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Notes on Relativism and Ethics

Notes on Relativism and Ethics

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Published by: ADM on Dec 29, 2009
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Taylor (11) Relativism

Idea that moral rules or standards are somehow relative to the attitudes of one\u2019s society or
group. Different ways to interpret this: (1) different societies do, in fact, accept different moral
codes (descriptive relativism); (2) each person ought to do what is dictated by his society\u2019s code
(normative ethical relativism); (3) There is no standard of reasoning about morality that is
independendent of the practices of particular societies (metaethical relativism).
(2) and (3) are grounded in (1). Diversity of behavior doesn\u2019t necessarily show that different
societies do disagree in their deepest moral convictions. Also, even if there is disagreement, it
remains possible that one is right and the other is wrong.

Subjectivism and Emotivism
Moore (9) Goodness as Simple and Indefinable

If goodness is property in natural world (e.g, tendency to make people happy), then we can use
empirical methods. If not natural, knowledge must take other form.
M believes goodness is neither a simple nor a composite natural property. Goodness is simple
and elemental, in terms of which other things are defined. \u201cIs pleasure good?\u201d differs from \u201cIs
pleasure pleasant?\u201d

Ross (10) Knowledge of Right and Wrong
We begin by directly recognizing that a certain act is right or wrong, and then go on to
generalize. Not sensory experience.
Ayer (12) Emotive theory of ethics

Ethical utterances are not attempts to state facts, and so are not capable of being either true or
false. Like cheers and boos. When we say this is wrong, we are merely expressing our
disapproval of lying. Verifiability prinicple. Any statement that is neither true by definition nor
verifiable throught the five senses is meaningless. Good and right cannot be defined. Ethical
utterances are meaningless.

Mackie (14) Subjectivity of Values
No objective values. Doesn\u2019t say ethical utterances lack cognitive means. Instead, they\u2019re false.
Basic question is whether values exist. Variations in moral codes.
Hume (20) Morality and Natural Sentiment
Reason supplies poor motives for ethics. Reason is slave to passion. Passion plays critical roles.
Projects feelings onto it. Anticipates Ayer\u2019s emotive theory. Distinction between natural and
artificial versions.
Religious Ethics
Plato (25) Euthyphro
Morality and gods. Not correct to assume moral lawgiver is divine. Acts are in themselves
Psychological Egoism
Feinberg (1) Psych Ego.

We never want or pursue anything except our own happiness or self\u00adinterest. F. says rarely
supported by empirical evidence. That my desires are my own says nothing about what I desire.
Altruism. F finds no good reason to accept Psych Ego.

Ethical Egoism
Plato (17) Ring of Gyges
Why be just, when we could feign justice and pursue honor and reward.
Hobbes (18) Morality and Self interest
Morality is grounded in self\u00adinterest. Justive, gratitude, etc, operate just to ward off strife.
Covenants without sword are just words. Government penalizes people.
Singer (19) Why act morally?

Nothing irrational about egoism. Reason provides no ends, but is means to end. Being moral
can be means to true happiness. Meaningful life may go beyond momentary pleasures.
Meaning in life may lead us to moral standpoint.

Moral Psychology
Aristotle (5) The Nature of Moral Virtue

The way people acquire a virtuous disposition. Merely theoretical knowledge makes us like
invalids who listen to doctor but don\u2019t do anything. We learn virtue by practicing it. Mean of
extremes. Weakness of will, whether and how a person who knows what he ought to do can do
something else.

Nietzsche (38) Beyond Morality

Traditional demands of morality grow out of civilization\u2019s need to suppress our more primal impulses. Desire of weak to protect themselves from strong. Especially true of utilitarians. Revaluation of values. Overman.

Bentham (34) Pleasure as the Good
Pleasure and the absence of pain are the only things that ultimately have any value. If anything

else is said to be good, it\u2019s only because it works toward pleasure. Questions: Do all pleasant experiences really involve a single kind of feeling? Is capcity to produce that feeling all that matters in friendship, knowledge, etc? Are malice and envy good because they produce the feeling.

Nozick (35) Experience Machine

Argues against view that pleasure and only pleasure matters to us. If pleasure was it, we\u2019d hook
ourselves up to machine. Refuse because people want to act in certain ways, be certain kind of
person, and be in contact with reality.

Epicurus (36) The Good Life

Whatever is pleasant, like Bentham, is good. Pleasure of friendship. No power or wealth
necessary, therefore in everyone\u2019s grasp. Happiness bound up with justice. Death is not to be
feared, since dead lack sensation.

Mill (26) Utilitarianism
Strive to produce as much overall happiness as possible. Consequences. Accept conflicting
principles. Happiness is only truly desirable thing, so it should be maximized.
Rawls (28) Classical Utilitarianism

Intuitive basis of utlitarianism. Just as individual tries to maximize his satisfactions over time, so
will society look to all its members. Problem: With individual, sacrifice pays off same person
later. With group, sacrifice means losers and gainers are different persons.

Ross (37) What Things are Good

Some things intrinsically good: virtue, pleausre, knowledge. Says place with is better than place
without, all other things being equal. Problem: How can pleasures of vicious be bad? Presence
of pleasure creates presumption of goodness. In some cases, presumption is outweighed by
other aspects of the situation. Goodness resembles prima facie rightness.

Kant (29) Morality and Rationality
Ordinary people know what\u2019s right and wrong. The good will, not consequences matter.
Categorical imperative is fundamental law of conduct. People are ends, not means.
Nagel (30) Moral Luck

Tension within our attitudes toward moral responsibility. Good will retains moral worth
whether it works or not. Worse to run red light and kill pedestrian than run red light and not
kill pedestrian. Moral luck. Person has no control over basic character traits and various
opportunitites. Must view ourselves as components of objective world, and subjective initiators

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