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Critical Thinking Lecture 13 Moral Arguments


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Title: Critical Thinking Lecture 13 Moral Arguments

Critical ThinkingLecture 13Moral Arguments
  • By David Kelsey

Moral Evaluations
  • Value claim (also called value judgments)
  • non-factual claims that assert that some moral
    property is instantiated in some object or action
    or event.
  • A moral argument is one which asserts as its
    conclusion a value claim.
  • Example

Deriving Moral Value Judgments
  • We cannot derive or infer a value claim from
    merely factual claims.
  • Elliots father example we might argue that
    Elliots father depends upon Elliot so Elliot
    ought to take care of his father.
  • The problem
  • Where does the ought come from?
  • So if we are trying to infer a value claim, at
    least one of the supporting propositions must be
    a value claim.
  • So to justifiably infer that Elliot should take
    care of his father
  • from Elliots father depends upon Elliot we need
    a moral principle that links the 2 claims.

Critiquing moral reasoning
  • What if we come across a moral argument we
    disagree with?
  • If you agree with the facts but disagree with the
    conclusion then what should you try to show
  • How do you show a moral principle false?
  • An example
  • Abortion is unnatural. Thus, it ought not be
  • How do we show this argument is unsound?

A note aboutRelativism
  • Moral relativism A very popular view in ethics
    is moral relativism.
  • Confusion often times, the following 2 claims
    are confused
  • 1. What is believed to be right and wrong may
    differ from group to group, society to society,
    or culture to culture.
  • 2. What is right and wrong may differ from group
    to group, society to society, or culture to
  • Which claim is Moral relativism?

Problems with Moral Relativism
  • Problems with Moral Relativism
  • Arent there some moral principles that are
    universal or nearly so?
  • True and False
  • No correct answers
  • Settling Disagreements
  • It is counterintuitive.

Ethics its three areas
  • The Discipline of Ethics can be divided into
    three sub-disciplines, which together comprise it
  • They are

Normative Ethics
  • Normative Ethics
  • Is it first, second or third order ethics?
  • Here we aim to find the answer to the question
  • What ought I do? Or What is the right thing to
  • Here we look for a moral principle.
  • Here we also aim to construct general guidelines
    for the making of a moral judgment.

Applied Ethics
  • Applied Ethics
  • Is it first, second or third order ethics?
  • Here we look to specific cases in which we must
    determine what the right action or the
    permissible action is.
  • We can then apply a moral principle to the
    specific situation. So what we need is a moral
    principle to guide our action.
  • Here we ______ moral judgments.

  • Meta-ethics
  • Is it first, second or third order ethics?
  • The study of the nature of ______________.
  • Here we ask
  • What are moral judgments?
  • Here we analyze the concept of a moral judgment.

Normative ethics
  • Normative Ethics aims to provide a set of
    guidelines for making moral judgments.
  • In this class we will look at four such sets of
  • They are
  • Divine Command Theory
  • Utilitarianism
  • Deontology
  • Virtue Theory

Divine Command Theory
  • Divine Command Theory morality and moral duties
    are set by God.
  • God has certain commandments he gives.
  • Followers of this view derive their understanding
    of his commandments by interpreting religious
  • The difficulty of Interpretation
  • How should Thou shalt not kill be interpreted?
  • Hard cases
  • A Paradox
  • Is what is right as such because God deems it so?
  • Did God deem what is right as such because it is

  • John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
  • He was the greatest 19th century defender of
  • He was a child prodigy.
  • Defended womens suffrage.

  • The greatest happiness principle
  • Actions are right in proportion as they tend to
    promote happiness,
  • wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of
  • Or

Utilitarianismits two parts
  • Any version of Utilitarianism (including Mills
    version) is composed of two other views
  • Consequentialism
  • We determine whether an act is right or wrong by
    looking at its ____________.
  • Causes and effects
  • Hedonism
  • This tells us what makes for a better or worse
    (good or bad) _____________.
  • Good
  • Bad

  • Consequentialism To determine whether or not an
    action is right
  • weigh the good consequences of doing the action
    against the bad consequences of doing it.
  • And do the same for refraining from performing
    the action.
  • Sorting good from bad
  • To determine whether or not an action is right
    one must be able to sort the good consequences
    from the bad consequences.
  • Defining the good then the Right Thus,
    Consequentialist moral theories, like
  • first define the good then they define the right.
    The right thing is whatever produces the most of
    whatever is good.

  • Other ways to define Consequentialism
  • Between two actions, perform the one that has
    better consequences.
  • The end justifies the means.
  • The consequences of an action can justify the
    action itself.
  • Thus, if harming someone will somehow cause more
    good overall than bad, a Consequentialist would
    do what?

  • Hedonism
  • says that a good thing is one that adds to the
    sum total of human happiness.
  • Happiness
  • Unhappiness
  • Hedonism Happiness
  • What makes something, anything and not just life,
    good is the amount of happiness it produces.
  • Happiness is the only non-derivative good
  • Other things like money, knowledge, fulfilling
    personal relationships, etc. are

Problems for Utilitarianism
  • 1. Hedonism is degrading
  • if a pig can live a life completely satisfied,
    while a morally concerned and thoughtful man like
    Socrates cannot ever be so satisfied, isnt the
    life of the pig preferable?
  • Reply Higher vs. Lower pleasures
  • 2. Problems with the Utilitarian calculation
  • Who do we include in our calculation all those
    whose interests are effected family only, local
    community what about animals future generations
  • How do we even calculate pleasure and pain?
    Assigning numeric values? Calculating my
    pleasure vs. yours
  • Reply We estimate
  • 3. Utilitarianism is too demanding
  • if we really followed Utilitarianism we would
    have to leave our lives to go help cure world
  • Reply We know what makes us happy

More problems for Utilitarianism
  • 4. Utilitarianism ignores the distinctness of
  • It asks us to make trade offs between people?
  • Killing one to save others
  • 5. Utilitarianism and Promises
  • For a Utilitarian, you ought to keep a promise if
    and only if doing so will produce more please and
    less pain than not keeping it. Is this really
    why we keep a promise though?
  • 6. The scapegoat
  • A Utilitarian wouldn't have a problem blaming an
    innocent person for a crime he didnt commit if
    it were, for example, to prevent a riot or

The fatal flaw of Utilitarianism
  • The problem with Utilitarianism
  • a Utilitarian would tell you to kill an innocent
    if it meant the production of more pleasure than
  • The real problem the Utilitarian puts the good
    before the right
  • As long as you do this, critics argue, no act is
    always morally wrong.
  • Some critics argue that the only way to solve
    this problem is to put the ______ before the
  • Moral theories that do this are called

  • Right Before Good Rather than put the good
    before the right, Deontological moral theories
    put the _____________.
  • Deontological theories do not
  • first specify some good and then determine what
    is right by asking what will maximize that good.
  • Instead, Deontological theories
  • Determine what is right through some other
    method, and direct you to do it irrespective of
    the actions _________________.
  • But Deontological theories dont think
    consequences dont matter.
  • They think consequences are not the only thing
    that matters.
  • So morality sometimes requires you to

  • Deontologists like rules.
  • A rule tells us whether an action is right or
    wrong just on the basis of what kind of action it
    is, rather than on the basis of its consequences.
  • For example, Never kill the innocent.
  • Would this be a good rule?
  • Or the Golden Rule Act the way you would like
    everyone to act.
  • What about this one?

Immanuel Kant
  • There are many deontological theories but by far
    the most influential was that presented by
    Immanuel Kant.
  • Kant was born in Konigsberg in 1724 in what was
    then Germany.
  • He lived in Konigsberg his entire life and he was
    never married.
  • Widely regarded as one of the most influential
    and important philosophers of all time.

Kants picture
  • Personhood Kants moral theory stems from his
    view of personhood.
  • For Kant, a person is just an agent.
  • An agent is rational
  • To be rational is to be capable of guiding ones
    own behavior on the basis of reasons, directives
    and principles.
  • So to be rational is to act for reasons or by
  • What are reasons and principles?
  • Will the capacity an agent has to act for
    reasons, to follow laws.
  • It is a power within us.
  • Beliefs, desires and intentions

Kants freedom of the will
  • Freedom
  • A person is free when bound only by her own will
    and not by the will of another.
  • We can be commanded only by our own wills.
  • Freedom as a first cause
  • Freedom (and rationality) consists in seeking to
    be the first cause of ones actions wholly and
    completely through the exercise of ones own
  • Her actions then express her own will.
  • The authority of the principles binding her will
    is then also not external to her will.
  • Kant then gives us the ________________ as this
    binding principle.

The Categorical Imperative
  • Binding our will So the Categorical imperative
    is supposed to bind our wills.
  • Binding us to being rational The CI binds our
    wills by binding us to being free rational.
  • A how to guide to being rational

The Categorical Imperative
  • Not Hypothetical The categorical imperative is
    not hypothetical.
  • A Hypothetical imperative is conditional on some
    want or desire.
  • For example, If you want to go to heaven do X.
  • Doesnt depend on desires A categorical
    imperative does not depend on your wants or
  • it simply commands you to do X, ___________.

Putting the right before the good
  • Since the categorical imperative is categorical
  • It commands you to act irrespective of the
    consequences of your actions.
  • This is what it means for Kants theory to put
    the _______ before the _______.

The Categorical Imperative
  • So what is the categorical imperative?
  • Different formulations
  • We will focus on the one known as the formula of
    the end in itself.
  • Act in such a way that you always treat
    humanity, whether in your own person or in the
    person of any other, never simply as a means but
    always at the same time as an end.

The Formula of the End in itself
  • The Categorical Imperative
  • Act in such a way that you always treat humanity,
    whether in your own person or in the person of
    any other, never simply as a means but always at
    the same time as an end.
  • Means vs. Mere Means Kant does not say that you
    should never use another person as a means!
  • We do this all the time.
  • Examples.
  • He says never treat them as a mere means
  • So if we treat someone as a means make sure to
    treat them as an end in themselves respect them
    as an agent with ends of her own.

Whats wrong with punishing an innocent person
for Kant?
  • An objection to Utilitarianism
  • Recall that one objection to Utilitarianism is
    that it could permit or even require you to
    punish an innocent person in order to prevent a
    riot and thereby save many other lives.
  • Whats wrong with this according to Kant?

The Good Will
  • The Good will Kant thought that the only thing
    good without qualification is a good will.
  • Acting for the sake of duty Kant thought that
    for one to act for the right reasons he must act
    always for the sake of duty.
  • One acts for the sake of duty when
  • she performs some action X and her reason for
    performing x is merely that it is what the moral
    law prescribes her to do.
  • The good person What makes a good person good is
    his possession of a will that is determined by
    the moral law

Kants theory in action
  • Costco Example, False Promises other examples

To sum up
  • So the big picture for the Kantian looks like
  • Following the Categorical Imperative gets you the
  • 1.
  • 2.
  • 3.
  • But following the categorical imperative isnt
  • To be a truly good person you must do what the
    categorical imperative tells you to do just
    because it is Right.

Problems for Kants Theory
  • So why we cant just opt out of rationality
  • Why not live like the animals?
  • Plausible responses
  • Its rational to be rational?
  • Can we say this though?
  • Another problem
  • Kants view of morality stems from the notion of
    a person.
  • Why should this be our starting point?
  • A third problem
  • What are our obligations to non-rational animals?

Problems for Kants theory
  • Acting for the sake of the moral law
  • makes the agent seem cold and heartless.
  • Say you go to visit your friend in the hospital.
  • She is very sick. So you bring her some flowers
    and a get well card. You say hello and chat with
    her for a while. Then you stay for a bit while
    she sleeps
  • She then asks you why did you come to see me
  • For Kant, to be a truly good person what will
    your answer have to be?

  • Lived from 384-322 B.C.
  • A student of Plato who surpassed his master.
  • Thought to be the greatest philosopher ever.
  • Writings include
  • The Nicomachean Ethics, Metaphysics, Categories,
    Physics and many others.
  • Developed virtue ethics.

Virtue ethics
  • Right Action
  • for Aristotle, some action X is the right thing
    to do if and only if X is what a virtuous person
    would do in those circumstances.
  • A virtuous person is virtuous

  • A virtue is a kind of excellence of character.
  • Virtue and Function A virtue is the state of
    character which makes a man good and which makes
    him do his own work well.
  • A virtue is a state in which a man functions

Examples of Virtues
  • Some of the virtues include
  • Courage. When one is fearful or confident
  • Pride (regarding ones honor and dishonor)
  • Good tempered (with regard to anger).
  • Others?

The virtues
  • Virtues and the soul
  • Virtues are a way the soul is (being states of
  • They must be in the right kind and in the right

Excess and defect
  • Excess and Defect It is in the nature of things
    to be destroyed by excess or defect.
  • Both excessive and defective exercise destroys
    the strength, and similarly drink or food which
    is above or below a certain amount destroys the
    health, while that which is proportionate both
    produces and increases and preserves it. So too
    is it, then, in the case of temperance and
    courage and the other virtues. (579)

The mean and the doctrineof the mean
  • Intermediate Every virtue is an intermediate
    between some excess and defect.
  • So acting virtuously is acting according to the
    mean. Never too much excess, nor too much defect
    with regard to a state of character.
  • an intermediate between excess and defectthat
    which is equidistant from each of the
    extremesneither too much nor too little.
  • For instance, if ten is many and two is few, six
    is the intermediate (581)

The mean is relative
  • Relative But the mean isnt always the same for
    everyone. The mean is always relative to the
    individual and her circumstances.
  • For if ten pounds are too much for a particular
    person to eat and two too little, it does not
    follow that the trainer will order six pounds
    for this is also perhaps too much for the person
    who is to take it, or too little ()
  • Thus a master of any art avoids excess and
    defect, but seeks the intermediate and chooses
    this--the intermediate not in the object but
    relatively to us.
  • In feeling fear, confidence, desire, anger,
    pity, and in general pleasure and pain, one can
    feel too much or too little and both extremes
    are wrong. The mean and good is feeling at the
    right time, about the right things, in relation
    to the right people, and for the right reason
    (NE 2.6)

The mean is relative
  • So the mean is relative to the individual and her
  • For example, bravery lies on a mean between
    extremes of fear and confidence.
  • Too much fear and not enough confidence ?
  • Too much confidence and too little fear ?
  • But the brave act doesnt lie precisely in the
    middle of extremes. This depends on the

The Doctrine of the MeanExamples
  • So every virtue is the mean between some excess
    and some defect. For example
  • Courage the mean between rashness and
  • Pride the mean between empty vanity and undue
  • Good temperament the mean between irascibility
    and in-irascibility
  • Truthfulness the mean between boastfulness and
  • Friendliness the mean between flattery and

The virtuous agent
  • The Virtuous agent For Aristotle, being a
    virtuous agent isnt just doing the virtuous
  • One must get pleasure in acting justly for an
    action to count as a just act at all.

The second requirement
  • Another requirement
  • To be virtuous ones appetitive soul mustn't lead
    one away from doing the virtuous thing.
  • The appetitive soul that part of the soul which
    brings about desires and impulses that pull one
    away from acting rationally
  • The virtuous agent is neither continent nor
  • The continent man does the virtuous thing but
  • The incontinent man doesnt do the virtuous
  • So your motivation must be pure!

Education Training
  • Training Education To be a virtuous agent
    takes training and education.
  • Hence we ought to be brought up in a particular
    way from our very youth, as Plato says, so as
    both to delight in and to be pained by the things
    that we ought for this is the right education.
  • Experience Being virtuous takes experience in
    the real world. Putting oneself in situations
    where she learns to act virtuously.
  • Habit Being virtuous is acting virtuously out of

Objections to Virtue Ethics
  • First objection
  • Virtue ethics is too vague and unclear to be
    action guiding.
  • Virtue ethics tells us to do whatever the
    virtuous agent would do.
  • But how are we supposed to understand what a
    virtuous agent would do?
  • The response
  • Rules that include the virtues

The Second objectionDemandingness
  • The second objection
  • The demands that virtue ethics makes are too
  • No one can live up to them, except maybe Mother
    Theresa or Jesus.
  • To be truly virtuous one must
  • 1.
  • 2.
  • 3.
  • Who could ever live up to these standards?

The third objection
  • The final objection Conflicting virtues
  • Wont there be cases, such as moral dilemmas, in
    which the requirements of different virtues
    conflict because they point in opposing
  • What do we do when virtues conflict?
  • Examples
  • The response
  • Apparent conflicts only

  • Bernard Williams (1929-2003) was a British
  • Was a great admirer of Mill, but not himself a
  • Like Mill, however, he wanted to apply his
    philosophical views to form public policy.

Applying our moral theoriesMoral Dilemmas
Moral Diliberation
  • So far we have looked at a few Ethical Theories,
    including both Utilitarianism and Deontology.
  • Now well look at how these theories can apply to
    specific moral situations.
  • Moral dilemmas are specific cases in which it is
    hard to tell what one ought to do.
  • Intuitions and moral dilemmas
  • The Williams Dilemma In this class we will look
    at a specific moral dilemma.
  • The dilemma will test our intuitions about what?

George the Chemist
  • George gets to choose between these actions
  • A. working to make chemical weapons.
  • B. Being unemployed.
  • Their consequences
  • A.
  • B.
  • What should George do? What would you do?

Some things to notice
  • George is in a tough position-thats why it is a
    moral dilemma.
  • Changing the case to make things easier doesnt
    help--thats just changing the topic.
  • Changing the case to make things harder is ok.

Jim and Pedro
  • Jim gets to choose between these actions
  • A. Killing one of the villagers himself.
  • B. Not killing anyone.
  • Their consequences
  • A.
  • B.
  • What should Jim do? What would you do?

Utilitarianismand the dilemmas
  • In both of our dilemmas
  • Option (a)
  • leads to the best consequences available, but
    involves doing something morally repugnant.
  • Option (b)
  • leads to less good consequences, but you get to
    have a clean conscience.
  • Utilitarians seem to have to choose which option?
  • And Deontologists would choose which option?

Williams on negative responsibility
  • Utilitarianism and Moral responsibility
  • According to Williams, Utilitarianism entails the
    notion of negative responsibility
  • If I am ever responsible for anything, then I
    must be just as much responsible for things that
    I allow or fail to prevent, as I am for things
    that I myselfbring about. (591) (596 also!)
  • Thus, for a Utilitarian, should Jim refrain from
    killing the 1 Indian, he is morally responsible
    and so blameworthy for ____________________.
  • And should George not take the job, he is
    responsible for ____________________.

Williams on responsibility
  • Williams and Moral Responsibility
  • For Williams, Jim is only morally responsible for
    his own actions, not for Pedros. So Jim cant
    be blamed for what Pedro does.
  • And George is only morally responsible for his
    actions, not for those of whoever will take the
    chemical weapons job if he doesnt take it.
  • Williams supports for this view is summed up on
  • Instead of thinking in terms of supposed effects
    of Jims projects on Pedro, it is more revealing
    to think of the effects of Pedros projects on
    Jims decision

How might the Utilitarian respond?
  • The Utilitarian could deny premise 1 Its
  • Isnt it really just selfish to try to keep your
    own conscience clean by allowing someone else to
    do something wrong?
  • Williams response A loss of personal Integrity!
  • Utilitarianism entails that the projects and
    commitments with which a person is most deeply
    identified, those which make up who a person is,
    can be swept aside for the sake of the greater
  • how can a man, as a utilitarian agent, come to
    regard as one satisfaction among others, and a
    dispensable one, a project or attitude round
    which he has built his life, just because someone
    elses projects have so structured the causal
    scene that that is how the utilitarian sum comes

Personal Integrity
  • A loss of personal integrity again
  • It is the Utilitarians commitment to the
    sacrifice of ones own projects, commitments,
    goals and principles for the sake of the greater
    good, which lies at the heart of its attack on
    ones own personal integrity
  • It is absurd to demand of such a manthat he
    should just step aside from his own project and
    decision and acknowledge the decision which the
    utilitarian calculation requires. It is to
    alienate him in a real sense from his actions and
    the source of his action in his own
    convictionsbut this is to neglect the extent to
    which his actions and his decisions have to be
    seen as the actions and decisions which flow from
    the projects and attitudes with which he is most
    closely identified. It is thus, in the most
    literal sense, an attack on his integrity.
    (Williams, pg 600)
  • So maybe Utilitarianism is just too problematic
    after all?