Int r od uct io n t o Phi lo sop hy

Moral Philosophy- beginners

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 What is Moral Philosophy concerned with?  Making moral choices, how we decide what is moral/immoral, right and wrong  What do we and society see as the ‘correct’ values to have?  The topic of right and wrong action is perhaps the most important single issue in the discipline of philosophy, Ted Honderich

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 Moral Philosophers look at reasons behind decisions about what is right and wrong and debate whether these reasons are justified.  If we don’t have good enough reasons against x, then we don’t have any real justification in condemning it.

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 The problem:  Morality as a ‘matter of taste’ (subjective morality) vs moral standards (objective morality)  Society needs certain standards of behaviour to run smoothly. If morality as a ‘matter of opinion’ is correct, then laws are no more than a method of social control.

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 I BELIEVE THAT TORTURING CHILDREN IS WRONG. I’M SURE YOU DO TOO.  HOWEVER, IS THIS SOME OBJECTIVE FACT THAT IT IS WRONG, OR IS IT JUST THAT WE BOTH FEEL THAT IT IS WRONG?  THIS IS A PRIME EXAMPLE OF THE MORAL FACTS DEBATE.  DOES IT MAKE SENSE TO SAY THAT SOME MORAL JUDGEMENTS ARE TRUE AND SOME ARE FALSE?

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 ‘Murder is wrong’  Think of facts to prove whether this is true or false.  Part of the problem about whether we can say moral statements are true or false is that we are talking about what we OUGHT to do. This means making value judgements and some people say this is totally different from making factual decisions, Mel Thompson, ‘Philosophy: An Introduction’

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 G.E. Moore (18731958) and Hume (1711-1776) both said that there is NO OUGHT FROM IS.  Facts say what is  Values say what ought to be  How can we get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 Hume:  Said our moral attitudes couldn’t come from matters of fact experience) as we could have knowledge of all the facts and still not react e.g. we could have knowledge of someone being tortured and not react  You would think most people would react and try and stop it.  Hume says this is not due to our knowledge but to our human nature

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 OBJECTIVISM: the belief that a moral statement is true or false. Thus moral statements can be judged objectively.  Objectivists need to explain what makes a moral statement true or false.  Main theories that attempt to do this:  Theological Moral Realism, Teleological Account and the Utilitarian Account.

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 THEOLOGICAL MORAL REALISM:  Moral judgements are true or false by virtue of how they fit in with God’s will.  Simple- if it fits in with God’s will it is TRUE, if not it is FALSE.  PROBLEMS:  God’s existence, what is God’s will and the Euthyphro dilemma

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 (i) God’s existence- see metaphysics! Problem with this theory if you don’t believe God exists! Dostoyevsky, ‘If God doesn’t exist then anything is permitted’  (ii) God’s will- How do we know for sure what this is? The Bible?  (iii) EUTHYPRO DILEMMA- even if you do believe in God and believe you know what God wants there is STILL a problem!

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 EUTHYPRO- name of the writings where Plato discusses this problem  DILEMMA- EITHER GOD FORBIDS SOMETHING BECAUSE IT IS MORALLY WRONG, OR IT IS MORALLY WRONG BECAUSE GOD FORBIDS IT  If God forbids it because it is morally wrong, things are right or wrong independent of God. There is already a reason for it being wrong, God just agrees, so why do we need God for morality?

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 OR: It is morally wrong because God forbids it. What is right or wrong seem to be dependent on what God feels like. So God could have made murder morally right, and on this view it would have been.

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 Teleological Account:  Moral judgements are true or false by virtue of how they fit in with HUMAN NATURE.  Those who believe this think that human nature is aiming towards something and that there are certain universal features of human nature.  THIS MEANS THAT CERTAIN THINGS WILL BE BAD FOR EVERYONE

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
Teleological account Aristotle had a particular view of human nature Thought that everyone wanted to ‘flourish’. Only a certain way of living lets us flourish  Aristotle thought that the good life for humans would involve virtuous action and practical wisdom. This would lead to well being. Ted Honderich   

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 Eudaimonia- ‘having a good guardian spirit’, the state of having an objectively desirable life (universally agreed). Different from modern ‘happiness’ (subjective)

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 Ted Honderich, ‘Aristotle thought that the good life for humans would involve virtuous action and practical wisdom. This would lead to well being’  Plato: morality is sufficient for eudaimonia, Aristotle: external goods (fortune) are also necessary.  Virtue= being able to feel and act in the right way at the right time, e.g. feeling generous to a poor person and giving them money, Nigel Warburton

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 Problems with the teleological account of morality:  Different views on what true human nature is and what it is aiming towards.  Do we really understand human nature?  What features do all human beings have in common?  Even if we bring biology into it, it's not clear that biology has anything to do with morality.

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 Utilitarian account of morality  MORAL JUDGEMENTS ARE TRUE OR FALSE BY VIRTUE OF HOW MUCH PAIN AND PLAESURE THEY BRING.  WHATEVER PRODUCES THE GREATEST AMOUNT OF HAPPINNESS FOR THE GREATEST NUMBER IS GOOD.  PAIN AND PLAESURE= OBJECTIVE AND MEASURABLE

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 So a community could get together and decide whether an action has contributed to the greatest overall happiness or not.  HOWEVER, this makes moral decisions depend on which community you live in. So you can know what is right/wrong in your society, but it will not necessarily be the same in every society. Adam Morton

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 Problems with utilitarianism:  Can we calculate happiness? Is it short or long term happiness? What levels of consequences do we take into account? Are pleasure/pains what we should use to decide whether n action is right/wrong (KANT WOULD DISAGREE)  Will the decisions be objective? Community ideas differ. Yet it is thought that objective facts about morality do not change. If murder is wrong, then surely it is ALWAYS WRONG

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 SUBJECTIVISM  Subjectivists believe moral statements are neither true or false, but subjective  Subjectivists have to explain what moral judgements are for. What are we doing when we make a moral judgement?  Subjectivism is a form of MORAL RELATIVISM  Moral relativism- different value systems in different communities, no true moral standards.

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 Does the existence of moral disagreement prove subjectivism is true?  NO!  Ted Honderich ‘There is disagreement in other fields of study e.g. History, but that does not mean people call into question the objective occurrence of historical events’.

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 Different forms of subjectivism: emotivism and prescriptivism  EMOTIVISM: Moral judgements do not describe a factual state of affairs, moral judgements are only expressions of taste

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 Emotivism seems appealing as it allows people to hold their own values independently of what people think.  People have different tastes in music so why not in morality?  Emotivists believe there is no way to prove moral statements are true or false  Emotivism linked with LOGICAL POSITVISMstatements only meaningful if they could be verified.

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 EMOTIVISM  A.J. Ayer (1910-1989) A moral claim such as ‘house breaking’ is wrong is literally meaningless. It is not true by definition and cannot be proved true by observation. It is merely an expression of personal taste  Emotivism often called the ‘hurrah-boo’ theory of morality. Statements of moral belief are no more than grunts of approval/disapproval

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 PRESCRIPTIVISM- similar to emotivism, denies that moral judgements have a truth value  Different to emotivists as they say moral statements are more than just expressions of emotion  Moral statements should be taken as prescriptions or advice  Of course advice varies from person to person

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 Problems with forms of moral relativism:  How do you deal with atrocities such as the HOLOCAUST, Bosnia, Dunblane shootings etc. Most people feel outrage at these things, a subjectivist HAS NOTHING TO JUSTIFY THIS OUTRAGE.  If you met someone who approved of the Dunblane killings would you be willing to say that you just disagreed with them because of personal taste?

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 THE FREE WILL AND DETERMINISM DEBATE  HUGE PROBLEM- (i) metaphysical and empirical and (ii) ethical and attitudinal  (i) METAPHYSICAL and EMPIRICAL- Are human choices and actions causally determined or free?  (ii) ETHICAL AND ATTITUDINAL- Implications for our moral, personal and social lives

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 What is determinism?  A serious threat to ethics!  The thesis that ALL our mental states and acts (choices and decisions) and all our actions are EFFECTS NECESSITATED BY PRECEDING CAUSES

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 Determinism:  Since its ‘all in the genes’ then ethics is futile!  Our actions are fixed- we’re just doing as we’re programmed to  So are we just large mammals made according to a genetic master plan about which we can doing nothing?

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 DETERMINISM:  Moral education may be hopeless as it fights against a fixed nature.  We can enforce a ban on long hair, but we can’t on growing hair altogether! (we’re programmed to grow hair)  Determinism= it’s not up to us, we’re just programmed that way

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 DETERMINISM:  Monastic order that forbids sexual desire: cannot be obeyed as it’s just NOT UP TO US IF WE FEEL SEXUAL DESIRE OR NOT.  Hormones just boil and sexual desires bubbles up  CHEMICAL INSTRUCTIONS ARE GENETICALLY ENCODED

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 Maybe we can TRY to control it:  Yoga and drugs!  Usually any INJUNCTION NOT TO FEEL DESIRE IS USELESS!  Question: are all ‘moral rules’ similarly futile because of this genetic pre-programming?

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 SIMON BLACKBURN (Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge) says NO!  Whatever our genetic make-up programs us to do, there is room for ‘INPUT RESPONSIVENESS’

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 Input-responsiveness:  Leaves us room to vary our behaviour in response to what we feel/touch/see.  Leaves us to vary our desires in accordance with what we learn  Leaves us room to be influenced by information from and attitudes of others  Blackburn ‘it makes us responsive to the moral climate’

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 Blackburn: ‘ genetics programs us to be flexible’ !  Inflexible traits (growing hair) are NOT INPUT RESPONSIVE as no matter what we believe or feel the hair will go on growing.  Our beliefs/desires are NOT LIKE THATthey vary with the moral climate

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 So a child may be disposed to become kind and loving in a kind loving environment, vicious and aggressive in a vicious and aggressive one  Leads back to nature/nurture debate

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 REMEMBER-What does determinism imply?  Our futures are in fact FIXED and unalterable just as the past is.  Truth/falsity of thesis depends upon our NATURES, not upon desires/hopes/feelings.

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 What is metaphysical freedom?  NOT BEING COMPLETELY GOVERNED BY DETERMINISTIC CAUSAL LAWS.  Those who support it say: THERE ARE NO LAWS, WHETHER OF MIND OR BRAIN OR BOTH THAT COMPLETELY SETTLE WHAT WE WILL CHOOSE TO DO.  Also- we have a kind of power to choose which path the future will take (free will)

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 Why freedom and determinism is important for moral philosophers:  We assume that we can only hold people morally responsible for what they CHOOSE to do (free actions)  Usually we are excused from doing x if we can prove that we had NO CHOICE in doing x (we couldn’t have done otherwise)

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 FREEWILL AND DETERMINISM ADVANCED  Some philosophers (incompatibilists) believe that if determinism is true it:  Destroys moral responsibility, undermines personal relationships and ruins all our life hopes as it makes ACTIONS UNFREE.  Thus they believe that freedom and determinism are INCOMPATIBLE

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 FREEWILL AND DETERMINISM ADVANCED  Incompatibilsts who ALSO believe DETERMINISM IS FALSE believe that some actions are morally responsible are termed libertarians  INCOMPATIBILISTS who also believe that DETERMINISM IS TRUE, thus moral responsibility is an ILLUSION- ‘hard determinists’ ( like William James)

Mo ral Ph il osophybegin ners
 FREEWILL AND DETERMINISM ADVANCED  Compatibilists- determinism has NO EFFECT ON FREEDOM AND MORAL RESPONSIBILITY. Freedom and determinism are compatible.  Some of these philosophers do not believe in determinism, and if it is true they think that it doesn’t imply that we are NOT FREE AND RESPONSIBLE.

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