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Philosophical Issues- Course book in brief

Philosophical Issues- Course book in brief

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Published by Pooyan B.
Philosophical Issues - Coursebook and Exam material
Philosophical Issues - Coursebook and Exam material

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Published by: Pooyan B. on May 27, 2013
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The consequentialist ethical theories do not decide about the morality of an action based on the intentions of doing that action but according to the consequences of the action “what are the outcomes and results of this action?”

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Utilitarianism uses the Greatest Happiness Principle, which says the final goal, in any activity, is creating more happiness. According to Utilitarian ethics, “good” is what creates the most amount of happiness. So to understand which action is moral, the total amount of happiness that each action creates should be calculated. The action that creates the most amount of happiness is the right one. John Stuart Mill is one of the famous Utilitarianists. One of the advantageous of Utilitarianism is that it could explain animal rights and ethical issues about animals because animals could feel pain and pleasure (like human).


It is so hard to measure the amount of happiness and to compare it between different people and in different situations.  Jeremy Bentham proposed that Happiness is just “pleasure and absence of pain” and it doesn‟t matter what produces that pleasure or where it comes from. Bentham proposed some rules for comparing the amount of happiness in different actions according to the amount of pleasure it causes, its duration and the possibility that it creates further pleasures in the future.  According to Bentham, only the quantity of pleasure is important.  John Stuart Mill proposed that there are two different kinds of pleasure 1) Higher pleasure: which are intellectual pleasures (like philosophical thinking), and 2) Lower pleasures: which are mostly physical ones (like sex and eating). Mill then argued that higher pleasures are more important than lower pleasures and this should be considered when calculating the amount of pleasure of an action.  According to Mill, both quality and quantity of pleasure are important.  Mill‟s idea about Higher and Lower pleasure is elitist and it is in favor of intellectuals.

It is hard to understand what consequences of action should be considered when calculating the amount of happiness.(e.g. punishing a child may have a lot of long-term consequences and effects on his/her development and future life and it is hard to say what consequences should be considered). Utilitarianism may justify some actions that are not really moral.  Hanging an innocent person in front of others may be ethically right, because it causes other people not to break the law and the happiness that is created is more than the unhappiness of the innocent man who is being killed.  The experiment of Experience Machine: Imagine there is a machine that could create an unreal life, full of various pleasures. According to utilitarianism living in that unreal world should be better than living a real life in this world, but most of the people rejected this idea, saying that, it is important to them how the pleasure is produced (and not just the pleasure itself).  The utilitarianism may justify some immoral actions: If you owe one of your friends some money, and he/she doesn‟t remember, it could be ethical not to give his/her money back, because not returning the money makes you more happy (hopefully not!) and your friend would not be unhappy since he/she doesn‟t remember about the debt.

According to Negative Utilitarianism the best action is what creates the least total amount of unhappiness. The basic idea of negative Utilitarianism is that suffering less pain or having less unhappiness is more important than having and enjoying more happiness. Criticisms According to negative Utilitarianism the best action is what could reduce the pain and suffering of people most effectively (because it causes the least amount of unhappiness). So if all humans are killed all together (e.g. with an atomic bomb), then nobody would be alive to feel pain and this action is ethically acceptable. CHAPTER 3- POLITICS

Egalitarians are people who look for some kind of equality. Looking for equality always has an ethical reason, which could be the Christian belief that for God, all human beings are the same and so should be treated equally, or the Kantian idea than, we should treat all human beings equally because rationally it is our duty to do so, or the utilitarian belief that treating all human beings equally would create the maximum amount of happiness. There are three important kinds of equality that egalitarians look for: Equality in money distribution, employment, and political rights.


Some egalitarians argue that money should be equally given to any adult member of the society. This idea might be justified with the Utilitarianism, saying that giving everybody the same amount of money would create the maximum amount of happiness for everybody. Criticisms of equal distribution of money  Impractical and short-lived: First of all, it is not possible in practice, to take away all the money and properties of all members of a society and then equally distribute it between everybody and doing so (even if possible) would create a lot of problems within the society. Second, Even if the money is equally distributed in a society and everybody has the same amount of money, this would not last long, because different people would spend their money differently. Some would waste their money, some would keep their money, some would deceive others and get their money and so on.  Different people deserve different amounts of money: Different people do different jobs and make different contributions to the society and so they deserve different amounts of reward (money) for what they do. Some people do the most important jobs and help the society in many ways, so they may deserve more money for what they do. On the other hand money might be an important motivation for them to do the job.  Different people have different needs: Different people need different amounts of money because they have different needs. Some people might be ill and in need of expensive drugs.  No right to redistribute: Some philosophers like Robert Nozick have argued that each individual has the right to keep the properties that he/she has acquired legally and no one has the right to take them away and distribute them among others. According to these philosophers this action is not ethical, but they cannot clearly explain “why it is not ethical”?

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Equal opportunity of employment means equal chances of getting a job for those with relevant and enough skills for doing the job. However this is a kind of unequal treatment itself, because some people are more intelligent or talented than other people and would have higher chances of getting jobs. Egalitarians argue that people should be given jobs according to their abilities and qualifications and not based on their gender, ethnicity or race. Reverse Discrimination: Some egalitarians believe that giving equal chances of employment with no sexual or racial discrimination is not enough, and we should get rid of the existing unequalities in professions (e.g. there are much less female philosophy teachers in universities, or in corporation boards) by treating the job applicants differently in favor of those who have been previously discriminated. (e.g.

if a man and a woman wanted to get a job, and had equal skills, the woman should get the job, because women have been previously discriminated).  Reverse discrimination is supposed to be temporary (until the imbalances in professions are eliminated), and its purpose is to speed of the process of making the society more equal (in terms of employment and jobs). Criticisms of reverse discrimination  Anti-egalitarian: Some egalitarians believe that although be purposes of reverse discrimination are the right ones, but the way it tries to achieve these purposes is unfair and basically against the egalitarianism. They argue that no matter what the reasons are, it is not fair and acceptable to discriminate some people in favor of those who have been previously discriminated. A supporter of reverse discrimination may reply that, the current existing situation for discriminated people (e.g. for a woman who wants to become the head of a company or a fire fighter) is much more unfair than what is caused by reverse discrimination.  May lead to resentment: Some philosophers argue that reverse discrimination causes some people to lose their chances of employment unfairly, and in favor of some previously discriminated people (e.g. women or black people), and this will produce even more hate and prejudice against those discriminated people , especially if they fail to do the jobs efficiently.

Democracy is a way of giving all citizens an equal share in political decision making; however in practice all citizens do not have a chance of participation in political decisions, such as children, mentally ill people or immigrants.  Direct Democracy: In direct democracy, individual citizens directly discuss and decide about the political issues and no representatives are elected. This kind of democracy is only possible in small states with a small number of citizens. In larger states with a large number of citizens that too many different political decisions have to be made, this kind of democracy is not practical. (All citizens should become politicians in order to discuss and decide about complicated political issues!).  Representative Democracy: In this form of democracy all citizens take part in electing some representatives and the elected representatives will make the political decisions.  In some countries representatives are elected based on the majority of votes, and in some other countries (like in Britain) the one with the highest number of votes is elected. Criticisms of Democracy  Democracy is an illusion: Some philosophers like Karl Marx, have argued that democracy is no more than an illusion because: 1) There is no guarantee that the elected representatives will act as they promised in their speeches and they might be selected just through good skills in speech-making. 2) Mostly the candidates for elections are not much different and people don‟t have a real choice of selecting

their representative (they could just select one of the candidates who are mostly the same and are supported by rich corporations). Voters are not experts: Some other philosophers like Plato have argued that making a political decision or choosing the right political representatives need a lot of knowledge that most voters don‟t have and this may result in wrong decisions or selecting the wrong political representatives. Supporters of democracy may reply that citizens should be educated in order to solve this problem. The paradox of democracy: Sometimes the decisions that are made by the majority of citizens according to democratic principles may conflict with an individual‟s personal ethics or beliefs. (e.g. citizens of a religious state may vote for killing some atheist people, which might seem immoral to some of the individuals).


Isaiah Berlin has proposed two main forms of freedom: Negative freedom: If you are not forced to do (or not to do) something or to behave in a particular way, then you have negative freedom. (e.g. if you are obliged not to drink alcohol or to dress in a particular way, then your negative freedom is restricted).  Most governments restrict the freedom of people to some extent, stating that this is needed for their own protection. If people were free to do whatever they wanted, a lot of problems would be created.  Some philosophers like John Stuart Mill have argued that the people should be free to do whatever they want, unless what they do is harmful for other people. Criticisms of negative freedom  What counts as harm? At many situations, it might be hard to define and decide what harm is. For example, are hurting other people‟s emotions or offending others considered to be harm? Even some people might be offended by the life style or religious beliefs of other people. However, Mill argued that taking offence is not a serious harm, but deciding what is a serious harm and what is not might be hard at times. Positive freedom: You have positive freedom, when you are in fact controlling what is happening in your own life. Some philosophers have argued that having control on our decisions and our lives is far more important than the notion of negative freedom.  In this view, an alcohol addict is not a free person, because it is the alcohol that controls his/her behaviors.  Supporters of negative freedom, argue that even though an alcoholic person might make foolish decisions and waste his/her life, but no one has the right to force him/her to live in a better way, because this violates his/her negative freedom.  Isaiah Berlin have also mentioned that positive freedom could be simply abused by governments and political powers to force people into certain behaviors or limit their freedom, and such abuses of positive freedom are numerous in the history.


All human beings have both mental and physical aspects. Mental aspects include thinking, emotions, decision making, imagination and so on. Physical aspects include the body parts and organs. The mind/body problem tries to explain the relationship between mind and body. Some philosophers believe that mind and body are completely separate and different things and each person has a mind and a body. This perspective is known as dualism. On the other hand, some other philosophers believe that mind is actually a part of body and each person has a body which also includes the mind. This view towards the mind/body problem is known as the physicalism.

Dualism includes the belief that mind and body are different in their nature. Body has a physical existence; however mind is a nonphysical substance. They propose than the mental activities such as thinking, emotions and decision making are different from the activity of the brain.  Mind/body dualism is important to people who believe in the afterlife. This idea supposes that human beings are not just physical beings, but they also have a nonphysical part (the mind) that will be alive after death. Religions have named this non-physical mind „the soul”.  Rene Descartes is one of the most famous mind/body dualists.  One of the reasons for believing in dualism is the complexity of human mind and the idea that body cannot produce such amazingly complex patterns. Criticisms of Dualism  Cannot be scientifically investigated: One of the problems with dualism is that a non-physical mind cannot be studied or observed directly with scientific methods. And just knowing the fact that a non-physical mind exists does not really help the understanding of what it is and how it works.  Supporters of dualism may reply that we could investigate and study this nonphysical mind, through introspection (exploring and considering our own thoughts)  Evolution: It is generally accepted that human being has come to existence as a result of evolution. But it is hard to explain how the physical mind has come into existence. How could primitive creatures (e.g. amoebae) that did not have a mind, evolve into creatures that suddenly had a non-physical mind (humans)?  Supporters of dualism may reply that even those primitive creatures have a little mind and this limited mind has evolved along with the physical body. Some believe that even physical objects have some sort of mind, and are known as panpsychists.  Interaction: The most serious problem of dualism is to explain how a non-physical mind could interact with a physical body. It is clear that the mind can create bodily movements (e.g. you can think about moving your head and then moving it) or the bodily sensations could create thoughts and mental states (e.g. you feel pain in your

body and you feel it). So if the body and the mind are so closely related to each other, why do we need to consider mind as a separate thing? It contradicts a basic scientific principle: Another problem of the dualism is that it contradicts a basic principle of science, which says “any change in an object can be explained by a physical event that has caused it. But according to dualism, mind is a non-physical thing that can make changes in the physical body and in this sense many of the physical body activities would not have a physical cause.


Dualism without interaction: Mind/Body parallelism: To solve the problem of mind/body interaction, some dualists have argued that there is in fact no interaction between mind and body at all. This view is known as psychophysical parallelism and states that mind and body are separate things with no interaction. So if you cut your finger and feel pain, the injury and the feeling of pain has nothing to do with each other. It is God who has arranged everything so that these events happen to be at the same time (which creates the illusion that the feeling of pain is caused by the injury while in fact it is not- According to parallelism!!). Occasionalism: Occasionalism argues that there is a link between mind and body, but this link is God. In fact, when you cut your finger, God creates the feeling of pain in your mind and this is how the two events are connected. Or when you decide to shoot someone with a gun, God will in fact shoot him/her!! Epiphenomenalism: This approach states that physical events can actually create mental events (e.g. when you cut your finger your mind can feel the pain), but mental events can never create physical events (e.g. you cannot move your head by thinking about it or deciding to do so). In this sense mind is an epiphenomenon and our ability to control our body is no more than an illusion. The problem with this view is that it obviously denies the existence of free will. Another problem is that why physical events can create mental events, but not vice versa.

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