unsound or weak

False dilemma

When one presents fewer options than are actually available when arguing for a view

i.e. "You are either with us or the terrorists."

Normative ethics

Attempts to determine what people ought to believe about some ethical issue, and why

Questions about normative ethics are answered through reason and argument

Descriptive ethics

Attempts to describe a certain population's beliefs about some ethics issue

Questions in descriptive ethics are answered by empirical investigation (i.e. polls)


Focuses on what morality itself is

Analytic philosophy that explores the status, foundations, and scope of moral values, properties, and words

Ethical (cultural) relativism

Cultural relativism is the belief that there is no objective truth in ethics. That is, morally right or wrong are solely determined by one's culture

Objection 1 to ethical relativism

Moral infallibility of one's culture: CR implies all moral values of one's culture are necessarily true.

But no one believes that one's culture is morally perfect.

Surely there are things done in our culture that are morally problematic.

Objection 2 to ethical relativism

Moral values of all other cultures are true.

That means that genital mutilation, execution of political prisoners, and stoning are morally right. "But these are not right", so CR is wrong.

Objection 3 to ethical relativism

Moral progress is impossible if one's cultural beliefs are (already) morally perfect.

But progress has occurred

i.e. slavery and racism segregation have been, for the most part, abolished)

Argument 1 for ethical relativism

The cultural differences argument is the principal argument for cultural relativism: Different cultures have different moral codes, therefore there is no objective truth in ethics

i.e. abortion is morally permissible in some cultures, but not others

Argument 2 for ethical relativism

One argument motivated by desire to tolerate other cultures' values and way of life, and to avoid cultural imperialism and ethnocentrism that has characterized much of European and N. American history

Difficult w/ argument: Inconsistent...

Saying that there is no objective right or wrong in ethics BUT also saying that cultural imperialism is objectively wrong and respect for differences is objectively right

(Act) Utilitarianism (definition and parts)

The view that right actions, laws, and policies, promote the greatest amount of pleasure, or the least amount of pain, for all concerned.

Three parts to classical act utilitarianism:

1) Consequential-ism

2) Hedonism

3) Equal consideration

Consequential-ism (definition)


The right act is entirely determined by the consequences; the right act promotes the most good or least bad

Hedonism (definition)


The sole ultimate good is pleasure and the sole ultimate bad is pain

Equal consideration (definition)

Equal consideration:

No one's good is to be counted as more important than anyone else's

Situational ethic

Situation ethic is an aspect of consequential-ism. There are no absolute rules; whether something is moral/immoral depends on the situation

Examples of how utilitarianism challenges traditional moral values

Principle belief found in many cultures is that it's always morally wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings. But utilitarianism says: this is not always true (i.e. patient suffering with no hope of recovery, family wish to end suffering).

Organ donation usually seen as supererogatory - morally good to do but not morally required. But utilitarianism says: not donating one's organs upon death is morally wrong because the choice fails to maximize utility.

(2) Objections to hedonism

1) Not all pleasures are good. For example, pleasured obtained by violating others' rights, or pleasures that a virtuous person would not find good.

i.e. Peeping Tom gets pleasure from secretly spying, and sadist gets pleasure from watching people die.

We can not call their pleasured good and help justify the actions of these sick-minded people

2) Experience machine. Suppose scientists have developed a machine that can give a person any experience for their entire life. Think "Inception". Life in the machine would be much more pleasurable then the life of any other person.

But it is severely lacking in other goods; it a life full of false beliefs, inactivity, and utterly devoid of meaningful relationships/accomplishments

(2) Objections to Consequential-ism

1) Justice - suppose a person is dying and refuses to be an organ donor. After much discussion, the nurse gives him a form to state refusal, but she is actually deceiving (immoral) him to sign for organ donation. The patient dies, organs are harvested, and a transplant takes place which saves someone's life.

2) Promises - We are frequently unable to know the long-term consequences of our actions. Utilitarianism claims that the right act produces the most good, but often we do not know what act will produce such good. For example, whether to set up safe injection sites and to distribute clean needles to heroin addicts; this objection does not show that utilitarianism, but rather that it is not useful in such cases.

(1) Objection to Equal Consideration

Too demanding - Going to the movies, concert, or vacation are immoral because you could instead have given the money to UNICEF instead, or spent that time volunteering at local charity.

Going to concerts/dinners will almost never produce the most good, so they are to be morally wrong - absurd idea.

Response to the "justice" objection (against consequential-ism, utilitarianism)

The nurse who tricked the patient would probably get caught and would be punished. Her act will also cause great suffering to others who worry that their dying wishes will not be respected. Further still, many will no longer offer to give their organs because they will distrust the system.

Hence, it was not actually an act that produced the most good.

Response to the "too demanding" objection (against equal consideration, utilitarianism)

The critic exaggerates this objection. Utilitarianism may not, in fact, require that you give every moment of your day to helping others, that you choose a career best for humanity etc.

Realistically, people who try to do this would be exhausted and suffer physically and psychologically.

Utilitarianism is not at odds with leading a "normal" life; in fact, it is the best way for most of us to maximize good results in the world.

Rule utilitarianism

This is a modification (to act utilitarianism) that says:

1) The right thing to do is to follow the best rule

2) The best rule is defined as the one which, if consistently allowed, will produce the greatest amount of good.

i.e. the rule to "Respect people's rights" will give better consequences if followed, than "violate people's rights".

Therefore, unlike the act utilitarian who seems to support lying to the organ donor, the rule utilitarian would presumably view such a deception as morally wrong.

Objections to rule utilitarianism and response in defense

Rule utilitarianism faces a serious problem. Given the two options of violating and respecting people's rights, there's clearly a third option of respecting people's rights unless violating them produces the greatest good. This rule will lead to the greatest good if consistently followed. But this is basically the same as classical act utilitarianism!

Response in defense of rule utilitarians: Rules that one chooses to follow must be more general than "Follow the rule unless it is better not to do so." For a "rule" that is so easily disregarded is not really a rule at all. Instead, rules should be more absolute.

However, if rule utilitarians insist that one ought to follow the rule "do not lie", then they support telling the truth even if lying will produce more good - this is irrational.

Deontology (Kant's ethics)

Deontologists see morality as a matter of doing one's moral duty, rather than the promotion of good consequences. That is, the consequences of an act are one determinant but not the only one, or perhaps not at all (non consequential-ism).

Someone who thinks torture is always morally forbidden, is an ethical absolutist (deontologist)

Kant's conception of a good will

One is capable of acting according to hypothetical and categorical imperatives as a rational being. That is, one can act in a way that furthers the goals one happens to have, or according to commands (moral duties) that are not related to any goals. If one does an act out of respect for morality - out of respect for a categorical imperative - the one is said to have a good will and one's act has moral worth.

In summary, to have a good will is to do the right act for the right reasons - out of respect for morality. Someone who does an act not out of respect for morality but because it furthers a desire, does not do anything wrong, but the act has no moral worth.

Categorical Imperative (Kant's ethics)

Categorical imperatives state what one ought to do regardless of one's desires. When one commits an act out of respect for a categorical imperative, then one's act has moral worth.

Hypothetical imperative (Kant's ethics)

Hypothetical imperatives state what one ought to do given the presence of a particular desire/goal.

i.e. Study hard if you want to ace the final

i.e. Someone who gives to charity to get a tax deduction does not commit an at of moral worth (although it is not immoral either)

Even if someone donates to charity simply because she feels sorry for the needy, her act does not have moral worth because it is still based on a hypothetical imperative - if I feel sorry for someone, I ought to give that person charity.

Universal Law Version of the Categorical Imperative Test (Kant's Ethics)

This is a test done to determine what is a categorical imperative. It says, act only on those maxims that you can, at the same time, will as a universal law.

Example of a maxim (principle): When needed, I will deceive my patient into donating organs.

Universal law: When needed, everyone always deceives patients into donating organs.

Contradiction in thought (conception) (KE)

If the maxim of one's actions yields a contradiction in conception when it is universalized, then the action violates a perfect duty, and is therefore strictly forbidden.

i.e. the above universal law violates a perfect duty because it would be self-defeating if it were practiced by everyone all the time.

Contradiction in willing (KE)

If the maxim's of one's actions yields a contradiction between the universal law and what a person will later want, then it is a contradiction in will and violates an imperfect duty - a duty that one must sometimes follow, but which need not be followed all the time.


Maxim: "I will keep my organs even when I have no use for them and others need them."

Universalized: "Everyone will..."

There could be a world where no one donated organs (most of human history), but one would not will this to be a universal law because one day you may be in need of an organ donor and then a contradiction in will arises. Therefore, there is an imperfect duty to donate one's organs.

Perfect duty (KE)

A duty that must always be followed

Imperfect duty (KE)

A duty that must sometimes be followed

Humanity version of the categorical imperative (KE)

Act so that you treat humanity always as an end and never as a means only.

Humanity means rational being. Means - a "thing" that is not capable of freely making its own decisions. An "end" is a rational being.

Act so that you treat rational beings always as rational beings, and never as things.

Consider lying. The liar treats the person not as a rational being capable of making decisions, but as a thing to be manipulated. This behavior is fundamentally insulting to a person's rational nature, and is wrong.

Consider learning philosophy from a professor. You are using the professor as a means. But you are also using the professor as an end because the professor is freely consenting and his autonomous nature is not violated.

Kant's distinction between rational beings and things

Rational beings can follow hypothetical and categorical imperatives (moral rules).

A thing is not capable of these things.

Difficulties with the Universal Law Test (KE) / Objections

1) The same act can be described by more than one maxim

"I will deceive the patient" is a maxim that cannot be universalized (and is therefore immoral), but "I will procure an organ for a dying patient from someone who no longer needs them" can be universalized.

2) Too strict

i.e. "We will not have children, so that we may spend more time on important personal projects." This cannot be universalized, and is immoral according to Kant.

Difficulties with the Humanity Test (KE) /


1) Incompleteness (non-rational beings)

Most people think it is morally wrong to torture an animal, but Kant is silent on this issue. Also, non-rational humans - Kant's Humanity Test does not explain our direct moral obligations to non-rational humans.

2) Wrong answers (inquiring murderer)

It seems morally required to tell the inquiring murdered where your friend is s he can kill her. Lying to the murderer about your friend's location would treat him as a means and not as an end - absurd/mistaken idea.

Why Ross thinks utilitarianism and Kantianism are too simple

(Pluralistic Deontology - W.D. Ross) = PD

The utilitarian view that morality is simply a matter of producing the greatest good overlooks the fact that people have many other moral duties, such as duties to tell the truth, repay debts, to care for loved ones, etc.

The Kantian claim that morality consists in certain absolute moral duties - duties that must never be violated - overlooks the fact that sometimes it is morally imperative to break a moral duty (like truth-telling) in certain circumstances.

Prima facie (italics) duties


A duty that is conditional. Examples include the duties to tell the truth, the duty to promote others' well being, a duty to repay debts, a duty to not harm others, etc.

Prima facie duties are self-evident (intuitive) by anyone of normal psychological development.

Duties, all things considered


Often, prima facie duties conflict with each other:

i.e. duty to tell the truth may conflict with duty to promote others' well-being in a given situation

Ross says there is no test to determine what the right thing to do is. Instead, he suggests following the prima facie duty that is most pressing or most important in the situation. Here, one makes the best judgement one can make, though one cannot be certain it is the right thing to do.

Two difficulties with Ross' theory


1) Self-evident moral principles - many doubt that there can be self-evident moral principles that are analogous to the basic principles of mathematics and geometry. Someone who has the concept of triangles cannot deny that triangles have three sides, but it is possible that someone can have the concept of the duty of contributing to the well-being of others, yet deny that one has a prima facie duty to do so.

2) Too little guidance

Conception of moral rules

(Social Contract Theory - Thomas Hobbes) = SCT Hobbes

Contractarian-ism is the view that the justified moral rules are those that rational individuals would unanimously choose under certain conditions, for their own benefit.

State of Nature

(SCT Hobbes)

A time and place with no organized government or society, no recognized social rules, a time and place where each is completely free to do as they please.

The state of nature is horrible - continuous conflict and war.

4 conditions of the state of nature, that make it the state of war

(SCT Hobbes)

People are primarily self-interested.

People need the same basic things: food, shelter, water, and so on.

Food and shelter are relatively scare (everyone needs them but there is no society to produce them).

People in the state of nature are roughly equal in power.

Advantages of Social Contract Theory

(SCT Hobbes)

Because life in the state of nature is so dreadful, people will propose moral rules - limitations on one's freedom that each person accepts for their own benefit.

Rules of morality emerge as a tool that allows people to escape the misery of the state of nature and obtain the benefits of social living.

Moral rules are ones that would be agreed upon by everyone so that they can all live together, and have a better life.

(2) Objections to Social Contract Theory

(SCT Hobbes)

1) Incompleteness - Hobbe's SCT cannot explain all of morality.

i.e. we recognize obligations to not be cruel to animals, to respect and to promote the interests of humans with mental/physical disabilities, and to provide for distant generations (these are NOT for "our own benefit", as SCT defines)

2) Morality is prior to the contract - According to Hobbes' SCT, rape and torture would not be right/wrong in the state of nature, but most people would think that they are wrong even in a state of nature. Likewise, kindness to children or sharing with the poor/hungry would be virtuous even if there were no social agreements.

SCT cannot explain these judgments.

Original Position

(Social Contract Theory - John Rawls) - SCT Rawls

A situation where we are to imagine rational, primarily self-interested individuals choosing principles of justice for all time from behind a veil of ignorance.

Veil of ignorance

(SCT Rawls)

The people choosing the principles of justice are ignorant of any particular facts about themselves (i.e. gender, financial status, ability/disability, religion, political status etc.)

This ensures that the principles of justice are chosen in an unbiased and fair way.

Reasoning toward the principles of justice from the original position (maximin)

(SCT Rawls)

Note that Rawls' SCT is only a theory of justice and only seeks to answer the question of how the major social institutions ought to be regulated; and is not a comprehensive ethical theory.

Maximin: Choose in such a way so that you will be doing maximally well if you should turn out to be in the minimum (or worst off) position.

The (3) principles of justice

(SCT Rawls)

1) The principle of maximal equal basic liberties - each person is to have maximal equal basic liberties

2) The principle of fair equality of opportunity - each person should have a meaningful opportunity to attain employment, education, and positions of power.

3) The difference principle - there should be social and economic equality, unless inequality benefits everyone, especially those in the worst-off group.

(5) Objections to Rawls' theory

(SCT Rawls)

1) The original position

Rawls' characterization of the original position is problematic. It is supposed to be a fair situation from which one is to choose principles of justice, but it is not a fair choice situation.

i.e. biased against certain religious groups

Rawls assumes that people in original position do not know if they are religious; also assumes that people in original position want more primary social goods (liberty and rights, opportunities, income and wealth) rather than less.

But these assumptions are actually biased against groups like the Amish or ultra-Orthodox Jews; whom do not view religion as biasing conditions, but as the source of truth. They value obedience to religion and their traditions, and their right to be left alone. They may well view liberties, and wealth, etc. as either not primary social goods, or as in fact harmful societal options.

2) Difference Principle (promotes social and economic equality)

Rawls argues that parties will choose the Difference Principle because they will want to guard against the possibility of being in an intolerable situation should they find themselves to be in the worst-off economic group. But other people may say that significant economic inequality might be chosen provided that those in the worst-off group have their basic needs met and have the meaningful opportunity to advance to higher social and economic class (tolemin: tolerable outcome for those in the minimum position). This would allow people to prosper greatly economically and socially, and it would reward those who were hard working, and it would allow for protections for the minimum group.

3) Political status

People on the political left may also argue that Rawls' difference principle would not be chosen because it is not egalitarian enough. The difference principle allows for some economic inequality - some people are allowed to have more income and wealth than others, provided that it maximally benefits those in the worst-off group.

4) Unfairness

A person who is ill or has some other unfortunate circumstance has no greater claim to economic assistance than someone who is in the worst-off group because of laziness or choice.

5) Incomplete

It does not clearly settle problems of social justice: would parties opt for a single-payer health care system which covered everyone equally, or would they favor a two-tier system?


(Virtue Theory) = VT

A character trait that disposes one to act and feel in a way that is appropriate

Eudaimonia (VT)

Roughly translated as "flourishing" or "happiness", eudaimonia means supreme good.

Virtues are positive character traits that are necessary for eudaimonia, for leading a flourishing or happy life as a human being.

Doctrine of the Mean (VT)

Virtues exist as a mean between two extremes - one of excess, and one of deficiency.

i.e. for courage, the virtue is the means between cowardice and rashness

(3) Difficulties for Virtue Theory (VT)

1) Identifying the virtues

A life of relaxation is not a life that a virtuous person would choose, but that is debatable. What is a virtue is largely a matter of personal or cultural preference. Such putative virtues include humility, modesty, obedience, chastity, patriotism, etc.

2) Conflicts of virtues

What to do when virtues conflict? An ethic of principle is needed, but virtue theory might then become utilitarianism or Kantianism.

3) Can all of morality be reduced to living well?

Virtue theory mislocates the reason for a particular right or wrong action. The virtue theorist recommends honesty since it will lead to the agent leading a better, happier life than if one is dishonest. But surely that misses the principal reason why one ought to be honest. It is wrong to be dishonest because it is disrespectful to the person being misled. Same with compassion, etc.